In the last two weeks, the final version of my children's Bible, Moments with Jesus, went through its last revisions and is on its way to production for a fall release. Friends, I'm very excited about this! It's been such a joy to get to look at these files in final form.
I wanted to send you a two-page spread as my weekly "thought" this week--the moment when Mary Magdalene runs into the risen Jesus near the tomb. I pray these words and visuals are a sweet reminder of His Resurrection for your Monday!
"...the present time is of the highest importance—it is time to wake up to reality. Every day brings God’s salvation nearer. The night is nearly over, the day has almost dawned. Let us therefore fling away the things that men do in the dark, let us arm ourselves for the fight of the day! Let us live cleanly, as in the daylight, not in the 'delights' of getting drunk or playing with sex, nor yet in quarrelling or jealousies. Let us be Christ’s men from head to foot, and give no chances to the flesh to have its fling." (Romans 13:11-14)
A few questions for you: What if everybody you ever met knew precisely where you stand, what matters more to you than anything else, because the Way of Jesus--His very life--IS your life? What if, in the world's economies of meaning—its passing fancies: sex, money, power, politics, celebrity—we were absolutely invisible? What if, instead, in the economies of Heaven, the eternal realities of Jesus of Heaven--His holiness, His trust, His authority, His glory—we were conspicuous in the ways He was conspicuous?
What if we only stood out like He stood out?
And what if, the rest of the time, we were quietly busy doing good?
In fact, what if the Early Church had the daily-weekly recipe right?
- enamored only with the life of Jesus...
- fellowshipping joyfully with those likewise moved...
- living simply in the midst of the world's greatest, ever, calling...
- prayerful, together, that He would do it all over again...
- filled with awe...
- seeing signs and wonders consistently...
- sharing peaceably so that all are cared for...
- fundamentally unattached to the material world...
- constantly gathering for the sake of the Holy Spirit's work...
- praising Jesus as their Center, their Head, their Everything.
Now doesn't that sound like an interesting Way to live?
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16 ESV)
One of the greatest enemies of practicable discipleship—fulsome following of Jesus of Nazareth—is that deadly, almost unnoticed feeling of creeping overfamiliarity. You’ll know the feeling is present when you’re either listening to, or when you’re personally reading through words like these in John 15, and find yourself not stunned by them. That is the work of overfamiliarity.
Overfamiliarity is the product of a conscious, or unconscious, thought-process whereby we think we already know all there is to know of something. So, reading of that subject again, one’s mind somewhat shuts down. An unthinking instinct seems to take over—like when you sometimes arrive at home without totally remembering your drive there—and Jesus’ words become a sort of background to one’s thoughts. Words like choose, chose, appointed, go, bear fruit, abide, in My name, get filtered out by the noise of whatever the day holds.
Let us together say: Not today! Not this week!
Today, and this week, I would have us wrestling with, and reveling in, the glorious practicalities of fulsome following after that wonderful Man, Jesus of Nazareth. And I want to take two particular different angles on this promise so that these words become a bit unfamiliar, fresh, and new.
To do that, instead of Jesus speaking these words to you in the second person plural (you, as in “all of you many”), let's speak these words aloud to Him in two different voices: the first person singular (“I” and “me”) and the first person plural (“us” and “we”). I want us to do this because, in the day-to-day context in which we live our lives and follow His Way, we often tend to be His disciples very much on our own. And this is natural: He means to lead us individually—and powerfully.
And yet, if we want to overwhelm the world with the wonder of His glory, and really show His Church in the power of its full manifestation, we absolutely must reconstitute the Body of Christ—and properly.
So here’s the plan:
I want you to read aloud, with some authority, the two new versions of these verses (1st person, singular and plural) and what I want you to do is--get carried away!
Repeat these words aloud--loudly—with your whole heart and mind; strip that latent overfamiliarity right out of the equation--make them today’s battle cry! Believe what you’re reading and pronouncing. Pronounce what you desire to believe as you read it.
