Jesus’ Greatest Gift: Going Away!?

When Jesus stepped down from glory, there is little doubt that there were going to be many challenging days in working with humanity even amongst his innermost circle. He had expectations and hopes for this lot (Luke 9:1-6); yet there were also days like the one in Mark 9, that left Jesus asking questions of his closest friends that to some could seem somewhat condescending.  Unable to help a father with a demon possessed child, the disciples had to listen to the father recount their failure to Jesus. He turned and asked two questions:

O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you?”

Was Jesus frustrated with his disciples or was there something else? What if Jesus was aware of a deficiency in the present relationship with his followers that made the appropriation of his teaching difficult?  What if he knew that his physical presence was in the way of a deeper experience? He would probably want to get out of the way.

Andrew Murray, a prolific writer and Anglican priest suggests, “Even Christ himself, as long as He was in the flesh, and until the dispensation of the Spirit took place, could not by His words effect in His disciples what He desired.”  It sounds scandalous at the first reading.  Yet, the weeks following Christ’s death seem to suggest the disciples did not understand at all what was happening even though Christ had explicitly told them his death and resurrection were going to take place.

In the days leading up to Jesus’ arrest, he challenged his disciples with the promise of the Helper.  He says, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7).  A pregnant statement is as creative and subversive as a well- aimed question…

No doubt this statement raised the following profound question for His followers:

“REALLY?”

In what world is it better to substitute a visible, enfleshed extraordinary friend for an “invisible,” unknown one?

Perhaps in a world, where Jesus says it’s to our advantage.  In the flesh, Jesus was incapable of bringing to life his followers through mere teaching and his physical presence alone.  The Spirit, however, is both necessary and sufficient to our life with God.  Jesus knew this.  This was always Jesus’ end play.  If we stop short at his death and resurrection to celebrate forgiveness (which is totally awesome), we miss the gift of his glorification… Pentecost and its’ power (God’s love).

Appearing in the upper room after his resurrection, Jesus breathed on his disciples telling them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  The indwelling Spirit is re-genesis… a person “fully alive, fully awake and fully human.”  The apostle Paul suggests that with this infusion of life not just the Spirit but all the fullness of God becomes available to the spirit born follower of Christ (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Jesus then instructs His followers to wait for the Spirit.  When He comes in Acts 2, the first followers of Jesus experience the goal of redemption… union with God.  The words of Jesus infused by the Spirit of truth become the words of life, the living and indwelling presence and power of God.  The result is all heaven breaks loose.  Jesus’ frustrated hope comes to completion because in and through the Spirit Christ comes to take up residence within His followers.  The Holy Spirit reveals Christ.  He continues the work of Christ’s incarnation within us.  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Do you know the Spirit? Have you ever wondered if you’ve been filled with the Spirit?

A.W. Tozer suggests that those who have been know it.  If you don’t know it, don’t beat yourself up about it; this is where you begin.  Do the things that Jesus did and follow what he says and grow into the life that Jesus’ promises.  Jesus seemed to think the Spirit was worth the wait!

 

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Thoughts on the Kingdom (Part 7)

The Good Life

Lying in the grass, looking up, have you ever seen the jet exhaust trails painted on the blue canvas we call sky.  This is a picture of life depicted in the closing verse of Psalm 23.  “Surely goodness and mercy (loving kindness) will follow me all the days of my life as I dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Goodness and mercy are the jet trails of a life lived in connection with God.  They are the footprint of God at work in and through a life abiding with him.  Jesus tells us in John 15 that “apart from me, you can do nothing.”  The good life is a life of green pastures, still waters, valleys of darkness, supper with enemies in which there is an overflow of compassion and love weaving throughout the chapters of your life.  In John 15:8, the apostle tells us that bearing fruit and proving to be Jesus’ apprentice brings glory to God. This is the life we have always wanted.  We were created in the beginning for union with God and we have been lost in meaninglessness ever since this connection was severed.  Jesus has not only re-established this connection through his life, death and resurrection, but he is the first human since the fall to demonstrate what a life looks like submitted to the will of the Father, working in partnership with the Father as the restorative agent of creation.  Jesus shows us what it looks like to live fully alive, fully awake, and fully human in the kingdom of God.  Be part of the revolution of love in your life context but intentionally doing what Jesus said and did.  Abide and give him more waking moments each day.  Awake and live intentionally in the ordinary.  Unleash Heaven today with one intentional act to live for the good of the other.

