during lent I will be blogging and following the blog from www.sflighthouse.org under the Lent banner. I hope to complete the trajectory of "Fit to Live" posts once Lent is complete.
What is this new identity?
Adam is the representative figure for the whole human race. What do I mean by that? Adam represents all of us—he is created in God’s image and yet rejects this to cast his own shadow. When we look at Adam we see all of us. We see one who breathes with the life of God. We turn the page and hear a poet whispering to his beloved. We read a few lines down and are aghast as humanity rejects Creator-God, so that we can be self-god. We are Adam. We are human. What does it mean to be human? Being human is a blended mess of beauty and decay, of compassion and oppression, of romance and divorce, of art and pollution, of seven-course meals and starvation. Ultimately being Adam means newborn babies and breathless cadavers—fresh-skin baby life ending in wrinkled and withered death.
Jesus is the representative figure for all who come to trust God through the gift Jesus Christ. Jesus became a newborn Adam, and died—a breathless cadaver shoved into a tomb. He became us, that we might become him. God raised up Jesus from the dead, showing us a way of escape from the dead-end road of Adam. We are Jesus. We are children of God. God has breathed the Spirit of Jesus Christ into us. Now we are his body. Our past identities, passions, drives, purposes, dreams and lives are washed away in him. This means he lives in us, and we live in him. So we discover who we are in discovering who he is. This discovering process is called discipleship. And we are instructed to spend our lives tethered to this exploration. Discovering who we are in Jesus and helping others to discover who they are in Jesus.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18ff 18 NIV)
These final words of Jesus include (1) one command and (2) two ways in which this command is obeyed. The imperative is clear—make disciples. The manner in which this is done is first, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and second, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus is saying, you make disciples by baptizing them into a new identity. That identity is one that is awash in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Once these disciples embrace their new identity then they are ready to obey my teachings. We have crafted four identities from this summited discourse that we will unpack. We believe this command describes our identity in Jesus as disciple, family, citizen of the Kingdom of God and missionary.
To summarize disciples are:
What is a disciple?
The term disciple and its cognates are used over 269 times in the NT. In the Gospel of John the first title that the first disciples give Jesus is ‘Rabbi’ or Teacher. And the last title before he ascends is, “Rabboni” which means “my teacher.” These early followers of Jesus saw themselves in a student-teacher relationship. Christ’s first work was to make disciples. His mission was to make disciples. And he continues that mission in his disciples. The verb most often associated with disciple is “follow” (gr. akoloutheo). For the Christian disciple the notion is to follow Jesus so intimately that they come to understand reality through him.
Eugene Peterson, in his appropriately named classic, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, describes disciplehood like this, ““Disciples are people who spend their lives apprenticed to their master, Jesus Christ. A disciple is a learner but not in the academic setting of the schoolroom, rather at the worksite of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.”
There typically are two reasons why people don't become disciples of Jesus. First, they may think that they know it all, and don't want to submit to Jesus being the Teacher of their life. Simply put, pride is the cause. Second, they do not want to do the hard work of learning. Laziness and sloth are toxic to the soul of the disciple. The three most significant stages of development in my development as a disciple came at the expense of great sacrifice, work, relinquishing old and faulty ideas and the comfort of familiarity. In the Gospel of Mark disciples are those who’s followership to Jesus results in something valuable getting left behind—money tables, nets and family, houses and lands. In Garden on the night of our Lord’s arrest, we are told of a young man who “was following Jesus, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.” The image is clear—following Jesus may cost you everything.
Could you talk about how the Gospel changes us? Where does the transformation begin?
In the beginning God created us--of all creation--to reflect him, we bore his image and likeness to the cosmos. He declared it so, “Let us make man in our image.” We trusted him. We embraced this call. Each evening we strolled and rested in this God likeness; we were children of God, and we believed God and found our identity in his goodness and in who he declared us to be.
