Recently, I had a conversation about the “poisonous” atmosphere in which we live, referring specifically to our small community in the Dominican Republic. It can be kind of true – living in a green smog. BUT the reality is, it doesn’t matter where you are or who you work with – everyone is living in a green smog. The difference for me has to do with the filtering system.
When I lived in the States, I had a great invisibility filter that hid the green smog from my eyes. My filter was made of my comfort, busyness, ignorance, and many other distractions. When we moved to the D.R., that filter was smashed to pieces. As a result, I was left face-to-face with my own green smog (sin).
At that point, I was challenged with Galatians 5:24 “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Also, Luke 9:23 ‘Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”’
So, what was I going to do? Should I rebuild that invisibility filter and hide the yuck? Or should I start the hard work of filtering out the smog through the only TRUE filter that will clean the air?
We are given the picture of crucifixion in Galatians 5:24 and Luke 9:23. The Lord has given us this picture to understand the seriousness of following Him. It is a painful, daily process. Crucifixion was not an easy death. It was a suffering one. It caused suffocation. It was humiliating. It was long. Death could be prolonged by pushing up with one’s feet. One could even look around during the process of dying to see who was watching, but in the end, death inevitably came. Crucifixion is a picture of what it means to die to our completely corrupted flesh. We have to be willing to put anything that is not honoring to Jesus, that is not in tune with the Spirit, to death. (Galatians 5:16-23) This includes how we live in community with others and how we love fellow believers!
One of the hardest parts of living on our campus has been how closely connected we are with other believers who have their own green smog. It’s also one of the best parts! But it’s HARD! When we read Acts, we tend to idealize the first church. “Look how much they love one another! They shared everything! Wow!” I’m sure it WAS amazing, but I bet that it was also painful. *(see my thoughts below)
Sometimes I picture my role in our close-knit community like building a house. The house represents the core of who I am in Christ which then should pour out on those around me. Here’s the picture I see in my mind: I look around finding pieces to build my little hovel. Thinking it’s great mortar, I use some horse poop. Jesus sees how crappy my house is and lovingly knocks it flat. I try again. I look down to find more building materials. This time I stay away from the horse poop, but the cockroaches begin to invade and inhabit. Again, Jesus lovingly demolishes my straw house. Then, I finally get it. Instead of looking down to begin building again – this time, I LOOK UP. I look to Him. He smiles, nods, and begins working on the foundation WITH me.
MY house wouldn’t have held up in a storm. It was worthless against the rain. Fire would have burned it up with me inside of it. This is what life has been like for me in the Dominican Republic. I came in with the barest understanding of Jesus in my life, despite knowing Him since I was a little girl. I have loved Him so long and worked so hard to please Him. In reality, He wanted me to “Be still [literally ‘let go’], and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10) This isn’t about ME helping HIM. He is allowing me to come into what He is already doing! He is the one making the “house” (Psalm 127:1). Sometimes, the weight of the good stones seems too heavy to bear, but He’s right there, waiting for me to turn to Him instead of carrying the weight on my own.
Living in this community, in this country can make me feel like my house is in the middle of a hurricane. Every day. The wind tries to knock my house flat. The inner most parts of my house can be shaken. Yet, the old song is true:
“Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living Word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promises of God.
Standing, standing, Standing on the promises of God my Savior; Standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”
I look to Jesus. How can I lean on my own understanding when times are hard? When pain has come? (Proverbs 3:5-6)
I know that our life doesn’t always make sense. If we lived in a normal, “worldly” way, we’d just quit and go “home” when times are hard. We’d quit if people came that we “couldn’t possibly get along with.” Instead, our lives are made all the sweeter through persevering through the hard times, persevering through the pain, persevering through the awkwardness of relationships.
To those who took the time to read through my ramblings, I hope you hear my heart. Just as the excruciating pain in labor is redeemed by the beautiful, small person with ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, so the pain of suffering is redeemed by our hope in Jesus.
Romans 5:3-5 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
James 1:2-3 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
We’re not meant to run away from fire. We’re meant to walk through it . . .
Isaiah 48:10 See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
. . . but never on our own.
*Why do I think it was painful? Let’s consider how we are to live together in the body of Christ.
James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
—Do you freely confess, or do you hide your sins from other believers? I know that I tend to hide rather than confess.
The whole book of 1 John is filled with how painful it can be to follow Jesus. Front and center, 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
—Do you take the time to ask if you’re allowing the world and its desires to become more important to you than Jesus? So often, I allow myself to think that what I want is the most important.
Or 1 John 4:20, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
—–What do you do when you have a disagreement with a friend in church? Do you avoid eye contact? Maybe you were more concerned about your feelings and image then in obeying Christ by forgiving and loving your Christian sibling. I get it! Truly! I’ve lived this and had to confess it!