The thing about my life is I’m not very well connected. You know what people say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who your know.” What I need are powerful friends. People in high places who can make things happen. Movers. Shakers. Rainmakers. Someone strategically placed who—with just a word—change things.
I know what you’re thinking: this blog is called Students of Jesus, so this tart opening paragraph is setting us up for Jesus, the guy in the highest place. The First Mover and Final Shaker. One word from him is enough to call twelve legions of angels, which tops out north of 60,000 supernatural beings. The very mention of his name resounds in deaf ears and causes blind eyes to see. Jesus is the ultimate friend in high places. But no. Not today. That would be a no-brainer blog, even though that’s all true about Jesus.
I’m held up by the paradox of his final instructions to us, that famous passage we’ve come to call the Great Commission. We all know the part about making disciples, and I’ve written previously about the hidden verses that set up the commission. But this time, I’m struck by the contrast between his power and the way he wants to help us.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” he tells us. Then he gives us the vision. “You guys go and make disciples.” And perhaps most strikingly, he finishes with this assurance: “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
There are two challenging notions calling us to come wrestle. First, the most connected guy in all creation gives the most important work to . . . us! Second, he guarantees neither victory nor inside muscle, but only his presence. (I know what you’re thinking again, because my inner Charismatic side is screaming, “but there’s power in his presence!” but put on the wrestling spandex just long enough to grapple with these issues.)
Why us? Couldn’t he do it himself? He’s already saved the world; gathering in disciples would be a snap for him. I think Jesus realizes there’s something left undone in us until we ourselves make disciples. Until we ourselves struggle with teaching others how to obey everything he commanded. Anyone can point to the rulebook and say, “Do this stuff,” but it requires a deep, personal, inner change to be able to say, "Come with me and I’ll show you how it’s done."
And if “all authority” belongs to Jesus, why doesn’t he simply say the word? Here’s what I think: Jesus demonstrated that leadership is about presence, not authority. We’re drawn to a view of power that resembles the cheesy Superman movie of the ‘70’s where super spaceman General Zod commands the people of earth, “Bow! Kneel!” Meanwhile the true power of the universe whispers, “Go ahead, give it a try, I’ll be with you.” We would like to wield General Zod’s name and get instant results! Instead, Jesus wants to live through clay vessels, cracked and fragile, which leak the most powerful substance in the universe: God’s loving presence.
Which do you think is easier? And why (I’m asking) would our Father choose to do it this way?
Here's an article I wrote especially for SermonCentral.com. If you preach or are learning how to preach, perhaps it will be of help:
A lesser-known Aesop fable tells the story of a crow who tried to drink water from a pitcher. Because the pitcher had a long, narrow opening, the crow could not get to the water. Tipping the pitcher would spill the water. The crow flew away and returned with a pebble in her beak. She dropped the pebble into the pitcher and the water level rose the slightest bit. After many trips back and forth, and many pebbles later, she had raised the water level high enough to drink. All the animals of the field came and drank as well.
Sometimes preaching means raising the water level high enough for others to be able to drink the living water. We cannot create more water, but we must find a way serve it to others. One pebble at a time, one sermon at a time, we bring the life-giving water to others. Some conversations take time—years, maybe, and in some cases decades.
Homer left us the Iliad and the Odyssey. Aristotle wrote on every conceivable topic. Moses wrote down the law of God. King David penned a thousand songs. Mohamed wrote down the words of the Koran. Confucius left us the Analects and the Dalai Lama is a publishing juggernaut. And if it’s Thursday, that means Deepak Chopra has a new book out.
And then there’s Jesus. The smartest guy who ever lived didn’t write a book. Instead, he wrote himself into the hearts of men and women—and only a few at that. It seems Jesus is more comfortable inside the humid chests of humanity than the dust-dry collection of pigment and paper.
Every student of Jesus should consider Jesus’ lack of a publishing dynasty. It’s a challenge to how we read the Bible, and how we hear the Lord’s voice. Nor does this diminish the importance of the inspired, the inscripted word we call the Bible. I’ll show my cards early, because I’m not trying to win the hand. The Holy Spirit breathed upon men, who wrote things down. Important things. Dependable things. Holy things. I read the Bible because it’s a signpost to Jesus. It’s reliable and true. True-er than any other book. It’s filled with wisdom I must have, as important as food and water. I trust the Spirit who breathed it, the men who wrote it, and the communities who preserved it. The Bible is a gift to treasure.
But it’s dangerous to read this book apart from feeling the still-fresh breath of the Spirit. The Bible is a portal, not the path. It’s a message, not the mentor. Even when we recite those sweet words from the proverbs, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” we understand there’s a path to be traveled and a life to be lived, not a test to be taken. In the wise words of Bishop Todd Hunter, “the Bible is the menu, not the meal.”
