It’s so easy to give up. We fail. We get hurt. We sin. We go into hiding. Maybe not outwardly but inwardly we retreat to a place we think is safe, where our disappointments cannot follow. It’s a lie, of course, but since the Garden, we’ve become practiced in this survival tactic. I believe this is where we find Peter in today’s passage.
Peter had made the horrific yet healing discovery that he was not who he thought he was. He was not the fearless disciple who would die with Jesus if it came down to it. He was not the friend he perceived himself to be. He was not the insider who understood how things were going to play out. He was not brave, loyal, or bright. Peter was reeling inwardly without the moorings of his old false self. Yet Peter was about to be rescued, once again, by Jesus, whose courage, friendship and wisdom cannot fail.
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep. (15-17)
As was Jesus’ practice, He did not condemn failure. He simply drilled down into that place where Peter had retreated and threw him the lifeline. While Peter flailed about, drowning in self-pity and self-condemnation, Jesus drew his attention away from those red herrings to the thing that would allow Peter to regain his buoyancy—the love established between Jesus and himself – the love that was never in the least disturbed by Peter’s miserable performance.
It was as if Jesus just fast-forwarded past every awful thing Peter had been rehearsing to himself. Jesus just kept casting the lifeline until Peter finally abandoned his flailing attempts to tread water. Jesus had to disturb Peter. He had to grieve him to rescue him. Jesus had to descend into Peter’s personal hell to save him once again.
Never did Peter’s cowardice and abandonment of Jesus come up. The remedy was not penance; it was simply obedience to the great commandment: go love others as I have loved you. There was no benefit for Peter to continue in his dark introspection. He simply needed to recognize that being loved by Jesus was sufficient and that his life would be found by giving it away as Jesus had always modeled for him. Resurrection life was being realized as his old identity died.
There, over breakfast, Peter was restored. Jesus’ rescue mission established Peter’s identity as his beloved friend and crystalized his vocation—loving others well. Isn’t the Father endeavoring to always do the same thing for us? We need to ask ourselves: how is Jesus disturbing us? Where are we flailing away, mulling over our fallen natures and their profound power. Perhaps Jesus is saying to us as well: “How is that working out for you? Why don’t you simply acknowledge that you have been crucified with me and, of infinitely more importance, raised to eternal life in me? The old man truly is finished.”
Meditating on our fallen natures is so often our red herring. We must make our claim; His life is our life. His life eternally displaces our old life. Honoring our depravity must be replaced by celebrating His triumph. We must simply abandon that old dirge we’ve been taught and go out and love our neighbors.
Father, help us to see the lifelines you are throwing us. Help us to see where we are flailing away in our own energies. May you receive the reward of your suffering. Lead us into the rest that is ours in Christ. Thank you for your long-suffering efforts to rescue us.
The theme that captures my attention in our passage is worship. What comprised worship in this setting? What is worship made up of in ours? In preparation for our exploration, let’s back up just a little to a previous word from Jesus;
And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved. (Matthew 17:22-23)
In our passage an elect group of very dissillusioned and fearful friends of a dead prophet (who claimed to be sent from God, as His Son) have received news that the tomb is empty. Their collective response? “The tomb is empty!? NO WAY!!! Hey, didn’t Jesus say that he would rise after three days!? What did we miss yesterday during that earthquake!?”
The chosen friends of God were already living in the aftershock of a psychic earthquake. Jesus had already shaken their established thoughts of Judaism to to the ground. They thought he was their long awaited Messiah. They presumed he was going to rebuild Judaism and Israel on a new foundation. When Jesus died this foundation crumbled along with their hopes of glory (and safety). As well-known associates of this King of the Jews, the would-be administrators of the new kingdom were now fugitives.
Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. (Matthew 28:1-8)
Again – It may be appropriate to sing in order to recapture something that was going on in the hearts of these disciples and, I believe, was intended to be ongoing in the hearts of all who have been born again. Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06tuvubUkzMs. I cannot read our passage without this song ringing in my ears (and creating tears in my eyes). I believe this is the kind of ringing and tears we want. Back to our passage;
And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:9-10)
We can only imagine what the conversation was like on the way home. Their hopes and dreams had lain in ruins just that morning, yet something was stirring down there in their previously despondent hearts. Do they even dare entertain hope? Hadn’t they just learned that hope is dangerous? They knew as well as anyone that hope can crush as well as elate. Worship or not-to-worship – that is always the question.
