Simply Being God’s Presence

I mentioned last time that I want to live by a very simple focus. I want to have an intimate, trusting relationship with Jesus so that I can learn from him how to be like him so my life can somehow participate in his work in the world. I want to be his trusting, faithful apprentice; to be his ongoing presence doing his work in his world.

So what does this look like? Again, in an attempt to maintain a simple focus, I want to capture being Jesus’ apprentice in three ways.

First, I want to live thankfully in God’s presence in the present. In other words I want to learn from Jesus how to still my mind and feelings, which primarily live in the past and future, and bring them into submission to my heart, the core of who I am. From that place, free from the regrets and guilt of the past and the fear and anxiety of the future, I want to live thankfully in the present with the awareness of God’s presence in that moment.

Second, I want to see the unsurpassable worth of every person. I want to view people without labels and categories. I want to see them as God’s creation, each person worth the death and resurrection of God’s Son to forgive and free them from all destructive idolatry and sin and into their true human vocation as his image-bearers.

Third, I want to focus my life on doing good to and for others. Whether engaged with work, family, friends, strangers, or hobbies, I want all I do to produce good for others. I want my life to be God’s goodness to others.

That’s it. I want to be Jesus’ trusting and faithful apprentice — to be with him in order to become like him in order to work with him as his ongoing presence on earth.

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The Easy Life

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting old or something else, but I find myself wanting to live by a very simple focus. I want to have an intimate trusting relationship with Jesus so that I can learn from him how to be like him so my life can somehow participate in his work in the world. I’m finding myself evaluating every aspect of my life through this simple goal. And eliminating things that get in the way of it.

I think about what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-29:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus invites us into a life that is restful, easy and light. It’s a life in which we are “yoked” to him and learn from him how to be and live like him.

This is for what Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. Jesus lived to model and invite us into the restful, easy and light life of our true human vocation of reflecting God’s good, loving and wise character into our world for the good of others. Jesus died on the cross to vanquish the idols and forgive the sins that enslaved us and prevented us from entering into our human vocation. And Jesus was resurrected to launch God’s New Creation, this world renewed and transformed into a world fully managed by God.

Now we are God’s children, co-heirs with Jesus, saints who are set apart by God for our renewed human vocation, and God’s temple who are filled and empowered with God’s Spirit to learn from Jesus, to become like Jesus and to participate with Jesus.

I understand that there will be some difficulties and hardships associated with Jesus’ restful, easy and light life. But those difficulties originate from relearning how to do life. It’s tough letting go of a life managed by stress, anxiety, greed, lust and reputation. Part of us wants to let go, but another part wants to remain in control. Like learning a new skill, there’s the initial difficulty of training our mind and body to think and act in new ways.

And I understand some difficulties originate from the conflict of the various kingships out in the world. Every human being has his or her own kingship that they exercise in cooperation with or opposition to God’s kingship. And there are dark forces that, although they have ultimately lost, still try to cause as much damage as possible during this time they’re allowed to run amuck.

But bottom-line, Jesus’ life should be restful, easy and light. We have to take him at his word. And our church communities should be the place where this is discussed and taught. We should be learning how to follow Jesus into his restful, easy and light life of the human vocation. We should be learning the simple disciplines that make our lives increasingly present in God’s reality. We should be encouraged to grow in our intimate love and trust of Jesus’ invitation to enter into his life. We should be reimagining the Reality of God’s New Creation around us. We should be discussing ways to bring our family, our work, our hobbies, our resources, our time and our lives into restful, easy and light participation in Jesus’ work in the world for the good of others.

It Starts And Ends With Intimacy

As a young Christian, one of my favorite worship songs was Maranatha’s version of “As the Deer.” It’s basically Psalm 42 put to simple music:

“As the deer panteth for the water,

So my soul longeth after Thee.

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship Thee.

You alone are my strength and shield

To you alone may my spirit yield.

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship Thee.”

I have cherished memories of being alone with God, playing the chords on a piano, and singing my heart to him.

