Late spring or early summer walks give me a chance to see things coming alive again after the long winter months. Little by little trees begin to show green on the dead looking branches and spring flowers take turns surprising me with their colors if I am observant. By the beginning of June, I can tell which shrubs, bushes, and perennials have weathered the winter months well but some of our rose bushes are still a bit slow to show us. It’s not always clear if something is alive or dead.
Whether a relationship is thriving, or dead can also be hard to determine many times. Too often we are good at feigning the state of a relationship to avoid the truth of its condition or avoid hard questions from others who observe us. We can get so used to doing it that we barely notice. But there is something amiss if that is true.
If any relationship is alive there will be “life” in it. It will show the evidence of that in more than one or two ways. You know a relationship is current by the actions, energy, body language, tone of voice, and more. It will not be perfect, and it will also not be static.
Grape vines in our area look like they are alive at the present time, but it will be hard to tell for many weeks whether there will be grapes showing up. They are not “in season” until very late summer and the size or quality of the fruit will still be in question for some weeks and months except to the knowledgeable vinedresser and vintner. It always reminds me to be careful when I am looking for fruit in a relationship or the life of another person pursuing Christ. Perhaps there has been significant pruning and the vines will rest longer before they show the benefits of this cutting away of both dead and living vines so they will produce more fruit.
I began to consider this a bit more as I was reading about what the book of Revelation says about the church at Sardis – having a reputation of being alive but dead. What did that mean or look like? Could it be true of us today?
“It was dead because it excluded the everyday world. It gave an impression of vigor … but the sharp line it drew between everyday life and holy-day life…”Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet
They appear to have restricted holiness or the holy life to their times together in church versus seeing how He moves throughout the everyday life and situations we face. If we look at the life of Christ it seems evident that He did not intend that our relationship with Him be confined to a worship service (no matter how energetic it might appear).
I think the challenge for us is what does our faith and belief look like Monday through Saturday, not because we are carrying around a Bible and sharing scripture verses with any and all we meet but rather because our convictions and commitment is a lived truth. No matter we are picking up coffee at our favorite coffee shop, working at our job, grocery shopping, or participating in a committee meeting, do we look like we bear Christ’s image in how we respond, how we love, and how we make decisions? Is his Holy Spirit active and alive within us then? Do we nurture intimacy with Him when we are not in worship services or formalized ministry activities?
“If God has spirit, then God is not simply an idea or an abstraction. It is popular to say that God is an idea of beauty or of love or of truth. Whatever is beautiful or lovely or truthful is God. That is a nice sentiment but poor theology. God is personal and deeply alive.”Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet
Have we forgotten that God, Jesus, is a person?
“If God has spirit, he cannot be dealt with as an object. He must be confronted as a person. A living, personal being demands relationship. I can arrange books, rooms, clothing, and even work, but I must live with persons. They resist being put in their place. They refuse to be arranged and manipulated. They must be talked to. There must be an exchange of feelings with them. I have heard the phrase “We must leave a place for God in our lives.” This is a nice idea if it would work, but it won’t, because God has spirit. He will not be confined to a place. He is a living being with whom we must live. This is part of what it means to say that God has spirit. It means fundamentally that we have the perfection of a living God in our midst.”Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet
If we have accepted Christ, his spirit is alive and active in us and if we try to confine his involvement to our worship services we will be more like the church at Sardis. They considered themselves to be church members because they continued to come to worship but ceased being actively full of life in every aspect of daily life.
God wants a vibrant relationship with us whether we are seated in a pew or at a ballgame, attending a concert or sitting at the bedside of someone who is ill. If that happens our lives will be fruitful.
“The world is one single whole. It’s holy. We divide it into areas marked out for God and areas marked out for ourselves. We call churches sacred and playgrounds secular. We have places where we pray and others where we play. But our compartments desecrate the way things are supposed to be; the earth is the Lord’s.”Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet