Here we are, right smack in the middle of the month of March. Doesn’t it seem March has a hard time deciding what it wants to be? I guess that’s why it earned the slogan, “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” I can just hear March talking to itself, “Am I still winter?” Or, somewhat confused, “Perhaps I prefer to be spring….” Tough choices. One thing is for sure, the fluctuating temperatures signal a time of transition for us in north Texas.
Recently, when I was driving into work on a busy road, I noticed an unusual sight: a bobcat creeping along a fence line. The fence is barbed wire and it encloses some suburban grazing area for Longhorn cattle. Now, I know we have bobcats in the area (I’ve seen one in my own yard!) and cattle are plentiful in Texas, but what struck me about the whole seen was the amount of trash along the road and on the pastureland. It was what wasn’t supposed to be there that kept my attention.
Cardboard and Styrofoam, construction debris, fast-food bags thrown carelessly out the window, diapers—you name it, it was cast off without a care. But what really caught my eye were the long, torn strips of white and opaque plastic, affixed to the barbs, waving in the wind. It reminded me of an 18th century warship’s pennant flags flying in a stiff breeze, signaling the orders of the Admiral to the other ships in the fleet. Or, sadly, they symbolize the white flag of surrender, “We give up!” Creation is saying.
Now, this is not a diatribe against the messiness of the world, (though I am truly saddened by how trashy our communities are) but it is a lament, a complaint of holy discontent about what we have lost having traded in a Christ-centered mentality for a “careless” mentality, one which rarely makes the time or effort to consider the consequences of our actions (or in-action). Like small amounts of trash tossed out the car window or falling off a truck, over an extended period time it creates a big mess!
The whole experience confronted me. Not only with how I am called to care for Creation and my neighborhood as a Christian, but how do I care for my faith? Is it mere trash? Do I approach it with a careless mentality of the every-day, disposable rush, or am I cultivating a Christ-centered way of life which reflects Jesus in all I do and say. One is fast and one is not. One displays the white flag and surrenders to the world while one says “yes” to God and fights tenaciously against accepting the minimum.
So I ask myself, what in my neighborhood exists, but shouldn’t exist? Lonely people. What in my spiritual life exists, but shouldn’t exist? Misplaced priorities and distractions. What in my relationships with others exists, but shouldn’t exist? Prejudice and judgment.
What in my neighborhood doesn’t exist but should exist? Community. What in my spiritual life doesn’t exist, but should? Focus. What in my relationships with others doesn’t exist, but should exist? Grace.
I can see what exists but shouldn’t and I can see what doesn’t, but should. How will I respond?
Given March’s fickleness, it makes we wonder if the Apostle Paul was a March baby. In Romans 7 he uses his own existence to echo the fluctuations of the spiritual life, the contrasts of knowing what is possible in Christ yet struggling to make that a reality. He writes in verse 19, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
Of course, Paul points us to Christ and the ultimate renewal out of our human sinfulness, whether we see it in our own personal lives or in our neighborhood. But until that day, we are reminded by his words, the change of seasons, and our own experiences as followers of Jesus, that we live in transition. We are, as the saying goes, “Not what I want to be, not what I’m going to be, but not what I was.”
It’s the idea that we are constantly being renewed, remade, by the very power of the Holy Spirit to share with the world the good news of the Creator found in Christ Jesus. And by the same Spirit to share His good works through an intentional life that rejects the carelessness of the world. Yes, we are called to root out loneliness on our street or pick up trash along the fence line.
So as March tries to decide what it is and what it isn’t, we have the joy and the certainty of knowing what we are: sinners saved by grace through faith. We are followers of Jesus. We are redeemed and yet giving expression to our salvation in Christ (“Work it out,” Paul says) by giving it legs and arms and hearts for people and for the world, bobcats and fence lines included.