My life is controlled by a clock. School begins at 8:00 a.m., and I am there at 7:30 to work with students. First period ends at 9:30, and new students arrive. And so on, through the day. Then, when school is over, I have my first music student at 3:00. My first math tutoring session is at 3:30. And on it goes.
On Sundays, I preach at 8:00 a.m. at a nearby church that is pastorless, and I'm expected to be there on time, ready to go. Some Sundays I preach at two churches, and then I have to leave the first church at 9:00 a.m. in order to get to the next church by 10:00 a.m.
Day after day, week after week.
The strange thing is, I never realized just how regimented my schedule is. I never gave it a thought. It was simply part of how life works.
Then I went to Argentina. And I discovered that not everyone operates the way we do here in the United States. When does church start? When everyone gets there, and has had a chance to greet everyone. When is supper? Sometime in the evening when it's ready.
We're doing an after-school program? Great! What time is that? 3:00. Or maybe 3:20? Or 4:00? Well, no, not everyone is here yet, so we'll get started around 4:15.
And all of a sudden, for the first time, I realized just how much my life centered around the ticking of a clock.
Now, my point in sharing this is not that one way of approaching life is better or worse than the other (there are positives and negatives to both approaches). My point is: centering my life's activities around the movement of gears and clock hands is something I was virtually unaware of, to the point that it never occurred to me that there was another way to approach life.
The same was true of how I greet people. I grew up in a culture where a greeting goes (almost without fail) like this:
Me: Hi, how ya doing?
Them: Fine, you?
And that's it. Fast forward to the time I spent in northern Africa, and discovered that every greeting involves a plethora of questions like "How is your wife?" "Is business going well?" "Are you parents well?" and you are actually expected to answer these questions, instead of just saying, "Oh, fine."
I was never aware of how shallow our greetings are until I went somewhere that they did something very different, and suddenly I became very conscious of the manner in which I greet people!
So what does this have to do with the Christian life? Believers in Christ have (or should have) a culture all our own. We speak the truth without fail (Matthew 5:37). We speak with grace no matter the circumstances (Colossians 4:6). We are gentle with those who are weak and failing (Galatians 6:1). We give generously to those who are in need (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). We treat others as more important than our own selves (Philippians 2:3). These, and so many other things, define a culture that is extraordinarily beautiful and winsome.
This is the hope, the goal, and the ideal. But we live in a culture where these things are not the norm. All you have to do is visit social media to discover that people speak with neither truth nor grace. All you have to do is consider the corporate world to realize that generosity is not a standard feature of our culture. So here's the problem. If the culture I'm steeped in day after day is a culture of dishonesty, graceless communication, selfishness and pride, these things become part of who we are, without us even realizing it. (Again, all you have to do is visit social media, and you will easily see that many many Christians have chosen the way of false, proud, and graceless communication).
Romans 12:2 is all about a culture, or a way of life. Paul is telling us that the culture around us will influence us and control us without our even realizing it, unless we proactively take measures to renew our minds -- to refresh the ways of our own Christian culture. There are many ways that we do that -- the reading of scripture, and listening to the teaching of the Word are two ways. But in addition to these, we must remember that the only way to become acclimated to a culture is to immerse yourself in it. We must deliberately spend time in the company of our fellow culture-members, so that the Christian culture will permeate not just our actions, but our thought process.
Note: an expanded form of this content can be found in the sermon Culture Wars in the message series Aliens!
A year ago I went to see my dentist and he said to me, "Doug, you have great teeth. They are solid, the gums are good, everything looks great!"
This year I went back for my checkup and he said, "Oh, Doug, you have two big cavities, right between the teeth." Long pause... "Have you been flossing?"
Ouch. Of course -- that task I know I'm supposed to do every day, but I don't. Flossing helps to clean out the food particles between the teeth, so they don't cause the teeth to start decaying.
Do you floss? Every day? I didn't floss at all, until I had to have two fillings this spring. Now I do.
I started thinking, though, that Bible reading is a lot like flossing -- it's one of those tasks that everyone knows you should do on a regular basis, but we often say, "Oh, I don't have time for that today," or "Maybe tomorrow."
And reading your Bible is a lot like flossing in another way -- it's a way of cleaning out the garbage that your brain picks up on a daily basis, just from living in a messed up world. Every day, just from living in this world, you daily come in contact with bad attitudes, bad actions, and bad ideas (and this happens even when you're just hanging out with other Christians, because -- let's face it -- Christians aren't perfect either!). And these bad attitudes, actions, and ideas can get lodged in your brain, where they do not belong.
Reading God's word is a way of dislodging some of that stuff that can cause spiritual decay. Romans 12:2 says to renew your mind, and so in a sense, we could think of a regimen of regular scripture reading as your "mental floss."
A couple more thoughts about the idea of scripture reading as your spiritual floss or mental floss:
1. Just as you should never say, "Oh, I've already flossed 500 times, I don't need to do it again," you should never say, "Oh, I've already read God's word 500 times -- why should I bother reading it again?" The answer should be obvious; the fact that you've flossed in the past doesn't do any good when it comes to cleaning out the garbage you've accumulated now. In the same way, since you're continually collecting spiritual garbage in this world, the spiritual flossing needs to be ongoing as well -- no matter how many times you've already read it!
2. If I hadn't told you that I had two cavities, you never would have known it. In the same way, if you allow spiritual decay in your life, you can probably hide it from people for a long time. But if you hide it, and don't do anything about it -- if you pretend it doesn't exist -- sooner or later, everything will collapse in spiritual decay, and you (and everyone else) will be saying, "What in the world just happened?"
Today I did something I'd never done before in my life. I ran out of gas. I was on my way to teach a Vacation Bible School at a church about 35 minutes away. I'd been going every morning this week. On Monday I glanced at the gas gauge and said: "Oh, plenty of gas." On Tuesday I looked at it again and said: "Still plenty of gas."
And then I never even thought about it for the rest of the week.
Pretty embarrassing to have to call someone to come with five gallons of gas to get me going again! :-/
But as I was sitting there by the side of the road, with the hazard lights blinking, waiting to be rescued, something occurred to me.
Despite the fact that I'd never done it before in my life, the fact is that running out of gas is one of the easiest things in the world to do. You know why? Because all you have to do is stop thinking about it. That's it. Just stop thinking about it.
If you stop thinking about it, the only way you can not run out of gas is to never go anywhere! But if you want to go places, and you never think about your gas, sooner or later, you run out.
That made me think of the verse in Romans 12 that says:
Spiritually, it is very easy for us to run out of gas also. All it requires is that we stop thinking about it! Paul says that we should be "renewing our minds." That's the same idea as keeping your gas tank full of gas. How do we renew our minds? Our minds are renewed as we spend time in the company of other believers, who prod us on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). Our minds are renewed as we spend time reading and meditating on God's word, which can keep us going, just like milk keeps a baby going (1 Peter 2:2). Our minds are renewed as we think on our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who should be at the center of our attention (Hebrews 12:2).
If we want to go anywhere spiritually, we must keep our gas tank full. And the moment we stop thinking about it, the moment we stop renewing, we begin an emptying process, and we're headed for trouble.