The Smoke That Surrounds

How many of you saw the movie The Ten Commandments?

Remember this scene? It is permanently etched in my psyche.  This is the ‘angel of death’ creeping through Egypt, the last of the plagues that God sent to Egypt because Pharoah would not let the Israelites free from their captivity (the story is in Exodus 7-12).  The Lord had given Pharoah multiple chances to release His people and honor God, but Pharoah hardened his heart and refused. In the end, the Lord hardened Pharoah’s heart, and one night, at midnight, the  Lord passed through Egypt – exacting judgment and justice and killing the firstborn of every household in Egypt.

Every household, that is, except the ones where a lamb had been sacrificed, and the blood of the lamb spread on the doorframe.  Those houses, the Lord passed over and those people were allowed to live through the night – unharmed.

So why this strange memory from my childhood? This week, in the world around me, I have been very aware of the creeping sin and evil that flows through our world like the smoke in that scene. I have been aware of it in things I’ve read. I have been aware of it in conversations I’ve had. I’ve been aware of it in the thoughts and secret desires of my own heart.

It started with the execution of Bin Ladin, and the multitude of emotions each of us Christ-followers felt. I kept thinking about him, even the pictures of him on websites was jarring. In my mind – he was the face of evil. He personified the smoke in that picture – filled with it. But then I saw fights and anger on Facebook – sides taken in righteous (and unrighteous) indignation.  I waded in myself – fighting with brothers and sisters – confident that my way of thought was more right than others.

And then I saw the smoke in myself. The persistent evil. The desire to be right – more right than another. It was like, for a moment, I saw the smoke, the darkness, the evil, creeping all around us, all around me. I saw the world shrouded in it – I saw myself shrouded in it.  And I knew the smoke led to death.

But then I remembered the blood.  And I felt overwhelmingly grateful.

I’m a really practical person. I’ve believed in Christ since I was a tiny child, and I’ll be the first to tell you sometimes I am unmoved by His sacrifice.  It’s been a worry to me – I’ve felt cold about it and wondered what it meant about my heart.  To me, the rational one, it made sense. One ‘person’s’ life for millions. I’d be grateful to Jesus for His sacrifice, but not overwhelmed by it.  I’ve never been the person who cries on Good Friday, despite my attempts (and yes – I have attempted – I’m that person).

But this week I got a glimpse of just how rotten we all are.  Of how rotten I am.  Of just how insidious that smoke can be, filling our world.  It creeps into every crevice, doesn’t it? And then I thought how separate and holy Jesus is – how pure and spotless and free of sin, death, pride, or filth.  There is no smoke in Him. I got a glimpse of how demeaning it would have been for a flawless, perfect God to step into that rot and be humiliated and killed by the very people He gave up heaven to save.

He died for us all – and because of His death, we who have chosen to know Him and follow Him have blood covering over our heart, covering over our sin. That blood keeps the smoke from taking us into the death we fully deserve. We escape judgment and justice, not because of our righteousness, but because of His blood.  And He is even so good that He doesn’t leave us alone to navigate this smoke-filled world alone until we get to heaven. He chooses to live in our broken, sinful, proud, self-righteous bodies and share the space with us in our humanity, to lead us through life, comforting and interceding and loving us even in our ugliest moments.

That is an amazing God. That moves me. And I’m grateful for the glimpse the Lord gave me of the smoke in myself. I needed to see it – to remember that I am not that far from the terrorist killed this week, except for the grace of our wonderful God.

(By the way, our former Pastor, Brandon Thomas, wrote a GREAT blog about Bin Ladin and another terrorist saved by grace.  If you have a moment, check it out.) 

Simple.

We as humans tend to want to qualify others as one-dimensional people.  Or at least I know I do.  I can take a tiny bit of information and run with it forever.

That woman is selfish.  That church is all about the money.  That kid is a brat.  That man is evil.

But here’s the truth – it really is never that simple, right?

We are each capable of honor and beauty, love and glory, to an extent that is a preview of heaven.  And we are each capable of terrible evil that is absolutely deserving of the fires of hell. We are a glorious chaotic mix of contradictions, moving towards one end of the spectrum or the other.

We know this about ourselves, so we enter the world defensive and self-protective from the start.   We desperately want people to see the depths of good in us, but we want to hide the weakness and darkness.  We expect the world to believe the best in us, and yet we instinctively assume the worst in people around us – especially people who are different.

When you study history – you see this common theme of fear and distrust of people who are different – a willingness to assume the absolute worst of anyone we don’t understand.  It is the basis of quarrels, war and genocide, racism, sexism and ageism.  It is the common evil of humanity – a rush to judgment and an instinctive need to position ourselves as better than others.

What if, for just a few moments, we could turn that off?  What if we could, in humility, realize our weaknesses, sins, struggles, and darkness while we see the beauty, light, glory, and goodness of others?

What if we didn’t compete?  What if we didn’t judge the character of people around us based on the one negative thing we know about them?

We’d be free, right?

We’d be more loving.

We’d be like Christ.

He was the only perfect man – yet somehow He was also the only man who truly considered others before Himself.  He somehow saw something in us worth fighting for – worth dying for.  Despite our darkness.  He didn’t have a dark side, but while we put Him to death, He willingly took on the sin and darkness hidden in our hearts.  While we put Him to death He loved.  He made himself nothing to save us from the judgment and death we deserve, dying a brutal death like a common thief.  And when He rose from the dead defeating death, He opened the door for us to be righteous.  We, too, could share not only in His glory for all eternity, but in His humility here on earth.  We too, with the power of Christ in us, can put others before ourselves.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!                                                                                 -Phil 2

So I think we have a choice as we interact with the people in our world.  We can continue the broken, evil, human cycle of judgment and self-protection.  Or we can, only by the power of Christ, give grace, love, dignity, and respect to others.  Even to people who, in our estimation or our inherently flawed judgment, don’t deserve it.

Because when we love and honor others, making ourselves nothing, we are like Christ. 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Not for this girl.

Come Jesus Come.  I need You to change me.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35