Summary: Two important exercises that make our lives more meaningful.
Recently I returned to my former high school for a reunion tour of the building. A new addition had been added and the library moved to the ground level, and we students also agreed that something seemed different on the third floor. Yet the change that was more noticeable to me than the building was the physical changes in my former classmates. I looked in my old yearbook to confirm things and... wow, did those guys ever get older and in one or two cases, flabby looking. Then a sobering reality passed over me–if they changed than much, then what do I look like these days! (The gray hair..... the glasses....the developing lines.... and especially the bulging mid-section. My physical changes just sort of took over in a conspiratorial way while I wasn’t looking). It’s as if I was once again standing in front of those distorting mirrors at the fun house at amusement park in my early teens, and laughing at how short and pudgy I looked. Except this time it is for real!! How our lives have a way of getting away from us, if you know what I mean.
I want to talk with you this morning about a couple of mirrors that are very important for us to look into from time to time. The reason we look into these mirrors is so that we can keep track of where our lives are going. Our bible text from the book of James speaks of those who look into a mirror–something we do every day–and walking away and forgetting what they looked like. And since we do that too often--look at our lives and walk away forgetting-- I think we need to first of all look into a mirror that I am calling the mirror of self-reflection.
Our modern world is not reflection-friendly. Even in my short life there has been the creation of several anti-reflection devices: personal computers, televisions with hundreds of stations to choose from, I-pods, and cell phones. These anti-reflective devices put a noisy shield around our souls so that we don’t have the time or the interest to shut everything off and ask, “What is my life about?” We’re strangers to ourselves, in a way.
Besides these noisy distractions, the demands of life can keep us from reflecting on our lives. Life has a way of pushing us forward by all its demands, like being in a line in the supermarket. Do you realize that even church can keep us from honest self-reflection? Yes, church! Routinely going back week after week because we’ve been doing it all our lives. Keeping busy with churchly activities. And in the midst of it all, somehow forgetting what church is really all about. And so we do the good works without asking crucial questions like, “Why do I want God?” or “Why did God create me?”
I have a favorite author who tells of how his father, a successful businessman and active in the church, went out to his orange grove when he was about 60 years old, knelt down, and really gave his life to the Lord. He had a critical moment of reflection and realized that he had missed the relational part of religion. His life ambitions radically changed from that time forward until the end of his life.
So it’s important for us to look into that mirror of self-reflection and instead of rushing away, pausing and asking ourselves whether our lives are authentic. May Sarton wrote a poem titled, “Now I become myself.”
Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces...
God wants us to be real, and wants us to look closely into that mirror of self-reflection from time to time, not forgetting what we looked like. No matter what stage of life we are in, whether age 16 or age 80, it is good for us to regularly take inventory of our goals and purpose, and make adjustments to our character and lifestyle if need be. That kind of reflection can set us free.
And yet even more important than self-reflection is a second mirror. Verse 25 of our text reads, “But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.” You might be thinking, “”How can that verse refer to both law and liberty in the same breath? Isn’t keeping God’s law a burden and a bother? What kind of freedom is it to be bound by laws?”
There is indeed an irony here. The more we pattern our lives according to God’s law and the more we submit ourselves to what God has commanded, the freer we will be! There is a life-transforming process that takes place when we expose ourselves to what this passage calls God’s law of liberty. We look into the bible and instead of quickly looking away, we ask, “Is this real to me? Am I living this truth in my life?”