To miss God’s forgiving grace as it relates to sin is to miss the redemptive purpose of the Incarnation. Every other grace is a contributing grace to the act of Jesus dying on the cross. To miss that is to miss the Christian faith. The preacher that minimizes or ignores sin doesn’t understand the big truth of the gospel that we can have our sins forgiven–daily and eternally.
- John M. Perkins, Follow Me To Freedom
Political scientists commonly use a term to describe Cold War era politics called realpolitik. Realpolitik is a German expression that means the “politics of reality,” a foreign policy based on practical concerns rather than getting bogged down in debates about theory. Perhaps believers should come up with a similar term, realglaube (meaning “real faith”), as an honest way to describe how faith plays out in our humanness. A gritty realglaube contrasts with a Teflon-coated, smiley-faced faith that is often lauded in churches but rarely lived out consistently in our lives. Like David illustrates throughout the Psalms, we live in a state of realglaube, a constant tension between our spiritual hope in God’s deliverance and the stark reality that it doesn’t always come as we expect it to.
“Blaise Pascal said, ‘God made man in His own image, and man returned the compliment.’ In every age and culture we tend to shape Jesus to our own image and make Him over to our own needs in order to cope with the stress His unedited presence creates. But Jesus in our image is always a dreadfully small deity.”
- Brennan Manning
“We don’t want to admit that despite a steadfast faith and our best efforts at obedience, none of us have fully found what we’re looking for. We’re driven to seek, but we never fully find it on earth. Christ’s purpose in our lives is never to offer total fulfillment today. Instead, Jesus heals us from the past, provides joy and contentment in the present, and offers certain hope that our deepest longings will be fulfilled in the future.”
“I Found It”. This slogan was used by an evangelistic organization back in the mid-1970s as a creative way to spread the gospel through mass marketing techniques. As a child growing up during that era, I remember yellow “I Found It” bumper stickers, t-shirts, billboards, and advertisements appearing everywhere around our home town. But as I look back at that campaign, I wonder how effective the slogan really was. There’s some truth in the message, but “I Found It” seems too simplistic and perhaps even misleading to describe the Christian faith. After all, believers aren’t immune to problems: we still struggle with addictions, experience tragedy, and make lousy decisions. We get a taste of Jesus Christ and his fantastic plans for us in the future, but never experience them fully as long as we are living in this fallen world.
In one of their best known songs from their entire discography, U2 sings about an incomplete journey of faith in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” [Lyrics] [iTunes]. On the surface, the title may sound like a confession of unbelief. But, in reality, the song is an honest look at the struggle that all believers face as we seek a fulfilled life.
A longing. It’s the pang in your stomach when you’re in love. You can sense it as you gaze over the glorious snow-capped peaks of the Colorado Rockies. You can feel it in your soul during a great worship or prayer time. C.S. Lewis observed that this intense desire, which he refers to as “joy”, is for something that nothing on earth ever truly quenches. You can catch a glimpse of it, but this longing is fleeting. In his poem Dymer, Lewis reflects on joy’s unattainable nature: “Joy flickers on the razor-edge of the present and is gone.” Lewis believed that was exactly how God intended it, that joy is meant to be a clue or a pointer to the fact we are made for another place, for his “far off country.” In “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, U2 explores our search for joy, as we seek fulfillment for that deep longing inside each of us. As the song begins, Bono sings of his efforts at finding God:
I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
Only to be with you
“All people matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.”
- G.K. Chesterton
“What a lump of sunshine that man was!”
— Charles Spurgeon
“From his whole person, joy seemed to radiate.”
— Les Misérables
“When a man or woman realizes what God does work in them through Jesus Christ,
they become almost lunatic with joy in the eyes of the world.”
— Oswald Chambers
Old Faithful is the most celebrated of all geysers. Located in Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful shoots thousands of gallons of boiling water high into the air every hour and a half. This hydrogeological activity is caused by underground water streams coming into contact with molten rock. A mixture of superhot water and steam forms from the collision, gradually building up tremendous amounts of pressure. Eventually, when the steam pressure is too strong to be held back, a jet of steam and water shoots to the surface.
