Thursday, February 27, 2020

Revealing Love

Most of us spend our lives looking for a sign from God. We want Him to show us something. We want Him to plaster a rainbow across the sky, the way He did for Noah. We want Him to wet the fleece, the way He did for Gideon. We want Him to raise up the dry bones, the way He did for Ezekiel. We're all waiting for God to show us something, something that will reveal His love to us. That will reveal His presence to us. That will reveal Him to us.

But God doesn't reveal Himself to us. Not since Jesus. (And I think probably not, as a first choice, since the beginning of all things, but...sin.) John even says so himself.

God reveals Himself - and His love and His presence and His grace and His heart - among us (1 John 4:9).

And that changes everything.

You can look all the way back to Genesis 1 and see that this is the way God's always wanted to do it. He's always wanted to be among us in such a way that we can see exactly who He is, that His love isn't some grand idea that we have but is something tangible that we can touch every day. He walked with His people, and even when they sinned, He still went after them. And then we went on living this unreconciled life, by our choice, until He just couldn't wait any long and came to do the reconciling. And then, in Jesus, God lived among us again, revealing His love in the kind of flesh and blood that we could relate to.

That's the same way He reveals it to us today.

It's Jesus, yes. It's absolutely Jesus. Even today. But it's also the way we live with one another. God's love is revealed among us when we do the loving. His heart is revealed among us when our heart beats. His grace is revealed among us when we are gracious with one another. His mercy, when we are merciful. We have become bearers of God's love into the world, revealing it in the places in which we live and move and breathe. This is the way He's chosen to do it.

So much of the world, Christians included, are waiting for a sign, and what we've failed to realize in God-among-us is that we are that sign. We are the rainbow in the sky. We are the wet fleece. We are the dry bones. We are the way that God is showing Himself in the world, among us, not to us. And we are the only revelation that some are ever going to see of Him.

It matters. It ought to impact the way that we live with one another, not just as God's love to our neighbors, but as recipients of God's love from them. We have to recognize where God is moving in the world, even through human hands, because this is the sign He's given to us. This is how He's revealing Himself.

We all know Christians who can be so busy loving others that they don't feel the love themselves. They pour themselves out and wonder if God even notices. That's why I've been deliberate about saying this in both directions. Because as busy as we are loving, we need to be just as busy being loved. We need to let ourselves witness the revelation of God's love among us as much as we are letting ourselves be a part of it. We need to stop and see in the witness of our neighbors, from our brothers and sisters, the rainbows. This Christian life we live is about both.

So let's get to loving and being loved. Shall we? For this is how God reveals Himself.

Among us. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Darkness

When we talk about sin and all the things that go with it - pain, brokenness, hate - we often refer to these things as "darkness." They exist in contrast to Jesus, who is "Light," and all that He stood for - love, grace, mercy, and so on. So it makes sense that whatever isn't light is darkness, but the descriptor is more than that.

John, in his first letter, reminds us that these things are darkness not merely because they are opposed to the Light, but because they are the things that cause us to stumble. We stumble when we cannot see. We cannot see when we are in darkness.

That's what these things do to us. They keep us from seeing. And what they keep us from seeing is important.

They keep us from seeing where we are. We lose track of the opportunities right in front of us. We lose track of what we have at our disposal right now. We lose track of our resources, of our choices, of everything. We can't hold onto our story because it's gone black, it's gone blank. And if you don't know where you are, you're bound to trip over just about anything - even something that, if you could see it, you would think was good. We stumble around like fools, even in the midst of a field of God's blessing, because sin doesn't let us see where we are. It is darkness.

They keep us from seeing where we're going. We lose track of our hope. We lose track of God's promise. We lose track of everything we were working toward, the way that all the pieces in our life were coming together. Just at the moment that everything was starting to make sense, nothing does. We can't see where God is leading us, can't hear where He is calling us. We stumble around like fools, on a road paved with hope, because sin doesn't let us see where we're going. It is darkness.

They keep us from seeing others around us. Now, this works in two ways and means two different things. On the one hand, they keep us from seeing those who would journey with us. They keep us from seeing our friends and our family. They keep us from maintaining connection with those who are our strength, our companions. They make us feel isolated and alone. We stumble around like children lost in the woods, even though every "tree" we think we run into is a friend who stands ready to help, because sin doesn't let us see those around us. It is darkness.

