I don’t like walking into a room without any light. You know, pitch black. I will carefully and fully caress the walls around my entry point, searching for the light switch that makes navigating the room possible. And if children have been in the room before me, then I know there are toys and kid-built structures lurking that either I will break or which will hurt me when I step on them. Landmines.
If I have to go forward without light because I can’t find the switch, then I take on the “I am a shuffling ninja!”posture. I slide my feet as if ice-skating on the floor, wary of damaging plastic toys and little cars, and extend my arms as if Kato from the Pink Panther movies is about to attack. I go all kinds of crazy.
Yes, I am Peter Sellers—Inspector Clouseau—when the lights are out. Frankly, even when they’re on.
The truth is that everyday is like walking into a dark room of unknown danger, and there’s never enough light, never enough understanding or ninja skill to avoid pain. However, there is one thing, one amazing, better-than-anything-ever-invented piece of reality that you and I do get: God’s love. That keeps and enables us through it all. I’m serious.
In the last 24 hours here’s what I have encountered: a woman who is enduring the pain of having recently lost a twin in childbirth. She wonders, “Why me?” On the way home from a church gathering, I passed by a five car accident, and saw the pain of a woman holding her face with blood-stained hands. And she wonders, “Why me?” And just now I saw on the news that an amazing, one of a kind, rookie baseball pitcher, who came to the big leagues right out of high school, has torn the muscles and ligaments of his shoulder and will require immediate surgery. He will be kept out of baseball for 12-18 months, and it may well be that his career is over before it begins. You know he has to wonder, “Why me?”
We know that we will all meet with pain and stunned questioning throughout our days—there is no escaping it. Work as hard as we can, pray as hard as we might, and “Why me?” events will break through anyway. What will get you and me through all of it is God’s love. While a good attitude, a solid support group, and decent health care help in times of trouble, it has been and always will be knowing God’s love that makes noble conquerors out of victims.
Love is famously described in 1 Corinthians 13: love is patient and kind, it doesn’t envy or boast, it isn’t proud or rude, it isn’t self-seeking or easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth, and it always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres—it never fails.
Be sure to notice that love described in the passage is not what we’re supposed to do; it’s not an assignment—Here’s how Christians should behave. That’s not it. This is a description of what love is. Love is wonderful! And love, God’s love, is most obvious, powerful and best known in calamity. Consider what the apostle Paul, the expert on calamity, wrote about God’s love in Romans 8. That’s the passage that describes what keeps us and makes us spectacular during the “Why me?” events of our days.
The apostle Paul writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)
Look, there’s a lot about sorrow and suffering in the New Testament, some of which comes with the specific purpose that Jesus’ life—His loves and desires and feelings and abilities—may be revealed in us and through us (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-12). That’s an amazing reality and an incredibly honorable fact of our days in this age. Really! Christ in us. Him. And much of the stuff that goes on around us is getting at Him in us. But what keeps us secure and noble as we face death and are considered by some as “sheep to be slaughtered,” is knowing and trusting God’s love for us—especially, knowing it for yourself.
Wanting to know His love is the best desire and prize of my life. It shapes my days, channels my efforts and focuses my hopes in the midst of uncertain, dangerous and ugly times. God’s love—for me and for you—is my favorite benefit of having Him living in me right now. Frankly, I wish that after God first made His home in me in 1980, that His entrance meant I could figure out and avoid all of the ugly and painful pitfalls of my days. I have even attempted to employ angels and God Himself toward making my days entirely painless and free of “Why me?” events. That would be a life worthy of a major movie memorial, wouldn’t it? — “Ralph Harris: A man who motivated God to give him a pain free life.”
Unfortunately, I would have gone through this world’s not-so-painless death experience in order to get that title, so I think I’m giving up on it. Yeah. That’s not happening.
What is happening, however, is that I am growing in the joy, grace and purpose of God’s love for me. God’s love always affects the people who know it best. It won’t be hidden, it won’t be denied, and it won’t fail. Not ever.
And for this shuffling ninja, this stumbling man who is so loved, God’s love is the way forward. I suspect it’s yours, too.
In my travels throughout much of the world, I’ve seen that the more authority and freedom people give to government, the less there remains. That’s pretty simple. In other words, the bigger the government, the smaller the people. I do not believe it can be otherwise. That’s how the kingdoms of this world work.
However, only with Jesus is the opposite true. That took a while for me to figure out.
