February 26, 2020

Another Look: The Life God Is In

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“…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.

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. “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.” ”

    I read Chaplain MIKE’s comment and I think about Rick Ro.’s comment in the previous post, this:
    “The Beginning is Near.”

  2. This article is so good and rich and full of the Gospel–the Good News of the Kingdom of God in our midst! This article is a very timely and much needed reminder of how real and present God is, and I will gladly reread it a few more times.

    It is hard sometimes to believe it, but frankly, it seems as if God does His *greatest* work in the valleys, when we are the weakest. That is where we come to an end of ourselves, and cry out to him out of desperation…and where we see Him leading us most clearly, albeit usually more in hindsight than in the thick of it.

    My wife and I have been going through challenges–not with each other (thank God!, though God has led us through that in the past), but with challenges we are jointly facing in our lives together. I don’t see any way out except through God, and we don’t yet see the clear path, even though we have to trust that He is guiding us every step of the way.

    As an aside…I passed through Chicago on a trip today…got to see an inning or two of the Cubs’ victory over St Louis among native Chicagoans! I thought of how happy you must be, Chaplain Mike. 🙂

  3. I may have some quibbles with you Lutherans on some theological points, CM. But nobody – NOBODY – does the Theology of the Cross better than you guys and gals. 🙂

  4. I’m so frequently in the grip of anger and fear. When bad things happen to me, or to my wife, and especially when the very things that I have been dreading as the worst possible outcome actually happen (as they seem to, with increasing frequency), it takes a gargantuan act of will for me to believe that God is present in my life as anything but judgment; i.e., it takes a gargantuan act of will that I’m unable to produce. I just can’t hear, or sense, or believe in God’s present grace in the midst of the really bad moments. I can’t.

    But it is good to hear and sense it in moments like these, moments of relative calm in my spirit. In these moments I can hear it, at least in a little way. I’ll count that as a mercy and grace, however perturbed, and insulated from hope, my spirit may be at other times.

    • “Oh, Thou didst know then that in taking one step, in making one movement to cast Thyself down, Thou wouldst be tempting God and have lost all Thy faith in Him, and wouldst have been dashed to pieces against that earth which Thou didst come to save. And the wise spirit that tempted Thee would have rejoiced. But I ask again, are there many like Thee? And couldst Thou believe for one moment that men, too, could face such a temptation? Is the nature of men such, that they can reject miracle, and at the great moments of their life, the moments of their deepest, most agonizing spiritual difficulties, cling only to the free verdict of the heart?” ~ The Bros. Karamazov

      No, it is not “the nature of men…to reject miracle….and cling only to the free verdict of the heart”. But He manages to remake our nature, doesn’t He?

      • The Grand Inquisitor was a very wise man; his tragic flaw was that he took too much upon himself, thinking he could master it, and that he, with his spiritual peers, could provide the Miracle, Mystery and Authority that human beings so hunger for. But the end of Ivan’s tale, his little poem is what I think he calls it, leaves the possibility open that even the Grand Inquisitor may be redeemed: at least at one time, he loved greatly, and if he loved once, he may yet do so again. He need only recognize, and accept, that soft, helpless spot in himself that hungers along with the rest of the human race.

    • Condolences on your loss, Robert.

      Fr Stephen writes very eloquently about how our healing-toward-ultimate-healing is being worked in the midst of our weakness in the post “Weak, Sick, Poor and Tired: A Story for Losers.”

      Not believing in God’s presence with and in you doesn’t change the reality of it. Your struggle is great; that is the sign you are walking the path of holiness. Just try not to despair, but find something for which you can give thanks. The life and love of your aunt is surely one of those things.

      Hugs-
      Dana
      your fellow Italian

    • Hugs Robert. I was reminded recently to seek Christ in my marriage and to find Him in the face of my wife. He is there. Peace brother.

      • I am becoming convinced more and more that this is why it is so important to find a church with a “high” view of the Sacraments. Where Jesus literally feeds us with His is Body and Blood each week. I’m leaning LCMS. My wife says she’s ready to try. I pray they will accept us.

