By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. – 1 John 3:19-24
COVID-19 lockdown has now been going on for weeks here in Canada. I would love to tell you that as a pastor I have taken all of these “extra” moments in time to sit down in a quiet place with my Bible and have done hours of extra study seeing things I have never seen before and growing so deeper with Christ that when we all emerge I will have been so transformed no one will even recognize me. I really wish this would have been my truth up until today.
Instead, my reality has been a mix of wonderful learnings about new technology and having meetings with church leaders and other people like family and friends. I’ve done some computer and guitar maintenance for others and self. Doing some video taping for worship services. Sorting through music for the next number of weeks worship to record. A portion of time has been taken up by rearranging the house for our “new normal” of having both my wife and I working from home. I now have a little music studio setup in our living room ready to record songs tomorrow with Garage Band (a definite first for me). And I’ve been in to start sorting out my study at the church as I look to the future and my transition into a new church ministry amid all of this insanity. I feel like I have been BUSY!
The other part of time has been spent dealing with two sick cats we are struggling to diagnose and figure out how to get healthy again without an insane vet bill. Energy is being spent adapting to being with people all the time. (If you are an extrovert you will have little sympathy for me but if you are an introvert you totally get what I just wrote.) There are huge moments of reflection where I wonder (and worry) if I am doing enough, meeting expectations and needs, wondering what I can do more in ministry when my internal compulsion is just to dive down into a cocoon of privacy and just try to process and recharge by myself. Some time has been spent reading and watching the latest tv shows and movies I had been too busy to watch before. I never realized how much time one could spend making food, eating food and cleaning up after.
All of that to say…whether introvert or extrovert…whether you are with people or alone…in this time there is a LOT of reflection being done. If I simply stew by myself I find I get even more drained and no good comes from that but if I go back to my source for life, Jesus, and his Word, I find peace settles in and I can begin to breath again. I love the passage from 1 John that is noted above. Perhaps there is no other passage in all of scripture that summarizes what life looks like for believers POST-CROSS. This is an important distinction to make when we read scripture and try to apply Jesus’s teachings. When Jesus was teaching the public he often amplified the Law to show people how impossible it was to live for God according to the Law. When we as Christians look to Jesus’s teaching PRE-CROSS we need to be careful we aren’t applying truths to our lives that simply don’t apply to us as followers of Jesus who are freed from what he, and only he, accomplished on the cross.
What are the commands of God? How can we live in freedom in Christ? How do I be free from my own heart that is always condemning me for not doing enough for Jesus? In this COVID lockdown my previous way of understanding and applying the Gospel simply cannot work, is not working, will not work, and I am left feeling bereft of purpose! What peace we can have when we know that God is greater than our heart! If you’re like me, NO ONE can condemn me more than my heart. No one. But when we realize God knows the truth of who we are and His love pierces through our guilt to bring peace and knowledge that we are God’s beloved and we belong to Him…our hearts cease to condemn us. Everything is good! Everything is taken care of in Jesus! Then we are bring to God our requests in prayer with confidence because our hearts are aligned with him. Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath means we can constantly rest from our work because we live in him.
But what are we supposed to be DOING? Surely we are not called to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good?! No, that’s true. God has left us true commandments that overshadow the Law.
“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
First, believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ. This statement is so packed with nutrient-dense truths. We believe in order to receive salvation. We also continue believing because Jesus fulfills everything for us. All that we think we need to do to earn God’s love or maintain our own righteousness, Jesus does for us. If we cease to believe that we begin to strive to grow our own righteousness and earn our place before God. That is not freedom in the complete work of Christ — that is slavery to a goal we can never accomplish. Second, love one another, just as he commanded us. How is that? Love our neighbour as ourselves? Nope. That portion is under that PRE-CROSS teachings of Jesus. Jesus told his disciples that we are to love one another just as he loved us. There is a new standard in town, folks, and it isn’t to love others as we love ourselves. Its to love others with the same love we have received from God.
*GULP!* How? HOW?! Relax. Have peace! Don’t let your heart condemn you in this moment of clarity. John continues to write this, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” God lives in us. That’s right! That word “abide” means that God lives IN US! That means we can love each other how God loves us because God will love them through us. God’s love in us — God’s love through us and all through the power of the Holy Spirit God has given to us.
Some of you are struggling right now. You are struggling so hard I can hear it! HOW? How can God live IN me when I still struggle with sin? That is a great question for another day. I will answer it with another question though, “Would God attach Himself to sin?” No. No, He would not. When you became a Christian and God forgave you of your sins you were cleansed — you were forgiven and are forgiven (past tense). Paul talks about how our flesh and our sin nature battle against our redeemed self (book of Romans) but our spirit, our person, is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come. God IN us. We are clean! We still struggle with sin because we are still using sin to define us. But when we realize that we are loved and cleansed and stand before God unashamed and righteous, the appeal of sin gets destroyed and we find our fulfilment in Christ who bought us and saved us and caused HIS light to shine in our hearts.
So here I sit in COVID lockdown to discover I’ve slipped back into the “doing” mode instead of living in the “being” mode. If you are like me, just sitting down with Scripture in a focused way, with the TV off, the phone on silent and placed in a drawer in another room for a “time out”, can bring back the joy of my salvation. I can begin to untangle from the worries and anxieties of life in the “new normal.” And I can sit and wonder at the love God has for me. I can breath in the truth of who I am and whose I am. I can rest in the knowledge that God sees me, knows me, wants me, has a plan for me…every single moment of my life He accounts for in His plans…and therefore, I can rest, condemnation-free, and begin the next chapter of life by spending more time with Jesus, the Lord of Life and living out his commandments.
[A personal note: I pray you find this journal/devotional to be one that brings peace to your heart. All of us work through our issues at different paces and in different places and times. I can’t believe how time feels different during these days. I feel less productive and confined. I wonder about the future and what life will look like when we all emerge from our homes. One thing will NOT change for me, I will still seek to love God and love people. We need more love in this world and as a christian that is my calling. I love Mr. Rogers and his quotes inspire me in Jesus-like ways, so I’ll close with two of them:
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
May God be with you this day as you take time to ponder, reflect and be renewed in Him.]