 

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Thoughts on the Kingdom (Part 6)

He is with me

There are no guarantees today that things are going to get easier or things will go your way.  Just as the shepherd leads through green pastures and still waters, the psalmist reminds us that he also leads through “the valley of the shadow of darkness.”  There is a toxic belief within the church today that following Jesus and participating in the kingdom means life will be devoid of suffering.  This is not promised in the Scripture nor is it a reality in the saints throughout history.  Following Jesus involves the taking up the personal cross.  As an apprentice of Christ, we must do what he did.  When he tells us to “take up our cross,” he is inviting us to take up the instrument of our death and follow him; and in doing so, he promises to be with us.  “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:3).  The Psalmist says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of darkness, I will fear no evil for YOU are with me.”   The life with God is not a life devoid of suffering; in fact, it is a life in which suffering is embraced and recognized as necessary in the process of our becoming like Christ.  We must embrace that to become like Christ involves personal crucifixion.  “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).  Why is there suffering?  We may never have a definitive or satisfying answer to this; however, we have the actions of a loving God, who inserted himself into the midst of suffering and somehow co-opts its effects and utilizes them for our good.  Life lived with God is a life lived in ruthless trust that He is with me in the midst of suffering and that, “All things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rm. 8:28).

 

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Thoughts on the Kingdom (Part 5)

You are not alone

Intimacy is at the heart of the kingdom.  Jesus is the ultimate shepherd.  “I know my own and my own know me (Jn 10: 14).  You are known by name.  Stop reading and think about that for a few moments.  You know those feelings of being alone, being lost, or being misunderstood; allow this thought to soak into those dry and cracked crevices in your life.  Be filled with truth.  This isn’t mere propositional truth; it is meant to be lived and experienced.  You are not alone.  The Psalmist says, “You have searched me and known me… You are acquainted with all my ways… You hem me in, behind and before and lay your hand upon me (Ps 139:5).  You are totally immersed in God.  You know the feeling of being underwater and the sensation of water touching every part of your skin?  This is life with God.  Think for a moment… every breath you take today is filled with breath of God.  You breathe his presence into your being.  He flows through your being bringing life to your spirit.  Paul tells us that “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  You are soaked in the intimate relationship of the kingdom of God.  As a result you have everything you need for today.  Jesus is the good shepherd regardless of how you feel today.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Why?  Because you are known and you have everything you need.

 

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Thoughts on the Kingdom (Part 4)

Partnership

Jesus delights and dwells in you.  This is the reality of life lived with God.  He wants you to come away with Him and live life in partnership with him right now in this present moment.  What is the will of God in the present moment?  The answer is tragically simplistic:  whoever or whatever is in front of you at any particular moment.  It’s tragic because we have made life with God so incredibly complex.  Jesus’ way of life in the Gospels is the way of partnership.  “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (Jn 5:19)  And what was the Father up to?  From the reading of the Gospels, one gets the impression that the Father was into interruption because Jesus was constantly being interrupted by crowds and individuals.  Jesus simply stopped what he was doing and did whatever he saw the Father doing in that moment.  How do we live this way?  Learn to get comfortably acquainted with interruption.  “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also” (Jn 12:26).  As a first step today, pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace and power necessary to be fully awake for one more moment than yesterday and simply wait for divine interruptions or life’s intersections to come your way.  Pray that you be granted “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being… that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  (Eph 3: 14-21)

 

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Thoughts on the Kingdom (Part 3)

Submission to King Jesus

There is a concern within the Orthodox Christian tradition, that the idea of the kingdom of God creates a problem with perception.  We come to equate the kingdom with a geographical space and time; however, the kingdom isn’t merely about location and time.  It is eternal and omnipresent; therefore its reality steps out of time and place.  It isn’t just a future reality because it is a present reality.  Thus Orthodox theologians interpret the word “kingdom” as “reign.”  The kingdom of God is the reign of God.  It is a redefining of reality as subjugated to the King of that reality.   Simply stated, if there is a reign, there is a king.  If there is a king, there are subjects.  Jesus is king.  Life with God is life lived in submission to the king.  Submission is a daily practice of stepping off of the throne of life.  It is acknowledging that you live in a reality where what Jesus wants done in this moment is done.  You can either resist this reality in an attempt to live as king for the day, or you can submit to Jesus and live a life in partnership with the will of God and in so doing progressively awaken into “union with God.”  This is what it means to be saved and “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)  In Matthew 11:28 Jesus invites us into this reality, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (for your souls).”  Rest comes as a result of submission to the will of the king.  No longer is your life about securing your outcomes and intentions; life is simply lived in partnership as a restorative agent within the unfolding chapters of your life.  Release all outcomes but one… “Seek you first the kingdom of God” and everything else will fall into place.”

