The new Carey Baptist College academic year is upon us and again we have eager students who are already putting in long hours of study, reflection and practice. What they are doing is going to make a difference to their future lives and ministry, and person by person, the Church grows stronger. I am convinced that theological study makes a difference. Let me tell you why.
For years my husband, Craig, and I looked good on the outside. We knew and loved Jesus. We led home groups and took part in whatever was happening at church. Our Christology was sound and we were certainly in the kingdom. On the surface we looked okay!
But as we look back, our spiritual climate depended upon too many external factors – the quality of the preaching, the worship at church and how good (or bad) it was, and the spiritual connectedness of our friends.
None of these is bad. We want to have great Bible-centered teaching and it is good when the musicians make great music. But because these factors had such an effect on our walk with Jesus, they should have sent up red flags.
But they didn’t, and our friends seemed the same. This was our kind of normal.
When our children were small we moved to Hamilton and began to go to a Bible-focused church. There our lives underwent a magnificent reorienting as we came to access God in, and through, the Bible for ourselves.
This whetted our appetite for more and we realised how very hungry we were. We had lived on fast-food for years, but once we had eaten good food for ourselves we no longer wanted any alternative.
Apologies at this point to our pastors from our earlier years. I am sure you were all great and none of our spiritual health was your fault. But we needed to learn to meet God in the Bible for ourselves. We needed to start on the path of maturity that comes from growing in knowledge and experience for ourselves (while connected into a mission-focused church).
My hunch is that we are similar to many people in our churches today – committed followers whose tanks are dry, people who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start. If that’s you, I want to share a story with you.
There once was a rich man who was near death. He was grieved because he had worked so hard for his money and he wanted to take it with him to heaven. So he began to pray that he might be able to take some of his wealth with him.
An angel heard his plea and appeared to him: “Sorry, but you can’t take your wealth with you.” The man implored the angel to speak to God to see if he might bend the rules. The man continued to pray that his wealth could follow him.
The angel reappeared and informed the man that God has decided to allow him to take one suitcase with him. Overjoyed, the man gathers his largest suitcase and fills it with pure gold bars and places it beside his bed.
Soon afterward the man dies and shows up at the gates of heaven to be greeted by St Peter. Seeing the suitcase, St Peter says, “Hold on, you can’t bring that in here!” The man explains that he has permission and asks him to verify his story with the Lord. St Peter checks and comes back saying: “You’re right. You are allowed one carry-on bag, but I’m supposed to check its contents before letting it through.”
St Peter opens the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the man found too precious to leave behind and exclaims, “You brought pavement?!”
What are you filling your life with? What would be in you suitcase? If your tank is dry or if you look in your suitcase and find it full of things that will eventually wear out or become pavement, try reading and wrestling with the scriptures again.
The living and written Word of God is what really makes the difference. Maybe you should even come to Carey and take a paper!
– Sarah Harris is the New Testament Lecturer at Carey Baptist College