A tree with beautiful knowledge-enhancing fruit was planted in the middle of the garden—its nectar offered knowledge of Good and Bad. According to the story all we knew was good. God centered the tree in Eden and warned us about the tree—“Don't eat from this tree for the day you eat its fruit you would certainly die.” This tree kept the intimacy authentic and trust honest. We could freely choose to trust God and what he said and rest in the identity he gave us; or, if we didn't want to live under the canopy of God’s Reign, we could simply go over and eat the fruit and make ourselves God and seek out an identity in our will and work. One day the Conspirator came along and suggested, “God knows that the day you eat of this fruit you will be like him. That is why he has told you not to eat from it.” This suggestion filled our eyes and hearts with doubts. This new suggestion said that by doing more and asserting our will we could become like God.
We distrusted God’s word, God’s call, the God-given identity that we had. We decided we would “become” like God through our work instead of “be” like God through his word. As we grabbed the nectar, we put on display our disdain and distrust of God. We seized the gavel of moral judgment and became the sole purveyors of determining what was Just and Evil, Right and Wrong, Good and Bad. We decided that we, by effort and will, would discover within ourselves who we were instead of looking to God. And with one bite we sunk out teeth into the lie that we could forge our own identity outside of God’s calling and purpose.
Ever since then we identify ourselves either by what we do for ourselves (career, accomplishments, who we chose to marry, who we parented, what neighborhood we live in) or by what others have done to us (victims of crime and abuse, children of so-and-so). In the latter category, victims are those who find their identity in how they were abused or victimized. And this identity shapes their view of the world of themselves. Victimization doesn't just happen to those who have been hurt, but it can happen to those who have been helped too much and they come to depend on help for their very sense of identity. Then there are those who are the victors, these people define themselves and who they are by what they accomplish, where they went to school, how much money they have, their ranking in the gang or position in the corporation. The lion’s share of the human quest, post-Fall, is to discover who we are. Most people spend their entire life either in self-discovery mode or in self-justification mode (attempting to prove who they are or who they are not). The Bible says the quest to find our identity in what we do or what someone has done to us is sin.
The Gospel changes and transforms our lives by going to our core and changing our identity. The Gospel changes who we are and whose we are and thereby alters our story, world, self, destiny ... everything. This offer from God is not inspiration to become more functional in our brokenness, its not supplemental to life; rather it's an alternative, a radical corrective. God offers a new identity based on who Jesus is and who Jesus has declared us to be. Jesus says that if distrusting God at the Tree flatlined our spiritual vitals then trusting in Jesus paddles our heart back to life, and renews our identity in God. How can this be possible? How can we trust God again? “Because God loves the world so much that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life.”
The church then is a community of “whosoevers” that have come to believe and trust God as the source of their identity, worth, life and hope. And being in the church means you are no longer questing for your identity or languishing through self-discovery, but you have been baptized into the identity of Jesus Christ. The transformation that the Gospel makes in our hearts goes to the core of who we are. God does not demand behavior modification in order for us to be accepted by him; God calls us children, calls us his own and this call, this Word, this declaration like a seed planted in soil, begins to produce a different fruit from the one our selfish and sinful cores produced. God gives us the right to be his children when we come back to trusting and believing in Jesus. This transformation is not merely a Christian task or a Jesus goal or a converted wish; it's an identity shift. It's a reality, a status we have been given. Coming to trust and believe what God is saying over us heals us, restores us, transforms us.
The important question then to ask is not "What are we to do?" but “Who are we in Jesus?” Jesus and the Apostles taught that God changes who we are (identity) and from that we are empowered and grow to change (the works of the flesh, the vices and destructive behaviors of our life). For this reason, our church feels compelled to start with several identity statements of who we are in Jesus Christ.
Stay posted for those statements …
This is post-2 in a string of posts for the Beloved in San Francisco. Its pretty much basic stuff we annually remind ourselves of. Here goes the second question.
