Finding our place in his story

When we entered the sanctuary yesterday, we saw them: hundreds of little paper crosses strung between the balcony and the large wooden cross raised at the front of our place of worship. Our lives, our worship, our suffering, all connected to each other’s and to His.
It reminds me of how  a magnet held under a sheet of paper covered with scatted iron filings shapes lines of intricate order out of the chaos. Here, joined to his cross, our stories settle into place and begin to make sense.
It seems so right as we begin this Holy Week to find once again our small place in his big story. Yesterday was Palm Sunday. It was also Annunciation Day, and in the juxtaposition of the two, Mary’s yes to God’s invitation merged with Jesus’ yes, the human story intertwined with God’s story at yet another node. To Mary the invitation to bear God’s Son into the world. To Jesus the invitation to bear fallen humanity back into into intimate friendship with God. Both said yes. Both knew the deep joy and the deep suffering of their calling.
And now we too are invited to take up our crosses and follow, to enter more deeply the privilege of sharing both in Christ’s resurrection and in his sufferings.
We’ve been coloring the crosses for weeks, each Sunday School class, connection group, seniors’ gathering setting aside time for each person to color a cross in a way that expressed their gratitude for grace or shared what they wanted to bring to the cross. Each cross was a little bit of someone’s love, their surrender, their yes. And now the crosses hang as we enter Holy Week, our lives all linked to his: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Our lives all linked to his, and to each other’s. I can’t find my own cross. It doesn’t matter. I know that it’s here somewhere, here in the stringing of connected lives, the singing of worship linked to the cross and, through the cross, to the multitudes around his throne who continue to sing to the One in whom all of history finds its proper place, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

The politically incorrect gospel

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

We’re well over half way through Lent, and this week I’ve been challenged again by this awareness: the gospel is not politically correct.
There’s a big part of me that prefers to stay silent when controversy arises. I prefer to offer gentle hospitality, to listen, to ask a few quiet questions, and to trust the Holy Spirit to be the one to bring to light what needs to come into the light as He guides people into all truth.
But then I look at Jesus.
In his parables, he “told all the truth but told it slant.” But there were times and settings when he spoke the truth straight out too, and lived it in ways that made the authorities furious.
Trust can mean letting God be the one to bring things into the light, or it can mean obediently offering the words God gives us to speak and trusting that God will accompany us through all that unfolds.
Jesus has never been politically correct. Even his existence was so politically incorrect that, soon after his birth, the king tried to kill him. And, at the other end of his earthly life, religious and political authorities—usually each other’s enemies—teamed up to bring a final end to the political incorrectness of Jesus’ life. But after he was no longer physically present on earth, the political incorrectness of his story continued: “When we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense” (1 Cor 1:23 NLT). There’s no way around it: the gospel, while incredibly good news, is also offensive for a world (and, sometimes, even a church?) that prefers to think of ourselves as essentially good, as enough on our own.
Over and over these days I come up against the idea that all human beings carry the presence of God at our core. The idea subtly pervades books being widely read by people in the church, and is taught by some people whom I love deeply and from whom I have learned much about grace and community and the beautiful, welcoming love of God. But on this point we differ. And because I love both Jesus and these friends so deeply, I have to speak. Because I know they love Jesus too, and yet it seems to me that when we believe that all human beings carry the presence of God within them, we cut the heart out of the gospel. Why do we need Christ if God’s presence lives in us without him?
The way I read the Bible, human beings are incredibly beautiful, complex beings, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. It’s not too big a stretch to say we’re “god-like.”

God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
reflecting God’s nature. (Genesis 1:27, The Message)

The Psalmist says we’re made “a little lower than God and crowned with glory and honor,” two attributes that, as Old Testament scholar Iain Provan points out, are usually reserved only for God. All humans are created in God’s image and placed on this earth to be “like God” to the rest of creation, tending it with care.
The arrival of moral evil doesn’t change the fact that we are all made in the image of God and are to be treated accordingly.

