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Entries in christlikeness (10)

Beyond Rest and Peace

God has a greater vision for what is possible in our lives than we have for ourselves. Many of us would be thrilled to simply attain the promise Jesus offered: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11: 28 – 30)

It’s true: there is a practical harmony capable of generating the rest and peace he promises. I suspect that for most of us this would be enough, but what if this wonderful invitation represented the starting point of our life in Christ? What if Jesus has something more in mind for us?

Beyond rest and peace are the staggering possibilities of living a life imitating Jesus in word, thought, attitude and deed. I believe Jesus invites us to learn from him because he intends to reproduce himself in us. He does not invite us to learn about him; he presents to each of us the incredible offer to become conformed to his image.

In Jesus, God came to earth to accomplish something greater than the forgiveness of sin. Jesus also came to earth in order demonstrate the possibilities of a life lived in harmony with the Father. Jesus was fully God and fully man; to understand his humanity is to encounter the hope that Christlikeness is possible in this life. In his earthly ministry Jesus used everyday situations to shape his disciples: paying taxes, feeding the hungry, fishing, encountering a fever at home, settling disputes between people filled with pride and competition. Jesus knew that commonplace situations contained eternal possibilities: a drink of water could change a town, coins could become cities, palm leaves could threaten an empire. Moreover, Jesus expected to leave behind a group of followers who were capable of continuing his work in every respect. His solutions transformed the most unlikely cast of characters into world-changers who operated with his priorities, lived out his example, and operated with the same authority and power as their Master.

Perhaps--for some--this vision is too large. We asked for forgiveness. Life-change is more than we have a right to expect. Except it is the Lord's own vision for us. He invites us to become just like him.

We must choose whether becoming like Jesus is possible in this life, or even desirable. If we decide that becoming like Jesus is not possible, could it be that we are avoiding facing the more difficult question of whether it is desirable?

I'm Cured (except I'm still always sick)

One day my doctor told me I was sick, but I wasn’t sure if I believed him.
“Believe me,” he said. “You’re sick, and you’re going to die without the cure.”
“I don’t feel sick.”
“And you won’t. Right up ‘til when you die.”
It went on like this week after week. He wore me down. Then I took the medicine.
But something strange happened: just about the time I took the medicine I became convinced I was sick. Sure, I took the medicine, because that’s what sick people do. My doctor tried to tell me the medicine had worked.
“OK, then,” he said. “All finished. Off you go. You’re healed.”
“But you told me I was sick.”
“Yes. You were, but now you’re healed.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m sick. You said I would die without the cure.”
“And so you would have. But you took the cure. It did its work. You’re all better. In fact, you’re better than better: it’s exactly like you’re completely new.”
I argued with him for a while because I knew I was sick. Deep down. I’d need the cure every day. Because I’m a sicko. That was 41 years ago, ever since I took the cure. But this is my story, in fact, it’s my song: I’m sick and I’ve taken the cure. I’ll always be sick because that’s what sick people do.
***

All right. Time to come clean. I made that up. Or did I? Because I’ve overheard people who have taken the cure, and they still talk like they’re sick. Perhaps you’ve heard them, too.
“I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” they say (or sing). “There’s nothing good inside of me, I’ll always be a sinner, because that’s what I always do.” I’ve known people who have sung the same song for 40 years. It seems when they agreed with the sin-diagnosis, they apparently thought it described a permanent condition. I know one guy who has memorized Jeremiah 17:9. He apparently made it the signature theme of his walk with God. Funny, I thought the cure included a heart transplant.
Dr. Willard, my family physician, agrees. He warns us against the idea “that the low level of spiritual living among professing Christians is to be regarded as ‘only natural,’ only what is to be expected.” He taught me to reject the notion that our destiny is constant failure and that Christ’s ministry is nothing but unending forgiveness. Many believers have experienced the new birth and are convinced their cosmic state is forever a babe. 
We have over-talked about what sin takes away and under-talked about what the Spirit has put in us. Dr. Willard is concerned with more than the cure. True, our life with God must start with the cure, but the possibilities of new life in Christ are--quite literally--endless. 
Make no mistake: sin is cancer, and it will kill us in this life and the next. It’s serious business, so the Father has provided a serious remedy. It’s called the new birth. Paul calls it the new creation, Peter calls us new-born babes. We must determine whether these phrases are merely religious metaphors or if they depict a spiritual reality. The image of spiritual birth also contains the hope of spiritual growth. Are we forever trapped within the cancer of sin?
There’s a cure, not just a treatment. Our challenge is how we see Jesus, and for many of us, he is only a treatment. When we limit the work of Jesus to nothing but forgiveness, we lose sight of the possibilities of experiencing a new kind life with him here and now. That would be a shame, because the Cure really does work: not only in the next life but right here in this one as well.
So--how are you feeling now?

