[The following is taken from a reflection I wrote in the summer of 2009. The grace of God is as real today as it was then. Enjoy!]
It all started when I finally got around to cleaning the kitchen...
The tension between the fruit flies and myself over who had dominion over my kitchen was reaching the boiling point. It had happened a few times this summer, where we had let the kitchen go a week or so without cleaning and then the annoying little bugs would start to show up. Usually the method of retaliation just called for an hour of cleaning and then the fruit flies would (I assume) die of scurvy soon after. Lately however, the consequences of uncleanliness were becoming more severe. The days got hotter, the kitchen stayed dirtier longer, and the fruit flies began distributing war propaganda amongst their own kind. This called for more drastic means of subjugation. Why clean the mess when you can simply trap the fruit flies in a container with a piece of fruit, toss the whole thing in the freezer and watch them drop...like flies?
Well, sending 'em to the cooler was fun, but obviously the solution was a thorough and sustained cleaning. Actually, I love cleaning kitchens. I find there's something therapeutic, maybe even spiritual about it. It was during this long clean yesterday afternoon, listening to MC Hammer and scrubbin' away that I started to see the first parallels to the Christian experience. You can probably guess what I'm thinking. Before Christ, life is a mess and then when the Holy Spirit convicts us, we are driven to pursue that ongoing redeeming process, which some call progressive sanctification; the idea that we are not perfect but that we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit to be at work in us until we die, and then we shall be like our savior (1 John 3:2)! It's a great truth, one of my favorites!
But here's where I want to camp out for a bit before moving on, because I think there is another half to this truth, that doesn't get its fair share of air time. We as Christians love talking about progressive sanctification predominantly when we got our hands in the sink. When we have screwed up our courage, accepted conviction, (forwent lunch in my case), and got into the fray, we can talk about perfection in progress, cause we're seeing it and touching it as we speak. We step out in faith to take on a challenge and God is right there providing for our needs as we go. What a good day to be a Christian!
The reality is though, our perceptions of progression and perfection are often drastically different from those of the God we serve.
An hour later, I went back into the kitchen for a long anticipated supper in my clean kitchen. I had chicken ready to be grilled and taters, cheese, and veggies in abundance! When I stepped into the kitchen and turned on the lights I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the population of fruit flies that had contentedly been spread out in the apartment had amassed on the grill I was intending to use, doubtless hungry for whatever in the kitchen still had a trace of food smell on it.
It was in that moment that the realization and frustration prodded my mind that if I had let the mess remain, I wouldn't have had half as many flies in my way. Spread out they were bothersome, but when they descended like a cloud in the one area I wanted to make food, it reached the point of aggravation! There was nothing left that I could clean to make them go away. The ambition and the fervor of that afternoon was gone and I know that too many people know exactly what that feels like.
This is inevitable to all who seek to follow Christ, for as we strain for godliness and freedom from the entanglement of sin, there always comes that moment where we expect specific results and instead we get slapped up with a reminder of how far we still have to go. And I know a lot of people who are probably in a place like that right now in their spiritual walk. They've hit the ground running and they've stepped out in faith, and everyone's on board and life is being transformed, you turn a corner and suddenly,
We're in over our heads. My prayers aren't "working". Evil has taken the upper hand and I'm slipping.
And can I'll be honest with you, I wouldn't have even bothered with the first half of this post, if it wasn't for this part right here. Cause you probably don't need to hear that from me. You don't really need to be encouraged about progressive sanctification when you are seeing that transformation take place before your eyes. What I'm concerned for in my own life and in the lives of my fellow brothers and sisters is the tendency we have to loose faith and to withdraw when the situation gets bleak, as if somehow God were ashamed of us and needed some space.
What a sick thought...
Remember when he saved you? Was it cause you were outstandingly clean or moral? Or was it in the moments of your greatest depravity that he dared called you lovable? And I'm not writing this to deny that we do have a responsibility to pursue Christ or to spell out how this valley and hill experience works, but my heart is aching for those of us who are entertaining the thought that maybe we somehow disqualified God's progressive sanctification.
And I know that this kind of issue is difficult to address on a wide scale so I'm not going to try, but my confidence is that Jesus Christ is our savior today as much as he has ever been. And I will encourage us to take greater stock in his word that he will never leave nor forsake us. We're going to make it!
"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6
And for the record, dinner last night (eventually) was incredible and with a small piece of peach, I was able to kill 75 fruit flies with one strike from my sandal! (I even took a picture on my phone!) Well, that's it for today's analogy. If you've been able to keep up, I thank you kindly!
Shalom until next time!
August 17, 2009