“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind” (Gen 9:6).

But it is first in Jesus that a human made in the image of God now also carries the presence of God fully within him, humanity and God now joined in one person. Now when we, through our trust, allow Christ to live in us by his Spirit, we who have been made in the image of God are enabled to carry God’s presence within us, becoming who we’re made to be.

“For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ. . .” (Col 2:9-10 NLT).

As we walk these final weeks toward the cross, I celebrate again the love that created me beautiful and remarkable—“like God.”
I celebrate the love that created me not God and regularly reminds me that I’m not God and invites me to rest in the freedom of being human and being still and knowing that God is God.
And I celebrate the incomprehensibly magnificent love that knows that I’m not enough on my own and gives His own life in order to fill me with God’s presence, joining me to Himself and thus allowing me to share in the life of God forever.

The Coming of our Homemaking God


We sang Once in Royal David’s City in church last week, and I couldn’t help notice how the words were about home—the home Jesus left, and the home he entered here in order to make for us a home and bring us, in him, home again:

“He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall. . .
 
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heav’n above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.”

Even though I believe that the home God is creating for us will be the new earth, the point is the same. As Jen Pollock Michel points out in her beautiful book, Keeping Place, God is a homemaking God, a God who longs for us to be at home with him, with each other, and with ourselves, and is working to that end.

“The biblical narrative begins and ends at home. From the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem we are hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection. We long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace and it will be our last.” (Jen Pollock Michel, Keeping Place, p. 33)

The longing for home has been stronger in me this Advent than usual as I’ve scanned Craigslist and visited possible apartments and waited to see where God will place me next. But that longing for home is not unique to this year, nor unique to me.
Could it be that, in one way or another, home is what we’re all longing for? In busyness, a place to rest. In the fuss and show, a place we can safely be ourselves. In a world where wildfires and war, illness and uncertainty remind us of our transience and vulnerability, a place to feel safe and rooted and at rest. Welcome. Intimacy. Security. Permanence.
Might this be why Christmas can be both so painful—because our longings for home won’t be met perfectly until we’re face to face with the One who is our true Home—and so poignant and beautiful—because we taste the beginnings of hope fulfilled in the One who came to bring us home?
As Michel points out, we can understand the whole story of the Bible as a home story: God makes for us a home, we take leave, and he makes a way for us to come home again. This, then, is Christmas: our homemaking God leaving his home to come and find us in our wanderings and bring us back to our true home. And I’m not just talking about heaven, or about the new earth, but about something much closer, much more now.
The Spirit overshadows and Jesus makes his home not just among us but within us, in the womb of a woman, in a body like ours. God knits himself into our flesh, beginning the life-death-resurrection process of knitting us into his body as surely and beautifully as he knit each of our bodies and souls together in our mother’s womb. God entwines himself into human cells to make us once more at home in him, in our own selves, and in fellowship with each other. We are in him and he is in us. We carry our home with us now wherever we go, because God is our home and nothing can separate us from his love now that he has woven that love, woven home—woven Himself—right into our flesh.

