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So, You Want to Be Like Christ?Eight Essentials To Get You There
By CHARLES R. SWINDOLL
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Charles R. Swindoll
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIntimacy: Deepening Our Lives
Several years ago my wife and I took a journey. We traveled 250 miles south and over forty years back in time-back to Houston, Texas. Our roots run deep there. Roots that are personal and, in many ways, spiritual. Decades had passed since our last visit, so we were in for a lot of surprises.
We drove by houses where each of us had once lived and high schools we had attended. We did it slowly, revisiting the years that fill our memories. Everything felt so much smaller. If you've ever traced your roots, lingering over places steeped in nostalgia, you know what I mean.
My boyhood home on Quince Street, on the east side of Houston, was tiny compared to the memories I keep. I remember scootin' down that sidewalk toward the Methodist church on a skateboard scooter I made from scrap lumber and a roller skate that had lost its mate. As we drove to the end of the street, I remembered endless days of my boyhood playing sandlot football with Bruce and a bunch of buddies. I swelled with pride any time he picked me to be on his team, because if you were on Bruce's team, you always won. I realize now that Bruce was a high school dropout who just hung around the vacant lot at the end of Quince to play football. He probably should have been in college when most of us were in ninth or tenth grade. But at the time, none of that mattered. I just remember the fun we had throwing passes and having Bruce lead the blocking as I carried the football across the goal line of that sandy lot with odd patches of grass growing here and there.
I drove the route from our home on Quince Street to Milby High School, and I recalled what a martyr I thought I was for having to walk that distance. It's only about a ten-block stroll, but back then it seemed much farther.
Cynthia's childhood memories took her through a junior high school and then her years rooting for the fighting Yellow Jackets of Galena Park High School. She, too, lived near her school. She remembered her classmates, the school chorale, boys she dated, and church activities she faithfully attended. We laughed and sighed together as we dug our way through those years when life moved slowly and days were simple and easygoing.
We lingered in front of the first little house she and I bought for $9,995. It was a brand-new framed house in Channelview, a suburb of Houston. We sat in front of churches where we had once worshiped and served. We drove through neighborhoods where we had grown up as we followed roads we had traveled before meeting each other and then later as a young married couple.
The whole time we reminisced over friends we knew, stores where we shopped, neighbors we liked, and decisions we made. We recalled celebrations and tragedies we had shared, pain we had known, and the many joys that healed them for both of us. So many of those places that time had now passed by were meaningful to us. We were there again, feeling those long-ago feelings. Familiar, yet very strange. They were random remnants of experiences created by what felt like a different Chuck and Cynthia.
As we pulled away and I watched the places of our memories disappear in my rearview mirror, Cynthia and I came upon two giant realizations.
First, how necessary is change. We're so grateful we're not where we once were more than fifty years ago, not only geographically but also spiritually and personally. Growth is change but, as we will see later, not all change is growth.
Second, how essential is perspective. Life seemed so complicated, so difficult while living it back then. But glancing back over our shoulders, more than five decades down a highway leading away from Houston, things looked very different because we were different.
GROWING BEYOND EARLY LOVE VERSUS LEAVING IT
Let's shift gears from the geographical and the physical realms to the spiritual and the personal. In doing so, let me remind you of an ancient church that you and I would probably have attended had we lived in that city at the end of the first century. It was among the best churches of that era. The church is named simply "the church in Ephesus" (Revelation 2:1). This is what the Lord Himself had to say about this church as He sized it up:
I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false. -REVELATION 2:2
Here is a church that worked diligently and was known for its zeal and discernment. They would have nothing to do with apostolic pretenders. This discerning group of believers formed a church famous for its doctrine. It was biblically sound and probably had strong leaders, with many courageous people willing to take a stand in opposition to wrong. They gave no time to folks who were phony. They were zealous and firm and relentless in their pursuit of truth. So far, so good. Who can argue with orthodoxy? However, all was not well in the Ephesian church.
