We all want to be known. It is a deep human need...and it is the great desire of God for us. He calls His sheep by name. He knows them. A name to God was an expression of who that person really was...in the very core and essence of his being. It reflected their nature. Thus, when a cataclysmic change landed in the core of a person and altered how he saw God...or himself, we often see God changing their names. Abram became Abraham. Saul became Paul. Simon became Peter...the little rock. In the end of time, Christ will give His people, individually, a new name; a name which only He and the recipient know. It will be a secret between you and God alone. This speaks to God's desire for a deep, intimate, abiding relationship with each follower. Such desire is not for His sake...it is for ours. We are the ones in need of being known. We are the ones in need of knowing Him; for it is in that knowing that we have life and have it abundantly and eternally and joyfully.
As God became flesh in Christ and dwelled among men, so He becomes flesh in each believer today and dwells among men in us. You and I may be the only Jesus someone will ever know. We may be the only one who introduces a seeking Shepherd to His lost sheep; who knows them and loves them and calls them by name. The great need and the great fear, both, for many is that they will be known. The fear is that if they are known no one will like them. Rejection is far safer when the facade is rejected rather than the real thing. As Christ looked into the deep of every person and saw who they really were and loved what He saw, so He asks us to be and do. He gives us new eyes with which to gaze deep within a person and call them by their true name...and love them.
Most people do not know who they really are until someone spies it hiding in the shadows of their soul and calls it forth. This is the great life-giving capacity our personal relationship with Christ bequeaths us. He gives us new eyes with which to see...and a new heart with which to love.
And Jesus, gazing intently into him, loved him....and the rich young ruler turned sadly away because he had many possessions.
- II -
With Eyes to See
The key to how well we live is found in great measure in how well we see. And what have we seen in the day we have just walked in? Did we see the one in need of our lingering? Did we see the color of the sky or the color of a loved one's eyes? What do we really see when we look at something?
Years ago on a trip to Boulder, Colorado I took a side-trip to Florrisant to look for fossils in an ancient lake bed. Picking up one layered rock after another, I found much "debris" - speckling the surface of many of them. One rock in particular caught my eye with a speck of debris that looked different from much of the other I had found. I turned the rock in several directions seeking to get the best read of that spot on the rock. Finally, as I turned it completely around, its shape and form emerged. It was a small bee, like a sweat bee....large, striped abdomen with antenae and wings! I was stunned to find such a fossil treasure. Heretofore, all my finds had beem of tribolites and seashells. But here in this rock I had almost tossed aside were the remains of an insect. Only as I really looked at it from many angles did I finally see what I had.
We must take the time to look at our lives from many angles if we are to see what we really have; to turn it till we discover the treasures lying there. Children have magical vision that allows them to see the treaures in their day. They see the antlion's home and go looking for its occupant. They watch the honeybee dancing in the flower and throw themselves into the world of the lightening bug. They notice when something is wrong with a parent. They see purely because the filters that come with age have not yet blinded them; they see the world without the specks of fossilized remains we carry in our soul. They do not miss what we miss.
In Revelation 1 Christ is described as having eyes like flames of fire. His is a piercing gaze that burns through all that is irrelevant and goes to the heart of the matter. When the rich young ruler asked Him what he must do to inherit eternal life, Christ knew the possessions that lay in this young man's heart and knew he would turn from the answer He gave. Yet in Mark 10 we see the words, "then Jesus beholding him, loved him." The word for "beholding him" means a gazing intently into. Seizing his soul with His eyes - and knowing the priorities that lay there - Christ loved him anyway. His is a piercing love that burns away the specks and sees things as they really are. We are asked to have the vision of a child.....where life becomes brim-full and running over.
When the purity of love collides in our soul with the magic of faith we are able to see past the debris from our past. We are freed to see our hurt and wounded places as scars that can be healed. We are free to see forgiveness for what it is...a healing, liberating thing not only for "them" but for us. We are freed to see those who have wounded us as ones for whom Christ died. We have eyes with which to see the beauty in each moment because it comes to us from a loving Creator's hand who ever works within us to create from our broken places something new and alive. Here, we embrace the magical vision of the child, and we are free to see more purely who He really is and the treasures we really have.
"They left the vivid air signed with their honor."
These words of Shakespeare were indelibly imprinted in my mind following the icy plane crash in the Potomac River over 20 years ago in which two heroes emerged. One lived and the other died. The one jumped into the frigid waters and swam to a woman struggling to stay afloat. He managed to get her safely to the bank and emergency help. The other man was on the flight and he and a flight attendant desperately clung to a piece of the fuselage, waiting for rescue. When the helicopter arrived, the gurney lowered to him. He moved it to the woman, helped her into the harness and motioned for the crew to take her up. A few minutes later when the helicopter returned for him, he was gone. Bruce Morton of CBS News ended his moving tribute to these two men with the words above from Shakespeare. I have never forgotten those words....or those men.