Why you can dare to enjoy the process

Painting and photo by Patricia Herrera
Painting and photo by Patricia Herrera

Its colors grace my living room now, a tangible reminder of the resurrection hope who lives in me even when I can’t feel him. Today, as I remember the painting’s beginnings, it offers another hopeful reminder: the Artist who is shaping me into my true self is skilled enough to welcome me freely and fearlessly into the creative process.
The painting began one day about four years ago. I was to be the first to put paint on the fresh canvas.
I could hardly wait. That in itself was a small miracle.
The teacher in my mandatory high school art class once told me that my perspective was “screwy as hell.” If I hadn’t been afraid to pick up a paintbrush before that, I certainly had been since. Afraid of failure. Afraid of what people would think.
So why my excitement? What had changed?
I was sharing a home with an artist. This was her idea. She had done it before with people who, in their words, ‘can’t paint.’ She told me I couldn’t ruin the picture.
Sometimes, for people afraid to begin, she would take a brush and scribble across the canvas to emphasize: they could not spoil the painting.
She went before, showing me how to hold the brush and where to start and how to mix the paint. She came behind, and however my brush stroked the canvas, the brush of the master artist incorporated and surrounded, and the first strokes of a not-so-timid-anymore but still-mostly-untrained artist became a seamless part of the beauty.
I could let go and enter the process with joy, knowing that my strokes were small and few in the bigger picture, trusting the promise and the promiser: As I worked together with the master artist, I could not ruin the picture.
There are days I need that reminder again. Most days, if I’m honest. Every day, actually. I need the Master Artist to whisper again and again in my ear, “Carolyn Joy, let Me be God.” I need him to remind me once again that I can relax and enjoy the process because I’m not the sole creator of my life. The Master Artist, brush in hand, is not only coaching but coming behind, filling and surrounding and incorporating dark and light into unbelievable beauty. He promises that, as we work together, every stroke I make on my canvas, the careful ones, the let-go-and-have-fun ones, the ones where I really mess up badly, as well as every loving touch or careless scribble or angry slash that someone else makes across my canvas, will be used in the shaping of the final glorious image—Christ in me.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son. . .  (Romans 8:28-29 NLT)

The two step guide to running in the rain (and loving it)

DSCN5400
Water poured around me as I walked across the bridge on Saturday morning. Heavy and fast the drops fell, the wind shoving them under my umbrella and chilling my wet hand. It was the kind of day I’d usually prefer to stay safe in the dry indoors, but as I walked over the bridge, I realized I was loving being out in it. I felt alive as I faced into the wind and rain and kept on going.
Why?
I had dressed for it. I was wearing not just my raincoat but my rain pants and waterproof boots. I had even fastened a waterproof backpack cover over my purse. I wasn’t worried about having to sit for three hours in soggy jeans and sneakers, or having to carefully unfold and try to salvage the rain-soaked papers tucked into my purse.
Peeking out from under my umbrella (which I almost didn’t need with the rest of my coverings), I noticed a few others who had ventured out into the storm. Some were frowning as they hurried along, grasping their belongings close to them as they clung to their umbrellas. But the other group which didn’t seem to mind the rain any more than I did were the runners in their shorts. They weren’t lugging backpacks with books that would be damaged by the rain, or wearing heavy clothes that would soon be sopping and heavy and cold.
I’ve been thinking a lot these days about freedom, the kind of freedom that lets me respond and choose in accordance with the Spirit’s action. I have a sense of what it looks like and feels like, but I often find myself struggling to live in it. That walk in the rain helped me picture two steps back into freedom, the kind of freedom that lets me keep going and maybe even enjoy it when the wind is lashing huge raindrops up under my umbrella: strip down and cover up.
It reminded me to ask Jesus two questions when I’m not feeling free and can’t find remember how to find my way back into freedom:

  1. What are you inviting me to take off?
  2. What are you inviting me to put on?

1. Strip down: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race set out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Everything that hinders: in my life, that’s often fear of what people might think, but it can also be a desire for security or control or change. God has been working on these with me lately, giving me one opportunity after another to practice trusting him with my fears. There’s a lifetime of work yet to be done in me, but already I’m noticing that it’s easier to run in the rain when I’m wearing shorts than when the heavy, soggy jeans of fear are clinging to my legs.
2. Cover up: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Eph 6:11) As Darrell Johnson points out, putting on the armor of God is actually putting on Christ who is the truth and who is our salvation and our righteousness and the Word of God.
I’m discovering this all over again too: In God’s kingdom, stripping down and covering up are not opposites but two sides of the same process. It is only as I put on Christ and know that my life is safely hidden with Christ in God that I stop needing all the layers of self-protection that end up weighing me down like sopping jeans when the weather turns ugly. I can only live the first question by living the second.
DSCN4228_2
As I turn again and sit quietly in Christ’s love (isn’t it lovely how everything keeps bringing us back to this central invitation of Christ to make our home in his love?) I find myself stripped down and covered up at the same time. Stripped, at least for those moments, of my arrogance and independence, and hidden in Christ’s gentle, protective love.
I watch Jesus model this process: knowing himself safely wrapped in the love of his Father, he stripped off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, knelt, and took one disciple’s foot after another in his hands, making his way around the circle of his friends. With Jesus covered up and stripped down, the light in him just kept shining more brightly. Especially as the weather turned sour.
DSCN6468
DSCN1746
DSCN3361_2

