I can’t express how stoked I am. In order to convey my illustration, I have to be geeky – I have to accurately explain the nature of a black hole.
“Hole” has always been a misnomer (leading to a lot of inaccurate artists’ renderings over the years, corrected only recently for the mainstream in 2014’s Interstellar). A black hole is an exotic star, one collapsed so far and grown so dense that its gravity out to a certain spherical distance is strong enough to restrain all light emanating from it. Since an object is only seen by the light it reflects to your eyeballs, that spherical region of a black hole appears, well, black to the outside observer. The star itself is still inside, but forever hidden from view because its light can’t reach you.*
For a long time, I was a black hole. Sucking everything in, emitting very little. God was slowly working on my strength, changing me from the inside, but it was a process.
Then, a few years ago, I chanced into a dating relationship. We had a good five months together before she called it off. That’s okay. It happens. (She’s engaged now.) But it was a revealing time for me. I got a chance to see how such companionship affected me, what it brought out, what it exposed.
Amongst the discoveries was this: while we dated, I started taking risks I hadn’t taken before. I found a greater enthusiasm for people, asking how they were, hearing their stories. And later, after the relationship ended, I found myself tempted to revert to my usual introversion. After some self-reflection, I realized why.
Put down whatever boring thing you’re doing and read Lisa’s story.
“Blessed is he who is kind to the needy.”—Proverbs 14:21
My eyes were captivated with the water fountain eight floors below. As I gazed out my floor-to-ceiling windows, I caught my reflection and smoothed out my navy blue suit. It had been so many years that I had been out of the business suit that I was not sure the suit would suit me anymore. So many questions filled my thoughts. Will I be able to fit in at Waterstone Financial Group? Will my co-workers like me? Respect me? How about the clients? Will they accept me? Can I do it all—be a mom and full time financial planner? How do I use the copy machine? Where’s the bathroom? From the complex to the simple, the questions all seemed overwhelming.
“Do you have a minute? Can I come in?”
“Yeah sure, Steve”
“So how is it going for…
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The Jesus you love will cost you, millennials.
That message has largely been lost in this age of emotional Christianity. But Jesus himself said it so insistently, so repeatedly, that we can conclude this: if sharing the Gospel is not costing you, you might want to ensure that it’s really the gospel you’re sharing.
The Jesus who did so many wonderful things – ate with outcasts, railed against Pharisees, whispered “neither do I condemn you” to the adulterous woman – also said some other things, difficult things, which many Christians my age hesitate to accept. He compassionately asks us to release cherished sins. He urges us to put his Word before our deepest feelings and most precious relationships. He commands us to look to him, not the world, for our definition of love. He speaks of hell. Often. He calls us to tell decent, law-abiding citizens that their efforts are not enough, and that only turning to Jesus in repentance can save them.
Perhaps you already want to dismiss me.
But most importantly and hopefully, God offers to reward us for these sacrifices.
Would it make the Christian life easier if we were completely convinced of that last part?
Graduation is upon you.
What a relief. To be freed from the hallways of the high school you’ve learned to hate and launched upon the world full of possibility. Just to be celebrated is a great feeling. Goodness knows we don’t get enough of that these days. Everyone is flying in from across the country just to attend your party, churches are holding banquets in your honor, and all of it is wonderful. It’s your moment in the sun. Bask.
The graduation speeches are exciting. Live your dreams. Reach for the stars. Realize yourself and your potential. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are or what you can’t do. Perhaps there is some truth there.
But we have a few problems here.
Read these verses and ask if they match your experience of the love of God.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15 )
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19)
Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. (Psalm 36:5)
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. (Psalm 103:11)
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5b)
Notice the plentitude. Abounding. Overflowing. Fullness. Heavens. These are not words meant to convey scarcity, an occasional drip. Rooted. A tree does not grow unless it has ample soil to draw from. Fullness. How many of us can tell of feeling full of God?
Does this capture how you experience God’s love on a daily basis? A weekly basis?
My experience of God’s love used to be little more than an occasional whisper. Every few months or so, I’d get a glimpse. As if from a distant country, a well-phrased word from God came to me about how he sees my efforts, or how carefully he is handling my life. I rejoice. But it fades soon, replaced by the noise and dust of life. And the next one doesn’t come for a while.
We seem to have accepted this as normal. We expect only the infrequent dose of God’s near, full love. We call them “mountaintop experiences” and feel better because at least it sounds realistic and adult. After all, we see only through a mirror dimly.
But when I examine the Bible and its characters still inhabiting our side of the mirror, I see a much different expectation laid out for us. When the Bible speaks of God’s love, it portrays a much fuller, stronger, and steadier phenomenon than we typically experience.
Are we missing something? Have we settled for much less love than God is willing to give us? Why? And how?
Oddly enough, that exact word isn’t plentiful in our modern English translations of the Bible, and when it does appear (Rom. 13:7, Eph. 5:33, 1 Pet. 2:17 and 3:15 as examples), it’s usually pointed towards others. “Respect for God”, oddly, is a phrase I’ve rarely heard.
You do hear a lot of the phobeisthe, meaning “fear, dread, and respect”, but not a lot of the timēsate, meaning “honor or value”. My first thought was that perhaps “respect” just isn’t a high enough word for God. We prefer phobeisthe, or perhaps “reverence”, for the attitude with which we should approach God.
But for me – and I chalk this up to quirks of language and personality rather than any insufficiency in the Bible (for such a thing is not possible)…
But for me, I’ve found that “respect” really gives me a foothold on sin.
I recently voted in Montana’s special election. I voted because it’s important and affects the future, but also because it’s colored the past. Many men over the centuries have died to secure my right to vote. We have Memorial Day to honor them. I respect their sacrifice by voting. I do wish that our political candidates themselves would respect those sacrifices by becoming better people with better ideas, but that’s another post.
(Quick aside to the booth official for my precinct: I appreciate your enthusiasm for the democratic process, but please, be careful where you jab me with that “I Voted” sticker.)
It hit me the other day: it seems that I show more respect for American veterans than I do for Jesus.
Jesus chose to shed his glory and become a veteran of the human experience. Most American soldiers led more privileged lives back home than Jesus did; few have died as torturous a death as our Lord; even fewer (read: zero) deserved better; and certainly none died for a greater prize offered to more souls.
I respect the heroism of American veterans by participating in our democracy, paying taxes, and contributing to law and order in every way prescribed. I even had my own stint in the military (though, in all humility, both the time and the danger I experienced fell far short of what our WWII veterans saw).
But…do I respect Christ’s sacrifice by…I dunno, not sinning?
When a sin presents itself before me as a possibility, do I choose to respect all that Jesus went through on the cross to secure eternal life for me? Do I give it the proper due and appreciation?
Or do I give the nails another thwack with my hammer?
It’s not like I do nothing to honor Christ. I blog about him. I’m active in my church. I’ve gone on mission. But Christ commands purity in every area of our lives, and there are too many battlegrounds I’m tempted daily to concede without a fight.
Well, I found out that the earthy, grown-up tang of the phrase “respect for what Jesus has done” makes a nice tool for keeping myself clean of sin. I think of the cross, and it slows my roll towards sin. It’s not like “thinking of the cross” was never available to me until the word respect linked up. But for some reason, the word resonates. In the haze and hot tumult of the battle against sin, I’ll use whatever weapon works, and this works.
We gladly honor the dead. Let us honor the One who didn’t stay dead.