So you are making a case that we, as the Beloved, ought not find our value in actionable lists or an axiomatic lists? Where then should we invest our value?
Jesus said, “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35). It seems what Jesus is getting at is that our life-unto-death core value is the Gospel, and that living all out for the Gospel is salvation. Whenever I read this verse I think of the Jack Kerouac quote:
They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"
People that live for the Gospel are mad to live, mad to love, mad to be saved .... Jesus' dialogue with MLK’s quote (see previous post) might have been, “Yes. And when you find your something to die for in the Gospel then you will really live.” Unique to the Beloved is the invitation from the Creator to find our value ('salvation') in the Gospel. The church is made up of people, across the globe, who are not defined and valued by what they do for themselves, but by what God through Jesus Christ has done for them! Before I unpack the Gospel I want to make sure, that we as a community are unified around the superiority of the Gospel, to the degree that we see the Gospel alone is worth our value, the Gospel alone is worth emptying our lives out for.
Jesus adds another layer to this (Mark 10) when he says, "I assure you that everyone who has given up house or family or property, for my sake and for the Gospel will receive ..." The News of God's radical rescue and intervention is the only good, just, beautiful, holy, pure act; so pure, that it's worth forsaking all the things that we tend to work for in life--houses, relationships, property, status. Jesus challenges us to put all our value, all our faith, all our vision, all our sacrifice in the Gospel with such radical energy that what we are left with is a picture of abandonment of houses, things, and status. Why? Because the Gospel is sui generis! It stands alone.
So what is the Gospel? It's news, good news. Not a list of things to do, but this time the Christian version. It's history. It's what God has done for us that when we believe it, changes the way we see God, the way we see the world, the way we see ourselves. It's a story that subverts the dead-end story of our lives. It's not an inspirational and supplemental feel-good story; but an alternative story! When we believe it our present is rewritten. The Gospel offers a radical corrective to the endings that litter the human race.
The Gospel is the radical declaration that full-orbed salvation has come to us in Jesus Christ--past, present, and future. The Gospel declares we are saved from the penalty of sin by faith, that we are being saved from the power of sin by faith, and will be saved from the very presence of sin by faith.
Romans 116 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
Notice the Gospel is God's power to save--not our work to accomplish, not a formula to administer, not steps of salvation--but a trust in God's saving power. Paul's quote from Habakkuk is a summary of the redemptive theme of Scripture--man can ony be made right by trusting God--from Enoch to Noah, from Abraham to David--all made right when they came back to trusting God. We see that being made right with God is revealed "from faith" (past), "to faith" (future) and "by faith" (present). It is all a work of God that we participate with through trust.
Mark unpacks three aspects of the Gospel in his first chapter--
(1) vs1-3, News. This speaks to the historical nature of the Gospel. Yahweh has entered into history through the womb of a woman, the blood relative of God was here to rescue us. That work of intervention required God to subvert the human story by entering the human race, unjustly dying for our hamartia and then being raised from the dead and overthrowing death and all those who power depends on the threat of death. Paul (1 Cor 15:1ff) declares the credibility of Christianity rests on its historical accuracy--'that Jesus died for our sins' and 'that he was raised on the third day'. If this didnt happen Christianity is a sham and not worth even a philisophical discussion. Therefore, Paul offers eyewitness testimony as evidence when he says, "he was buried" (proof of his death) and "was seen by..." (proof of his resurrection.)
There are three images we should take from Mark reciting Isaiah's oracle (ch.40)--(a) Celebration and comfort of the end of war. “comfort, comfort my people … call out to her that her warfare is ended.” Time’s up for the dark forces of death that occupy the land of time. In this image we imagine streets being filled with celebrations, confetti coming down from the buildings as the people dance and sing, "the war has ended." (b) Second image is Yahweh's racing from his Sinai residence in the wilderness to rescue those who are under the occupation of death. “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” When a City was laid siege or a nation was under the occupational forces of another country the only help was from the outside, from a distant King and his army. Isaiah says, "Yahweh's is coming to our rescue through the desert, make a highway for his arrival." Final image ... (c) Zion’s Messengers on the tops of mountains jouously shouting out, “Good News! the Lord is coming with an almighty army against the occupational forces, but like a shepherd to the little ewes and scattered sheep.”
