James C. Denison
I want to try a trick on you. Let’s say that I have a bow and arrow in my hand, and I’m about to shoot it at you. I’m at point A, and you’re at point B. Before the arrow can get to you, would you agree that it has to get halfway there? We’ll call that point C. Before the arrow can get to point C, does it have to get halfway there? We’ll call that point D. Before the arrow can get to point D, does it have to get halfway there? We’ll call that point E. And F, and G, and so on. The arrow never moves.
That’s known as Zeno’s Paradox. This ancient philosopher had other such riddles, but that’s the most exciting one. He told his little puzzles to prove that nothing ever changes. And given the dimensions of his argument, despite dissertations written on the subject, he’s never been proven wrong.
We could have told him the same thing this week, just reading the news.
The Secretary of State was back in the Middle East, trying to broker yet another peace agreement. Nothing seems to change in Iraq, or Israel, or Afghanistan, or the next Afghanistan. Will the headlines ever really get better?
Are you tired of school? These are the dog days between Christmas and Spring Break. The new wore off a long time ago. You’re tired of your teachers and your parents, and they might be tired of you. Everyone’s been playing together too long. Most of us are ready for a break. Warm weather like we’ve had this week teases us, but we know better than to think winter will leave us alone just yet. Life treadmills this time of year.
So can our souls. The Bible tells us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). But it’s easy to settle down where we are, to be happy with our spiritual lives and health.
When was the last time you took a major step forward in your faith? A real risk for Jesus? When last did you have a genuine, transforming experience with the God of the universe? How can you take the next step in following him today?
Refuse what refuses God
Paul told the Colossians to “set your hearts on things above” (Colossians 3:1). Why did he have to tell them this? What was keeping them from going on with God? The same things which keep us from going on with God today.
Theological knowledge, for one thing.
Paul had warned them: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (v. 8). He’s talking about Gnosticism, the first heresy Christians had to fight. They said that correct knowledge was enough for salvation. So long as you had your theology all worked out, you’d done all that God expects.
You and I are tempted in the same way today. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, crucified and raised from the dead; if you believe that the Bible is the word of God; if you believe in the essentials of the faith, you’ve done all that God requires. But knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God. Believing in marriage doesn’t make you married. I’m afraid that millions of people in America are going to miss heaven by 18 inches, the distance from the head to the heart.
You may have your theology all worked out, but when last did you meet Jesus?
Worship experiences can keep us from God as well. Paul cautioned them: “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (vs. 16-17).
He’s talking about the religious festivals and rituals of their Jewish faith. If he were writing to us he’d talk about Christmas and Easter and DNow and Thee Camp and Sunday worship and Wednesday CrossWalk.
These are but a “shadow,” for the “reality” of the faith “is found in Christ.” What we feel in worship isn’t the point–meeting Jesus is. What we “get out of church” isn’t what matters so much as encountering him. It’s not about us. We can come to worship each Christmas or each Sunday and Wednesday or every day of the week, and still miss him. Being in church doesn’t make us Christians any more than being in a garage makes us a car. Standing in a bank lobby doesn’t prove that I know the bank manager. Visiting the White House doesn’t mean that I know the president.
You may be in worship each week, but when last did you meet Jesus?
Religious morality can keep us from God: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (vs. 20-23).
The apostle is dealing with the religious legalisms of his day. On the Sabbath you weren’t allowed to draw water from a well with two hands, or wear false teeth or a clothes pin, or carry your mat, or walk more than 3/8 of a mile. So long as you kept these and the rest of the 613 laws governing daily life, all was well.
Baptists used to have our own version of all that: no drinking, dancing, cards, movies, gambling of any kind. The problem is that our religious morality can make us think we’re all God wants us to be. Be good, go to church, believe the right things, and you’ve done all that Christianity requires. All while we’re missing Jesus.