I didn’t want anything to do with Jesus when I was in my late teens and early twenties because I knew what giving away authority and freedom meant. I’d seen it and studied it, and found that history shows the surrender of authority and freedom in the hope of gain is a terribly false hope with tragic consequences. Frankly, we’re on that path in America—I can see it. Naturally, I thought that giving Jesus authority in my life meant the same, only cosmic. BIGGER equals WORSE. So I avoided Jesus . . . until I couldn’t. More accurately, until I didn’t want to anymore.
In sum, Jesus is The Great Contradiction to what I’ve found true in this world that competes for authority and freedom. Jesus has never taken mine away. Never. Not once. Instead, He has given me all of his.
I have never felt that Jesus was trying to over-rule me or dominate me or take away what I am. From the day I received Him, my days have been all about discovering what I had received instead of what I’d lost. Here’s what I’ve found. Jesus actually IS freedom, and He exercises His authority to make sure that I have it and enjoy it. Anything less than freedom is not the Jesus I know. I love Him for it! All that He is to me and all that He has for me is the antithesis and the antidote for what passes for authority and freedom in this world. That’s why I hope and work for you to find the same.
I think when people look to a national or worldly government to find this, or to the government in their church gathering, the government over their employment, the government in the clubs and organizations they join, they’re lost—and act like it—because they’re maddeningly searching in the wrong place. It will always be terribly painful and disillusioning. Fortunately, Jesus offers Himself as the end of the search:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30.
Right now when many of us are focused upon the kind of leadership and government we want for ourselves, Jesus says and proves, “I Am.” And I can tell you, He is.
Not long ago I was involved in a Facebook thread in which people were discussing sin. One person became increasingly indignant with me—she was pretty much yelling via text—and insisted that, as a Christian, she would always be an “incurable sinner,” whose best hope was “sin in remission.” “Don’t you know that?!” she demanded.
Well, I answered, only if you think of yourself as the unchanged, old creation, the former creation, and as what you do rather than who you truly are in Christ, a new creation. Then you can you say that you are “a sinner.” You will be wrong, but you can say it. Essentially, you will be in error concerning what Jesus did for you and to you through the cross and resurrection. This error hurts you because, not knowing the cure of Christ, you will misdiagnose yourself and treat yourself as though you are sick. This will become a twisted and sickly caricature of Christianity; while perfectly cured, you will deny your health. You will frustrate yourself by looking for health—freedom from sin—based upon what you do, rather than upon what Jesus did. That won’t work. It never has. What He did is your cure and health, not what you do.
To the error-prone Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote: “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7).
So the big question is: “Did God’s cure work for you?” Through Jesus’ crucifixion, was your old self crucified with Him? Was your body of sin “done away with” so that you would no longer be a slave to sin? Since, in God’s thinking, you died with Christ, are you freed from sin? Is what He did your cure, or do you have another diagnosis and prescription? Who is the better Physician—you or God?
If you continue to believe that you are an unchanged, old creation and an old sinner-self, and that salvation “only” rescued you from sins and guaranteed you for heaven, your diagnosis will be wrong, because you will not believe the gospel and enjoy the perfect health benefits of the cross and the resurrection for you. One was for your sins, and the other was for your new life. Those in Christ are no longer “sinners” by nature, since through the crucifixion and being included in that, they’ve had a change of nature in Christ and now share in the Father’s. They are saints by nature, holy sons in fact, and already citizens of heaven—free from sin, as is everyone in heaven.
You cannot have dual citizenship. You are either born of this world and are of it, or you are born of heaven and are of it—alien to this world, and representative of heaven. Which one are you?
I love my citizenship and how I got there through the cross and resurrection with Jesus. I’ve never felt better about sin than after I knew the truth about the cross and resurrection and my being included with Christ. In Christ, I have died already, and sin has no power over me. In Christ, I have been healed and raised, and my nature is righteous—through and through. How about yours?
Here’s good news: If you’re fighting a big fight against sin, you’re fighting the wrong fight.
Sometimes we are tricked into fighting in an ineffective and immature way. For example, if we struggle with anger, we assume we should fight against it. If we’re prone to lust or covetousness or envy, “Fight it, man!” Then we make up ways to fight. But that’s not the fight.
The apostle Paul helped a young Christian, Timothy, to fight the right way, the one way by which God’s life prevails for us.
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . .
Paul knew what we must know if we’re going to mature in Christ. The fight, the one main fight, is to take hold, to enjoy, to be fascinated with the life that has no beginning or end, “the eternal life” of God Himself—now given, now shared with you and with me. “Keep this one command of faith. Fight for this—the gift of God’s life in you.”
