Well I’ve caught a cold. I almost never get sick and I suppose that’s partly because Wendy almost never gets sick. But last week she started coming down with a sore throat and headache and so on and so now I have it too. I spend a fair bit of time with her (that’s a good thing when you’re married) and so if one of us gets sick the other is likely to.
Picking things up from the people you are closest with is very natural, and I don’t just mean germs. When you spend lots of time with someone you just naturally pick up traits and quirks and even ways of speaking.
I went on a summer mission trip back in ’85 with Teen Missions. We spent the first two weeks in training down on Merritt Island, Florida. To get there they had a bus that I got on in Saskatoon. We travelled for 5 days all down the Eastern seaboard picking kids up at cities along the way. I loved that trip. Every day we’d get new people from places I’ve never been to and nothing but time to visit and get to know them and what their lives were like.
But something funny was happening to me. The further south we got the more I took on the accent of the kids we were picking up. By the time we got to Florida I sounded like Chris Jones. (He’s the head coach of the GREY CUP CHAMPION Edmonton Eskimos!!!– sorry, couldn’t resist.) I finally made a conscious effort to change when I caught myself talking about going up on a “rouf” instead of roof.
There is a spiritual truth in this as well. You will take on the characteristics of the one you are most intimate with. Galatians 5 says that the result of spending more and more time with Jesus, literally under his control, is that you will naturally exhibit in greater and greater measure his characteristics. These are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no better time than the season of Christmas to begin picking up a divine accent. I encourage you to intentionally seek out places where the birth of Jesus is more than just another aspect of this wonderful time of year, but where it is the focus and center of celebration.
Even better, spend some time in the book of Luke in the Bible getting to know him yourself.
God created us all with a conscience. In fact in a very real sense, particularly for those who are Jesus followers, your conscience is the voice of God. But we need to be careful because the Bible tells us we are able to harden our hearts (picture a dried up, hard old orange). When that happens we are unable to recognize that voice, or maybe twist it to say what we want hear. The Bible says by letting go of a good conscience we can shipwreck faith. So how do we guard against that? Let me tell you what I’ve learned from experience.
My second job out of college was head wrangler at a Bible Camp north of Edmonton. I ran the horsemanship program there. To save on always having to adjust my stirrups I chose a saddle to use from the ones they had there. Almost no one else who’s ever sat in the one I picked has found it very comfortable, but it fit me well and so became the one I always used.
When we moved on from that camp I looked at that saddle and thought, boy I’m really going to need a saddle. No one else likes this one and I’ve used it so long and it’s broke in to fit me it’s essentially mine anyway. Besides, I deserve it. They didn’t pay me very well and I’ve earned it. So I packed it in with our things.
About 18 months and two moves later I was preparing a sermon, and I don’t even remember what the topic was, but in the process my conscience (God) convicted me that I had stolen that saddle and I needed to make it right before I preached the sermon. I called the camp and confessed to the director. He was very gracious and forgave me and even gifted the saddle to me.
From that experience I’ve learned a couple of cues that will warn you that you may be on course for a shipwreck.
When you start to convince yourself you really need this or that you must have your way; when you tell yourself you’re owed or you deserve it; or when you blame someone else for this need your conscience is likely beginning to dry and wither and harden. At that moment stop! Stop and ask God to soften your heart.
One more key thought: A clear conscience is not gained by just not sinning anymore but only by dealing appropriately when you do sin. And that begins with confession to God and forgiveness through Jesus’ blood shed for you.
The astute among you will have noticed that there is a different picture attached to this article. Some may even have wondered who it is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the comment “I didn’t recognize you without your hat.” Well to avoid any misunderstandings about this picture let me be clear up front: No this is not my bike. (But I am looking for one.)
Maybe you’re thinking I must be hitting my mid-life crisis since I just celebrated my first 49th birthday. (Apparently some people have more than one right Terry?) Maybe you’re thinking I’m going through some sort of identity crisis. Do I want to be cowboy, football, farmer or biker?
Well it’s none of that. I’ve seen wannabe’s in all of those genres and I know it takes more than putting on a leather vest with the colours of some organization (Christian Motorcycle Assoc. in my case) and buying a bike to really understand and embrace biker culture, same as wearing a hat and boots doesn’t make you a cowboy.
But it can be one of the steps of identifying with a culture. Why would I want to identify with a different culture? So that maybe I will have the opportunity to say in actions and words this is exactly what Jesus did for all of us and more. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that because we have flesh and blood so Jesus also took on flesh and blood (the ultimate in identifying with another culture) so that by his death he could break the power of death and free us who live with a fear of death.
In a very small way embracing the culture of someone else is following Jesus’ example, and says you are important and valuable to Jesus and to me. I want you to know that your identity does not come from your culture but from Jesus himself. Then that identity in Jesus is expressed in whatever culture you find yourself.
Here is where I find my identity, echoing Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15-16. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”
Because Jesus saved me from my sin, I know he can save you from yours – regardless of what your culture is.