Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Shut Up and Look Up: Letting God Justify

Sunday Message (September 22): CHRIST

Sermon Audio: Listen HERE

We learned that thriving and lasting relationships make Jesus the center of individual identity in last Sunday's message. Tuesday's AfterWORDS explained how praying Romans 8:33b, "It is God who justifies" helps ground your value and esteem in Christ. In this post, I give you a practical way to let God justify and it means you have to shut up! :-)

Facebook fascinates me, not because I like to creep on everyone's life (just a few of you), but because it is an insightful study in our perception obsession. Facebook offers the perfect medium to design the "You" you want the world to see: brand yourself! You don't see a lot of people updating their profile pic with the "triple chin" photo. You don't see a lot of uploaded family vacation pics capturing the special moment when you screamed at your wife and your middle kid hit his brother with a stick! No, it's always the family sitting around the campfire, singing "Kumbayah," sharing S'mores (FYI, the Taylor's do not share S'mores), and sipping hot cocoa. Let's admit it. We are all fatter in real life.

Facebook is simply a symptom of a larger issue: seeking value and worth based on how others see us. That's why we spend a large percentage of our energy trying to get people to see us a certain way: our clothes, our homes, our cars, our hair, and most importantly our words. Many of us devote the largest percentage of our daily words shaping perception by correcting, explaining, and defending. Richard Foster, the Michael Jordan of Spiritual disciplines, says a practical way to put your identity in God and to let him justify is simply to "Shut up and look up!"

The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image. We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding. If I have done some wrong thing (or even some right thing that I think you may misunderstand) and discover that you know about it, I will be very tempted to help you understand my action! Silence [emphasis mine] is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification.

One of the fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier....perhaps more than anything else, silence brings us to believe that God can care for us - "reputation and all." 
-Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline)

If you really want to let God justify, start by being quiet. Don't respond. Shut up. Leave it to God.

But what they think about me is wrong....shhhh.
But they are misinterpreting my motives...shhhh.
But they don't like me because of rumors....shhhh.
But that was a mistake, I'm not like that anymore...shhh.

Shhh...shut up and look up. It is so hard but in those moments when you do it,  it is
so freeing!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Just Because: Finding Identity in Christ

Sunday Message (September 22nd): CHRIST

Text: Philippians 3:1-10

Sermon Audio: Listen HERE

On Sunday, we explored how lasting and thriving relationships make Jesus the center of individual identity. You are a better friend and a better spouse when your value, esteem and sense of worth derive from an identity in Christ rather than in the acceptance or rejection from others. While it might be easy to understand this concept, it is very difficult to live it out in a world that assigns value according to ability, beauty, and productivity.

My wife recently informed me that thighs, skinny enough not to touch, are the new standard of beauty. Huh? I thought God designed the human body to be a fire hazard when wearing corduroy pants...inner thigh friction. Apparently not according to the latest, and ever changing, beauty trends. Seriously, women once thought hair on a man's chest attractive (reference: Magnum PI). Now men shave themselves into a porpoise. Society's definition of beauty carries so much weight when it comes to our sense of value and worth that plastic surgeons now offer surgery to keep your thighs from meeting in the middle. No wonder so many of us feel ugly.

And productivity...I spent three months as a Business Development Specialist (fancy for salesperson) in a retirement home. It was a depressing job. I saw many elderly discarded at the doors of the long term care facility because they no longer were "productive" members of society and therefore no longer valuable. No wonder so many of us lose our identity in our jobs and careers.

I realized how much of my identity and sense of worth came from my ministerial ability during an
eight-month hiatus from ministry. I was preaching at a 1000-member church. I was speaking almost monthly at events around the country. I earned the largest salary I had known to date. Needless to say, I was confident in my ability and then, because of choices I made, I lost my job. I spent the next 8 months building fences, and while I had great confidence in the Church World, I was an idiot in the construction business. I handled a saw and a nail gun like a toddler behind the wheel of a semi. My boss wouldn't let me touch the cutting saw for 6 months. I was of better use to his business with all of my limbs intact.  He entrusted that job to a 19-year old and a 26 year old...yep, and I was 35! Although I loved the physical nature of building fences and although I learned a lot, my self-esteem took a brutal beating in those 8 months because of my minimal ability. I felt stupid, dumb, and sometimes useless. During this 8-month break I realized that my identity had been in my preachin
g/ministering ability rather than Jesus, so I started taking steps to ground my value in Christ.

I began by praying a prayer from Romans 8:33b:

It is God who justifies.
I prayed this prayer a hundred times a day. It aligned my mind with the truth: I am valuable and worthy not because of how I look, perform, or produce. I am valuable because God has made me valuable.  

Justified means "being made right," and in a Christian context, "being made right before God." This simple prayer reminded me that the only thing that makes me right before God is God! It instilled a truth I had known but never really believed:
  1. I cannot fix my past mistakes. I cannot undo the past...but I'm not justified by fixing my past. It is God who justifies.
  2. I do not meet society's definition of beauty, and there are many areas of life where I possess no ability...but I'm not justified by my beauty or ability. It is God who justifies.
  3. There are people who do not like me, who have rejected me...but I am not justified by what others think of me. It is God who justifies.
If you are like me and you struggle to accept that your value comes from God and not ability, beauty or productivity, then I encourage you to pray this prayer today, this week, maybe even longer. Let these words move God's truth from your head to your heart. You are valuable "just because."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

AfterWORDS: Connecting the Message to Everyday Life

I'm Charlton Taylor, the Senior Minister for TCOC (Trenton Church of Christ). I believe in the power of preaching - the weekly rhythm of speaking publicly the Word of God. In the 2000 years of Christian history, preaching has been an essential component of individual and communal formation. I'm honored and humbled that God has entrusted me with the opportunity to regularly declare his life-transforming story.

I'm convinced God intends for his word to have a transformative effect in your everyday life. When theology ceases to be practical, it ceases to be theology. God never intended his story as an idea, but as a way of life and as a manner of perceiving the world. I created AfterWORDS as tool to help the hearer connect the Sunday message to everyday life. It is designed for the TCOC member, but will be available to anyone with Internet access.

Each week I will attach an audio link to the previous Sunday's message and will attempt to write two short devotional thoughts related to and building upon the message. I pray AfterWORDS will help you keep God's word fresh in your life throughout the week and not simply on Sunday.

"It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God..."