Jesus doesn’t live in the Bible. He lives in the hearts of men and women all over the world. He’s capable of looking me in the eyes this very day. (He also lives at the right hand of the Father on a shining throne surrounded by a crystal sea, but that’s a post for another day.)
Ten days ago my friend Andrea Giordano introduced this topic, and you really should read her guest-post. It’s practical and life giving.
To her insightful words I want to add one observation. Jesus wrote himself into the hearts of men and women because he wanted to use the longest-lasting media available. Men and women, created in the image of God and awaked by the Spirit of God, will live forever. Ink fades, pixels falter, even stone will crumble, but the sons and daughters of the King will remain forever. Mature children of the King will carry the presence—and the word—of the King to every corner of creation. In a billion years the people of God will still have the word of God written in their hearts.
If there is an investment to be made, we should value what Jesus valued: people. The value of knowing the Bible is because it equips us to serve others and see Jesus more clearly. The surest way to preserve the precepts of God is to love and nurture the people of God. I believe what Isaiah said, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” I just think it will happen in surprising and beautiful ways.
Here’s a vivid image: Jesus dancing with delight, rejoicing at the success of his disciples and the cluelessness of the “wise and the learned.” What kind of God celebrates when smart people are clueless?
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. (Luke 10:21)
An omniscient God is not impressed with the size of our intellect, but he is impressed by the size of our heart toward him. Sometimes we are tempted to believe otherwise, especially when the smart kids always seem to be running the church. But what if our approach to following Jesus is fueled by the world’s idea of wisdom? Have we chosen a worldly method to serve an other-worldly kingdom?
The spirit of this age respects knowledge. It’s a given. Knowledge trumps ignorance. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is self-authenticating. Yet when we bring the spirit of this age to our study of Scripture we emphasize the texts which serve the value of knowledge. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge . . .” How many Christian books have opened with Hosea 4:6 as a call to study?
We have loved knowledge since the Garden of Eden. Perhaps we have loved knowledge more than we have loved our Creator. In our day the western church presents a view of discipleship based upon ever-increasing knowledge, and Christianity becomes a subject to be mastered. As a result those who are smartest become the “best” disciples. The spirit of this present age tells us knowledge is good because it is knowledge. But what if the smartest among us know nothing of love?
Yet woven into the fabric of the Biblical witness is the still small voice of relationship. It warns of the dangers of knowledge. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” comes the whisper. Later on the voice grows: "Where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” We discover the voice coming from Paul’s prayer closet interceding on our behalf, “I pray that you . . . may have power . . . to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” Perhaps we can learn from Paul--one of the greatest minds in history--that knowledge can never drive us to love.
Even since the Word, full of grace and truth, visited the earth, his voice echoes: “True knowledge grows from love, and apart from love, knowledge cannot be true.”
It was sometime during elementary school, but I still remember that moment when I first realized I was surrounded by . . . air! I wasn’t surrounded by nothing, I was surrounded by something. The wonder carried me away: I was swimming through the air. If I raised my arm above my shoulder, it meant the air around me was moving, too.
My childish imagination kicked in strong: what would it be like to see the air, cool blue and warm red? Was I breathing colors? I saw it with my imagination: inhale a faint celestial blue and exhale rose-colored pink. I could see the air move and mix and blend, or watch it settle, still and motionless, level as a lake. My head was filled with Impressionist masterpieces, the sky swirling with hues and shades too subtle for those in a hurry, but a rainbow for those with eyes to see.
But before long higher education crushed my wonder. In science class I learned about air pressure and wind resistance. The beauty of my childhood faded into the orthodoxy of physics, climate, and chemistry. The atmosphere became one more domain to be studied and measured.
Until one day. (I remember this day as well.) I read the amazing words of Paul as he addressed the skeptical, logical people of Athens, that city where diplomats and philosophers gathered on a hill named Mars, for the God of war. Paul quoted a Greek mystic from centuries before, and I saw the invisible God in much the same way I had imagined how the air must be:
“ . . . For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
The child in me was released again. I saw again the living, moving, breathing God! How could I avoid him—and more important: how could I have missed him? When I walk from the bedroom to the kitchen, I walk through God. When I walk into a new situation, God is there, waiting for me. Even the darkness is light to him. He inhabits the day and the night. Intuitively I understood a distinction: everything is not God, but God is in everything. True, the theologians had already told me God was omnipresent, but in doing so they reduced him to a concept I could memorize and recite. But I do not need lifeless facts; I need him.
“He is not far from each one of us.” The vast Creator surrounds us like the air. We breathe the air. It penetrates through our lungs to our very blood, and the blood delivers it to every cell. God himself is the life-giving air. Our vast swirling God is also intimate enough to be with each of us.
I used to think silence meant God was not speaking. Now, in the silence, he’s all I hear. We need not go anywhere to find him, because the slightest shift of our gaze reveals his nearness. If I am alive, if I move, I am encountering him. In every part of my being, he is here. Can you see the air?