Definitional Diagnostics

     What is it that defines your life?  Our grandparents were the product of the Great Depression.  Our parents were raised amidst the 2nd World War.  Their children, namely my generation, were the beneficiaries of the post-World War II boom.

Our grandparents were renowned for saving money, as they well-understood that a day might return when money would be hard to come by.  They remained thrifty for the length of their days. 

Our parents triumphed over the Nazism and Communism; it was not much of a stretch to think that they could provide a better living for their children.  There lives were invested in accordance with the impulse to triumph, not merely to endure. 

Their children anticipated and, in large measure, attained to an even better quality of life, at least in terms of material comfort and technological wonders.  My generation has had it better than all of the preceding generations combined.  It has been quite a run.

I am intrigued, sometimes amazed, often disheartened, and occasionally thrilled by how people identify themselves.  We see life through the lens of our self-identification.  We are Americans, or Baptists, or alcoholics, or hard-working, or fun-to-be-around, etc.

I was a boy when the Breck hair-coloring commercials aired on television.  The Breck girls swirled their lovely hair as each let the world know that “I’m worth it!”  Perhaps they were; I don’t really know, save that they certainly led you to think they believed it.

Confidence goes a long way; insecurity will perpetually drag you down.  The experiences of our early years, as well as the nature of our prime years, will heavily influence how we view ourselves and, correspondingly, how we live our lives.

Little children who are subjected to verbal or physical abuse may suffer for decades ahead because of the damage wrought upon fragile and impressionable little souls.  Modern psychology recognizes the irrefutable nature of this assertion.

Men or women who have pursued their dreams may become deeply disappointed when the world denies them their aspiration, or when unduly unpalatable circumstances cast a dampening pallor upon their outlook or disposition.  Laughter may die, as may hope. 

The converse may happen.  People who have come from the “other side of the tracks” may succeed, either financially, professionally or relationally.  Everyone loves a success story, very much like the lines from the Doris Day song, “Everyone loves a lover!”

One of my pastors was an orphan who was blessed with a beautiful wife and a congregation that became like precious family to him.  He had already found the love of Christ and the joy of God’s salvation – Truly, was he was a happy, joyful soul!

I have been reflecting upon the defining moments of my personal orbit.  My life, my ministry and my church have defining moments; that is, there have been those occurrences that have made all of the difference in determining who I am or we are.

My life was given definition as far back as 1975.  I was given to know that I was a child of God; that God had called me to Himself, for His purpose and out of love for me - A relationship with Almighty God had become an integral fact of my life; actually, the fact.

I had been a child of two fine persons, my dear mother and fine father.  I was blessed to have good Welsh blood running through my veins – as good a stock as ever the earth has known.  But I was now also a child of the Most High God!

“Come to me,” (Matthew 11:28) was His call, and I went to Him or, better stated, He came to me and I was blessed to receive Him.  It was in the privacy of my room, the same room wherein my dear father was taken to be with Jesus fourteen years later.

My ministry was more clearly defined in 2001.  I was awakened to the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit; that He was at work in me and desirous of working through me - A burden as lifted from my pastoral shoulders that I will never carry again.

I used to try so hard.  I gave ministry my best shot, expending every ounce of energy into making brilliant ideas a multi-faceted reality.  Little of it actually worked, and all that was accomplished was a drained pastor though, thankfully, a still-hopeful congregation.

It took me over ten years to figure out this Pauline axiom of ministry: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this is I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28, 29).

Ministry took on an entirely new hue, cast as it was in an entirely different light.  I sometimes cringe when I think back to my presumption that I could get the job done for Jesus rather than by Jesus; thankfully, He showed me a better way.   

My church was cast in a more defined way in 2005.  Our building was destroyed by fire, but our church began to grow; that the church is something other than, not simply more than, brick and mortar became ingrained in our spiritual DNA - We are His house. 

