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Monday, December 2, 2013

"Identical With"

I have been in stores and observed tags which read, "As Is".  Whenever I see these, I chuckle a little under my breath because people are willing to buy things with "flaws", simply because they are a bargain.  The "deal" associated with the "As Is" condition of the object really doesn't matter too much - you can hide the small "ding", or use a "blemish stick" to cover over the scratch. When it comes to other human beings, we often see the "flaws" as too much to deal with!  The "dings" and "scratches" and the announced "As Is" condition really make it hard to accept them.  One of the most difficult things in life is to be who we really are - no pretense, no made-up fronts - just plain and simply "us".  Why?  It is probably a combination of things, but one of the most obvious is our sense of others not being willing to accept us "as we are". I'd like to challenge us a little here, because I think we ALL come with the "As Is" sticker, but some of us focus on it as a "turn off" while others see it as a "challenge" to "change" what is there into something different!  Either way, we don't really allow the other person to be "as they are" because we won't accept their "As Is" condition and allow the one who actually knows how to "fix" them to do the "fixing".  It is quite a liberating place to be when you finally come face-to-face with self and just settle back to allow Christ the liberty to do what he wants to do within.  To stop trying to appear righteous before men and to be yourself is a risky place to be for some, but it also carries some of the greatest rewards.

Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan. What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.  Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. (Galations 2:17-21 MSG)

Few actually understand the freedom Christ's presence adds to a life, but they are drawn to it because of the hope it sparks within.  While others may be impressed with the appearance one places on display, God is not.  He is most impressed with the appearance of his Son, no matter how much of Jesus he sees coming through in each of us.  For us humans, impressions are a big deal, right?  We are affected by what "appears" to be reality - if we weren't, show business would not be such "big business" - for all of show business if really "play acting".  Appearance is "surface stuff" - the external "show" doesn't always align with the internal "know".  We "know" certain things about ourselves which we'd never allow to be put on "show" in our lives, right?  At least, not if we could help it!  Pretending to be anything or anyone we are not to one another is one thing, but pretending to be anything or anyone we are not to God himself - well, that is plain silliness since he knows us inside and out.

Convictions are the set of values we adhere to in life.  They are made up of the things we have come to accept as "worthy" of affecting our actions. Needless to say, we can have convictions which are pretty well-accepted, and at times, have convictions which are "deviant" from what society calls "normal" or "acceptable".  In the course of the past 50 years or so, some things have surfaced in society which are viewed as "deviant" convictions. Once upon a time, not so long ago, being anything less than pure until the day you were married was considered "deviant" - today, because of a change in the norms of society, being a "virgin" on your wedding night is almost considered being "deviant".  Being a member of a gang 50 years ago usually meant you were working on the side of a road, shackled together.  Today, being in a gang is almost viewed as a sense of "family".  What once was deviant has become normal.  Bullying was never all right, but today it is a thing which actually causes people to take their lives.  Hmmm....convictions do play a large part in how we view ourselves and others!

God desires and values a steady and straight course in life.  We have many things which can pull us off course - the the last thing God wants is for his own kids to be the thing which pulls anyone off course!  Whenever we behave in a manner which causes another to feel they cannot be themselves around us, we are doing just that.  Too many times, we consider the "rules" we make in society to be the "norms" we all need to adhere to - forgetting the bigger set of "rules" outlined by the one who doesn't really want us living by "rules" anyway!  God may have outlined a lot of rules for his kids throughout the generation, but the biggest one he focused on over and over again was this one of loving him first, keeping him center, then loving others as we love ourselves.  Nothing matters to him more than that!  Love involves allowing others to be real - no judgments attached - just being able to accept the other person in their "As Is" condition and then trusting God to work out the rough edges if they need a little "working out".

We are not set right with God by the rule-keeping.  Personal faith in Jesus is what sets us right.  No method of self-improvement will ever bring us into relationship with God or build us up in quite the same manner as being who we are without the "put forward" appearances.  There are times when we focus so much on the "degree" by which the other person "gets things right" in their lives and not the fact that they are living, breathing creatures who stand as much in need of a Savior as we do.  Truth be told, us Christians, struggle toward perfection - toward the correction of character which makes us more Christ-like.  I think I can honestly say with an assurance - I am one of those who struggle toward perfection - it is not a smooth course!  It is made up of bumps and turns, ups and downs, right choices and the not so right.  In the end, I trust I will get there, but for now, plaster that "As Is" sticker clearly across my forehead!

If we are all about "trying to be good" and then "appearing" that way, we are building in such a way that produces nothing but disappointment.  God gives us the power to live transformed lives - one step at a time.  We often forget this - one foot going in front of the other until we reach our destination.  As a teenager, I remember crossing a suspension bridge from one side of a huge ravine to the other.  It was made all the scarier for me because of my traveling companions (other teenagers), and the fact it was a forbidden area by both the posted "no trespassing" signs and my parents having no clue I was actually going there!  One foot in front of the other, I crossed to the other side.  I had so much adrenaline pumping through my veins, the frigid cold of the icy, snow covered landscape almost didn't bother me.  What I had to focus on was getting that "one foot in front of the other" thing worked out. It was one thing to get to the other side, but another to get back!  For we often find the toughest journeys are the ones "back" - finding there is no way out but the way we got in!

Here is something for us to remember - transformed lives don't come from any power within us.  They come from a power far outside of us, but which can become resident within us.  Christ's power comes the more we identify with the one who resides within.  To identify means we are moving toward becoming "identical with".  Spirit, outlook, and principles change as a result of this identification with him.  As we identify with Christ, it is no longer important for us to "appear" any particular way - for his movement in our lives is what makes it possible for our "ego" to take a back seat.  When we move into a place of being less concerned with impressing others - we are becoming more comfortable in our own skin!  If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ's death would not have been necessary.  The truth is - the only way to life is through Christ - nothing else will ever be able to take us from the "As Is" condition of our lives to the "restored" and "new". 

It is futile to live with "images" of what we want to put forward.  We all get on those suspension bridges, putting one foot in front of the other until we reach the other side.  The reality of being "somewhere" we weren't supposed to go may not be so thrilling once we step across the threshold, but for certain, Christ stands ready to bring us back across to his safety when we finally are willing to be real about where we are!  Just sayin!