When I arrived at college, I became aware of a concept called yellow pencils, meaning we were expected to conform to certain standards, even to look, act and talk alike. But one of the interesting things about humanity is each of us is different. That’s saying a lot as there are almost eight billion of us on this planet. Our fingerprints, voices, DNA – every one of us is unique. We students obviously weren’t the same and some even seemed to take delight in their non-conformity. God must appreciate our individuality as he designed us that way. His expectation has never been for us to be yellow pencils.
It stands to reason then, that he wouldn’t expect all Christians to be the same either. Perhaps, as a friend once said, Jesus shows a different aspect of himself in each of us. He is so complex and multi-faceted, he could let each of us reflect a unique part of him so when we are together and unified as a body, we collectively reflect Jesus.
We talk about celebrating our differences but sometimes we still hang onto the yellow pencil effect, I guess because it can feel safer. But we really do need to appreciate not just our uniqueness, but the unique reflections of Jesus in each other.
We human beings have a lot of strange ideas about God, including:
He wants to be praised and adored (big ego);
He becomes quite put out when people don’t obey him;
He has temper tantrums, bringing death and destruction to those who wrong him;
He watches everyone and everything, tallying offenses and keeping track of who obeys;
He rarely gets involved in human matters, lets most prayers go unanswered and doesn’t seem to be bothered by human suffering;
He’s a bit fickle and can change his mind for no apparent reason.
If these traits seem familiar, just think back to stories of ancient Greek and Roman gods. We still suffer under their delusions and superstitions. But God isn’t like this. We need to be on guard against these old ideas that still contaminate our view of him and his love, mercy and grace. We even need to be careful when reading the Bible, that we don’t interpret it through mythological lenses. Let only Jesus reveal the Father, not old stories and half-truths.
We all deal with problems differently. Some internalize, some vocalize, some throw things. Some shrug their shoulders and say, whatever. I rarely use that term as I’ve realized it’s not healthy for me. It feels like a cop-out and doesn’t make me feel better. If it’s directed at a person, it can be dismissive. Whatever; just go away and don’t bother me.
In a book of interview transcripts published by Grace Communion International, Trinitarian Conversations, Volume 1: Interviews with Twelve Theologians (You’re Included), Gerrit Dawson referred to this statement from a sermon by John Calvin: “This world is filled with troubles and the devils assault us at every moment, but what of it? Christ Jesus reigns in heaven and sends me his power now. This world is full of temptations and often I am weak, but what of it? Christ is in heaven and he is strong and he is strong on my behalf.”
Dawson commented: “I think when we realize that we can replace the ‘whatever’ (what people like to say to detach from something they don’t like that happens to them) or even the crushingness of life with the ‘what of it? No matter what is thrown my way, Christ reigns and he holds me, then I know at the deepest levels all is well and all will be well.’”
This is a good reminder to turn to Jesus instead of detaching or checking out of life. Saying what of it in difficult circumstances helps me remain unfazed as I stay in the loving embrace of Jesus.
By now, most people have given up making resolutions. Several years ago, resolutions began to be replaced by the simplicity of a single word. I’ve had a “one word” for quite a few years now and I know many of you have adopted this as well. Being given a word by God and then reflecting on it throughout the year helps me focus on one thing and sets the tone and direction for growth in grace and knowledge.
This year God gave me the word unfazed. It jumped out at me as I was reading Romans 8:37-39 in The Message: “None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”
Life took some unexpected turns for me last year and I’m certain this coming year will also hold some surprises. By remembering my word, I hope to ride the waves in the love and strength of Jesus, and not let any of it faze me. I’m going to hold onto the fact that nothing can separate me from his love, even the rough stuff.
One of the most well-known and popular verses quoted by Christians is Philippians 4:13, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (NLT). This verse is encouraging for us, especially in the midst of trials and problems. I keep a little card with this verse near my bathroom sink, to remind me who helps me through each day.
Another verse is just as important to remember and one that should probably get equal time: “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NLT) (emphasis mine).
We can do all things through Christ while we are in him, with his lifeblood flowing through us as we stay attached to the vine. And while Jesus never meant his warning to drive us into legalism, he does want us to be cognizant of and mindful about staying attached. It is possible to wither and dry up and then it won’t be possible to do anything. Staying close to Jesus does require some effort, specifically practicing his presence and the spiritual disciplines. Nothing can separate us from his love, which means as long as we stick to the vine, we won’t have to worry about being “apart from” him.
Apart from Christ we can do nothing, but in him and in his strength, we can do all things.
When the Bible says God is love, many of us believe it’s true, but. Is that because his love seems too good to be true? Or is it because we are convinced we aren’t worthy or deserving of his love? Some like to say he loves us in spite of ourselves, in spite of the sin and darkness in our hearts. Is that the way God looks at us?
One of the myths surrounding God and his perspective on humanity is that because of the egregiousness of our sin, God can’t even look at us. His standards of holiness and righteousness won’t allow him to have anything to do with us, unless and until we repent and accept Jesus as our savior. This is difficult to reconcile with 1 John and other verses that talk about how much God loves us.
The truth is God loves us so much he sent his son to become one of us, sharing our humanity in all respects. He not only looked at us in our sin, he loved us while we were sinners and enemies, taking our sin upon himself, in all its ugliness. He loves us, not in spite of, but because of ourselves – because he made us out of his love, in his love and to be loved. This is the right perspective and the right response is to love him back, with gratitude and joy.
Our minds are amazing. Using our imaginations, we can go anywhere. I’ve always loved reading, because through stories, I vicariously experience so much I never could in real life. Now video games and the Internet have taken the place of books. Instead of the stimulation of words, people’s minds are visually transported to worlds that seem more reality than fantasy.
What we dwell on becomes our reality, so it’s extremely important we keep our minds in the right place. And where is that right place? Many would argue the Bible and its stories about a supernatural, all-powerful being is a fantasy, but God is the only true reality. We live in a world constantly trying to pull us out of God’s reality into distortions and deceptions, which makes keeping a grip on the truth difficult.
The way to stay firmly in touch with reality is to immerse ourselves in him – in who he is, what he has done and what he is doing now, in this world and in our lives. He is always present with us, but to stay present with him takes some effort. Consider memorizing favorite verses, especially those describing him, such as Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:5-11.
As we keep our minds on him, he brings the reality of himself into our lives. He becomes our reality and our life. And that’s the best place to be.