Styrofoam Christians

This morning I was trying to puzzle out the solution to a problem

The tendency for some students to use SparkNotes

Instead of actually reading the book

Not a new problem for an English teacher

I remember this from my own high school experience

Only then it was Cliffs Notes and they were in little yellow books

Students tried to hide from the eyes of their teachers

I was trying to think of a metaphor to use

One that might make sense to students

Of how pointless this is

How much it hurts them in the end

Not to engage with real texts

Then I thought of weightlifting

One of my students this past year a top-ranked Crossfit champion

How she has built muscle through lifting weights

She amazes me

What would it be like for her to instead

Lift a Styrofoam weight?

It could be made to look like the real thing

Plenty of movies use this technique

But how pointless that would be

Going to the gym day after day

Doing reps with Styrofoam weights

It would certainly be easier

It might even look impressive if the weightlifter could pretend the weights were heavy

But with no new muscle being built

Eventually the truth would come out

I think the metaphor holds up fairly well

For cheating instead of doing the real work

To convey the pointlessness of the activity

The ACT scores and test grades will eventually tell the whole story

Like a student who copies math homework

And then finds he cannot do a single math problem on the test

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

– Revelation 3:1

This morning’s sermon was from Revelation

From the letter to the church in Sardis

With a “reputation of being alive”

But they were really dead

So they were faking it

The pastor used several metaphors

Trying to waterski without a boat to pull you

Or trying to revive a plant without first cutting off the dead pieces

I love metaphors like these

I think back to my teacher metaphor

I think that one works too

No amount of endless reps

Will ever build real muscle

If done with a Styrofoam weight

And no amount of real spiritual fruit

Will ever grow from a Christian who is faking it

Like trying to drink from an empty cup

It is easy to do

Faking it

Really with lots of things

We are even told to “fake it until we make it” sometimes

Only a Christianity in name only

Will always be revealed

For the empty thing it is

While I have seen real fruit in my life

Sometimes haven’t I relied on my own gifts

Instead of waiting on the Lord?

Sometimes it has seemed easier

To fake the fruit

Rather than doing the hard work of tilling the soil

Waiting for the sunlight and the nutrients

And time

It always takes time for anything to grow

To nourish the buds into bloom

Until a fully formed flower appears

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’”

-Isaiah 30:15

Oh the irony

That we would rather feverishly work until utterly exhausted

Rather than accepting the grace God offers for free

Because that grace comes with stillness

It requires repentance

We cannot just go on as we have before

God is not something that can be ADDED

He REPLACES other things

Hindus add Jesus to their pantheon without a second thought

But Jesus did not die to be one of a thousand false deities

He is the one and only LIVING God

I think sometimes we would rather painstakingly paint

Our Styrofoam

Than really choose to LIVE

I have seen how hard it is to do something

Even something good

When God is not in it

And how much easier it is to do

When God is

Even when obstacles come, somehow they don’t seem so daunting

So large

If God is in the task

Like Nehemiah building the wall

We can stay true to the task God has given

Despite the setbacks

Because God himself is with us

And that is always enough

The prayerful person accomplishes more

Than the prayerless one

If the task is from the Lord

 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

– I Corinthians 13:4-5

I am brought back to love again

Today’s meditation: “Love is not self-seeking”

How impossible this is without God

Only God can take what is inherently selfish

And turn it into something beautiful

Turn it into love

I think of marriage

How two selfish people pledge their lives to one another

And if they stay true to their commitment

The fruit that this kind of love holds

Even when the days are hard and romance wanes

I read once that love is “active unselfishness”

Active because love is a verb, not a feeling

And unselfish because anything else

Is a poor substitute for love

A Styrofoam weight

Useless for building muscle

So when the storms of life come

And they always do

You don’t have strength to endure them

The church in Sardis was busy but not holy

They were Styrofoam Christians

I repent of the moments I have tried to fake fruit

I till the soil of my mind with God’s living Word

His seeds of truth planting deep within my heart

Allowing the Holy Spirit as gardener to cultivate fruit

They will know we are Christians by our selfless love

And I don’t want to be a Styrofoam copy of the real thing

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