(2) vs.9-11, Identity and a status received. This speaks to the radical transformative nature of the Gospel. Baptism was a way of forging a spiritual identity, a publci declaration of who you were as the people of God. Israel was baptized into Moses in the Red Sea, the next generation was baptized into Joshua in the Jordon. John the Baptizer's Jordon-washed-souls were going back out into the wilderness to be baptized as a way of reenacting the entrance into the promise land and reaffirming their identity as the people of God. Even Jesus particiapates in this declarative moment, but when he does something different happens. The heavens rip, a voice booms, and an dove appears. God declares to us with great affection and pleasure, who Jesus is, "My son." We see the whole work of God--voice, dove, flesh--in the water. This moment in the text unpacks for us another aspect of the Gospel. It is a status received, a declaration made. This aspect of the Gospel speaks to how we are justified by faith in Jesus work. We are given a new status, a new identity. Think of a couple saying their marriage vows--one moment single and the next married. Instant legal and binding status change. Think of a child being adopted into a family, one moment orphaned the very next legally adopted into a family with all rights and priviledges.
(3) vs. 14-15 Ethics. Jesus steps on the scene and declares, "God's reign is here, now! Repent. Believe the Good News." This aspect speaks to the way our lives change their allegiance and rhythm. Tim Keller, calls this aspect the "reversal of values" and that when one believes the Gospel not only does the way they see the world change, but they do not hold near and dear the same things they once held near and dear. Their whole world is upended! Everything is reversed; where they once lived selfishly for the American Dream they now live selflessly for the Kingdom of God. It a Kingdom in which giving is more blessed that receiving, dying is living, humbling oneself is the way up, and self-promotion is the way down. Its a Kingdom where leaders are servants and where the first are last. To clarify we are not saying that we change our values, but that the when we value the Gospel every other value is upended and we are left with a radically different view of life, that is why Paul can say in a world where death represent the finality and end of all that is good, "For me to live it Christ and die is gain."
Each January Lighthouse downshifts with a series of sermons that remind us of who we are, what we are called to do, and where we get the motivation for all of this. There is a common refrain in the Petrine epistles of calling the believers to ‘remember’ since part of being human is forgetting. This year we broke from the lectern and communicated the basics in a Q&A format. I thought the first question was blogworthy:
MLK Jr. once said, “If a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.” We believe we need to remind ourselves of the things we are willing to die for, for in them we find the things we are willing to live for. The things you are willing to die for are called values or core values.
I was surfing the web and I came across a mega-church website and that had 12 Core Values--things like: ‘Irrelevance is irreverence, Expect the unexpected, Pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on you, Do it right and do it big.’ All this got me to thinking about how most churches have core values—Simple Church has 4, Elevation has 10, and Saddleback has 5—how many do we have and what are they?”
What follows was my rationale for not having a bunch of core values.
Values are valuable for two reasons—first, it gives outsiders a profile of the identity of the organization or individual; and second, it gives insiders, a metric for holding true to this identity and maintaining its value. So valuing something so much that you would lay your life down for it is the same vim and vigor that runs through your veins for living life.
Having said that I have an aversion—theological in nature—to creating values, willy-nilly, for the things we ought to do. No matter how noble, good, and loving the activity may be its just not sustainable. When we look to that which expends the energy to be the source of energy we are like a string of Christmas tree lights plugging into itself and not into an outlet.
