What remains?

bumper sticker

A few weeks ago, a couple of bumper stickers caught my attention. And I was disturbed. One, I didn’t agree with what was written. But more than that, I felt provoked. Because these were displayed on the window of the left side of the car. They were strategically placed so that when I turned to the right, there they were, staring right back at me. To me, it felt as if the driver was saying, “In your face!” And her messages… “Don’t believe in God? Join the club,” and “Good without God.” And so, as I sat there, I felt my anger rise. But not because of her belief – or unbelief – rather, because I felt attacked by the placement of those stickers. Because of their prominent position, I felt like the driver drew the line in the sand. To me, she came across as divisive and offensive. Simply put, I felt hate and not love. And when you stop and think about it, isn’t that what a lot of bumper stickers promote? Divisiveness and hate.

I have to admit, though, one sticker gave me cause to pause. The slogan Good without God settled on my heart for a week or two. Because in reality, there is good out there. And not just by Christians. Atheists and people of every religion do good things. So what about that, I wondered. That’s when I came across a letter written to the church of Sardis.

“I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God. Remember therefore what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent.”  Revelation 3:1-3

This is a letter written to Christians… believers in the message of the Gospel. And oddly enough, I believe they were practicing just what that bumper sticker proudly declared… Good without God. And so, today, I have to question myself and my actions. See, it’s a fact that I can do good things. And not just me, but every other being on the planet can do good things. However, personally, I just have to ask, “If God isn’t in it, then should I be doing it?” And what is God? God is love (1 John 4:8). In essence, if what I’m doing is not motivated by love (or God), then is it a God thing? If love (or God) isn’t driving me, then perhaps what I’m doing is no different than the empty works performed by the church of Sardis. Basically, if I find myself mindlessly doing things for God, but love is absent, then they’re incomplete.

Jesus said to “strengthen what remains,” and to “remember therefore what you have received.” And so, I remember… I received His word (James 1:21). And it’s the very words given to me that remain, for God says, “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever!” Isaiah 40:8. God’s word remains. His word is what lasts. And what does His everlasting word tell me, but…

Love never ends.
But as for prophecies,
they will come to an end;
as for languages, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
 For we know in part,
and we prophesy in part.
 But when the perfect comes,
the partial will come to an end. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10

Works without love are incomplete… fragmented… partial. Like a bumper sticker placed on a window to provoke rather than uplift. Works without love can so easily fall apart. But, love is the bond of perfection which holds these deeds together. Love is constant and never fails. And as I sit here and contemplate the truth about God & me, I think it’s pretty clear what I lack. I’m pretty sure love has been absent from my life as evidenced by the bad feelings I harbor towards a complete stranger who was simply exercising her freedom of speech. She’s the very one I should love. And on top of that, I see that some of the works I have accomplished in my own strength – devoid of love (or God) – are empty and incomplete in His eyes. These loveless works of mine will not remain.

You know… the church at Sardis had a reputation for being alive. From the outside, they looked good because they were doing good things. But Jesus said they were dead. Incomplete. And you know what I think? I think love was missing. I think that perhaps they were very busy people, but their works were futile. I think they were simply doing good without God. And I don’t want that. I want what I do here to matter… to remain. And so, clearly, love (or God) is what’s required to bring the work to completion. I believe there cannot be any lasting work… without God. There can be no true good that remains… without God.

As for me… I’m waiting for “the perfect to come.” And the good news is, He already has. His name was Jesus, and He was perfect. Through Him the law was fulfilled… completed. Because of Him, there’s really only one thing we need to do… love. We love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might. How do we know we love Him? We follow His commands. And what is His command? That we love our neighbor as ourselves (John 13:34-35). That we serve one another through love (Galatians 5:13-14). That we exercise our faith through love (Galatians 5:6). That we walk in love (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Oh, yes. We’re to serve Him and to have faith in Him and to walk with Him. But in love and through love. For it’s love that completes and fulfills and remains. And God is love. And it’s the One who remains that tells us to love. And we can do so because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in Him. In this, love is perfected in us…” 1 John 4:16-17

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=This+one+thing+remains&FORM=VIRE3#view=detail&mid=44ECC31EFF153E07363B44ECC31EFF153E07363B

A Tale of Two Kitties

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I may or may not have two cats. One is safe in the house, but the other is nowhere to be seen. It was yesterday at 5:00 that he lay stretched out across my deck in the sunshine. He slowly washed his paws and looked as if he were going to take a nap. And, we left our home expecting to see him when we returned. But last night, there was no flash in the dark… no reflected light off his white tufts of fur. He did not bound up the back yard toward us, which was his usual routine. And so, this morning, my heart is heavy – wondering if I will see him again.

I can’t help but contrast my two kitties, Otis and Molly. For they are different in every way. Otis is young, and Molly is old. Otis is skinny and Molly is fat. He is full of life and energetic, and she is heavy and content to sleep. He delights us every day with his antics, while she is usually nowhere to be seen. He stays outside, and she stays inside. He is a lover of adventure, and she is a lover of the dark. He is highly visible, jumping and leaping and hunting and climbing. She stays covered and hidden and scurries and flees. He is fearless and she is fearful. Basically, Otis uses what he has, and Molly does not. And as of this morning, she is here… and he is not.

