In the study of the future or the end (eschatology), there are two aspects of the Kingdom—the “already” and the “not yet.” Right now we live in the “already but not yet.” Something is clearly wrong. The “not yet” is certainly apparent. We see it every day in the attacking comments on social media, in the racial hatred and division, in those dying in wars, and in the real persecution and killing of Christians. And I’m just getting started.
I used to love the circus when it came to town. Probably like every kid, I dreamed about someday running away to join the circus. Years later, I got to experience it up close. A trapeze artist/fire-eater in the circus was a friend of mine. She had fallen in love with the man who managed and worked with the circus animals. They asked me to marry them between shows in the center ring of the giant circus tent. (You should have seen the large elephant they rode in and out on!)
I learned some lessons that day. The most important lesson was that everybody in the circus wears a mask. When the music stops, the lights go down and the show is over, the beautiful women aren’t so beautiful, the strong young men aren’t so strong, and the ringleader isn’t so inspiring. They are all just exhausted folks trying to make a buck.
We sort of live in a circus too. It really is “the greatest show on earth,” but it’s just a show. All smoke and mirrors. The historians, sociologists, scientists, philosophers and religious folks all analyze and comment, but once they finish their shallow speeches and the lights go down, it’s still a circus.
It is very dark. Hatred. Division. Immorality. Despair.
The whole thing is called “the fall.” The dark would overcome us and we would be devastated, except for...
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
What about us? How do we deal with a world of such despair and evil? Where do we get the energy and perseverance to love? How do we maintain the light in a dark world...without losing it?
John has three reminders.
Don’t forget the truth.
“The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him... And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
When John says that everyone who hopes in the restoration and redemption of all things purifies himself or herself as Jesus is pure, he is talking about sanctification. There is something about hanging out with Jesus that makes us more and more like him. That’s how I became a spiritual giant. Well, not that, but I do love a little more than I did, I’m a little more faithful than I was, and I care a little more than I once did.
Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t search for what he loves...he creates it.” He really does.
There is something more. Notice the Nazarite vows in Numbers 6 where the purifying vows are described. Every Jew who heard about “purifying” themselves immediately thought about these Nazarite vows. The center of those vows was total abstinence from wine or any strong drink...in order for the mind to be clear.
There is a valid sense in translating the text to, “And everyone who thus hopes in him clarifies the truth as he himself is the truth.” And “the reason why the world doesn’t accept us is because they don’t know him and therefore don’t know the truth.”
The circus lights have dimmed and everything is dark. We bring a different kind of light, the light of truth to a world of lies.
We must never compromise the truth. We must never forget that we are right and they are wrong. There should be humility, compassion and love in that knowledge; but nevertheless, we are right and they are wrong.
There is a God. He is not angry, he loves us, he has sent his Son to tell us and to fix us, and he died on a cross. Then that dead man got up and walked. A dead man got out of his grave. Everything is different. What he taught is true. What he said about God is true. What he said about forgiveness is true. We’re loved. We’re forgiven. We’re his. Once you have seen truth, nobody can ever take it away from you.
Don’t forget the love.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
Bill and Gloria Gaither have a wonderful story about a concert they were giving with a man sitting with his wife on the front row and who obviously wanted to be anywhere else but the concert. His arms were folded, his eyes averted and his entire demeanor was cold, angry and hard. During the concert the Gaithers sang a song they wrote and one that has pretty much been sung in Christian circles everywhere. The song was, “I am Loved” with the thrust of the song being that now that I am loved, I can risk loving you. The song ends with “We are loved!” and an invitation to walk together.
Once you have seen truth, nobody can ever take it away from you.
Just before singing that song, Bill suggested that each person in the auditorium take the hand of the person next to them while they sang the song together. The man on the front row bought none of it and kept his arms folded. He wouldn’t even hold his wife’s hand.
During the intermission, the singers were all talking about the angry man on the front row and Bill decided that he was going to sing that song again at the end of the concert but with a twist. He told people that while they were singing they should hug the person next to them. Again, the angry man stood with a scowl on his face and his arms folded. Then, to Bill’s horror, Gloria left the stage and went into the audience approaching the man. She threw caution to the wind and gave him a big hug.
Do you know what happened? The man broke down and wept.
That’s where we’ve been called. We’re been called to hug a dirty world. But we’ve been too busy trying to fix them. That’s way above our pay grade. Stop it. Just stop it.
The principle is this: You can’t love until you’ve been loved and then only to the degree to which you’ve been loved.
Love them with the love with which you’ve been loved.
Don’t forget the promise.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
When my kid brother Ron died, some of me died with him. I loved him. (In fact, if my brother had lived, he would probably have become the governor of North Carolina. He was a district attorney with the highest conviction rate and served on the Governor’s Council. Then he died.)
Ron’s best friend was Bill. Bill was a graduate of Carolina and my brother was a graduate of Wake Forest. For years after my brother’s death (and he still might be doing it), whenever Carolina and Wake Forest would play against each other in football, Bill would turn on the television and put Ron’s photo on the table beside his easy chair. Then he would get two beers, drink one and put the other down in front of my brother’s photo.
There’s something funny about that...but there’s also something sad. It’s full of pathos. For Bill (and I don’t know about his relationship with Christ), there was a yearning—a gut-wrenching yearning—a hope in the darkness that there was something more than Ron’s death.
That’s where the world is and sometimes that’s where we are too. It’s easy to feel down and to wonder. It’s easy to believe that this is all there is. We sometimes really question if there’s anything more than the darkness.
But it’s been promised. We will be restored. We will be redeemed. We will be made new. Not only that. The world will be made right. The hatred will be swept away. The sin will be forever gone.
This old, cynical preacher will be just like Jesus.
You too. The world too.
We—and the world—will be renovated, repaired and restored.
You just wait. You’ll see.
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