When he was a boy growing up in Philadelphia, Tony Campolo and his best friend devised what they considered a brilliant and creative Halloween prank ? one which, by the way, they never carried out. Their plan was to break into the basement of the local five-and-dime store (kind of like a mini-Walmart for those of you to young to remember five-and-dimes). They never planned to rob the store, but had they carried out their idea, it would have been far worse.
Their plan was to get into the store and change the price tags on all the merchandise. They imagined what it would be like the next morning when people came into the store and discovered that radios were marked at a quarter each an the price of hair pins had suddenly been raised to five dollars a package. With a great deal of delight, they wondered what it would be like in the store when no one could figure out what the prices of things really should be.
In recalling his boyhood plan of Halloween mischief, Campolo said that he often thinks that the world in which we live is trying to play that trick on all of us. At times, it appears that somebody has broken into our lives and changed the price tags ? the value ? attached to practically everything.
(quoted in ?Clothe Yourself With Christ? by William Nieporte)
What makes things worse is that so often we play along with this malicious devilment! We have a tendency to treat with great affection those things that have little worth and at the same time make great sacrifices for the things which, in the end, have no real lasting value. Even sadder is the lack of investment in the things that do matter!
Sometimes it seems that we have little notion about how to realistically assess and assign appropriate values to the contents of our lives. More often than not, this comes from a lack of understanding what is truly important.
Who switched the price tags?
In January 1996, Rev. Joe Wright, senior pastor of the 2,500-member Central Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas, was invited to offer the opening prayer at a session of the Kansas House of Representatives. Invited by Rep. Anthony Powell, Rev. Wright composed the prayer, read it at the opening of the legislature on January 23, and departed, unaware of the ruckus he had created until his church secretary called him on his car phone to ask him what he had done.
One Democrat walked out in protest, three others gave speeches critical of Wright’s prayer, and another blasted Wright’s “message of intolerance.” ? Rep. Jim Long, a Democrat from Kansas City, said that Wright “made everyone mad.” ?
Wright appeared on dozens of radio shows, received thousands of calls, and was the subject of numerous TV and print news reports, and his prayer stirred up controversy all over again when it was read by the chaplain coordinator in the Nebraska legislature the following month.
The prayer reads as follows:
Heavenly Father, we come before you to ask your forgiveness. We seek your direction and your guidance. We know your word says, “Woe to those who call evil good.” But that’s what we’ve done.
We’ve lost our spiritual equilibrium. We have inverted our values. We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of moral pluralism. We have worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.
We’ve exploited the poor and called it a lottery. We’ve neglected the needy and called it self-preservation. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. In the name of choice, we have killed our unborn. In the name of right to life, we have killed abortionists.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it taxes. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, oh, God, and know our hearts today. Try us. Show us any wickedness within us. Cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of the State of Kansas, and that they have been ordained by you to govern this great state.
Grant them your wisdom to rule. May their decisions direct us to the center of your will. And, as we continue our prayer and as we come in out of the fog, give us clear minds to accomplish our goals as we begin this Legislature. For we pray in Jesus’ name,
Amen. (from the website, ?everything2?)
This bold prayer by Rev. Wright highlighted many of the tags that have been switched ? who switched the price tags?
Many people are familiar with the famous quote from John F. Kennedy, former president of the United States. When he was president he challenged his nation with these stirring words,
Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.
Yet today people are looking toward their country, their government, their employers, and civic groups for products and services. Our culture today is plagued with a consumerist attitude and if that weren?t bad enough, people look at the church with the same sort of mentality! Rather than seeing the church as a place to worship God and a place from which to serve the world, people shop for the church that ?meets their and their families needs?!
This consumerist mentality has so infiltrated the church that we evaluate our success (pastors and church leaders are especially guilty of this) in terms of bodies and budgets rather than lives impacted for the cause of the Kingdom!
The sad reality is that somebody has switched the price tags throughout our society ? and too often those of us who are in the church are a reflection of those misplaced values, rather than illustrations of the redemptive transformation of God!
Paul addressed these mixed up values in the Romans 12 and 13. His aim and ambition in writing those words is very simple ? to encourage those whose lives have been redeemed to live as redeemed people! In other words, get dressed! Stop wearing the clothes of your sinful old nature and put on the Kingdom clothing of your redemption!
In Romans 12:1-2 (which was read at the beginning of the service) Paul connected all that he had said in the first eleven chapters of Romans with all that he is saying in the remaining portions of the letter. He began in verse 1 by saying, ?Therefore, in view of God?s mercy?? In other words ? Paul is about to tell us exactly what God wants from us ? but before he does that, he wants to remind us about everything he has been teaching about God?s mercy in the first eleven chapters of Romans. A quick review reveals that those in Christ?
