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Who We Will Be, After

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Already, we have a ‘before’. Just as certainly, there will be an ‘after’.

What it meant to live before Covid-19 is already going to print in history. What it will mean to live after, has yet to be written. A thousand threads will be woven across a globally connected world to create what this will be, and we all are eager to arrive there.

Who will we be, as individuals and therefore as a church, as we have been changed by this?

We know we will be changed. Most of us are a mix of impatience and apprehension. Most of us are falling out on one side of opinion or the other. Most of us have had enough and as Joel Harrison famously coined, “I’m getting tired of living in a history-defining moment”. In all of this, we have a passive option to wait and see. And we have an action option, to be aware of the potential of this moment to form us.

We have the option to ask ourselves a few questions about where we will be, and how prepared we will become to gather again, when the ‘after’ appears.

Will we have a greater love for God?

We tend to love what we spend time on, and we tend to spend time on what we love.

James K Smith writes,

“The orientation of the heart happens from the bottom up, through the formation of our habits of desire. Learning to love (God) takes practice.”

Are we spending the edges of our extra time orienting our heart God-ward in little and big ways, ways tangible and formative to us and to our families?

Our lives have become different, and while many of us are busy, we are able to be a little more in control of our hours by sheer removal of scheduled responsibilities. If Smith is right in saying “Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow”, what are we revealing to ourselves about the identity we have wanted all along?

“Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand “the kingdom of God.” Which is only confirming, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” from Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27. What manner of habits mark those who love something with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind? Sometimes we have to admit we’d rather give our approval to things that are more moderate, less obsessive, than all that.

Although our habits and choices form our affections, it’s not our best game to muster up this love for God in our own ways. Romans 5:5 promises that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”. Even the capacity to truly love God more is given to us. But we do either wake up and pick up our Bible before our phones, and clear thirty minutes to read his words to us, first thing, and then add in time to talk to him--or we are off and running. And we have not, because we ask not.

Will we have a greater love for one another?

Will we see people better? Are we doing what’s needful for other people to see us better?

We each are individually interesting: a living story being told that can’t be un-told. The endless stream of activity marking our times means we seldom take a moment, until a memorial service happens, to consider how a person uniquely marks our lives. We rarely consider our own ‘becoming’ and how we are marking others’ lives.

In In an unlikely literature piece, Fahrenheit 451, we are reminded. One of the men breaks out of culture-cultivated apathy to remark,

 “When I was a boy my grandfather died, and he was a sculptor. He was also a very kind man who had a lot of love to give the world… He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them just the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think, what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands. He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on. “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

Our “seeing” one another in affection and affirmation can be an acting out of the love of John 13 when Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Will we come back to our life at Restoration Road eager to find out more about each other’s uniqueness--or reticent to show that we care and are interested?  Will it have become more and more natural to not care too much about those outside the four walls of our homes, or even outside ourselves?

Or, will we have prepared ourselves against gravity-pull, cultivated habits of love, in order to abound in love, as 1 Thessalonians requests? “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness…” Do we desire today, homebound, to creatively think about how we can do this? And eagerly desire God’s goal of establishing our hearts in this process?

Costi Hinn points out one practical way to choose love, new to this era: “What will it matter if we re-assimilate only to end up “socially distant” again not because of a virus, but because of our inability to love others who approach COVID-19 differently than we do?”  Will people matter more than our opinions about this and twenty other things?

Will we understand the love of God for us, more?

Sabrina Wurmbrand tells of being in a prison camp where the hardest trial was listening to the curses of complaints ranting from non-believers. One young woman had memorized Scripture and after someone asked, “How can we stand it?” she quoted Psalm 107. The Christians decided to make a morning greeting to every person, out of this: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His mercy endures forever.”

Sabrina said, “I could not describe in words the difference this new greeting made in our prison cell.” They decided to do this because the next verse says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Soon political prisoners and robbers began to repeat the words.

Are we redeemed of the Lord, learning to say so, too? To speak of the kindness and mercies of the Lord in our far lesser trials brought about by Covid? What Psalm does our own response to today’s challenges, reflect?

Sabrina said,

The hell was changed completely by the Word of God, by giving thanks to the Lord even in the most difficult circumstances… Psalm 107 speaks about many big, heavy, complicated problems of life. One problem is gone and another comes. To our great amazement, the last verse says, “Whosoever is wise looks to the lovingkindness of God. “We expected that the whole Psalm would speak only about good things.  To our amazement it speaks about difficult problems. At the end of the Psalm you would think we could look back and see how the problem was solved. To our great amazement, “Whosoever is wise” leaves the problem behind and looks to the loving kindness of God. Because looking to his loving kindness and goodness, to his miracles, to his help, our heart gets strength, faith, courage and hope; and the Lord solves your problems. Look at his lovingkindness. The Lord Jesus came on earth to save you, to buy you. You are his, and he is yours. Now will he throw you away? He paid a price for you and he gave his life to have you in his kingdom.

What time do we need to spend, quietly in prayer, to know the Father’s love for us? What remembering of his great mercies to us in our lives do we need to name in order to tell of his goodness in loving us well? What collecting of family and friends and blessings will write on our hearts the careful creating of a life that reflects his plans and prospering? What answered prayers will call to mind the attentiveness of Christ’s intercessions daily for us and our needs, worded perfectly before the throne of his Father? What readings and reflections will cause us to see that Jesus gave the ultimate gift of love to us in order to save and redeem us, because he has loved passionately those whom the Father has given him—and that includes, shockingly, me? What prayer shift will happen when we begin to pray in belief because we have caught a glimpse of his great love for us? What joy will ignite in our hearts as a result of really feeling that we are accepted and cherished?

Pete Grieg, in his book Dirty Glory says,

The most important discovery you will ever make is the love the Father has for you. Your power in prayer will flow from the certainty that the one who made you likes you, he is not scowling at you, he is on your side…Unless our mission and our acts of mercy, our intercession, petition, confession, and spiritual warfare begin and end in the knowledge of the Father’s love, we will act and pray out of desperation, determination and duty instead of revelation, expectation, and joy.

And so we press on in this season of isolation and apprehension, toward the high calling and we run as if to receive the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24). That means more effort and training than I am used to putting in. It means paying more attention to my time than I do. But you…and you…and you too, encourage me to persevere as we are one in this body of believers. You profoundly influence me toward godliness.

Because of some of you, I understand 1 John 4:16-18: So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

When this is over and we gather once again to begin the ‘after’ chapter, I look forward to hugging you and telling you who you are and how you’ve helped me to see more clearly the love of God, and love for other people. For now, I will continue in awe and wonder at the love of God in putting us in this congregation, with so many people I admire and love. Our church is a feasting table, peopled by amazing souls.