I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be in this world, but not of the world.[John 17:14-19] And I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what that would mean to you or me. First, let’s talk about what it doesn’t mean:
1. What it is not about is us being above the world, holier than thou, more pious, better than anyone else. It’s definitely not about being better than anyone else, no matter your education, your wealth or lack thereof, your job, your race or anything. None of us is one whit better than any other in God’s world. We are all human, all flawed, all in need of love and redemption, all loved by God.
2. It is also definitely not about preaching to anyone else. Or forcing them to convert. Or making them feel so bad about themselves that they get hooked on a punitive god.
Now what could that phrase mean: we are in the world, but not of the world?
- We are here, in the flesh, just like every other person on this planet.
- We are to identify less with the culture we live in than with the kingdom of God. It is about resting more in the arms of God, in us actually feeling his love, not just “knowing with our minds” that he loves us, for he loves us no matter who we are and what we have done. To feel loved by God, we also have to love ourselves—all that we are—then we are able to have love flow in and out of us to everyone we encounter.
- We are to live our faith, not just spout it. Our lives are to add up to love as we become more and more converted to be the people God created us to be.
- We are here to learn how to love, how to be love here to all we encounter. We are to show up in the world with our hearts in peace and joy, love and patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control, the fruits of the Spirit, the sure sign that we are resting in God. Here is where our inner selves and outer selves are the same—no hidden agendas, no self-serving, no hypocrisy. This is what it means to live in the kingdom.
We need to take Christianity to a new level: to where we no longer preach with words, but where our lives say everything we want to say, to where we live the Gospel of Love so obviously that words are no longer necessary, to where we no longer are defensive or on the offensive about our beliefs, to where “they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love.“ We need to live the Gospel. Our inner states need to shine forth as the inner state of Jesus did. People need to know us inside and out, up and down, transparent and knowable, not hidden and defensive, not hostile where the only love we know how to give is tough love.
In the world, but not of the world is a beautiful lifelong journey of going from an ego-centered life to a God-centered life. Our conversion is both a one-time event and a journey. The one-time event of surrender or conversion is when we really start the journey. In between we learn how to live in the kingdom right now by offering the conditioned parts of our selves up to God to be transformed into love. As we grow into our created selves and the ability to love , we also bring along(or convert) all the difficult, challenging parts, too.
Recently I have begun to love the image of a kaleidoscope as a metaphor for the self. All the givens about us are in the kaleidoscope from the beginning: our talents and gifts and weaknesses, our DNA, our experiences in life. With each new turn of the lens a new pattern emerges made with the same elements now in a new arrangement. Each pattern is beautiful, a rearrangement of the same parts of ourselves. Nothing is ever lost, nothing to get rid of, only changed into the new pattern.
This is how I see us being in the world, but not of the world. The same elements that have been in us from the beginning are still within us, only newly rearranged, transformed into a God-dependent pattern, more and more capable of love with each tweak of the pattern, more and more expressive of our created selves.
Questions to ponder over the week: On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 representing the world and 10 the kingdom, where do I see myself on the scale? What do I have to do to move closer to the 10? What do I have to give up? What do I have yet to learn?
Check out other pages on my website for this week’s features: on the home page: “Two Dreams” and on the meditations page, “Evolving in God.”