There is a dysfunctional bent within humanity to etch our values on totem poles and then worship what we ought to be doing. The more noble the list is the better we feel about ourselves. (You know how you feel at the beginning of a year as you write out your goals and values?) Businesses brand it on brochures, individuals scrawl it on resolutions, and even churches publish it on websites. Generating a list of five or ten activities and efforts and then saying, ‘This is what we value,’ makes us, as humans, feel good for two reasons: (1) we have control over what we wrote down, so we feel we are in control. (2) Because the values are valuable to us we feel valuable, significant and even worthy.
There is a potential problem with this. If we tether our values to our actions then our worth is hobbled to our ability. What happens when we don't accomplish what we value? Or what happens when we do accomplish what we value? This results most often in pride (when we accomplish our values) or shame (when we fail to accomplish our values).
For example, lets take the core value of “pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on you.” I’m not even sure where to begin with this!?!?! When we say our core value comes from praying, we are saying we are worthless if we do not pray. Now, as anyone who reads my blog knows, I practice the spiritual disciplines—prayer, fasting, et.al—so I am not taking aim at prayer. I am taking issue with prayer being a core value. If prayer is where I get my value and worth, then I have taken Christianity hostage and thrust it into league with every other manmade religion.
How so? Religions place value in human activity and effort. Islam has its Five Pillars and Buddhism has it Eight Noble Paths. Salvation for these religions—in its generic sense—comes through actionable values. Even Judaism had the Ten Commands, graciously given through Moses (John 1:17). Each of the three religions mentioned teach some form of good deeds such as honoring parents or giving to the poor. Every culture has some version of the Golden Rule. And yet, no one is keeping it. We know that there is a right and wrong, we know there is justice and injustice, there is good and evil, but we are powerless to live these values!
When churches come up with core values and its nothing more than an activity list we have essentially tethered our worth to our work. So I am saying the church should not follow corporate norms on this point or follow religous decorum and write out a bunch of values based on the things we are going to do. That is not what the church is and that should not be how the church defines its worth or how it re-presents itself.
Next Blog I will get into what how we understand values to work within the church ...
Two nights ago I couldn't sleep. I sensed your time with us was drawing to a close so I hopped on my bike and made the peddle over to your studio. Gabriel was there. Stop and think about that for a minute. (He was there because you were there for him.) He said it had been a rough night. As soon as he left, I started praying, singing, crying and reading Scripture. I confessed the Gospel over you again and again.
You kept whispering, “Help me.” And all I could do was stand there helpless and so unhelpful. As I tried to reposition your back into a comfortable place I thought about how death is the enemy of us all. How it separates us from those we love. And how death takes us kicking and screaming. I hated death in that moment. But those feelings of hate quickly gave way to such a deep appreciation and love for Jesus. My voice filled with gratitude for the work Jesus did and I sang, “Jesus is the sweetest name I know.”
I was reminded again of how radical that work of salvation was in your life. Almost forty years of addiction to Meth, a bedfellow of vice after vice as you succumbed to doing anything possible to support that addiction. Three attempted suicides, selling your body for another fix, and the constant downward spiral of darkness and death. You always made a point of telling me, “Forty years of my life was wasted in darkness” and then you would pull out the “before picture.” You always got a kick out of us trying to guess which one was you. I’m usually pretty good at these guessing things, but I totally missed it that day. Then you pointed to yourself and said, “This is after.”
I remember the first Sunday I read your testimony to Lighthouse. You were nervous, a bit worried about what people might think. From the age of 17 onward you believed a lie that God didn't love you and that he was angry with you. You lived in shame and guilt. You carried dark secrets and a bitter trail of hurt and pain only confirmed your suspicious about God’s feelings toward you; taking your life seemed to be the easy way out. As I retold how you shoved the needle in your arm in one final desperate attempt at taking your life, the church moved to the edge of their seats. I continued reading, “something wasn't right, though, the needle wouldn't register, it popped out of my arm and spinning through the air it stabbed itself into a Bible that was on a lampstand next the hotel bed I was sitting on. As I went to retrieve the needle I looked in shock at the passage of Scripture where the needle was pointing—Psalm 103
8The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. ... 10He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
As I read this part there wasn't a dry eye in the room.