And on the other hand, they keep us from seeing those we could journey with. They keep us from seeing the need in the world around us, the need that we are able to meet. They keep us from seeing how our story could be a blessing to someone around us. They whisper that we're unworthy, that we've messed everything up, that what we have to offer is nothing at all. We stumble around like fools, thinking we've wasted it all, because is doesn't let us see those around us. It is darkness.

Sin is darkness not just because it opposes the Light, but because it causes us to stumble. It prevents us from seeing, and it is this seeing that guides our path. We trip and tumble and struggle over and around everything, not knowing what anything is - not knowing who we are, not recognizing who God is - all because of sin. We stumble around like fools because sin doesn't let us see.

It is darkness. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Silencing the Fools

Most of the foolish persons you'll encounter in this world are not particularly anti-God. That's not what makes them foolish. Rather, they are persons who aren't convinced that God - that faith - really "works" in this world. That it's meaningful. That it's do-able. That it's valuable in any real sense of the word. They don't believe it's even possible in the world that we actually live in, the broken places we all have to fight through.

It's not atheism that makes most fools; it's ignorance. They simply don't know what they don't know.

Peter has a good word for dealing with this ignorance, with these foolish persons - you can silence them "by doing good" (1 Peter 2). And our world needs this now as much as it ever has.

See, this world thinks that Christians are the fools. We hold onto a belief system that they don't see any practical value in. We believe things we can't see and can't even really prove. We call ourselves to a higher standard and separate ourselves from the way things "usually" work, claiming that what bears so much fruit in the world is broken and what seems to bear such little fruit is the better way. The world doesn't get it.

And it's because they don't see a lot of Christians who are truly as happy as Jesus promises we should be. They don't see a lot of Christians who are truly as good as they claim they are. They don't see a lot of Christians who are satisfied with living this "restricted" life they seem to be so into. They don't see us putting our faith in practice and enjoying the fruits of it. And they don't see what our "goodness" gets anyone - ourselves or others.

Because Christian goodness is something different than what the world calls good. Christian goodness is rooted in sacrifice, in the giving of self for something greater. Which means that when we live our "good" lives, the world is busy calculating all that it's costing us, and they aren't seeing all that we're gaining. They see what we're giving up, but they're doing the math and deciding it's not worth it. Even if the world can agree with us that being self-sacrificial isn't necessarily all bad, it's busy determining who and what we should sacrifice ourselves for. And it's looking at us with disbelief, if not disgust, and saying, "You gave up part of yourself for that?"

You bet I did.

Maybe it's because so many of us, as Christians, are also counting the costs over the gains. We're also talking about how exhausted we are, how much of ourselves we give, how little we seem to get back. We're living in depletion, not joy. The world is watching our goodness and cannot fathom that it's "working" for us, so of course they think this whole Christian thing is nutso.

What the world needs, what Peter calls us to, is to see the witness of our abundant life. The life that Jesus promised. They need to see us living out of what we have gained, not out of what we have lost. They need to see our joy in our sacrifice, what love poured out really looks like. They need to see how our lives are better, measurably better, by this thing we call "goodness." They need to see that Christian goodness really does "work." It really is something meaningful and valuable. That's the way to silence the ignorance of the world; inform them. Inform them by our example.

That means, of course, that we have to inform ourselves first. We have to live with our goodness in a way that the world would notice. We have to live with our goodness like it really is good. Until we change our own understanding of this and stop grumbling about what it costs us, we'll never be the example that the world needs.

We'll always be their fools. And so will they. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Sin and Death

The relationship between sin and death is a difficult one for us to decipher. We know that we are sinners, and we know that we are condemned to die and that only by the grace of God are we given the chance to live again. But is all sin death? Does all sin condemn us?

It doesn't seem so.

Now, I know - that's probably different from the vast amount of preaching that you've heard over a lifetime. And it's true, God does call us to be holy as He is holy, to be perfect as He is perfect. We're not supposed to sin. And yet, we do. And God knows that we will.

It's difficult to get into some of this because what we don't want to do is to create a belief system whereby sin is not troublesome, where we're not bothered by being fallen human beings. We don't want to establish any understanding that would suggest that God is not heartbroken by our sin; He is. We should be, too. But we have to put sin in its true perspective here.

James helps us out with that. He says, in his opening chapter, that it is sin "fully grown" that leads to death.

In other words, it's not sin itself that leads to death, but the attitude that we take toward sin that does.

It's about whether or not our sin grieves us. Does it prompt us to change our behavior or reorient our heart? Does it lead us back to God because we become keenly aware of how far we've fallen away? Sin can, and should be, redemptive. Again, I know that's weird to say, but it's true.