Verse 4 begins with what linguists call a particle of contrast: but. For three verses we read of nothing but commendable things, attributes of a local assembly of believers that would have drawn you and hundreds of other first-century worshipers like you to the church at Ephesus. "But I have this against you," the Lord says with a sigh. "You have left your first love."
A. T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, writes, "This early love, proof of the new life in Christ ... had cooled off in spite of their doctrinal purity. They had remained orthodox, but had become unloving."
John R. W. Stott, in a small but wonderful work entitled What Christ Thinks of the Church, adds these thoughts about the Ephesian believers:
They had fallen from the early heights of devotion to Christ which they had climbed. They had descended to the plains of mediocrity. In a word, they were backsliders.... Certainly the hearts of the Ephesian Christians had chilled.
I can't speak for you, but it puts a shiver up my back when I see the word chilled. What an indictment! What a horrible way to describe the heart of a Christian! I think of death when I hear that word used to describe a heart.
A little later Stott continues, "Their first flush of ecstasy had passed. Their early devotion to Christ had cooled. They had been in love with Him, but they had fallen out of love."
How much had changed since Paul had penned his last comment to that church in his letter to the Ephesians: "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love" (Ephesians 6:24, emphasis added).
In that benediction, I feel a longing in the great apostle's heart that the Ephesian Christians experience no waning of love. By the time John wrote the book of Revelation thirty years later, Paul's dreams were dashed. Jesus said, in effect, "You left that love. You once had a love that was incorruptible, but you abandoned it. You once enjoyed a devotion that was consistent, meaningful, satisfying. In fact, the warmth of your love transformed your thinking and your attitudes; it revolutionized the way you related to Me, to your heavenly Father, and to your brothers and sisters. But you have cooled off."
John Stott aptly portrays the scene:
The tide of devotion had turned and was ebbing fast. They toiled with vigour, but not with love. They endured with fortitude but without love. They tested their teachers with orthodoxy but had no love in their hearts.
Just as Cynthia and I returned to our roots and came away with a valuable perspective, I invite you to do that now. It won't take long. The mind is an amazing thing. In a matter of seconds, your mind can transport you to scenes you thought you had forgotten. And all it takes is a little bit of time and some honest reflection. Cynthia and I did it again and again as we drove by the familiar haunts of our childhood, teenage, and young adult years.
Let's go on a brief spiritual pilgrimage together.
Journey back in your mind to your first days as a brand-new believer in Jesus Christ. Return to that time when your love was budding and emerging into full bloom. Remember when you would speak of Christ and it would ignite your heart with an exciting burst of zeal and delight? Remember when prayer was new and untried, and you felt its power as you communed with the Almighty? Remember when the Bible was that delicious Book of truth filled with delectable insights you had never known before? Remember when sharing Him with someone else represented the highlight of your week? Remember when your devotion was consistent, fulfilling, enriching ... deep?
What happened to all of that? When you ponder those questions-not just in passing, but taking time to concentrate as you ponder them-perhaps you feel like one of the Ephesian Christians whom Jesus urged, "Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first" (Revelation 2:5).
Remember, we said earlier that growth is change, but not all change is growth. Cynthia and I would never choose to return to those early days, not even to when our love was in springtime, delightfully new and fresh. Those were wonderful days and wonderful feelings, but our love has grown. The love we enjoy now is deeper, characterized by a comfortable ease and a profound sense of security that nearly fifty years of life shared together has earned.
Not so for the Ephesians! And perhaps not so for you in your relationship with God. Look again at what Jesus commanded. Your spiritual life may be in need of some major changes. A new perspective is essential in order to rekindle that first-love kind of relationship where God is real again, where you and He are on much closer speaking terms. The kind of intimacy that doesn't require a stirring message from the pulpit and doesn't depend upon a great worship event or concert but simply exists as a natural part of your walk.
