Transformation not Observation

So we are in the middle of Lent – a time when many people choose a discipline which helps them ‘observe’ the season. For many streams of the church, Lent kicks off with an act of religious observation – receiving the ashes on your forehead.

But Lent is about more than outward observation; Lent is about inward transformation. As we walk with Jesus towards the cross we should expect to be transformed, to be changed.

In Christ alone

The point of discipleship is not to know more about Jesus, as useful as that might be. The point of discipleship to become more like Jesus.

There are  two simple words that move us from being observers at the cross to being transformed participants in the story.

Most people are observers, and maybe content to remain so. They look at the story of  a good man condemned for no reason and cruelly executed. They appreciate that somehow it’s a story of self-sacrifice. They respect that it has inspired a faith founded on the principle of self-sacrifice but they remain cold to the notion that is really has any thing to do with them.

The two words that will move you from being such a person to being a Christ follower on a journey of inner transformation are : ‘For Me‘.

For me – Christ was betrayed. For me – Christ was flogged. For me – the thorns drew blood.  For me – the nails were hammered in… one by one. For me – he hung and laboured for breath. For me – he was insulted.

If you don’t know why it was for you – hang around long enough at the foot of the cross and ask God to show you. Read one of the gospel stories and watch how Jesus steadfastly refused all short term agendas aimed at making him a local hero or political saviour. He had a much, much bigger agenda.

‘Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to our sin miserable life…If we get included in Christ’s sin conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection’ (Romans 5: 6-7)

So the door to this experience, this transformation is labelled ‘Repentance’ and the lintel is set very low, you cannot go through this door with your held high trumpeting your own merits.  Only when we totally get that we are as much a ‘human mess up’ as the next person: unloving, self-protective, flawed, only able to love partially, do we realise that yes, we personally need forgiveness and transformation. And those are found when we take the cross personally – it was ‘for me’.


Rags to Riches

I confess I have left the whole Lenten self-examination thing a bit late this year but finally this week I’ve dragged my soul in front of a 360 degree mirror and it wasn’t a pretty sight: bashed, bruised and attempting to sulk in  corner pretty much describes the situation.

A series of demanding circumstances, a few small misunderstandings and a couple of big stresses and you have the ‘perfect storm’ for full on ‘soul shrivelling’.

So what to do?

I’ve spent the last few days committing Ephesians 4: 31 to 5:2 to memory and I am almost there.

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Learning something by heart is very powerful. In that first sentence there are six, yes SIX, different things that can shrivel your soul: bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice. Learn that lot off by heart and you really think about what the words mean.

‘Wrangling’ is my favourite: it’s such a pithy description of all the manoeuvring, ‘spinning’, manipulating we all do to avoid situations instead of  (forgive the gender specific term) ‘manning up’ and getting on with it, whatever ‘it’ might be: confronting/apologising and moving on.

John Ortberg in his brilliant book The Me I want to Be has an acronym for sin: RAGS

It stands for all the things we mean when we say the phrase ‘forgive us our sins’ and it brilliantly describes the state that all those things leave us in: rags.

R – Resentment

A – Anxiety

G – Greed

S – Superiority

(Ha! If you thought you were doing okay on the first three, then last one certainly applies!)

The more I’ve thought about this list the more comprehensive I’ve realised it is. It pretty much covers every vice, everything we do wrong relates back to one of these attitudes.

Thoughts  like:

“No-one really understands how hard I work” = superiority.

”Why doesn’t so and so do such and such” = resentment

“I really deserve… a break/a better deal…” = greed/resentment (so closely related to that most dangerous of all thoughts ‘God owes me’. God owes no one anything, we owe him gratitude for every breath we take).

“Nobody’s looking out for me” = worry

“How dare he/she/they….” = anger

Now you ARE allowed to be angry. In fact the NRSV almost makes it sound like a command

‘Be angry’ (yes really!)

but it quickly follows it up with ‘but in your anger do not sin’ which is a kind of spiritual health warning: ‘anger can be bad for your soul’.  So be angry (let’s face it, you can’t help it) but listen to your anger, ask yourself what you are angry about, learn from your reactions and over-reactions and, whatever you do, don’t let anger settle into the bitterness that will shrivel your soul.

So I’ve been taking off my RAGS in prayer, in worship and in appropriate acts of restoration and today is Easter Sunday. God gives me his RICHES. I am robed in forgiveness, I can ‘live in love’ and I am a beloved child.

More than enough reasons to ring out the ‘Hallelujahs’. Happy Easter everyone.

The Me I want to Be John Ortberg published by Zondervan