The love of our God is beyond words. He created us out of His love and the desire to share it with others. He was and is totally self-sufficient, but He has so much love that He could not help but share it. From the beginning He has desired to collaborate with us in the creation of human history. He gave us everything we would ever need, yet if you are anything like me, you rarely take the time to contemplate how amazing is our God.
Photo courtesy of Brian Lary
I’ve been reading John Howard Yoder’s little book entitled, “What Would You Do?” which deals with the philosophical question of what would you do if someone were threatening your spouse or child. It’s always been a difficult question for me to think through, as it is for most followers of Christ. To start with, I’m a jumble of contradictions when it comes to violence. As an American citizen, I believe in the individual right to bear arms as written in our Constitution. I own multiple guns and am a card carrying NRA member. Yet I’m anti-war and anti-hunting. I’m very much for animal rights and a massive lover of all of God’s creation. I suppose you could say that I own guns in hopes I never have to use them. Still, I’ve worked to become a very accurate shot should the need ever arise. It’s a dichotomy I’ve never really been able to unravel.
There are times, and these are the moments when I am thinking correctly, that I feel infinitely small in this universe. Simply looking around at everything God has created leaves me in awe and in utter awareness of my insignificance within it all. The God we worship is the very one who created the endless arrays of sights, smells and colors that wonderfully permeate our senses every day. This same God posses the immensely vivid imagination responsible for the host of characters that roam the earth; some of his creatures are downright hilarious and I am left with no other conclusion than God has an incredible sense of humor. The ability of the earth to furnish enough food to sustain its every inhabitant, to dispense a seemingly endless supply of water and to provide the abundant oxygen necessary for our very breath is astounding. This was all brought to bear by our Creator God. Man’s intellect and ingenuity would never be able to accomplish these things. Only God has created life from nothing, and only God sustains that life by His power and grace.
Jesus both spoke of and demonstrated His power over creation. He told the winds to be calm, and they immediately fell silent. Others can debate the means by which he did so, but one way or the other He overcame the properties of water which allowed Him to walk atop it. He told us that with only a small amount of faith we could literally move mountains. All of creation is under His control, and all of it defers to Him without question. Jesus gives a command and His creation follows.
There is one exception to this rule, however: humans. Only humans have had the audacity to question God, to refuse to cooperate, to blatantly ignore and reject His commands. Of all creation, only we see ourselves as somewhat superior to God; we elect to do things the way we see fit, rather than in the way He has told us. Who are we to suppose ourselves greater than the One who created us? What right do we have to rebel against the One who not only gives us this life, but holds the keys to our eternal life? How arrogant and thick-headed can we possibly be?
God forgive our lack of reverence and misplaced sense of relevance. We have become a people consumed with ourselves and the comforts we can acquire. We have turned away from the One who loves us and have lost the heart to care for the orphans and widows. We have lost the stomach to fight for justice in our world. How long will we continue to spit in the face of God and carry on our life as if He doesn’t even exist? How is it that we who profess to be followers of Jesus live lives that look no different from those who reject Him? What right do we have to turn our backs on the One who created us, died for us and loves us? Who do we think we are?
Regardless of our answer to that question, we are nothing save the righteousness of Jesus. We are formed from dirt and we are lower than the lowest things on earth. We are wicked and we are evil; we have chosen to turn from the path of life and pursue the road that leads to death. Without the cleansing blood of Jesus, we are wasted, filthy and undone. Who you say you are has everything to do with who you say that Jesus is. If He is not Lord in my life, if I am not fully devoted to Him, then what I am is hopeless. Thankfully there is a better way; there is another answer. I have hope because I have Jesus. I seek Him and I strive to follow in His way. Without Him, I have nothing; with Him, I have everything. Who am I? I am the loved creation of a gracious, patient and forgiving God. I am a follower of His Son, and I am forgiven and free.
How will you answer the question? Ask yourself, “Who am I?” Are you the creation that scoffs and rejects the one who made you, or are you the person that faithfully obeys the commands of your Creator? The choice is ours; again, ask yourself, “Who am I?”
If we are going to live lives that look like Jesus, then we must live in such a way that it is obvious to others. It is not good enough to simply have the head knowledge or even the heart knowledge. We need to put what we know into action. While our activities will certainly go a long way towards defining who we are to others, perhaps nothing will say more about us than the words we choose to speak.
One of the most compelling verses for me in regards to my choice of words is found in Ephesians 4:29, where we read that our talk should only be in a manner that builds up someone else. Everything we say must be for the good of others. We are not to negatively criticize, gossip, or intentionally hurt another by what we say. Every time we speak, we should be speaking words of encouragement, of optimism and of love. People should feel better about themselves after speaking with us. That is what it means to build someone up. Leave them better and stronger than they were before your conversation. A little further in the chapter, in verse 31 we find instructions against being bitter and for putting aside anger, insult, slander, wrath and wickedness. I know for too many years in my life that would have left me with nothing to talk about. It can still be a struggle at times; when you are surrounded by people talking in negative terms, tearing others down, it can almost become contagious. That is why it is very important to not only guard your own speech, but also to be very careful about with whom you are choosing to associate. If you hang out with negative people who always put others down, you will find yourself leaning towards the same inclinations.
