"Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10
My father, Don Miller was trained as navigator during World War II. I have often heard him refer to a principle of navigation called "accumulative error." This takes place when a pilot flies a plane off course. The longer the plane continues on the wrong path, the greater the error becomes. If the pilot ignores his instruments, compass, charts, stars, maps, landmarks, radio frequencies, he will continue to head in the wrong direction. Even the slightest degree of diversion from the original destination can bring great danger to the pilot and the crew. There comes a point in the flight when no course correction can be made. Fuel supplies become depleted, and there is no hope of getting back on track. The 'point of no return" has been passed.
There is another kind of accumulative error, and the cure is "Spring Cleaning." I am not real fan of hanging on to a lot of stuff, but I have lost this argument over the years. We have an "empty nest" and a full garage. In 2003 I was conned into moving cheer leading megaphones, bicycles, boxes of ceramics, baby dolls, elementary school stuff and stuffed animals, old furniture, and other assorted essentials into an over sized two car garage. The last words I heard were, "Dad can we leave it here while we are in college. We will come back soon, sort through this and get rid of everything we don't want." Seven years later the stuff still remains. The garage has flooded on more than one occasion, and I have had to go in and move everything out and then move it back in at least three times. Each time my walk with God has suffered from the reminder that this may be my garage, but this is not my stuff. During this time, there have been numerous hail snow, rain and ice storms that have swept through this area. All this stuff is protected under my roof, but my automobiles are exposed to the elements. There is something wrong with this picture.
Whew! I feel better getting that off my chest. Can you tell that this week I have started cleaning out my office, and the garage? Bags of trash, unessential papers, ancient correspondence, outdated files and other "accumulative error" have been placed in bags and kicked to the curb. We are getting ready for a city wide garage sale and we are hoping that our trash will look like lost treasure to someone else.
This process has been a bittersweet experience. As I approach the big 6-0 on April 30Th, I have been taking stock of what is really important. As I have been forced to comb through files, I have been amazed at all Dana and I have done. We have been very busy, and can even say in some cases and places, we have been effective. Still, a nagging doubt arises with the question, "Is this all there is?"
As we reevaluate our lives, and set our priorities for the next phase of life, and ministry, I have started to see with a little more clarity the things that are really important. The flashing lights on the dash board, and the calendar remind me that the tank is not as full as when I began ministry in 1972. There is still a lot to be done, and I have to make sure that I have used what I have left wisely.
The highest priority of our live remains,...glorify God. This requires more vigilance than ever. Any thoughts that I may have have had earlier in life that I would become holier, just by getting older have been dashed by ministering in a retirement community for the past seven years. WOW! What a mess! People who are full of themselves early in life, do not become wiser as they grow older. They just get meaner. God has used this experience to convince me to never retire. I don't want to ever be a member of the "over the hill" gang. I believe God wants us all to regroup and recharge the hill. There is much left to be done, but it begins with a clear focus on Him, and not the work that He has called us to do. The first priority for me is to spend more time with Him, and to talk less and pray more.
Dana is also very high on that priority list. She is recovering well from her battle with breast cancer. Two major surgeries and six month of chemo are in the rear view mirror, and 2010 is going to be a year of recovery for her, and a year of refocus for me. Life will always have some kind of stress, but we are moving into a period of our lives where we are less likely to put up with our own foolishness, much less someone else's. The rest of our lives we want to invest ourselves in reaching up to God in prayer, and reaching out to people who have come to the end of themselves and are looking for the difference only Jesus can make in their lives.
The Bible has a lot to say about cleaning out the junk that accumulates in our lives. David called out to God, "Create in me a clean heart..." He had allowed stinking thinking to create in him what is called today a spirit of entitlement. Bathsheba looked good to him, and he took her into his arms because he was rich and powerful enough to do what he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it. He was the King. He was entitled. "Tiger" Woods did not initiate this concept, and neither did David, but it was self-destructive to both of them. When "accumulative error" landed David in a faraway place, He went to God. "Tiger" went to rehab. Time will tell which course correction was the wisest choice.
Paul exhorted the church at Corinth, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Cor. 7:1) This gives us some personal responsibility in the matter of personal holiness. This is not a case for "God helps those who help themselves." It is a reminder that choices have consequences. Paul warned them about hooking up with people who were unbelievers. He wanted to keep the church focused on, "We are the temple of the living God." In a Christian world that is consumed with confronting the culture, and emerging in order to engage the culture around them, it is refreshing to hear Paul remind us, "Come out from their midst and separate says the Lord." I realize this may be quite un-contemporary, but I have made my choice. I will not be hosting any wine tasting parties, keggers or smokers to impact the people around me. The greatest guide out of the dark and into the light is still a holy life. I can't say that I understand all that this means, but I am going to focus the remaining years of my life on getting with Jesus, and I'll let Him reflect His light off of me. Something in me tells me that this is still the most reliable method to bring people out of the darkness and into the light.
John, The Beloved Disciple, has been a reference to me on this matter. This little book holds out for me one of the greatest passages of Scripture the Holy Spirit has ever inspired. He said, "But if we walk in the light, as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." (I John 1:7) As I refocus for the final years of ministry, and regroup my resources for the next charge up the hill, I want to make sure that I am pointed in the right direction. I am not heading into the dark to find my way, but walking into the light. He is the source of hope for a lost generation. His church is the last great hope for this world. His blood is the only way a person can be cleansed from all sin. This week I was challenged by a young pastor to never say, "I am just a sinner saved by grace." He offered the substitutionary phrase that pointed out our righteousness in Christ. I believe what he said is true, and well meant, but I would add this word of caution. There is no shortcut that can be taken to get to the righteousness of Christ. This path takes us up a Calvary Road, and confronts us with the blood of Jesus, and our own death on the cross. It is not until a person has this low view of his sinful condition that they are ready to be elevated to the righteousness of Christ. There can be no sin blotted out from the ledger book of God until it is acknowledged that the debt is owed and it cannot be paid. There is no grace that can be received until there is an admission of the need of unmerited favor.
Excuse me, but the garage is calling me to complete an unfinished task. Something tells me that this is not the only place in my life where I have "accumulative error." Pray for me, and I will pray for you to have a clean heart that has had all the junk removed and kicked to the curb today.