Saturday, January 29, 2005

Let God Be Big, Mysterious, Other...a Reminder from Craig Williams

Craig Williams doesn't write often on his blog. But everything he does write is authentic, gritty, non-assembly line Christianity, pointing us to our common need for a real, authentic relationship with the mysterious God we meet in Jesus Christ.

Craig is rightly wary of programs and systems that leave us far from God. And I agree with him.

Without intending to, programs can stick God in a box, only to be pulled out, manipulated, and used at our pleasure and our will.

When we do that, we're guilty of turning God into a plaything or even turning God into us. No finite, mortal being can give us hope or purpose or life or joy or any of the things for which we truly long.

In the Chronicles of Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis, which tell wonderful tales of an alternative universe, there is a Christ-figure named Aslan. (Indeed, in one of the novels, Aslan fairly explicitly states that he exists and has a different name in our world, implying that He is the Christ and that here, we must "learn to know" Him.) Aslan is a lion, or as the citizens of Narnia call him, "the Lion." Throughout all seven books, Narnians constantly remind each other that Aslan "isn't a tame lion."

Neither is the One the Bible identifies as the Lion of Judah, Jesus the Christ. He is bigger than we are and beyond our control. Until we acknowledge these realities and let the untamed Savior of the world roam wild and free through the dark jungles, bright glades, chasms, and mountains of our souls, allowing God to direct our steps, we haven't begun to know Jesus.

Getting to know Jesus is less like a system or a plan or a program than it is like getting to know a friend or a lover. It takes a willingness to lay aside other priorities, to spend time with our beloved, and to commit ourselves to plumbing the mysterious depths that reside in another's soul. The soul of our beloved Jesus, though, is infinite, eternal, as you would expect of God-in-the-flesh.

I myself have been guilty of putting God in a box. The result has always been like depriving myself of oxygen or food. Whether as an individual believer or as a pastor, I always search for the "magic bullet" that's going to insure my growth in confident faith or spiritual attainment or impressive attendance numbers.

That's the irony of religious programs pursued as magic bullets: At the very moment we may seem or sound to be closest to God, we are likely very far from Him. Without surrender, or "Your will be done," or the willingness to do the very thing we'd rather not do for God's sake, there is no surrender and Christ is far away from us.

That's why repentance, a willingness to turn away from the sin-boxes into which we shove God so as to forget Him and be our own gods, is a prerequisite for letting Jesus into our lives. Repentance is like unlocking the latches on our souls and inviting the Lion of Judah to do what He will on us, in us, and through us.

That can be painful. In one of Lewis' Narnian books, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a greedy, self-absorbed boy, Eustace Scrubb, finds that the magic of an island works on him, transforming him into a dragon. In that form, he encounters Aslan, who leads him to a stream and says that he must be rid of his dragonish skin before enjoying a dip. When Eustace works at removing his skin, he does succeed in ridding himself of three layers. But he's still a dragon. This, it seems to me, well symbolizes our pathetic, self-directed, self-willed attempts to improve our lives, whether by religion, New Year's Resolutions, or spiritual-sounding programs--self-help regimens with Jesus plastered thinly over top of them. But it's when Eustace submits to the almost-violent tearing of Aslan that he is finally restored and renewed. Aslan rips away all the sinful accretions, the pretense, and feigned goodness covering up a soul intent on being a god unto itself. He strips Eustace down to his elemental self, the self he was meant to be.

The process of ridding ourselves of our sins and self-absorption in order to find and be our true selves, as any veteran of Alcoholics Anonymous can tell you, is hard and painful. But until we let our Aslan, Jesus Christ, rip away our selfish defense mechanisms and truly break our hearts and wills open to Him, we are only playing at faith.

This is what it means to meet Jesus at the cross, the place where the ugliness and savagery of our sin killed the pure, sinless Savior. We must let Jesus tear us open so that He can come inside. I am just beginning to learn what this means. In recent years and months, I have discovered new demons blanketing my true self and I am submitting to the pain of repentance that must precede being a truly new creation of God. (Second Corinthians 5:17) I imagine that as long as I ask God to give me the courage to keep following Christ, I will continue to make these painful, life-giving discoveries for the rest of my life on earth.

Recently our congregation made the decision to go through the '40-Days of Purpose' program. I felt that it would be good for us all to focus together on our relationship with Christ and the program based on Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life, can help foster that. (I know because I've gone through the book three times myself and have always felt closer to Christ for this discipline.) But I warned our leadership about the futility and danger of looking for silver bullets or replacing Jesus with a program.

It's something of which we must always be careful, lest in the name of holiness we become religious and lose our relationship with Christ.

Thanks for the reminder, Craig!

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