Joy flows from the heart of a Christian much like Old Faithful does at Yellowstone. The divine nature of God rushes through a believer’s bloodstream; when it collides with a thirsty, seeking heart, the mixture produces a heavenly joy so potent that it cannot be contained inside any human fixture. “True joy, when it is joy in the Lord, must speak,” preached Charles Spurgeon, “It cannot hold its tongue, it must praise the Lord.”
The “Pleasantville Effect” is a film technique made popular by movies such as Pleasantville and Schindler’s List. The visual effect is simple, but powerful – an entire scene is filmed in black-and-white, except for a single object that is shown in color. A viewer’s eyes can’t help but be drawn to the lone color figure on the screen. Steven Spielberg, for example, brilliantly used this technique in Schindler’s List. In a brutal scene in which Nazi soldiers take over a Warsaw ghetto, the camera follows a small Jewish girl wearing a candy red coat. Even when the camera pans to a wide shot showing at least one hundred other people, the red coat draws the viewer to her. This colorful image of the girl stands in stark contrast to the chaos all around.
In a world of letdown and disillusionment, joy produces a “Pleasantville Effect” on the life of a believer. The contentment, liveliness, peace, and vibrancy that comes from joy causes the joyous Christian to stand apart from others around him. Spurgeon put it like this:
When joy comes into a man, it shines out of his eyes, it sparkles in his countenance. There is a something about every limb of the man that betokens that his body, like a well-tuned harp, has had its strings put in order. Joy—it refreshes the marrow of the bones; it quickens the flowing of the blood in the veins.
Just like a film viewer is drawn to a colorized figure in a black-and-white scene, I find myself naturally attracted to a believer filled with joy. I want to hang around that person. I want to have what he has. Spurgeon describes a similar reaction that he had to a man in his church nicknamed ‘Old Father Dransfield’: “What a lump of sunshine that man was!…The very sight of him seemed to fill me with exhilaration, for his joy was wholly in his God!”
A lump of sunshine. What a wonderful description of an earnest believer! Packing the very nature of God, the joy-filled Christian can’t help but radiate sunshine across the world’s monochromatic landscape.
“A Pharisee shuts you up, not by loud shouting, but by the unanswerable logic he presents; he is bound to principles, not to a relationship.”
- Oswald Chambers
“I have to remember that I follow Jesus, I don’t follow followers of Jesus.”
- Anie Lamott
“When you to decide to follow Christ, you are given an identity. You are no longer a faceless, unknown person in a world of billions. The Bible says you are now a child of God, a part of his family, and are even called a friend by Jesus himself. Those are not just throwaway lines: they are points of fact.”
More ugliness. That’s what I expected to see as I rode in the back of a pick-up truck into La Saline, the poorest slum of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Since traveling to the Caribbean nation on a missions trip, I’d seen, smelled, and tasted ugliness all week long; the early morning truck ride offered up more of the same: poverty; disease; and malnutrition. My destination was a church located in the heart of La Saline. The truck soon pulled up to the makeshift shelter: scraps of sheet metal bound together, resembling an overturned sardine can for the church’s 200 worshippers. As I made my way into the building and took a seat, I was not in a spirit of worship; I was just looking forward to the ride back to a more palatable part of the city. But as the morning service got underway, and I began to look around and see what was happening around me, something radical happened. The ugliness of the slum faded away.
God offered me a window into what real beauty is. The worshippers had a beauty that went far beyond anything else the world has to offer – be it a sunset in Fiji, a fashion model, or a Michelangelo masterpiece. In their worn, weathered faces, I saw how “knock-out gorgeous” a full life with Christ can be. The joyful eyes and deep smiles in that church were far more infectious than the disease found in the open sewer outside the church building. Beauty, I came to realize, is not skin deep at all; it springs from the fullness of a soul transformed by Christ. In “All Because of You” [Lyrics] [iTunes], U2 looks at this kind of inner beauty. The song contrasts the ugliness of the world with the completeness of a life transformed by Christ.