– are DEAD to sin?s power and control and ALIVE in Christ
– are DEAD to the law and ANIMATED by the Holy Spirit
– enjoy all of the blessings associate with NEW LIFE in the Spirit
Then Paul begins Romans 12 that in view of ALL these things (that is in the view of God?s mercy) ? present yourselves as living sacrifices, Holy and pleasing to God. Notice, Paul does NOT say: ?Make yourself HOLY and PLEASING to God!? Paul has already told us that IN CHRIST we are Holy! He has already taught in the first 11 chapters of Romans about how through Christ we are acceptable to God. So in opening Romans 12 with these words Paul is not giving us an admonition to do anything! Rather it is a call to place all that God has given to us back into His hands. It is a call to trust God. It is a call to depend on the Holy Spirit. It is a call to find our power, purpose, and provisions for living in Christ. It is a call to REST in the sufficiency of God?s grace. It?s like this story?
A beggar lived near the King’s palace. One day he saw a proclamation posted that invited anyone to come and dine with the King. Yet the beggar looked down at his filthy rags and realized there was no way he could dine with the King. He was just too poorly dressed.
The beggar thought, and went to the servant’s door of the Castle. When the King’s servant answered the door, the beggar blurted out “Do you have any clothes that I can wear? I want to go to the King’s dinner, but I can’t go this way.” The servant smiled and led the beggar into the Castle, to the King’s very chambers.
When the beggar saw the King he was so afraid that he failed to notice the loving compassion in his eyes. In a quavering voice he repeated his request, and the King said “You were wise in coming to see me.” He called the prince and told him, “Take this man and dress him in your finest clothes, get him cleaned up for the great dinner”.
The prince took the beggar off and dressed him in the best the Castle had to offer. When the beggar was fully clothed the prince said, “You can now attend the dinner without fear. And what’s more, these clothes are the best that money can buy. They will last you forever.”
The beggar thanked the prince, but, as he prepared to leave, he began to wonder “What if the prince is wrong? What if these new clothes won’t last forever?”. So the beggar picked up his old rags, put them in a bundle, and carried them with him to the banquet.
The dinner was greater than the beggar had ever imagined, but the beggar couldn’t enjoy himself. He had to hold his old smelly clothes on his lap, and spent so much time watching the old clothes that he missed some of the greater delicacies that were served.
After the dinner the beggar went out, dressed in finery, and continued to carry the rags with him. When people saw the beggar they didn’t see the fine clothes he wore, but they saw the rags that he carried. The beggar became known as “the man with the rags”, and his life was miserable.
Years later the beggar laid dying, and the King came to visit him. The King sadly looked at the bundle of rags, and, as he lay there, the beggar realized that these rags had cost him a lifetime of true royalty. He wept bitterly at his foolishness – and the King wept with him. (source: the message, ?Kingdom Clothing? by D. E. Buffaloe)
As you read the literature of the apostle Paul in the New Testament you?ll notice a pattern in all his writing. First, Paul talks about right beliefs, and then he talks about right behavior. There is this natural progression Paul teaches about his understanding of the Christian life. It starts with an understanding that in Christ we have a new identity and it is because of that new identity that we can live differently. The legalistic mindset of ancient and modern day Pharisees can never understand this aspect of New Testament theology. They are still stuck with the stinking-thinking that has switched the price tags around in such a way that behavior comes before transformation!
?Not so,? says Paul. ?Therefore, in the view of God?s mercy?don?t be conformed to the ways of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will know God?s will for how you ought to live?.
In other words, for your lifestyle to change, your thought-life must change. A sign on the office door of a guidance counselor at a high school had these words,
Be careful about what you think for that will determine your feelings.
Be careful about what you feel for that will determine your attitudes.
Be careful about your attitudes for they will determine your actions.
Be careful about your actions for they will determine your character.
Be careful about your character for with it you will build your lifestyle.
(quoted in ?Clothe Yourself with Christ? by William Nieporte)
I?m pretty sure Paul would agree. The ultimate foundation for how we live is based on what we think. If we think the wrong thoughts it will influence our feelings, attitudes, actions, character, and will ultimately determine our lifestyle. That is what Paul is saying in Romans 12:1-2 as he makes the transition from theology to ethics, knowing what we should believe to knowing how we should behave, identity to lifestyle.