When you need a little comfort {The End of the Story}


Gratitude flowed through me yesterday when Pastor Andrea called us to worship with the Easter refrain, “Christ is risen!” and we responded, “He is risen indeed!” Somehow, until we arrive each year at that Second Sunday of Easter, I seem to forget that the forty days of Lent are matched on the other side of the pivotal weekend with fifty days of Easter.
For forty days of mourning, God gives fifty days of joy. Or, more truly still, for forty days of suffering, our extravagant God gives fifty hundred1 (Mark 4:8, 20; Mark 10:30), or a whole eternity (Rev 21:3-4), of joy.
When we’re in them, the days of suffering can feel like an eternity. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we need the season of Easter, and the mini-Easters of every Sunday all year, to let this truth sink deep: God can be trusted with suffering.
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” The psalmist repeats it to be sure I’ve understood: “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Ps 126)

This is one of the assurances of Easter. God never wastes suffering. We might waste it, complaining our way through it, or denying it, trying to avoid the pain. But God doesn’t waste it. Instead, He invites us to plant our suffering, to plant ourselves deep in Him, to let ourselves be planted with Him—that grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died—and wait to see the harvest that God will bring forth (John 12:23-28).

“I say to myself, the Lord is my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,

To the one who seeks him.

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

(Lamentations 3:24-26)

_______________

1Yes, I know, 40 x 100 is forty hundred (or four thousand), not fifty hundred, but fifty hundred is my sister’s favorite number, and I figured our extravagant God who gives us a whole eternity of joy wouldn’t mind me rounding up a little 🙂

Photos compliments of former colleagues in Afghanistan.

What you were made for

DSC_0466
I’ve been soaking again lately in John Wesley’s covenant prayer which begins, “I am no longer my own but yours” and I just have to say this, folks: I love not being my own.
More on that in a minute.
“Have you seen a fish swimming?” Sally Lloyd-Jones asks in her wonderful devotional book for kids (and big kids like me). “It dives, darts, glides, turns, flashes through the water. A fish was made for water. That’s its natural habitat—the place where it belongs.
And the Bible says we were made for God—to be loved by him and to love him. That’s where we belong.” (“Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing,” p. 62)
It seems to me the greatest tragedy of the fall that we now fear the One in whom alone we are free. We’ve forgotten who we are and where we belong, forgotten that we were made by God’s love, for this love, and, whether we’re aware of it or not, that we live surrounded by this love.
When I encountered Wesley’s prayer four years ago my own praying of it was mostly an asking to be made able to pray it. This time around, though some lines are still harder to pray than others, the prayer tastes of freedom and joy, like a gentle hand picking me from the riverbank where I’ve been flopping and gasping, and setting me back in the river where I find myself free to swim and work and play with a remarkable joy and energy—because I’m not trying to flop and wiggle my way to the top of the riverbank. What has changed? Maybe just this: God and I have been through the cycle enough times—me falling apart, him bringing me close and gently loving me back together again—that my heart is finally starting to believe that He really loves me. That I can trust Him.

“I am no longer my own but yours.”

It’s the simple gospel truth for all of us who belong to Jesus, and it’s such good news! I don’t have to carry the burden of providing for myself, figuring out my minute-by-minute schedule, or trying to manage my future (Matt 6:25-34). Someone who dearly loves me is always looking out for me. As the hymn writer said, “The protection of his child and treasure is a charge that on himself he laid.” On himself. Not on me.

“Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.”

I was never meant to be the one to determine my status, my significance, or my daily occupation.

“Put me to doing, put me to suffering,
Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
Exalted for you or brought low for you.”

I keep thinking about the viola dream and how I’m made to be played, not to play myself. Sometimes there’s energy and my strings resonate to His touch, and then the energy’s gone and it feels like God has gently laid me back in the case to rest a while. And both—the good, hard work, and the gentle rest—can be equally lovely when I don’t fight them. . . when I don’t presume I’m failing and God is disappointed with me. “Put me to what you will. . . . Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you.” When I’ve prayed these words at the start of the day and God chooses to place me back in the case and invite me to rest, there’s peace there, and joy. And when he gives me work different than I’d planned, that’s okay too. He’s the musician and when I remember that I’m just the instrument it can even be fun when He plays a tune other than the one I was expecting.

“Let me be full, let be empty.”

When I’m full I can celebrate—He is filling me with Himself!—and pour that fullness out in love. And when I’m empty at the end of a day of writing, or when I wake empty and unable to write, that isn’t something I need to fight or fix either, just delight in His welcome to come close and enjoy resting in His love.

“Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”

This is one of those lines I still find it hard to pray. I don’t want all things—that seems too great a burden. I don’t want to have nothing either. But I’m pretty sure that there’s a freedom in this line as great as in all the others so I’m asking God to set me free to honestly pray it.

“I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, blessed and glorious God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And may the covenant now made on earth be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

This fish wants to dart and dance and shout “yes, yes!” and “thank you!” in fish-language, and get on with the joy of being a fish in water.

Christ in you: God’s hospitality

DSC_0100
“One thing we should have learned from his first coming,” Pastor Tim reminded us, “is that Jesus never comes in the way we expect.”
I set out to explore the mystery of Christ in us—to find some boundary markers and peek at the view—and Jesus sets aside my desire for understanding and shows me first that the living of Christ in us—which is far more important than speaking about it—is a lot about love.
And then we creep a little closer to mystery—seeking to live it rather than define it (which, I’m learning, is the only way you can creep close to mystery)—and I find that the glory of Christ in us is not to be found first in the earthquake of His power in us, or the fire of His passion, but in the gentle whisper of His presence in the midst of our mess—our fears and our failures and a barn with a cow letting loose in the corner and blood-stained straw where Mary crouches, Christ in her giving Himself as a gift to the world.
His love is so beautiful here that my desire to explore has waned; what new view could be more beautiful than this love that becomes small and whispers Himself into our darkest corners, filling us with the certainty that right here in the mess we are accepted so deeply we are asked to host Him?
I understand, for the first time, maybe, David’s sentiments:

“. . .I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child with its mother. . .” (Psalm 131)

I could rest here, quite content, for a long time, here in this smallest, profoundest corner of the truth of Christ in me.
Maybe there’s rest here because His smallness makes space for my smallness: I’m welcomed to stop wrestling and rest.
Maybe the rest comes from finding that the hospitality He asks of me is always founded in the hospitality He offers me: Christ in us is always rooted in us in Christ.
Christ in us is mentioned ten times or twenty; us in Christ a hundred or two. And every time Jesus speaks of living in us, he pairs it with us living in him.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56)
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4)
“If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5)

It messes with my mind that likes to think in pictures. One person can live in another—a baby in a womb—but how do two people live in each other at the same time?
And then I remember the moment seven months ago when, as I was listening in the pew eight rows back, Darrell Johnson drew my attention to the remarkable truth: we, in Christ, are brought so deeply into the inner life of the Trinity that the apostle John speaks as though the Holy Trinity is the Father, the Son, and us!1

“On that day [when the Holy Spirit descends and fills you], you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)
“I have given them the glory that you [, Father,] gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. . .” (John 17:22-23)

