Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Parallel Evidence

Its hard for me to believe (on the one hand) that the now infamous 9/11 was already 6 years ago. On the other hand, all I have to do is look at my son to remind me just how long ago it was, since he was just a baby when it happened.

I'm sure if you were to ask anyone at all over the age of 10 at the time, where they were and what they were doing that morning when the news broke, they'd be able to recall even the most insignificant detail about what was for most, just another ordinary day. No question at all, in our generation it was and remains the event that defines in many ways the way things are, and the way things are headed. It is impossible for anyone in North America to go back to the way things were before that tragic day in world history.

As for me, I was sitting in the kitchen feeding my baby son his breakfast, when the phone rang. My sister-in-law was at work, and heard the first reports over the radio and called us to simply say "turn on the news, NOW". The conversation she had with Kev was very short, but based on the way he answered her I knew it was bad - really bad. As he hung up he just said something to the affect of "Kim said turn on the news, right now". I couldn't see the tv very well from where I was sitting, but as I heard the first words I nearly froze to my chair. Getting up and walking to the living room just before the second plane hit, was like walking through waist deep mud, and about as surreal as that would also be. Then we watched, in complete disbelief, for hours and hours. We watched as the towers fell, and we wept and prayed along with millions of others, around the world. We watched the people running, and screaming, faces plastered black with soot and ash, streaked with tears and blood, and in more shock and anguish than most of us will ever experience in our lifetimes. We watched it all, unable to turn it off. Turning it off didn't make it go away, and wouldn't have undone it, and so I think somehow we just felt more comforted, in a strange way, knowing what was happening and being updated as things were happening. It was such a catastrophic event, it quite literally changed the lives of people who were hundreds and thousands of miles away, from ground zero.

As I thought about this, I couldn't help but see the obvious parallel with salvation. While I certainly don't want to 'spiritualize' world events and make them about the Christian faith, this one to me stands out so glaringly, I think attention ought to be drawn to it.

I was listening to a sermon online not to long ago where the speaker made the comment that while anyone can claim to be a Christian, the mark of a genuine believer is the obvious initial change in their life, and then on an ongoing basis. He used an analogy of himself being late for work one day and when he arrived he told a wild tale of being hit by a mack truck, picking himself up, dusting himself off and continuing along his way to work. Clearly the people in his office would see him for the liar he was, since getting run over by a mack truck would leave him flattened on the pavement and incapable of moving, let alone showing up to work. In the analogy he wanted to point out that in such a profound, and larger than life event, the evidence of it would be so obvious to everyone, that he wouldn't have to say anything at all, and people would know something big had happened to him. Exactly the way it should be, when someone proclaims "I'm a Christian".

The way that 9/11 made me think of how salvation changes a person (and how for some, saying "I'm a Christian" really doesn't mean much) is that while it was such a profound event, for so many people the profoundness of it is all but forgotten. For a moment in time, it caused the world to stop and think, and to stop and lament over evil in the world. Then... slowly but inevitably, people went on with their daily routines, went back to their same lifestyle, argued about petty things, made dental appointments, rented dvds for the weekend, and it was life as usual. For most of us that were not directly affected by 9/11, this is exactly what we did. It is exactly the same situation for so many who profess to be Christians.

"I believe the gospel!" they will say. When what they really mean is, they have heard the gospel and while they do not actively, and intellectually deny it, they also do not believe it with every ounce of their being, nor do they genuinely trust in it, for their eternal salvation. I read my Bible, I go to church, I pray, I do this and I do that. They'll tell you all the things they do that in their minds prove them to be a Christian. They might even be able to provide in depth detail about a religious or highly charged emotional experience they once had that even further, in their minds, proves that they are a Christian. But what of the aftermath of such a profound event that takes place in the life of someone who has been truly born from above? What about the ongoing evidence, the fruit of a lifestyle consistant with someone pressing toward heavenly things, and desiring to be more like Christ, and less like self? It's as if Jesus was good enough to be Lord for a moment, but to be Lord over lifestyle is another matter. Like the analogy of the man hit by a truck, you know the event never happened in the first place if there is absolutely no evidence of it, in the aftermath. In other words, it was a surface event and not an inward change. Just like the way we all went back to our daily routines after 9/11, folks that have a "moment in time" experience will also go right back to their same ole self, and there will be no evidence that they were ever changed to begin with.

