I invite you to witness a not-so-rare experience at breakfast time with my family. There is something seriously wrong happening that we need to talk about. No, it is not the food. We eat very healthily. In fact, lately I am doing my best to kill my family (or more likely any germs that may be stalking them) with a green drink each morning. It includes kale, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, apple cider vinegar, bananas, apples, juice, lemons, limes, and turmeric. Warning, before you try this at your home please note I am not implying that it tastes good (though a little packet of stevia helps nudge it out of the poison zone for your palate)! But we have become accustomed to the burning sensation knowing that it is keeping us well when all around us sickness abounds!
No, the problem is what you might hear us saying. "Daddy, Noah's not chewing his food correctly! He spit on me! He's gross!" Or, "Mommy, Hadassah's too close to me and she's staring at me! She did not brush her hair again and I think she forgot her deodorant!" There could also be serious whining, passing the buck, or a whole bunch of stinking thinking and nasty attitudes spilling all over more often than the almond milk (thankfully, their motor skills are improving). Are you getting the picture? Have you been there, with or without children?
You see, our children have problems, major problems. They got them from their parents, Penny and Bryan, who can still be excellent examples of what not to do (actually, the kids say that I teach them all their bad habits)! Yet we got them from our parents, as they received them from theirs, all the way back to Adam and Eve. We are humans infected by sin. Yet the sin(s) I am alluding to here are the ones we often don't think about. This week's lesson will invite us to consider some powerful thoughts as stewards after Eden.
Actually, I will adjust the topic a little to call it stewards after the cross and the resurrection, because in Christ everything has changed. Just as through one man sin entered and death reigned throughout humanity, so now through Christ life has come to the world. In Christ, we are new creatures, the old has passed away, behold all has become new! (I am assuming this readership is very aware of the three powerful corporate chapters in Paul's writings which expound these truths so well. For a refresher see Romans 5, First Corinthians 15, and Second Corinthians 5.)
These earth shattering truths radically affect our mandate as stewards. In Christ our stewardship role has morphed from the management of things, animals, and the earth, to now include the unseen, intangibles of the gospel, grace, mercy, goodness, truth, and the power of God transforming us and being on display in our lives. God's focus is no longer simply on having us manage the external world but letting Him transform us internally for His glory! We are now His house (temple) being fitted together in Christ for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22) What an amazing heritage and opportunity.
But, depending on your understanding of forgiveness, what a terrifying thought. How can we do all of those things when we fail so often? How do we manage the intangibles in our lives like that when we so often fail with the solid, tangible commandments? Our rate of failure would be hopelessly discouraging! That may be what many think. Yet, herein lies the radical shift and truth that changes everything when we are in Christ.
I recently heard an author say something truly profound. It immediately reminded me of what Ellen White has written (there is nothing new under the sun). She said something like this. She used to see forgiveness as a whiteboard experience. Tally up your sins, and then pray and forgiveness wipes them off: clear, clean, crisp accounting. Unless, of course, your marks overwhelm your ability to remember, repent of, and deal with. And, God forbid, what if you forget to ask for a particular sin or die before the final cleansing? Then, you have a serious problem of never fully knowing if you have been cleansed from all unrighteousness. Welcome to the all too common life of a schizophrenic, fearful Christian. No assurance because their whiteboard is unmanageable.
She then shared her tectonic shift of thinking: realizing that forgiveness was not about the whiteboard as much as it was about being set free from the tyranny of being enslaved to self! Wow, what a theological earthquake. Forgiveness as being set free from self. Not simply sins as discrete actions of breaking specific laws but SIN, the enslavement to self and death. Yes, that is the emancipation that Ellen White talks about in Desire of Ages, chapter 34, called the Invitation.
In Christ we are called into a life of unrelenting, redeeming freedom. The living Christ is more than a divine Lincoln declaring the historic end of slavery, He is our passionate priest pursuing the ongoing process of liberty that leads to life. We are not just offered freedom in regard to sins or things, but we now have a new identity: we are each a new person free to worship, love, serve, bless, and be blessed. Freedom from what A.W. Tozer calls the hyphenated sins of the self: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, and many more permutations in the prison of self.
Stewardship, then, is more about our identity than what we do with what we have. In Christ, we are new creatures and we have been set free from our past to live lives unto God. We are called to steward (and display) those mysteries of God to a world that has yet to hear that glorious emancipation proclamation. No more shame, we have peace with God. We are joint heirs with Christ Jesus, sitting with Him in the heavenly places (by faith). We are sons and daughters of God, now! We no longer need to rely on our temporary addictions to feel good about ourselves. We are fully known and fully loved!
Ellen White says it this way. "Redemption is that process by which the soul is trained for heaven. This training means a knowledge of Christ. It means emancipation from ideas, habits, and practices that have been gained in the school of the prince of darkness. The soul must be delivered from all that is opposed to loyalty to God." (Desire of Ages, page 330)
This brings me back to the problems displayed at our breakfast table (and other times), and another word you will be pondering this week: responsibility. Stewardship is all about responsibility, and there is the rub. Slaves believe they have no choice, therefore no responsibility. Children/stewards have choice and take responsibility.
Enslaved humanity recoils from responsibility. Remember our first parents playing the blame game? Throughout time we have continued to evade, deny, and blame others for what we have done. We whine and complain about our lives (often the accumulation of our own choices). Some have even learned how to mask our refusal to take responsibility by trying to control others and their choices (thereby robbing them of their freedom of choice and growth). Tragically, religions have often excelled in this destructive diversion. We focus our energies on trying to control things that aren't ours to direct and avoid taking any responsibility for our own actions. That's my kids (and us, all too often)! They love trying to control each other instead of themselves.
This week's lesson invites us to wrestle with our new identity as children/stewards of God. Life is about being set free from the layers of slavery which we have become accustomed to living under. Seeking forgiveness is not accounting, it is taking responsibility and surrendering ourselves to God so He can break the fetters of self. It is about being set free to the inheritance we have in Christ Jesus. With each act of owning our choices and claiming responsibility for what we have done we then re-surrender to our great God and let Him change us moment by moment. Our lives can begin to go from glory to glory, victory to victory. Life becomes a "get to" not a "got to" as we are partnering with Christ and He sets us free from every vestige of enslavement to self. We choose love, mercy, grace, peace, and purpose for our lives. We participate in God's work of passionately loving others so He can set them free as well. We take responsibility for ourselves and we leave others to experience God's grace in their lives personally. According to Ellen White in that same chapter, the Invitation, this is the beginning of eternal life and it can start here!
When we let Him do this work in us we are stewarding the intangibles of His power in our lives and others will see His mighty work. We don't need to change others like my kids try to, but we can trust that the same God who is delivering us is doing the same work in others. We then carry our message (Christ in us the hope of glory) around in the unadorned clay pots of our lives and encourage others in the glorious freedom found only in Christ. What a life!
~ Bryan Gallant