The concluding message for Chiseled could well have served as the series opener.
It was less about being chiseled for ministry and more about being chiseled for obedience.
And … it took a couple of detours involving violent video games, attachment to mobile devices, and . . . wait for it . . . the modern conversation around children & gender identity.
After all that, it landed here:
God removes what sin distorts to reveal what he designed.
There’s a word that if I were to say it right now, you’d give me a collective eye roll. But by the end of this talk, when I tell you the thing I’m going to tell you, I’m going to say that word and you’ll be “I’m gonna die if I don’t get some of that word in my life!” No pressure, right?
Because we are coming to the close of a series called Chiseled and it’s been about the ways God is sculpting us and shaping us to live lives of significance rather than vanity. The final product of his sculpting is not so that you can look in the mirror but so you can get to work. It has very frankly and honestly been about the way God chisels you that your potential for ministry within the Body of Christ gets unleashed. And I’ve been so glad to see so many of you step, emerge out of the “rock” and step into conversations about ServeTeams this fall and beyond.
But I wonder in all this is we have gotten a little bit ahead of ourselves and if there’s a few other reasons that God has been longing to grab his chisel. I am wondering if this concluding message shouldn’t have been the first message. The last thing chiseled should have been the first thing chiseled … unless this delay is part of an ingenious plan all along! Because Paul has been our guide throughout the bulk of this series and often from his letter to the church in Ephesus, a port city in what is today Turkey. Today, we pick him up in ch. 4, just after he has laid out for the people how they are being prepared – chiseled! – for the ministry within the church. And then, starting at 4:17, he seems to back up – HEY, JUST LIKE I AM DOING! – and return to some foundational things. A way of telling the people that the same overwhelming love that saved them is now poised to chisel them.
Look at 4:17a-b:
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
Wait. Do you know what is hilarious? Side splitting? They’re Gentiles! “Hey you Gentiles, stop acting like Gentiles!” It’s like saying to us, “Stop living like Carolinians! Stop living like Americans! Stop living like … white ppl. Stop living like … black ppl. Stop living like who you naturally are.” What the? It’s hilarious unless … it’s painfully true. Because look at how he finishes the thought:
in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
Futility, darkened, ignorance, hardening hearts. The hits keep coming. The Ephesian ppl, BEFORE JESUS, had been deceived into a kind of thinking which DESENSITIZES you. Dulls you. Makes you not feel guilty about sin and lose perspective on your time and your values. That “hardening” there is the same word from which we get “petrified,” not the scared kind, the forest kind! That hard, that resistant, that oblivious to what is right and good. When I see that, I then wonder: are there ways in which we really DO need to stop living like Americans, Carolinians? In which the culture around us desensitizes us?
Anyone here know someone who spends an inordinate amount of time playing video games? As in, miss sleep time and eat time because they get so immersed into the World of Warcraft? And hello! The head chopping, body exploding slowly but surely desensitizes you to violence & death. You lose track of time. Your brain chemistry gets altered so you stay up all night long? Or maybe it’s not video game & violence for you, perhaps it’s the violence against women that is porn. And it distorts your views of women, of relationships, and even of men? Or even our attachment to devices that is literally changing the posture of the American people (demonstrate!) and makes it seem as if all communication is URGENT. You’re driving, you get a text, and who cares about safety because you’ve got to read and respond NOW. (No, you don’t.)
Or even, even, in the way the culture twists and distorts the ways our minds work, we’re now being treated with the relentless drumbeat surrounding gender identity. Listen: in a tiny percentage of the population, there ARE anatomical abnormalities. Sad, difficult. But that’s not what this movement is about. It’s about the idea that gender is fluid & chosen and that BIOLOGY IS BIGOTRY and most of us are so fearful of being labeled intolerant or hateful that we just grin and accept it. When it comes to children, especially, gender confusion needs therapy, not affirmation. Counseling, not encouragement. It’s a brave new world in which we’re being told to redefine what anatomy & science clearly tell us & we’re dulled into thinking that somehow standing up for biology is a form of bigotry. Stop living like Carolinians – Charlotteans! – indeed.
Do you see what all these things have in common? What you think, HOW you think, has this ability to take what is beautiful and good and twist & distort it into something ugly. And you don’t even know it is happening. Paul is saying this is the life you had before you gave it Jesus … and that is the kind of life that continually calls to you to lure you back even afterwards.
