Saturday, 21 April 2012

The iLife or the godLife



I've had one of those weeks when I've decided that I don't really like myself.

Now please don't get too anxious. I'm not dropping into the self-loathing pit, the 'everybody hates me, nobody likes me, I'm going to go and eat worms' syndrome. That is one of the excuses that people give to avoid the claims of Christianity: "It is all about sin and feeling worthless". 

I had read something earlier written by St Augustine. He lived 1700 years ago, and he talks about this wish that we have, "to be feared and to be loved by men, for no reason but that from it there may come a joy that is yet no joy". In other words he is saying that we think that we will find joy and happiness when others 'fear' us (probably 'respect' would be more appropriate) or 'love' us. 

And the reason that I do loving and kind things is not because I am loving or kind, but because I want people to love me and respect me. I am really no better than the man or woman who does lousy things in order to get others to respect them or love them, or the person who couldn't care less what other people think of them, and so does nothing for anyone. And I don't like it, and I really don't like when it becomes very obvious to me (and probably obvious to others) that I am being driven by the motive to make others love me or respect me. I don't like it, and I don't like me.

You see whichever generation we are, there is a universal condition that we suffer from. It is called sin. It is when the I is the centre. There is an old word for sin, iniquity: it has 3 'i's' in it. We have iPads, iPhones, iPods, iTunes. They and we are driven by the iMotive.
So what is the answer?

Some might say: 'Why are you getting so worked up? There are other people who are far worse than you'
Others might say: 'I know the angst. Basically you either slit your throat or you blame them for putting unreasonable expectations on you'.
And yet others might say: 'It's OK to be iCentred. What's the problem. The world is about you.'

When we were on the march of witness on Good Friday, there was a mobile photo shop in the arc. It had this advert: 'The most important story ever told - yours', which I thought was quite ironic given that 600 people had gathered to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But actually the bible is far more helpful. Because I do not want to be told that I am OK when I know that I am not OK. I don't wish to be told that the strategies that I employ to make people love me and respect me are working, because it simply means I will carry on doing the same thing. I don't wish to be told that there are people who are worse than me, because all that is doing is making me look down on others.

And the reason that the bible is far more helpful is because it does not sweep the issue under the carpet. And I'm looking here specifically at 1 John 3:1-7

1. It shows us that there is a different way to live.

1 John 2:29: 'If you know that he is righteous .. '

There is a bit here about divine sovereignty and revelation. 
There are some who look at Jesus and think, 'Yes, everything about this man is right. Here is someone who does not live the iLife but the godLife and this really is the right way to live'. And there are some who are completely blind to Jesus, who do not, to use John's words, 'know Jesus'. 

And here we get our first encouragement.J ohn is saying that if we look at Jesus, and we realise that here is someone who is righteous, and someone who does righteous things, then we are on the road to discovering a new life. 

Now I am assuming that you know something about Jesus, that you know the story, or at least a bit of it. If you don't know about Jesus then I urge you to get to know about him. If you know a bit, then get to know some more. Many of us who come to church don't actually know the basic stories. Come to the Introducing Jesus course; ask a Christian friend to meet with you and go through one of the stories about Jesus in the bible. Learn about him. If there is nothing else, pick up one of your children's bibles and read the stories again. Visit www.rejesus.co.uk Learn what he actually said, taught and did.

Jesus was righteous. Not just in what he did, but at his very heart. He did not do loving and kind things because he wanted people to love him or fear him. Jesus did loving and kind things because his heart beat and God's heart beat were one and the same. He was a human being just like you or me, but he was also filled with God. At the centre of Jesus was not Jesus, but an overwhelming assurance of being the Son of his loving Father God.

And John says in 2:29, 'If you know that he (Jesus) is righteous - if you know that he lived and he lives the really good life, the iDenying, God-centred, divinely-human life, and if you see someone beginning to live like that - then you know that they have been born of God'.
There really is a different way to live

2. The bible tells me that I can start again.

People get hung up about the phrase born-again Christian.
You don't need to. What it means is that these are people who have begun again.

The astonishing gift that God offers to each one of us is that we can begin again. We can quite literally die to our old way of life, and become a new person together with him.

That is what baptism symbolises: the old life is washed away - or, and it is much more dramatic when people are baptised by full immersion, you go down under the water, you die to your old self, and you to come up again as a new person.

