“Too Far Gone”?

12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12-13 (ESV)

From as early an age as I can remember, I’ve been an avid sports fan.  With the exceptions of bowling, NASCAR (I know, I know…it’s the fastest growing sport in America now.  I’m still not convinced…), and approximately half of everything featured in the recent Sochi Olympics (c’mon Canada…curling, really?), if you name the game, I probably enjoy it, and could offer you a piece or two of random trivia related to it.  That said, there are some events in sports that rise above the rest as undeniably supreme.  On this “short list” is, without question, what has become affectionately known in our nation as March Madness- the annual NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament.

If you’re not familiar with this God graced event, here’s a bit of background- 68 college basketball teams from all over the nation, large and small, well known and virtually unknown, are thrown into a bracket together and compete to win their sport’s ultimate prize, the national championship.  It’s a do-or-die, win-or-go-home format, with no room for error.  This is important, because it means that anyone– no matter how obscure or unheralded- has an opportunity to win it all.  No name schools like Butler, George Mason, and last year’s underdog darling, Florida Gulf Coast, can rise up and take down the “big boys” of college basketball with grit, determination, and fantastic teamwork.  Year after year in March, fans flock to their televisions, computers, and phones to see which “no name” will break through in unlikely victory.  (Maybe after reading this blog, next month you will too!  I do what I can…)

So what does all this have to do with our recent exploration of Square One, and of how the foundational relationship of a Christ follower to Jesus impacts every other relationship in his or her life?  If you believe the Matthew 9 text that heads this post, everything

Using our March Madness language, Jesus absolutely loved to choose the “underdogs” of His day to follow Him.  He routinely took the guys and girls who no one wanted and flipped their lives absolutely upside down for His eternal purpose.  Jesus didn’t accept the label “too far gone.”  He understood well that He had the power to renew and transform anyone from anywhere to do anything that He called them to do.  And over and over again, throughout His earthly ministry, and in the centuries that have followed since, up to today, He has done just that.

Despite knowing this intellectually, we often struggle to see people in the same way; I know I do.  We look at certain people- and if we’re being completely honest, certain categories of people- and say to ourselves, “No way.  God could never…”  We then turn our disbelief into disobedience, and choose not to engage “those people” in relationship, or in Gospel conversation.  From our (deceived) perspective, why would we?  But if, as Christ followers, we take our cues from Jesus, the question we must begin to ask is, instead, why wouldn’t we?  He hasn’t changed; His power to renew and transform hasn’t been diminished over time; and our call to proclaim that power hasn’t and isn’t going away any time soon.

I’m not saying this is anywhere close to easy or comfortable.  I’m simply saying that if we truly believe the Gospel of grace, we will find ways to press through that difficulty and pursue intentional Gospel relationships with people who seem, from a worldly perspective, “too far gone.”  Chances are, you already have these people in your life- at work, at school, in your neighborhood, perhaps even in your own home.  This week, I want to challenge you to suspend your assumptions about what Jesus can’t do and instead ask Him for the ability to believe in what He can do- and, by the way, has done, in you and in me.  Allow the transformed perspective that He brings to give you the courage to engage others as He did- with unrestrained love, grace, and Gospel truth.  If you do, you may just find yourself caught up in an “underdog story” that March Madness could never touch.

A Firm Foundation

As a dad to two young sons, building blocks are a big deal in our house, undoubtedly occupying the position of favored toy.  Over the past year, we’ve amassed quite an impressive collection of blocks, of various shapes and sizes- the large, seemingly indestructible cardboard builders; the awesomely, appropriately named plastic Mega Blocks; and most recently, the so-small-and-hard-they-double-as-weapons wooden variety.  On most days, all of these varieties are scattered across our boys’ bedroom floor (and usually other floors too!), actively in use.

Without a doubt, almost three year old Jude’s joy in blocks is found in his ability to build the tallest, strongest “castles” he can muster.  (For his part, just turned one year old Asa’s expertise is knocking said towers down repeatedly and relentlessly.  We’ll get there with him…maybe.)  As Jude has grown in this skill, I’ve offered him one piece of essential advice time and again- If you want your “castle” to go high, you have to build on a firm foundation.  A wide, solid base is the single most critical aspect of any successful block building effort.  Of course, the same is true in actual building as well- apart from a firm, sturdy foundation, any hope of structural integrity is absolutely shot.

Life works in much the same way, doesn’t it?  We’re all building our lives on something, and that something determines the strength of our lives.  If we choose to build on something that can’t effectively and appropriately bear that weight, especially amidst the inevitable storms of life, then we’ll quickly find everything we are and everything we have crumbling.  But if, on the other hand, we found our lives on the only firm foundation we have available to us- the Solid Rock, the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ- we will eventually, ultimately find everything in our lives being impacted by that single choice.

Jesus is not only first in our lives, but also foundational to our lives.

Many people mistakenly believe that they have made Jesus the foundation of their lives, when in reality they have merely made Him “first.”  This seems like a subtle difference, but it is anything but.  Placing Jesus just “first” puts Him in a compartmentalized “box,” in which we can (self-deceptively) claim that He is the “most important thing to us” while living the vast majority of our everyday lives effectively disconnected from Him, or from who we are in Him.  We do our “Jesus thing” on Sunday, and maybe even at a few other times scattered throughout the week- and then we live the rest of our lives as we please.  In this arrangement, the way we do relationships, work, money, time, etc is determined and directed not by Him, but by us.  We may think we’re building our lives on His foundation, but practically, we’re just building on ourselves, with a bit of a religious flavor added into the mix.

To make Jesus foundational, however, means that we have no life apart from Him, and who we are in Him; there is no area, no aspect of our lives that is not touched or transformed by His influence.  Every role, every responsibility, every relationship, every decision is determined and directed by Him, by the outworking of the implications of the Gospel in our lives.  The Apostle Paul describes this radically Christ centered life in this way…

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory…Colossians 3:3-4 (ESV)

The bottom line is line- If you are in Christ, then Christ is now your life.  He is not merely “number one” in your life, the “most important thing” in your life, or some other expression of priority; He is your life, period, and there is no life to be found apart from Him.  And if Christ is your life, then there is nowhere that you don’t “bring Him” with you.  To be truly authentic, then, in everyday life, is to allow His transforming work to be seen and shared in everything you are, think, say, and do.  In the specific context of relationships, which we’ll explore in depth in this Square One series, it means actually resembling Jesus in the way you relate with others, and having the courage and authenticity to share why.

There is so much more we could say about this- and over the next four weeks, we will say much more.  But as we start down this road together today, ask yourself this- On what foundation am I building my life?  Have I merely made Jesus “first,” and so attempted to confine Him to the “religious” aspect of my life, or have I rightly opened all that I am and all that I have- including every single relationship- to His transforming work?  This is the first step to an authentically impactful life- to building everything on Jesus, our Solid Rock, our Cornerstone.