October 23, 2017

The Life God Is In

 

By Chaplain Mike

“…he is not far from any one of us.”

(Acts 17.27, NLT)

As I have talked with friends throughout this year, I’ve noted that we’ve been using a phrase regularly: “This is the life God is in.” OK, it could be better grammatically, but it’s punchy and makes a clear point.

So many of us think our life and circumstances must change in order for God to inhabit them. We think we must purge out all sin to make a place for God to dwell in our midst. And we certainly can’t imagine God being there when we have to deal with people who deny him, habitually act in ways that transgress his laws, and generally make a mess of their lives.

Or when we make a mess of our lives.

A friend recently told me he had been struggling with what was truly happening when he was having a rough time of things. Somehow, he could not get past interpreting trials and difficulties in terms of something being wrong in his life, causing God to turn his back on him. That led my friend to think he must do something to work himself out of the mess into which he had gotten himself so that God and his blessing would return to his life. Thankfully, he said he was beginning to realize that God might actually be present, right there in the middle of the mess and the pain, and that his calling is to trust in the God who is there rather than to do cartwheels to attract God back to him.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. (Ps 46.1, NRSV)

This is the life God is in. There is no other.

Christ and the Samaritan Woman, Tintoretto

Christians have a real advantage here — or we should. We confess a Savior who became incarnate, took on our flesh and blood, and walked among us. Born in humble circumstances to an unwed mother, persecuted by the powerful and forced to flee from his land, his family returned and settled in a place not known for its piety. He received his certification for ministry at the hands of a kooky prophet standing in the middle of the Jordan River, and began calling ordinary working-class people to travel with him as disciples. He made a special effort to go to the sick, the demon-possessed, the poor, and those with tarnished moral and religious reputations. He was mocked as a “friend of sinners.” When he did get opportunities to dine with the elite, he usually offended them and got in trouble because he pulled back the curtain on the messes in their lives and exposed them for being sinners just like everyone else. He just couldn’t get away from the mess. He spent nearly all his time smack dab in the midst of it.

That is Jesus — the God/Man in the midst of sinners.

He has always been in the midst of sinners. He remains in the midst of sinners. If he is present in this world, where else would he be?

So, maybe you are beset by problems and troubles right now. God has not abandoned you. He is there. This is the life he is in.

Perhaps you are having conflicts in your marriage that seem unresolvable, or children who are breaking your heart. You don’t need to straighten it all out first in order to find God. He’s right there, available to you in the midst of it all.

You don’t need to create a spotless space for Jesus to inhabit. You don’t need to dust and sweep the room before he will walk through the door. He’s not put out because you’re so angry you can’t think straight. He won’t slam down the phone if you yell and scream and curse. He’s not waiting for you to make your heart pure, to stop worrying, or to start jumping through the right religious hoops.

Jesus is there — in the midst of your messy, sinful, out of control life. This is the life he’s in. You don’t have to leave that life to find him. You don’t have clean it up or dress it up for him to be attracted to you.

The ultimate evidence of this is the Cross. Luther called Jesus, “The Crucified God.” There he hung, between two guilty, convicted thieves, in the midst of all the ugliness, corruption, injustice, and hatred the world, flesh, and devil could muster. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was what he said.

This is the life God is in. Right here, in the midst of the mess, and right now, at what may seem like the most hopeless moment, you can seek and find him here, for “he is not far from any one of us.”

Comments

  1. Spot on, Chaplain Mike!

    Very nice job, indeed. Thanks.

  2. Thanks! I needed that today.

  3. Justification is free and received by faith alone, but you also neglected to talk about another important aspect of conversion: repentance. Though Jesus didn’t preach a “fire and brimstone” sermon to the Samaritan woman at the well, you can figure out from the text that Jesus was condemning her immoral lifestyle (i.e., having multiple husbands and living with a guy who is not even her husband). That implicit condemnation was also a charge to her that receiving the Living Water also mean that she has to forsake her old ways.

    Also, you mentioned about those people who crucified Jesus and his declaration to God the Father to forgive those transgressors (Luke 23:24). There is nothing in the text, or elsewhere for that matter, that those crucifiers were automatically forgiven without any forthcoming repentance (Heb 6:6) (and I know you don’t want to go to a universalist direction here).

    Yes, Jesus offers eternal life to all, no matter where they come from in life (broken homes, immoral lifestyles, psycho-social dysfunctions, etc.). But, Jesus also demanded repentance from everyone if they wish to see the Kingdom of God (Matt 4:17). This repentance not only is a one-time deal but is a lifelong pattern for those who have truly been brought into the Kingdom.

    • Rob Burke says:

      Does the unilateral gift of grace, demand repentance or give it?

      • Rob, I think you have to see repentance as both a gift and demand (something akin to what Augustine once said). But again, I am speaking as a Calvinist.