Living a life consistant with the way the Bible describes Christlike character, is not easy. We all miss the mark, and some of us do it every day. Depending on the kind of day, it may happen throughout the day! It's just the way it is. This is not to excuse our sin but to realistically point out not only what it's really like to live a changed life, but that without trusting in Him, turning to Him, and finding our wisdom, strength and guidance in Him, we haven't really made Him Lord of our lives. Anyone can say they are a Christian, but a truthful reality of such a claim is put to the test when everything falls apart, or something fantastic happens. Who do we turn to at that moment? Do we say "praise be to God for all things!" in either situation, or do we leave Him out of the picture completely? What about when a sinful habit or lifestyle is mentioned? Do we deny it, defend it, attempt to justify it or maybe even change the subject or refuse to talk about it? Who is Lord over that? Does that area of our lives find itself exempt from our Christian profession, or are we to submit our entire lives, to Him? What of everyday, petty annoyances - how do we deal with those? Do we yield to the Holy Spirit and depend on His direction and conviction? (These are only a few examples of the ongoing evidence of change).

I don't want to come across as judgemental over other people's salvation, thats not at all what this is about. It's about the evidence that should be present when we profess something profound and life changing, such as being a Christian. If New Yorkers said "something astounding happened here on 9/11" but were unable to tell you where ground zero was, or show it to you first hand, you might be left wondering if they were all self-deceived. Yet we all know what happened, and many of you reading might even be from there, known people who were there, maybe known people who were injured or died that day. We know how lives were changed, and the very landscape of NY was changed because there is not only the initial evidence but ongoing evidence that something really did happen that morning.

Can the same be said for your Christianity?

Using myself as an example, I can tell you all that I had one of those profound emotional experiences at a fairly young age. I prayed a prayer, I wept, I confessed Jesus as Lord, I began attending church and I read my Bible. If asked, you better believe I would have said "I'm a Christian!". But was I? I can only say that the next 18 years of my life proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the religious experience in my life was not an inward change, but a surface event. It was real, and it was powerful, but it wasn't inward, and therefore whatever initial fruit it did produce slowly faded away and ceased to exist. Had that event been a genuine inward change, there would have been evidence of it from that day forward, as I would have grown in grace exactly as the Scriptures say we will. Yet, that did not happen, and had I been pressed to show the evidence of my Christianity, I wouldn't have been able to, because it didn't truly exist. When genuine inward change did take place 18 years later, not only was there a single, defining moment of a most profound event but there was also and has been each and every day, since then, evidence of the Holy Spirit in my life, and and continual growing in grace. I could have said (and did) back then that I was a Christian, but what I understood a Christian to be and what one really is, are two different things. I called myself one because I believed that if you prayed this way, and if you did this, and did that, and affirmed that you believed the gospel, and so on and so forth, then you were "saved". Further, since I certainly didn't identify with any other faith such as Hinduism or Islam, but raised in a Christian church, surely I was a Christian, right!? WRONG. Very wrong, if there is no evidence to back up the claim. A Christian in name only means as much as if you said you were a praying mantis, or a bowl of ice cream. You can say it all you want, but what makes it true is the life lived afterward, each and every day.

Today as we will all likely see at least some kind of media coverage of ground zero in NY, we'll all see hard evidence to prove something profound happened there, that radically changed lives forever. As we will also likely hear people talking about that day and what has happened in their own lives afterwards, we'll hear about ongoing change, and how that one event shaped their lives ever since.

May we each look at the landscape of our own lives, and see if the same can said of our Christian faith.