It has been a decidedly long time since I blogged here.
Many reasons for that, not least of which is that I relocated my entire family to another state. There were numerous reasons and some I can’t go into, publicly, and some I just won’t. Suffice it to say, this has been a journey and then some. My life is entirely different now, save for the presence of and pursuit of God.
And so I write about that today.
In particular, I want to write about a concept that has been maligned or abused, depending on who you ask, within Christian thought.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
Jesus makes a stark contrast between Himself and others. You might contend that the “thief” is any false shepherd or leader. That holds up scripturally. You could also contend that the thief is a spiritual power, not a literal man pretending to speak for God. Honestly, I think it might be a little more both/and than either/or. I think that the idea of a thief is anyone other than Jesus or anyone not coming in the name of and power of Jesus. So whichever way you want to go with it, there is a clear contrast there.
When I was growing up, in the Pentecostal/Charismatic church, this verse was singled out, bandied about, and delivered with a shout. Yes, I just rhymed all of that. I’ve been doing that lately and I am only partially ashamed. Regardless, the people I grew up with loved this verse because it fed two distinct things within them:
- We have a spiritual enemy to be fought – a staple of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement.
- Jesus came to give abundant life – another staple of that movement and a particular affinity for the idea that we could live the good life.
So it was almost without saying that if something difficult ever happened in our lives, we could just quote that as though it was an incantation.
“Got laid off today, but ya know the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I got that abundant life.”
Of course the more you use words like that, and the less you meditate on them, the less they mean to you. This morning I woke at 3:00. Sunday here was a beautiful exercise in weakness, frailty, and glory. Monday morning started early and with great difficulty.
I was confronted with insecurity, with pain, with fear. My wife much the same. It was hard. Because we recognized it as being very much just harassment of our own insecurities and doubts. And in the dark I told her that we were trusting in our fears in order to keep them from coming to pass. That our enemy plays a racketeering game. He says, “Fear me, and nobody gets hurt.” But Jesus? Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid, because I love you.” So which one allows pain into our lives? If you serve God, pain is part of the path. It just is. If you serve yourself? If you serve your enemy? Pain is part of that too, but it’s often like an adjustable rate mortgage and the note will come due, all at once.
See, serving God isn’t about a life without pain, but instead, about a life with more life. The prosperity gospel heresy says that abundant life is measured in cars and planes and suits and jewelry and gold toilets. Think about the flat, uninflected, most obvious way you could read John 10:10 and in it there is freedom, real freedom.
A thief takes life from you. Jesus gives you life. And then He gives you more life.
No spin. No embellishment. No gilding of that lily. The literal translation of the Greek word perisos, the word for abundant there, is just more. Excessive. More than necessary. So in math, the enemy is -10 but Jesus came to do more than take you to 0. In the scale of being alive, where 0 is the baseline, Jesus gives you +1010.
He gives and gives and gives and you live and live and live. But the enemy takes. He says, “Cower before me.” Jesus says, “You don’t have to be afraid anymore because no one can take away from you what I give you.”
Does He give pain? Sure, He definitely allows it. But the life He gives is bigger than the pain. By an infinite degree. And when I trust the enemy to keep to his lie? I’m more foolish than most. So each day I must trust the One who loves me, not the one who hates me. The One who gives, not the one who takes.