Life Is Messy, Love Is Invincible

That life is messy is not a hidden truth.  If your experience is similar to mine, you don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how often in a given week you hear someone say, “Things don’t always go the way you want them to.”

Whether in minor disappointment or devastating loss, that sentence gives testimony to the fact that we can’t order life to be the way we want it to be.  Diseases take loved ones too early.  Companies fold and jobs are lost.  Divorces fracture families.  Illnesses rob vitality and limit ability.  Natural disasters destroy.  Planes crash.  Friends betray.  Pressures mount.  And, yes, on a much less serious but still relevant level, children sometimes don’t get what they want.  Life is messy.  For all of us, life is messy.

One of the most astounding aspects of the Christian faith is its declaration of invincible love as the remedy for the messiness of life. 

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Community Outreach, Community Transformation

Beginning in the year 251 A.D., a devastating plague pounced upon and swept through the Roman Empire, wreaking incredible misery and destruction. What became known as the Plague of Cyprian, after St. Cyprian, the bishop who chronicled the events, killed 5,000 people per day during its zenith. Understandably, many, if not most all people who could, fled the plague-stricken regions for the sake of their lives.

What was much more difficult to understand was the Christian response to the Plague. Christians, many of whom had been scapegoated as the reason for the Plague, stayed behind in Rome, in Alexandria, in Carthage, and in other places around the Empire, to minister to the sick and dying and to bury the dead. In the midst of their own loss of family and friends, while they were sick and suffering themselves, at the risk of death by disease or by persecution, without regard for whether those they helped were Christians or non-believers, “followers of the way” (as they were called) remained to care for the sick, to wash the unclean, to feed the hungry, to console the dying, to comfort the grieving, and to bury the dead.

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Love Demonstrated

There are remarkable things said about the love of God in Scripture.  It is said that God’s love is promised in the covenants he makes with his people (Isaiah 55:3), that “his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1), that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39).  It is said that God’s love is like the unconditional love of a father (Luke 15:11-32).  The relationship between love and God is so close, it is said that “God is love” (1 John 4:16)—God’s character, his nature is love.

Among all the remarkable things that Scripture teaches us about the love of God, there is none that is more profound than the great truth that God’s love is demonstratedIt is demonstrated in the birth of Jesus Christ:  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…. (Isaiah 9:6).  It is demonstrated in the life of Christ:  God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him (1 John 4:9).  It is demonstrated in the death of Christ:  God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

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No Room at the Inn

Are there certain Scriptures that distress you and make you say, “It shouldn’t have been that way?”  One of the passages of Scripture that distresses me is Luke 2:6-7, which tells us that there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn when it came time for Jesus to be born.  This is why the Messiah was laid in a feed trough in a cold and dirty cave after his birth rather than in a cozy crib in a warm hotel room.

This aspect of Jesus’ birth is troubling.  It was not befitting for the Co-Creator of the Universe to be born on the ground and then laid in a mangy manger in a makeshift stable in a cave.  The circumstances should have been royal.  At the least, they should have been comfortable.  “I certainly would have found room for a young pregnant woman in my inn,” I hear myself say smugly, without realizing at first that I am convicted by my own statement.

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What’s the Point of My Life?

What’s the point of my life?  Why am I here?  What’s God’s purpose for my life?  These questions are asked in different circumstances.  Sometimes they are asked in a quiet moment of peaceful self-reflection.  Sometimes they are asked in the midst of yearning for direction.  Sometimes they are asked in desperation—as part of questioning the value of one’s life.

The answers to questions like “What’s the point of my life?” determine the outcome of our lives.  Our lives will be inevitably and powerfully shaped by how we answer the question of the purpose of our existence.  The outcome of the lives of those who say the purpose of life is task accomplishment will be different from the lives of those who say the purpose of life is to build relationships.

For Christ-followers the best place to find the answer to the question of the purpose of life is to start with the question, “What’s God’s purpose for my life?”  Romans 8:28 says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).  And the next verse, Romans 8:29, announces what God’s purpose is:  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 

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Tip-of-the-Iceberg Spirituality

We’ve been doing it ever since the Garden of Eden—distancing from God in shame and fear in the midst of our sins and failures.  We also often distance from self-awareness in the midst of our sins and failures.  We shove those things that are uncomfortable down and out of our awareness so that we don’t have to feel them or deal with them.

Shame and fear of punishment, as responses to sin and failure, can lead to what Christian author and pastor Peter Scazerro has called a “tip of the iceberg spirituality,” which can limit the depth of our relationship with God.  In situations of tip-of-the-iceberg spirituality, 90% of what is affecting our lives is below the “waterline” in terms of our conscious self-awareness.

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The Inside of the Cup

Frustrated. Angry. Confrontational. Unmasking. Exhorting.  Rebuking. Passionate. Urgent. Admonishing. Honest. Direct. Earnest. Serious. Strong. Distressed.

The manner in which Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 cannot be captured in one word. “Distressed” may be the most general banner we can fly over the descriptive words that apply to his approach. Jesus was deeply distressed as he spoke to the Pharisees. When we observe the son of God being passionately distressed, school is in session—because we stand to learn a great deal from what distressed him.

So what caused Jesus to be so passionately distressed? What greatly troubled Jesus in this context was simply the tendency for the Pharisees to focus on outward appearance rather than on internal reality—that is, focusing on polishing outer appearances while the inner private world is dull, dirty, scratched, and in need of repair.

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One Thing

Do you believe you are fulfilling the purpose for which God created you? Are you fulfilled in your life and in your relationship with God?

Gary Moon, in his book entitled, Falling for God, asks a closely related question.  “Do you ever feel that no matter how hard you try or how much you desire it, the bountiful life Jesus promised continues to elude you?…  I believe that 99 out of 100 Christians rarely enjoy the rich life that Christ promised; they live, instead, lives of silent resignation.”  That’s a valuable opinion based on many years of life experience as a Christian psychologist.

Perhaps, though, a well-designed research study would prove to be false the claim that Christians “rarely enjoy the rich life that Christ promised.”  However, Christian researcher George Barna, based on scientific research (in Growing True Disciples), has this to say about the focus of the lives of most Christ followers:  “Eight out of every ten believers are more likely to count upon dimensions of life other than spirituality as the springboard to success and meaning….  The infrequent adoption of spiritual maturity as the driving focus of life suggests that to most believers their faith is a ‘bonus’ or an add-on dimension of their life rather than the priority around which everything in their life revolves.”  Perhaps one reason why so many Christians are not enjoying the rich life that Christ promises is because they are not making that rich life the one thing they are pursuing in their lives.

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