That Compelling Vision of Him

This morning I re-read yesterday's post, and laughed. Okay, I can articulate truth. Now to live it!

The thing that has kept me "a disciple" all these years -- despite my times of trying to incorporate the world's ethics and values into my definition of being a follower of Jesus -- and the thing that called me to a narrower and narrower focus on His values and His face . . . was, pure and simple, His decision to reveal Himself to me in compelling ways, and His decision to show up the reality behind any path other than the one that follows hard after Him.

I love the writings of Dallas Willard. In his most recent book, he writes about Dietrich Bonhoffer's book The Cost of Discipleship, and the way that that book pointed out to that generation and to ours that we cannot consider ourselves real Christians if we are not dedicated to obedience to Jesus. But then he writes this:

"But the cost of nondiscipleship is far greater -- even when this life alone is considered -- than the price paid to walk with Jesus, constantly learning from Him.

Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, nondiscipleship costs you exactly that abundance of life Jesus said He came to bring. The cross-shaped yoke of Christ is after all an instrument of liberation and power to those who live in it with Him and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul."

But the only way that a life dedicated to following Jesus actually plays out in the daily stuff of living (as my fellow blogger Mark writes about in A Car and a Puddle) is when I have such a compelling vision of Jesus and the life He offers if I learn to abide in all things -- big and little, good and bad -- that, in the moment, I instinctually react out of that vision of the reality of Who Jesus is and a vision of the reality of the abundance of life that is contained in the fruit His Spirit will produce in me if I live in His Spirit and walk in His Spirit.

Our Rev. Birchfield preaches a lot about CHOICE -- the choices we all make to either follow or not. And he is right to do so, because that is the biblical exhortation throughout scripture: choose who you will serve, choose how you will live, choose to obey, choose to abide. But the foundation of those choices is a historical and personal reality: God has given us a vision of Himself and an explanation of "how life works". We act like we're exhorting a hungry dieter to choose the cardboard-like diet bar instead of choosing his favorite dessert, and then wonder why our hearers struggle to consistently choose to follow Jesus. But the truth is that we are offering a starving man his favorite meal -- that will satisfy his eyes, his tastebuds, his stomach, and his nutritional needs -- and the only reason he doesn't respond eagerly is that we haven't given him even a glimpse of that reality.

This is not to say that the life of discipleship is not a life of self-sacrifice and death. It is. I choose to let my own agenda die, and pursue His. I choose to neglect things that my loved ones hold precious when they conflict with the agenda He lays out, and thus lose relationships. I choose to go through the agony of death to drives and passions and addictions that hold out the false promise of giving me the security and peace and satisfaction that each of us deeply desires.

But He doesn't ask for any of that agony or self-sacrifice to be made out of "blind trust". We act like He does, and even preach like He does -- but we don't see that either in scripture or in history or in our own lives. No one followed Him without having encountered Him. They saw Him and followed! He came to them and made promises to them, and they obeyed! He revealed Himself, and out of that revelation His people acted. I would have gone my own way -- and even now would pursue things that wouldn't satisfy because I'm deluded into thinking they would -- but He intervened. He shows Himself to me -- through scripture, through people, through history, and through His personal revelation of Himself to me -- one-on-one.

What I can do is stay there and respond logically. Those who are lost also practice spiritual disciplines that form their souls, and I can choose against those idiocies. I can choose to let Him reveal Himself as the source of my security and satisfaction and purpose when I am tempted to be the dog from Proverbs who returns to my own vomit. Or I could choose to be that dog, and let each time of pursuing old ways that never did satisfy and never will satisfy be accompanied with new fantasies that they will this time, and shut my eyes and mind to the One Who is my soul's satisfaction incarnate.

In the words of the old hymn, may He open my eyes!


Permission to Rebel and a Command to Conform

Daily life is full of pressure to conform to the values of the people around me and the values of our culture. My own heart is full of pressure to rebel against anyone who "tells me what I should do" and full of a drive to "follow my own heart." And I -- just like the rest of us redeemed sinners -- need to keep hearing the same messages over and over again about what I should submit to, what I should rebel against, and what will really satisfy.

I have been exposed a lot to Romans 12 over the last few years, thanks to one of our ministers, Jim Birchfield. And the passage going from Romans 11 to Romans 12 was always one of my favorite passages, even before that. We have been grafted into the tree -- made a part of the People of the Covenant -- by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And in view of that mercy, we have no logical alternative (credit for that wording goes to Rev. Birchfield) than to present everything we have and everything we are to Jesus, and to live in the intimacy of the Church with Agape as our prevailing ethic and the Holy Spirit as our power to live it out.