The thing is, you and I have died to the way this world does things and fights to be effective (Colossians 2:20-23), and we have died to sin and become free of it already (Romans 6). How crazy is it, then, for us to be lured into fighting sinful cravings and sinful ways like everybody else does? We don’t do it that way! That’s not our fight. That’s not the one command to cherish and to keep: “Take hold of the eternal life of God.” That’s the fight for the immature Timothy and for the mature Paul. And for you. And for me.
In his last letter to Timothy, Paul writes this: “. . . the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 6:6-7). And that good fight of faith meant God’s life kept Paul.
How do we really live? How do we resist the sinful and crazy stuff that clamors for us in this world and wars against our souls? We fight to know and believe that God’s eternal life is our own.
In my experience, most of us born again types believe we’ve actually been born all over again, that we’ve got our eternal ticket to heaven punched and locked up in the safe in heaven and in our heart, and that we have a new way to live and do stuff. We pretty much get that. However, we struggle to believe we have a new Passenger, a new “Liver” in us; not the blood filter(!), but God Himself, ready and capable and who lives in us now. For real. We’re a happy place for God to live and do His thing. He has no happier place to be. He is the new Liver in us. That was always God’s plan.
Paul writes to the struggling-to-believe-that-God-is-in-me Galatians in chapter 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The good news is that He’s good at everything; we just want to find out, and we’ve got at least a little time to do it. That’s the miracle and wonder of Christianity—we go on a sort of hunt for God, who lives in us now. In other words, “God, how good are you at living? How will you do when bad stuff happens? Even when I cause it? What are you like when the pressure’s on? How will you behave?” And the really big one, “Are you trustworthy in me?” While we know the answer is that’s He’s good, and “Yes”, He is trustworthy, we’re challenged with fears that whisper and sometimes shout, “No! He’s not trustworthy in me! I’m going to fake it instead! If I don’t, I’ll be embarrassed, and I don’t want that.”
Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is really good at everything with us, and He has a longtime relationship with fear; of throwing it out of us by proving it is a liar. Fear never does anything except enslave people and take freedom from them. Christ in us is our hope of freedom and real life, God’s life. He is the Liver now, and He is free of every fear—even and especially amongst other people.
And since we’re God’s workmanship from the inside—not just to begin with, but at every moment, fun or not, good or bad—there is no hurry. He is not in a rush. He’s not looking at you every day while holding a stopwatch: “Move it, man! Get going, woman! Come on!” He’s “in here,” happy and content, and He’s really good with where He is—in you and in me. The rest of our days we’ll be learning to know, enjoy and trust Him on our particular ride in us—however it goes, smooth ride or bumpy. And we’ll be learning to encourage others to know, enjoy and trust Him in them on their ride, too. He is the one who is constant, He is the one who is the perfect navigator, the one who is stable and able and perfect through everything in us.
It’s Him. He knows how to Live, and He’s our Perfect Passenger.
Pop Quiz: If you are a new-natured, son or daughter of God (for real, no kidding), if you are in Christ at this very moment (and He’s happy about that), if He lives in you (all comfy and everything in His perfect new home), and if you are His righteousness (He can’t make you any more righteous than He already has), then are you your own worst enemy? Not according to Him. No. You can’t be. Sorry. It’s not in your skill set, it’s not part of your resume, and you don’t have a big trophy on your mantle celebrating your own worst enemy-ishness.
Let me say it this way: Angels are not gathered ‘round the big screen to watch you star in a heavenly episode of God’s, “The Taming of the Screwball”! Screwball thoughts do not make you a screwball. Idiot behavior does not make you an idiot. You might think like a screwball, you might act like an idiot, but you, yourself are neither of those things. You might do something you regret, you might fail to do something you wish you had, but you are no enemy of yourself. Heaven knows! Heck, ask God; “Father, am I my own worst enemy? Am I screwball after all?” You’re not going to hear Him agree with you. It’s not in His Bible. He knows it’s not true.
“I am my own worst enemy” is a worldly explanation for those who haven’t yet been changed and indwelt by God. But you have, so it’s a lie. You know what to do with lies—Dump it! Get rid of it. You don’t have to overcome any of that screwball-ishness or idiot-ness because it’s not you. You’re something entirely different and fantastic, just as God intended.
Start with the truth about you—God’s truth. Ask Him who you are, read all about it in the New Testament, and get used to living by faith in Him. Then you’ll know who you are.