Ever since meeting Jesus, he’s been my heart’s deepest desire. And that intimacy and longing has been the core of over 30 years of journeying with him. Now as a not-so-young Christian, the same intimacy for Jesus is the driving force in my life.

And while intimacy with Jesus launched my journey with him, I think it has matured into much more.

Recently, I read a short post by Bishop Todd Hunter describing the purpose of his parish, Holy Trinity Church. He wrote that Holy Trinity Church “is engaged in a straightforward and plain journey: we seek intimacy with Jesus and transformation into his likeness, becoming his cooperative friends… for the sake of others.”

That simple sentence captures the goal of intimacy with Jesus — a personal and communal vocation of spiritual formation into God’s royal priesthood for the sake of others. This is the calling of God’s people, His Body — to be a community of people gripped by deep intimacy with Jesus so that it transforms us into his likeness so we can be like him, live like him and work with him for the sake of everyone around us.

This is why the local parish exists. And all of its theology, liturgy, sacraments, programs, administration, and other aspects of its life must direct its members toward this singular goal — a transforming, loving, others-centered intimacy with Jesus.

But the vocation only makes sense when it’s first and foremost fueled by deep intimacy with Jesus. That’s where it starts and that’s where it ends. And that’s what gives everything in between its shape and meaning.

God Has You Right Where He Wants You

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.” -Ephesians 2:7, The Message

This morning I was reading Ephesians in Eugene Peterson’s, The Message, and I came across the verse quoted above.

Ephesians is one of my favorite New Testament letters for many reasons. But one reason is that it reveals how to thrive in God’s kingdom.

Oftentimes, we associate God having us right where he wants us so he can punish us or worse. We still struggle with a perception of God as an angry, wrathful, violent God who punishes our moral transgressions.

But that is not the God revealed in Jesus.

Jesus operated from a completely different framework. God was his loving “abba” Father. God was the world’s creator, lover and redeemer. God was the faithful rescuer of humanity and the world, willing to plunge to the deepest depths to restore his world.

And Jesus fully embodied this abundantly loving, compassionate, caring, healing, restoring, merciful God. As Hebrew 1:3 states, “He is the shining reflection of God’s own glory, the precise expression of his own very being.”

So when God finally gets us where he wants us, it’s to lavish us with his love. And God is using all the time in this age and the next to accomplish this.

This is the framework from which we must retrain our thinking regarding God. He is not an angry, vengeful God. He is the one, according to just the introductory verses of Ephesians, who blessed us, chose us, adopted us, redeemed us, revealed his plans to us, sealed us by his Spirit, and seated us with Jesus in the heavenly realms.

And Paul continues to pray that our very core is opened to this reality of God so that we may live and operate from it (Ephesians 1:17-23). For this is key to our flourishing in God’s world and being the ongoing voice, action and presence of Jesus as his Body.

Happy 23rd Birthday, Cathy!

 

Twenty-three years ago, and with dramatic flair, my oldest daughter, Cathy, entered this world and our lives. And she has brought such incredible joy and love to us. She has grown from a fiery baby to an intelligent, thoughtful, courageous, beautiful, strong, humorous, independent, creative and dare I say sassy young woman. She has a heart as big as the sun and loves deeply God, people and his creation. I am very privileged to be her dad and her friend and I am so very proud of her. Happy Birthday, Sweetie! I love you very much!

Betrayed By Jesus

“Give me a freakin’ break! I trusted him! I followed him! I left everything! He was supposed to be Israel’s king. And he went and got himself killed like all the other “messiahs” before him. Now you’re telling me that he’s alive? Give me a break!

“I know, Thomas. It sounds crazy. But we were there. We saw him.”

“I’m tired of this. Not again. I’ll tell you what. Unless I can see and touch his wounds, I mean actually shoving my hand in his side, I’m done trusting.”

I know I’ve taken some liberty and have embellished the biblical dialogue. But I want to highlight what I perceive to be the raw emotions in Thomas’ words.

