Thursday, December 13, 2018

Passport stamped?

A few years after my dad passed, I was feeling a little nostalgic and I decided to go looking for our first home in Arizona. Mind you, the home was built probably somewhere in the 1940-1950 range, and we all know how things change over time. Trees get bigger, neighborhoods morph from one look and feel into another, and what may have been a 'majestic mansion' when we were little kiddos is not always the same when we return to it some 30-40 years later! I eventually found the street I was seeking, now almost unrecognizable because of the transformation of the surrounding neighborhoods. I recall knowing quite clearly the house was the second on the right, so down the lane I went and there it was, but...what a different scene than the one I remembered or imagined! The gnarled mulberry tree was there, but the branches were all cut off and it no longer spread out over the corner of the yard. The once whitewashed fence still stood, but the faded appearance told me keeping it whitewashed each year was no longer a concern of the owners. What once stood as a palatial mansion now appeared as a small, once quite quaint home. Weathered and worn, it no longer 'shown out' as the once beautiful home it was at one time. A friend once told me we can never really return home, but I didn't quite understand that advice until I stood there gazing upon my one-time family home. The thing I'd have was the memories because the present state offered no such comfort!

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! (Romans 6:1-3 MSG)

We might think we can 'go back' to a former way of living, for just a moment in time, just for a quick little jaunt into the past. The truth is that the past is never the same as it was when we were living it! The past changes, if not in size, importance, and appearance, then in what it is we see when we come face-to-face with it again. It is an 'old country' to us - one we left behind in pursuit of another when we said "yes" to Jesus. We actually forsook that country and embraced another - not as immigrants, but as citizens who enjoy new rights, privileges, and passages. We might believe the past still has good stuff for us, but in that 'former life' are none of these 'good things' God has prepared for us to enjoy in this new one!

When I was just starting elementary school, we packed up and left that home in North Phoenix, making our way out to the very furthest point of the East Valley. The places were miles and miles apart - especially in the eyes of a child. The journey seemed long and a little bit frightening, but in truth, the new became the 'new norm' for me. Something similar happens when we come to Christ, welcoming him into our lives as more than a religious pursuit, but as one we desire close, personal relationship with. We begin to experience a 'new norm' - what once held fascination and great appeal is likely to fade more and more into the 'background' of our lives (the past). The past is indeed 'background' for our lives - no experience ever being totally without some meaning to us. Yet, we are not called to live in the 'background' of life - we are called to live in the present!

I could no more go back to living in that old family dwelling as I could go back to living a life without Christ. That boat has sailed! Those doors are closed! That old life is not my present one! The new life in a new land was prepared specifically for us - we don't need that one in the old land! There is something liberating about being able to break those ties with the past, my friends. But...there is equally something quite liberating about learning to look forward and turn our backs on what we imagine the past could offer us. The more we yearn for the past, the more we are discontent with the present, but the problem is that the present offers way different things for us than the past ever could. Way different things that make the old way of living look run-down, no longer showing signs of being tended and cared for. 

We don't 'go back' - we look and move forward. The life with Christ isn't lived one moment in the present and another in the past. Once we take that step into the new country of grace, we don't even want to look back at the old country of sin. There is nothing there that will ever satisfy us quite the same as what we find when we turn our eyes fully toward Jesus. Yes, the past still stands in our memories, but little by little, the past becomes less and less appealing to us. Maybe we need a little look into our past once in a while to see it is no longer all that appealing, but it doesn't mean we return to it - pursuing the stuff of the past! It just means we allow Jesus to make real to us where it is he has delivered us from - the past is a country no longer marked on our passport as 'home' - we are citizens of the country of grace, not sin! Just sayin!