 

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Thoughts on the Kingdom (Part 2)

The Gospel of the Kingdom…

In Matthew 4:17, we read that Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  He is suggesting that a new reality is breaking into the present moment.  There is a new king in town; the former ruler of the world has been ousted (John 12:31).  The reign of God has begun in which Christ sits as Lord and King.  Jesus calls us throughout the Gospels to wake up to this good news.  Now there is some confusion with what Jesus meant by “repent.”  Many have come to believe, through no fault of their own, that repent simply means a one-time apologizing for their sin; when in reality, repent is a progressive and continual act of turning and seeing anew.  Open your eyes and see what is really going on.  Repentance is an invitation to a whole new way of seeing.  The Gospel of the kingdom is best understood as an awakening to life with God in the present moment.  The kingdom sets the context for the revelation of the king in the present moment.  Today, right now as you read this; the king is inviting you to presence, to experience eternal life.  In John 17:3, Jesus tells us, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  Eternal life is a relationship not merely a destination.  It is a living reality of life with God in the present moment.  This is good news.  Heaven doesn’t have to wait.  It has already begun.

 

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Thoughts on the Kingdom (Part 1)

Your Kingdom Come….

I’m sure you have been told that the kingdom of God is here, yet you watch the news or simply spend a day in your own life and are left questioning the validity and viability of this reality.  There is much confusion as we sense that His kingdom may be in trouble.  But what if it is true that the kingdom of God is strong and secure and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.  It could mean that living under the reign of God, you are completely safe not because God removes all possibility of danger but because there is nothing happening that is irredeemable.  Everything belongs.  Everything becomes invitation.  He is inviting you today to wake up for just one more moment of your day and begin to see what is really going on.  Yes, there is good and evil, but neither reality falls outside of the redemptive and restorative work taking place through the rock, Jesus Christ, thrown into the lake of our existence some 2,000 years ago.  His splash continues to make ripples in each life he comes in contact with.  Jesus came to do the will of the Father.  We pray with Jesus today, “Our Father who is in heaven, we praise your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

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Apprenticing with Jesus (Part 1)

When I think apprenticeship, I think of the movie The Karate Kid.  The kid, Daniel, wanted to learn karate and begin his training immediately.  Mr Miyagi had him doing seemingly irrelevant everyday chores for weeks on end.  Remember:  “Wax on… Wax off.”  Daniel became frustrated with these “insignificant” tasks only to discover later that these assigned tasks were the groundwork for the technique later taught by his master.  The same is true in our apprenticeship with Christ.  Much of what we are practicing in our daily life doesn’t seem “spiritual” yet learning to live fully engaged in the present moment and in conversation with God is at the heart of the transformation process.  We are learning to live in our own lives as Christ would live by doing what Jesus said and what he did and by trusting that in doing so something is happening deep within us through the power of the Holy Spirit that is fostering intimacy with God so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Apprenticing begins for me with the understanding that I live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God.  This kingdom is never in trouble and neither are those who dwell in it.  Why is this the case?  Because under the reign of God everything that God wants done is done.  While this doesn’t explain why evil is permitted in the world, it provides the confidence that there is no irredeemable harm that can come into your life.  Trust and dependence is the oxygen of the universe.  All good things come from Him; all bad things can be redeemed.  This is the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23 as well as the valley of the shadow of darkness.  These realities are under-girded with the greatest reality of all… I am with you.

Apprenticeship is learning to live with God just as Jesus lived each day with the Father.  I’ve been reading the Gospel of John since Christmas and am struck over and over again on Jesus’ dependence on the Father.  “I can do nothing apart from the Father.”  “I can only do what the Father is doing.”  In John 15, the great abiding chapter, Jesus makes the statement, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”  This is true because Jesus only does what the Father is doing. In Christ, we live in the reality of the reign of God because Jesus doesn’t just preach about the kingdom; he is “a living, breathing, tangible, touchable, real-life expression and embodiment of the Kingdom” (James Bryan Smith).