As you begin to change your patterns and habits of speech, prepare for others to take notice. Some will make fun of you and perhaps you may even lose a few friends. My experience is that most of these friends will come back over time as you continue to model a life that looks like Jesus. Most people are drawn to love and light, and as long as we are reflecting the glory of God, that is what they will see in us. Don’t worry about what others may think, simply live a life that Jesus will find pleasing. When you are criticized by others, ask yourself if you would rather behave in the manner that they do. If you wouldn’t then why would you even think of accepting their counsel as to how you should live your life? Accept instruction from wise people, those who love and fear God. Don’t get caught in the trap of emulating those who live in ways that are contrary to the mission of Christ.
As you begin to change your speech patterns to only build others up, this is the perfect time to seek out those who most need an encouraging word. Smile and speak kindly to those whom most simply ignore: for example, the cashier at the store, the janitor at your place of work, the homeless person you pass on the street. Words are free, they cost you nothing; but they can be of immense value to someone who is struggling. All of us can afford to give away the love of Jesus. His love is vast and there is plenty to go around. Develop a new habit of really seeing those you encounter throughout the day. Give them your undivided attention as you listen, look behind the stories to see their pain, and then speak an encouraging word into their lives. Be genuine, smile, and marvel at what God can do through your simple act of kindness.
Be careful of the words you say. You never know who might be listening and how they may be affected by them. Use only words of encouragement, words that will build up someone in need. Put away gossiping and insults forever; determine to only speak in positive and uplifting ways. Surround yourself with others who are also committed to building up others. As you genuinely speak love into the lives of others, you will find your own life changing in wonderful ways as you move ever closer to living a life which truly reflects that of Jesus.
There are times when I amaze myself with my own idiocy. I am passionately in love with Jesus Christ, and I am intimately aware of his sacrifice and love for me. My deepest desire is to live a life that looks like the life He lived, the life He intended me to live. Yet I find it so easy to lose track of what I’m doing or where I’m going. I have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe and I fail to seek Him or even recognize Him in every moment of my life. Between you and me, we can probably come up with a dozen theological or “churchy” terms for this, but I can’t escape from the knowledge that at its core, it is plain stupidity. I remember reading James 1:23-24 in the past, where the man looks at his face in the mirror and then immediately forgets what he looks like; my immediate thought was, “well, that’s pretty stupid”. I now recognize that I am that man. I am vividly aware of who I am in Christ one moment, and totally forget about Him the next. No matter how hard I try to keep Him consciously in sight, it seems inevitable that I will eventually lose focus and fall again. It is a paradox I could live without.
I have written before about Greg Boyd’s book, “Present Perfect”, and how it deals with being intentionally aware of Jesus in each moment of our lives. This is where we need to be. I realize I need to stop trying to see God in every moment and instead relax in His presence each moment, being fully aware that He is indeed with me. There is power in letting go, power in ceasing to strive, power in simply releasing ourselves from our futile attempts to know Him more. We cannot know more of Him by our own efforts, but only by allowing Him to reveal more of Himself to us. Jesus is beside us – literally – in every moment of our lives. Each moment you are tempted to fall away, each time you have a thought that is not worthy of God, remind yourself that Jesus is with you, right here, and right now.
The only way we can become the person we were created to be is if we acknowledge His presence in our lives on a moment by moment basis. I know from my brief encounters of success in this endeavor that doing this will be hard work. As with most difficult achievements, however, the reward is intensely sweet. Being awake, or aware, of God’s presence in each moment will lead to our awareness of Him in each day, in each week and in each year. Slowly, purposefully, we will build a life that is spent in the utter peace of the presence of Christ. Then we will truly be able to say that we ran a good race. Nothing else we accomplish in life will compare to staying awake to the presence of our Lord. From this, a life lived well for Him will flow. As we remain in His presence and allow His love to shine through us, we will do great things for Him. They may or may not be noteworthy acts by the world’s measure, but they will be acts of great love, kindness, and compassion. Our lives will reflect the will of Jesus, and there is nothing more beautiful or satisfying than a life that looks like His.
We were not created to be idiots; we were not created to fail. Jesus put his unique stamp on every one of us, and He has placed a desire within us to follow Him. We can never succeed on our own. It is only by the grace and love of God that we can become who He created us to be. The only way to get from where we are to where He waits is to let go, relinquish control, and stop striving for that which we already possess. He is already in this moment; we need only recognize it and open our eyes. As we allow ourselves to see the reality of His presence in each second of our lives, we will begin to change. We will reflect His love and we will be transformed. Lord, save us from our idiocy; open our eyes to the reality of Your presence, and let us walk each moment in total awareness that You are with us every step of the way. You surround us with Your love. Let us ache to reflect Your glory to a world desperate and thirsty for You.