Measuring Up?

 

“Well, that’s a familiar sight.”

I pull into the parking space and start to get out of my car, and notice, not at all for the first time, I’m being watched.  No, not by some creepy stalker, but by the parking space vigilantes, the placard police, as I like to think of them.

When they see me pulling into the handicap accessible space, they’re not quite sure what I’m doing there.  From the shoulders and above view of me they get while I’m pulling in, I certainly don’t look feeble enough to need the space.

Then, I get out.

As I begin my very obvious Cerebral-Palsy-induced wobble to the store, I can see them looking at me.  As soon as they see my peculiar walk, they usually realize they were mistaken.  When I make eye contact and give them a friendly smile, they usually look embarrassed and then look away.

You might think I would never behave that way, myself — making a snap judgment about someone else’s need for help or physical capabilities — but, you’d be wrong.  If I pull into the lot and can’t find one of those precious reserved parking spaces available, I tend to wonder if all those people parked there really need the space as much as I do.

And there it is: does that other person deserve the parking space (or the promotion at work, or the blessing from God, or the whatever-it-is) that I think I should have?  Maybe they need it more.

We can easily make a full-time profession out of comparing ourselves to one another, and we can do it for every reason imaginable.  We’re especially good at it in the Church.  We wonder if we can ever hope to measure up to the pillars of the Church, or we thank God we’re not as bad off as “them”, whoever “they” happen to be.

Oh, both kinds of comparisons, the ones where we think we don’t measure up, and the ones where we think someone else doesn’t, can actually start with the very best of intentions.

When we attempt to model the spiritual maturity we see in admirable folks around us, we can be engaging in a healthy comparison.  The Apostle Paul encourages his readers to “follow me as I follow Christ”, after all.  How are we supposed to follow Christ if we never examine how we don’t measure up.  I try to emulate parents, pastors, and teachers I know and respect — and I hope you have such good influences in your life, as well.

There are a few snares waiting to trap us when we make those kinds of comparisons, though. Let me share a few of them with you.

Sadly, we can be let down when those we admire make mistakes — and they will.  Only one person, Jesus Christ, ever lived a life completely devoid of screw ups… everyone else falls short, sometimes.  We need to recognize when our heroes do stumble, forgive them, help them up, and not make the same mistakes.

We can also set ourselves up for frustration when we try to be someone we’re not.  That icon we look up to may never struggle with the issues that hound us because they are not us.  We might find they would struggle as much as we do, if not more if they were in our shoes.  But, because they aren’t us, we can set an unrealistic standard for ourselves.  We can wear ourselves out trying to be them when God has uniquely equipped us to be us, instead.

Not only can we get tripped up when our examples falter and when we assume we ought to be able to handle everything as well as they do, but we also run the risk of following them too closely.  Just because someone I deeply respect and admire focuses their life on ministering one particular way does not mean God has that same path in mind for me.  Maybe my path is going to run close to theirs for a while, but no story is exactly the same.  I can’t hijack their path — at some point, God will steer me to something different, if I don’t allow myself to become fixated on doing it exactly the same way as someone else.

Yes, comparing myself to Godly examples can be helpful, but not if we carry the comparison too far.

What about the other kind of comparison: you know, the kind where we size up the other guy and come to the conclusion we’re the ones out front?  I know that sounds judgmental, but it doesn’t have to start that way.

At first, we’re truly trying to help, and the Bible does tell the more mature to instruct the less, so there’s definitely a scriptural precedent for providing Godly counsel; and there are times when each of us really does need a little correction, but there’s a fine line between counseling and criticism.  Our tendency to try to help one another can quickly become judgmental in nature.

Those Judaizers, the group Paul was dealing with in Galatians 5, fell into this trap of thinking their way of doing things was superior.  Even if they meant to help, and I am not sure they did, the result was predictable.  One group decided the other group was somehow “lesser than” because of their “holiness” checklist.  Judgment and confusion crept in.

As we mentioned last time, God didn’t call us to follow a new and better list of do’s and don’ts; but, we often revert to one — ours — and we start the comparisons.  We think we’re comparing others to Him when we’re really comparing them to some imaginary version of ourselves that “has it all together.”

