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A Life That Glows
 

As a guy who once wanted to be an advertising executive, I still find TV ads intriguing. Now and then I see an ad I like so much I stop whatever I'm doing just to watch it again and again. One that's like that today has a lovely young woman joining some girlfriends for lunch. As soon as she sits down her friends pepper her with questions about her love life, assuming some new man must be in her life because, as one tells her, "You're glowing!" She struggles to convince them that the reason for her glow is her tooth whitener, not a new boyfriend.

Truly a new love can light us up, and isn't that how it should be? If you have ever fallen in love you know that it's perhaps life's greatest earthly experience.  Nothing transforms us more than to feel totally loved and unconditionally accepted by someone we also love, enjoy and admire. Such a love instantly makes us  become a better person. The whole world immediately becomes a more beautiful place.

This is precisely the quality of life Jesus had in mind when He said, "I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).  Jesus didn't come to give us cheap fire insurance. Eternal life isn't just living forever. Everyone will live forever. It isn't just pie in the sky when we die in the sweet by and by. It's a quality of life so radical, so unique, so life transforming that those around us can see that we are different, and they inevitably want whatever we found that makes us glow like that.

A dear friend sent me a letter this week in which she said this: "For thirty years of my life, I only heard in the salvation message: that Christ died to save sinners so that they could live with Him forever in heaven. I was completely ignorant of the other half of the salvation message: that Christ died to heal the brokenhearted and set the prisoner free. Therefore, instead of becoming a 'brand new creation in Christ' I became addicted to my work and to being very critical and demanding of others, including those I loved.
Most thankfully, one day my friend Ken Unger compassionately shared with me that I was running from pain and imprisoned by the bitterness of a broken heart in need of Christ's healing. After experiencing the healing message, I have finally fallen in love with Jesus - the reason I was created, the purpose of my life. And now, I possess that formerly unattainable peace which passes understanding and joy which no man can take away."

I was amazed at her story of transformation. Surprisingly, though few know it, the unpopular biblical concept of sin is pregnant with this understanding. Sadly, today most people have been bludgeoned by the whole idea of sin. Almost three in four Americans are Christians but most feel they've so often been judged and condemned by pastors and religious people they don't even want to attend church any more. And who can blame them? Unlike Jesus, most preachers use guilt as their primary tool to motivate transformation.

In Southern California, I meet many people who are so sick of organized religion that if they are open to any religion they demand that it be disorganized. Most people have just given up on religion altogether. The problem is they still want God in their lives. Hence the birth of "spirituality."

The real culprit is our misunderstanding of sin. For most of us. the very idea is laden with guilt, condemnation and judgment. It conjures up sorry images of criticism, hell and damnation. Healthy people aren't drawn to that.

The fact is that sin, like meekness, has become  a tarnished word. Properly understood, who wouldn't want less sin in their lives? Forget about eternity for a moment and consider this. Sin, if correctly  interpreted, is the very thing that robs THIS LIFE of its gusto. It's what keeps us from having the rich, rewarding, fulfilling life we all dream about. It steals our glow. Here's what I mean.

The word sin means literally falling short of a target. It's an image of shooting an arrow that can only go 30 yards at a target that's 100 yards away. No one can hit it. We all fall short in many ways. That target is the abundant life which Jesus said He came to give us (John 10:10). When the Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) it's easy to get wrapped up in condemnation and miss the point.

Glory is a wonderful biblical word. It refers to a magnetic quality of life -- one that radiates joy, peace, love and happiness. Augustine said, "The glory of God is man fully alive." When Moses came down from Mount Sinai people knew just by looking at him that he had been with God. They could see the glow. The Shekinah glory of God filled him. It made him literally glow and appear bright, radiant and luminous.

