Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Be Like Jesus (part 1)

     The Lord has repeatedly directed my attention to Psalm 44:3 lately: "It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them." (NIV) When I pondered why He was leading me to this passage so frequently, I realized it was because the Father wants me to "be like Jesus." Let me explain...
     Most followers of Jesus learn fairly quickly that our destiny is to become more and more like Jesus. Romans 8:29 says that becoming like Him is our God-determined purpose; see also Matthew 10:25, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 2:5 ff., 2 Corinthians 3:18, etc.
     Now before we go further, please remember that any transformation in our lives as believers happens because of God’s work in us and our trusting response to Him, not our own independent self-effort! We don’t become like Jesus by trying to apply His teachings or by trying to copy His example, rather we allow Him by His Spirit to live His life in and through us. As we surrender to His guidance, and trust in His power, we are changed. It is a simple, childlike way to live that replaces independent human effort with childlike trust, dependence, and surrender in our relationship with the One who loves us most.
     So, having established “the how,” what does it mean to “become like Jesus?”
     Most Christians answer that question by suggesting that we are supposed to become like Jesus in terms of His character (loving, compassionate, kind, etc. Galatians 5:22-23 comes to mind), and that's certainly true. But I believe that there are many other ways in which we are destined to become like Jesus. A few that stand out are "doing what Jesus did" (signs and wonders, see John 14:12), living in close community like Jesus did ("All men will know that you are my disciples by your healthy relationships--John 13:34-35), discipling like Jesus did (by example, demonstration, leading to discovery, and occasionally by words!), living in faith like Jesus did, and the list could go on.
     But there is one way that we are to be like Jesus that is more important than all the others because it is the foundation of everything else. Can you guess what it is? It is to have the same kind of intimate love relationship with Father God that Jesus did. If we are to become like Jesus and "do what Jesus did," we must first learn how to live in the Father's love as Jesus did. In fact, this is the core of “the how” that I talked about above—you cannot become like Jesus apart from learning to “live loved” like Jesus does.
     We know that Jesus did nothing apart from the Father and that He lived a life of total obedience and dependence upon the Father (see John 5:17-30), but do we really understand why and how He lived such a submitted, obedient life? It was because of the intimacy He enjoyed with His Abba. From the time Jesus was a little child He knew God as His Abba, and what He experienced most of all was Abba's love for Him.
     The love relationship between Jesus and His Father was deep and passionate beyond our comprehension, and I am convinced that Jesus' love for His Father was so perfect and complete that, more than anything else, it is what moved Him to perfect obedience and trust. And Jesus' love was in direct response to His Father's love for, and delight in Him. It is no accident that the Father said, "You are my Son; I love you and I delight in You," before Jesus had done any ministry! (Ponder that one for a while and you will understand why it's so important for you to have the same relationship with Abba that Jesus did! Can you hear God affirming you apart from what you do?).
     In addition to John 5, we see this intimate relationship with Abba in Jesus' life throughout all of the Gospels. Two places that always capture my attention are Mark 1:35-39 and Luke 5:15-16. Both of these passages show Jesus in the midst of extremely successful ministry. In the first passage, Jesus leaves very successful ministry behind after spending time with the Father (how many of us could leave "success" behind like that?). In the second passage, in the midst of the crowds and success it says of Jesus, (TW literal translation): "But Jesus was withdrawing to lonely places and praying." Most translations don't catch the meaning here, rendering this into something like "But He would often withdraw" but that's not what it says here: it says that in the midst of crowds all around Him, Jesus was (always/continually) withdrawing and praying. Think about this a little bit and you will catch the huge implications of what it means for us.
     You see, I believe that Jesus lived His life looking at the Father's face! He saw what the Father was doing (John 5:19), not because He was watching the Father to see what to do but because He loved His Father and couldn't help but gaze at Him! And it was His overwhelming love for His Father that motivated everything He did and enabled Him to trust Father God completely. And in my opinion, there is no other way to be like Jesus than to enter into this same kind of awesome, intimate love relationship with Abba.
     Too idealistic, you say? Perhaps you should read what David wrote in Psalm 27:4 (look it up). Perhaps you should consider a proper translation of 2 Corinthians 3:18. The NRSV gets in right: "And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." The background of this passage is Moses' request to see the glory of the Lord in Exodus 33-34. Both David and Moses were consumed with a love for God that drew them to a place of simply wanting to gaze upon His beauty (and His beauty includes His love for us/you).
     Want to be like Jesus? You can't! Not unless you first enter wholeheartedly into the Father's love. Romans 5:5 says that the Holy Spirit pours Abba's love into our hearts in an experiential way. My prayer is that as you read this, He will do that very thing for you in such as way that you can see "the light of His face."
Tom, one of Abba's children

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What's Really Happening?

     Like many others, I have been pondering what God is really up to in our world with the move towards simple/house churches (and the other things He seems to be stirring up as well). There is clearly a move towards simplicity, community, intimacy, mission, etc. But are there some even deeper things going on? I think so.
     To me, there are two major things happening. From God's side, I believe that Jesus is wooing His people (His Bride) back to Himself. As people have for years been stirred to pray for revival, God is beginning to answer those prayers by calling the church to humility, intimacy, community, purity and authority (preparation). I will write on these five things later.
     From the human side, I believe that God's work in our hearts has created a tremendous, growing discontent with the gap between our experience and Scripture. Have you noticed how much the Western Church has historically re-written the Bible to match its experience or else ignored what's written there because it was not experiencing it? Let me cite a few examples.
     First, let's start with something easy: joy! The New Testament is filled with references to joy as one of the distinguishing marks of early believers (Galatians 5:22 "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy..." and 1 Peter 1:8 "you are trusting in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…"). So...where's that kind of joy among God's people in the North American Church?
     How about another one? Paul in writing to Timothy says, "if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." (1 Timothy 6:8 NIV) and later says, "Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them." (1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT). Keeping in mind that almost all Americans are wealthy by the world's standards, try sharing those two thoughts with US believers. Where indeed is our trust? I don't mean to be negative here--just wondering out loud about the gap between Scripture and reality.
     Okay, just one more for now. I am meddling for sure. How about John 14:12?
Jesus says, "The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father." (NLT, emphasis mine). I believe that the increased hunger for the supernatural is happening among God's people because this verse is so clearly not our present experience! (To say nothing about the hundreds of other "power and authority" passages like 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, 2 Corinthians 4:7, etc.). Notice, too, that Jesus said, "anyone" not specially gifted folks! Hmmm. What could that mean?
     Well, you get the point, I think. God is calling His people back to a place to where anytime Scripture challenges our reality, we allow Scripture to win and subsequently ask God to rewrite our reality. Many of the posts in this blog will focus along this theme. Stay posted to see the dozens of other discrepancies between experience and Scripture that I believe God is now addressing.

Tom, one of Abba's children