Thursday, June 21, 2007

 

Knowing Jesus

“God has made me bread for his elect, and if it be needful that the bread must be ground in the teeth of the lion to feed His children, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Ignatius

“We must be put to the flame before we can burn brightly. When we
cease to bleed, we cease to bless.” Anonymous

This morning my attention was drawn especially to Philippians 3:10, where Paul reminds his beloved friends that his goal is to know Jesus in the dynamic power of his resurrection, in the fellowship of his sufferings, and in the likeness of his death. That word translated “becoming like him” or “becoming conformed” to his death has me puzzled. Usually, folks note that this reference has to do with the Christian dying to the carnal nature, to the flesh. Yet, Jesus had no flesh or sin nature, did he?

I mean, to what death of Jesus am I being conformed?

Jesus’ death on a cross represents his personal humility, his willingness to take on my sin and sinfulness, his grace to take my place, his mercy. The cross is the place of sacrifice, a place where one loses all sense of self-importance or arrogance. It is a cruel instrument of death, a place where all humans are equal. I am called (or encouraged, at least) by Paul to “be conformed” to death on the cross. Jesus, the very glory and righteousness of God, willingly chose to become sin for me. That is the message of the cross.

Note also that as he died (innocently, I might add), he did not blame those around him. No cries of recrimination emitted from his mouth. No angry shouts of “It’s not fair!” or “I’ll get you for this!” No, on the cross there is only mercy.

Except for the quote of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”), there is no indication on the cross that Jesus thought of his own situation. His focus was on the job at hand, on the salvation and mercy he was producing for others. His focus was on those around him—the two thieves, his mother, his disciples, even the angry mob. Jesus died on the cross with little or no thought about himself.

This, then, is the likeness of his death—-being willing to bear any burden, even death itself, for the benefit and blessing of others. As Paul says to Timothy, being conformed to the likeness of Jesus’ death is “being poured out” as an offering for others. Consider that, when you are tempted to cry out in dismay or to fight back in anger.

This is not an easy task to which we are called. In fact, this call is one of the most difficult things to which a child of God can aspire. But if I am to be a follower of Christ, how can I hope to attain to his resurrection power if I refuse to stoop to his humility? How can I hope to reign with him if I am unwilling to bleed with him? As Paul notes in Romans 8:18-19 "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him."

Paul even tells the Philippians in chapter 2 that we should have the same attitude as Jesus, an attitude that includes looking out for the needs and interests of others in a humble manner while considering others as more important than ourselves. I don't mean a false humility that smiles inwardly as a person "pretends" to be unimportant outwardly. I mean a genuine unselfish approach that requires us to measure our worth by God's estimation and not our own. This humility is a recognition that God's business is more important than any other enterprise.

Being conformed to Jesus’ death means to endure willingly any sacrifice that may bring blessing, life, or salvation to another. It means placing my selfish desires on the altar of sacrifice to do what God asks in order that others may see his love, his grace, his salvation, his blessing. Are we willing? Can we do it? Even the great apostle later says in Philippians 3, “I have not yet attained to it, but I press on.” Press on today. Seek to be like Jesus. What would Jesus do? He’d die for you.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

 

Did you hear?

“Because the word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word—a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in books we read and movies we see—the chances are that we will never get it just right. We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling.” From Now and Then by Frederick Buechner

God seeks an audience. He is not speaking into the void just to hear his voice echo. He intends to be heard and to have a response. When God speaks, it is not a pompous, self-gratifying type of speech that increases his ego. Rather, God’s voice works with purpose, with a sincere hope that someone will hear and respond. Take the story of Adam and Eve as an example. After they ate the forbidden fruit, they hid themselves out of fear. What was God’s initial response? He came for his morning walk, looking for companionship and conversation. The omniscient God knew what had transpired that morning, yet still he came looking for his friends. Did he come in anger, in righteous indignation? No, he came seeking—“Adam, where are you? Are you there? I want to talk to you.” God spoke, and he expected a response.

God is still speaking these many centuries later. He speaks most clearly through the life of his Son Jesus and through the Scriptures he has given us. As Ambrose says, “As in Paradise, God is walking in the Holy Scriptures, seeking man.” God speaks to see if we will listen, to see if we will respond.

We have become so immersed in the noise of our age that we seldom “hear” God’s voice any more. Oh, his Spirit and abilities are still the same, but we have tuned our ears to a totally different wavelength of “white noise” that keeps us so preoccupied that we don’t even notice that God spoke to us. As Frederick Buechner notes above, God is still talking, and what he is saying is recoverable if we will listen. If we will really take time to listen.

How many of you have children? Do you ever have the feeling that your kids aren’t really “hearing” what you say? Their faces may register acknowledgement that your mouth moved or your voice sounded, but they aren’t “getting it.” I wonder sometimes if God doesn’t feel the same way. He speaks to us, even sometimes in the “white noise” of our lives, yet we don’t “hear” him. Like Adam and Eve, we record that God said something (“Oh, he said not to even touch that tree or else you would die, or something like that”), but we don’t catch the full ramifications or meaning of his words.

God speaks to me sometimes through movies. Yeah, that’s a little strange, but I often get a relevant message from God from the movies I watch (and I’m not just talking about “The Passion” either!). I remember when Lisa and I were dating, actually it may have been after we were married. At any rate, she wanted to see the Disney movie “The Lion King.” We found a theatre that was showing it and off we went. As I sat in that theatre, God spoke. When Mufasa chastised Simba for being forgetful of his ancestry, I heard the voice of God. “You have forgotten me and thus have forgotten who you are called to be.” I am called to be his child, of his nature, speaking his words, doing his deeds. I am called a priest, a king, a holy and precious possession of God. How then ought I to live?

I also remember watching "A Beautiful Mind" and wondering at the marvelous range of God's creation of humans. Here is a man whose mind works in such a way as to disrupt his life in bizarre ways, and yet the image of God is so strong in his person that he is able to sort out the "unreal" from the "real" in his life. He is able by diligent application of reason and thought to separate hallunications from reality. God made his mind that way! God created that ability! I mean, the guy could literally see things others couldn't, and over time he was even able to discern what was "reality" and what was not. What a marvelous creation! It was a reminder to me that God knit us together, he made us the way we are. We are lacking nothing physically to accomplish what God asks of us. We are fallen, yes, but we also have something of the image of God (the better angels of our nature). We stumble, yet we can also overcome. He made us so, and he longs to interact with us, to aid us in our journey to wholeness in his son, Jesus.

I wish I could say that these insights flash on my mind daily. They do not. God is certainly speaking daily, but sometimes I have such dull hearing or doubt the possibility of God’s communicating with me that I miss the conversation or completely misunderstand it. But there is hope—the same God who spoke the universe into existence is still speaking to me through various means. As Buechner says, if I listen, I will hear it, and what I hear will be beyond precious. Lord, help us to hear. Teach us the discipline of listening.

Thanks for reading!

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