Because then he turns it at 4:20-21:
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.
Notice: learned, heard, taught. It’s still wrapped up in how you think. More: look at 4:22-24:
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God
See that? Put off. Put on. Every time you see that (for example, here in Colossians 3:9-10) Paul is referring to BAPTISM! In the early church, they had pre-baptism clothing they put off and post baptism clothing they put on. So what he is saying is that in the putting off God is on this relentless quest to chisel away all the distortion, all the twisted thinking, all the ways your mind works just like an American, Carolinian, Charlottean. That stuff has to be removed. So that the true you, the one that hasn’t been dulled and desensitized by wacky thinking, can be revealed.
See, because all of us, every single one of us, is like that question someone asked sculptor Daniel French at the unveiling of the Lincoln Memorial (AV): “how’d you find Mr. Lincoln in that rock?” Because look what Paul says gets revealed when the old gets chiseled away: READ 4:23-24 stopping with created to be like God. Ah, so what God is longing to reveal is us made new, a new self, which he says is “like God.” Well, guess what “new” and “like God” mean in terms of the biblical story? OLD! ORIGINAL! Eden! Made in the image of God! The new suit here is apparently the birthday suit! God wants to get us back in touch with his Original Design for the human race, what we were supposed to be like before Original Sin fouled it all up. Here’s what it means for the conclusion of Chiseled: God removes what sin distorts to reveal what he designed.
Absolutely! There is an authentic YOU underneath all the layers you have allowed to cloud your thinking & ruin your relationships. God has an originally designed YOU. And he wants to chisel away all the junk, all the layers of fouled up thinking, so that what gets revealed is the most brilliantly designed you that you can be. Believe me: God initiates the process – he might even be using my words right now, today, to do so – but you gotta cooperate. He can’t chisel a rock that keeps running away. So he makes the first move but it takes a compliant, willing, cooperative person to allow himself to be well chiseled.
Please know this: the same love that SAVED you now SHAPES you. You don’t earn it. You’re given it. You don’t achieve it. You receive it. When I talk about REMOVING & REVEALING, it’s not grit your teeth and try harder to be good. Let the religions of the world do that. We in Xnty who have such contentment that all the words DO’s are DONE in Jesus, we know enough to realize he is so committed to us that he is going to be relentless at starting the process of chiseling away the junk & he is just looking for some willing participants.
So … what is the cloudy thinking which leads to icky sinning that God needs to chisel away? Is it …
It’s just a crush. It’ll never go anywhere.
These video games don’t affect my mind!
I’m not self-righteous.
It’s an old flame but I doubt it’ll burn.
Just a little more money would fix it.
You know what I realized it is for me? A few weeks ago, I had my phone out and was ready to text something funny to another person that would have STRENGTHENED my relationship with that person but done so at the expense of someone else. See, the witty thing was a funny incident involving another person who did an admittedly dumb thing and I was all ready to text it with kind of Of course they did that again! Hey – for all you know that text could have been to you or about you! It seemed harmless unless God told me emphatically: NO. Do not advance one relationship at the expense of someone else’s reputation. Gulp. That time, at least, I put the phone down. He had to chisel away sneakiness to reveal a new/old me; one he had designed. God removes what sin distorts to reveal what he designed.
And do you remember that word I told you about at the beginning? The eye roll word? Listen: if we’re properly chiseled and fully revealed, that word promises this kind of life: A clean conscience at night. Taking a moral inventory of your day and having no regrets. The ability to sleep like a baby. To have relationships that in harmony. To have congruence with what you say you believe and how you really are. To feel a deep union with God, so that living relationship is not just a mission statement for the church but an accurate description of your life. Sound good? The kind of life you feel like you’d ache til you get? Look at the last part of 4:24: in true righteousness and holiness.
Oh, no eye roll there. THAT’S YOUR DESIGN. THAT’S YOU. Not your performance for Jesus. Your position in Jesus. Not your duty. Your destiny. That’s the YOU he wants to reveal. Holiness is not an achievement for the few; it’s to be received by the many. Including you. God removes what sin distorts to reveal what he designed.
And it happens like this . . .
We concluded with a version of the Skit Guys “Chiseled” sketch.