We spent a wonderful weekend with a couple who has been friends for over thirty years. They invest their whole adult life in serving as full-time missionaries, here and abroad. We got into discussing how Christ loves through us unconditionally our friends and family regardless of how their lives and behaviours reflect what we think a “healthy” or Christian lifestyle should be. I’m reminded that God walked into Eden after Adam and Eve sinned and the prodigal son’s father ran to welcome him home before the son even confessed.
The truth is that God’s love or presence is not predicated on our purity. His love and presence, like the aroma of Christ, is constant. Whether it’s the aroma of life or death depends on us, not on God, who is always life, love, and light. We choose death, self-love (lust), and darkness, but God is always ready to receive us, if only we would turn to him. Christ has opened the way to the heart of God and it’s up to us to answer Jesus’ call in Matthew 11:28: Come to me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Then for his disciples, Christ further calls in 11:29: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will first rest to your soul, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
In Christ, we come to him and find our rest from the weariness and burden of worldly and selfish pursuits; then we share his call to love and serve others—never depending on our own strength but sharing his yoke.
Life is not just a bowl of cherries (I’m allergic to cherries). We live this life in the sin-filled world, a marred creation where mammon (a.k.a. materialism or consumerism) rules. Through Christ in us, God brings life and light to displace death and darkness. Evil wants to maintain its hold on this world and those who are serious about being God’s agent to displace evil with good face a real battle. It’s a battle that we can’t see with our physical eyes except when it is fought in audible words and visible deeds. Sometimes we don’t even know why we’re fighting those battles.
The battles start with our thoughts and feelings. Although we’re children of God and Christ lives in us through his Spirit, we still harbor sin and respond to sin. I don’t understand the theology between being a temple of Christ’s Spirit and being a sinner. I only know that Romans 7:7-24 is a reality for all of us and somehow we all manage to live out Romans 8 with varying degree of “success”. The most successful ones turn out to be the likes of Mother Teresa. Even those who are known to be flawed characters turn out to be the likes of Martin Luther King and William Wilberforce. It takes a willing mind and an obedient heart to start. The distance we go with God depends on how willing we are to set aside our pursuit for selfish gains to respond to the Spirit’s leading to give of ourselves to love others, often out of our flesh’s comfort zone, which is driven by insecurity and love of the world and the things in the world.
This is not easy, to live in light and life in a world of darkness and death. Romans 8:5-6: Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on the desires of the flesh, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have then minds set on the desires of the Spirit. The mind controlled by the flesh is death but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. It’s black and white when it comes down to individual thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. However, because none of us can think, feel, speak, and act 100% in the Spirit, most of our lives turn out to be varying shades of grey (surely more than fifty) and we populate the whole spectrum between total darkness to brilliant light; the vast majority of us occupy the continuum between Hitler and Mother Teresa.
Because of our upbringings – which vary from an abandoned infant in an orphanage or ghetto to a privileged royal baby in a palace – we start life in vastly different beginnings. The direction we travel determines how our lives turn out.
I was reading about William Wilberforce (1759-1833) on Wikipedia this morning. He was traveling toward, or at least squandering his life on, the darker side in his early years. In his mid-20’s, c.1785, he became an evangelical Christian, and the transformation started. He completed his earthly life bringing brilliant light that eventually led to the abolition of slavery of Africans.
I made my U-turn at age 27 in 1978. It’s 2013 and I’m 62 now. How will I finish?
Preview image: Bowl of Cherries II by Tom Mulliner