This is pretty radical stuff when you apply it each day and each moment for days on end. That central verse -- "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." -- ties in perfectly with the verses in Galations about the fruit of the Spirit -- "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. . . For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."

Now, I love the idea of freedom from being told what I need to do, and freedom from being judged by the people around me. Am I released to do whatever my heart leads me to do, and in that way "find myself" and throw off the constraints of society? Is that our call?

No, our call goes back to Jesus' words in John 14-16. We are to ABIDE. We are to obey HIM. We are to live in community with His other followers, and show we are His followers by the love we have for each other. And He did not leave us as orphans, trying to walk this out on our own -- in community or otherwise. He sent His Spirit to indwell us and to lead us into this freedom.

We are called to rebel, though! We are called to rebel against our own sin and it's hold on us. We are called to rebel against the values of the culture around us as they idolize things that have nothing to do with God's values. We are called to rebel against elements in our community that would constrain us to live in any way that does not produce the fruit of the Spirit.

And we are called to conform! We are called to conform to the process that allows us to be transformed:

1) remain in relationship with Jesus as the one who gets to call the shots

2) learn to hear Him through His word, through prayer and meditation and the other spiritual disciplines, and through our intimate relationships within the community of faith

3) let His Holy Spirit transform us -- individually and in community -- as real life shows up the ways we lack the fruit of the Spirit and the ways we have not given ourselves over to Him and His agenda.

And our transformation will result in His agenda being accomplished -- in each of our lives, in each of our communities of faith, and in the world around us.

And His Kingdom is the place where we all will be truly and fully satisfied.


Just a few more days!

For weeks now I have been waking to this song playing in my head:

(Matthew West -- "A Few More Days" -- off of the CD "History")

There is a longing deep inside my soul
There is a place my spirit wants to go
It's far away from all these chains that bind
There is a world I long to leave behind

So, I wait and I wait
I wait for the moment when You come for me
And rescue my heart from the pain that it's seen
Troubles are circling all around me
And I can't stop thinking

Just a few more days I'll be going home
Just a few more hours and I'll be flying
It could be any minute now
That You take me away
Or maybe just a few more days
A few more days

To you a day is like a thousand years
And only you know when the clouds will clear
So, let me not forget and fall away
Because a thousand years could be today

So, I'll wait and I wait
And I wait for the moment
When you come for me
And rescue my heart from the pain that it's seen
My troubles are circling all around me
I've got to remember

Just a few more days I'll be going home
Just a few more hours and I'll be flying
It could be any minute now
That You take me away
Or maybe just a few more days
A few more days

To You a day is like a thousand years
And only You know when the clouds will clear
So, let me not forget and fall away
Because a thousand years could be today

And as "morbid" as those lyrics may sound to many who read this, my heart is filled with joy and hope by the lyrics and music of this song -- matching the general spirit of joy and hope and peace that seems to characterize this particular chapter of my life.

What joy that we have the promises we do! And the best promise I have is that I will see His Face clearly in just "a few more days"!


Ted Haggard and praying the way Jesus taught us to pray

I have read a lot and listened to a lot of discussion about the current scandal that resulted not only in Ted Haggard resigning from the NAE and being fired from his church, but also in a lot of grief to all of us who share the passions to which he dedicated his career in the public eye. My overwhelming response is simply a call to prayer.

We are a people who give lip-service to our belief in the idea that God does things in response to prayer that He would not do otherwise, but for the most part we don't live as if we really believed that.

Ted Haggard accomplished everything he accomplished that was real because he did practice a life of prayer -- both listening prayer and prayer of petitions to the God that he wanted to honor. But he apparently never found an effective way to deal with temptation in prayer. Perhaps the rest of us should take heed and actually pray the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray!

I have two "exhortations" -- pray the way Jesus taught us to pray, and add to those prayers specific prayers for Ted Haggard and all the rest of us:

Begin our days with real prayer the way Jesus taught!

1) Praise God for Who He is and thank Him for our relationship to Him.

2) Intercede for His will and purposes to be accomplished in my life, the lives around me, and in the rest of the world.

3) Ask that He meet our needs for today -- physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, sexually, and every other type of need we have -- whether we feel the need or don't even know we have it.

4) Ask for forgiveness for the sins we can confess and for the ones we do not even know we've committed, and ask for help in our effort to offer the same forgiveness to everyone who has offended or hurt us in any way.

5) Ask for protection from temptation and harm: protection from our own sinful nature and desires, protection from those of others, and protection from the evil in the world, and protection from the "accidental" things that can get in the way of our safety and God's purposes. Ask that God would not allow anything -- within us or outside us -- to get in the way of His purposes in our lives and through our lives.

