Diving in the Deep
Memorial Day weekend was famous in our Little Rock neighborhood, as that was opening day for the community pool, the day kids fought for the title of “first in the pool” no matter the temperature. Most years the water was tolerable, though some years the event turned into a southern version of the polar bear challenge. I loved seeing all those little kids, an hour into opening day, shaking like a slice of pan fried bacon, lips as blue as a new pool liner, refusing to give up or get out.
The first kid in the pool always went to one place to claim their title: the deep end. That was the only way to do it: off the board and fully immersed, all-in or else. This week’s midweek letter is taking a similar approach: we’re jumping into the deep end.
In last week’s letter, and in Sunday’s Sermon, I mentioned the passing of author and pastor Tim Keller. His preaching and writing was known for being full of engaging and vivid illustrations, accessible ideas, and yet also undergirded by theological depth and dependence on the gospel. I’ve been reading his biography, which was released earlier this year. Yesterday I ran across a quote that required some pondering, but is worth recapturing here in a condensed form. This first part is a quote from a book by Richard Lovelace. My comments are in brackets.
“Much that we have interpreted as a defect of sanctification [growth in spiritual maturity] in church people is really an outgrowth of their loss of bearing with respect to justification [our means of salvation rooted in Christ alone],”
Ok that is a mouthful, but it is important. Sometimes “church people” who have seemed to take a step backwards in their spiritual growth, are experiencing the results of not really understanding that their salvation is in Christ alone, not a result of works so that no one may boast (see Ephesians 2:1-10). The author of the biography on Keller ads further explanation:
“When Christians don’t know God accepts them on Jesus’ behalf, they become insecure. Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce defensive assertion of their own righteousness and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger, [and their] animosity bolsters self-righteousness. Race, political party, and culture become means of superiority that stifle the inner whisper of doubt. Such Christians don’t realize that self-love prevents them from enjoying freedom and joy in Christ, whose grace abounds to all who repent of their vain moral efforts.”
When encountering someone like this in my life, angry and self-righteous and hypercritical of others, I’ve often been tempted to get angry toward them (ironic maybe?) and to dismiss them and try to avoid them.
Gospel Centered Compassion
But Keller’s quote calls us to something that’s not natural: compassion. If such behavior and attitudes flow from a lack of true understanding about who they are in Christ, and if I can remember that fact in the moment, then I can turn my attention to the gospel, rather than getting angry or defensive. Too many churches and “church people” find themselves in this place of being defensive about secondary items, like those in the passage we studied this week in John 10:22-42, and as a result, they are missing Jesus!
And, by the way, the same can be said of my own heart: If I find myself defensive and divisive, I need to remind myself of the gospel and focus on how great Christ is.
Jim Dennison summed it up in his newsletter this week:
“William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, died in 1912. Consider his prophetic prediction for the twentieth century: “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration… heaven without hell.”
My prayer for Valley View this week is that we would be known as people quick to focus on the gospel, even in the midst of differences, especially in the midst of differences. Christ reconciled us and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, and the main means of reconciling to one another is first to be reconciled and made right with God! (II Corinthians 5:17-21)