Monday's Meditation: Our Role in Perfecting the Love of God

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” With these words begin one of the most startling messages ever shared: God gives his love to us and wants to perfect it in people like you and me.
Decades after a teenager named John laid his head on Jesus’ chest at the last supper we hear from him the wisdom of a lifetime. From the wellspring of revelation he tells us two astounding things: God’s love can be “made complete in us,” and, “in this world we are like Jesus.”
Can we drink in those two possibilities? They are the meditation of his lifetime. John is the one who followed Jesus to the base of the cross. John became the son of Mary and cared for his adopted mother until her death. John saw the love of God with his eyes and touched the love of God with his hands. Near the end of his life he tells us plainly, “God is love.” We could be comfortable enough with these words because they require only that we become recipients of what God has done. 
Perhaps most surprisingly, this lifetime-disciple of Jesus encourages us with the astounding possibility that because we follow Jesus, the love of God can be perfected in us. How could this possibly be so? Most of us have been trained to recite the depravity of our hearts as the daily mantra spoken before we ask for forgiveness. Yet John suggests that a lifetime of following Jesus can result in perfected, fearless love. He calls us to participate, to steward, and to complete what God starts in us. To limit our lives as only the resting place of God’s love is to bury the treasure in order to give it back to him later. 
Was John serious? What?!? Perfect love--in me? Today I can offer two suggestions to start us down this path. 
First, since God is love, we cannot manufacture the real thing on our own. All true love originates in him and flows to us. We cannot love apart from his empowerment.
Second, we become stewards of the love of God, both in ourselves and toward the world around us. God-love cannot be made complete unless we ourselves because like Jesus in this world. The fullness of his love depends on us.
We can know and rely on the love he has for us. Who knew we could also become complete in it? Apparently John knew: and now so do we.

Monday's Meditation: Imperishable Seed, Daily Choices

Part of the mystery of the new birth is the power of the seed. New life in Jesus is something more than a resolution to follow him, more than human determination to become a better person. It really is a new birth. It is a new creation: something that did not exist before is called into being by God's voice. Peter, friend and follower of Jesus, describes this new birth in terms of an imperishable seed.

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” ~ I Peter 1:23

Inside of an apple seed are the instructions--the potential for an entire apple tree. Deep inside the seed is the DNA, and the genetic code sets the course for the seed, the sprout, the plant and the tree. An apple seed will produce an apple tree, nothing else. The natural world reflects the wisdom of the spiritual world. Have we ever stopped to consider, "What is the destiny of God's imperishable seed planted in me?"
Yet DNA is not destiny: it is potential. Without the right soil or the right temperature, without enough water, the seed cannot reach its potential. The imperishable seed inside of each believer contains the possibilities of Christlikeness. To be born from above means that we have heaven’s genetic code implanted within us. But we are the soil: the choices we make shape our future in Christ. Becoming like Jesus is a partnership: his DNA points to our destiny, our choices shape the outcome. Fortunately, the seed is imperishable: it is far more resilient than any flower or vegetable you have ever tried to grow!
Peter was there when Jesus talked about seed falling into the ground. He heard the Lord teach about the different kind of soil and their effect on the seed. Here in Peter’s letter, written decades after Jesus ascended to heaven, he reflects on the potential of that imperishable seed. He encourages us to choose heart-felt love that leads to obedience, because these ingredients are essential to reaching the full destiny of the seed.
Today's meditation: how will I tend the seed inside of me? His grace planted it there. Christlikeness is built into the imperishable seed. His DNA makes it possible for me to become like him, but my choices contribute to the outcome.

The Lesson of Christmas

Some things hide in plain sight. Others hide behind fancy names. And still others hide among the over-decorated trappings of tradition dressed up as garish holiday cheer. With the truth about Christmas it’s all three.
The truth about Christmas is that God became a man. The transcendent Creator of the Universe, the One who sits outside his creation submerged himself in the work of his hands. The Playwright walked on stage during the show. The Coach became a player. The King became a commoner.
He wasn’t a Poser, pretending to be something other than what he was: he was born, and he grew; he came of age and took his place among us; he embraced his purpose and fulfilled it completely. He wasn’t slumming among us like some impostor: he laughed, he cried, he sweat. When we struck him, he bled. When we pierced him, he died.
Something as grand and wonderful as Christmas certainly has many sub-themes: peace on earth, goodwill toward men, hope for tomorrow, salvation for all, and the fulfillment of promise. We should listen to each line of the symphony and enjoy the beauty of each one. Put them all together than they point to the grand melody, that God became man.
When God became man he demonstrated how to be human. His life, in the person of Jesus Christ, is the model of all lives, everywhere and in every time. Men from every age can look to Jesus has example. Women from every culture can discover fulness in him. God did not cheat the game by walking through life untouched by the trouble we face. He faced the same troubles we have faced, and indeed more, because to his trouble was added unique rejection of all mankind toward him. Humanity had never seen his type before, and the one encounter between us and Him ended with utter rejection by us, and unrejectable love by him.
You can have your shepherds, wise men, angels, and mangers. For me, the grandeur of Christmas is captured in the gospel which places its cards on the table right from the start: 
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John tells us plainly, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
What does God look like? He looks like Jesus. God has described himself as the Word, and he spoke himself in Jesus. The countless words of every generation, arrayed in questions, arguments, songs and poems have been answered in the single Word, Jesus. The same Word that spoke creation into being speaks life into us today.
When God became man it looked like Jesus, and it still does. If we aspire to the presence of God in our everyday, we are really aspiring to Jesus. Because he is human we have the hope of his likeness. Because he is God, we have the certainty of his promise. All other messages flow from the Word made flesh. He was announced as Emmanuel, and he continues to reveal himself as such: God is forever with us because he has forever pitched his tent in the person of Jesus, the true lesson of Christmas.