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Friday, May 15, 2020

Getting Back to Living

     Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 
     For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
     I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.
-John 17:1-4 (NIV)


I’m kind of in need of a haircut. I’ve been thinking of getting some clippers and just shaving it off, but I’m a little scared of what I might do to myself. Right now I’m holding off. But I’m definitely in need of a haircut.
     I’d like to watch some baseball. I’d love to see the NBA playoffs. Go to restaurants. See family and friends.
     My parents want to go to Florida. It would be nice if they could.
     I’d like to be with my church on Sundays. 
     I have it good, though. Some people — a lot — would like to be working, but don’t have a job to go to.
     Some would like to be able to feed their families, but have to rely on a food pantry.
     Some would like to be well, but are in hospitals, even on ventilators.
     Some are missing people they love who they know they’ll never see again in this life.
     In many ways, big and small, this pandemic has affected the way we live. It’s affected livelihoods, it’s bankrupted businesses, it’s ravaged health, it’s exposed the weaknesses and fault lines in our government and in our way of life, it’s interfered with our faith, it’s destroyed marriages. And so on, and so on.
     I get why everyone — and I mean everyone; I doubt anything has ever so united people worldwide — wants the stay-at-home orders to end. We want to get back to normal. I understand that, I do. I agree completely. We might disagree on how it should be done, and how quickly — where you live and how you’re personally affected has a lot to do with that, I’m sure. But I share completely in a desire to see this thing be over.
     But I’ve heard something since it started, really, and more frequently of late. I’ve heard it from people with a wide spectrum of beliefs and convictions, but it always goes something like this: “We need to get back to living.” Maybe you’ve said something like that yourself. Maybe you agree with it: “Yeah, that’s right. We need to get back to living!” 
     If you’re saying that, or affirming it, I just need to respectfully ask you a question.
     Who in the world ever told you to stop living?
     Maybe that’s the most devastating thing this pandemic has done to us: It’s exposed that our lives might be too shallow, too built on going to work and being surrounded by friends and watching sports and going to restaurants and coffee shops. It’s threatened our political beliefs and economic security and even what we thought the practice of our faith was all about. 
     But maybe that’s God’s gift in this, too. Maybe through this experience he is helping us all to better understand what living is.
     I see people around me living every day. My wife and son are living by showing love and care to each other, and to me. They’re living by serving the church, their parents and grandparents, and people in our community in need. They’re living by laughing together and encouraging each other.
     The church I’m a part of are living. Our leaders are making plans, trying to make sure we’re best positioned to help each other, our community, and even those far away to know the love of Jesus. We’re serving each other. We’re sharing what we have. We’re staying in touch by phone and text and video and letter. We’re praying and worshipping. Many are working at essential jobs — police, firefighter, postal service, retail workers, food workers, medical people — that keep things functioning as normally as possible. They’re lights in a dark place. Some have lost jobs. But they’re living by showing love to their family and friends and church. They’re volunteering. They’re staying in touch with the lonely and helping the at-risk.
     I’m surrounded, in short, by people who never stopped living. Some of them have been impacted by the pandemic as much as anyone, much more than I have, but they know that life was never about the things they’ve lost: neither the things lost temporarily nor the things lost permanently. 
     Jesus once made this startling claim: “this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” We don’t realize how startling it is because we think it’s about going to heaven when you die, but what Jesus literally says is more like, “this is the life of the age to come…”. By knowing him, you connect with God and begin living the life that you’ll enjoy in heaven now. Even though the sorrows and struggles of life here don’t go away, we experience them in the light and strength and joy of the life to come.
     If you take Jesus seriously here, you start to realize that life isn’t about our jobs or our economic security or even our churches and institutions. Life is only found in connection with God through Jesus. But it’s found there in buckets, life everywhere you look, on into eternity.
     That makes sense, of course. It’s God who gives us life in the first place. Through knowing God by knowing Jesus, we have life. 
     So if you think you need for this pandemic to be over to get back to living, think again. Jesus thought life was found in finishing the work God gave him to do. To know Jesus is experiential and relational. You don’t know him by reading a few Bible verses. You know him by doing the work God gave you to do as well. You won’t do it alone; he’ll be there with you to help you. Whatever we may lose in this pandemic is not what life is about anyway. It’s about finishing the work God gives us to do.
     I assure you, God has work for you to do right now. While everything seems up in the air, while you’re worrying about what might happen, God has work for you to do.
     Who in the world ever told you to stop living?
     There is no better time than now to put your faith in Jesus by following him in doing the work God gave you to do. While so much else in your life is on hold, use the moment to open your eyes to what God’s up to all around you, and how you’re supposed to be a part of it.
     You don’t even need a haircut. Really.    

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