My wonderful, outgoing and brilliant aunt just passed away. She is mother to my cousins, whom I adore, and they are now left without that treasured grace, a mother’s hug. I still remember my mother’s last hug. It carried all of the meaning of love through the decades of my life.
My favorite day to be on Facebook is Mother’s Day. Most of my friends are fairly gushing about their mothers and their appreciation and love for them. There are beautiful and sometimes ancient pictures of mothers and grandmothers, gorgeous family scenes and family stories, and I love these people. Like. Like. Like. Like. On and on I go, “liking” my way down my Facebook newsfeed, loving people with whom I have so much in common, I am reminded. Love does that.
I deeply enjoy the New Covenant letter of 1 Peter. And there’s this particular verse that comes late in the letter that I want to highlight. Leading up to that verse, Peter reminds the readers (including you and me) that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they had been given everything God could give them for free. They all shared in an incredible glory, which means that we share in it, as well. “Grace and peace be yours in abundance,” Peter writes in chapter one. In other words, you all have everything with God because of Jesus, and you have peace with God also because of Jesus. You’ll never lose what you haven’t earned.
Peter then tells them that they had been given a rich inheritance already that could never be diminished, which was being kept for them by God Himself, even as they bashed around in trials and suffering. No matter what, they were secure because of God, The Security Expert. The Word Himself had re-created them of an imperishable, indestructible nature, the same as their Father’s—for always.
Peter continues by writing about their personal significance, their glory shared with God in that they were by design God’s chosen people, royal priests, and together a holy, set-apart nation so that, united with Him, they may proclaim the goodness and greatness of God. Can you imagine the joy they must have had at the reading? He then cautions them about ugly and confusing desires they might experience, which, while having nothing to do with their security and purpose, might hinder and harm their experience. “Watch out for those, don’t let them get you,” he warned.
Peter then wisely counsels them about suffering, which they were evidently experiencing to a higher degree than most, telling them that, while remaining aware of God with and in them, they were to endure it with God, just as Jesus had. Peter elevates their expectation as to what might happen with God in the ugliness of their days: “Think of what He might do with you and in you, right where you are.” He then sets some light guidelines for wives and husbands, as well as for those who might suffer for doing good. The saving grace of all relationships is to keep in their hearts and minds the knowledge that Jesus is their perfect benefactor—their Lord—in everything. He will see to it that they have everything they need for life and godliness. That’s how He is in relationships.
Further, Peter tells them that he understands they will all suffer abuse from friends and maybe even family, who, because they did not understand the change Jesus’ had made in these believers, strongly denounce and ridicule them for their lifestyle changes and beliefs. “Why aren’t you at our wild parties?” These believers, changed by God, had suffered enough with sin in the past, and now enjoyed being free of it. They were no longer slaves to sin. Of course, not everyone was going to appreciate that. Right?
And finally, Peter writes this little, exalted and magnificent sentence: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
My goodness. In this day when, in my view, we are calling out and seemingly bent upon exposing fellow-Christians for their sins, thinking we must confront them or they’ll get away with it, Peter commands that we truly love first, which covers them over. Wow. He’s not alone in this, either. Paul said as much in Ephesians 5, and elaborated upon it in his first letter to the Corinthians by saying that love keeps no record of wrongs, and that love protects by covering each other. It doesn’t mean that you just cover something over (a wrong or a sin) or that you keep no record; it means that authentic love from God does that. God’s love does that for you. God’s love isn’t looking to expose your sin; instead He covers it. (See 1Corinthians 13:4-8.) In other words, in the security and love that you know from God, go out and love deeply and be safe places for each other. That will be effective for each other. You all have so much in common, including security from God and suffering in this world, so walk together in love.
(This doesn’t mean that a habitual abuser of people, for example, is to be tolerated and enabled; people need to get away from that person and deal with him. Paul wrote about such things in 1 Corinthians 5, and 1 Timothy 1.)
In the light of all that’s happened to you through Christ, in the light of who you are in this world (royal priests!), and in the light of all of the pressures coming against you in this world, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Just like love covers on Mother’s Day, when just about all we write and talk about is love. It’s beautiful, because love covers. I think a lot of us could use some covering—even today. Who doesn’t like that?
Does a big behemoth of a trash truck thrill you? Around my house, we think they’re wonderful.
For several years whenever any of us, Ellen, Emma, Sarah or I, heard the low rumble of the approaching beast, we would shriek in various keys and styles, and run to the window to glimpse the lumbering removal system. What a spectacle. The big-as-a-house creature would sort of squat down and unfurl one of its alien-like arms. This appendage of deliverance would deftly reach out and grasp our cowering container of garbage, hoist it skyward, and forcefully shake it until it expended every last vestige of foulness.