    • “Trust him. And when you have done that, you are living the life of grace. No matter what happens to you in the course of that trusting—no matter how many waverings you may have, no matter how many suspicions that you have bought a poke with no pig in it, no matter how much heaviness and sadness your lapses, vices, indispositions, and bratty whining may cause you—you believe simply that Somebody Else, by his death and resurrection, has made it all right, and you just say thank you and shut up. The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If he refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, he certainly isn’t going to flunk you because your faith isn’t so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead – and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.”

      ? Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace

  5. “Christ dwells only among sinners,” indeed. Excellent post, CM!

  6. I don’t default to this way of thinking and must remind myself that God is truly there in everything. I wonder if it is because we as individuals and the church thank God mostly when good things happen?

  7. My pastor refers to these struggling times as Kairos times. When we are in Kairos time, there is always a cross. If we accept the cross and burden it with Jesus (share the yoke) it will lead to a new path and in the process we will grow closer to God. If we don’t then we will circle back to the old path and probably face the same/similar trial over again. CM, I loved your analogy a few weeks ago about Farm Life. And in particular this, “The same Jesus who said to me,“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” said in the very next breath, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…” (Matt. 11:28-29).The very One who called me away from burdensome works into a place of “rest” defined that by saying, “Come to me, come work on my farm. Let me teach you a better kind of work — a work in which you will find rest.”

  8. Preach it, Brother!

    –> “…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.”

    An unhealthy view of God, yes…and don’t we all drift there periodically?

    –> “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.”

    Yes. If God did NOT do this, He would remain above it all and we would still have our doubts. But God sent His son into the junk and did not abandon him. We can look to Jesus and say, “He went through the same crap I’m going through, if not worse, and I know God was with Him.”

    –> “Jesus is there — in the midst of your messy, sinful, out of control life…The ultimate evidence of this is the Cross.”

    Again, yes. Without the cross, we’d have nothing in which to base our hope in a kind, gracious God. Jesus suffered in spite of God’s love; our suffering is not caused by His abandonment of us.

    Great post! More like these, CM!

  9. Thanks also for the quote from Psalm 46. That is one of my go-to passages of Scripture during times of fear and worry.

    Right now, I’m away from home, trying to prepare for a company presentation where I’m supposed to put on my game face and dazzle the crowd, all the while feeling weak from fatigue and beset by worries new and old.

    This again–Jesus, God made flesh, meeting us where we are, as we stumble through the muck and mire of the muddy, rough-trod road–this is what it’s all about. This is the Gospel we need every day!

  10. “He prepares a table for us the way the table of Holy Communion is prepared for us, and “in the presence of our enemies” he prepares it because there is no other place. Our enemies are always present. All the old enemies are always gathered around us everywhere. I mean the enemies that come at us from within-doubt and self-doubt, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, failure, temptation. Let each of us name our special enemies for ourselves. How well we know them. How long we have done battle with them, and how long we will doubtless have to go on battling. But no matter. The table is prepared. Our cups are filled to running over.”

    – Buechner

    • I’m reading a thin, concise book about Psalm 23 written by a former shepherd. Each chapter discusses each verse from a shepherd’s viewpoint.

      For this particular verse – “He prepares a table in the presence of my enemies” – the author writes that no matter where you lead a flock of sheep to eat, there are enemies and dangers all around. Even the most beautiful of pastures has wolves lurking on the fringes. A good shepherd knows this, that good pastures can be found and prepared, but that the enemy and dangers are ever-present and lurking…and he will keep watch over us as we eat.

    • Love this Buechner quote.

      • I read this the other night in “Secrets in the Dark”. Then I read this and, like all who’ve read your post today, was comforted and given the hope of the Presence of Christ. Thanks CM.

  11. Amen. This is the most beautiful piece I’ve read anywhere on the web in a while. Thanks so much for the powerful and much needed reminder of the heart of the good news.

  12. This might be the most beautiful post you have written. It comes at a good time. Thank you, Mike.