But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew28:16-20)
In this moment, they had grasped Life Himself and Life had laid hold of them. And we discover that Life is not deterred by doubt nor is doubt a barrier to hope! If a man can be raised from the dead, anything, absolutely anything, is possible! And we discover that Life is abundantly crammed with purpose! Obviously worship here does not mean, “Please stand and let us sing Hymn #497 together” or, anything like that. This is the kind of worship that drove men to…
come up to Jesus and take hold of His feet and worship Him.
As one who believes the New Testament is our best reference for definitions, strategies and blueprints, I am comfortable saying that whatever worship was going on in the hearts of these men is the same kind of worship God would have for all his children. These eleven were not his real children were they, and all those to follow, his step children? Of course not. Then how can we facilitate this kind of worship? We can begin by amending our own thinking as to what worship is made up of (or not made up of).
In this New Testament example, there was not a professional worship pastor giving them their cues as to how and when to worship. This worship did not happen at a pre-established hour or even upon the pre-established day – the Sabbath. People were not configured in static rows as they worshipped. This worship was not dependent on someone else’s words printed on a screen. They did not have a soloist performing any special music. And (buckle your seat belt), there was no worship band!
What they did have was something akin to a convulsion-of-the-heart. They had a spontaneous reaction to the reality of the living Christ. It expressed itself in an attempt to physically hold of him. He didn’t run away. He just said, “It’s ok…
I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Perhaps it will not be as dramatic (absent the physical presence of Jesus) but our spirits, where the resurrected Christ now lives, are every bit as capable of this same kind of heart-response. God has no step children; whatever worship was going on in their hearts is the same worship God would have for all his children. It is so essential to understand that worship was never intended to be limited to a service held at a particular time or place. It was intended as the ongoing flame, the ever-burning response of the created to its creator, the redeemed to its Redeemer, the child to its Father.
There is no crime in worshipping in a building or at some prescribed time, prompted by some leader unless you really believe that is the meaning of worship. If that is the case, the institutional definition has once again prevailed to the hurt of a soul and a loss to the kingdom. Whether our institutionally conditioned worship is the extent of our worship will not be determined by our confession. Our worship will ultimately be worked out in our lives where we have learned to carry music in our hearts from one task to the next, from one friendship to another.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture (see note) that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture (see note) around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2 MSG)
Note: Culture is the beliefs and customs of a particular society, group, place, or time. I don’t believe it would be wrong to include “religious” cultures in our consideration of Romans 12:1-2.
The worship portrayed in our passage began as men were simply looking for the resurrected Jesus. I believe all who carry this ambition in their hearts will not be disappointed. We should dare to hope and encourage others to follow suit. Emotion, doubt, elation, disappointment and choices – all happening in the context of living (definitely not confined to a service) are the things that make up true worship.
A true shepherd’s ambition would be to equip every soul with this expanded awareness of worship. His heart cry would be, “I’m not the center of Christianity nor is this building.” His mission would be that not a single sheep entrusted to him would be lost to institutional definitions, assumptions and traditions. The true shepherd’s mission is to liberate, to equip us to be the priests at the alters of our own hearts, tending that flame (which is Christ in us) and from there, carry worship into every nook and cranny of our lives.
Father, if need be, let angels and severe earthquakes challenge our well formed religious presumptions. May our hearts lay hold of that for which they were laid hold of, for our soul’s, sake and Your name’s sake. So be it.
I find the dates and events of history interesting, but the personalities who helped fashion that history are fascinating. I love to hear their stories in order to learn the whys beneath the whats. Since everything begins with our hearts, I like knowing the motives behind the deeds. That is why Mary Magdalene stands out to me in today’s passage. I have imagined a scene where Mary has been asked to tell her story.