    • Mark, this post is not about salvation. You missed the point.

      • Would it be fair to say that when we talk about Christ and / amongst sinners, we should speak much of a turning away from sin……..you know, a “repent and believe” kind of thing?

        • I’m not going to allow any more comments that follow this rabbit trail. This post is not about salvation and was not intended to provoke theological debate about the way of salvation. If some of you don’t get it, either I didn’t write it clearly enough, or you are missing the point. Either way, no more of these kinds of comments, please. That should be clear enough.

  4. Another thing, regarding the woman caught in adultery, Jesus didn’t just give her a blanket statement of forgiveness and let her go on her way. Jesus tells her to “sin no more” (John 8:11). Yes, there was forgiveness, but there was also a charge of repentance. A sinner who refuses to repent of his or her old way of sin cannot have been genuinely forgiven or justified before God.

    (Note: I also think it is problematic to use John 7:53-8:11 as a passage for your point above. Since many scholars believe that the whole pericope is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts. But that is a debate for another day.)

    • Rob Burke says:

      It is also important to focus on the strongly positive side to repentance, when we turn our eyes to the cross and the assurance given to us by His righteousness, tangible in the his his body and blood given for the forgiveness of sins.

    • Again, missing the point.

      • Great post Mike,

        It spoke to me in the here and now. Not in theory, not in the future, not about what I am going to do – it is about God and me and us now. No bean counting.

    • The love of God – still as scandalous to religious folk today as it was when Jesus walked the earth…

      The older I get, the more I’m convinced that God’s love for us doesn’t include “ifs” or “buts”. I often hear people try to qualify statements about the universality of God’s love for sinners by adding things like, “but what about…” or “if only they…” The fact is Jesus died to show us He loves us – period. We really can’t wrap our heads around it.

    • Mark,

      From the style of responses you consistently give I can’t help but begin to wonder….do you really and truly know, a knowing deep within your own very being, the crucified Jesus. We all know you “know” a lot about the theology you believe in and all it’s do’s and don’ts and this is true and that is not……which you can say is “centered around” the crucified and risen Jesus you claim to profess. But, Mark, do you, really and truly “Know” Him…. ??

      Why do I ask…because you so very often miss Him……miss the point being expressed that portrays Him….the Jesus incarnated into the human condition because His Love is greater than sin, the Jesus whose merciful heart beats incessantly with an offering of healing grace to each and every person on the face of this earth calling them to receive His merciful love right where they are so to heal them, restore them, transform them right there in the midst of the human condition.

  5. Chaplain Mike. I had to go back and see who posted. Reading this message, I thought this was something Michael had written. Not that it was familiar, but it reminded me very much of council he might have offered. In other words, a wonderful post.

  6. Rob Burke says:

    CM-Sounds like Theologica crucis. Amazing how a dry theological treatise expands the gospel in such a pastoral way.

  7. “This is the life God is in.”

    Chaplain Mike, you may have been hearing that phrase a lot, but this is the first time I have heard it. I like it and will try to remember that. It surely is hard sometimes to remember this when things seem chaotic, scary, and out of control. Thank you.

    Excellent writing!

  8. This is the most encouraging and (spiritual)eye-opening thing I’ve read in a LONG time. A friend recommended this article, and I’m so glad I followed the link.

  9. This post reminds me of Psalm 91:14-15 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

    God’s great promises “to deliver,” ” to protect,” “to be with us in trouble,” “to rescue” all require us to first be in difficult places. It’s not deliverance or protection or rescue unless you’re in trouble. If we never had hard times, we would never understand this aspect of God. His power and desire to deliver me from my mistakes, His presence despite my stupidity, His will to never leave or forsake me even when I mess up, these I would never know. How great is His love!

    • “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty, He will save he will rejoice over thee with joy, he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

      He rests in his love towards us knowing that it will perfect us in time, and he joys over us, a noun becoming a verb, because rejoice isn’t strong enough to describe his attitude touswards (yes I meant that it’s the earlier form of towards and has a stronger meaning).

      Yes, we have to respond to him rightly but even that is a matter of grace and he is always reaching towards us that we might reach towards him.

  10. thanks so much for this. i needed to hear this from the Lord. i am saddened though that some people really trivialize the grace of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for our lives. too much theological analysis in my opinion.

    we just have to receive it. grace. overwhelming grace amidst the chaos of our lives.

    thanks chaplain mike…

  11. Why is it seemingly so easy to come to faith this way but struggle to receive it afterwards. I struggle with this in my own life. I struggle with now that I am in relationship with God. It seems that more is expected of me now to leave the mess of “my life” and enter into his life rather than to continue to expect he will meet me in mine. Part of me wants to believe this to be true, that “Jesus is there—in the midst of your messy, sinful, out of control life. This is the life he’s in. You don’t have to leave that life to find him”. Another part says he is calling me out of this life, to leave it if I want to live in relationship with him. Can God sometimes speak either way? I know I have to watch out for the Galatian error of defaulting back to works/performance to be justified but…?