6) Remember "the rest of the story", and praise Him for His kingdom and power and glory forever! He is the only lasting source of real joy, peace, excitement, passion, intimacy, or anything else that we crave!

And add to those prayers these prayers for these days:

1) Lord, accomplish Your purposes in this election, despite and even because of these events!

2) Lord, let all the rest of us regard Ted Haggard with eyes that truly understand our own sinfulness, and let us offer him the forgiveness that we are commanded to offer if we are to receive Yours!

3) Lord, teach us all to pray effectively, that we might experience the Spirit-filled lives You want to give us!

4) Lord, bring healing and transformation to the mess of Ted Haggard's current situation, and glorify Your name in him and through him!

5) Lord, do the same for us, in the messes that are public, and the ones we've managed to hide. Expose the messes that must be exposed for Your healing to come!

6) Lord, empower Your church to be the church You want it to be in this day and in each place where it exists!



Staying Attached

I am a follower of Jesus before I am a Presbyterian -- so if being a Presbyterian ever required me to be disloyal to my commitment to Jesus, I'd be out! However, even with things as they are in the PCUSA these days, there is no way I can say that being a member of a congregation in that denomination compromises my ability to be obedient in anything at all.

We have a million independent congregations of Christians in our country (poetic language, not an actual count!), and there are many doctrinally sound, thriving, God-honoring congregations among them -- so I do not mean in this post to disparage any of them for not being a part of a larger denomination. However, I do believe there is real value to an individual congregation participating in a larger community with accountability and commitments, and that there is a greater likelihood of real error (and of failure to be obedient followers of Jesus as a community) in a situation where leaders are not formally connected to the leaders of other congregations in relationships of real accountability and mutual commitments.

We live in a world of individualism and independence. "I can believe what I want to believe and do what I want to do, and you're wrong to tell me that I should believe or do anything else as long as I'm not hurting anyone!" And this spirit permeates our congregations as well!

We have a greater commitment to "my own beliefs and convictions" than we do to any community of faith. We shop around for the "perfect church", and feel not only right to leave when a "better church" comes along, but seem to believe we are wrong to stay in the church we perceive as "less" in some way -- less alive, less anointed, less conservative, less missional, less evangelical, less doctrinally correct.

But -- as I've written a lot about in previous posts -- the Christian life cannot be lived alone. It is not just a matter of individual conscience, faith, and practice. It is a commitment to "the Holy Catholic Church" -- the world-wide community of faith in all denominations and congregations -- and although we do not have a unified "Church in the World", we do have the ability to join our congregation to a community of other congregations and participate formally in the on-going way the Holy Spirit works in community. Koinonia is not just a matter of individuals joining in community, but of those communities joining in community!

Part of community is disagreements and "growing apart". Our Christian beliefs tell us that, when this happens in marriage, there is enough of a value to that small community of the family and to the commitments made in marriage that we invest everything we need to invest into coming back together again and into keeping the commitments we made. (Even here, though, our American individualism has erroded the Christian beliefs, and our practice is to urge people to stop "wasting their lives" on putting so much energy into a commitment that they really don't need to keep -- not in their circumstances! Don't get me wrong -- I do believe divorce is a necessary reality and that obedience to Jesus occasionally leads us right there. However, I also believe we've allowed Jesus' real values to be distorted in our minds and lives in this place.) Obedience requires that we care enough about our commitments that we keep them -- even in and through conflict and pain and embarrassment and great cost -- until and unless the cost of keeping those commitments is disobedience to the clear leading of the triune God. (That is part of the AGAPE that Jesus told us was to be our primary identifying characteristic to the rest of the world!)

All of the congregations in the PCUSA were started by the denomination. All of the ordained ministers in the denomination who minister to our congregations have been nurtured by the denomination in many ways, and have made vows in their ordination to the larger community of faith found in the denomination itself. And both the ordained ministers and the congregations who owe their existance to the PCUSA have an obligation -- as followers of Jesus -- to do what Jesus wants them to do in their commitment to the PCUSA.

I am grateful that the leaders of my congregation know the value of community, and the value of being faithful to our commitments until and unless our primary commitment to the triune God requires a break in those commitments. We are called to embrace the struggle to call the whole community of faith to faithfulness -- and we cannot do that at all if we show ourselves eager to break huge commitments just because we do not like spiritual warfare.

We have been told that the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. How much more, then, will the hearts of our brothers and sisters be opened by the Holy Spirit when we are willing to answer the call to a battle by living out real AGAPE -- speaking the TRUTH in love, setting whatever boundaries we can set while still maintaining our commitments, and exercising grace and humility toward each other.