In my imagination I see her having outlived her fellow disciples. She is an old woman now whose body is nearly worn out, yet whose spirit is still vibrant. Life itself stirs in her eyes and is heard in her voice. It is her 70th birthday, and she is surrounded by the community of saints with whom she has lived for so many years. In our scene, she has just received a gift that seems to have taken her voice away and filled her eyes with hot tears. She and the room are silent, but the air is filled with an exotic aroma. In her lap with the lid removed is an alabaster vial.
After many minutes had passed, she dries her eyes and addressed her benefactors.
“I am speechless with gratitude. How could you have done this?” Still coming to terms with the extravagance, she blurts out, “Oh my, oh my! I know you precious people. How you must have sacrificed to do this!” Gripped by a fresh thought and now trying to make eye contact with every person in the room, she says with a level voice, “As you know, I am familiar with the cost of such things.”
The little girls, taken in by the object’s smell and appearance mobbed Aunt Mary, assaulting her with a barrage of questions. With her grip slightly tighter on her vial, she allows each child to touch it and take in its potent fragrance. As each child takes their turn, Mary says to the larger gathering, “Your gift has taken me back to past events, some of which I recall nearly every hour, and then again, to other things I have not thought of for years. Many of you know the general drift of it, but none of you have heard the whole story. May I disclose to you dear friends a bit more of it? If it is alright with the parents, let’s send the children out of doors for a bit. Ok?”
“I was born into a very, very poor family with too many mouths to feed. I was always hungry for both food and attention. Both were in short supply in this house where, of necessity, all were greedily focused on the business of not starving. From my first memories, I recall every one being chased out the door in the morning with the understanding that we were to beg, borrow, and steal anything that might help sustain us. The streets were where I lived until the law intervened, taking my parents away as the ringleaders of their own little den of thieves. This was when I was probably about 10. I had not yet become a woman.
“We children scattered like rats when the authorities came. I never knew what happened to some of my siblings. Most of us were taken in by extended family—or like me, by opportunists. At first I was in awe of the portions of food I was given and the attention I received. Never had I experienced anything like this. Compared to my street existence, I thought I had become a princess—until my ward began letting men come into my room. It was then I realized I was a slave and I was going to be used.
“I was a street-wise kid, so I knew about prostitutes. They marketed themselves in public. But I did not know that brokers who sold their wares privately marketed children. Even though I was already a hate-filled little thief, I was still a child in my body when horrible, horrible things began to happen.” Mary went silent again for a long time. When she began again, she whispered, “Lord forgive them, they didn’t know what they were doing.”
“What was left of my innocence was taken from me, and I assure you, I forgave no one. You might ask, “Why didn’t you run a way?” I did a few times, and, sadly, I returned because, as filthy as it was, it was preferable to starvation. As I grew into a woman, I received more and more attention. I would be a liar if I were to tell you that I did not enjoy it. This is how I became a prostitute.
“You learn quickly what you must do if you want to eat and avoid getting hurt. I learned my trade well. My wages were all there was to my miserable existence. Every coin I earned was my treasure. I had paid dearly for each of them. Doing what I did causes things to die inside you. Hope dies. Love dies. Any semblance of goodness dies. In its place grew a hard and haughty spirit that lived only for its next coin. There was really nothing else, nothing in my heart at all except…” and Mary lifted the alabaster vial from her lap.
“When I was 18, I took my coins and I bought a vial nearly identical to this. Nothing had ever given me as much pleasure as my alabaster vial full of spikenard. It was a treasure by anyone’s standard, even a princess. This vial was really all I had to show for my life. It was the center of it. I would have never even loosened my grip on it had I not met the One in whose name we gather. Here is what happened…
“It was approaching evening and all the women with families were returning to their homes. As their day concluded, mine was just beginning. This was when I saw three men coming toward me. “Ah customers” I thought. As I made my typical moves toward them, I noticed two of them peeled off as if to avoid me, only one kept walking— straight at me. “Oh no!” As he came nearer I recognized who he was. It was the Rabbi from Galilee, the one rumored to be the Messiah. I had just turned to run, knowing he would make me feel small and dirty like all religious people did, when he said, “Mary wait. We must talk.”