Too often, our modern, rationalistic culture is projected onto Thomas as though he demanded scientific empirical proof. That’s unfortunate, because I think that perspective misses the point of Thomas’ experience. I believe he felt betrayed by Jesus. And roiling inside of him was pain, anger, hurt, fear, shame, and a whirlwind of other dark emotions that accompany betrayal.

Jesus claimed to be the Christ and Son of God — the King of Israel who was anointed by Israel’s God to vanquish the Roman occupiers, to restore the presence of Israel’s God in their Temple, and to make Israel great again. Jesus had convinced Thomas by his words, his deeds and his very presence to follow him. Sure, there had been would-be messiahs before. But Jesus actually seemed to be the one capable of succeeding where everyone else had failed.

Recently, though, Jesus seemed to be on a suicide mission. Thomas had told the group just before visiting Lazarus’ grave that if they went with Jesus, they would die with him. Jesus seemed intent to return to the places that wanted to kill him. Going publicly into these areas without any type of military force or strategy was simply tempting fate. Jesus had been lucky so far. But Thomas knew how things worked. Sooner or later, Jesus’ luck would run out and he and his followers would be captured and killed like all the other would-be messiahs before them.

What was Jesus thinking? How could he risk everything he had been building the past few years? How could Jesus be so cavalier with his and his followers’ lives? Sure enough, Jesus’ luck ran out. This past week he pushed too hard, too often. He got himself killed. The movement came to a crashing halt at the foot of a Roman cross. And now his followers, including Thomas, were at risk. The authorities would hunt them down and do the same to them.

It’s my opinion that Thomas’ statement was not unbelief. If he truly didn’t believe, I think he would have hightailed it out of Jerusalem under the cover of darkness soon after Jesus’ death. If he no longer believed, why did he stay with the threat of such peril?

I believe it’s because Thomas’ faith was crippled, not destroyed. And his proclamation about seeing and touching Jesus’ wounds was the mingling of betrayal’s pain and hope’s yearning.

And a week later, Thomas is still with the other disciples.

Much like the paralyzed man who had relied on his friends to carry him, to rip apart the roof, and to lower him at the feet of Jesus, Thomas needed his friends. Like true friends, they carried a crippled Thomas and tore down the roof of betrayal’s pain and lowered him to Jesus’ presence.

And there Jesus met and healed Thomas.

And Thomas’ faith surges.

“My Lord!” Thomas’ faith extends to where it was before. Jesus IS Israel’s king. And “My Lord” is how you would address your king.

“My God!” Thomas’ faith launches into new uncharted territory. No self-respecting Jewish man would ever associate divinity to a human being. We must remember that even the title “Son of God” was a Jewish term for Israel’s human king. It’s normal use never associated divinity to its bearer.

Yet, in that healing moment between Jesus and Thomas, Thomas’ faith expands to a place no one else has yet contemplated. Jesus is Israel’s King. And somehow, Jesus is also Israel’s God.

And with Thomas’ remarkable declaration, the Gospel-writer, leads his readers to a startling conclusion. John’s Gospel has revealed a New Creation, a New Temple and a New People of God. And he uses Thomas’ declaration as a rhetorical exclamation mark to highlight that these new realities of God’s New World require a New Faith — a faith exclaimed by a man at his lowest and darkest point, ravaged by feelings of betrayal, anger and fear.

My Lord and My God!

Training To Bless

For the last several weeks, the global Christian Church has been engaged in Lent. During this time, we focus on three primary spiritual disciplines that, when practiced properly, can train us into our vocation as God’s royal priesthood. The three spiritual disciplines are prayer, fasting and giving.