INTIMACY WITH GOD REQUIRES ACTION
Distance from God is a frightening thing. God will never adjust His agenda to fit ours. He will not speed His pace to catch up with ours; we need to slow our pace in order to recover our walk with Him. God will not scream and shout over the noisy clamor; He expects us to seek quietness, where His still, small voice can be heard again. God will not work within the framework of our complicated schedules; we must adapt to His style. We need to conform to His way if our lives are to be characterized by the all-encompassing word godliness.
Godliness is still our desire as believers, isn't it?
But the great question is, how? How do busy people, living fast-paced and complicated lives, facing relentless pressures, consistently walk with God? Whatever would be included in the answers, we can be assured that they will not come naturally, automatically, quickly, or easily. I do not think a person on this earth has ever been automatically godly or quickly godly or easily and naturally godly. "This world is no friend of grace to help us on to God." Everything around us is designed to make us dissatisfied with our present condition.
Henri Nouwen said that while he was driving through Los Angeles on one occasion, he felt like he was driving through a giant dictionary-words everywhere, sounds everywhere, signs everywhere, saying, "Use me, take me, buy me, drink me, smell me, touch me, kiss me, sleep with me." He found himself longing to get away from all those words, all those giant signs and sounds. Why? Not because there was something innately wrong with those things-some, but not all. He grieved that it was all so empty, so devoid of God.
So how do we pull it off? How, in a world bent on distracting us from growing deeper in our first love, always enticing us to pursue the pointless, do we find closeness with God? How do you and I become more godly?
This question has led me back to a word that I used much more in my early days in ministry than I have in recent years. The word is discipline. The secret lies in our returning to the spiritual disciplines.
DISCIPLINE YOURSELF FOR INTIMACY WITH GOD
Pause long enough to read the following scripture slowly. It is Paul's advice to Timothy, his son in the faith:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. -1 TIMOTHY 4:18, emphasis added
Paul was sitting alone in a dungeon when he wrote this letter to Timothy. His younger friend was serving as the pastor of a church-interestingly, the church in Ephesus. This instruction came sometime after the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians and before the letter Jesus wrote to that same church in Revelation 2.
Consider Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of that passage in The Message:
The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars. These liars have lied so well and for so long that they've lost their capacity for truth. They will tell you not to get married. They'll tell you not to eat this or that food-perfectly good food God created to be eaten heartily and with thanksgiving by Christians! Everything God created is good, and to be received with thanks. Nothing is to be sneered at and thrown out. God's Word and our prayers make every item in creation holy. You've been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the Christians there, and you'll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God-no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. -1 TIMOTHY 4:18 MSG
I think verse 7 represents the climax of Paul's instruction to Timothy. Don't miss this advice: "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." In other words, "Timothy, get serious about your walk with God! It's time to step up, young man ... godliness won't just happen."
Guess what, churchgoing men and women: religion won't cut it! We live in a spiritual hothouse where we talk religious talk and send religious letters and write religious pamphlets and do religious Bible study guides and answer religious phones (religiously) and deal with religious concerns. It is so easy to get religious instead of godly. And all the while, a chilling religion slowly cools our hearts. Ironic, isn't it? The general public may have this marvelous idea about how godly we are, when if the truth were known, many of us would have to say, "I am stagnant, and I have been that way longer than I want to admit."
What's missing? Stop and think. It's that "first love," the great fountain that both generates the spiritual disciplines and feeds on them. Yet I find it absolutely amazing that in the process of doing spiritual things (not religious things, but truly spiritual things), we can fail to "discipline" ourselves "for the purpose of godliness." I can, and I have.
Therefore in recent months I have sensed a genuine need-in my own life first (before I ever speak or write to someone else, I have to address it in my own life)-for the cultivation of intimacy with the Almighty. Those words are carefully chosen. They are put forth in deliberate contrast. The almighty, awesome God loves it when we are intimate with Him. So, our goal is intimacy, and, according to Scripture, intimacy with God requires spiritual disciplines. In this book I will address eight disciplines that are essential in our pursuit of godliness.
Excerpted from So, You Want to Be Like Christ? by CHARLES R. SWINDOLL Copyright © 2007 by Charles R. Swindoll. Excerpted by permission.
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