“I was frozen in my tracks. “We must talk? About what? My sin?” Something volcanic within me was rising up. It was undiluted hatred. It was boiling in me. With uncontrolled anger and arrogance, I unloaded on him. “You want to talk about my sin! Well my sin is my vocation. If you want anything from me, show me your money or get out of my face!” I was screaming, “Time is money.” He just said, “Mary, I’m Jesus, and I didn’t come to talk about your sin.”
“When I heard the name “Jesus,” I felt as if I were being ripped in two. Something in me wanted so desperately to respond civilly to this person who had approached me in kindness. Yet something more powerful was drowning that voice with vile thoughts and utterances. It was as though someone (or someones) other than me were speaking. It was my throat and lips forming the oaths, but it was no longer my voice speaking. I vaguely remember my arms flailing away when the last thing I heard was Jesus forcefully saying, “Come out of her!”
“I woke up lying on the pavement. The first eyes that met mine were those of Jesus. I immediately said, ” My sin is my daily bread. Please leave me. I am lost.” His eyes never left mine. He said again, “Mary, I did not come to speak about your sin. I came here to tell you to sell all that you have and to come and follow me.” I said, “Teacher, I have no wealth to give away.” His eyes were piercing my soul when he asked, “So, you have no treasure?” My mind went immediately to my alabaster vial. I once again went silent. He and I both knew. He took my hands and helped me to my feet. Without letting go of them, looking into my eyes, he said, ‘Go and sin no more.’ Since it has been spoken of ever since, everyone knows what happened that evening at the party I crashed…
Returning from her reverie, she said to all, “That is an untold part of my story, and I suspect, in it’s own way, it is yours as well, isn’t it?” For those of us who follow Him, he is faithful to reveal competing treasures. And finally, thank you again for such a gift. This kind of irresponsible extravagance is exactly the kind of stunt he would pull. Bless you all.”
Father, Please show us where our treasures are so that we are not invested in the wrong kingdom. May your Words demolish the defenses we have placed around our idols. Deliver us from evil Lord and let us discover that You Yourself are our daily bread.
And we had our hopes up that he was about to deliver Israel.(Luke 24:21)
The idea that God is about to do a new thing is a cornerstone among Christians. I understand why. Think about it: since the mercies of God are fresh every morning, what could be more predictable than a new thing. Yet, for humans whose thoughts and ways are much lower than God’s, the potential of getting the particulars of that new thing wrong are high, given the theological, dispositional, experiential and physiological variables that color our perception. But oh, how we love our particulars.
Have you ever gotten your hopes up that God was about to do something new, something that has failed to happen? If you have been a follower of Christ for anytime at all, you probably said, “Oh yeah.” Let me ask, what happened to your faith when the new thing did not play out? How have you responded in the months and years since that new thing failed to materialize? From this crossroad there are a number of paths one can take.
One path involves being emotionally wounded and blaming others (including God) for crushing our expectations. The travelers of this trail become victims who carry the heavy loads of bitterness and resentment. They may abandon the notion of a good or a sovereign God altogether because they perceive him as either the perpetrator of or an accessory to whatever the perceived injustice was. This trail just goes in circles. Even though it leads nowhere its travelers generally go there proudly.
Another trail involves re-imaging God such that His goodness and sovereignty could in no way be associated with the disappointing outcome. The reasoning along this trail is tortured, but it goes like this: I am a child of royalty… God gives me the desires of my heart… I didn’t get my particular desire; therefore, I must have used the wrong technique to get my new thing… So, I will now try this new and greater technique in order to acquire the new and greater thing from God. This traveler, with the view of God as one who responds to manipulation, is headed into a wilderness of error barren of relational intimacy. It’s just hard to love a slot machine.
Another trail is quite short, but popular nevertheless. Those taking it really just shift into neutral. They don’t want to renounce their faith. They want to retain the long-term benefits of Christianity (i.e. heaven) so they just settle into a manageable routine of Christian flavored activity and an unspoken vision of survival. They once took the risk. They put their hearts out there on some venture of faith only to have their expectations dashed. These travellers make an inner vow—a kind of pact with their own heart that says, “That will not happen again!” Since it is impossible to please God without faith (i.e. risk) this stalled-out traveler lives with the delusion that neutrality is safe.