Baptism, being born again, is for those people who have looked at Jesus and who know that they are lost, and can see the difference between the iLife and the godLife, and who so dislike themselves and the old life that they are prepared to die in order to come alive to a new life.

And the verse before our reading and the verse a couple after our reading talk of 'being born of God', being born again. Born not just of flesh and blood, but born of the Spirit of God.

And when we are born again, God takes out the old me centre of my life (elsewhere the bible talks about it as a heart of stone), and puts in its place a new God-centre for our lives. No longer do we need to be controlled by the iLife but by the new spiritLife, godLife.

3. The bible tells me that this new birth makes a real difference in our lives.

We will begin to change.

v6: 'No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him'.

Now this verse is not saying that a born again Christian is going to be perfect. John has already said in 1:8, 'If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us'.

But the key words in v6 are the words 'keep on' sinning. If a person has truly been born again then there will be change. That person will begin to become aware of what it really means to live a righteous life, a God-centred, Jesus-like life. They will begin to become aware of how far they fall short of that.

Many people speak of a growing awareness of their sinfulness as they grow as Christians.

So although I have decided that I do not like myself this week, I am actually quite encouraged. Because I think I am beginning to hate in myself what I should be hating in myself. And if you start to hate something that you are doing that you know is making you less like Jesus rather than more like Jesus; or if you find that you are saying sorry for something and then doing it again, and you hate it, then be encouraged. You are hating what is already dead in you. The Spirit is at work in you. Persist. Give it time. And there will be change.

I remember one older man, not here. He was a Christian, but he was very legalistic and quite judgemental. After all, he had survived and done OK, so why couldn't others? I did not even conceive of the possibility that he would change. And then he asked to see me. His son, who was a teacher, had been arrested and had been charged with the serial abuse of children (he was subsequently found guilty and sent to prison). I thought that would destroy any relationship the father had with his son, that he would never want to see him again. I thought that it would destroy him. But I was completely wrong. I spent quite a lot of time with him and his wife. And I saw an astonishing change. He hated what his son had done, but he still loved his son as a father. He wrote to his son, he visited his son and when his son came out of prison - and, as you will realise, his son was now a complete leper, an untouchable as far as society was concerned, they let him come and live with them. But what I found even more astonishing was that he never tried to justify his son, he never made excuses for his son but he still treated his son as his son. And I saw that man grow, at the age of 80 plus, in astonishing grace: not just toward his son, but towards others - a deep compassion for the victims of his son, along with a deep compassion for other victims and for other offenders, and for other sinners.

And this passage tells us that God will not finish working with us until we see his son Jesus face to face: 'What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears [that is talking about the time when Jesus returns at the end of space and time as we know it, and there is the general resurrection of the dead] we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is'. (1 John 3:2)

CS Lewis reminds us of what we are to become. "It is a serious thing to ... remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship..." . (The Weight of Glory)

And he goes on to say, in Mere Christianity (p174f), "(God) said that we were “gods” [John 10:35] and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him - for we can prevent Him if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a .. dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for."

4. The bible tells us that if we are born again, if we have come to Jesus for this new life, we are deeply beloved children of God

One of the main reasons we try and get people to love and respect us is because we are always looking for that parent figure, that father, to say  to us, 'Well done".

But, even though I am, I do not need to be motivated by the desire to get others to love and respect me, because as someone who has died to myself and turned to God I am already deeply beloved by God. "See what kind of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God" (1 John 3:1).

And remember what John wrote at the beginning of his gospel. He tells us at the beginning of his gospel why Jesus came: 'He came to his own people, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave them the right to become children of God' (John 1:12)

If you have looked in at yourself and hate your iLife, and if you have looked at Jesus and seen his godLife, and if you have died to yourself and received Jesus, then you are a profoundly beloved child of God, a son of God or a daughter of God.

Jim Packer writes, "If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much they make of the thought of being God's child, and having God as their Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls their worship and prayers and their whole outlook on life, it means that they do not understand Christianity very well at all."

So yes, I decided that I did not like myself this week. But actually I also realised that that is rather a good thing. Perhaps I am actually being honest with myself. And it doesn't matter, because I do long to do the things of Jesus and to live like him and to be like him, and I have chosen to die to my old iLife (even though it keeps on pretending to be alive), and he is changing me, and he will make me like Jesus and I am a deeply profoundly beloved child of God. And I'll settle for that.

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