June 27, 2012

The Extreme Makeover

A bandoning, abandonment, abandoned, abandon — no matter what form the word takes, it means trouble. An abandoned car along the highway signals trouble. An abandoned house in the inner city, with boarded-up windows and the screen door hanging by one hinge, whispers danger. To abandon means to have fought the battle and lost. We have become a society that abandons things. Washing machines in the ditch, courts clogged by divorces, landfills full of disposable, nonrefundable containers, and the list goes on. Abandonment has become an acceptable routine. While we can find it easy to abandon things and people, with all of our trials, challenges, and failures, should we be worried that God might abandon us?

God abandoning people sounds cruel, but what happened when the door of Noah’s ark finally was shut? Does God abandon people as we abandon soda bottles and marriage relationships? Consider this: For 120 years, as Noah built the ark, he also proclaimed the coming flood, both by his actions and his words. Imagine people watching the construction of this strange box, listening to Noah’s messages of warning. Somehow they all chose to be outside the ark when the door closed. Only Noah and his family, all eight of them, as well as the animals that had entered the ark, huddled inside when the Flood began. No, God did not abandon the world—but He did close that door, that moment of grace, for that generation.

Why would all but Noah’s family choose to be outside the ark? You’d think there might have been a few who would have given the ark a try, you know, the contrarian “I-told-you-so” person. What did they have to lose? If no flood had come, then everything would have been OK, but if the Flood did come, they’d be safe. Unfortunately, the biblical narrative records no contrarian shipmates. All but Noah’s family rejected the warning. The people outside the ark possessed great confidence that things would continue as normal. “No Flood” became the universal verdict.

2012 1518 page14How could people be so sure of themselves, so convinced that Noah made the whole thing up? The Bible gives a clue with a simple account of their lives. The generation living during the time of the Flood is described as “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark” (Matt. 24:38).* Did you catch the clue? It’s easy to overlook. This verse portrays the passage of time. Life continued as normal—a reliable routine: work, eat, entertainment, sleep, work, eat—and then the Flood came. People chose to flood their lives with non-God priorities. So, did God abandon these people, or did they abandon God?

A busy life can consume our priorities, even the most heartfelt ones, such as family and God.  A busy life is not necessarily a bad life by most standards; in fact, we could have what most call the good life. You know the routine: alarm clock sounds, get dressed, get kids up and dressed, quick breakfast, out the door, kids to school, morning appointments, out for lunch, work late, surf the Web, watch some TV, off to bed, alarm clock sounds—and here we go again. Often our busy routine infringes upon our devotional time. No one-on-one time with Jesus becomes the norm; it feels comfortable and becomes OK. With many people today, finding regular time to read the Bible can be like asking a truck driver to back an 18-wheeler into a one-car garage. It’s just not going to happen.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to track your devotional time with a stop watch so you can qualify for heaven. Personal time with Jesus can’t be forced, coerced, or “done” because your pastor made you feel guilty. It must be given. Jesus gets some of your precious time, willingly given, even if it’s just small bits all through the day. No memorization required, no final exams to cram for, just time to learn about Jesus. Slowly (it’s not a race or a competition), verse by verse, issue by issue, driven by a desire to know why. Why does He love me so much? Why does He want to adopt me into His eternal kingdom? Why do I still feel ashamed of my past mistakes?

Memorable Moments
Have you abandoned your quiet time with the Bible? Would you like to get it back? Not just for a few weeks, but as a daily yearning to know Him? Here’s a question to consider: would you spend your time watching a National Geographic special of grass growing in real time? It would be several episodes, just one camera, in real time, looking at an average lawn. Sound like fun? Do you like to read books that make no sense, listen to music that grates on your nerves, or have close friends who insult you? We like the things we like for a reason. It’s that simple.

Time with Jesus should be like the day you went to work with your blouse on inside out or the time you went to church with one blue sock and one brown sock. Here is another one: time with Jesus should be like the occasion you dropped a large plate of food at the local buffet or when you finally realized (after already having spent half a day in your office) that bits of cereal were stuck to your cheek. So am I saying our time with Jesus should be embarrassing? No, I am saying it should be memorable. These occasions (and many more that may come to mind) stick with us; they are imprinted in our minds. Think about it: Can you remember a mistake or embarrassing moment you’ve had this year? Now, can you remember something you read in the Bible last week during your quiet time with Jesus? In order for this time to be memorable it must be meaningful. Something must happen—God wants to leave an imprint on your soul.

The Complete Makeover
Make your time with Jesus more than a quick prayer with one hand on the doorknob while headed to work; more than a quick, impatient reading of a random chapter in the Bible. Let the story come alive, then chase after it. Imagine the texture and flavor of the flat unleavened bread with bitter herbs at the Last Supper; then grasp how the disciples reacted to the tender touch of the Savior washing their dirty feet. Let the wind blow through Zacchaeus’ tree and imagine his excitement as he scurried down from his perch after Jesus called out: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5). See the scorn on the faces of the people who witnessed this scene and said: “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner” (verse 7). Hear the shame and the hope of healing in the two blind beggars when they cried out: “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David” (Matt. 20:30). Be upset when John the Baptist is beheaded, feel the injustice as the Roman guards abuse Jesus and spit in His face. Let the heat of the fire warm your skin and the coldness of Peter’s heart chill your bones as he denies being a disciple of Jesus. Let the scenes come alive and try to experience what people felt.

After you have spent meaningful time with the Word (both in its written and incarnate version), take another important step: share it with someone. Have a learning partner or a prayer partner. Join a Bible study group or set aside time each day to talk with your spouse about spiritual things. Focus in this time not on a discussion of biblical history or difficult facts, but rather on how the Word of God touched your heart. A healthy devotional life requires regular ways to share our experiences with others.

Sometimes our daily routine with the Bible, if allowed, will get stale and moldy. Who likes stale and moldy? However, God can create memorable routines for us. For example, every day the sun sets, but do any two sunsets look alike? The last time you saw a beautiful sunset with flowing colors of blue, pink, orange, red, and purple with so many variations of hues, did you say, “Oh, just another sunset—it happens every day”? Most likely not! Matter of fact, you will tell your spouse or friend about this beautiful sunset that touched your heart.

Before you saw the house with boarded-up windows and knee-high grass, there was trouble. Before a car gets abandoned beside the road, there was trouble. Before Noah and his family got into the ark, there was trouble. God invites you to the ultimate makeover. He wants to spend meaningful time with you. He wants to touch your heart and mind and being every morning. Why not give it a try today?

* All Scripture quotations in this article have been taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Keith Trumbo is pastor of the First Seventh-day Adventist Church in Columbus, Georgia, where he lives with his wife, Ann, and their son, Taylor. This article was published June 28, 2012.