A Life to Die For …
If our congregations are supposed to be "completely humble and gentle," as Paul told the church at Ephesus, how's that going at your church? Any slackers on the humility-development front?
Paul told the believers in Rome: "Let your love be sincere." No pretending to be nice to anyone while secretly resenting them. No rumors, gossip, factions, or fake geniality. What's your church's plan to eliminate insincerity?
Far more books get written about how to get more people in your church than how to get the people already in your church to have more humility and sincere love.
We all want the people in our churches (including ourselves) to be transformed. But too often it takes a back seat to the relentless demands of programs and services and sermons. We end up giving "Six Steps to a Better Attitude" talks. And no one's life is transformed.
What's the real route to transformation and godliness?
The answer nobody wants
There actually is a pattern that New Testament writers use with remarkable consistency. At the heart of Christian faith is the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. A friend of mine noted that theologically, this same pattern, death and rebirth, is also the foundation for our sanctification. Paul tells the Colossians: "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Transformation happens when this becomes an ongoing pattern: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5). Death is the prerequisite to resurrection, the new life God intends.
I saw this lived out in an interesting way when I was preaching at a Catholic, charismatic, African-American church on Chicago's South Side. The temperature was over 90 degrees, there was no air conditioning, and the service ran well over two hours. The highlight of the service was not (believe me!) the sermon.
It was the offering!
During the offering, no one stayed in their seat. Even though the church was in an under-resourced community, everyone got up and came down the aisle to give. I watched one woman, who looked as though she did not have much money, wave her offering around while she danced forward, as if to say, "I can give something, too!"
It struck me that I was watching people put to death dependence on money, and come alive to God-trusting generosity.
The offering, in that church, was a little exercise in financial death and resurrection.
What happens if we look at death and resurrection not just as events at the center of Holy Week, but as the primary framework for transformation in ordinary lives?
Jesus viewed his own destiny—to be glorified in and through death—as an expression of a kind of cosmic principle: the pathway to life runs through death.
"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds. Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:23-25).
John Ortberg is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California.