Christ Came not to Show us How to be Divine, but How to be Most Fully Human.
When you find yourself in a hopelessly knotted relationship, ask God to show you what of your responses is serving to bind things up. Even if the knots in the relationship are being tied predominantly from the other end, God may show you something you could do differently that would change the whole dynamic of the dance.
Responses...of behavior and attitude and word...will either bind a relationship or set it free. Anger, criticism, micro-managing, interrogation, judgmentalism, and a host of other approaches bind relationships and people both and suck the oxygen from the air. Grace, acceptance, forgiveness, encouragement are among the many responses that will breathe life into relationships and set them free.
It is our effort to make people over into our image that cripples those we love and amputates significant portions of our relationships. The more god-like position we assume, the less able we are to function and live. Because we do not come with credentials of divinity the result is a stress level that goes through the roof as we try to control what we can't control. Whenever anxiety dominates your landscape, check out what you are trying to control that you can't control. Even in the life of Christ, who could control all things ... if He chose to...we see no effort to violate the free will of man. He put truth out there, longing for all to receive it and find life, but He left it for the person to decide what to do with it.
So we have some decisions to make. Do we want to play God, or do we want to be human? Do we want a vibrant relationship....or do we want to be right? Do we want a mutual relationship that encourages the individuals to become most fully who God made them to be? If we play god, we cannot be the human we were born to be. Christ came not to show us how to be Divine. He came to show us how to be most fully human and to celebrate our humanity, not only in us, but in the lives of those we love. Freedom is the great gift that intersects heaven and earth. As God gave it to us, so must we give it to others.
It is a gift of life which all of us can give....if we choose to celebrate what it means to be human.
There is more to hearing than words and sound. There is a listening that both brings life to the listener and imparts life to others. David Steindl-Rast refers to it as listening with your heart. It is a way of hearing that attunes itself for meaning: the meaning of a person's words or actions, the message of the moment...the meaning of a person's life.
The Meaning of a person's words or behavior. The meaning of the words of the rich young ruler who asked the "good Master" what he must do to inherit eternal life was neither about performance or inheritance. Christ's response suggests it was about two things: whom he believed Christ to be, and those things that possessed his soul and made his religious practices incomplete.
Christ heard his words and went to their meaning: "Why do you call me good?" The meaning of "good" went to how he saw Christ...this was critical to this man's life and Christ did not let it pass. "Why do you call me good?" he asked. "there is none good but God." Christ's inquirey was not simply an academic challenge but one of immense meaning for this young man. And he heard Christ's words and changed his own words. When next he addressed Christ, he dropped "good" and called Him simply "master." Not "Good Master"....not God...he had not meant that. "Master" yes. Master teacher....master rabbi. But not Divine. There was only one who was God.
His words framed the message of the moment. It was the pivotal moment of His life. Christ heard the meaning of his words and of his heart. He was a seeker of answers and affirmation, but he was not a seeker of a Lord and owner of his life. One who owns much does not usually want to be owned. His religion had brought him to performance....to checking off "since his youth" those things he was supposed to do....the legalities of the law. But the meaning of the moment was not about the law...it was about the spirit. It was not about obedience, it was about being sold out. It was not about gathering, it was about letting go. It was not about performance, it was about surrender. It was not about leading....it was about following. It was not about having everything in order...it was about casting his life as bread upon the waters. It was about letting go of the possessions that possessed him.
A part of his heart was stirred by Christ...inspired by Him....drawn to Him. That part of his heart grieved as the other part of his heart guided his feet another way that led back home to the life he loved.
You and I must listen to the messages of our own heart and what they really mean. When we fear or stress, when we're anxious or worried, what does it say about about how we see Christ and where we have placed him in our lives? Does He own the day? Is He Lord of this moment...and of my soul? When we are angry or bitter or resentful, what does it say about how we see this good man from Galilee? Is he a great teacher or is He a saving God? Is He a Savior only....or is He the Resurrection and the Life...the Redeemer...who can heal any wound and restore our broken places...who can roll away any stone that entombs our losses and hurts and aching places?
Whom do we believe Him to be? And what are those possessions that possess us? If we listen to the messages of our heart, they may speak to us not only of what really matters to us but they may tell us what we really think of Christ.
