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How Good and Pleasant

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly. When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived. Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. Psalm 106:6-12 Maybe it is springtime or that our house is feeling more and more settled after months of slow renovation and organizing, but I am feeling so satisfied with life these days. My heart’s internal process has closely followed the external seasons, with this spring following a long, cold winter. Much of what I have clung to for my identity and security has been left behind, or is being left behind, and I have been so pleasantly surprised by the freedom and peace I am feeling on the other side. I never knew how much I was operating like one must who lives under a dictator’s regime, afraid to stand out or act in any way outside of the norms. Now, of course, people can abuse this “escape from the status quo” and make it a god in itself, finding anti-status-quo righteousness apart from Jesus alone. But for me, it has felt like real mortification of lesser gods in exchange for greater delight and simplicity in my affections for the one true living God.

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 2 John 1:6-7

Walking in love is threatened by deceivers and antichrists, who aren’t large scale villains as in popular Christian fiction, but any who do not acknowledge the person and work of Jesus. Walking in love. I feel like more and more that is the activity that God is drawing my attention to and away from whatever else it is that I have spent my life doing. I don’t think I have ever been consciously walking in hate, of course, but just yesterday it hit me that for much of my life, I really did. It didn’t look like skinhead hate or gangster hate, but it was a general discomfort with most people who didn’t fit my narrow definition of acceptable.

Silly as it may sound today, I found the occasional trip with my mother to K-Mart absolutely demoralizing as a child. I mean, this was the cheap store and I was so embarrassed to be seen there and certainly didn’t have anything in common with the other people wandering the aisles and devouring up what I saw as cheap and tacky goods (the judgment of a non-income producing elementary child). (These days, I am a frequent shopper at the evil giant Wal Mart and happy for the discount deals.) Similarly, my parents loved to go down to the edgy Little Five Points where we would eat at a restaurant called Eat Your Vegetables where they served tofu back in the 80’s! This experience would just overload my Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties character who was president of the young Republicans club) circuit board and I would practically have a panic attack until we returned safely to Buckhead where all propriety was restored. I took such pride in my snobberies and eagerly adopted new ones as they came to my attention. Even today, I heard myself speaking to an appraiser who came to our house in my “Vanderbilt voice”…yes, I even developed a snobby voice! (I shouldn’t bring down Vanderbilt in the description.)

What is my point in sharing all of that? Well, all those little elitisms and standards had everything to do with my self-importance and nothing to do with the importance of others…unless they fit my standard of self-importance of course. This translated not only into dismissal of a good majority of the earth’s population as being anything more than a great mass of common anonymity, but actually a disdain for the majority of people who didn’t meet my preferences for personal presentation, speech patterns, tastes in movies, music and books or any crazy number of other things. I mean, why can’t people think Olive Garden or Chili’s really are great places for good times? I would essentially walk in hate, putting down (in my thoughts and heart) those I passed in other cars or encountered behind a counter, who clearly were outside of my elite boundaries.

One more sad fact: this wasn’t limited to after school special type snobbery. It moved right into my Christianity in a spiritualized form. Christians who weren’t using “this” lingo probably aren’t really as biblically-centered as I am. Christians whose theology isn’t as sophisticated as mine aren’t to be trusted. Christians who are not living out their faith in the same manner God has particularly moved through mine must be weaker in their commitment to and trust in God. “Love others as I have loved you”? Hmmm…that certainly disrupts my judgments, elitist standards, self-righteousness and superiority.

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” Hosea 3:1

Is this nastiness past tense? Not until Jesus returns. But the delightful thing is that just yesterday I realized how “at home” I am in the presence of people with whom a decade ago I would have been terribly uncomfortable. God is walking me out of this hateful prison of self-importance and into His bigger, more life-giving and satisfying Kingdom where His importance increases the value of all who bear His image. I no longer feel tense at the Wal Marts of the world or among those whose body art I now appreciate (my brother in law has transformed my family’s perspective!) as I couldn’t back in the 80’s. My affections for myself and my own image have never deterred God from pursuing me, rescuing me, cherishing me and loving me. My self-idolatry and therefore disdain for others has been met by His compassion and long-suffering perseverance to change my heart. And the end result isn’t just “death of self” but resurrected life freed up to share the abundant life I am finding in others all around me but was previously too inwardly focused to enjoy. How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! Psalm 133:1 While unity used to mean everyone speaking in ways and thinking in ways and having preferences that are exactly the same, He is showing me that unity is the shalom of simply sharing life together, even as outwardly different parts of One unified body. And if the neighbors, for example, do not acknowledge His body? Well, then, I have all the more reason to walk in love, that they will know we are Christians by such love and be grafted in by His great love shown to them. And what fun it is to taste and see that God is indeed so very good. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalm 147:10-11

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