    • i think i understand what you’re saying. i struggle in the belief that Jesus is indeed in the midst of our messy and sinful and out of control life, that His love cannot separate me from Him in spite of who i am in the present. yet, i know also that i cannot remain as i am. but to will myself out of it is not the solution. i guess this the tension of our “already and not yet” reality of our salvation. that the cross is working to transform us though often it may not feel that way. also, the pervading church culture to “have it all together” adds to this stress.
      what it think we need is to go deeper into the meaning of the Gospel. that His life, death and resurrection meets us where we are but will never lets remain there. receiving the Gospel and then living out our lives on that grace generates the transformation. and it is not on our own strength but by the power of the Holy Spirit. in our darkest and most chaotic moments, i think we simply need to cling to the cross and stake our lives on the resurrection to lift us up from the mud and mire.
      easier said than done i know. i am with you on this…

      • Thanks,I appreciate what you are saying. We do need to continue to receive Christ and his Gospel into the messiness of our lives, whether for the 1st or 10…th time. This is great grace. And yet we must also be willing to let his Spirit enter and speak into the sin, pain and mess of our lives as his children. As you say, we must trust in his love by “clinging to his cross” as we pray “let it be unto us…”, no matter where the way/place he calls us to go.

  12. Beautiful post. Thank you. I needed that reminder. It brought to mind a book Philip Yancey wrote a few years ago called “Finding God in Unexpected Places.” The bonus to this post is that one of those unexpected places is in my own messy and oh so imperfect life. Jesus’ goodness and grace overwhelm me at times.

  13. Good stuff, CM. Jesus said “Blessed are those hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled”. Not, “blessed are those who are righteous”, but “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”. Does God desire repentance and a heart that desires to be holy? Yes. And all that He asks for, He provides in the person of Christ. God desires transparency, humility, and self-awareness of our sinful state.

    I just read a chapter this morning in Tony Jones’ book, “The Sacred Way”, that told the story of ancient monastics praying “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”, literally thousands of times a day. This blows me away. Many believers set themselves on a path of the pursuit of holiness, rather than a path of discipline and humility. I feel bad for folks who believe they’ve climbed the heights of repentance and planted their flags on the summit of perfection. Don’t live life as though you believe you can impress God; instead, live it as though you are infinitely impressed with God. Confess and believe that your sins are forgiven. Spurgeon said, “If your sin is small, then your Savior will be small, as well.” My sin is great, but thank God, I have a great Savior.

  14. Love this post! I don’t know why, but while reading it I had a flash of Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump out in the middle of a raging sea, cursing God and daring Him to show himself. As Forrest says, that’s when “God showed up”. He really can handle anything we can think of to throw at Him, and then show us the true meaning of grace. Someone close to me once called me God’s trophy of grace, but I believe that can be said of most who believe in Him. I am so in love with God, I tremble when I think of it.

  15. I guess the problem becomes if God is in, then why…? Why did God let this happen? Why won’t God intervene? Why won’t God bring swift justice? It might be easier that God is NOT in or that God is not at all. Otherwise, God becomes complicit in our sufferings.

    Tillich wrote a lot about the “in spite of” aspect of God’s grace. It isn’t that God enters our existence and makes everything right; rather, he makes life possible in spite of our circumstances and ourselves. I think of that old Gaither song, “Because He Lives”. It sound trite to say that I can face tomorrow, that “life is worth living just because He lives”, but I think that is the truth. Life is not worth living because God is going to make it all better and give me my best life now. It gives us courage. There is no courage in believing that tomorrow is just going to get better and better. Grace, hope and courage are experienced in the “eternal now”, as Tillich put it.

    • I was getting ready to hit reply to this before I even finished the 1st paragraph to ask why look for a problem? But….all I can say after the full read is amen and amen! Grace is an internal experience. It’s how we exist in the midst of chaos and pain that defines grace. You need darkness to define light.

  16. I just read your post again, Chaplain Mike, and decided to read the chapter in Acts where your top quotation comes from. I noticed that because of this talk that the apostle Paul gave, some citizens of Athens became Christians including a woman named.Damaris. I loved that she gets named as after the mention of her name it says “and a few others.”

    To our own Damaris here…have you found out any further information about this woman?

    I love the Book of Acts because it reads so “story like” and you can really get a feeling for what is going on with the people involved. It feels so real, as it is, of course.

    • I don’t know much about her. One commenter speculated that she might have been a woman of ill-repute, if she was out on the streets listening to itinerant preachers. But she was saved, and that’s good enough for me.