"If we say we abide in Him, then we ought to walk even as He walked"
And how did He walk? He walked in humility as both Lion and Lamb. He walked as one who served. As one who healed. As one who liberated. As one who gave life. He did not hide from conflict, in fact he walked right into it...healing on the Sabbath in front of the very ones most surely to be insensed by it. He went to dinner in the homes of those who were His enemy. He drew boundaries when necessary and yet poured out his life as an offering.
So how is this to look in us? We are to live in both His strength and His humility...walking as servants. Seeing ourselves as healers and liberators. Engaging conflict when we must, drawing boundaries where needed. The Christ follower is not called to be a doormat, but he is called to know when to turn the other cheek and go the second mile. He is called to love and live sacrificially.
When we find oursleves in knotted relationships, we are the ones who are to responsd in ways that can loose and set free. When we find ourselves in consuming relationships that drain our power and our distract us from our focus, we are expected to draw boundaries...to go into a deserted place to restore ourselves with our Father. When we encounter a situation where someone is being demeaned or ridiculed, we are to be the healing, restorative agent at least, and the confrontive agent at most. What must matter most to us is not pleasing others, but pleasing Him. Not concern for the opinion of the crowd we walk with but the one we walk after.
He who has called us has called us into a whole new order of man...man who is healer, man who is liberator...man who is life-giver in dying places. We are called to be a "peculiar" people...a people who go about doing good....being Christ to others.
The question above goes not to whether I'm a Methodist or Baptist or which local church I attend, it goes to the kind of church that reflects how we as a people treat God and the kind of church that reflects the nature of my personal walk. When Christ wrote letters, through the apostle John, to seven churches in Asia, He was not only addressing the community of believers but He spoke as well to the individual exhorting him to overcome the systemic flaws of his particular church.
The Church at Ephesus, though strong, had left it's first love. Its primary allegiance to the Lordship of Christ was shifting and was drifting to another shore. Smyrna was humble and small yet filled with great works; it was impoverished yet spiritually rich. Pergamos was located in the middle of pagan culture and while it remained steadfast in its faith it allowed false doctrines to go unchecked and thus become a stumbling-block for its people and for God's purposes. Though Thyatira was better than it had been in its love and service and in its faith and endurance, it tolerated a false teacher and prophet who fed poisonous concepts into the church and polluted its spiritual base. Sardis had the appearance of being alive while inwardly it was dead. Its works were incomplete and they were urged to strengthen what remained that still held vestages of life. Like Smyrna, the church of Philadelphia was small and weak by outward appearance, but was resolute and faithful to the Lord, keeping God's word under difficult circumstances. Laodicea was a church of great wealth, with so much material luxury it had need of nothing. It didn't realize the dire poverty that characterized it spiritually. Because it was so comfortable materially, it was spiritually comfortable as well. Having need of nothing, it had need of nothing but a lukewarm commitment to God.
In these 7 letters, Christ addresses the spiritual characteristics of each community of believers, yet He encourages the individual to step out from the spiritual deficits of each church and rise above, or overcome, them.
Though we do not live in Asia, it is likely we go to a church described above. It does not matter which of these churches we attend; what does matter is which one we personally belong to: Am I drifting from my focus on God? Do I look good on the outside but feel dead on the inside? Am I un-thinking about what I believe and undiscerning about what I hear? Do some of my habits corrupt my soul? Am I so inundated by the riches of this world that I have little need for a spiritual life? Am I so comfortable I have little need for a tinkering God?
The form of man in Eden changed. From perfect oneness with God it plunged into a great nether land between God and Satan, suddenly capable of great good but also of horrid evil. Capable of the human garden-fires of Nero; capable of the Spanish Inquisition and the guillotine and the rack...capable of the Holocaust and Hitler and Stalin. Trapped on a planet careening out of control and snared between the two great force fields of heaven and hell, earth is not hell only because of the restraining hand of God, and it is not Paradise because of the ruling grip of its dark Prince.