Appearances can be deceiving.  Like evaluating my physical disability before I’ve gotten out of the car — not all struggles are obvious.  This is especially true when we get to spiritual, emotional, mental, or moral struggles.  We tend to think of others in terms of ourselves, but they’re not us.

We might not be so much better, and they might not be so much worse.  Our evaluations about others are flawed, limited by an external view of the other person.  Our opinion of ourselves can also be very flawed.  We might never know just how far someone else has already come in their struggles when we make our snap judgments and quick comments — which have the power to crush as much as help.  Such was the case with the group demanding the Gentiles needed to “get right”.  Turns out, they were the ones in the wrong!

So, how do we avoid the traps that arise when we start comparing ourselves to others?

I find it helpful to realize that God wants to work in me as much as He wants to work in them.  If He hasn’t finished with me, yet, maybe I shouldn’t expect Him to already be done working on them.  We are all a work in progress, and I don’t know about you, but I suspect my time would be better spent figuring out how I can be more like Jesus than worrying about how someone else needs to improve.

 

 

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“Who we are” vs. “What we do”

As parents, my wife and I often find ourselves in the role of the makers of the to-do lists for our children.  You know how it goes… we call them into wherever we are, and we tell them the list of chores, tasks, or responsibilities we want them to complete before they will be allowed to get back to whatever it is they really want to do.  They proceed to roll their eyes, do a fairly decent job of tackling the list, and try to get back as quickly as they can to their reading or digital device or whatever else they have planned.

Sound familiar?  It should, even if you’re not a parent.  They’re not the only ones with a list, are they?

As I write this post, I have my own list of at least four other things I would like to get done before I head to bed, tonight.  At this pace, I’ll probably get two of them done, and miss out on the others.  But, not to fear, I can just pile the remaining items on my list for tomorrow, right?

I routinely ask my wife what’s on her list for the day, and I am usually astonished how many tasks she juggles each day.  My list always seems quite a bit shorter.  All of us, it would seem, have a list in our heads, and we often get frustrated because we measure our success by how much of our list we accomplish, right?

As our children grow, we try to help them learn to make their own list… we want them to be able to get themselves ready for the day, accomplish the work they need to do, behave as they should, and do it all without us having to remind them all the time — we want the list not to come from us, but to come from them.  We often measure their growth by how well they perform their tasks for the day without our intervention.

In fact, we often measure our spiritual maturity the same way, don’t we?  Do we want to know if someone is a “good Christian”?  Time to check the list.  A mature believer in Christ reads their Bible every day, prays every day, attends church at least once a week, faithfully gives of their time, talents, and finances to the ministry, speaks kindly to others, tells the truth, and a whole host of other behaviors.  What about the things a “good Christian” doesn’t do… that list can get pretty long.  No murder, hatred, adultery, rudeness, crudeness, inappropriate thoughts, uncharitable words, and so on.  That checklist is getting longer.

In a strange way, this all reminds me of an issue Paul the apostle dealt with in Galatians 5.

5:1 So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. 4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

5 But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. 6 For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.

7 You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? 8 It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. 9 This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! 10 I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.

11 Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised—as some say I do—why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended. 12 I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves.

13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

 

The church got its start as an offshoot of the Jewish faith, and the same God who announced freedom and grace through Jesus had given the Jewish people a pretty long list of do’s and don’ts to follow in what we Christians call the Old Testament Law.  By the time Paul wrote the Galatian church, though, lots of folks who were not Jewish had joined up and had never followed those rules.  Some folks who were used to the Old Testament rules were trying to tell these non-Jewish (or Gentile) believers they had to start following them, too.

Paul, being a Jew, and a scholar of the Law they were quoting, understood something we need to understand, too:

It’s not about the lists of do’s and don’ts, anymore.

In fact, it never really was.

Oh, God’s instructions in the Law established the behaviors God wanted for His people.  But, when Jesus taught the people about those same laws, he revealed that God’s purpose was much bigger than changing what we do — He wants to change who we are.

