Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting It Right

Most of us in the South enjoy turnip greens. Have you ever tried to grow them? Turnip green culture is a rather simple and straightforward matter. Scratch up the ground a bit, introduce a few turnip green seeds and perhaps a little fertilizer, provide your greens field with a drink of water, and before very long you’re in the turnip green business.

Harvesting your bounty is no big deal either. I grab a few leaves near the top, select a spot on the sheaf of greens where the leaf to stem ratio declines to favor the stem and apply the edge of a sharpened blade leaving most of the stem with the roots. If you’re doing this for the first time, watch your fingers.

Cooking your greens is another matter. Only those uninitiated into greens cuisine would simply throw them into a pot and boil till the greens are limp, lifeless, and acquire that nauseous dark olive drab color. Nosiree! If your palate longs for taste and texture, boil them just long enough for that glorious bright green color to appear and then remove at once from the fire. Five minutes may be too long if you want to max out the flavor. I put a double pinch of sugar, and maybe a bit of oil, in the water before introducing the greens, but that’s optional. The presentation must include the obligatory pepper sauce. Not the red stuff, clear pepper sauce works best with turnip greens. Don’t forget the cornbread…and a wedge of raw onion…and some buttermilk for sipping if you’re in the mood.

Now, my little story has a purpose. While I have yet to meet a brother or sister Southerner who couldn’t grow turnip greens, getting the cooking part (just) right may take a while. It may take years of practice to “get it right.” That is, if you take a good, traditional southern plate of turnip greens seriously, as my friends and I do. Furthermore, I think it is self-evident that the more seriously you take it, the better results you will have.

As a student of the parables of our Lord, I think I see some parallels between getting it right with turnip greens and getting it right with our Christian lives. The keys are an appreciation of the seriousness of the matter and an understanding and practice of specific behaviors that will support ultimate success. I want to focus on the specific behaviors part in the rest of this essay.

Here are a few suggestions:

· Allow yourself room for growth. While perfection is your goal, don’t get discouraged and quit because you realize that your Christian life is in constant need of work. God says: as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, (1 Peter 2:2 NKJV). If God commands growth, He surely allows it!
· Cultivate an attitude of seriousness. Your Christian life is all that really matters. Period! That’s it. Everything else doesn’t just not really matter. It doesn’t matter at all. Family life is included in your Christian life. Health is good. But you don’t have to have it. Money can help out. But you don’t have to have it either. Education is a good thing. But education in the Bible is all that will ultimately make any difference. God says: But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7 NKJV). Would you be a better person if you took your Christian life as seriously as you take sports? If Alabama or Auburn win (or lose) every game they ever play, what effect will that have on your life? In case you’re having to think about that, let me answer the question for you – it won’t have any. Let’s get serious about what is serious.
· Practice doing good. Compile a list of Christian character traits. Pick one and work specifically on developing that trait today. Look for opportunities to manifest that particular character. Be creative, and pay attention to your surroundings. Plenty of opportunities are out there if you are alert for them. At the end of the day, think about what you have done. How could you have done it better? What opportunities did you miss? What chances to be salt and light would you have missed if you had not been looking for them? Pick another trait for tomorrow and work on it. Do this every day. After a couple of weeks, is better Christian behavior becoming a habit? If you’re sticking to the plan, it will. Here’s a good starter list of Christian attitudes and actions. There are lots of lists like this in the Bible. God says: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV). If you want to experience purpose and fullness in your life, when you get dressed every morning, put on these.
· Do the unexpected. Pick out someone you don’t like. Perhaps they have wronged you in some way. I imagine that’s what the Bible means by your enemies. Now do this. Forgive them. Even though they haven’t asked for it. Even though they don’t deserve it. Even though it’s hard. Just do it (thanks Nike). Don’t allow them to control your mind. You control it, and forgive them. You’re not finished. After forgiving them, pray for them. Go before God and petition Him on their behalf. You can ask Him to help them change their behavior if you want. But, think about their needs, and not yours. You’re still not done. Do something good for them. It can be a kind deed, or a good word. But it needs to personally impact them. Just having good thoughts about them won’t get it done. When you have finished doing something good for them, even though they don’t deserve it, you have acted like God – who sent His Son to die for you – even though you didn’t deserve it. Here’s a Bible text. Again, there are lots of them. God says: For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV). Kinda scary, isn’t it? Here’s another one: Therefore If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. (Romans 12:20 NKJV). I’m not sure what the “coals of fire” mean. But I’m highly suspicious (note especially verse 19) that they are not coals of vengeance, but coals of purification.
· Work on your thoughts, you deeds will tend to follow. What do you think about? When you drive to work tomorrow, what will occupy your mind? Bathroom humor from the depraved radio? You can do better. Garbage in, garbage out applies to more than computers. Maybe you own some Bible audio CD’s. That’s a great start. Remember that list of Christian character traits you compiled in bullet-point three? Try thinking about those. What does each one mean? Who in the Bible effectively modeled those traits in addition to Jesus? How did Jesus demonstrate them in His life? Who is someone that you know today that shows what Christianity is like with their life? How do they do it? Have you seen times when they acted like a Christian when it was surely hard for them to do so? How is the Christian life the best life there is? How are you using your Christian life to influence others? How can you do a better job as you change other people for the better with your Christian example? The list of good, positive thoughts is endless. God says: Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8 NKJV). Another: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalms 1:1-2 NKJV). Who is the person that God says He will bless? The one who meditates on His word. What are you thinking about?
· Know where you’re going. “All roads lead to Rome,” but there is only one highway to heaven. Make sure you’re on it. The Bible teaching on how to become a Christian and how to live the Christian life is not rocket science. Meaning, it’s not hard to understand, though it may be sometimes hard to do. I am convinced that to a very significant extent, it’s as hard as you make it. If you try to hang on to the world and be drawn by the word of God at the same time, it will be hard, and you will ultimately fail. But if you let go of the world, if you can get to the point where, regarding the things of the world – you just don’t care – then the Christian life becomes doable. Even, at times, somewhat easy – at least, easier than it used to be. God said He would get the faithful Christian to heaven. Believe Him. Trust Him. Live a Christ-controlled life. You’ll get there. God keeps His word. Here’s your text, God says: And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13 NKJV). Ban doubt from your mind. Run over it with your Christian life and leave it dead on the side of the road as you drive confidently down the highway charted by God’s word, the highway to heaven. The devil will try to manipulate you any way he can. He will mess with your mind. Don’t let him. Let God own your mind and your life will follow.

Getting it right means following a recipe, and we have the perfect recipe book – the infallible word of God. God gave you all the necessary ingredients when He created you in His image. You just need to follow the correct procedure to complete the preparation. The end product is Christ in you.

My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, (Galatians 4:19 NKJV)

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NKJV)

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 NKJV)


Scott said...

Great parabolic treatment. Now I want a cup of "pot liquor" and a wedge of cornbread.

John said...

'Amen' to the plate. Thanks.