Moses knew that his glory would fade. Much like the wonderful high that quickly evaporates within days of hearing a motivational speaker, he felt his glow quickly begin to dissolve once he came down from the mountain. Consequently, he covered his face so others wouldn't notice it was gone. But the New Testament has some great news for us. The newfound glory we experience from being born again doesn't have to fade. Rather it increases throughout our lives as God's Spirit continues to transform us, from one glorious experience to the next (II Cor. 3:7-18).

The reason for this is simple. Sin -- falling short of glory -- clouds our lives like fog eclipses the sun, so God's radiance can't penetrate it. Malcolm X, the famous radical black leader of the 60's, said that the problem of Christianity is that it's usually like a clean glass that tries to tell a dirty glass to get clean. What it should be, he said, is a clean glass that stands next to dirty glasses allowing them to see the benefits of cleanliness, and decide for themselves to get clean.

Rather than using Malcolm's dirty glass metaphor I prefer the biblical imagery of a lamp. Lamps need energy to stay lit. In biblical times, that energy source was oil. Today it would be electricity. As we receive that energy -- whether by refilling our supply of oil or by staying connected to the eternal electric outlet of God, our lights keep shining. The glory can even increase, the radiance grow brighter, the luminosity more magnetic as the rheostat of God's love is turned up in our hearts. As we turn from the sins that so easily cloud our lives, we clean our inner lamp so that the light can shine through. And, like moths drawn to a fire, people who are hungry for warmth, vitality and positive energy are drawn by the sweet, satisfying love of God, for God's Love is the spiritual energy that makes us glow.  

An electric lamp will go out if the cord bringing power to it or the one taking the power back to the source is cut. That's where holiness comes in. Talk about a misunderstood word! Perhaps the only theologian who truly understood holiness was John Wesley. Wesley correctly taught that the essence of holiness is perfect love, and this understanding yielded phenomenal results. It's said that the Wesleyan revivals did for England and America what the French revolution did for France only without the bloodshed.

The genius of Wesley's practical approach to Christianity is that he required all members of his churches to meet in small 'societies' outside of corporate worship. These societies met each week in small groups in people's homes. There the people learned to love each other better and shared what God was doing currently in their lives. No testimony was allowed to be more than seven days old. As people learned of the wonderful things that God did for their friends they wanted Him to also work in their lives. These groups contained a dynamic vitality that literally buzzed with excitement and enthusiasm, drawing masses of their neighbors to church and to Christ.

By the way, enthusiasm is another great biblical word. It comes from the words en theos and literally means "in God." It was coined in New Testament times to reflect what people saw in the lives of committed Christians. The first Christians were so different from their secular neighbors they were said to be living "in God."

It's as true today as it ever was, nothing is as contagious as enthusiasm. But sadly, those who followed Wesley soon lost his accurate understanding of true holiness as perfect love. Within a generation, that revival sputtered until all that was left were some so-called holiness denominations who got bogged down in legalism, totally missing Wesley's understanding of perfect love and hence losing his glorious power.

The Love of God is the essence of true holiness. Righteous isn't the absence of wrongishness, it's the presence of God's love made tangible through people. Sin snuffs out  the glorious sense of God's love dwelling within us. Hence it extinguishes our radiance and steals our abundant life. It can ruin us. Someone once said, "God loves broken sinners but He hates the sin that breaks us."

This is where healing comes in. I first learned about a divine approach to healing when I read Cecil Osborne's writings. He described a form of emotional healing that completely frees people from their compulsions to food, drugs, rage, alcohol, sex, and any other human bondage. Surely this was why Jesus said He was anointed to "heal the broken hearted" and "set at liberty those who were bruised." Healing can restore us to God and renew His love within us. By freeing us from the compulsive behavior to which we are drawn, it liberates us from the stubborn shackles of sin. We can again risk loving both Him and one another. This completes the spiritual circuit from God, through us to others. In so doing, it keeps us lit, enabling us to shine as His lights in a dark and otherwise dreary world. Since we now sow love, we also reap love, fulfilling our deepest human needs.  It's like constantly being in love. Can you think of any more satisfying way to live?

 

 
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