Then there are those who, like all travelers, have their hearts broken while living for that new particular thing which evaporated or exploded in their face. This one however has something in their heart that the victims, users and quitters do not. This one has abandoned their heart to a faithful Shepherd, who pledges to see them to their high places. It is their understanding of God that he is both good and sovereign. So even though their natural mind has collected evidence which raises questions about the goodness of God, they discount such thoughts and press on. Such people are the disciples of Jesus Christ.
As the heart relinquishes its rights to itself and its bent on particulars, the kingdom makes its advance. The heart may mourn briefly but its sorrow will be turned to joy as the disciple discovers that Jesus himself is the prize and that intimacy with Him eclipses the realization of any under-imagined particulars. Because God’s intention is to reward us with himself, he jealously attempts to protect us from putting our confidence and expectations in any of the myriad substitutes (idols).
God is indeed a rewarder of those who follow this pathway of faith where the disciple honors who God is and what he says above his own human appraisal of matters. The authentic disciple makes the same discovery that the Emmaus road travelers did: the particulars of one’s expectations can be wrong. God was up to something far greater than establishing sovereignty over a geographic region or a singular nation. He was (and is) establishing his kingdom one heart at a time.
Father, as you did with your disciples, open our hearts and eyes to grasp the bigger picture of your redemption. Help us to let go of all our idols—making way for you, the King of glory, to triumph in our hearts, winning our affections away from all the competition. May we see the pathway of abiding with unprecedented clarity. Let this be our new thing.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24:12)
If you will copy and paste; hymnbook.igracemusic.com/hymns/arise–my–soul–arise into a search engine you will find an Indelible Grace Music sight. You will see the beautiful lyrics of Arise My Soul by Charles Wesley. In the bottom right hand corner you will see an album cover with an invitation to Download / Buy CD. Click on it. (You won’t buy anything by doing this.) Click on #6 which is a modernized version of this hymn. Today, it might be a good idea to sing first – then read. My favorite line is from the chorus…
Arise my soul arise. Shake off your guilty fears and rise.
If “doctrine” is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word “resurrection”, I pray that today’s MwM post will shake up your thinking. Sure, the resurrection is a doctrine, as is the virgin birth and the cross. The difference between these doctrines and the resurrection is that we were not born of a virgin nor were we crucified on the cross but we have been buried in Christ and resurrected into newness of life, in Christ. The resurrection is not just a doctrine, it is the essential experience facilitating our adoption as God’s children. Outside of Christ, we are walking in death (regardless of the doctrines we subscribe to). In Christ, we walk in a brand new realm – abundant life. The old things have passed away, newness of resurrection life has come. It is one thing to be an adherent of the Christian religion and its doctrines. Its another thing altogether to be raised from the dead. When we stand before God, we will want more than correct doctrine; we will want to be resurrected in Christ’s life.
Many of my dearest friends came to faith at a young age. They were attending Sunday School or a youth retreat and something clicked; they knew in their hearts that Jesus was alive and had died for their sins. I believe from that point, they have had Christ’s life in them. They typically confessed this to someone and were then baptized into the church (and into its culture). The classical vision of the evangelical church has been to help these newborn sheep, by way of sermon and Sunday School, to continue on in their mastery of doctrinal truths. The problem is that many people on this well established track have burnt out or are burning out. Why? I believe it is God’s grace.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)
When a person believes in Christ, they are baptized into Him. This is much more than being baptized into the local community of saints (regardless of their label). I believe Christ enters a life when He is invited. I also believe the expression this new life is influenced by examples and the vision of the Church those examples portray. Are the impressionable young sheep presented with a vision of bible knowledge accumulation and compliance to church culture or are they presented with radical examples of resurrection life which caused them to marvel?
Many of my friends who have burnt out are starting to make claims upon the life of Christ within them. Why? By God’s grace they see that the institution itself was not the umbilical cord. The bricks and mortar and the programs were deficient representations of what they read about in scripture. By God’s grace many of them have had their hearts broken yet stand with fresh hunger, on the threshold of a personal discovery of Christ’s life within – the hope of glory.
