That Abundant Life
As I walk with Jesus each day through all the stuff of my own real life, I am learning more and more about the abundance of that life He is calling me toward, and what fits and what doesn't. The Good Samaritan's empathy and active kindness fit perfectly. The Pharisee's self-centered focus on the rules that kept him "safe" in his conception of life and goodness and community don't.
I am still an Evangelical by most definitions, but I find myself rebelling against the label more and more. I want to be an Evangelical if that means I am in the same camp as Richard Foster or Dallas Willard or Ron Sider or others like them. I don't want to be an Evangelical if that means that I am more concerned about those around me believing what I believe and living the way I tell them life should be lived than I am concerned for the ways that God wants to use me to meet their needs or to help them grow toward whatever next place He has for them in His vision. And these days it feels often like my evangelical heritage -- precious though it is, because I would not know love or life without it leading me here -- is something more akin to the pharisee thanking God that he is not like the sinner than similar to the sinner who knows who he is and that he needs God desperately.
I read the excerpt of the pope's new book on Jesus in Newsweek, and their article about it, and I rejoice at the way God is using that man and that new book to tell the world about TRUTH for today. The Holy Spirit is leading the Church-In-The-World to a new place today, it seems to me . . . and He is using all of the diversity of that BODY to do it. We have our traditions of scholarly study, pietistic and mystic spiritual disciplines, liturgical worship, free-form cultural expressions of worship, world-wide expressions of service and charity . . . and God is at work to accomplish His purposes fully through us all.
The central expression of Christ-In-The-World as the Holy Spirit moves among us now is just as it has always been. He leads us outside of ourselves into loving service of each other and of the world. Kindness and empathy and an active expression of both . . . they should show up in our conversations and in our checkbooks and in our calendars.
I cannot experience the abundant life that God desires to give me if I am trying to stay safe. Legalism is one of the main ways religious people try to stay safe, just as the pharisees did. "If I follow the rules and you follow the rules, life will be good and we'll know we're really obedient Christians." But that is a fallacy, because life is messy even if you do follow the rules. However, we do get to choose our messes. We can choose the ones we get when it is "all about me" -- inside or outside the "good Christian rules" -- or we can choose the messes that we get when we follow Him with abandon into real life with real people and all their issues, and refuse to abandon them when real life shows up those issues as too deep-rooted for any quick fix.
The abundant life that Jesus wants for me is full of needy people . . . and they are needy people who won't magically stop being needy just because I grace them with some token of my presence and attention. But what I do get -- and what they get -- when I get outside myself and look toward their neediness instead of toward my own -- is a window through which God pours His love and grace and mercy and creative healing. His kingdom is here.
I am learning just how much of what I read in the gospels and in the epistles cannot be accurately understood cognitively -- just like hitting a baseball or any of that sort of skill in sports or in life. But when I get in there and try it, I start to get it . . . and as I get better at it, I experience that "eureka!" that comes emotionally as words show up as TRUTH experientially.
I am also learning how much of the stuff that used to cause me grief or stress or worry just fades into nothing as I look at Him and walk on with Him.
"Seeking the Kingdom and His righteousness first" leads to a different kind of full and abundant life than either the un-churched or the over-churched can imagine . . .
. . . When my focus is on Him and His purposes, I find full freedom to serve others as His tool for His purposes in their lives and in the world, leaving the results with Him, but trusting Him that He is using me as an agent for the healing and empathy and protection and creativity and truth and beauty that is that full and abundant life of the Kingdom . . . and only as it pours through me to others, I receive it in abundance myself.