Friday, June 9, 2017

Before And After

"Before And After"
1 Corinthians 12:12

If our television shows are any indication, we are currently enamored with pictures of before and after.  There have been shows like 10 Years Younger, What Not To Wear, and The Biggest Loser that show us what our bodies and our selves can look like before and after a makeover.  There have been shows like Extreme Home Makeover, Trading Spaces, and Flip That House, that demonstrate what your home and landscape can look like before and after.

We evidently like to see those kinds of sensational transformations unfold before our eyes.  “It’s amazing what people can do,” we think to ourselves.  “It’s mind-boggling the kinds of changes people make to their bodies, their looks, their homes,” we continue in our thoughts.  And then comes the wall in a word:  “But, I don’t think I could do that.”  It’s that little word, “but,” that makes all the difference when we try to imagine those same kinds of changes being made in our lives.  We enjoy watching it happen to others, and we kind of live our lives, imaginatively, through what we are watching; but, we never make the personal jump and imagine it happening to us.  Could a before-and-after transformation really happen, in any shape or form, in our lives?  We have all kinds of reasons and excuses why it would never happen to us, don’t we?

I always have a question, though, when I watched shows like that.  The people on those shows, who have had a before and after transformation, all say, “This has changed my life.”  But that’s my question.  Has it really changed their lives?  Has putting on new and different clothes, has losing 100 pounds, has a new hair style, or a skin peel, or even getting a new home, totally and substantively changed the people from one kind of person to a new kind of person?  Has dealing with a person’s exterior done anything to the kind of person they are?  Has it changed their character?  Has it changed their personality?  Has it changed their sense of self?  I don’t know those kinds of answers.  Those shows never dealt with those kinds of questions.

That would be some kind of show to watch, wouldn’t it?  Extreme Personality Makeover.  Or maybe a show title like Major Life Overhaul.  That would be something to see.  Is that kind of internal change of self possible?  If it was, would you do it?

In his letter to the Corinthian Christians, Paul says that just such a life overhaul is possible.  This kind of life change isn’t done by some “glam squad” on a TV show.  It isn’t done by a contractor who builds new houses.  For Paul, and the whole New Testament for that matter, this kind of 180 degree change of the self can only be effected by the Holy Spirit.  In one verse here in chapter 12, Paul gives us one of those before-and-after pictures that is not only intriguing and amazing, it is doable for anyone.  Let me read that verse once again, and then I’ll break it down into this amazing before-and-after transformation:

By means of his one Spirit
we all said goodbye to our
piecemeal lives.
We each used to
call our own shots;
then we entered into a
integrated life
in which
the Holy Spirit has the final say
in everything.

Did you notice there’s a “but” right in the middle of that verse?  I’m going to deal with that but at the end of the message.  That but is the major change word in this verse.  So let’s hold on to the but, and deal with it at the end.

What I want you to notice is that there are three parts of a person’s character on each side of the but in this verse.  On one side of the but is the before picture.  On the other side of the but there is the after picture.

Paul says on the before side, our living looks partial, piecemeal, and we are calling our own shots.  On the after side, our living looks larger, integrated, and the Holy Spirit has the final say.  Notice how each of the three characteristics on each side correspond to each other:  partial living vs. living large; piecemeal living vs. living integrated; calling your own shots vs. the Holy Spirit having the final say in everything.  Let’s look at those two very different kinds of living in detail.

First, partial living vs. living large.  Partial living creates a feeling in us that we are incomplete.  Nothing feels whole.  Another way of putting it would be, living small, or living a small life.  When I was in seminary, my New Testament professor defined heresy as, “making a part the whole.”  So, living small, would be like living a heresy.  It would be coming at life, zeroing in on only a small part of it, and then falsely making the assumption that this small part of life is really the whole of what can be grasped.  It’s like taking only a small part of the life of God, and living out of that smallness, while at the same time missing out on so much more.  Living small, or living partial, means becoming too easily and too quickly satisfied with so little of what is available to make a great life.