The lie was broken that day. You fell on your knees and embraced the love of God, and that is where your life began its radical transformation. The addictions and enslavements, the bitterness and regret washed itself as far as the east and west are from each other. And a wonderful change to hold of your life.
I don't think you can remember much of what happened on your final day on the Planet. I will not forget those moments on the fifth floor of CPMC looking west where the San Francisco hills rolled out into the Golden Gate Bridge and where the vast Pacific dipped into infinity. Rooms with a view, that's how you lived and its fitting that you should exit from such a place. In your room there was a band of brothers—we prayed, read Scripture, told stories, and once again there wasn't a dry eye in the room. Amazingly beautiful how the Gospel enters into our stories and changes the endings. We thanked Jesus for saving you and sharing you with us. We caught glimpses of the living Christ in your life.
You occupied a large space in my life. Your absence leaves a tremendous void. I saw you almost everyday for over five years--broom in hand, out in front of Lighthouse (or what I affectionately refer to as 1337 Sutter :-), you scolded me on that again and again), sweeping the leaves, picking up trash, and smiling at people as they walked by and chirping, "Hiii."
Remember the first Sunday we met? Brian invited you in as you strolled down Sutter. Two people from Lighthouse were moving out of state that day we had brought them up to pray over them and send them out. After the service you walked up to me and said, "Hi my name's Jeffry St. Claire. I saw that two of the people in your church were moving away, can I take one of their spots?"
The next week you grabbed me and said, "Pastor Jeff, can we get coffee I want to share my story with you?"
The next week ... "Pastor Jeff, can I clean up around the church or help out or something?"
And thus you began to slowly move into my Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays and just about everyday, especially after you got your mobile phone. Each Sunday watching you bouncing into Lighthouse, smiling, greeting, singing, waving hands ... and telling me when you liked the sermon and when you didn’t. :) On Mondays I could hear you faithfully and in a voluntary way pulling the trash cans in from the alley (something you and Raven did again and again), and on Tuesdays you were back sweeping floors and singing, and reminding me, "These floors are so clean you can eat off of them!" Fernando Arce has picked up where you left off; you trained him well. I think Fernando and I will clean the floors soon and we will eat a meal off of them in your memory. :) On Wednesday evening you would swing through and remind me, "We need to get a coffee there is more to my testimony I want to share with you!" (this testimony of yours really was amazing. I never tired of hearing about how God saved
you and perhaps will miss this most.) Thursdays you were fixing the chairs, I can still hear you moving the chairs around and singing in Spanish. Friday nights you were present (8pm-10pm) praying and hitting the streets with the Meals on Heels team passing out soup and telling stories about the TL. And then there was the occasional, “Lets go meet so and so he owns a market on Polk and he needs a church to go to."
You would grab me and pull down into the Polk Gulch to meet someone who had no clue who I was what in the world I was doing in their shop. Then you would put your arm around me and introduce me to your next Jesus project with, “He’s my friend.” This was the signature Jeffry statement, “He’s my friend.” And you did this with everyone.
Remember, Charlie? You would sweep his floors a couple times a week, tell him about Jesus and help him display his fruit (pictured right)? And then introduced us with, “He’s my friend.” Or what about Samantha during Solemn Assembly? You talked with Samantha for several hours and brought him to the Lord and then introduced us, “He’s my friend.”
I am praying that Jesus will send me someone like you. I already miss you so much. You pastored me in your own way, you prayed for me everyday--and told me often, you showed me how beautiful it is when Jesus redeems the brokenness of life and in the last 5 years of your life that work of redemption was glorious! You gave a whole new meaning to Psalm 103 that I included here in the KJV since you let me know often that that was your favorite translation :)
Kimo said that you told him you were going to throw down some nuggets for the church mortgage when you get up there. :) I’m standing by with your broom ready to sweep it up.