 

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A Tale of Two Trees: Musings on the Kingdom of God & Spiritual Formation

In the beginning, God was and the eternal reality of the kingdom or reign of God was.  In this kingdom, His will was done by his legions of created beings known as angels.  All life and light flowed from God’s throne.  Everything was created for his glory and radiated his glory, and it was good.  God existed in relationship as a triune being: the Father, the pre-existent and eternal Son, and the Holy Spirit.  They conversed and lived in reciprocal relationship with one another and everything was fostered and created out of this relational reality.  Talking amongst Himself, God purposed to extend his kingdom beyond the spiritual and into a new material reality.  This new reality would teem with life and extend His kingdom from heaven to the material universe.  Somewhere in the middle of this ever expanding material universe, God purposed to place a planet and on this planet place his greatest creation, a spiritual being with a physical body created in the Imageo Dei.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  In this extension of His kingdom, His will was to be done by the caretakers and stewards of this planet known as human beings.  These beings were created for reciprocal relationship with God and each other.  Everything on earth and in the physical universe was created for his glory and radiated his glory, and it was good.  The first humans lived in relationship with God and stewarded creation.  All was given to humanity to create and bring glory to God.  This new world teemed with life and was radiant with life.  Life was knowing God and being known by God.  His will was done on earth as it is in heaven.  The kingdom of God was fully present.

God placed the first humans in the Garden of Eden and made them its caretaker.  He placed two trees in the center of this garden: the first tree was known as the Tree of Life and the second the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The first tree gave life; the second tree would bring death.  The first tree represented connection and submission; the second tree represented will to power.

The Tree of Life ensured a proper relation of God with his creation for all who ate from its branches.  God sat on the throne; the human heart, will and spirit were intimately interconnected in a submissive relationship to the will of God.  His will was done on earth as it was in heaven.  The physical body served the soul, mind, and spirit under the rule of God.  The heavenly nature or spirit of the human being was alive and vibrant with life.   Life flowed from connection with God.

The fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil ensured death by severing the necessary connection of the spirit to the source of life.  As a result, humanity would experience spiritual death.  Disconnected from God, the ruined soul would be quick to set itself on the throne of the kingdom of earth.  In the place of God, the usurper would become the ruler of this kingdom and would turn all pursuits from God to serving self in the place of God.  God would serve the deadened spirit, mind and soul under the rule of the body.  Chaos would ensue in this clash of the titans.  When everyone is seeking to fulfill the desires of their flesh, there will always be collateral damage.

Seizing upon the opportunity to infect life with death and mar the creation of God, Satan, the fallen high angel of heaven, tempted the woman with the notion of becoming like God.  One bite from the fruit would make equality with God possible or so he would have her believe.  The woman was given a choice; she chose poorly.  Having been deceived, she tasted the fruit and brought it to her husband.  He too willfully acted against the instruction and will of God and tasted the fruit.  Their eyes were opened and darkened at the same time.  Relationship with life was severed.  “This is eternal life:  that they may know you, the only true God…” (John 17:3a)  The reciprocal relationship between humanity and God was lost.  In this one willful act, true life was lost.  Seizing power, they became gods yet gods with a ruined soul.  They were banished from the garden and condemned to death.  The kingdom of earth had begun.

The story of Scripture details the fall and chronicles the raising up of a chosen nation amidst the wreckage of creation, a nation that would ultimately give birth to a suffering servant.  This servant would come to free humanity from the effects of sin brought on through the willful act of disobedience in the garden at the beginning of creation.  The Scriptures are clear, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)  It was foretold that this servant would once and for all establish the rule of God in creation.  He would call to himself a remnant or chosen people from out of the wreckage of the chosen nation chronicled throughout the Old Testament.  The Old Testament accounts are a cradling of a hope, a hope that was kept alive until the announcement of the coming of Emmanuel, God with us, was made to a group of shepherds on a hillside outside of the small town of Bethlehem.  Jesus, the messiah, stepped into time and announced the coming of the long awaited kingdom of heaven.  Central to the message of Jesus was the teaching of the imminence of the kingdom of heaven.  He was pointing the way; in fact, he was not only the way to eternal life but to know him is to experience eternal life in the present.  In a sense, he was pointing the way back to the reality of life lived in the garden under the shade of the Tree of Life; where the body was properly positioned under the rule of God and the spirit was alive in connection with the Eternal Ground of all Being.

 

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