Smoke or Sunlight.
Satellite photos don’t lie. Draped like a thick brown blanket over the land and seascape of the coast, smoke has invaded my town this week. Phrases like ‘air quality’ and ‘wildfire’ circulate through news stories and are the subject of everyone’s table talk. We think there is still blue sky and sunshine above it all, but we have little evidence from the ground to prove it.
The crossroads explained in Romans chapter Ten describes something similar to the strange phenomenon of smoke in the air we’ve just observed. The apostle Paul (58 A.D.) quotes Moses (c.1400 B.C.) as saying that there are two ways of organizing our lives. One way is to try to live by a set of rules (even if those rules include one that says, “There are no rules”). This way causes people to be caught up in a perpetual search for meaning to life. Some try to “ascend into heaven” – looking to things like astrophysical explorations, astrological predictions and ozone depletion solutions for meaning. Some try to “descend into the deep” – thinking that finding answers to earth’s carbon fuel shortages or marine pollution problems will provide meaning to life. We can each fill in the blanks of ways in which we have observed ourselves or others have tried to explore the reaches of human possibilities to make life meaningful. It’s all a smokescreen though. It’s a smoggy tabagie of ideas that distract us from seeing, smelling, and tasting life the way God intends us to live.
God’s way is to live by one word. That word is not some distant intelligence from outer space or inner earth. Paul says, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” He’s talking about our attachment to Jesus as our one and only hope. Of course, as the Son of God, Jesus is vast. He is transcendent – beyond what we will ever be able to fully fathom. He is higher than the highest sky and deeper than the deepest sea. But He is also imminent – He is ‘God with us’, content with nothing less than His Spirit living within us. His purpose is to fill us completely with love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “Against such things,” says Paul in another letter, “there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23).
It is ironic that those who choose not to follow Jesus use, as their reason and defense, the rationale that ‘following God is just a bunch of rules.’ Jesus says differently.
“My command is this,” says Jesus, “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:12-14).
This way is no smokescreen. It’s as clear as a blue summer sky, minus the pall of this world’s confusing vernacular. We are to love God first. Then we are to love others truly – not pandering to their self-destructive demands, but laying down our lives for them in so many practical ways each day. We are to model joy by finding satisfaction in the presence of God even in the midst of our suffering. We are to experience peace, even when life takes away everything this world says counts. We are to express patience by giving others the space to grow even when it looks like they are making a mess of their lives and ours. We are to be kind, even when we think others don’t deserve it. We are to be good – something that only comes by spending much time with God. We are to be faithful to God, rock-solid followers in spite of our human inconsistencies. We are to be gentle – soft-spoken, tenderhearted toward others. And we are to practice self-control – doing as we ought, not as we sometimes feel like.
I’m not saying that science, environmentalism or any other intellectual pursuit in itself is wrong or futile. God made matter, so it’s all His and it’s all good. But it can be abused. It can be smoke and mirrors if we depend upon it for our ultimate meaning in life. The juncture we see in this chapter of Romans is a division between the smokescreen of a human-initiated search for life’s purpose, and the clear light of Jesus’ presence when we confess with our mouth “Jesus is Lord”. That’s the difference. That’s the crossroads. When we’re in the midst of the smoke we don’t always know it, but when we take the bold step to move out of the smoggy atmosphere of faithlessness, the view is stunning. The air is clean and clear, and we can see for miles.
I want the fresh air of life with Jesus. I want whatever comes with it, even if it means having to live a life of real, sacrificial love instead of a ‘self-realizing’, self-identifying, and self-serving existence. I want to believe in my heart, live out with my life, and confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord every moment from here on. Are you with me?
(Photo Credit: By Wing-Chi Poon [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)