29 August 2010

Who Do You fear?

(apologies to George Thorogood and the Destroyers)

Friends recently related a story about visiting a college campus here in central Texas. They ran across a guy preaching. The preacher railed against everyone there, out to save their souls by telling them how horrible they were, how God was against them, how they were going to hell. Oddly enough, he wasn't winning any converts that day.

My friends hollered in response, telling the crowd that God actually loved them. Finally, one of them couldn't stand it any longer. He ran over, jumped up on whatever the preacher was standing on, and just hugged him, telling him God loved him. After a moment, the guy pushed my friend away, furiously proclaiming, "How do I know you aren't a homosexual?"

Leaving aside numerous other issues we could discuss here, one thing that struck me was the preacher's fear. I don't know if he was afraid merely of being tainted by association, or if he was afraid of actually getting a demon if someone "unclean" hugged him, or what. The point is simply that he was afraid.

What's to fear? This man had apparently memorized quite a bit of the Bible. How is it that he didn't remember, or couldn't apply, 1 John, 4/4 ("Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.")? Or Luke 10/17 ("Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!")?

For that matter, had he recognized his own fear, an obvious, pertinent verse provides the antidote. Back to 1 Jn (4/18): "Perfect love casts out fear." It's even better in context (4/16-18): "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (NIV)

Why did Jesus come live among us, die on the cross, and return from the grave? Because "God so loved the world." (Jn 3/16). Jesus hung out with sinners all the time- thieves, hookers, those who cheated on their spouses, tax collectors, pagans in the occupying army, all sorts of people. He didn't fear them. He wasn't afraid of being tainted, or of demons (just ask that guy who used to live in the graveyard (with hundreds or thousands of demons) until he met Jesus!) or even the biggest, baddest demon of all, whom Jesus faced down in the desert after not eating anything for 40 days (Mt 4/1-11).

As far as I can tell, the only thing Jesus might have feared was the cross. At the very least, he would have preferred to avoid it (who wouldn't?) But he refused to be ruled by fear. He went. He conquered. He conquered death, kicked its nasty little butt, and rose from the dead, leading the way for all who follow him to do the same.

What do you fear? Who do you fear? Why? If you are a Christian, you have no reason to fear. Let God's love come in like a flood, and chase the fears away. Let fear be the one to live in fear, fleeing for its very life from the presence of the Living God in you. For you are made in his image, you are filled with his spirit. If God looks at you and sees Jesus, if we are becoming like Christ, then the demons should fear us, not the other way around.

This applies to all fears, real or imagined, public and secret-- outright fear, insecurities, fears of not being good enough, phobias, anxieties-- but especially fear of what others will think, of being tainted, or of anything else that keeps you from loving every person you come in contact with. No matter who or what you think they are. For they, too, were made in the image of God, and he loves them as he loves you.

You can love them, or you can fear them. But if you love God then fearing men, fearing guilt by association, fearing demons jumping on you really isn't an option. Love is the only option available.

Why on Earth would we want another option, anyway?

20 August 2010

Grace and Purity - Finding the Balance

We always want to make it about us.
Often we think something like, "this is my balance (right this instant) so it must be THE balance." Even more often we think (and run across) the attitude that "this is what I think the balance should be (or would like it to be) so it must be THE balance... even though I don't model this."
We do this individually, and we do it in groups-- families, friends, cliques, clubs, political affiliations, as leaders, or within the Church. But this leaves no room to "work out your own salvation" (Philippians 2/12); rather it requires everyone else to perform to our imperfect standards, ignoring both God's ultimate standards and the fact that he made us individuals, and works with us as individuals. (We were never meant to be clones or droids.)
While the concept applies to almost everything, at the moment I'm thinking of it in reference to the balance between grace and purity. (Most of us would have expected the second attribute to be justice, as we see justice and grace as polar opposites. But there is also a tension between grace and purity, especially in the Church today. Some groups are big on grace and some are big on purity; few are big on both.)
Our holy God calls us to holiness. Our pure God calls us to purity. Nothing less will do. But because we are not God, because we are imperfect, God-- in his love for us-- gives us grace, all the grace we need to cover the distance between wherever we are and that place of perfect holiness and purity. The grace to be as he originally made us to be, in his image, his sons and daughters.
But we, as people, often refuse to extend that same level of grace (or anything even close) to one another, though we so desperately need and want it ourselves. We want grace for ourselves, but demand purity and perfection in others. What is God's response to this response of ours?
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Mt 7/1-2, NIV)
So, we can demand perfection, holiness and purity in others, and be crushed under the weight of our hypocrisy, or we can extend grace to others, and dwell in grace.
And yet, his grace is sufficient (I Cor 12/9). Otherwise, none of us would have any hope. Since he has extended this grace to us, we should extend it to others.
If your concept of God is bounded solely by laws, you might spend some time pondering Jesus' words on laws. The two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, are to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mt 22/37) and to "love your neighbor as yourself". (Mt 22/39)
And how will everyone know that we are his disciples? By how thoroughly we demand perfection from each other? Nope. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (Jn 13/35)
While true love calls forth purity and holiness in each other (and models it!) if God in his love extends grace, then for us to do anything less is not only foolish, not only hypocritical, not only ugly, but a repudiation of all we claim to believe. At the same time, since he calls us to purity and holiness, we should go for it with everything within us!
Lord, forgive us all, and help us to remember who we are, who we were made to be, loved and loving, graceful and pure.