Becoming – Matthew 5:1-16
This passage concludes with; “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” and it began with the Beatitudes – Jesus’ list of “blessed be’s”. I think from this passage and many of Paul’s teachings it is clear that our blessedness is to be apparent to the world.
If you were asked to describe what God’s blessing looks like, what comes to mind? Who comes to mind? Do you consider yourself blessed? Hopefully our answers will align with Jesus’ views. Let’s crosscheck. Here is Jesus’ list: You are blessed if you; are poor in spirit; mourn; are gentle; are hungery and thirsty for righteousness; are merciful; are pure in heart; are a peacemaker; have been persecuted or have been slandered. So, how blessed are we?
There is a blessed be that is conspicuously absent in the Beatitudes. Did you catch this? Jesus never mentioned material wealth. I mentioned theological tension yesterday. There is a good deal of it around the topic of money within Christianity. Jesus could have resolved a great deal of it if he simply said,
Blessed are they with material wealth for they shall have comfort and security.
While this is a blessed byproduct of the American dream, Jesus, for some reason, left it out. The truth is we in western culture added this one on our own. Yet, in his silence on this topic, Jesus has spoken much. In the midst of the tension between our mindset and His Word, He leaves us with His Spirit to watch over our heart’s with all diligence. With the One with Whom we have to do it is always,
Where is your treasure little ones?
I proposed the idea Thursday that the Truth was in the tension and that we should not fear it nor flee from it. While flight might be a temptation, it would probably be wiser for us to defer to our Alpha and Omega who is taking the long-view in regard to life. From His vantage point, this life is just the blink of an eye.
I suppose in a world infected with darkness Truth is not only in the tension, Truth is the source of it. In our minds, which are to be progressively renewed, tension may indicate the presence of Truth knocking on our heart’s door. So, my prayer is….
Father, may Your Spirit prevail in Your claim on our minds and hearts. May we surrender our perceived rights in this world to You. May You be truly glorified by our lives as we explore the infinite dimensions of blessing, demonstrating them before a world lost in the illusion of the finite. Amen.
Becoming – 2 Corinthians 3:1-18
What exactly is it that we are becoming? John answers this question and also tells us something about what we are now…
Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3
We are currently the children of God and are as pure as is our hope in Him. And as to what we are becoming we are not sure but we have an enormous clue; We shall be like Him! The fact is, regardless of our perception, we are in a very good place and we are on our way to becoming something beyond good. The scriptures use the word “glory” to describe the status of transcendent goodness. God’s Word says that….
We …. are being transformed into the same image (that of Christ’s) from glory to glory. (partial rendering of 2 Corinthians 3:18)
We tend to errently think of ourselves as mere mortals, stuck between the rock of our current temporal trials and the hard place of our likely compounding future ones. Our time-bound appraisals would have been foreign to either Paul or John. These saints considered themselves as currently knowing the transcendent benefits of being God’s children, beings who are becoming, more and more, like Jesus, beings whose future benefits can only be described as exceedingly above and beyond what can be conceived of by frail and immature imaginations.
We especially tend to think of each other as stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. This view stunts the natural growth of the kingdom of God. In our own dim perception we look about and see each other in our plight. In the perceived trends and complexity, we see little hope for good outcomes. We are either saddened, burying our bleak projections of the future in our consciences or we shrug our shoulders and say (with no small amount of religious fatalism) “Oh well. Thy will be done.”
When we live out of this perspective, our highest prayer is typically, “Come quickly Lord Jesus”, revealing our rock-and-hard place outlook (which we incorrectly think of as faith). If we are to cooperate with God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, we will have to learn to cooperate with the transformational ways and means of God as He is both the author and the perfecter of the glorious things we have become and are becoming.
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. (full rendering of 2 Corinthians 3:18)
If we were to see ourselves from His perspective (which is what authentic faith demands of us) we will see each other created in His image, not stuck between rocks and hard places, but being transformed by them. Whether it is God’s glorious objective in our lives to deliver us from or through our circumstances, the theme of glory is inherent to our stories. By faith, our circumstances can be transformed from sentences we must endure into a glorious harvest we will ultimately reap.