Reading in Matthew tells us adultery is bad, the underlying lust is worse.  A single act of murder is bad, the hatred harbored to be willing to murder is actually worse.  Breaking an oath is bad.  Being a person without integrity is worse.  If you read the Sermon on the Mount, you’ll see Jesus emphasizes being the right person on the inside more than doing the right things on the outside.  A clever person can say and do right things for the wrong reasons and get away with it for a while, a righteous person with Godly character will find they no longer need the rules.

Paul explained the Law was given to show us we can’t do enough good works or avoid enough bad ones to measure up to the standard of God’s holiness.  One failure to do a good deed when you could have, one mistake in doing something you should not have, and your record is tarnished — none of us is capable of getting it all right all the time.

Just like with my kids, I don’t really expect them to follow my list all their lives.  If I held them to the same standard, to always follow my instructions, they’d already have missed a time or two.  Instead, I want them to grow into the kind of people who can make their own decisions when the list doesn’t seem to cover the situation.  I want them to become people who do right because they are righteous, not because I told them so, but because their own walk with God leads them to want to maintain a lifelong relationship with Him and with others that is rewarding and fulfilling.

There’s an additional benefit to learning to become more like Christ instead of just following His rules.  When we stop focusing on doing the right things and start focusing on becoming the kind of person He wants us to be, we can move past judging the others by our list, too.  If we recognize our own weaknesses, first, we can offer grace and forgiveness to others who mess up — the same way we want them to forgive us when we make mistakes.  We’ll talk more about how this freedom affects our relationships with others, soon.

Yes, a growing Christian will begin to do more and more of the right things, but not because they need to do so to be forgiven; but, because they have been forgiven, they are freed to become more like Christ, and freed from the power sin and temptation once had.

So, what should we do with this freedom?

For now, ask God to help you become the right person, a person like Jesus.  When the inner person is right, the actions will follow.  Seek to become the man or woman of God He always meant you to be, and the rest will come.

Four Pictures

“A weary traveler stumbles under a blistering sun, seeing nothing but sand for miles.  Struggling to take each step, wanting nothing more than cool, clear water, the wayward soul smiles weakly as he sees a small pool, really nothing more than a puddle, in the distance.  Nearly delirious (whether from exhaustion, dehydration, or relief) he makes his way to the small reservoir and drains what little water he finds.”

No, that’s not quite right.  Let me try again.

“A marathon runner strains to push past the wall of pain wracking her body to make each new stride.  Her muscles ache, her breath comes in gasps, and she is drenched with the sweat of her efforts.  She looks ahead and sees the hydration station up ahead.  She knows she needs to rehydrate if she’s going to keep up the pace.  As she pushes past, she reaches out and grabs the cup extended in her direction by the helpful volunteers.  As she gulps the generous gift, she races on, reinvigorated.  The fluids cool, refresh, and even relieve her, and she forges ahead.”

Still not quite right… How about this one:

“The two old friends sit down at their favorite little coffee shop, looking forward to a few moments away from the craziness of the daily rush.  They each order their favorite beverage and settle in to chat about their day.  As they sip from their steaming mugs, they relax, enjoying the bold flavors, the rich aromas, and the refreshment of the drinks and their time together.”

Hmm… getting closer, but still not right.

“As she approached the falls, she was overwhelmed by the immensity of the sight, the power of the innumerable gallons of water roaring every second into the pools below, and the sparkle of the fantastic rainbows shimmering through the spray.  As she drew closer, the sound was deafening, drowning out all other distractions, and she got close enough she couldn’t even see the entire falls in one look, anymore.  She could only imagine what it would feel like to plunge under the deluge.”

I’ve just described God’s love in one of these word pictures.  The question is: which one?

Your answer may well depend on your experiences.

For some of us, our history with love and those who would claim to love us looks as barren as the desert.  People who should have cared did not, and who should not have abused us, did.  We don’t even really know what real love looks like, but we’re desperate to find it — and must be very careful not to be fooled by a mirage.  If we are careful to come to God, however, we can finally quench the thirst we acquired from living in the desert for so long.  His love can begin to repair the damage our deserts have done.

