Monday, September 20, 2010

Abide Dialog




For the past 5 years Pam and I have been sustaining a dialog with followers of Jesus about abiding in Christ. In settings as diverse as home meetings, counseling, retreats, events and church services we are sharing with others that our inner life is where the entire Christian life now lives.

It has been a learning experience! Here are a few things we have learned along the way.

1. Every believer in Christ really does want to be like Jesus. They really do have new hearts and new intentions!
2. Believers struggle greatly with the idea that a perfect life dwells in them and is the source of everything that God expects of them for day to day life and love.
3. In American and Brazilian church life many have become addicted to never ending recipes for living the Christian instead of moment by moment dependence on Christ who is our Christian life.
4. Church leaders need to see spiritual formation of Christ in us as the most pressing need in the church and make a commitment to addressing this need urgently.
5. All preaching, teaching and counseling needs to begin and end in Jesus if we hope to equip Jesus' followers with the true power to live the Christian life as salt and light in this world.

There is an expression in Portuguese that is often used by participants at the end of our retreats to describe what happenned to them by seeing Jesus as the perfect Chrisitan life God expects them to live. They say "Este retiro foi um divisor de √°guas na minha vida!" What they are saying is... "This retreat was where the water was divided." They are communicating that this is where the river of their life took a new direction. This is where God opened a way through to a new future like He did when the Red Sea was opened.

I know exactly what they mean. When I finally saw clearly the perfect provision God had made for me to live the Christian life I, too, saw the waters divide and the Way open before me.

Authority

"All authority has been given unto Me in heaven and on earth." Matt. 28:18

To have authority is the ability to impose one's will on others. Every day we are surrounded by others who can legally impose their will on us. Just try arguing with a fire marshal about how many people can be in your public building and you will see who has authority on that subject.

What exactly is Jesus' authority over us? What authority did Jesus use to accomplish all He did while on earth? Jesus' authority came from His love -love that never stopped.

The entire time that Jesus was on earth He established this authority as His and His alone. He ignored all other kinds of earthly authority and focused only on the authority of love. Like a fire marshal who only looks into how people are threatened by fire, Jesus focused only on how people are destroyed when love stops and saved when love does not stop.

Jesus took upon Himself the role as the One who would speak and live with the authority of love to all mankind. In order to gain this authority He lived without sin and died for all of us who have every stopped love for even a moment. He became love to gain the authority of love. So, too, must His disciples.

Jesus could have used other kinds of authority on earth, but he chose love as His authority. His church must choose love as her authority as well.

The church needs to resist the temptation of trying to exercise other kinds of authority in the world. Our only authority is our love. We, too, must carry our crosses in order to speak in His name with authority.

We exist to love. If that doesn't give us authority like Jesus had, nothing else will.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Christian Mystic

Would you be offended if someone called you a "Christian Mystic"?

For most of my life I would have felt being called a Christian mystic would put me out on the fringe of Christian society. I would have avoided the label Christian mystic for fear of having others look at me as one wandering too far into the internal, invisible world. I was too busy leading a church to be thought of as mystical. I was convinced being called mystical was a nice way of calling someone useless.

To me, a Christian mystic would be someone practically living in a passive trance. That would have been the last thing I would have wanted to be known for while leading a church and school with over 130 people on staff.

Quite frankly I developed this negativity toward what a mystic is without ever having seen a definition of what a mystic actual is. That was poor study on my part. I let popular culture form my opinion instead of careful thought.

Just today I came across a definition by a Quaker scholar name Rufus Jones that has challenged my concept of what a mystic would be. Here it is...

"The essential characteristic of mysticism is the attainment of a personal conviction by an individual that the human spirit and the divine Spirit have met, have found each other, and are in mutual and reciprocal correspondence as spirit with Spirit." Rufus Jones.

I feel I must now confess my ignorance. In light of this definition I would be happy to be called a Christian mystic. Why? Because...I have happily attained a personal conviction that the Spirit of Christ dwells in me, has found me and I have found Him, and we are in a mutual and reciprocal relationship of my spirit with the Spirit of Christ. I call this mutual and reciprocal relationship abiding because Jesus called it abiding.

Listen to Paul's words to see if you, too, might just be a Christian Mystic according to Jones' definition.

"The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Romans 8:16

"But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His."

"I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." Gal. 5:16

"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." Eph. 5:18

The title "Christian mystic" may be too compromised by popular culture to be of any practical use in most church contexts, but this definition gave me comfort today that an intense interest in the unseen spiritual world is not weird but needed - especially among strong leaders. Again, listen to Paul:

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." II Corin. 4:16-18

Sounds a little "mystical" doesn't it? Sounds exactly like the mutual and reciprocal spiritual exchange that Rufus Jones was describing.

I don't plan on going around calling myself a Christian mystic any time soon, but if someone calls me a Christian mystic, I guarantee that my reaction to that title changed today under the definition used by Rufus Jones. In fact, I pray every believer I know will attain a deep conviction that their spirit has made an eternal connection with the Spirit of Christ, that they are forever found by His Spirit and can carry on a reciprocal relationship of love and filling with God's Spirit every day. I pray we will all abide.

I pray we might all walk in the Spirit so much so that someone might actually accuse us of looking too deeply into unseen things. That would be a good change for all of us - especially church leaders.