Today, in the middle of my Sunday School class, I began to think of fuel gauges.
Why would I do that?
Because I am the teacher and I was looking for a metaphor.
(OK, let me explain that further … I am a Sunday School teacher who uses no lesson plan. We do not use quarterlies or devotional books … we only read straight from the Bible. We open with prayer asking God to come in and show us His will through His Word and to shape our understandings. I read the Scripture, invite discussion, and then rely upon the Lord to supply my needs for illustrations and insight in the midst of the discussion. My preparation for the lesson is prayer to attune myself to God’s will for the class. I started doing this about 15 years ago when I learned that when I teach from a plan, all the class gets is what I came up with. But, when I walk in without a plan and we discuss the Scriptures while letting Scripture interpret Scripture … that is when the Living God enters in and begins to shape the class and our understanding. Oh, I wish I had discovered this way of teaching much earlier!)
We were reading 1 John 3:13-24 … the passage that begins with “Do not be surprised, believers, if the world hates you.” The rest of the passage compares and contrasts the polar opposite ideas of love and hate in the lives of those who claim to love God.
According to the passage, we show we are followers of Christ by the love that we have for other believers. That makes sense.
It also said that those who hate their brothers (other believers) are murderers in their hearts, according to the way that God views them. It also reminds us that no murderer inherits eternal life.
Now that is some pretty sobering reading for a Sunday morning!
That is when the fuel gauge analogy hit me.
Do we really pay attention to the gauge in our car as it moves down towards empty unless something draws our attention to it? If you are like me, I get into the car, turn the key, estimate how many miles I have left before I have to refuel, and then drive on.
I mean, let’s be honest … we don’t even try to keep our car on FULL, do we? How neurotic would you have to be to refuel every time your car fell below the FULL mark?
By the same token, have you ever run out of fuel and been stranded? My Dad used to
remind me that there was no excuse for running out of fuel … you’re just not paying attention if that happens.
Yet, in our hearts it seems we slide to the EMPTY mark quite a bit. We run out of patience. We run out of love and concern. We run out of understanding.
Here is how it works:
FULL = I have an unconditional love for others
HALF = I like and get along with others
EMPTY = I harbor hatred towards others
Granted, I know very few people who outright hate all people. But, what if I hate one person? Is that OK?
When I ask my sons why they cannot get along with each other and quote the love verses of 1 John 4, I hear the same old refrain. “No, I don’t hate him. I just don’t like him.”
TRANSLATION: “My tank isn’t empty … I’m somewhere between HALF and EMPTY … I can keep going … I’m all right.”
That is the type of thinking that leaves a person stranded without fuel.
How did I come to that conclusion? Well, you have to look at 1 John 2 to get that answer. It features another fuel gauge that concerns the 3 As.
FULL = Anointing
HALF = Abiding
EMPTY = Antichrist
Whoa, Dave, now wait a minute … are you sure about that?
Yep, let’s put our two gauges together.
FULL = Unconditional love for others = Anointing
HALF = I like and get along with others = Abiding
EMPTY = I hate other people = antichrist
Now, that is a funny thing as well. Let’s examine this a bit.
Are you saying if I hate someone, I am the AntiChrist?
Negative, Ghost Rider … not THE AntiChrist … you are simply living a life that does not line up with the teachings of Christ. So, your thoughts of hate (remember the “murder” comment earlier) do not line up and you are out of fellowship with God. You are stranded in your spiritual growth and ability to discern and receive the things of God.
But, that sounds pretty harsh!
Here’s is what chapter two says, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
At the time that John wrote this, believers were already falling away. Their gauges were empty. They did not watch their love of God and others and rely on it to gauge their faith properly. They were stranded outside the fellowship of believers .. not because they were kicked out, but because they went their own way.
Abiding … that is a bit easier to talk about. If you are following the disciplines of the faith (prayer, Bible study, attending worship services with other believers, finding places to serve, etc.), you are seeking God and looking to make a place for Him in your life. That is all fine and good, but at that stage you are only half full.
Would I want to eat every meal to be “half full” never to know the satisfying sensation of my hunger being fully curbed and my desires fully met?
If I were dieting, then this abiding … this being in a constant state of “like” with others … would be great! I would lose weight easily!
But, that is the problem.
This “dieting” on the things of God and “cutting the calories” that would be burned through investing in real relationships with other people is what causes my tank to go towards EMPTY in the first place.
How often have you heard people say, “So-and-So never even speaks to me anymore!”?
An Abiding believer never notices dying relationships until they have shriveled up on the vine … then they want to accuse the plant of not watering itself!
I have to confess, I have found myself there many times … wondering what happened between myself and that other person only to realize, upon deeper reflection, that I had not invested the time and energy that was needed into that friendship. Through my apathy, it seems, I had given it permission to die.
Sadly, abiding is where many of us stay and we never know the joy of fullness.
Anointing … what is this strange word? Anointing is the place of fullness with God. It is not reached easily and sadly, it is almost impossible to stay there (just like the fuel needle in a car!).
So, if it is so hard to achieve, then why is it even necessary?
Because it is a place of rest. It is the place where the believer is completely full of the love of God and surrendered to His presence and will in his or her life. It is a place of assurance, strength, and power. This place is gained by TOTAL submission to the authority of Christ, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and living a life day by day to become even more conformed to the image of the Son of God.
According to 1 John 3, it is the NORMAL place for each child of God.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Unfortunately, the Church in America bought into the idea of a NEW NORMAL … that half full is good enough. We have accepted this tradition because it is easy. I mean, we are not on empty, so we must be OK, right?
Sadly, we could never be more wrong.
But that is the true test … the love test.
This test gauges itself through the greatest commandment:
“But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
— Matthew 22:34-40
So, I ask you, in response to this blog and after reflecting on the relationships that shape your world, how is your “love” life?