For others, we’re not in the desert, but we’re struggling to keep the pace.  We’re doing everything we can to serve our families, our friends, our employers, and our God.  We come home tired every night, only to realize we get to go to bed, get up, and do it all again, tomorrow.  We’re sore and tired but determined to keep going.  For us, God’s love can give us rest, then re-energize our flagging souls, as we rely on His love — not the opinions of others, or even our own warped self-image — we can attack the next challenge, soothe our cramped muscles, and draw strength from His tenderness toward us.

When we regularly, personally pursue Him, we will grow to look forward to our times with Him as if we were settling in for a refreshing conversation with our best friend.  Our daily devotional excursion into His Word and into prayer will no longer seem like a chore but like the very best part of our day.  Some days, we’ll learn about how we should proceed.  Others, we’ll discover more about Him.  On some of the best, we’ll just relax in His presence, and not even need to say or do anything… just being with Him will be enough.

As we continue to draw closer to Him, we will begin to learn just how much He loves us.  1st John says this:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

— 1st John 3:1

God’s love is not just a puddle in the desert, though it refreshes like one.  It isn’t just a cup of thirst-quenching liquids for the passing runner, though it can reinvigorate better.  It’s not even the large, warm mug of coffee, though it can comfort like one.

No, when we’re talking about how much He loves us, think waterfalls.  Think Niagara Falls.  Better still, think of a much bigger waterfall that dwarfs all the waterfalls on earth, combined.  We cannot fathom the depths of His love, which He “lavishes” on us.  We’re too small to even be able to imagine the smallest part of His love for us.

That, my friend, is how much He loves us…

…how much He loves you.

What You Love

As our kids have grown up, we’ve encouraged them to try a variety of hobbies and activities, from music to chess club.  We insisted they give each pursuit a legitimate effort for a time so they might find ways to enrich their lives.  Each one of them found some endeavors they loved, and some they most definitely did not.  It usually doesn’t take us too long to figure out which pursuits are likely to become passions: for those, we don’t have to keep reminding them to practice.

When we find something we truly enjoy doing, we’ll look for every opportunity, every moment we can spare, to devote our attention to it.  For me, that was definitely not my cornet.  My parents insisted I learn to play at least one musical instrument, and I worked on it — but, that was the problem… I saw it as a chore, not a job.

Our passions are not like that.  Oh, they require effort, but that effort doesn’t seem like work as much as it feels like fulfillment. For many of us, the process of growing up is a search for which passions to pursue as our vocation.  We look for ways to connect our passion to our efforts.  The old adage, “Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” is quite true.  The opposite is also true, sadly.

Our passions are very powerful.  They can lead us to accomplish amazing feats or take us down the wrong path.  God meant for us to be full of vigor, eager to accomplish His purposes in this world, excited to pursue incredible relationships with Him and with others around us; but, our enemy would pervert those noble pursuits if we succumb to the temptations he offers and the warped priorities of our own fallen nature.

The apostle John wrote about the lure of this world in his letter to the church we have called the book of 1st John.

Here’s what he said:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

— 1st John 2:15-17

In verse 16, John describes three temptations, three rival passions, that vie for the place God deserves in our lives.  A lot has been said about the particular meanings of those three items, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”, and I won’t try to claim any clever insights as to their specific meanings, partly because I think they show up differently for each of — a little like each of my kids have latched on to different hobbies.  However they show up for us, they clearly speak of passions that are centered on this life, what feels good to our bodies, what our eyes can see, and an inflated sense our own accomplishments — all three related to what we do in the here and now.

That, my friends, is the biggest lie of the enemy — the lie that what we do for ourselves, to satisfy our own physical and temporary desires, will satisfy us.

They simply cannot.

We are meant to be eternal and to accomplish works that have an eternal impact.  This physical world is fleeting.  Only the works done for God will last.  Every moment we waste pursuing our own momentary pleasure is a moment we could have used to accomplish so much more.