While I anticipate heaven, my understanding of God’s kingdom (Jesus’ primary message) causes me to anticipate the expression of Jesus’ life in the here-and-now. This hope rests in Christ alone – Christ in us. I don’t believe many evangelical church’s have this idea embedded in the vision they have cast. If the vision cast is not a New Testament-sized-and-shaped vision, the local church has underrepresented the life of God. In light of this, I could imagine the lot of us, emitting a fowl aroma instead of a fragrant one. I could imagine us, creating a lukewarm kind of taste. I do believe God has it in mind to work on our odor and temperature. (Please keep in mind that nothing, even our odor or taste, can separate us from the love of God.)
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Transformation is a controversial subject, especially among those heavily steeped in the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. In this culture, God is in perfect control, which implies that what we have and what we see is here by sovereign design. Asking questions regarding the validity of anything is tantamount to heresy. I see sovereignty and election powerfully conveyed in the scriptures but I also see the apostles, prophets and teachers laboring to amend thinking that is in error. If these early leaders had been adequately equipped with the pure doctrine of God’s sovereignty, they should have let these errors go; God had permitted them. They were meddling.
There are other sovereigns at work in our story. A sovereign is anyone exercising authority within some sphere of influence. We are sovereigns in this sense as is the devil. Paul was waging an all out intentional war on the world, the flesh and the devil. To do this He needed to equip the Church with a vision. This vision included every beilever as a front line soldier in this sphere where three sovereigns (God, the devil and ourselves) were competing for rulership. The Church, those who are in Christ and have Christ in them are the swing vote. When they vote correctly, the kingdom of Light expands. Is this the vision young impressionable sheep have been indoctrinated with?
There is a generation of millennials who will soon inherit the leadership of this world. Many of them are question askers. What would happen if their questions regarding the old wineskin vision of the Christian religion led them to a fresh encounter with resurrection life? If the millennial leaders with Christendom were to experience resurrection life (i.e. Christ in them), the course of human affairs would be altered. My pray is that the apostles of the Church would rise up and infect this generation with a New Testament-sized vision of Christ’s life. May this be.
If you have wondered just what a millennial is, by all means check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLpE1Pa8vvI. Micah Taylor sings all four parts of “You Gotta Love Millennials.”
Poor Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus showed up. I believe his experience raises an important question for those who would follow Christ. How are we to think about our relationship with God when we, for reasons we cannot grasp, seem to be absent when Jesus shows up?
During a season in the mid-90’s, the phrase, “More Lord!” was prayed and declared thousands upon thousands of times by people around the world. Many, but certainly not all, who prayed this prayer would testify, “God indeed showed up!” Yet, there were those who earnestly desired to receive “more” who did not. How are his children to calibrate their expectations?
I came into the kingdom through two more Lord encounters. The first was what most evangelicals refer to as “a salvation” experience. However it didn’t involve deep remorse over my sin or fear of hell. It involved a lonely young man who knew he was lost and felt that hell already had its grip on him. At the conclusion of a church service (which I stumbled into while trailing a girl) I was asked if I would like to invite Jesus Christ into my heart as my personal savior. I recall my words as if they were yesterday. With more earnestness than I had ever spoken, I said, “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. But, I will do this; I will give my life unconditionally to Jesus and He can do anything He wants with it.” To my utter astonishment, He took me at my word. Over a period of weeks something incredible transpired in my heart. Although this experience was radically transformational, it did not contain much emotion or drama beyond the miracle of peace in my heart and a newfound freedom from bondage. I definitely had more of the Lord!
The second of these encounters happened a few moths later after I had reconnected with some old friends one weekend and did some carousing. To say I felt miserable afterward would be a gross understatement. Because I had lost the feelings of peace and the joy that I had known, I assumed I had lost my union with the One who had provided it. It’s hard to describe how desolate I felt, knowing I had offended Jesus and squandered the most precious relationship I had ever known. During my two-hour drive home, I experienced something that explains why I have spent most of the past 40 years among those with Pentecostal leanings. Evangelicals withdrew from me when I told them about this experience.