What is sin? Sin is believing that we know better than God. It is believing that we are God. It is believing that God's wisdom doesn't matter, that it doesn't impact our real lives. It's believing that God is out of touch, that He doesn't know what He's talking about. It's believing that we are the masters of our own fate, that we control our own lives. Sin is about losing our connection with God by the choices that we make, consciously or unconsciously, and if losing this connection makes us realize that we've lost it, then our sin can lead us back to God. Thus, it can be redemptive.

The sin that leads to death is the one that doesn't lead us back to God. We think we got away with it. We think, perhaps, that we even profited somehow from it. That we had something to gain and we gained it from our sin. It's the idea that we weren't called to account, so it doesn't really matter, so we feed into our sinful nature and nurture it. We let it grow. And when it grows fully and matures into its own beast, that's when it leads to death.

The narrative in Genesis 3 - and the trajectory of mankind as we know it - could have been entirely different if, after eating the fruit, Adam and Eve were looking for God as fervently as He was looking for them. If, instead of diving into the bushes, they ran into the open and called out to Him.

This is important because we are a people prone to beating ourselves up over our failures, even if they were simply mistakes. We vow that we're never going to do that again, and then here we are, doing it. We vow that we're going to be better persons, then something happens and we realize we're really not. At least, we're not who we want to be. And we condemn ourselves. We condemn ourselves so that God doesn't have to, maybe so that He can't. I don't know. But we spend our whole live convinced of our own unworthiness because that one time, we sinned and isn't sin the end of everything we've ever hoped for?

It could be. But it could also be the beginning.

It all depends on whether you let your sin draw you back to God or you nurture it until it's fully grown. Sin can lead to death, sure, but it can also lead to life.

Are you diving into the bushes or running into the open? 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Unworthy

If you've ever thought that you're not worthy of God's love and grace, then you're not alone. If you've looked in the mirror and seen all your scars and known what you've been responsible for in this world and all the mistakes you've made, and you've wondered how God could possibly care about you, you're not alone.

If you've looked at your life and realized it's not where you want it to be, you're not alone. If you've worked hard and stayed clean and done well and you can't get anyone to seem to recognize that, if you can't get this world to give you a chance - or take a chance on you - and it makes you wonder if you're just some worthless piece of junk, you're not alone.

We have all kinds of questions about our worth. All the time. Every one of us. Either we're getting more than we think we're worth or we're not getting what we think we're due or we think ourselves bigger than where we're at or we think ourselves too small to even start. Whatever it is, worth is the kind of thing that keeps a lot of us up at night.

Who am I? Am I anything? Do I have value? Does anyone - even God - love me? We spend our whole lives trying to make ourselves worthy, trying to be worthy...of whatever it is. Whatever, or Whoever, we want to notice us.

But what if the key to your worth was not in making yourself worthy, but in making yourself unworthy? What if everything you've ever wanted was at the end of a road with a weird name?

What if the entire aim of your life is not to become worthy of God (for who among us ever could, but for His grace?), but to live so that this world is unworthy of you?

That's what Hebrews 11 calls us to, in the same chapter that it recounts the lives of all the saints of the faith. Live with such faith and righteousness that this world is not worthy of you.

It really turns this whole question on its head, doesn't it?

Live in such a way that you expose the world's brokenness, rather than always fearing it exposing yours. Live in such a way that you illuminate God's goodness, rather than letting this world burden you with your own badness. Live love and grace so thoroughly that the so-called tolerance of this world cannot hold a candle to it.

We've all seen it. That guy who's with that girl who is just leagues above him, who has more class in her pinky finger than he's got in his whole body or that girl who's with that guy who is leaps and bounds out of her reach, but somehow reached and chose her anyway.

Man, that's it, isn't it? As citizens of heaven, we are leaps and bounds out of the reach of this world, and yet, we reached back by the grace of God and chose it anyway. Let's not forget how that happened, okay? Let's live like it's our hand that is reaching out to the world, not the world's hands that have us in its clutches.

It's about living in such a way that we expose the world for what it is. And when anyone sees us together, we are so centered on our heavenly lives, on our abundant life now that Jesus promised, that they can't help but shake their heads and say, Man, that person is way out of this world's leagues.

We do that, we live in such a way that we make this world unworthy of us, and we don't have to wonder what we're worth. We know. Because we're living it.

It's love.

(Psst...it always has been.)