I think there are times when God uses that feeling we have that something is missing, that we are incomplete, that we just aren’t whole, to give us a hunger to look for that which will change our partial into wholeness.  In that search, God hopes we will find Him.

As I was thinking about how people live small, partial lives, I came up with the image of a supermarket.  Let’s imagine there’s a supermarket called, “The Holy Spirit’s Life Store.”  Rows and rows, shelf upon shelf of life.  But instead of getting a shopping cart when we enter, or one of those huge pallet carts like at COSTCO, we get a little hand basket.  We wander up and down the aisles for hours and put 2 or 3 little things in our hand basket, go to the register to check out, get our items bagged, get out our wallet to pay, and are told by the Holy Spirit (who is the cashier), “No charge!  It’s all free!”  And we think to ourselves as we walk out with our little bag, “Wow! I could have gotten a lot more.”

Or it would be like running into that same life store, looking at all the things on the shelves and saying to ourselves, “I can’t possibly afford anything like this,” and walking out with nothing, not realizing it was all free.

And it’s not just stuff in the Holy Spirit’s Life Store.  There are aisles filled with values.  There are shelves of characteristics.  There are displays of outlooks.  There are cases of new dreams.  Tables loaded with attitudes.  There are baskets full of fresh insights.  There are packages of emotions.  Cartons of ideas.  There are fresh-baked and tantalizing prospects.  Racks of new angles.  Piles of opportunities.

At different stages of our lives we need different things.  We would shop differently at the Life Store as we age.  Pieces we were missing that made us feel small and partial when we were younger, or at mid-life are different.  Old age creates even different needs, and we shop a different part of the Life Store then.  Pieces we didn’t even think or worry about at one stage become vital at another.

Don’t we get so tired of a life lived only partially?  We have talked and walked ourselves into that kind of living, though.   Paul says the Holy Spirit wants to talk us out of it.  The after picture of the Holy Spirit is a shopping spree in God’s Life Store, opening our eyes not only to the ways we have chosen to live small, but the after picture of a large life offered freely to us, with so many more choices than we could have imagined.

Living large, as the Holy Spirit wants us to, means understanding and seeing the extent of all that God is, all that God has to offer in terms of relationship and life.  It’s going into The Holy Spirit’s Life Store and using God’s “But” card.  It’s saying to ourselves, “I used to spend myself buying into this kind of life, BUT, I can make a change and get this instead.  I can live much larger; I can live a life that is whole and full.  And I can afford it.

The second before and after picture has to do with living piecemeal vs. living integrated.  Living piecemeal means that you are living your life in pieces.  Each part is segmented, and is kept apart from all the others.  It’s not allowing any overlap or interchange between all the segments of your life.

You have a part of you that contains your marriage, another part that contains your job, another part that contains your church life, another part that has to do with your relationship with God (because that can be entirely different than your church life), a part that holds your social life, a segment for yourself as a parent or grandparent, a segment for education, and on and on.  Each compartment is totally separate.  When you are in a certain compartment, you may have a totally separate mode of being.  It’s like we have created a different personage and way of being for each segment, so that we only know how to act a certain way when we’re in that compartment of our lives.

I did a personality profile with young couples at a retreat.  I had the couples take the profile twice: once for how they saw themselves, and again for how they saw their spouse.  Then we compared how they saw themselves with how their spouse saw them.  One couple was baffled because he saw himself one way, but she saw him the exact opposite.  The more we talked we finally realized he took the test as he saw himself at work; she described him as she saw him at home and with the family.  He had compartmentalized his life and had developed two very different ways of being in those two separate compartments.

The after picture, with the Holy Spirit’s help, is to live an integrated life.  Living in the Holy Spirit’s after picture means recognizing that organizing ourselves into compartments is just a control game.  It not only keeps us in individual compartments, but it is also our attempt at controlling and keeping everyone else in their place.  It is our unintegrated way of keeping others in our control, only allowing them in certain segments of our life.  We assume that we are in control of those compartments, especially as that means who gets to move in and out of them.