As we’ve seen previously, prayer is our primary form of standing in the overlap between heaven and earth. As God’s image-bearers and royal priests, we are embedded within the world that God loves and that groans in travail as a woman about to give birth to new life. And embedded in us is the Holy Spirit, who is in turn interceding with wordless groaning. And between the two, we live and groan. We groan in empathy to the world’s pain and in cooperation with the Spirit’s intercession. Our groaning is the place where pain is transformed into prayer. Like Jesus on the cross, we too are suspended between the dimensions of heaven and earth, absorbing and transforming the world’s groans of pain into the groans of prayer so God’s New Creation may be born from the old.

So during Lent, spend a little bit of time each day talking with God about the world around you. Take a ten-minute break each day to take a walk or to sit down on a bench and pray for the people you see. Pray for God’s blessings upon your part of his world. You can also adapt the content of one of Paul’s powerful prayers into your context:

“I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of King Jesus our Lord, the father of glory, would give you, in your spirit, the gift of being wise, of seeing things people can’t normally see, because you are coming to know him and to have the eyes of your inmost self opened to God’s light. Then you will know exactly what the hope is that goes with God’s call; you will know the wealth of the glory of his inheritance in his holy people; and you will know the outstanding greatness of his power towards us who are loyal to him in faith, according to the working of his strength and power. This was the power at work in the king when God raised him from the dead and sat him at his right hand in the heavenly places, above all rule and authority and power and lordship, and above every name that gets itself talked about, both in the present age and also in the age to come.”

The second spiritual discipline is fasting. Traditionally, the Christian Church fasts from meat and dairy during Lent. You may hear Christians discuss what they’re “giving up” for Lent. However, Lent is about self-denial, not giving up something. And there’s a big difference between the two.

“Giving up something” can easily play into our culture’s narcissism. The focus still remains on myself. I’m giving up chocolate, or I’m giving up meat, or I’m giving up social media. But self-denial is learning to shift the focus off of myself in preparation for something greater.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Notice there are three components of being Jesus’ apprentices, of which self-denial is the first. Fasting, when correctly practiced, cooperates with the Holy Spirit in learning how to not focus on yourself by learning to ignore your impulses and appetites. Those impulses and appetites may be natural and good. But learning to abstain from them shifts our natural and automatic inclinations to care for ourselves to something better — carrying our cross and following Jesus.

This leads to the third spiritual discipline — giving. Or as Jesus states, taking up your cross and following me. As we learn how to pray — groaning in the painful overlap between heaven and earth — and how to fast — denying our natural impulses and appetites — we can learn how to give as Jesus gives. Giving is the essence of the cross — self-sacrificial love for the good of others. It is the heart of the royal priest that embodies his or her King — the Lion of Judah who has overcome as the slain sacrificial Lamb.

The spiritual discipline of giving can be practiced by giving away money, time, resources and words. But inherent to this spiritual discipline is learning to intentionally make space within my life to give. This is why self-denial is so important. We have to learn to not automatically respond to our own agendas and appetites in order to make the appropriate space for others in our lives.

So while the spiritual discipline of giving will involve giving money and resources to your local church or to someone in need, it should far exceed it. Giving is blessing, a primary task of God’s royal priesthood. Ultimately, giving is embodying the aforementioned spiritual disciplines so our very lives begin to naturally reflect God’s care and love into our world. It involves, but far exceeds, acts of mercy and charity. It’s a life that blesses by being and living. It’s a life that flows from our core and expresses itself in our attitude, our facial expressions, our posture, and then into our interactions with others. And when appropriate, it’s a life that offers money, time, resources, and counsel in order to express God’s loving care to the world.

I’m learning the hard way that I cannot give or bless if my default reaction to people or situations is anger, anxiety, fear, suspicion, jealousy, retaliation, shame, sarcasm, apathy, or the many other defensive and offensive modes I naturally evoke to ward off the world and protect myself.

And that’s why the spiritual disciplines are so essential. While we may be able to muster moments of prayer, fasting and giving, it’s almost impossible to embody this life, Jesus’ life, without spending time training with God’s Spirit through the disciplines. In this way, training leads to transformation. And cooperating with his Spirit, we become by grace what Christ is by nature for the sake of this world.