Monday, September 24, 2012

Killing the Phantom

"In dreams he came..."

Most of us are haunted by one. He is personal. And vicious, though perhaps not at first glance.

I'll describe mine, so as to once again capture him. And attempt to banish him again.

He is a brilliant scholar. Productive in his research. Cutting-edge in his thinking & in his understanding of his field. Always abreast of the latest developments.

He is also a marvelous teacher. Inspiring. Motivating. Never boring & repetitive. Innovative in his delivery. Energetic. A mentor to many.

In addition, he is a great colleague. Loved by all of his coworkers. Serves willingly and with excellence on all committees and on all other university assignments.

Conversant in academic disciplines across campus. Welcome over cups of coffee & around the lunch table, regardless of which school or department on campus the group hails from.

At professional meetings, this guy is the one everybody loves to see come walking up to say hello. He's well-respected and his research presentations are always packed.

Off campus, he is also a smashing success. Known in the community. Successful in his consulting practice. A key part of his church's ministry. An amazing husband. A marvelous father. A great neighbor.

Sounds like quite a guy, huh?  He is!  I know him quite well.

Here's the thing...this guy doesn't exist!

He's not real, except in the sense of the song from the Phantom of the Opera..."he's there, inside my mind..."

He is the phantom who haunts me. Has for most of my life, though he has changed over the years. He's the ideal that I've created, and he's who the enemy of my soul brings up on a daily basis. "See? You're nowhere near as great as this guy...why don't you give it up?! What's the point? You think you'll ever come close to this? What a fool you are!"

Here's how to kill your own phantom:

--Recognize that s/he is not real! Sounds simple, but actually can be quite difficult. Well, it is for me, anyway.

--Recognize that it's true that you'll never measure up...and that's OK! Which leads to the next one...

--As one of my favorite pastors often says, preach the Gospel to yourself on a daily basis. Another recently said it this way: "We need to be reminded of the Gospel every day, because we forget it every day."

Here's the Gospel in a nutshell: the bad news is worse than we think! We're really pretty much scumbags from a spiritual perspective. And yet...the good news is immeasurably more awesome than we think. At our worst, Jesus Christ died in our place. He faced agony & separation from God so that I wouldn't have to. God justly punished my sins by imputing them to the sinless One...and showed His amazing grace by imputing Jesus' righteousness to me, a scumbag who will never measure up to my own phantom, let alone to Christ's ideal for me.

"God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."
Romans 5:8-11

And thus, the phantom vanishes.

You see, I am loved and treasured and cherished by the King of the universe just as I am. More loved than I can possibly  fathom.  I don't have to be anyone else. I am free from measuring up to the phantom. That phantom who haunts my days and nights all too often does not even come close to measuring up to my Lord who "loved me and gave Himself up for me." Therefore, I am free from the phantom.

Note carefully: I was not redeemed & reconciled so that I could become a slacker!  I definitely am called to grow and to change and to become ever more like my Lord, which transformation only happens by His graceful work in my life as He shapes & molds me. In my case, that means I am to grow & change as a follower of Christ & as a college professor & as a man & as a church member & as a husband & as a Dad. So in that sense, the phantom will always haunt my days and nights, as he should. But only to inspire & encourage insofar as he--the phantom--reflects my Lord's wishes for me...never to condemn.

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"
Romans 8:1

That mythical guy I described earlier? I'll never be him. I'll try, but it'll NEVER happen. Would you pray with me that I can focus on who I AM and not on who I'm not? In so doing, the phantom will fade into irrelevance & insignificance, and I will live up to who I'm supposed to be.  For, you see, I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that I might walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Still trying to kill the phantom,