Our comparatively diminutive container, which, resting in the street had previously looked happy enough, immediately appeared somehow grateful—like it had suddenly realized it was never supposed to be happy when stuffed full, and that its friend was the trash truck. As it rumbled away, we always waved goodbye. “Thank you, Mr. Trash Truck and Mr. Trash Man! Thank you for taking our trash! We love you! See you next week!”
The truth is, we still cheer Mr. Trash Man. Just last night I encouraged my youngest daughter to welcome His work.
For some time now my family and I have likened the Holy Spirit’s effort within us to that of the trash man. Pardon us if you’re offended by our comparison, but consider God’s directive: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). We know by experience what I’ll bet you do, too. God isn’t particularly thrilled just because we set out our trashy anxieties, whether by the confession of sin or by the expression of our fears; He is interested in caring for us.
God’s care for me (and His care for you) doesn’t come only when I’m doing well and loving life, but when I’m doing poorly and full of garbage. Sin, failures and fears often whisper to us that we’ve got to stop them—Stop them right now!—but they never suggest we immediately offer ourselves to God who can do something about them. And sin, failures and fears never bring up Jesus’ ability concerning struggles and temptations, either. Maybe you’ve noticed. Yet He faced every struggle and temptation we’ve had and disposed of them. All of them. He is expert!
And where is this Jesus today? He is in you and me. And He is in my wife and daughters. Look, you’re not full of garbage—God lives in you! But sometimes you’ll feel like you are. Don’t believe it; it’s a lie directed at the glory of God in you, the evidence of what He has done for you.
That’s why one of our pet names for God is The Trash Man. When we know that one of us is beleaguered we might say something like, “I wonder what the Trash Man might do for you?” Immediately we know what’s meant: God is good and amazing in the middle of sin, failures and fears, struggle and temptation. He’s good with us, and He’s always about freedom and purity—He is The Sanitation Expert! He knows how to make and keep the majesty of His Bride.
You’ll never ever be an offense to Him. He cares for you in anything and everything, no matter what. Talk with Him and call upon Him when the trash is threatening—when you feel like you’re an inside mess of contradiction: “Father, I’m feeling awful and ugly things inside, but I wonder if you might have something you’d like to do with me—the real me that you know even better than I do, since you live in me, the real me that you created . . .”
His care for you will be evident, and you’ll learn more quickly to welcome Mr. Trash Man.
Have you found that much of this world’s pressure and torment ends up serving your desire for Jesus? Has that happened for you?
God has made us to have deep yearnings for love and life and satisfaction, and if we are finding this world as it is—faulty and frustrating—then it’s likely that we’ll find Him as the contrasting and constant treasure He is. That’s something of the plan.
It’s difficult, I know! But if our “citizenship is in heaven”, and we are just now a sort of loosely assembled, heavenly colony, then doesn’t it figure that you and I already find most enjoyable the truth and grace which one day will be ours without measure? He is Jesus. Fortunately, we’re already listed in the logbook and scheduled for the coming rescue flight and home-going party.
Until that day, we’ve got what the apostle Paul wrote about in Philippians 1—the longing to depart this world and to be with Christ, which is the greatest thing, and the attendant knowledge that we’re likely going to be here a fruitful while longer. (See Philippians 1:21-26)
Hang in there, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God. Jesus really is faithful and capable with you. It’s Him you want, and it’s Him you have. Remember?
Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
The good news is that God remembers my track record no more. And, through faith in Jesus, not yours either. While the world tells me to obsess upon how I’m doing and how I’ve done, God doesn’t ever point to it and say, “See? This is why you’re such a success. Pat yourself on the back!” or “This is why you’re such a loser. Pull it together, man!” Instead, God points to Jesus and says to me, “I have given you His record as your own, and it is flawless. It is perfect. His success is yours; it belongs to you now. Get used to that, because I’m going to be telling you all about it all the time. It will change your life.”
Speaking of the religious busybodies and track record accountants of his day, the apostle Paul writes to the Philippians in chapter 3:7-11:
“The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.”
Look behind and you’ll see that you’ve got a new track record—it’s perfect. It’s His. Look ahead, and the race is to know Jesus, who has everything for you already, even before you’ve taken a step. You win. Race won. That is your new track record.
(See Philippians 3:1-14; Colossians 3:1-4; 2 Corinthians 3:1-10; Romans 4:23-5:2.)