28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
God’s Love in Christ Jesus
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Matthew 13: 44-49
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
One But Not The Other:
I want to lose weight … but I don’t want to eat healthily.
I want to be well-read and theologically astute … but I don’t want to devote hours and days to study.
I want to get up early and feel productive … but I don’t want to have to go to bed at a reasonable hour.
I want to win the lottery … but I wouldn’t want it to change how people interact with me.
I want good teeth … but to never see another dentist as long as I live.
I don’t know if it’s a symptom of growing up in a world where we are constantly bombarded with advertisements or just part of the broken human condition but I know I’m not the only one who wants all the 'good things in life’ without the work, passion or pursuit they require.
I want it all. And I want it now.
A friend of mine told me recently that he wanted to quit his job to become a chocolatier.
My response was, ‘No, you don’t. If you wanted to be a chocolatier you would already be pursuing it.’ It was a harsh response that had nothing to do with him and everything to do with how I was feeling about myself. I so often say that I want to do this or that — but do I really? Because surely, if I truly wanted to, then I already would be.
There is a difference between the desires that we feel and the desires that fuel us. A desire that is only felt does nothing but increase our sense of dissatisfaction. Desires that fuel, however, have the power to change us and the world around us.
Today’s commercial Christianity (what I am starting to call the 'Christian Industrial Complex’) tends to trade on our felt desires that drive us toward consumption rather than the desires that fuel change. The result is a lot of memory verses that we know the first half of but, like the statements above, we don’t want (or even know!) the second half. This week’s lectionary readings include one such verse:
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, […] who are called according to his purpose.
The first half of this verse is often written on sympathy cards, whispered at funerals and tattooed on people too young to know better while the second half is often neglected — sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately. I can understand the temptation to leave it out … It’s a much nicer verse without it. There is a difference between the ‘good’ of me not missing my train and the ‘good’ of death in prison (Phil. 1:21) or being crucified upside down (see Peter’s martyrdom.) It’s like when people quote Psalm 37:4 -
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
When you delight yourself in the Lord, it doesn’t bend the world or your life into what you have desired. Instead, your delight in him and relationship with him shape your desires. Things that are ‘the good' of those who love God and care called according to his purposes are things that grow his kingdom rather than making our life easier, happier or more convenient. In fact, some things that grow his kingdom may come at a great personal cost to us.
One of the greatest temptations that we face today is to embrace or present Jesus without the challenge that he brings. We want Jesus without Jesus, one side of the coin without the other. We want the Jesus of the parable of the prodigal son without the Jesus who gives us the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Or, as above, the parable of the pearl: where a man sees something so beautiful that he sells everything he has in order to possess it. Not to flaunt it. Not to resell it. Just to have it. Or (also above) the parable of the fishing net (which I’m not sure I was even aware of until this week.) We feel the desire for a Jesus who will make us happy rather than a desire that will fuel a life that brings him glory.
As a result of these temptations, a mutant Christianity has evolved that picks and chooses from Jesus and Paul. It fuses surface-level readings of Jesus’ views on Heaven and Hell with surface-level readings of Paul’s theology of salvation to create a Christianity that offers a comfortable life now and later based on what you intellectually affirm but don’t need to live out. According to this monstrosity, what you experience is more important than what you choose and what you think is more important that what you do. It asserts that the path to Heaven is paved with good intentions and doctrinal purity.
The more I read Jesus and the more I allow his words to challenge me, the more I am realizing that that the way I live in the here and now matters. Yes, I have been forgiven. Yes, salvation is by faith. Yes, God loves me. One of the greatest description of God’s love comes from Romans 8:37-39:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But it is preceded by verse 36:
For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.
The truth of God’s love being stronger than death is comfort to the life that may face death because of their love for God.
His love is more than something we feel.
His love is the fuel for a different kind of life, a life that is less about finding treasure and more about being the beauty and treasure our world is crying out for.