As you entered into Life I am confident that it was Jesus this time who was saying, “He’s my friend.”
I love you and profusely thank God for allowing me to shepherd you and you to shepherd me.
Jerusalem's report card came in the mail a couple days ago. I already knew her grades since at Christmas she wrapped a make-shift report card and gave it to us with these words, "Dad and mom, my present to you this Christmas is a 4.0 ..."
Here are my grades for 2011. I graded on the curve of my self and my potential.
Next year ... (next blog)
Salvation is the gift of seeing how weakness and vulnerability are the very means by which God saw fit to save us. God did not rip through the veil of sky and earth with the super human powers of a DC comic book hero. No, we are not imaginative enough to dream up a hero like Salvation. Boxing announcers didn't bombastically blather, "Standing in the blue corner, weighing in at 245 lbs. of muscled iron, and casting a 6.5 towering shadow over Jerusalem's sin, Jeeeeeeeeeeesus!"
Salvation is vulnerable, infant-like. When God comes to our rescue he does not show up on the scene as a thirty year old, fully mature, seasoned God in flesh-likeness. He shows up as an infant. God becomes an infant, an infant utterly depending on his mother for nurturing; an infant powerlessly dependent on his father for protection. Salvation comes to us and it’s not at all like we expected. It's a baby. It's God being carried in a womb, God being nursed on a mother’s breast and God being cuddled in a grandmother’s smile. This is salvation.
Simeon the silver-headed Seer is ambling through the Temple courts eight days later and sees Jesus. Jesus’ parents have brought him in for ceremonial circumcision. The old man catches a glimpse of the week-old infant and rushing over he fastens his eyes on the weakly weekling and says,
God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I've seen your salvation;
it's now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.
Simeon takes one look at the Infant and responds, “I am ready to die.” Is it possible that just by looking one can find restful peace? Can one deep gaze set the soul to dancing, pull the pin from the fettering sin? Is it possible that seeing is not merely believing, but seeing is saving? The salvation of God is not three steps, five pillars, eight paths, or ten commands. The salvation of God is news, Good News, God in infant flesh. God identifying with all our dependencies and vulnerabilities. Salvation is not oiled muscle, bold pronouncements or political leveraging. Salvation is not an armed front, a marbled palace, a legion of steaded warriors, and the latest technological instruments of warfare. Salvation is an infant, wrapped in cloth and nestled in a feeding trough. Salvation can be found in stables and cradles, in a mother's arms and a father's protecting presence. Salvation is vulnerable.
And lest we think this is only momentary let us not forget, that Salvation is called a lamb, while salvation's nemesis is a fiery dragon. Salvation bends its knees in muffled cries of broken desire, "Not my will." Salvation gets hungry; and salvation gets tired. Salvation is not a philosophy, a principle, a document or a mandate. It's an infant arriving through a birthing canal, a curly headed boy becoming a man, a man awaiting his end, and an end exposed in the naked death of self. Salvation does not scream, "human rights!" but absorbs the injustices of a kangaroo court and an illegitimate death sentence with nary a word.
Yahweh is Salvation. And in Jesus we see Yahweh using weakness to overcome brut strength, vulnerability to overcome false security, silence to overcome bombast and hype. The precedence is set with the Advent—an infant. God made flesh, God become the servant. And when we look, like Simeon the Seer, into the humanity of God, we realize we have just seen salvation and we are ready to die.
Going up to worship is an oft repeated activity of the Faithful. Peasants and country-folk, blue-collar tradesmen and devoted mothers with children-in-tow pilgrimaging to Zion, to meet God, to rinse away sin and summit with the Eternal. The Ancients always called it going up. Jerusalem was up. Zion was up. The temple was up. It made no difference if you were North, South, West or East. When you began the trek to Zion you were going up. Gathering together to worship is a summonsing to ascend to a place where Heaven and Earth converge. Mark recorded some words on one such occasion:
At the behest of two readers I will spend the next few blogs elucidating some of the finer points of my post on Discipline.