Yesterday morning, my pastor preached a sermon using the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25). And believe it or not, it’s my two kitties that bring this parable to light for me. See, although the passage stresses using money wisely to further the kingdom of God, it goes deeper than that. It doesn’t have to be money, it could be anything… the abilities and the talents and the gifts that God has bestowed upon us. And it was Matthew 25:29 that nearly knocked me over yesterday. Because it happens to be identical to a verse I pointed out to my husband earlier that morning – only it was Mark 4:25. “For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”  I told my husband, we need to embrace what we have! Little did I know that I would be hearing more about it at church. And I didn’t realize how personal the sermon was going to be… a message from God directly to me.

He also said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!” Then He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you. For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:21-25

This morning, I wanted to see if Mark 4:25 is the same parable that I find in Matthew 25. But it’s not… and it’s the passage in Mark that really brought all this together for me. The parable in Matthew along with the book of Mark completes the picture, and what I find is Molly. She is truly a night-time kitty. Occasionally, you’ll find her during the day, but more often than not, when the sun rises… she’s gone. She’s just too skittish. Years ago, her favorite refuge was our bed. All you could see of her was a lump in the center where she had burrowed down deep under the covers. She stayed hidden. And today, you may catch a glimpse of her tail as she scurries down the steps to the basement. Or maybe if you peer under the beds, you’ll find her shining eyes staring back at you. Or perhaps you’ll find her in her newest hang-out, which we discovered recently when we heard a racket behind the closed doors of our closet. Yes, Molly is a lover of darkness, and will stay hidden most of the day. But, she is making progress. When it’s just me at home, she may venture out into the daylight. But generally, I’ll see her once the sun has set and quietness has settled on our home. This is when she emerges and graces me with her presence. And when I see her, I am delighted by her black fur, her huge eyes, and her big fat belly that nearly touches the ground, swaying back and forth as she scampers from here to there. She’s 14 years old now, so she hasn’t kept her sleek physique. The picture of her is from long ago…

DSCF0086

You know… I talk about Molly being a lover of the dark, but in reality, I am the same way. In truth, I have been clinging to the dark every bit as much as she does. I know this to be reality because not that long ago, God showed me something so hideous. Actually, it was just after I made the decision to take a break from blogging. I thought I knew why I was taking a step back, but now, I’m pretty sure I hadn’t a clue. For there was something within me I wasn’t fully aware of at the time. See, on August 1, I said to myself, no more writing! But it was not till August 2 that God revealed what lie beneath…  and that is what needed to come to the surface. For as the Lord says, nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light…

Through the course of my blogging experience, I have often referred to my struggle with darkness. I’ve surreptitiously referred to it as an issue, a pattern, or even a stronghold – always careful – always tiptoeing around the word sin. But sin is sin, and darkness is darkness, and the pages of Scripture leave no trace of doubt in my heart:

The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

This is the truth about God & me. I love Him the best I know how. I have been seeking Him the best I know how. But there is a part of me that I’ve been holding back… clinging to the hate that resides deep down. I have been stoking the fire for years. And as long as I hold to hate… there will be darkness. This is what I’ve been trying to process for the past three weeks. And for the life of me, some stuff remains in my heart. I’m trying… I really am. And so, I am like Molly… my black kitty who is a lover of the shroud of darkness. She hides out and runs away. She stays concealed, because it’s safe to her. The bulk of her life has been spent in darkness. And me, too…

And then there’s Otis. I don’t know that he’ll return to me and my heart aches. But you know… in one short year, he has lived a full life. He has lived so much more than Molly, for he has experienced a world she will never know. This cat called Otis has embraced life. He has let his light shine in view of anyone who would give him audience. He used what God gave him… with claws as sharp as needles, he scaled great heights and saw further than Molly ever will. With legs as fast as lightning, he covered distances that Molly will never know. With courage the size of Texas, he explored the wilderness behind our home… woods in which Molly will never travel. With the fury of a skilled hunter, he took down countless foes and laid them as gifts upon our doorstep. Otis was a burning lamp, and he did not hide his light under a basket. He used what he had. And Molly? Why, she hides herself away, nestled down in the safety of her darkness – which is her only reality. Molly may never embrace the light, but Otis fully did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And then, there’s me. I am a work in progress. So much like Molly, but with all my heart, I want to be like Otis. Like him, I want to embrace the light. I want to shine the light. And more than anything, I want to use what God gave me. And so, not long ago, I ventured out. But too quickly, like a scared animal, I tucked my tail up under my body and retreated back into hiding. But alas, there are truths that must be shared. There are things within me that must come out. For they’ve been there so long – buried deep, festering and brewing and bubbling in the dark. But like a volcano erupts forth in violence, so has my heart. And ever since, the lava of wrath has been pouring forth – emptying itself so that no darkness remains. Everything I thought better hidden… everything that held me captive… has finally presented itself to the light. See, I have been chasing the light. I’ve been writing about it, and reaching for it. And now, I can really see…

I thought that morning light had fully broken over my soul. But like one who emerges from the heaviness of sleep, I rub my tired eyes and face the truth. And now I know… what I thought was the fullness of morning light was really just the faintest glimmer of the dawn. But morning light is on the horizon. The darkness of hate shall be left behind. And Otis? He may turn up yet. For he may be out there right now… simply using what God gave him to use… a lamp shining bright.

Everything exposed by the light is made clear, but what makes everything clear is light. Therefore it is said: Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you. Ephesians 5:13-14