Dave and his wife were cleaning out the attic one day when he came across a ticket from the local shoe repair shop. The date stamped on the ticket showed that it was over eleven years old. They both laughed and tried to remember which of them might have forgotten to pick up a pair of shoes over a decade ago.
“Do you think the shoes will still be in the shop?” Dave asked. “Not very likely,” his wife said. “It’s worth a try,” Dave said, pocketing the ticket. He went downstairs, hopped into the car, and drove to the store.
With a straight face, he handed the ticket to the man behind the counter. With a face just as straight, the man said, “Just a minute. I’ll have to look for these.” He disappeared into a dark corner at the back of the shop. Two minutes later, the man called out from the back, “They’re here!” “No kidding?” Dave said. “That’s terrific! Who would have thought they’d still be here after all this time.”
The man came back to the counter empty-handed. “Where are they?” Dave asked. “They’ll be ready Thursday,” the man said calmly. Believe it or not.
I want to talk to you this morning about a mystery, one of the Christian mysteries, and one of my favorite scriptures. You probably know what it is since you just heard it: “…your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Believe it or not. I believe it.
You know, Jesus talked about the idea of something of great value being in fact hidden, hidden from view. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Mt13:44 Did you notice the man finds a hidden treasure and then hides it again? The things of God are often invisible to the naked eye, hidden from normal sight.
This wasn’t however the first time that things on the surface were not what God cared about. When the prophet Samuel was looking to anoint the
next king of Israel, God’s teaching that came to him is still remembered today: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart!” 1Sam16:7
Too many people give up on figuring out the mystery of what’s on the inside of them. Perhaps they tried when they were younger, though many never seem to give such deep issues much consideration. Instead they just plow on through life, going from rough patch to rough patch; or they skim the surface and forego experiencing deeper satisfaction, joy, understanding. Some of us meet up with ourselves later, or late, in life, when the plowing and the skimming are past, and what has kept us occupied for so long is no longer available or no longer has the same appeal.
But let’s be honest. When we finally pause and turn to face ourselves and to look at what we’re made of, so much time has gone by. So little effort was put into building bridges to the inside, to heart and soul. So much of our lives was spent out in visible transactions, worldly efforts, seeking compensation, respect, pleasure, rewards, all the while avoiding defeats, strain, labors in the Lord, and spiritual training. If during all these years and decades we’ve grown older and weaker in body, the same too often is just as true if not more so of the spirit.
The truth is for the most part we are where we are now because that’s where we want to be. We’ve chosen our path. If we were hungry for something better from God, we could have it. If you want it, you can have a close walk with God. If you want to, you can do God’s will. If you want to, you can witness for Christ. If you want to, you can learn to pray. If you want to, you can grow spiritually. If you want to, you can change deeply ingrained habits. If you want to, you can break destructive patterns of behavior. If you want to….
But to do this you have to be willing to live from the inside out and follow the urgings of the Spirit. Don’t resist satisfying your soul’s thirst. Feed on the word of the Lord daily. Shape your life around the need for prayer. Build up a hidden life with Christ in God. It’s never too late to start a spiritual exercise program to tighten up some seriously flabby spiritual “muscles.”
And this is the perfect time to do it, too. Lent is just around the corner. Ash Wednesday is March 5th, with a service at noon. Make plans to find and build your hidden life during the 40 days of Lent. I’ve provided significant opportunities for those who want to. You can choose to come to the new five-week Kerygma Bible study Tuesdays at 2 or Wednesday at 7 p.m. During Lent I’ll also lead 8 a.m. Wednesday morning services of prayer, meditation, and Communion.
The truth is we want people to acknowledge us and respect us and play with us and know about our good points and our good deeds. We want to be noticed and to make our mark. We want to see good results come from our good actions.
Not too many people are interested in never seeing the consequences of what they do. Heck, most people would prefer to do bad things in order to be able to see something come from their life than live a good life that falls like a tree in a forest where nobody hears it. We don’t want to stay hidden. That’s a lonely life.
So powerful is this urge that even our spiritual works become worldly works. Even when we’re doing good things, even when we’re doing something for the Lord, we still do them with a heart geared toward how things work in the world. We want a transaction. We want to do and then we want to get. Nothing stays underground, below surface level. We don’t build a life hidden with Christ in God.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” It’s hypocritical because giving to someone else it isn’t about us—it’s about them.
It’s like can’t we take a moment or two to let the world not revolve around us. We ought to do Christ’s works because Christ needs them done. We give to Christ’s ministries our time, talent, and treasure because we’ve decided to serve him. Let the other reasons go. Let the Spirit flow. Be the vessel of the Lord. Cleanse yourself and your ego from the need to be
recognized and rewarded. Build up instead your secret hidden love for Christ Jesus.
Back a long time ago, a man named John earned the nickname Golden Throat because of his preaching. It eventually became how his name was remembered. John wasn’t afraid of anyone, not even the Emperor or Empress of Constantinople. He was eventually banished twice, the last time leading to his death.
When John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) was first brought before the empress Eudoxia, she threatened him with banishment if he insisted on preaching against her and what went on around the palace. “You can’t banish me” John responded. “This world is my Father’s house.” “Then I’ll kill you,” she said. “You can’t kill me. My life is hidden with Christ in God,” he said. “I’ll take away your treasures.” “You can’t do that either, since my treasure’s in heaven where my heart is.” “So I’ll drive you away from your friends and you’ll have no one left.” “Sorry, you can’t,” John proclaimed. “I have a Friend in heaven from whom you can’t separate me.”