This other-oriented seed (which is Christ himself) will one day germinate and blossom into something beautiful on an unimaginable scale! We will see hope and faith as those eternal seeds which God has planted. We will see our circumstances as the perfect soil for them to thrive in. As our vision grows we will look upon each other, seeing Christ’s resemblance. We will bless and encourage what we are seeing in each other’s becoming.
This is more or less how I perceive how God is going about the building of His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It will all happen through an increasingly pure community of faithful children. (Recall, we have prayed “Thy Kingdom come.” more than just a few times.) What if the height and depths of God’s loving intentions involved answering this prayer?! What if we discover that eternity has already begun and that in our childlike, incomplete state, we are even now caught up into it? What if Jesus was being literal and truly, we will not taste death, since we already possess Him as our Life?
I have good friends who love me and are concerned for me because I no longer attend traditional church. One main reason I don’t attend is that I have become so busy experiencing organic Church. Please permit me to offer a Reader’s Digest explanation of that last statement. And please note, I precede with no small amount of love and respect for all believers, however they envision church. This is simply my story.
As one who gave himself for 20 years (most of that time as an elder) to the enterprise of traditional church, I was never able to overcome an unspoken-something which inherently undermined community. Our interactions with each too often revolved around our titles and our institutionally-defined responsibilities. The tragedy, at least to me, was that we could pull this off without even knowing the names of each other’s children!
Time being in short supply, we skipped over authentic relationship and matters of the heart – the origin of all outcomes. While God was endeavoring to write and reveal His glorious story in our lives, we were mostly looking to each other as the means to each other’s ministerial-ends. If we were to have asked, “Is all truly well with your soul?”, we really couldn’t have afforded to pause and hear a complete and authentic answer. Time would not permit it. The show had to go on. To pull this off, we each had to don our institutional hats and perform. If we failed to do this, church, as we know it, would cease to be.
Today, without a title, other than friend, I am able to approach people without much agenda other than a sincere interest in their lives. Without the time constraints of preparing to lead worship, preach a sermon, teach a class or attend meetings, I have the time to better connect with folks (not to mention God) and listen to their hearts and his. I want to hear what God is up to in that domain because I believe it is from that beachhead God will launch His greatest invasion yet into the darkness of His planet. Perhaps He will call it Operation Renovation. Here is one of Paul’s reports from the front lines of this operation…..
You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
As a co-heir with Christ in a now-kingdom, being in dwelt by the Holy Spirit, I don’t see Paul as an historical anomaly. I see him as a representative example and forerunner of who God intends us to be. That is why I believe, by discerning Paul’s motives, we can discover what God is trying to launch within us.
You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
You may be asking, “Aren’t you breaking Paul’s own command in thinking more highly of yourself (and us) than you ought? If you were to ask Paul this question, I believe he would respond….
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
I was recently told by a younger brother in Christ, the reason he had revealed his heart to me was that he knew there was nothing he had to offer me. In other words, he knew he was not a means to my end. We had created, through significant iron sharpening iron experience, a safe space for us to be ourselves in all our current and questionable glory. I think he knew I actually cared for him and was loving him where he was. Hopefully he knows I do not see him stuck between a rock and a hard place. Rather, I see him in a hope-impregnated place of a brother and coheir of the Kingdom who is being transformed from glory to glory. This is the kind of dialogue I found impossible in my institutional religious existence. I perceive that I am freer today than ever before to love people the way that God intended me too.
Father, I pray that you would soon pen the next glorious chapter of the Church where love trumps all. Transform us from the inside out. Reconnect us one to another as those children supremely confident in their status and exceedingly hopeful in your current process of making us ultimately into Your likeness. Show us where the plots of our stories overlap. Show us Your common ways and means in our hearts. Enable us to assume our roles as new covenant servants, agents of Your Holy Spirit, investing in each other’s lives. As we see our challenges as Your opportunities, convert our sorrow into song and our mourning into dancing. So be it.