Please understand: I’m not saying you can’t ever enjoy anything else; but, I suspect many of those more mundane pleasures were meant by God for you to use as you further His Kingdom.  Who knows?  Maybe you can create beautiful music, or build homes for the poor, or play chess in the park to get to know others in your community that need Him.    Any earthly pleasure we use purely to satisfy ourselves subverts the very desires God means us to use for good.

Use them for good… what good?

The only stuff we can take with us into eternity isn’t stuff, at all, but people.  We can take people with us.  That’s it.  All the rest of it will be gone before you know it.  Pursue God.  Love people.  Don’t accept substitutes.  Christ said the two greatest commandments were to love God, and love people.

Don’t confuse the order of those commands, either.  When we fall in love with God, He enables us to love people even more.  Only by falling more in love with Him will we be able to increase our love for others beyond a hobby, or even a job — He wants to grow in us His passion for the souls He has created.

Where do your passions lie?  Which ones have stopped being a joy and become a chore, or worse, an obsession?  Ask God to show you how to turn your passions toward His goals.  Ask Him to show you which ones you need to leave behind.

You won’t regret it.

Living in the Light — What Is Love?

As we consider what God meant when He inspired John to tell us to walk in the Light, we come to the inescapable conclusion we must love each other if we really want to stay in the light, ourselves.  As we saw last time:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

— 1st John 2:9

Love…  essential, but sometimes confusing.  The Scriptures have a lot to say about love, and our culture has plenty to say about it — but the many definitions of love often clash, it seems.  The young seem to fall “in love” rather often, sometimes we can be fooled into mistaking all kinds of other feelings and behaviors for love.

In fact, I’m trying very hard to think of another word that has more meanings than the multitude we tack onto the word “love”, and I can’t really think of many.  I love my wife and kids, but I also love Doritos.  (Hint: I love my family more than the Doritos.  Just sayin’.)  We love our favorite sports team, love that joke we just heard, love our job, and sometimes our coworkers.  Lots of us love lots of things.  We fall in love, love a good brawl (at least at a hockey game), and go lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.

The apostle John spells out love for us quite clearly, but the bar is set a bit higher than I’d like.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

— 1st John 3:16

Yeah.  So, the example of the kind of love we’re supposed to have for each other is Christ.  Easy, right?  Of course not.  If it were easy, we wouldn’t need God’s help.

Aside from “be like Jesus”, which is both too vague for my tastes, and harder than it looks, there are some practical lessons we can learn from the example of Christ’s love for us.  Since good things come in threes, let’s talk about three aspects of genuine Godly love.

  • Love requires sacrifice

Christ took the concept of sacrificial love to the limit, offering Himself bodily on our behalf.  When I say “on our behalf”, I really mean it.  I think we sometimes forget the death Christ suffered on the cross was really, really horrific, and entirely undeserved — at least by Him.  Even before He died on the cross, He left the glories of Heaven and took on the limitations of a human body, felt hunger, and felt pain.

God felt pain — for us.

In our lives, genuine love will be marked by sacrifices.  Putting the needs of others before our own.  Letting others have their way, letting them win the argument.  Giving them first priority.  Yes, sometimes that’s going to hurt.  Sometimes, they won’t even realize it.  Sometimes they will.  Sometimes, they’ll know and not care.

Think about your closest relationships: do you give as much as you get?   I have to admit, in a lot of my relationships, I find others building me up more than I build them up.  I’m realizing just how much others give up for me, and I find myself coming up short. Our love, if it is like His, will choose to make the sacrifices, not expect others to make them.

  • Love doesn’t wait for someone to earn it

Whether or not I am loved by God has nothing to do with my deserving it.

I don’t.

Christ died for us while we were still dead in our sins.  If He’d waited until I’d earned His love, I’d still be waiting.  We all would.  He didn’t spend much time with the noble, the beautiful, or the wealthy, did He?  No, He sought out the ignoble, the plain, and the poor.  He wasn’t focused on finding someone good enough to join the movement.  In fact, He made it quite clear none of us are good.

Which makes me incredibly glad I’m exactly the kind of messed up soul He came to rescue.

Here’s the good news: so are you!

What should that say about our love for others, then?