John Wesley’s comment that a Christian should burn for Jesus and the world will watch him burn is complemented by Swiss theologian Emil Brunner’s dictum that the church exists for mission as fire exists for burning.  Our church got the point of their comments.

Our fellowship was determined that it would not be defined by brick and mortar, but by Christ and His Kingdom.  There was what I can only call “joyful grit” in their attitude and deportment in the wake of the fire.  They wanted to burn for Jesus in witness to Him.

It took all of the six hours of the conflagration that consumed our beautiful, Neo-Gothic expression of ecclesiastical architecture to be similarly consumed by a new identity, one that is defined by what the Apostle Peter said of the Church:

 “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).

Alcoholics need no longer be alcoholics.  I don’t mean to say that they should go back to drinking, but I do mean to say that their primary identification need no longer be a negative; it can and should be a positive, especially if one has become a Christian.

Sex-abuse victims need no longer be sex-abuse victims.  I don’t mean to minimize the travesties to which they have been subjected, nor treat glibly of any sustained, even life-long after-effects.  I simply mean that God makes them beneficiaries, not victims.

And a church that has been traumatized by a destructive fire need not, by that token, be traumatized by an identity crisis.  Our identity has remained as firmly-rooted as our address – We are God’s people living in God’s Presence and accordingly serving Him.

How do we perceive ourselves?  In what terms do we cast our identity?  Who and what are we, first-and-foremost?  Our answers are critical to the way we live our lives, to whom or what we give our hearts and resources, and to our destiny.

Jesus said that we cannot serve God and Mammon.  We will love the one and hate the other, or vice-versa (Matthew 6:24).  Christians in the West need to search themselves to determine whether they need to repent of the sin of materialism; frankly, many of us do.

We have been warned against idolatry; in fact, it is one of the last bits of dicta coming from the New Testament, if one excludes the Book of Revelation (which is an entirely different, albeit profound matter):  “Keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:20).

Idols are far more subtle than the concrete materials that were the subject of veneration in the ancient world.  Contemporary idols issue themselves in the form of lifestyles, vocational and relational aspirations, and even church-related traditions and dogmas.

G.K. Chesterton remarked that it wasn’t true that if you didn’t believe in God you therefore believed in nothing; instead, you will believe in anything.  We see the truth of Chesterton’s quip all around us in our modern era, even amongst professing Christians.

It has been said that the sporting arena is today’s temple and the shopping mall is today’s sanctuary.  The Almighty Dollar and professional sports – a multi-faceted industry that is replete with sexism, commercialism and narcissism – are our contemporary gods.

And sex, once meaningful and pleasurable, has become a puerile and unimaginative idol in the hands of today’s godless, materialistic and self-absorbed generation.
We are told in Genesis One that we were made in God’s image and therefore spiritual.  We also learn n Genesis Two that we were made male and female, and therefore sexual.  The advent of sin denuded us of our spiritual nature, but distorted our sexual side.

We are a mess!  But there is hope, though there is also struggle.  The Bible makes a very clear delineation between the old life or the old man and the new self or the new man:

“I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are evident:  sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you … that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25).

God has no interest in salvaging or repairing the old, but every concern to offer new life and with new conditions and conditioning.  The world offers bandages and reforms and policies, and even Christians settle for less, but Jesus cut through such swath:

“No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment.  If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.  And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good’” (Luke 5:36-39).

We are wasting the nectar of God’s vine when we an admixture of our own, one that combines the newness of life in Christ with the stale and sweaty carnality of our old life.  The Holy Spirit will be grieved, and our Christianity will be denuded of its power.

The narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby commented upon that which “preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

It strikes me that Gatsby’s condition, and “the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men” are what is at issue, the very stuff that predicated the need for a Savior; all the more, diagnostically-stated, “What counts is a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).

How do you define your life?  What provides its definition?  Is it Jesus, or someone or something else?  Do the diagnostic.

Bradley E. Lacey
June 10, 2012