Life Beyond The Headlines by Joseph Seger

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Don’t believe the story.  So went the surprising proclamation of DL Moody – 

Some day you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.” “I was born of the flesh in 1837.

I was born of the Spirit in 1856.

That which is born of the flesh may die.

That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.

The evangelist who desired all to know Jesus – the story of His life, death and resurrection – knew the reality beyond the headlines of newspapers. The man knew well who he was – whose he was. Do we still know this good news today?

It can be easy to be distracted and lose focus. Today, we have more capacity to connect with whoever and whatever than at any prior point in history. With smarter devices and the digitalization of everything, the vast majority of the known information is available at our fingertips. If the headlines are right, we are on the verge of transcending knowledge in a technological utopia.

Tragically, the data does not bear this out. Studies show we have fewer close friendships than ever before, even though social media portends thousands of friends. We have more publications to choose yet close ourselves off from reporting which does not go along with our narratives. All are a short notification away, but loneliness has been declared an epidemic threat against our health. In the age of connection, we seem to be less connected than ever.

Still, the good news of Jesus persists. We are not condemned to be alone, but rather to be loved by God and others (1 John 4:7). We need not be conformed to this world any longer (Romans 12:1-2). We should not be confined to the prison of our desires and the resulting destructive habits (James 1:14-15).  

John Wesley wrote it clearly and simply:

God loves you; therefore, love and obey him. Christ died for you; therefore, die to sin. Christ is risen; therefore, rise in the image of God. Christ liveth evermore; therefore live to God until you live with him in glory.

God’s grace allows us to know ourselves as loveable. As loveable people we are capable of turning from the dark pain of our past towards the eternal life illuminated in the light of Jesus’ resurrection. Knowing, confessing, and living this truth rests our life with God for eternity. God’s love can then flow through us to others in a beautiful, gracious cycle. 

Only as individuals, we can get caught in the constant stream of information. Alone, and untethered from community, our eyes drift to the shadows which pull us down the day to day current, rather than to the eternal light of Christ which gives light to the whole world. Headlines call us to fear and division. Our cell phones vibrate with endorphin laden distractions. Babylon beckons with promises of fulfilled ambition and just out-of-reach wealth. Issues rise up and tempt us to partisanship which adds to the atmosphere of division among image bearers of God.

We do well to remember the words of Paul which were written while imprisoned by the headline makers of his days:

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Paul reminds us where to fix our gaze. True power does not reside in the temporal, but in the one who created time. True hope is not in the next vote or deal, but in the reign of Christ. We must act here and now, but followers of Jesus must live lives which are different, holy.

Followers of Jesus are in this world but not of this world. Our orientation is toward the heavenly Kingdom. Through this focus, we are able to passionately serve those around us. Minds fixed on Christ remember the heart of the issues before us are the issues of the human heart. For when we try to fix an issue without first dealing with the sin which separates us from God (and thereby the good and one another), we are not good estimators of what is actually  happening around us. Our supposed solutions to the present problems then become the problems for our children to solve. 

Wesley went on to say we are called to proclaim what the Holy Spirit has revealed to our hearts. The love of God, and by it, the love of all mankind in word and deed.

It was by a sense of the love of God shed abroad in his heart, that everyone of them was enabled to love God. Loving God, he loved his neighbor as himself, and had power to walk in all his commandments blameless. This is a rule which admits of no exception. God calls a sinner his own, that is, justifies him, before he sanctifies. And by this very thing, the consciousness of his favour, he works in him that grateful, filial affection, from which spring every good temper, and word, and work.

Wesley knew well that pursuing holiness meant a downstream blessing for all our neighbors. Allowing the Spirit to work within us means we can impact the world through love in ways the world cannot think possible. Loving our neighbor means we always see the person in every issue. We seek the heart of the person in front of us more than winning an issue. We seek truth and justice as we seek our fellow humans. We live tabernacled/incarnate lives in our neighborhood, not just in the digital footprint.

Wesley lived this out to the tune of prison, hospital, and orphanage reform. Those in his movement followed with works of abolition, ministry to alcoholics, presence amongst poverty, and combating illiteracy. The people called Methodists answered the call to draw near to all who needed the gospel. Even if it was far from the spotlight of the latest headline. Wesley knew where his citizenship was held, where his life really resided. By being so heavenly minded, he was of great earthly good.

Headlines are intended to grab attention regardless of the facts of the story or impact of the tale. In Jesus, we are grafted into a story which calls all people to love, hope and peace. Followers of Jesus still have good news worth proclaiming.  Our lives are not solely dependent on what humanity thinks and does right now. Rather, we have the knowledge of an eternal life of love, and the means of the Holy Spirit to share that love with our neighbors wherever we live – whatever the conditions.

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