If His love doesn’t depend on how lovable we are but on how much love He has for us, then our love cannot depend on the worthiness of others but on how much love we have been given for them.  Since our supply from Christ is limitless, we are without excuse.

A lot of people go looking for relationships that will enrich their lives.  Christ challenges us to seek out those we can enrich, instead.  We shouldn’t be looking for opportunities to move up the social scale nearly as much as we should look for those we can lift up, instead.

When people hurt us, our response ought to be the same as His is toward us — forgiveness, mercy, and grace — whether they acknowledge they need it or not, whether they ask for it or not, whether they deserve it or not.

  • Love compels action

There are no benchwarmers when it comes to love.  Christ did not hold back anything from us.  We must not hold back from one another.  He left His throne, traveled the countryside, healed the sick, preached the Kingdom, fed the hungry, was moved to tears, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers who were taking advantage of the people.  Christ’s love compelled Him to act on our behalf.

Shouldn’t it do the same for us?

We need to realize we are surrounded by a world starving for His love.  But don’t look so far afield you forget those nearest to you.  Your family, your friends, your church, and your coworkers all need His love, and it has to go deeper than words.

Every day, in so many ways, I can show God’s love to countless people around me, but in order to do that, two things have to happen: I have to see the need, and I have to respond.  James tells us our faith is demonstrated by our actions.  Jesus said the world would know we belong to Him when they see our love for one another.  Since they cannot see our emotions, they must be looking for something else.

They will know we love each other when they see us act like it.

We can minister to the poor, hungry, sick, needy, widowed, and orphaned — or we can keep pretending we love them.  We can give like He gave, or we can talk about it some more.

Which choice looks like Christ?

Living In the Light — Seeing Our Surroundings

 

Not too long ago, I dropped a very small item into a pile of clutter on my desk, and I had to turn to one of my favorite gadgets to help me find it — my phone.  How did my phone help me?  Well, one of the more novel gadgets on today’s smartphones is a camera, and along with it, the flash.  I can tap a button on my phone, and turn it into a very handy flashlight.

Last time I wrote, I mentioned how much I don’t always appreciate the light provided by the mirror in my bathroom; but, a flashlight?  Now, that’s a different story.  While the mirror shows me my worst flaws and my best features the flashlight reveals far more about the world around me than it does about myself.

Here’s a quick reminder from the pen of the apostle John:

1 John 2:9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

Flashlights help us find our way, either to those things we have lost or to the path we should follow.  What’s the difference between a sure-footed tracker following Christ by a clear light and a sightless wanderer hopelessly lost in the dark?  According to the Scriptures, the answer is love.

For all the truth, and faith, and all the other essentials for following Jesus, our love, more than anything else, keeps us in the light.  In the most well-known verse in all of Scripture, John 3:16, we find that God’s love was the compelling reason He sent Christ into this world.  During His time on earth, Christ was moved with compassion, demonstrated God’s love in His words and deeds, and told us the world would recognize we are His followers when they see our love.  In the chapter often called the “love chapter”, 1st Corinthians 13, we find that all the good works and fine words are meaningless if we do not have love.

I must admit, I’m awfully fond of the truth.  I crave it.  I passionately defend it.  I value it very highly.  I take the rules (of life, of work, even of board games) very seriously.  If truth were all that mattered in the life of a believer, I would be much more at ease.  Unfortunately for me, the Bible doesn’t just say, “Speak the truth”, does it?  Instead, we are commanded to “Speak the truth in love.”

It’s the details that get you, every time.

As much as I would sometimes like to ignore those last two words, I cannot.  You can’t either, if you really want to walk in the light.  Christ is the light of the world, and He lived a life full to overflowing with the light of love for others.  If I’m going to continue to walk with Him, I’m going to need to let His love overflow from me to those around me.  John’s words, inspired by God, don’t leave us much wiggle room — refusing to love others means we are no longer walking in the light.

Choosing to love others won’t just keep us in the light, though.  There’s one other really great use for flashlights, isn’t there?  They can help us find lost things and show us the pathway through the dark, yes, but they can also serve as a beacon.  Ever been out camping, and stayed out a bit too long?  As it grows darker, we can get disoriented and find ourselves far from the campsite where we belong.  Finally, the search party makes their way toward us, and we see them, at first, as lights dancing along the ground and all around.  Their light will almost certainly be the first thing we see from the greatest distance away.

