We all have our things we have to deal with. It might help you to know this today, but nobody really has “the perfect life”. We all have our things in the background that help contribute to life not being completely normal.
It might be a sickness we have to deal with, because it isn’t going anywhere quickly.
It might be a relationship that has gone beyond being “broken”, and entered the category of “dead”.
It might be a thing we did years ago, and it keeps haunting who we are today; It might be a thing we didn’t do years ago, and it keeps haunting who we are today.
It might be a parent who left, voluntarily or involuntarily. It might be an addiction that keeps rearing it’s ugly head. It might be a doubt of God and his activity in this world.
Let me say it again, nobody really has the perfect life.
Today’s Marked charge from Paul in Romans 12 is this one from verse 12, “Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”
Now, why would anyone say that you should be patient in trouble? Why would lingering in an area of turmoil be any good for anyone?
Let me tell you about a conversation I had yesterday with a friend going through a hard time at the moment. We were talking, and he was spilling out all the things “wrong” with his relationship with God. He hadn’t been healed like he had hoped, he struggled with some aspects of the Christian faith, and he summed it up with this:
“I struggle with the 1% of doubt I have.”
So I told him the truth back. This is what I told him:
“1%? Dude, you should be pastoring me – I struggle with about 25%.”
I wasn’t kidding, I was being honest. I do struggle with that much of my faith with God. That’s why it’s called faith. Doubt doesn’t destroy faith, it is part of making it stronger. “To doubt is divine”, as Peter Rollins says.
So why should we be patient in trouble and keep on praying? Because when I was talking with my friend, something divine happened. As tears welled up in our eyes we came to this conclusion: it’s through doubting you have an opportunity to build faith, just like it’s through wrestling that you build muscle.
So we stopped. We took a moment in the midst of this divine discussion and we prayed. We thanked God for the wrestling we had both been doing lately, and the muscle we had gained as a result of it. And because of our faith, not our doubt, we asked Him to continue putting things right in our life. (Even now I can still feel the electricity-like presence in the room as we went through this.)
May you get this: as you become honest with your struggles and doubts, may you realise it isn’t something to run away from, but it is something to linger in. God will reveal himself and you will grow stronger in the process. Enjoy the workout.
Rob Bell says in his book Love Wins that, “Our eschatology shapes our ethics.” What does he mean by those big words? In pleb-language, he means that what we are looking forward to in the future changes the way we live today.
This is a big thing to answer, but to put it simply, for me I believe in Revelation 21 where God declares that He is the business of restoration and making all things new. That will do as a quick-summary for now…
Paul writes in Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in our confident hope.” In other words: the thing in our future, it is happening, and it is mind-blowing awesome. In fact, so awesome it should cause you to rejoice.
So this brings us to worship. A life handed over and lived to the glory of God should result of what you believe is ahead. If you haven’t handed over your life yet, maybe that’s because you don’t believe a good enough version of what’s ahead. It seems to me a lot of people have given Jesus their crap, but not their lives. And I don’t blame them, because it seems to me that they have been sold a pretty tiny hope, a rip-off of the grand one God shows us is to happen.
Maybe you got sold a small hope. Maybe you got sold that this earth is going to be thrown out, and we are all going to be evacuated away into the clouds. I don’t blame you for not living a rejoicing life here and now if that’s what you’ve been sold.
Maybe you got sold that Jesus came to die and take away all your sin… but that’s it. A small, stingy picture of what God is up to in this world. Nothing about the resurrection, nothing about living a life enjoying the earth, nothing about bringing a restorative hope into the world now. I don’t blame you for not living a life of rejoicing here and now if that’s all you’ve been sold.
Maybe you got sold that Jesus hates gays. Maybe you got sold that Jesus wants you to work harder for him. Maybe you got sold that Jesus wants to smite people with fire and lightning who are doing sin. The list goes on and on, but the point is this. I don’t blame you for not living a life of rejoicing here and now if that’s what you’ve been sold.
People with small hope, communicate small hope. Hang around with some people with big vision for the restorative activity of God and watch your hope expand as you do. Let Jesus, the ultimate restorer of all things, increase your vision for a hope that causes you to rejoice, and if your preacher isn’t preaching it, tell him to hangout with the same Jesus you are.
Sell them a bigger vision for a change.
I have been married a little over three years now, and here’s the number one thing I have learned.
Are you ready? It really is earth shatteringly profound. Here it is:
“The world doesn’t revolve around you.”
Heard that one before? (You probably haven’t because you aren’t selfish like me.) Well, it’s true and it continues to be true, because to be selfish and think that the earth spins around you is so easy to do. Yet when I weigh up the teachings of the Bible and the example of Jesus against the things I have experienced in my marriage and my friendships, I find myself coming to this conclusion:
I am not convinced that at the core of our God-made humanity is the quest for the earth to change it’s axis from being the molten-core it currently spins around, to me; Yet so often I live like it is.