Becoming – Galatians 5:16-26
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. Galatians 5:16-17
Paul is saying there is an active contradiction within us; our flesh and the Holy Spirit are both vying for our cooperation. How conscious do we need to be of this inner struggle? If our choices are involved don’t we need to recognize the agendas of these opponents within? To be led by the Spirit, I believe it is helpful to have an awareness of our inner lives. When Paul says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law”, he seems to be saying we will either be living in harmony with the Spirit within or in compliance to a written code from without.
if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
This is a timely passage. I have found my flesh (which is not unusual really), tempted to nurse hurt feelings into offenses, to entertain resentment and flirt with bitterness. I knew, in this most recent skirmish, I would have to side with the Holy Spirit’s inner directives in order to work this out in my heart. There is a problem though; this sounds much easier than it is. It is actually quite messy! I knew I had to die to this whole line of thinking (which was all centered around my rights) if I was to walk in the Spirit. Here is what constitutes the messy part; cooperating with the Spirit within was not my first impulse.
This is not our chosen text but perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at in the parable where one son said he would but didn’t and the other said he wouldn’t but did?
A question I have had is; Is this fleshly side of my contradiction to be thought of as a normative outburst of opposition to God, simply confirming my nature as a fallen one? Or, was this a phantom impulse, much like the amputee who feels his toes after his leg has been taken? Or, as a preacher friend proposed, “that God withdrew His presence from me, so as to remind me of my bankrupt status without Him.” One more counselor weighed in, a spiritual father.
Note: Regarding spiritual fathers; They are those who walk in the Spirit along side us, and our messy lives. They love by listening and responding out of the Spirit’s work in their own lives. They do not talk doctrine so much as they talk life, in the trenches. They speak out of an earned and granted authority. They may or may not be graced with any title (other than friend). They are rare indeed!
This father offered some wisdom which has helped me to think about the dynamics of our spirit vs. flesh – contest. While I was bent on thinking of the flesh as my nature, he encouraged me to abandon that track. OK…so, I loosened the bolts on my belief system a bit and ask him to proceed. He suggested it would be better to think of the flesh as a seed bed which is filled with seeds which can be watered, or not. Those seeds would be things like Paul mentions in our passage….
…..immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.
As I was working out my contradiction, it was clear I could deliberately water the seeds which were trying to germinate, or not. I asked my father-friend, “How should I respond when the flesh is intensely insistent in having its own way?” He first told me what not to do. He said, “Don’t let yourself fall into either of the two classic errors in dealing with the flesh. The first being; Don’t proactively start trying to uproot the weeds by developing an excessive focus on sin and making fresh resolutions to live righteously. He warned me this would simply empower sin and create an ongoing and un-winable war. Note: Some plants grow more aggressively when you disturb the roots. (Ever made the error of uprooting Nut Sedge?)
The second being: To think that, as new creations, we are above such skirmishes. This error would be born and sustained by pride. It would eventually lead to denial and religious pretense.
The best council I received from him was this; trust that you are a new creation even in the presence of fleshly assertions (the mess I referred to). In short, battle the flesh indirectly by focusing instead on the Spirit….
Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.
As we learn to respond to our flesh by staying focused on Jesus we will discover, out of our inner most being can flow….
the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
By learning to do this math continually in our hearts we will be crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires. We will be living and walking by the Spirit.
Father, I do initially groan when I sense the tug-of-war within. It does bother me that my first impulse is often fleshly. I am trusting it is your Spirit making me aware when specific sins are crouching at my heart’s door, seeking to do whatever harm it may. Help me to not think too highly (or too lowly) of myself. Thank you so much that even in the messiness of my life, your Spirit intercedes for me and that you are my Advocate. In these messy places which are still being worked out, may grace abound all the more, for Your glory. Thank you so much Lord.
Becoming – Romans 12:1-21
So my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and appropriate worship. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete.
Through the grace which was given to me, I have this to say to each one of you: don’t think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think. Rather, think soberly, in line with faith, the true standard which God has marked out for each of you. As in one body we have many limbs and organs, you see, but none of the parts of the body have the same function, so we, many as we are, are one body in the Messiah, and individually we belong to one another. Romans 12:1-5
I believe Paul is proposing we loosen the fasteners with which our current thinking is so tightly bolted down. Why? He knows our tendency to treat our beliefs as if they (not Christ alone) are our foundation. We tend to think our security is dependent on the accuracy and the thoroughness of our understanding. Tampering with a believer’s rigid structure of ideas is tantamount to causing an earthquake – one of the scariest things (many claim) a human can experience. Yet this is the very thing Paul is calling normal spirituality. In our passage, he is asking us to loosen the fasteners on one large idea where we have been squeezed – our worship.
