When those who don't know about the Kingdom of God see Christians, what do they see?
This question has been sitting in our house for a while, about three years, actually.
At first, you might respond:
1) We need to please God, not man, right?
2) We need to be "above reproach" by abstaining from anything questionable. Shouldn't we show them that there is a very different way?
If those questions settle okay with you, I would like to counter with two more questions:
1) What did those far from God think of Jesus (the one and only man whose life was pleasing to God)?
2) Whose reproach? Have you received criticism from people far from God about the way Christians dress, what we eat or drink, our use of four letter words, or what establishments we hang out in?
For us, these questions became crucial to answer. Somehow, amidst sincere desire to live our lives for Jesus and his Kingdom, we could no longer keep up with trying to please God AND other Christians.
Jesus threw caution to the wind when it came to pleasing everyone. And who did he disappoint? Two groups for sure: the religious folk and those who called for unquestioned allegiance.
So we decided to do the same. As it turns out, the narrow path feels a lot more like a rickety rope bridge hanging over the cliffs of arrogance, heresy, and loneliness. Without the Spirit of God himself, it is impossibly dangerous. But he is faithful. We can trust that he will not allow us to wander past the fences of his love, and even more so, find that this way is actually better.
I used to think this Psalm was for those darn valleys that I sometimes found myself in. Ol' David was going through a hard time. Sometimes life sucks. People die. We get sick. We get stressed.
Lately though, my worldview has changed.
Our whole life on earth is in the valley of the shadow of death. Our enemy is always pursuing. We can invest our best effort to making life pleasant, but that is only a mirage because in this world, the pain doesn't stop. Even with our headphones in and the Contemporary Christian Pandora station blaring, no amount of distraction will stop the suffering in and around us. Thankfully, there is hope. In the midst of this bleak life, God has chosen to BE WITH his people. And in His presence, peace is found.
Right here. In the same body that is shaking with anger, grief, or stress, God can grow a green pasture. He can guide us to the still water.
"But how?" we ask.
Pointing, "Look there, my enemy is rushing toward me!"
But He does not fear.
"Sit." God says, commanding, "Eat."
"Let me comfort you with oil and quench your thirst, for I am not afraid of your enemy, and I am not leaving you. I know the way through this valley, and I will guide you to the other side. See that mountain top? I have prepared a place for you. Trust me."
But the story is not over with that.
"Go get the others." He calls out.
"Teach them to follow me."
If suffering pursues us, than establishing our own houses and neighborhoods of propriety is foolishness. When an assailant has targeted you, there are two good options: fight, or flight. Throughout history, God's people have been set apart by The God Who Fights For Us. He has led his people to do seemingly moronic things, with only one explanation for victory: God himself. Are we seen that way now? People who do daring, crazy, radical acts: pushing back the darkness in a way that leaves God Himself as the only explanation for our success?
The life that matters
This broken-turned-beautiful life matters. So what should those far from God see and hear from us?
Our life should tell the story:
I see the brokenness and feel the pain.
But God has shown me the way to peace.
Turmoil may be around every corner, but I know my future is secure.
I am not afraid to meet you wherever you are.
Your mess isn't too messy for me, because the King of all Kings is with me and his holiness and forgiveness are cleansing.
He will be with you too, if you want him. Would you follow him with me?