Today’s Marked is Romans 12:10 which says, “Be truly affectionate in showing love for one another; compete with each other in giving mutual respect.” Now, I could be wrong, but is that kind of saying – just maybe, I’m not sure, so don’t shoot me for saying so – that perhaps the Christian is to be known not for being the new gravity source of the earth, but instead for being content with being something drawn by gravity? Is Paul saying that we should be the people of service and unselfishness? Is he pointing out that this self-centered way of living where everything is the way we want it is perhaps a petty and childish way of going about life?
The Christian is to be marked by service to Jesus: his plan, his mission and his agenda. Obeying his commands, and doing what he said was the greatest thing to do: live radical love. Living this radical love puts others first in all situations.
So, as far as I am concerned, the earth can keep it’s molten core as it’s centre. There’s enough to do in the mission of the Jesus Way without having to worry about the weight of the world being added to it.
A weird thing happens sometimes in church life together. People start living in spiritual “penthouses” while others stick around on lower levels and some even become relegated to the basement.
I have friends who have been told by those in “penthouses” that they won’t be able to take part in this church for that reason, and I have seen those in the “basement” ridicule those in the upper levels when they stuff up.
We live this peculiar hierarchy of do’s and don’ts. Some are better than others, and some are worse. Some get the upper levels because they have earned it by avoiding the “don’ts” and some get the lower levels because they succumbed to them.
This isn’t the gospel and we need to change it. We need to all be in a place of equality. Like perhaps the lobby.
Paul writes here in today’s Marked from Romans 12:9, “Hate what is evil, stick fast to what is good.”
You could put this another way: hate what is separating you from each other, and hold on tight to what brings you together. Perhaps an even broader brush stroke would be: hate what is contributing further to brokenness in this world, and hold on to what brings perfection and restores it.
Being a level above someone else because of jealousy or bitterness or pride is not the normal Christian behavior. Neither is being below someone, because of false humility or fear or lack of spiritual clout.
In his famous teaching on the side of a mountain, Jesus states that to murder someone is wrong. Captain Obvious perhaps. We would all agree there. But then he says that to even get angry with someone is as a big of a deal. What? Do you see what he did there?
Jesus is showing us that no sin is greater or worse than the other. Everything that creates a little bit of brokenness still creates some brokenness, and Jesus isn’t a fan of furthering this.
What he is a fan of, and so is Paul, is the furthering of goodness in the world. It starts with ourselves realising that there isn’t to be a ranking of higher or lower, but that we are all in need of this same life-giving grace together – this is the power of grace: it eliminates human ranking.
So, everyone to the lobby.
Pop music today is full of frauds. A huge contingent are a sham at actually being what the pretend to be; creative people skillfully using their talent to produce moments of sonic enjoyment and delight.
Why are they frauds?
Because they don’t do it anymore – a computer does it for them. Voices are auto-tuned, drums are programmed and mistakes fixed.
The old days of Johnny Cash getting slightly out of sync with his drummer are gone. This would never make number one on the charts anymore, no, everything needs to be perfect and slick and dare I say it, simple.
Somewhere along the line, the pop music industry chickened out of being “deep”.
Somewhere along the line, the pop music version’s of love has been made cheap and shallow.
Somewhere along the line, I signed up to join them.
It’s here in Romans 12:9, in Paul’s manifesto, we find the first mark we should have on our lives. The encouragement from him is this:
Love must be real. In other words, Agape, must be.
This sacrificial, others-serving love must be embodied by you. It wont be perfect, it will have moments of miss timing. It will have awkward pauses as you try to find the right word to help a suffering friend. It will have blood and sweat and tears. It will take you places you probably don’t want to go, and into experiences you wish someone else could do for you. It will make you less aware of yourself, and far more aware of God and his activity in this world. It will make you compassionate for others who surround you everyday.
But it will be real, unlike an auto-tuned love which is just a fraud and doesn’t help anyone. In fact auto-tuned love, like auto-tuned pop music, is here today and gone tomorrow.
And today is too important to waste.
Like a hipster has to wear at least one op-shop article of clothing,
like a successful business man has to have real leather wallets, man-bag satchels, and seats in his Audi,
like an exhausted sleep-deprived mother has to have black bags under her eyes,
so the Christian is to be obviously recognizable by their marks too.
I’m spending my January slowly devouring each “mark” of the last part of Paul’s Romans 12 manifesto to the Christian and sharing my thoughts here for you to join in with. Please come back frequently and share your thoughts too. It’s in doing this together we get more out of it and join with what would have originally happened when people read Paul’s letter for the first time; a divine discussion.
So, tomorrow I start with this part. No biggie really…
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.
I am off now to think on this further. Will return with goods.