I was recently at a rummage sale – not really looking for anything in particular. As a matter of fact, had it not been a church fund raiser, I never would have gone at all. But as I looked around, there it was – an ugly 1980’s oak book shelf. My daughter had been wanting a larger book shelf for her room – and there it was. After one of the gentlemen working the rummage sale was kind enough to deliver the bookshelf to my house, the project was a go.
My wife and I went straight to the home improvement store to pick up paint. After a brief text message exchange with our daughter (why would we ever talk when we can text) we picked out the perfect paint. Then, on to the project. I spent several hours sanding down the bookshelf as I prepared it to receive the paint. The old bookshelf finish was worn and faded. There were myriad blemishes in the surface that would transmit right through the new paint. So, I spent extra time sanding down those areas. Once the piece was sanded to bare wood, it was finally ready for the new finish. The scratches were relatively easy to sand out. Some concentrated sanding in the designated area typically did the trick. I just needed to feather the edges of the sanded areas so that the sanded area looked natural. The real tough part was getting the stain out. To be honest, the stain was so deeply ingrained in the wood that I never did remove it all.
As I write this, we are headed into the week before Easter. The Jewish community will celebrate Passover and the Christian world will celebrate the Passion. Fresh off of my restoration project, I reflected on the work that the master carpenter had to do on me. Prior to truly coming to faith, I lived a life that left me with many blemishes and scars. The stains ingrained in me resulted from my rebellion against the creator and my desire to please myself.
I often wonder why the Spirit called me when He did. I was neither worthy (still not) nor seeking. Yet, when He called – I answered. I then spent six months trying to get my life in order so that I would be worthy of being called a Christian. Finally, out of frustration, I recognized that I could not be good enough on my own. I finally realized that I was incapable of living a righteous life. I was incapable of being redeemed on my own merits. My finish was marred and faded. The stains of sin saturated my very essence. In order to be whole I had to surrender. I was that old piece of worn furniture – looking for a makeover.
There are stories of people hearing the Gospel and immediately coming to faith and committing their lives to the Lord. For me, the furniture analogy continues to fit. It’s not that I ever didn’t believe in God. But, I certainly didn’t have a faith that led to a changed life. When I started my six month journey from responding to the call to surrender and baptism, I didn’t really understand my role in salvation. First, I needed to be prepared. In that period, I finished my freshmen year of college, spent the summer living with my brother and his partner, and entered my sophomore year in college. I observed sin, experienced sin, and knew I wanted a different life. For the first time, I was given a modern translation of the Bible and I began to get to know God. I read diligently and created a new social group – one with people seeking God. In that period, I was being sanded and scraped. The carpenter was smoothing out the imperfections as my faith grew. Then in October of 1982, I knew that it was time for me to turn over my life. Before- I had believed – now – I had faith. I called a friend that had studied with me and we immediately went to the waters of baptism.
Interesting thing about sanding down a piece of furniture. While it is bare wood, it is susceptible to a lot of damage. Bare wood will absorb virtually anything it is exposed to. The surface is easy to scratch. You must put on a protective coat. Jesus tried to convey this message to the disciples in a parable. He told them about an evil spirit that left a person. However, it came back to find that the person was cleansed, but had not filled himself with anything. So, the evil spirit re-entered, bringing seven more evil spirits with it, the person was worse off than at the beginning (Matthew 12:43-45). Similarly, once the Holy Spirit worked on me, preparing me for the grace of God, I still had to make a choice – be filled with the Spirit or allow myself to resume my previous path. I chose to die to myself. But, I needed to be buried with Christ so that I too could be raised to walk in a new life (Romans 6: 3-4). If you think about it, Jesus redeemed us when he died on Calvary. But redeeming us from sin was only part of the plan. Defeating death so that man can live in the presence of God at the end of time is the final objective. So, I needed a protective coating…I needed to put on Christ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). I was cleansed by the blood of Christ and restored in faith in the waters of baptism.
It would be nice if life ended with a “happy ever after” from that point forward. But, the furniture motif continues. Once you apply a new finish to furniture, the finish is very fragile while it cures. Paint can be scratched off with a fingernail. Leaving a plate on a newly finished table will leave dents. So too with the new Christian. We are quite fragile as newbies to the faith. It is tough to grasp deep theology when you don’t fully grasp the basics. Discussions, which are mind-candy for the mature, are confusing and disturbing to the new in faith. And, while old habits lie dormant just underneath the surface, the Adversary is looking for an opportunity to pounce (I Peter 5:8). So many things are trying to pull us away from our new found relationship and we need protection. Much of that protection, for me, came in the form of the church. Getting together for Bible studies and worship three and four times a week was crucial. Being encouraged to read and study the word kept me headed in the right direction. The first several months after I became a Christian provided one of the most rapid periods of growth as my new identity cured.
I would like to say that my life remained fresh and perfect after that point…I really would like to say that. But sin and self-centeredness have a tendency to take a toll on that person re-born in the image of Christ. Quickly we mar the finish. Scratches and dents may cause us to question our worth and value. But, fortunately our re-finishing comes with auto-renewal. When we get banged up there is a continuous wave of grace that refreshes and revitalizes us. For there is no condemnation for those living in relationship with God through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1).
In the Father’s eyes, we are factory fresh…what freedom!
My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood his mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace
(Chris Tomlin, Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone)
Wayne Fletcher, MBA, EdD
Chair, Department of Health Sciences