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December 30, 2011

order begins in the soul

A messy life is usually a reflection of a messy soul. When a person's visible life is chaotic, their inner life is also in disrepair. Or at least, this is my observation. The reverse is not as often true. By this I mean that a neat house, a RSS feed to I'm an Organizing Junkie or carefully-filed paperwork are not sure indicators of a soul is at peace. But mark my words, continual disorder on the surface is harbinger of more serious problems. Just keep your eyes open.

Growing up, I knew two families that stood out as having particularly messy homes. I'm not talking about a bit of clutter here and there. I'm talking rooms full of flotsam; and couches that always had to be cleared of miscellanea before a person could be seated. Important documents that never were filled out. Piles of gifts that never were given. Broken door latches that stayed that way. Let's be serious: it took a special kind of person to want to spend much time in these homes. They were a mess.

Years later, we learned that these families were (almost literally) covering deeper problems of the heart. Today, instead of the clutter of a home office covered in papers, I hear that their hearts have been torn to bits. Shards of relationships cover the ground and litter the shelves, paying no regard to the Bible on the window sill or the Bible college diploma on the wall. If only the disarray had merely been that of papers and collectibles, not that of hearts and lives.

I have lived with people whose bedroom floors are almost always covered in, well, anything and everything. Once, my brother noted that when he visited the home of a girl he had an interest in, there were empty cans all over the house; general chaos reigned. I told him that this was a warning sign, that was not the type of girl to date. (He didn't pursue her, though for reasons other than my warning). I have become increasingly convinced that when there is simply no desire for order, greater issues than cobwebs and dust bunnies abound.

Order in a home is more than physical or visual order, it is also order behind the scenes, in how the home functions on every level. Mental order, that understands and submits to God-given authority structures and categories. Spiritual order, where Christ is preeminent, as He should be. (Order always implies the use of suitable categories and distinctions). Homes that exhibit order through cleanliness, peacefulness and godliness are the most comfortable and welcoming for souls seeking Jesus. Physical disorder is often just an indicator that other disorder exists.

Notice that I speak of this in generalizations and in the long-term. I cannot make these statements across the board, because there may be a few loving yet disastrous-looking Christian's homes. And we must all know what it is to have a messy house to clean up, now and again. I'm more organizationally challenged than some. But I think that the difference is, when things get messy, something inside of me says this: as soon as I carve out some time, I'm going to clean this up. I don't want to live this way. I know there's something wrong about living in disarray.

When my home is in order, it seems that I have more time to look in on my soul. When I have time to look in on my soul, I am reminded of my need for the "simplicity and purity" of rekindled devotion to Christ. Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither can the peace brought about by a life that models godly order.

December 18, 2011

the incarnation and me

It is Christmas again, the time of year when we talk about the incarnation of God the Son.  "Incarnation" means "in the flesh." When Jesus came to earth, humanity finally saw God incarnate: God in the flesh. The classic incarnation passage is John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen...the glory of the One and Only...."

God Himself became in every way like humanity. Well, in every way except one. He was without sin.
Humanity's observation of Him could be likened to the Israelites' observations of the lamb they chose for Passover. They could watch Him, check Him over, see if there was in Him any error or blemish, before He was given as the spotless sacrifice for sin.

What did the observers of the incarnation of Christ find? Peter, who lived closely with Jesus for several years, later wrote that He was "as..a lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1:19) Pilate's judgment was clear: "I find no basis for a charge against this man." (Luke 23:4) The centurion said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:54) No one could find a sin in Him.

One of the many accomplishments of the incarnation was that it proved the perfection of Christ even amidst the struggles of life on a sinful earth. He was in all ways tempted as we are, yet without sin.

We often speak of the incarnation of Christ, but there is a sense in which every Christian evidences the incarnation, as well. Galatians says that "Christ lives in me." I do not know if this is theologically correct to borrow the term for our Christian experience, but humour me a while.

I often think about what it means to "incarnate" Christ in everyday life. I think my struggle with this has been accentuated by the new circumstances I have found myself in at work; management has been a daunting challenge. If there's anything I have learned from working with people who don't know Christ, it is that they observe everything about me, a follower of Christ. At moments when I am most unprepared, they toss out comments which show that they've been analyzing my life.

I have become especially convicted of my need for complete transparency and integrity in every way in the workplace (and the rest of life). This conviction has come both from experience and from the Word. In my Christian corner on a Sunday, I may seem like a good kid. But toss me out in front of the cranky employee, a difficult manager or an especially onerous task, and my flesh is seen, not Christ in my flesh. Sometimes they point out my blemishes, but more often, I'm just painfully aware of the inconsistencies in my testimony.

In my mind there once was a distinct line between ministry and secular employment, clergy and laity. God seems to be working hard to break down that barrier. He's teaching me about how every Christian is in the business of representing, or incarnating, if you will, the life of Christ before a watching world. The truly spiritual man is not the one who has a ministry title, but the one who lives out the life of Christ in every situation, no matter where he is or what he is doing. The Christian who lives out the incarnation.

Just as Satan many times attempted to thwart the incarnation of Christ, he and his legions still arm themselves against those who would incarnate Him daily. Hence the Christian's uphill battle to live a life of purity, consistency, wholeness. The world, the flesh and the devil arm themselves against us. I am asking God to shine His light in every corner of my life and leave nothing out. To consume my flesh and show Himself in my life, so that when others see my life (which they really do), they would see Christ's life.

As I've thought about Christians as the continuing incarnation of Christ in this world, I've been thinking about places where the good news of Christ is especially unwelcome. This is the wonder of the incarnation of Christ in us: He cannot be removed from us. He is our lifeblood. He is our hope of glory! Let them do what they will.

Incarnation. God came to earth in human flesh, so that He could also redeems us and live in our human  flesh. That He could save and indwell us, enabling us to continue to "incarnate" Him to the world. It scares me little, because while my actions are supposed to show Him, they often show sinful me. But also, it makes me thankful. By His incarnation, I have been given life eternal. Within me dwells God Himself! That is a truly merry Christmas!