His real life wasn’t on the surface, visible to the eyes of others. John’s life was hidden with Christ. He had power and truth others couldn’t touch or take away. When he died, it was this life that would rise in Christ. As scripture tells us: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” 1Cor. 15:50, 53
I don’t know about you but I’ve started to notice that my body isn’t all it used to be. Things are wearing out, slowly and not dramatically as of now but they are inexorably and inevitably. I have to work very hard just to maintain. It’s like I’m running hard but running in place and not getting anywhere. At least I’m not losing much ground as of now.
To my way of thinking, this is a serious indication that if I pin my future hopes on my physical strength and capabilities I’m going to be in for a very rude awakening. Does anyone here know what I’m talking about?
If you’re ever going to get beyond your physical life, then you have to go below your physical life. But to get there you’ve got to decide that there is
such a thing. You can’t go somewhere you don’t believe even exists. Stop being wishy-washy. Stop trying to walk the fence. Decide once and for all that Christ is the one for you. Believe at last that the Spirit is inside of you. Finally claim God as your Maker, your life, your hope, your peace, your truth, your joy, your beginning, your end, your light.
Years ago a new missionary arriving at his mission station was assigned a car that wouldn’t start without a push. He proceeded for the next two years to arrange to either park on a hill or leave the engine running when he made his rounds.
A new missionary came to relieve him of his duties and the veteran missionary explained to him about the idiosyncrasies of the car. The new man took a look under the hood and before long discovered the trouble. A simple loose cable was tightened. After stepping into the car he attempted to start the engine. It roared to life. The power was there all the time but a loose connection needlessly kept him struggling for two years.
Someone once said, “Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.” Look under the hood of your life, and connect yourself to God.
It’s amazing how popular films and TV shows and comics are that are all about someone with superhuman power. It’s almost always hidden and comes out when necessary to defend the innocent, protect the good, fight for justice. Superman is perhaps the epitome of the original hidden superhero. When all was serene and safe, he was Clark Kent, “mild-mannered reporter” with the Daily Planet newspaper. At such times he was indistinguishable from the average citizen in Metropolis. But when chaos broke out or crime raised its ugly head, the light grey suit was cast aside to reveal the man of steel who was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, could leap tall buildings in a single bound. And a lot more by the time we got him in the movies.
These super person or hidden hero characters are perhaps more popular than ever. It’s like we’re hungrier than ever for someone who can go beneath
the appearance of things and connect with something or someone real. The whole movie trilogy of the Matrix was based on the idea that the world we see is an order completely fabricated by computers—the Matrix—and we are its prisoners. Those broke through the Matrix and had to struggle in cold, dark ships wore clothes that can only be described as monastic. They believed in a place called Zion. They chose truth and freedom over falsehood and superficial lives.
What is happening to our world? Where are we going?
Is there not a sense that the world order in which we’re living now and moving toward more and more each day, this seamless, globalized, techno-computer world, is infiltrating, surrounding, and shrinking our existence? Its extensive reach, its growing sophistication, its almost unfettered access to our lives silently seduces us to believe in it and its ever-expanding powers.
We are today creating our own Tower of Babel. We are united again, centered in the fantasy of a world shaped in our image, managed to our specifications, designed to reward those who created it. We will suffer interference from nobody as we reach further and further to bring all of heaven and earth into our fold and under our dominion. Like Empress Eudoxia, the rising order seeks to banish God to a desolate island of insignificance and irrelevancy.
The thing is the younger you are the more this is what’s happening in your world. Fewer young people go to church, worship God, believe there’s a God, or find themselves at all interested in what such a higher power would say to them. There is no need for anything like that in their lives. They believe they have more than enough with their iPhones, Pads, their instant and surface-level connections, and so on. The seduction is on-going, full-force and non-stop.
And yet these are the ones who hunger and thirst for stories of hidden powers and of special lives secretly kept within. Superheroes, vampires, and other hidden heroes have made huge profits for entertainment companies cashing in on this generation’s interests.
But this is more than a superficial interest. This is spiritual groaning. It’s their spirit groaning in hopes that the visible, man-made world isn’t all there is. They want to believe in a hidden power that will connect them to the really Real, and that will make a difference in their lives. It’s a spiritual hunger, even if unrecognized as such, by those who have been quietly seduced into believing there is no such thing as spirit and certainly no need for a spiritual life.
But God is Spirit, and we are God’s. We are made in God’s image and so are endowed with God’s Spirit. And there isn’t anybody nor any society or culture that can remove this First Truth, even if it’s not believed.
Psalm 139 describes it like this: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
If there ever was a generation that needs an outreach and a ministry to rescue them it is those who are growing up in this new world order. We mustn’t just leave them to wander without an anchor in the Lord in the world they find themselves in today.
God’s spirit is here. God’s power is already extended. Take the Lord’s hand. Let it lead you, cover you, strengthen you, protect you, guide you, shelter you. Let yourself be hidden in the mystery of Christ Jesus, the Word who was with God and was God, who is life, both life here and now and life eternal and resurrected forevermore. Can anybody say Amen?