“As we are one”—This flowing, belonging, difference-within-union dance of the Trinity is the love into which we are welcomed.
The same kind of joyful hospitality that the Father and the Son offer to each other, they offer to us: a real, living delight in each other. A full-of-life, three-dimensional enjoyment in which no one is swallowed up or merged, flattened or taken over, but each is uniquely himself, secure in the love of the others.
And as I read verse after verse, my image shifts. No longer do I picture “Christ in you” as a solitary person with another inside—a baby in Mary’s womb, say, or the Spirit living inside my body (though both are part of the truth).
The image now is more fluid, more like the interweaving dance of the Trinity in whose image we are made: Christ in us and us in Christ, a word-defying, image-defying mystery of love in which we are at once fully our small human selves and, through Christ, also loved right into the life of the Trinity where we are forever welcomed and held.
 
_________________
1Based on work by David Crump.

IN: an invitation to come and see

DSCN1629“If you had known. . . , you would not have condemned the innocent.” The words jump off the page at me.
“The innocent?” I want to object.
It’s uncomfortable to find myself standing with the Pharisees who are calling Jesus’ attention to the disciples’ misdemeanor and feel my finger pointing too. I’m not sure I like this company, and I’m quite sure I don’t want to be seen to be part of it. But I’m also not ready to let the dispute go.
“But. . .but. . .” I stammer, taken aback, not wanting to let Jesus get away with this distortion of truth. “But they’re wrong! Scripture says so!”
Apparently Jesus has a different view than I of what it means to be innocent.
And a different view of who gets to make that call.

“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:7)

With that statement and two brief stories, Jesus critiques the Pharisees’ lovelessness, defends his disciples, and shows himself to be the gentle Savior who frees his people from fear of getting it wrong.
And with that statement, Jesus critiques my lovelessness, and my fear, and the legalism which can spring from fear. Because as I hear his words—“if you had known. . . you would not have condemned the innocent”—I’m not looking at his disciples who are daring to pick grain on the Sabbath but at other lovers of Jesus who are wrestling to offer almost-impossible-to-articulate, life-giving mystery, and, in their attempt, are rubbing up against my fears.
Jesus is busy blowing open my boxes these days. He seems to be particularly good at doing that—letting light and air in, and then, eventually, me, others, and Himself out of the boxes in which I keep trying to stuff us to keep us all safe. He’s encouraging me to ask hard questions about what the truth is and why it matters.
One of those questions is what it means that Christ is in us. The question is pressing up against me in blog posts and facebook posts, books and sermons, conversations and presentations and paintings, and I am realizing again that “All good theology is done on the cliff-edge—one step too far and you tumble into idolatry, one step back and the view is never so good.”1.
How do we fully embrace the truth that Christ is in us without subtly slipping into new age philosophy—or sounding like we are? A few years ago, the question would have surprised me. The two are so vastly different—how could they be confused? They are immeasurably different. But is it also possible that I haven’t seen either the edge or the full wonder of the truth because fear has kept me standing a mile or two away from the cliff? And is it possible that Jesus is reaching out his hand to take mine and saying, “Come, child of mine. Let’s go a little closer to the truth so I can show you what I’ve been talking about”? Maybe sometimes the only way to see clearly is to go, with Jesus, right up to the edge. Right into mystery.
DSCN1631The question of Christ is in us is not a minor one. We daren’t just stay away from the cliff. Paul calls this “glorious mystery” of Christ in us “the word of God in its fullness.” This, he says, is where our hope lies. (Colossians 1:25-27)
Jesus, too, situates this truth at the center of the gospel and our life as His followers in the world.