With this thought in mind let?s jump forward to Romans 13:8-14 where Paul writes about what the life of a transformed person looks like. If we are thinking the way Paul is writing about, then it will work itself out in some very practical ways in how we live.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Romans 13:8-14 (NIV)
One of the pictures that Paul paints is the difference between light and darkness. Have you ever been in total darkness? (Have soundperson kill the lights). This is close but even this is not total darkness. Still, our visibility has decreased significantly. I?m sure some of you have kind of a creepy kind of feeling! (bring lights back up)
The darkness is a scary place to be. Paul tells us that based on our new identity in Christ (in the view of God?s mercy, remember) we should put off the deeds of darkness and put on deeds befitting the daylight. In other words, Paul is saying: ?You are not of the darkness, but the light. Live in the daylight and get rid of the deeds of the night!? Get dressed!
What are those deeds? I like what Paul does. He gives a sample list of what we might call ?big bad deeds? and then shares some ?little bad deeds.? Of course, that would be how we?d rank it ? but it?s not the way God does. As far as God is concerned, ?bad deeds are bad deeds.? That said, Paul knows how we think, so he first mentions things like attending orgies and participation in other forms of debauchery. Then, before anyone in the moral majority can get too smug for living such pious lives, Paul includes some other deadly deeds that seem a little less serious to our way of thinking ? things like sowing dissension and jealousy, and even anger!
Paul teaches, ?You are not the same person you once were, your old self was crucified with Christ. Your old nature was buried with Him in death through baptism. In view of this theological truth, allow your mind to be renewed and transformed so that your lifestyle will reveal the light of God, not the darkness of this world.?
You have been changed ? so live like changed people.
You?ve been transformed ? so you are now free to think and act like transformed people.
That?s just one of the pictures Paul paints.
In the other picture, Paul redeems the law from the Old Covenant and gives it a proper place in the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, the law was proscriptive ? declaring how a person must live in order to be acceptable and pleasing to God. In the New Covenant the law is descriptive ? declaring what the lifestyle of a person will be like when they are living out of their new identity in Christ.
The prophet Jeremiah described what would happen to the law under the New Covenant, he said,
“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV)
Jeremiah declares that the law will no longer remain on tablets of stone as an external motivation toward good behavior, but will be etched on our hearts and minds, revealing the internal transformation of the very nature of the individual. The prophet is saying that under the Covenant of Grace, we will be transformed on the inside in such a way that our outside lifestyle can reflect the life of Christ.
Jesus gave His life for us, to put His life in us, to live His life through us!
So what will the life of Christ through us look like? Paul uses a single word in Romans 13 to describe the difference that grace makes in our life. Do you know what that word is?
If you said, ?LOVE!? Give yourself a big pat on the back and say, ?I was paying attention when we were reading the scripture :)?
Paul then lists just a few of the commandments ? but he says that this truth applies to all of them. For those of us under grace, transformed by Christ, and living out of our identity in Christ, the bottom-line description of our lifestyle will be that of love!
Get dressed! To clothe ourselves in Christ means to be clothed in love! It will mean that our lifestyle is different. How so? It could be in lots of ways ? but I?m going to conclude by mentioning just one. As transformed people who have clothed ourselves in Christ, we will be able to see possibilities when others seen nothing.
Let?s reflect on this example that shows how Jesus saw other people in the story of the despised tax collector Zaccheus. This guy made his living by cheating everyone (Luke 19:1-10). When Jesus came to town, Zaccheus, being very short, decided to climb a tree for a better look. Jesus noticed him out on a limb. I suppose He wondered what He should do about Zaccheus. Should He try to help him? To change him, perhaps? The townspeople would have thought the possibility of that to be completely outrageous. ?You might as well try to turn stones into bread as to change that man. That?ll never happen,? they would have said.
Therefore, to practically everyone, all the options were quite clear; a) scold Zaccheus publicly for being a scoundrel and sinner; b) ignore Zaccheus because to recognize him in any way gives tacit support to his dishonesty; or, c) laugh at Zaccheus. After all, he is quite a spectacle ? perched up in that old sycamore tree. Nevertheless, Jesus saw another possibility ? one no one else had thought about ? because no one else had the perspective of Jesus.
He asks Zaccheus to come down from the tree and then, invites himself to Zaccheus? house for dinner. The next day the story is flying all over town. ?Did you hear what happened to Zaccheus? He is a changed man. He is not only giving back what he stole. He?s giving back four times more than he stole!
One of the most certain indicators of Jesus? divine nature is not His virgin birth or His ability to perform miracles. The surest sign that He is the Son of God is His ability to see the possibilities no one else sees, to see the resources to which everyone else is blind.
When we clothe ourselves with Christ ? when our thinking is renewed and our minds open to transformation ? when we are living out of our new identity in Christ ? then we will begin to see possibilities when before we saw improbabilities. We will begin to see people?s potential IN CHRIST and that will prompt us to love them the way Jesus loves them!