I am embarrassed about a lot of things in my life. I am willing to share a couple of them in this forum.
- Until I was an adult most of what I knew about classical music and opera came from Bugs Bunny cartoons.
- The best theology I heard in my early church experience came from the classic hymns.
Regular readers of these humble ramblings know that I started the faith journey wearing a yoke of legalism. I understood that I needed complete trust in Jesus for salvation. I did not get that I also needed complete trust in Jesus for sanctification (Christianese for spiritual maturity). Somehow I had learned that I needed to add my efforts, my shame inducing critical self-inspection and my uncompromising discipline to “grow” as a Christian. Here is what I got for those many years of begrudging effort.
In the valley of discouragement God introduced me to my friends at Truefaced and through them I found the room of grace. But a few decades of bad spiritual habits take some time to shed.
An old hymn I used to hear at that legalistic church popped up on the iPod this week. Amy Grant released an album of classic hymns including this one.
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. That is message of Hebrews. Chapter 12 opens with a challenge to get rid of the sin or whatever is keeping you from running the race well. All of us (okay, most of us) want that in our Christian walk. But how do you do it? The author does not leave you hanging.
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:2, NLT)
We love to make this faith journey complicated. As I was thinking about those lyrics and that verse I found a recent Leadership Journal article by Pastor Tullian Tchividjian that addressed this very theme. Coincidence?
There is nothing in the gospel that encourages us to focus on ourselves. Nothing! It's never honoring to God when we take our eyes off of Christ. Never! In fact, the whole point of the gospel is to get us out of ourselves and to "fix our eyes on Christ" (Heb. 12:2). The truest measure of Christian growth, therefore, is when we stop spiritually rationalizing the reasons why we're taking our eyes off of Jesus to focus on ourselves.
It's sin that turns us inward. The gospel turns us outward. Martin Luther argued that sin actually bends or curves us in on ourselves. Any version of "the gospel," therefore, that places you at the center is detrimental to your faith—whether it's your failures or your successes, your good works or bad works, your strengths or weaknesses, your obedience or disobedience.
Ironically, I've discovered that the more I focus on my need to get better, the worse I actually get. I become self-absorbed, the exact opposite of how the Bible describes what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is forgetting about you. When we spend more time thinking about ourselves and how we're doing than we do about Jesus and what he's done, we shrink. As J.C. Kromsigt wrote, "The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth."
Wow. Powerful words. I always get in trouble with the spiritual hall monitors when I quote movies like Bull Durham. So here we go. One of my favorite lines from that movie comes for the wise old veteran catcher played by Kevin Costner.
“This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”
In many ways Christianity is a very simple faith that we have made incredibly difficult. To paraphrase the line above. “This is a very simple faith. You trust Jesus. You keep your focus on Him. Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes life rains on you.”
So that is my plan. The micro-managing of my sin has been tabled to focus on Jesus. I am utterly dependent on Him. I believe there is no condemnation in Christ. I lavish in His grace. And I am no longer tired.