I got really convicted by my MP3 player a few days ago.
I don’t have a very big MP3 player. It’s a little SanDisk Sansa 4GB job, about the size of one of those old Zippos your grandpa used to light his cigarettes, and I’ve got maybe 300 songs loaded on it. Mostly contemporary Christian songs (what can I say, that’s my joint), and all of them upbeat, since I originally got the Sansa to use while working out. (I haven’t had much energy for that lately, but hope springs eternal …)
More recently, I’ve used it while giving my son Sean his baths. See, Sean may be still recovering from Leigh’s disease (and for that recovery, Lord, much thanks!), but in many ways he is a typical 7-year-old — such as hating to take a bath. He can’t speak, exactly, but he moans the entire time, and in a small echoing space (like, say, our bathroom) that can really wear on the ol’ nerves. So rather than turning into Jack Nicholson from The Shining, I pop in the earbuds, drop the body of it into my shirt/pants pocket, and sing along to a) drown out the moaning and b) hopefully keep the Seanster Monster entertained.
And it was Friday, during bath time (specifically, while drying Sean off) that God, via the Sansa, hit me with a heckuva two-point sermon.
I’m rubbing Sean with a good thick towel, singing my lungs out (and realizing how out of shape my singing voice is), and the song is Casting Crowns’ “If We Are the Body.” The verses deal with people sneaking into Sunday congregational services, kind of hoping to become invisible because they’re scarred by the Church’s treatment of them. They want to draw closer to Jesus, but at the same time they hold back — because Jesus’ people aren’t nearly as welcoming as Jesus is.
The chorus goes like this:
But if we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the Body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
Well, as the song played, I got to thinking … why not? Why don’t most Christians in America — at least the ones I’ve met — act more like Jesus did with people? Why aren’t we welcoming like He is, forgiving like He did, treating people like He wants us to? I mean, we are His body — we should be living like He did when He was on earth, right? So why don’t we? More to the point, why don’t I?
That’s a question I ask myself a lot — why don’t I interact with other people more like how Jesus did, and (through His Holy Spirit) still does? Am I just hopelessly screwed up, without the ability to live as a fully functioning member of society? Is there something broken in me that needs to be fixed before I can? Or am I holding back from fulfilling my potential as the property of Christ — and if so, why?
I’m pondering these questions, layered over the ones Casting Crowns lead singer Mark Hall is asking, when the song ends and the next one begins. The next song was a more famous one, a tune from the ’90s called “Staring at the Sun,” by the ridiculously successful rock group U2. (Most of whose members, by the way, are devout Roman Catholics.) And this is what I heard:
Summer stretching on the grass … summer dresses pass
In the shade of a willow tree creeps a-crawling over me
Over me and over you, stuck together with God’s glue
It’s going to get stickier too …
It’s been a long hot summer — let’s go undercover
Don’t try too hard to think … don’t think at all
I’m not the only one staring at the sun
Afraid of what you’d find if you took a look inside
Not just deaf and dumb — I’m staring at the sun
Not the only one who’s happy to go blind
And as the song develops, I keep on drying and dressing Sean … but inside I’m shaken. Because the questions I’ve been asking have just been answered. Because the answer is NOT favorable for me. And because I realize that deep down, I already knew the answers, I’ve been running from them … and God knows it.
Why don’t I act toward other people the way Jesus did? In large part, it’s because in many moments when I encounter someone else, I have the choice to do what I know is right, or don’t do it … and all too often, I choose not to. It’s because I see what His will is … but I’d rather stare at the sun in the hope that I’ll become so blind that I don’t see it anymore. It’s because I’d rather do what I want to do, and if I’m blinded, then I’ll have an excuse not to follow Him.
I wonder how often I make that choice in the split seconds of my days: to willfully blind myself to His desires in order to fill my own, to shut out other people so that I can keep things to myself — time, money, love — instead of give them to those in need. The more I think about it, the more instances I find.
And it’s pretty scary. I’ve formed habits in my style of living that are the exact opposite of God’s commands, that are 180 degrees removed from the example Jesus set for me. I, who signed my life over to Christ nearly a quarter century ago, am all too often behaving as if I am on the throne, I am the one worthy of all things, I am God Most High. Which — I don’t think you’ll argue this — I most certainly am not.
If I belong to Jesus, I am bound by His desires — to love God with all that I have and am, and to love everyone else as much as I love myself. I don’t get to indulge my ways; I have been earmarked for His ways. That’s what being a Christian — literally, a citizen of Christ’s kingdom, subject to His laws and decrees — is supposed to be. My life is not mine anymore.
In short, if Jesus is my Lord, I need to start acting like it.
That means that instead of making my plans, I need to first find out what He wants me to do. That means that the hobo asking me for a quarter in the parking lot at Rite-Aid is just as worthy of my attention as my own children or the Secretary-General of the United Nations. (And all of them are more worthy of my attention than the book I’m reading.) That means that road rage, flame-wars, character assassination and indifference are not allowed on the agenda, not now, not ever, not in this world, not in the next. That means that “it’s not about me” needs to be applied to every situation I encounter, every person I deal with, every second of every hour of every day of every year until I stop breathing.
And selfishness, the root of each and every sin, is off the menu.
Living that way won’t be easy. Jesus never promised that following Him would be easy, and if anyone tells you He did, keep your hand on your wallet until they leave. Jesus promised separation, tribulation, and cross-carrying for as long as we tread this planet — but that it would be worth it in the long run. Men try to sell you “your best life now.” God says our best life will be with Him for eternity — if we’re willing to give up our lives now.
It’s tough for me, because “now” is all I can see from my vantage point. And it doesn’t look like a whole lot of fun “now.” That’s where faith comes in, and what little knowledge I have of who Jesus is and what He wants. Love God, love people and keep walking — that’s what He’s showing me. That’s where He leads, and where I must follow.
Like it or not, I can’t keep staring at the blinding sun while pretending I belong to the Sun of Righteousness. It doesn’t work that way.