The love of Christ works much the same way.  When we love the world around us, Christ’s love, shining through us, will draw people to Him — people who are lost and need to find their way back.  But they won’t see His light in our lives if we shut off the flashlights and start stumbling around in the dark, ourselves.  At best, we’ll stumble into each other, and get hurt in the process.  When we respond to a messed up world with love, we stand out like the brightest light in the darkest night.

Loving people isn’t always easy, and in the coming days, we’ll talk about what Christ’s love looks like, and what it will require of us.  For now, just like that flashlight on my phone needs to be plugged in to charge or a flashlight needs batteries to run, know that we’re going to need God’s power if we’re going to love one another as He has loved us.  Ask, Him, today, to show you someone who needs to see God’s love from you.

Living in the Light – Seeing Clearly

I’m not a big fan of the lights in our master bathroom.  Every morning, I drag myself out of bed (okay, so my wife has to nudge e more often than not) and make my way to the bathroom, and see myself in that mirror.  The sight wouldn’t be quite so rough if it weren’t for those lights.

First, they’re too bright.  (They’re not, really, but they sure feel like it that early in the morning.)  I have to squint for a bit as my eyes adjust to the light.  Sometimes being in the light can be a bit painful, for a while.  You see, we get used to the dark.  Our eyes actually open wider to allow what little light can be found at night in, but when the light suddenly hits and the trickle of light becomes a flood, we’re not ready for it.

In the book of 1st John, in the Bible, we are instructed to live in the light, and we’re told that Jesus Christ is the Light.  Living in the light of Christ can be a little like seeing those lights in the bathroom in the morning.  Adjusting to the light after a long time living in the darkness can come as a shock.  Sometimes — no, most of the time — trying to imagine me living like Jesus makes me realize just how different I need to be.  Trying to measure up can be terribly frustrating.

I’ve started to realize two things that eased the pain: one, Christ never asked me to try to make myself like Him, He promised to transform me to be more like Him through His strength; and two, just like my eyes adjusting to the bathroom lights, learning to walk in the light is going to take time.  As He does his work in me, I will gradually become more like Him.  Not all at once.  There’s a good reason for that, you know?  If we saw everything God had planned for us, I think we’d be shocked.  It’s probably a good thing he gradually works out His plans for us.

There’s another reason I don’t like those lights in the bathroom.  They do an awesome job showing all the flaws, every blemish, every hair turning gray, the way my nose is turned up just a bit too much.  Living in the light works a lot like that, too.  We begin to see all the areas where we fall short.  Every hidden sin, secret vice, and ugly thought is exposed in the light of Christ.

Once again, I am comforted by two thoughts: one, my flaws were never really hidden from God, anyway.  He sees them, one and all, just as clearly as we see our shadow on a bright sunny day.  If He can see them so clearly, then, what’s the point in trying to hide them?  As it turns out, we do much more mental, emotional, and even spiritual harm (not to mention the physical side effects) when we keep trying to hide the truth and cover ourselves up in His sight.  We’d all be far better off if we were just open and honest with God.

Second, if God can see all my flaws, and still love me enough to sacrifice Himself for me, how great is that love?  He sees it all, and loves me, still.  I suppose I can understand some of what that must feel like, being a dad, but I don’t know half the stuff my kids are thinking, and I’m free to assume the best and be biased toward my kids.

But, that’s the beauty of God’s love.  He already knows the worst of my thoughts, the lowest of my lows, and the bottom of the depths of my sins — but He uses that light to reveal not just the flaws, but the beauty He has placed within each of us.  As we walk in the light, more of His glory is revealed.  Like a spotlight, chasing away the darkness, His light actually overpowers our flaws and reveals His righteousness.

You see, those lights in my bathroom may cause me to squint in the morning, and show me all my flaws, but they also help me wake up and take on the challenges of the new day.  The light of Christ can do the same for us if we don’t hide under the covers.