Friday, March 8, 2019

Have You Seen Him? The Key to Transformation

      Can transformation be as simple as living a "Father-fascinated life"? Is the "gaze of the soul" really the key to an ever deeper and more transformed life in Jesus. Today's rewrite of two older entries (from 2009) seeks to answer that question.
     "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple." (Psalm 27:4, NIV)
     "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." (2 Corinthians 3:18, NRSV, italics mine).
     Surely transformation can't be as simple as this, can it? Don't we need lots of effort and "oughts and shoulds" to be transformed? YES, it is this simple! And, NO, we don't need "oughts and shoulds." A focus on our own efforts makes deep transformation virtually impossible because it keeps the emphasis upon us. 
     Quite some time ago, I ran across a hymn by a rather obscure 19th century lover of Jesus, Ora Rowan (1834-1879), that still encourages me to the point of tears: God has always had people who understand that gazing at Him, really getting to know Him, is the key to transformation. See if you catch the message of this remarkable hymn (some words edited for clarity).

Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not yours a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand own Him,
Joyful choose the better part.

Idols once they won thee, charmed thee,
Lovely things of time and sense;
Gilded thus does sin disarm thee,
Honeyed, lest thou turn thee thence.

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of matchless worth.

Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void (emptiness) and smart (pain);
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.

Who extinguishes their taper
Till they hail the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer has begun?

'Tis the look that melted Peter,
'Tis the face that Stephen saw,
'Tis the heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw:

Draw and win and fill completely,
Till the cup o'erflow the brim;
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?

     It's hard for me to describe what the words of this hymn did to me the first time I read them! I hope you see what I see! I trust that you especially catch the lines that remind us that "duty" or attempts to crush "idols" don't lead to transformation.  Instead, it is the radiant "beaming of His beauty" and "the unveiling of His heart" that changes us. Who can know Him, really encounter Him and experience His love and power in an ongoing manner, and not be transformed?
     But so many well-meaning Christians would tell us we need to try harder! Surely something as simple as the deep surrender that comes through gazing at Him doesn't work, does it? Oh yes, dear ones! You cannot hear Him, see Him and know Him and not become ever more like Him.
     But is it really possible to be so "God-blinded," God-intoxicated, that our obedience flows from love rather than fear, duty or obligation? Absolutely! This is what Jesus modeled and intends for us to live out. It was Jesus' sense of the Father's constant love for Him and His love for the Father that enabled Him to obey the Father's will perfectly. This is made wonderfully clear in John's Gospel. Read it from the perspective of the love relationship between Jesus and His Father, and you will see it. 
     It was Jesus' ability to look into the Father's face that enabled Him to wrestle through the time of His suffering. And perhaps the most tender example of this is in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Mark's Gospel we find the one recorded evidence of Jesus using the term "Abba" for His Father (Mark 14:36).  There in the Garden, as He wrestles with things beyond our comprehension, His first word is "Abba" (Papa!), the word that His lips had first assigned to His Father when He was a child. And Luke's Gospel tells us that Abba answered Jesus' prayer, not by eliminating the cross but by sending angelic help (Luke 22:43).
     Furthermore, while Jesus was on the cross, in spite of popular songs that suggest otherwise, His mind was fully on His Father (not you and me). We see this in the seven sayings from the cross: His first record words are, "Father, forgive them..." and His cry of terror "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me" was clearly due to His sense of the Father's withdrawal (not in reality but the sense of it), and His final words are, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
     So I am convinced, my friends, that only by gazing at His Father's loving face (momentarily obscured at one crucial point) was Jesus able to endure the incomprehensible pain that He endured. The joy of obeying the One He loved the most (the "joy set before Him" described in Hebrews 12:2--note that the context is gazing upon Jesus just as He did upon His Father), the sense of His Father's complete trustworthiness and the constant awareness of His Father's love and delight are what enabled Jesus to say at the end, "It is finished."
     The question in all of this, of course, is "Do we think that some other, lesser motivation will work for us?" If Jesus lived loved and therefore lived fully and in total obedience, dare we think that we can do something different?

'Tis the face that Stephen saw,
'Tis the heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw.

Gazing ever more intently,

Tom, one of Papa's little boys

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