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Friday, November 6, 2015

Conversion

  I want you to know, brothers and sisters,  that the gospel I preached  is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man,  nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation  from Jesus Christ. 
     …[W]hen God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb  and called me  by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles,  my immediate response was not to consult any human being.
-Galatians 1:11-12, 15-16 (NIV)


     OK, I'm a a little embarrassed that I knew that line by heart. Then again, maybe you do too, or at least recognize it. The line is from a little movie from several decades ago, delivered with a sardonic smirk by a self-proclaimed "scoundrel" played by Harrison Ford, a rogue named Han Solo who discovers his heroism by the end of the film.
     Apparently, that's not all he discovered.
     That line flashed through my mind a couple of weeks ago when I saw the newest trailer for the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, the first time we'll see Han Solo on the big screen in over 30 years. A lot's happened in his life in that time, apparently. He was a skeptic in the first film, telling a naive farm boy named Luke Skywalker that belief in a "mystical energy field" that controls human destiny is foolish, ridiculous, and even dangerous. 
     Somewhere, though, Han Solo changed his mind.
     In the trailer for the new film, a new character, Daisy Ridley's Rey, asks Solo about the events of the first films, events that apparently passed into legend before she was born. "There are stories about what happened," she says, half in hope, half doubting that anything so amazing and wonderful and frightening could possibly be true. And, once the skeptic, Solo smiles and confesses his faith: "It's true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They're real."
     I know. They're not real, of course. And maybe none of that has the resonance with you that it does with me. But you know about conversion, don't you? You know something about what it's like to change your mind and see the world in an entirely different light, the light of something that you couldn't imagine was possible before but that changes everything.
     Saul had a moment like that. The new light in which he saw the world came from a risen Jesus, a man who he thought was dead. That new light was so bright it took away his own vision for a little while - just long enough for him to realize that his own limited vision was just holding him back. That's what conversion is, isn't it: seeing the world with new eyes?
     And Saul does. He sees himself anew, someone who needs the grace of God instead of deciding who’s worthy of it. He sees that he needs to “call on the name of Lord,” and it’s through that risen Lord, Jesus, that what’s wrong in him and in the world around him will be put right. He sees that the power to transform his world isn’t in his hands, and in fact it’s been going on around him all the time, through these Christians energized by God’s Spirit. 
     Conversion is hard, because it demands that we give up any view of the universe that doesn’t have God at its center. Sometimes we think that conversion is about information transfer, but the only information Saul learned on that road was that Jesus, who he knew was killed, was alive again. The rest came later — and Saul, who took the name Paul after his conversion — developed at least the basis of most of the best-known doctrines of Christianity. But his conversion came first, and only then did he sit down to think through the implications of a new world view in which the risen Lord Jesus is alive and active in the world, and is bringing it toward an obvious resolution.
     Conversion is hard. It’s no easier for us. We usually think of conversion as a once-for-all event, in which we “see the light” and everything changes for us. That seeing the light happens often enough, of course, but even then it’s not usually once-for-all. Conversion is more often a recurring theme in our lives, as in many different ways we’re forced to come to the conclusion that we aren’t at the center of our worlds at all. It’s a moment of conversion to realize that your church attendance doesn’t make you a believer, and that you need to change your way of seeing the world every bit as much as the addict who mistakes meth for God. It’s a moment of conversion to realize that your belittling of your spouse has to do with your need for control, and that if you don’t give up control to God you’re going to destroy your marriage. It’s a moment of conversion to let go of your ideas of the perfect family, or the perfect career arc, or the perfect retirement, and instead bow in submission to the perfect will of God. 
     For a long time now, the church has been best at information transfer. It’s a reflection of the values of the world around us that knowledge and information are power. We conquer the forces of nature, or the open market, or the atom, or whatever, through knowledge. And the church has often adapted this strategy. “Tell people how to be good Christians, and they will be,” we’ve said.
     But we’ve neglected conversion. 
     Here’s something all the knowledge in the world won’t help you with: the world doesn’t bend to your will, and it never, ever will. Evil, disease, and death claim the most powerful, the most intelligent, the most visionary among us. Forces more powerful than we are push time and history along. Hope for our own redemption, and the redemption of the world around us, is out of our hands.
     And so we need to be converted, every one of us. We need to come to the point in our lives when we’re blinded by the light of a risen Lord and make room for him at the center of our lives. By his grace, God wants to reveal him in us. It’s revelation — God’s doing, not our own. It calls us to action, no doubt; but first, it calls us to get ourselves out of the way and let God have his way. It’s true. All of it. The gospel of Jesus, that he has been raised from the dead by the power of God and is putting right what has gone wrong — it’s true. 

     May we live in such a way that its truth can be made known in us.

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