I guess now would be a good time to share my epithet. Since the Beloved Confession is rooted in my epithet and since my epithet is read before I read each benchmark goal or write out my daily tasks.
My epithet states in most simple terms who I am.
“Thoughts lead on to purpose, purpose leads on to actions, actions form habits, habits decide character, and character fixes our destiny.” Tryon Edwards
I have watered and nurtured a 20 year-old tradition that is poking its green life out of the soil . Each year I drag myself to a place of solitude. I hike, pray, read, fast, and contemplate. I force myself to befriend loneliness, concentrate my hunger on God, reorient my priorities to my “First Love,” and spend hours exploring the universe of thought. This all began in 1988. That year, I enrolled in my junior year at a Christian College, studying for a career in Christian Ministry. I was nineteen.
My freshman and sophomore years were a blur of meaningless pursuits, insipid faith, pathetic discipline and arrogant entitlement. I thought once you ‘gave’ your life to God, He would serve you hand-and-foot. One August evening, standing on the patio that led to the church’s chapel, an older friend pointed out how my uncommitted life was nothing more than laziness, and that I really was a fake, a disciple-wanna-be.
“You’ll never amount to anything. Twenty-years from now you look back and be saying “what if”. You have no discipline of prayer or habits of fasting. You sleep in until 7am and coast through your classes, then head off to work, meanwhile you sit on your spiritual butt waiting for God to bless you. You’re not serious about a ministry vocation. You can’t preach. You won’t pray. Nobody's following you. You ain’t no leader. You don't have an excuse!”
Have you ever lost your appetite? Think of the time when it happened. You got in an argument with someone you love at the dinner table and walk off and cant eat. Or your mom goes into surgery and you lose your appetite over worry. Maybe you hear how a certain brand of coffee or chocolate exploits the poor so you refuse to eat that brand again. Or someone says something hurtful to you and you get so angry that cant eat? Imagine being so upset about sin in your life that you lose your appetite. Or you will yourself to not eat because of a few extra pounds you have put on.
Fasting is when you will your appetite into submission to worship. Perhaps you look at the mess you have made of your life and you are so filled with shame that your appetite goes. This was David after his sin with Bathsheba. Fasting is being so hungry for God, so thirsty for his Presence, so desperate to come close to God that you can’t eat. Moses, expressed this, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Anna, the first century prophetess worshiped God with fasting. Fasting happens when ou paint a picture with your emtpy plate of a life void of God Fasting happens when we pour ourselves so deep into the mission of God that we use our hunger pains to express our desire for “his kingdom”. When we fast our growling stomach is a prayer. When we fast our longing for that favorite desert is a longing for the kingdom. This is exactly what Jesus did at the well “I have meat to eat that you know not of.” Fasting happens when you balance out the injustices in our world by resist the impulses of consumerism and giving the money to a charity. And in all of this you worship God. You honor him. You seek nothing in return. When we eat we seek something in return. When we fast we seek God. We give ourselves away. When we fast we feel the gnawing and sympathize with the famished. When we fast we crave our morning coffee, open refrigerators unconsciously, smell our favorite baked goods and then we refuse our wants we discipline our body and we deny ourselves take up the cross and follow Christ.
Below are some articles by Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline) that may help you in your journey of fasting.
Jesus knew how exhausting life can be. He saw Peter stressing over his taxes. He happened upon the crew one day mending nets from an exhausting and unproductive night on the Sea. He watched his associates scrambling and fretting as they realized they invited more people than they could feed. In disbelief and frustration at their predicament they groan, "Where can we get food for 5,000 people." There was the pressure and scrutiny of the system, "You can't pick grain on the sabbath and eat it. Shame on you!" And yet with the same demands and frustrations you and I face in life, he challenged them to embrace life as a mathetes, a disciple or learner.