 “On that day, you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

It is, Jesus says, the only way to a fruitful Christian life.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. . .” (John 15:4)

It’s the only way into a Christian life at all. Anything less than living in Christ and Christ in us is something other than Christianity.
This matters. 
It matters enough that Jesus’ longing for us to know and live the truth of our in-Christ-ness filled his final conversation and prayer before he headed to the cross where he would take the next step of making our in-Christ-ness possible (John 14-17).
It matters enough to study and pray to articulate such mysteries as truly as we can.
But the apostle who made famous the phrase “in Christ” and, I suspect, understood its mysteries better than any human who has ever lived (except, of course, for Jesus) also wrote this: “If I . . . can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, . . . but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2)
Actually living in Christ is a lot more important than being able to talk about it, and that looks a lot like love. 
I take the hand Jesus is offering and let him lead me out of the finger-pointing crowd and toward the cliff. I’m glad of his hand; I want to see, but I’m not so fond of heights.
By this time next week, we’ll be into Advent, that season in which we prepare to welcome again God’s coming not just to live with us, but in us. What better time to take another peek at the mystery of in? We won’t “solve” the mystery—Christian mysteries can’t be solved, only lived—but we’ll ask Jesus to point out some markers that will help us recognize the cliff edge, and to free us to live a little more deeply into the mystery that, as Christ’s people, we really are in Him and He in us.
__________________
1.Jeremy Begbie, Theology, Music and Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 279.

Put aside the Ranger

I’ve been like the Ranger in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I’ll bet that at some point you’ve been too. A person of character and integrity playing a key role in the drama. Playing it well. Caring, encouraging, fighting valiantly to protect others against some evil. But preferring to fight in the shadows, hood pulled up over my head. Hiding my real self.
Elrond’s words pierce me, words spoken when he handed Aragorn the sword that once had been broken and called him to take his rightful place as the king of Gondor. “Put aside the Ranger. Become who you were born to be.”
The words challenge me. Excite me. They’re good words. Freedom words. Oh, yes, I want to be who I was born to be! Sometimes. And sometimes not. Then they’re frightening words.  They feel heavy.
“God, It’s too hard! I can’t do it! I can’t!”
He sends reassurance: “God’s mercies are new every morning — not as an obligation to you, but as an affirmation of you.” (Ann Voskamp)
One of those great mercies is that he doesn’t let us stay hiding in the shadows of some seven billion other clones, each clamoring to be a little faster, stronger, better.
He loves us. Me. You. Yes, you. He likes you, too. He wants you to be who you were born to be because He planned you just the way He wanted you.
“Become who you were born to be.” Not because he wants to make things harder for you. Because he wants to set you free. Because his love has made you great and he doesn’t want you to miss out on the joy of being who you’re born to be. Because he doesn’t want the rest of his body to miss out on it either.
Why do we fear becoming ourselves? Is it because we’re afraid who we are isn’t enough? That we’ll be judged by those who want to mold us in their own image?  That’s just the point. Faster, better, busier: they’re all measured against others. I will fail if I’m trying to be who someone else was born to be. 
Or do we fear that we’ll try and fall flat? That we won’t know who we were born to be, or won’t be able to get there? That’s the other key. I will fail if I think that becoming myself means making it happen myself. I am not made to be an independent individual. I am made to be a person, joined to and filled with the Persons at the center of the universe. Joined to and part of Christ’s body.
I was born to be me. You were born to be you. And that truest you-ness is hidden with Christ in God. Until you are united to him, you’re not the you you were born to be. And when you are united to him, then you no longer carry the weight of becoming the real you by yourself. You’re in him, and he in you, and he’s making you into the you you were born to be. He’s completing the work of creation that he began when he dreamed you. That is good news!
There’s a freedom in becoming yourself. What do you have to lose? Your life, perhaps. But it will be given back to you once you’re free to live it fully. And while you’re trying to be someone else, you stand to lose everything. Including yourself.
There is fear in hiding, and fear in stepping out. We get to choose our fear. The difference is that one leads to real joy.
We weren’t all born to be king of Gondor. But we were all born to be someone that no one else can be.

“So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body,  let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” (Romans 12:5-6 The Message)

___________

An edited repost from the archives, part of a summer series leaning into God’s repeated command to remember.