Calvary ruptured the nether land. Breached the empire of hell. Broke sin's shackle and reshaped the form of man. Planted the Divine once more in us...in a hidden terrain deep within a believing heart. The Spirit of God, clandestinely placed, can now reclaim His stolen turf...can take over the form of man and make us His once more....if we let Him.
This is the meaning of Paul's directive in Romans 12, "Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God....holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service..." In "conformed" the Greek word for "form" has to do with a form that is not truly ours, that is not the shape of our inward state. It speaks to our external behavior as reflective of the world system and not of who we really are. In "transformed" the Greek word for "form" is different and has to do with externally comporting ourselves in a way that reflects our true form...our form re-made by the indwelling Christ. We have a new form now...since Calvary...since faith in the act of Christ on the cross. Eden's rupture has been restored. The scar of sin's slash on our soul is still there, but our form...our true form is spirit. Our true form is re-fashioned in holiness...reunited with the Divine.
As sin ruptured the laws of nature, so Calvary ruptured the empire of hell. We may choose, now, which route to take, which authority to submit to...which master to serve. If we think we are free to serve neither, we are beguiled. Either we will serve sin or we will serve righteousness. Our choices sell us into slavery...slavery to sin or slavery to God. Sin holds forth the mirage of freedom, but offers an oppressive bondage. Righteousness calls us to deny self - our false self- and ushers us into "the glorious liberty of the children of God."
We have the form of God in us. It is a holy visage. We must choose it if we would fan a sacred fire from the embers of Calvary and touch the hem of heaven with our lives.
"And as he slept...an angel touched him and said 'arise and eat'." Slumber comes more easily for some of us than it does for others. Yet we all sleep, and many of us sleep through life itself. We often sleep through the urgency of the moment, missing its import...missing our children's game...or their lives. We wake up as they are going out the door - or after they are gone; in their place is an empty longing in our heart. In looking back we see it. We see what should have been. We see the tyranny of the urgent that blocked our view of what was important. The job could have waited, but it screamed like a spoiled child and we gave in to its demands, and our more silent child went to a band concert or recital without us; or an elderly parent sits at home waiting for a Sunday afternoon visit that never comes. And one day, their house is empty and the opportunity is no more.
I find myself these days seeking to shake the slumber from my soul. Moments I have slept through lie scattered about me like dirty socks on the floor. And I'm wrestling again with the tyranny of the urgent. There's the friend I should have visited in the hospital or, afterwards, as she recovered at home. Each day brought the resolve to visit - the desire to - and each day brought the urgent...and suddenly she is back at work and my heart did not find its feet when she needed it to walk her way. I told her of my heart, but she did not see it. It was busy with the urgent.
We all have such decisions to make...decisions of priority...decisions refereeing the competition of the moment between two wrestlers. Decisions that require wakefulness. Christ always walked wide-eyed on earth...always listened for the true message the moment held and went with it: pausing on an urgent journey in order to visit with the woman healed of an issue of blood; turning aside from his most urgent trip to Jerusalem to eat at Zacchaeus' house; noticing the soft sound of the widow's mite as she dropped it in the offering cup...awake to the meaning it held.
The moment measured the reach of Christ's life in many ways. As He lived the moment fully awake, and seized its message, His purpose and destiny unfolded upon earth. The holy bread of life ever baked on His coals. Daily, He awakend and ate and found strength for the long journey that ever lay before Him.
"And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, 'Arise and eat: because the journey is too great for you'. And he arose and did eat...and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God." I Kings 19: 7-8
"Where two or more agree in my name, there am I with them."
It is not our agreement with each other that summonses the Lord, it is the Lord's presence that brings agreement in our lives...oneness among many. The word for agreement is a word that suggests a symphony, a wondrous harmony among many parts creating a sound and beauty unmatched by the one.
Amid the relationships of your life, seek God. Seek His ways. Seek His mind...His blessing. Seek to honor Him in your responses to loved ones and to stranger alike. Let a holy light shine in your dealings with fellow strugglers. Let His Spirit create between you and others a bridge, not a barrier, that ferries love and acceptance, communicaiton and harmony between two. Let a symphony play in your world.
Such music can only play as you set the Holy Spirit free in your life. In His presence, there is peace that stills the voices of discord. There is power that stirs creative forces to mend and restore and renew.