The major problem with living piecemeal and unintegrated lives, trying to have that kind of control is that we quickly assume we can do the same with God.  We can keep God in our “church” compartment, or in our “spiritual life” compartment, and not allow God into other areas of our lives, like work, family, marriage, etc.

What the Holy Spirit does for us, in creating an integrated life, which is the after picture, is to kick the walls down of our compartments and fragmented lives.  The Holy Spirit wishes us to integrate all the compartments of our lives, so that they all inform each other, all intersect with each other in some way, all interact with each other.  Most importantly, by living an integrated life, we are taking control away from ourselves and allowing God to roam freely and speak openly to all parts of our lives.  Isn’t it interesting that the word integrated and the word integrity come from the same word.  To live an integrated, non-segmented life is to live a life of integrity where nothing is hidden, and nothing goes uninformed by God, and everything is one whole.

The final piece of the before-and-after picture really ties the first two together:  living  independently, calling your own shots vs. living with God’s Spirit having the final say in all things.  When we look at the way the church at Corinth was, we see how this part of the before and after picture is played out.

The people of Corinth generally had a reputation in the ancient world as an unruly, hard-drinking, sexually promiscuous bunch of people.  They brought these characteristics right into the church.  The Corinthian converts simply took their “calling their own shots” kind of lives into the church and spiritualized it, rather than allowing their faith to help them rise above their lifestyles.

For example, in the church at Corinth there was a man who was sleeping with his mother.  Sounds like a segment for a Jerry Springer show.  Pot luck suppers became food orgies at which the poor were left out.  Spiritual gifts were only used as ways to decide who was cool and who wasn’t, who was in and who was out.  The rich snubbed the poor, the charismatics snubbed the traditionalists; each faction said it was the best:  one faction followed Paul, another faction followed Apollos (because he really knew how to preach), and yet another faction of purists said they were the best because they only followed Jesus.

It was a mess, and it was all brought about because people wanted to call their own shots.  Paul was in Corinth a year and a half, trying to hold that church together, and I think one of the happiest days of his life was when he finally walked out of town.  The problem with living a life in which you think you get to call your own shots is that it ends up making all of life factional and schismatic.  It destroys all your relationships, it destroys the church, and everyone ends up getting hurt in the end.

The “after” part of this picture is living in which God’s Spirit has the control.  It is living a life that allows the Spirit of God to have the final say in our lives.  Whenever schisms happen between two people or two groups of people, neither party wants to feel like they’ve given up or lost control and power.  Control and power is all about living to and for the self.  It sets up a win-lose situation.

So, in order for something new to happen, it’s not a matter of one side giving in to the other.  It’s more a matter of both sides giving up, and giving in to that which is bigger than both of them; which is, God’s Spirit.  It’s not a matter of one side having their self-inflated say over the other side.  It’s more about both giving up their say, and giving that say over to God.  The after picture is a picture of losing in order to ultimately win.  It’s a matter of giving into God, so that we can then give in to each other, and create an entirely different kind of relationship.

The question we need to ask ourselves, as we look at this before-and-after picture that Paul has drawn for us, is the same question I ask myself when I watch those before and after shows:  Can the Spirit of God fundamentally change who a person is?  Can you really become a different person?  Is a 180 degree life switch possible?

And, is this possible not just for individuals, but for a congregation as well?  Can a church move from living out of a small, partial vision of itself, to living large?  Can a congregation move from living a piecemeal, fragmented existence, to a whole and integrated kind of ministry?  Can a church move from calling it’s own shots, to letting God’s Spirit have the lead and take control?  Can a congregation move from a before picture to an after picture, and thus becoming founded upon and working out of a Godly sense of integrity?

I firmly believe that the answer to all these questions is a big, YES!  That’s what the but is all about in the middle of this verse.  The word but signals to us that something new can, will, and is about to happen.  That we lived one way, but an exception is being made so that we can live an entirely different way.  The word but is a word of grace that erases what is past, so that we can live into a new vision of self and church.  Paul says we can all say “goodbye” to that before picture, and looking into the mirror of the Holy Spirit, catch a glimpse of the after picture and say, “Wow!  What a difference!”

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