If Paul were here to ask, “How is your worship today?”, most would question his verb tense since yesterday was Sunday – the day of worship. Didn’t you mean, “How was worship? Our disconnect with Paul here originates with our errant (yet sacred and tightly bolted down) notion that one day is more sacred than another. I believe Paul would weigh in even further and say, “You are also thinking wrongly if you have connected your thinking about worship to a ceremony, ritual, program or feeling. He says….
I am appealing to you by the mercies of God offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and appropriate worship. NAS or the MSG ….
Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
Paul’s point is that as members of a New Covenant, how we live our lives is now our worship. Consequently, our choices constitute our worship. Paul presumes the ruler of this present evil age has been squeezing our thinking into patterns which suit his ends, keeping us bolted down tightly to half truths which insure our worship never finds actual expression in our lives. Satan’s worst nightmare is that the Church become the light of the world. Paul presumes a worshipping life is one where our status quo mindsets are in transformational-flux. He puts it like this…..
Instead (of being squeezed into wordily conformity), be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete.
I believe Paul is saying we should loosen our attachment to the idea of worship as only going some place and ginning up what we deem as appropriate feelings, assenting to particular thoughts, or even participating in prescribed rituals. There is nothing wrong with liturgy, song, emotion or beliefs as long as we do not think of these things exclusively as our spiritual service of worship. The greater part of worship has always involved our simple choices in working out the will of God (that which is good, acceptable and complete) in our daily (often messy) walk around lives.
Father, teach us to love you with the all of our minds and souls and strength. Deliver us from the notion that we have security in anything other than Christ alone. Help us to transfer our beliefs about You, to you – our Rock and our Fortress. Amen
In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (Ephesians 4:22-27)
If you have read much of my writing you know that here, In The Middle With Mystery, I am frequently lodging a protest to much of what I have previously been taught, believed and practiced. Given the sacred nature of our beliefs this is like walking through a mine field. Therefore I type with a fair amount of fear and trembling. After all, who am I to to propose that I have found some higher path? However it is coming off, I am really just trying to tell the story I perceive God is writing in my heart and it is, at best, an imperfect art.
My writing is a protest against ideas deeply engrained in our western Christian mindset. My story includes the (painful) discovery that protests are not welcome. The protest that raised the biggest stink was that we don’t think of church in the same way they did in scripture. The most obvious difference is that the early church did not revolve around a Pastor’s ministry and his weekly sermon. The quipping the saints along side others with unique gifts for the work of service. As I read the New Testament I see the pastor (mentioned twice in the NT) laboring along side others with unique gifts to equip the saints.
In light of the waining influence of Christianity in the west, I have asked myself, “Are the things we consider fundamental such as seminary, church staffs, budgets, buildings, choirs, sermons and programs a means or a hindrance to God’s kingdom objectives? The early church had not conceived of these things yet within it, life spread like wildfire through a decentralized, organic movement of saints. Yet, to advance the cause of the kingdom, most of our contemporary strategies involve just working harder and smarter with our traditional methods. I wonder if we are quantifying well the workers who are burning out giving themselves to the harder-and-smarter approach to Christian leadership. I wonder if we are quantifying how many church attenders have burnt out or are burning out as they follow leaders in old wineskin forms of leadership.
I protested enough to get myself lynched right here in the buckle of the bible belt. I avoided the noose of one likely Oxbow Incident by heading the request of my co-elders to keep my thoughts and questions to myself and to not share them with the rank and file of the body of Christ – my brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I walked for two decades. Upon receiving this request I knew a new chapter of life was about to begin.
However, for us saints who have been given the ministry of reconciliation, every potential lynching can be a place to build up the body of Christ. I have tried to maintain my ties with my leader-friends in the conventional non-profit ministries by following a mandate in our passage today, by….
laying aside falsehood, speaking truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.
