Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Construction Paper & Mickey Molds

Weighing heavy on me recently has been the realization that I may not know or be known by God.

Sure, I know about him, and I can discuss propitiation VS expiation, or the natural headship of Adam VS the federal headship of Adam, or define justification or righteousness or holiness or many other theological terms, but I'm not sure I've ever been...transformed. Completely changed. Had my spiritual deadness exchanged for spiritual life in Jesus.

So what gives with my Christian appearance? I think of it in two analogies, both of which fail to truly nail the core issue. What I'll do then is briefly summarize what the Bible says on the issue.

1. The Construction Paper Christmas Tree

Since I'm contemplating this around the holiday season, it was only natural that my mind would lean towards Christmas-y thoughts.

When I was in elementary school, around this time of year we would begin cutting out the shapes of Christmas trees, ornaments, tinsle, stars, angels, and presents from brightly colored construction paper. After juxtaposing all of the shapes in various positions, it's time to bust out the Elmer's glue and lock in the final design. After a period of allowing the freshly-glued tree to dry you had something you could proudly display on the refrigerator at home: a carefully crafted construction paper Christmas tree.

However, once my craft is hung on the fridge, I'm not going stack presents in front of my refrigerator door, am I? Heavens no! How would I get to my eggnog then?! No, the fact of the matter is that my craft-time creation is NOT a Christmas tree. It looks sort of like one, with the same basic shapes and colors, but it is not actually a fir tree purchased from a lot or cut down from the Pacific Northwest. I have simply conformed my paper to represent whatever image I wanted - in this case, a Christmas tree.

What's the spiritual picture I'm trying to draw?

The construction paper is me in my spiritual deadness, my sin, my old man, my flesh, my unregenerate self. The Christmas tree shape is analogous to the "Christian image", and the real Christmas tree would be the real, born-again Christan.

Having grown up in the church, I have had plenty of time to figure out what a Christian should look like, and I have been able to carefully adjust myself to look like a born-again believer. A snip here, a clip there, paste another embellishment or two, and voilà! A Christian! But...not really. I'm not REALLY a Christian at this point, right? I've just conformed my deadness to look like life. The problem is that I've done this with really big construction paper, and because I'm life-sized, I can't tell myself apart from actual Christians, and so I grow to believe that I show all the signs of a true believer.

Now, this analogy breaks down because construction paper (for the most part) is made from trees. Construction paper and a Christmas tree have more in common, by virtue of their tree-ness, than a spiritually dead person and a spiritually living person.

2. The Mickey Mouse Mold

If you ever travel to EPCOT at Walt Disney World, you'll have the opportunity to purchase a guided tour called "Behind the Seeds", which takes you into the wonderful world of gardening, hydroponics, and farming. On this tour, Guests are shown something quite spectacular: pumpins shaped (more or less) like Mickey Mouse's famous silouhette. How is this done?

When the hydroponically grown pumpkins are still quite small, they are placed inside of a specially-designed mold. As the pumpkin increases in size, its rind conforms almost perfectly to the mold. The result? A pumpkin that, in the wrong lighting, could be confused for the Head Cheese himself.

Spiritual picture? Glad you asked.

The pumpkin is me in my spiritual deadness. The mold is the Christian image, and Mickey would be the actual Christian.

When I was born, I was born in sin, and that sin produced death within me. Because I grew up in church, I was able to conform my outward appearance to look very Christian-like, but there was never any life inside of the shell. A true Christian, however, is self-authenticating: he looks like a Christian because he IS one. Mickey doesn't have to try to be himself, nor did he grow in a Mickey-shaped mold; he looks like himself because...well, because he's Mickey.

This analogy is a little better, but it still breaks down because both a pumpkin and Mickey are alive (I realize Mickey is a cartoon. Just humor me), whereas a spritually dead person, not matter how shaped or formed, is dead, and a spiritually living person is alive.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: I have spent a grand portion of my life crafting this image of myself, growing into a Christian mold, and all the while there has been nothing but death and decay on the inside. Jesus said to the Pharisees that they were "white-washed tombs", pristine on the outside but full of bones and rotting, stinking flesh inwardly. Boy, can I ever relate to that!

The Bible, in no uncertain terms, states that we are not in need of outward conformity to divine or moral principles; what we need is a total transformation from one thing (death) to an entirely different thing (life). You can keep cutting and coloring that construction paper from now until Christmas of 2391 AD, but it's never going to be an actual Christmas tree. Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21 that in order for a person to see the kingdom of God, he must be born again of the Spirit. He says elsewhere that to receive this new birth what one must do is repent of their sin and believe his words, trusting him fully.

I suppose all I'm saying is that God is opening my eyes to the fact that I need something in me, something beyond anything I can accomplish. I could have told you that when I was 5, but's becoming a reality.

I can cut some paper and make it look like a tree, but only God can produce a tree from nothing; Disney can mold a pumpkin to look like Mickey, but only God can call light out of total darkness; I can conform my outward image to feign the presence of life, but only God can spark and sustain true life in me.


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