They are all I have, but words alone are inadequate to describe what happened after I told God that I missed Him. After my plea; “Please do not take the Holy Spirit from me” I learned a few things about my God. Here is the briefest of summaries: God was not angry. He did not express an iota of anger! He made it abundantly clear that he was my Father and that he would always rescue me when I called out to him. It was also super clear that he is still speaking today and His unseen presence can be manifest to a man. He revealed to me that his majesty is incomprehensible and His love is unfathomable. These truths were not spoken in words. These revelations came in waves. Though no words (as we think of them) were spoken I heard these things with resounding clarity in my heart. This was encounter #2. You can imagine how my expectations were now calibrated.
I use words to describe our inner life with God—this realm where our spirits connect with his. At the same tIme, I know mere words are pitifully inadequate. The best wordsmiths can only point us toward God. However, suppose words could usher us into divine intimacy; our coveted encounter would still be just our personal experience. What is to be done with the “More Lord” sentiments of our hearts? I believe, as his disciples, we must learn to steward them and our longings for them.
In the mid-90’s, how deeply I wanted a re-visitation of God that would inspire me as I had been in 1976. I felt I needed that wind of inspiration to move me through a deep slough of despond. It was not to come, at least not as I had anticipated. After I had nearly exhausted myself trying to chase down another more-Lord encounter, I eventually prayed something like this—it might sound familiar:
“I don’t have a clue what you’re doing God, but I will do this: I will (once again) give my life unconditionally to you. You can do anything you want with it.”
Again, He took me at my word, and over a few years, my heart once again enjoyed peace and joy.
If you read the Bible and if you sample the stories of believers over time and throughout the world, it is clear that God arranges for some to experience Him in dramatic fashion. We may think of these people as blessed—I believe they are. However, Jesus also says:
Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed. (John 20-29)
Because I have been both, one who has received more and one who has not, I am grateful to the Lord for permitting me both, but especially for the seasons of longing—those times where waiting has been the only option. In those unwanted (even resented) seasons, I made the counterintuitive discovery that while I was striving for more, I already had it. In Christ, we have everything. He is our All in All. In retrospect I see that my “More Lord” prayers contained unbelief, restlessness, dissatisfaction, and complaint mingled in with some legitimate hunger. While my mouth was saying, “More Lord” my heart was really saying, “This is not enough Lord!”
The strife in my heart (which I had labeled as holy zeal), may have been unavoidable, but it was by no means the long-term condition God aspired for me. God wanted rest for my soul. There is a unique place in God where we deal with the apparent contradictions of hunger and rest, where we are deeply satisfied with each moment in him while our hearts are yet crying out for the intimacy which is destined to one day be complete. Being aware of this may help us steward our thirst for Him.
I was inspired by my God encounter, but it has been the seasons of waiting where I have discovered my identity in Christ, which I consider to be my birthright. I have experienced a moment-in-time encounter with God, and it was glorious, but I believe I have benefited at least as much from waiting on God, discovering by faith that He is always present (even when my feelings are uncooperative). It is while walking with him through life’s challenging circumstances that I am coming to know Him and myself. Our stewardship in this process of encounter and waiting is a large part of what it means to be His disciple.
Father, help us to recognize our completeness in Christ. Purge every ounce of religious striving from our being. At the same time, return our heart’s to childlike joy and faith that unashamedly asks for more and rightly understands your goodness and generosity. Teach our insecure hearts to embrace both the Word and the Spirit and to honor all men in their experience with you. Amen.
Epilogue. If you read the whole passage you find that Thomas eventually had his encounter with a very patient Lord who will not loose a single one that has been given him. We are God’s inheritance. He is supremely jealous and protective of us. It may be a mystery that goes unresolved on earth, but in the process of putting our hearts and this world to rights he will use, as he always has, both encounter and process. For some, including Paul, God blesses by just pouring out revelation, making the need of initial faith of less importance. For others, he reserves for them the privilege of acquiring their birthrights by faith, reserving for them the upside blessing of those who have believed without seeing. The good news for disciples is that Thomas had his encounter; so shall we.