To their credit, these precious leaders and friends are not tying the hangman’s knot. They remain my friends. We intentionally attempt to carry on a kingdom dialogue that transcends church politics. It’s really not that hard given the heights and the depths of our God and his continual activity in and around us. Yes, tempers flare at times, feelings get hurt; but where we persevere something eternal is being birthed and stewarded. Even though I’m not invited to share in their settings (which I totally get!) we sharpen each other and frequently find Him in the tensions of our dialogue.
The Church for me is no longer a place or an event. Its networks of friends who are being drawn deeper into God’s amazing heart and His unending kingdom. Organizationally, what I see in the New Testament and what I am attempting to mirror more closely resembles Al Qaeda than anything else I can think of. Al Qaeda is represented by pods of fanatical people who are off the radar who ocasionaly lay their lives down, exploding onto the scene spewing hatred and violence.
The Church I am today most familiar with is also in small pods but they are small because you can only love and care well for just so many others. They too lay down their lives but more on a daily basis as they recognize that they no longer are alone. They have become (as they have been joined to Christ) members of one another obligated to defer one to another. In this sense they are technically no longer their own. They are sensitive to each others deepest and truest needs which at times necessitate speaking the truth in ways that are loving and yet at the same time excruciatingly hard.
For example, I am aware of a collaboration of a few pods who have no names other than friends who are converging this week on a need with the talents and time God has gifted them with. They too are fanatical in the sense that this labor represents their laying their lives down for their brothers and sisters. Once this need was identified, these pods leapt at their opportunity to give. Even though most of them attend traditional services, they have made the distinction between attending a little “c” church and being the big “C” Church.
These people are those who are laying aside their old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and are being renewed in the spirit of their minds. They are putting on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. I predict the devil will have little opportunity this week. Love has barred the door.
My deep suspicion is that it was this kind of love one for another that gave credibility to the original gospel of the kingdom and accounted in some measure for its viral growth. This is the kingdom I am endeavoring to cooperate with and invest in.
Father, may Your Holy Spirit win the day. May we recognize Your presence and activity in us and all around us. Thank you that we live and move and have our being in You. What an astonishing God you truly are.
This passage concludes with; “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” and it began with the Beatitudes – Jesus’ list of “blessed be’s”. I think from this passage and many of Paul’s teachings it is clear that God intends for us to convey our “blessedness” to the world.
If you were asked to describe what God’s blessing looks like, what does your mind instinctively gravitate toward? Who comes to mind? Do you consider yourself blessed? Hopefully our answers will bear resemblence to Jesus’ description. Let’s crosscheck. Here is Jesus’ list. You are blessed if you; are poor in spirit, mourn, are gentle, are hungery and thirsty for righteousness, are merciful, are pure in heart, are a peacemaker, have been persecuted or you have been slandered. So, how blessed are we?
There is a category of blessed be’s that is conspicuously absent in the Beatitudes. Did you catch this? Jesus never mentioned building wealth. I mentioned theological tension yesterday. There is a good deal of tension around the topic of money within Christianity. Jesus could have resolved a great deal of it by simply saying,
“Blessed are the successful for they shall have the comfort and security of material wealth”.
While this is the blessedness of the American dream, Jesus left it out?! The truth is that we in western culture have added this on our own. Yet, in His silence on this theme, Jesus has spoken much. In the midst of the tension between our mindset and His Word, He leaves us with His Spirit to watch over our heart attitude toward wealth with all diligence. With the One with Whom we have to do it is always,
“Where is your treasure little ones?”
I proposed the idea Thursday that the Truth was in the tension and that we should not fear it nor flee from it. While flight may be a real temptation, here it would probably be wise for us to defer to the Alpha and the Omega, Someone who is taking the long-view in regard to Life. From His vantage point, this life, where so much energy is devoted to the pursuit of happiness by means of material comforts, is just the blinking of an eye in the grand scheme of things.
I suppose in a world infected with darkness Truth is not only in the tension, Truth is the source of it. In our minds, which are to be progressively renewed to mirror that of Jesus’, tension may indicate the presence of Truth knocking on our heart’s door. So, my prayer is;
Father, may Your Spirit prevail in Your claim on our minds and our hearts. May we surrender our rights and all our claims for things in this world and transfer title back to You. May You be truly glorified by our lives as we discover the eternal and infinite dimensions of blessing and demonstrate them before a world lost in the illusion of the finite and the temporary. Amen.