      I know that the name comes from the Ancient Greek for heifer, which annoyed me for a while. One time while visiting your home state, I thought I would research the origin of the town Damariscotta and claim that as my name’s background if I liked it better. But apparently that comes from a Native American phrase for “abundance of fishes.” I’ve stuck with the heifer.

      • Thanks, Damaris. I hope you got to visit the town of Damariscotta. I like that town and the towns around it. Some good restaurants there! And yes, the “gathering of the alewives” is something to see. There is a place in Damariscotta area where you can go and watch the fish called alewives on their annual trek to fresh waters to spawn. We saw them this spring. There was a huge massing of them.

        • Damais, at least twice in the 17th chapter of Acts the influential and prominent women are mentioned as coming to believe in Jesus. So, I don’t think we have to consider at all that Damaris may have been a woman of ill-repute. And, just the fact that her name is mentioned is an indication that she may have been one of those influential, promiment women of Athens.

  17. Thanks for this post. I was just recently studying the John 8 passage depicted in the first picture of your post. It is really amazing how Jesus views and treats us!

    One further amazing thing about the way Jesus works, touched on a bit by some of the comments, is this: He not only comes to us in our messy sinful lives, he offers forgiveness when we repent, and on top of that healing and transformation. He not only comes to us, he offers hope of change (which will enable us to love him more)!

    I constantly struggle to grasp God’s love because it’s just so extravagant!

  18. Chaplain Mike,

    I loved this post. From the responses to it I gather that not all are equally enclined to live out of mercy and compassion. That is what I DO honour in my cradle catholic tradition and why I attend the Church of England here in the Netherlands and just can’t bring myself to join any local reformed (calvinist) church.
    The gap in how forgiveness is seen is just too great, the chasm too wide culturally. My life has been messy more often than not and often doesn’t seem to make any sort of sense. Yet it’s my faith that keeps me alive through all of it.
    Yet I do not feel ‘good’ enough to join certain churches here for fear of being rejected and also fearing the spiritual cold.
    This ‘messy’ approach toward God also is very much mainline imho.

  19. I wonder sometimes about the relationship between repentance and forgiveness. Jesus was asking the Father to forgive the people who were crucifying him and they had not asked for forgiveness or repented. Should we only forgive those who are sorry plus those who don’t know what they are doing? Or should we also forgive those who don’t care that they are hurting us and will continue going on hurting us?

    Some folks say we are forgiven FIRST by God and THEN we repent of how we had been. Others point out that John the Baptist was there first telling people they needed to repent and prepare the way of the Lord.

    I hope this is not too off-topic. I think I am really responding to Hans’ comment above.

    • John the Baptist was presumably telling people who were already in a covenant relationship with God to repent. He was telling them start acting like the people of God or risk missing the Kingdom. So in other words, repentance is an active turning away from a behavior or lifestyle – it’s not begging for forgiveness.

      I think that all that is necessary for forgiveness from God’s perspective has been done. When Christ died, we were forgiven. If we continue in unrepentance it’s just taking us further down a destructive path of our own choosing.

    • JoanieD said: Some folks say we are forgiven FIRST by God and THEN we repent of how we had been. Others point out that John the Baptist was there first telling people they needed to repent and prepare the way of the Lord.

      It’s a good question. If we need to repent first, is that a form of works-righteousness? And if God won’t forgive until we do repent, is that really grace on his part? In a comment above, Rob Burke asked, “Does the unilateral gift of grace, demand repentance or give it?”

      I like that: “unilateral gift of grace.” Something like the pro-active “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

      John8, starting verse 10, says,

      ‘Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”‘

      Jesus did say, “Go and sin no more,” and so those who insist upon obedience and sanctification may have a point; but notice the order of forgiveness/repentance.

      And I don’t care if John8 isn’t in the oldest texts. It’s classic Jesus as far as I’m concerned.

      • I like what you wrote here, Ted. I, too, will tell people that God forgives FIRST and THEN people repent. I don’t think we will have complete agreement on that, though, among Christians.

  20. You either think the cross was God’s final word for humanity’s sinfulness or you don’t. It seems to me that you don’t. Grace with obligations is not grace, just like unconditional love with conditions isn’t unconditional.

    God’s relentless stance to us through Christ is love, grace, and compassion. If this is offensive to you, then the Gospel itself is offensive to you.

  21. Chaplain Mike, I was thinking almost word for word what your friend was thinking, repenting of everything I could think of, and feeling guilty for the extreme anger engendered by all the “alligators” in my life. My mind knew He would never leave me, but heck, I wanted to leave myself, and imagined Him hitting his forehead and shaking His head, thinking, “She always blows it, doesn’t she?!” This article brought me back to the truth. Thank you so much- God bless you!

  22. thanks. i needed this today.

    wm