Here you go—take it away:
"Jesus, I did not choose You, but You chose me and appointed me that I should go and bear fruit and that my fruit should abide, so that whatever I ask the Father in Your name, He may give it to me."
And, as a member of the Body of Christ, say:
Jesus, we did not choose You, but You chose us and appointed us that we should go and bear fruit and that our fruit should abide, so that whatever we ask the Father in Your name, He may give it to us.
My friend, as a member of the Body, and as an integral part of the constantly re-coalescing Whole that is Him, you did not choose—you are chosen. In fact, being chosen, not being in a position powerful enough to choose, Jesus instead decided to appoint you to the most powerful position He could find for you—a messenger of the Gospel and a bearer of its fruit. And that fruit, by the way, will abide--as you abide in Him. And, too, just in case the foregoing information wasn’t enough to stun your sensibilities, you may ask whatever you wish of the Father in Heaven—the Heavenly Father--and He will give it to you.
Now what do you think of all that?
Isn’t this promise absolutely awe-inspiring?
“During our short lives the question that guides much of our behavior is: ‘Who are we?’ Although we may seldom pose that question in a formal way, we live it very concretely in our day-to-day decisions.
“The three answers that we generally live—not necessarily give—are: ‘We are what we do, we are what others say about us, and we are what we have,’ or in other words: ‘We are our success, we are our popularity, we are our power.’
“It is important to realize the fragility of life that depends on success, popularity, and power. Its fragility stems from the fact that all three of these are external factors over which we have only limited control. Losing our job, our fame, or our wealth often is caused by events completely beyond our control. But when we depend on them, we have sold ourselves to the world, because then we are what the world gives us. Death takes it all away from us. The final statement then becomes: ‘When we are dead, we are dead!’ because when we die, we can’t do anything anymore, people don’t talk about us anymore, and we have nothing anymore. When we are what the world makes us, we can’t be after we have left the world.
“Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity, and power is a false identity—an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: ‘You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.’”
Henri Nouwen, Here and Now
Now a word to you who are Gentiles. I should like you to know that I make as much as I can of my ministry as “God’s messenger to the Gentiles” so as to make my kinsfolk jealous and thus save some of them. For if their exclusion from the pale of salvation has meant the reconciliation of the rest of mankind to God, what would their inclusion mean? It would be nothing less than life from the dead! If the flour is consecrated to God so is the whole loaf, and if the roots of a tree are dedicated to God every branch will belong to him also. (Romans 11:13-16)
Two of the things I maybe most admire about Paul are his spiritual eyes for the outsider, and, just as important, this gift he has for envisioning heavenly potential in others. He will not give up on anyone -- that's the first thing -- and, imagining them "in," he just can't stop thinking of what that might mean. How their salvation might be a first glorious domino to fall. How their inclusion might open the door to so many others.
But there really is a nexus point for both of these things: a place where eyes for the lost and vision for heavenly potentiality meet.
We together -- the Body of Christ -- are meant to be the living invitation and the limitless picture of what this whole thing is.
Do you ever stop to think of what it would mean, how the world around us would react, if, even just for a week, we all lived up to our heavenly privileges? I like the word Paul uses here: "jealous." Because think about people actually seeing this:
Men and women strangely unconcerned for their temporal needs: as if those things are already, forever, accounted for.
People who are totally unafraid.
Men, women and children so lost within a heavenly love that all other loves, likes and relationships are just saturated with the flavor of that love.
People, secure, respectful and self-respecting, with no need for earthly accolades or any sort of spotlight.
A segment of humanity who are already one with God—exhibiting His own personal character—and, thus, are already one with each other: filled with an active, observable affection that seems otherworldly.
If those were the "flour" and the "roots" of our fellowship, don't you think we'd be drawing a whole different sort of attention to Him? Isn't it possible that if you and I abide in Jesus -- if we really enjoy what's ours in Him -- that we might fill the world's heart with a heavenly jealousy?
I'd say there's only one way to find out...
This week, let's live it!