Monday, 24 April 2017

Scratching the Surface

The Imitation of Christ - Thomas á Kempis

Book 1 - Chapter 1


"He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness," says the Lord (John 8:12).  These are the words of Christ, and they teach us how far we must imitate His life and character if we desire true illumination and deliverance from all blindness of heart.  Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell on the life of Jesus Christ.

His teaching surpasses all teaching of holy men, and those who have His Spirit find in it
"the hidden manna" (Revelation 2:17).  But there are many who, though they frequently hear the gospel, feel little longing for it, because they do not have the mind of Christ.  He, therefore, who desires to fully and with true wisdom understand the words of Christ should strive to conform his whole life to the mind of Christ.

It is not deep words that make a man holy and upright; it is a good life that makes a man dear to God. I would rather feel contrition than be skillful in the definition of it.  If you know the whole Bible and the sayings of all the philosophers, what good will it do you without the love and grace of God?  All is meaningless, except to love God and serve only Him.  That is the highest wisdom, to cast the world behind us and to reach forward to the heavenly kingdom.

It is meaningless, then, to seek after and trust in the riches that will perish.  It is meaningless, too, to covet donors and to lift up ourselves on high.  It is meaningless to follow the desires of the flesh and be led by them, for this will bring misery in the end.  It is meaningless to desire a long life and to have little care for a good life.  It is meaningless to take thought only for the life that now is and not to look forward to the things that will be hereafter.  It is meaningless to love what quickly passes away and not to hurry to where eternal joy abides.

Think often of the saying,

"The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing" (Ecclesiastes 1:8).  

Strive, therefore, to turn away your heart from love of the things that are seen and to set it on the things that are not seen.  For those who follow after their own fleshly lusts defile the conscience and destroy the grace of God.

Q:  What is the Word of grace God is speaking to me, today?

A:  My grace is indestructible, ever present and "for you".

I take the author's point above is not so much meant to argue that we could ever destroy the grace of God, but that through naive neglect and blind groping we can become so consumed with the urgency of embodied existence that we can (and do) fail to receive well the gift of grace continually offered by God.  In this way, though it is not possible to lay waste to God's grace, we may well waste it by failing to engage it.

Q:  What would God have you do in response to this Word of grace?

A:  Absorb it.

We have small children and we live in an arid climate, so cracked skin and chapped lips are a permanent part of our current reality.  It never ceases to amaze me how resistant our kids can be to my urging them to be proactive in taking care of their skin.  No amount of lecturing or abstract reasoning has ever been effective in getting them to follow my lead on this.

As adults, we know that skin gets dry.  We also know the easiest way to relieve dry skin is to rub and scratch it.  Unfortunately, we have learned that temporary relief leads to more irritation and discomfort in the long run.  Turns out the easiest way to care for our skin isn't the most effective way.  If we want to avoid long term pain we have to get beyond short term solutions.  On the one hand, we know its most often best to avoid scratching an itch.  On the other hand, we have learned better relief comes from taking the time to apply ointments to dry and cracked skin.  Even better, we know we can avoid the dry skin altogether if we are disciplined about taking the time to apply lotion to hands, feet and other problem parts.

The million dollar question is this:  how did we learn this?  

Well, the truth of our experience as sinner/saint children of God is always going to be varied and messy - some lessons we learn by suffering the consequences of our mistakes, some practices we stumble upon, some we adopt proactively.  I think our author would have us learn to absorb God's grace by attending carefully to the example we have in Jesus and endeavouring to imitate his approach more faithfully with each passing day.

Father, thank you for giving me life.  I am coming to know that I don't always take good care of this gift you have so freely given, but I would like to learn a better way.  Thank you, Jesus, for your example and for the example of so many faithful followers over the ages who have blazed trails and set up camps.  Thank you, Spirit, for longing and vision.  Amen.

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