How will we leave the air when we are gone? What shape will it be in? Will it be vivid and crisp because of the way we lived, or polluted and messy? Will the way we lived or die leave honor in our wake? We are called to that you know. Believers....followers... of Christ have been set apart from the world and asked to be an extraordinary - "peculiar" people. We are asked to love those who don't love us, to pray for those who misuse us...to go beyond duty to a second-mile kind of life...to offer grace and forgiveness as a fountain from a transformed life.
We cannot live that way on our own power...from our own human form. Only as we allow Christ to supplant our "form" - our natural human bent - with His can we walk in the calling He beckons us to. Only as we surrender to the will and life of Christ living within us and let Him do what we cannot...only then can the world find in us the expression of Christ. What He asks of us goes against our nature. What He asks of us is not normal behavior. We must switch engines and tap in to a different power source than our own will. We must yield and submit to His presence in our lives and give Him permission to live His life out in our flesh. Here, in our temple site, God once more becomes flesh and dwells among men today.
It it the incarnate life He calls us to....a whole new order of human being...transfigured by His in-dwelling Presence. As emptied vessels filled by His Spirit, the world about us can see a different kind of man....and a different kind of God. And when we are gone, those left behind may indeed find the air has been left vivid and has been signed with our honor.
Because the Laodicean culture was rich and comfortable and in need of nothing, it had a hard time finding room for God. The American church is of the Laodicean lineage. We are rich and seem to have need of nothing. Our church coffers are bulging and so is our membership; church buildings are now "campuses" and there is a program for every need. Yet counsellors' offices are bulging, even in the Christian community, and so are compulsive behaviors, obsessive thinking, fears and phobias and addictions of every sort; there is shopping and eating, drinking and gambling. Christ spoke of these as the worries and riches and pleasures of this world that put the squeeze on the fruitful, productive life He has not only desired for us but has sown into the very soil of our being. We have let the briarpatch in which we live grow its thorns into our soul and suffocate what God is seeking to grow there.
I think we do not slow down because we are running from ourselves. We are afraid of what we might find hidden beneath the brush and brambles; of what might be lurking in the shadows of our soul. I think we are running from God as well. We seem fearful of what in us He might tinker with...what patches He might try to clear. Our days are crammed with so much...things to do, places to go, people to see...because, I think, it is here that we find our significance. It is here, too, that we find our need. Our need is for meaning and value that are not based on externals, on having and getting... on performance. Our need is not physical but spiritual. In Laodicea, it is not easy to see that or want that.
Because it had everything, Laodicea did not understand it had lost, in the undergrowth of its wealth and ease, what really mattered. Christ urged them to purchase from Him a gold that was eternal. It may be that what we fear if we simplify our lives is not what we will get. We might discover that, as we clear the brush from our manic existence and the undergrowth from the field of our soul, something precious has been hiding there: a value that can neither be stolen by what others do to us nor tarnished by what we do....eternal gold, hidden but not destroyed; it is a gold rooted in the Calvary tree that says you and I were worth such a price.
Take inventory of your schedule, and ask the Lord to show you what you can let go of for the week. Even though they may be good things, they may be bronze instead of gold. For just this week, jetison what you can and invite God into that space. Let go of your "oughts and shoulds" in the kitchen and come to this new living area in your soul to sit at His feet for a while.
In Laodicea, they were encumbered with many things much as Martha when she fretted over "many things" in the kitchen while Jesus taught in the living room. The Lord tells us only one thing was needful; she had missed what Mary did not. We all must choose where the focus of our heart will be. It is we who must choose that One Thing which, alone, will stir our heart to life and suddenly make us conscious of treasure.
In entering into death and rising up in new life from the grave, Christ crumbled the fortress of death. In entering into hell and overcoming it....Christ pillaged its eternal spoils from earth. In living without sin...without flaw or blemish in His human flesh, when Christ died in a sinless state... He ripped the shackels of sin and death from our fleshly souls. He forever made possible the redemption of a fallen race, the retrieval of a lost realm. In becoming sin, and becoming sin's curse, He made possible the healing of souls cursed by the sins of others or of themselves; cursed with unhealed hurts or bitterness, guilt or shame, fear or worthlessness. In taking this curse with Him -in His body- to the cross, as He was nailed to the tree, so was this curse. Its absolute power to dominate the human terraine has been broken at Calvary...if we believe it...if we choose to pursue that possibility as promise.
When by faith we accept that promise then the power of Resurrection Paul speaks of in Philippeans 3:10 has permission to begin its rennovating work in our crippled places. It has the leverage it needs through our cooperation, to begin reproducing the life of Christ in us - in both its characteristics and its power.
When by faith we accept His substitutionary death and His perfect life, His Spirit enters into us and knits His holiness into our eternal spirit and makes us forever holy. We have been returned to God; we have been remade for heaven's climes. We have been brought home - as His - forever.
I tried to capture my daughter's Master's of Divinity graduation ceremony on film....rapid-fire snapping of every second as she walked across the stage, approached the dean with outstretched hand, took the diploma and exited the stage at the stairs on the other side. I caught every proud moment on film. When I was through, I suddenly realized I had missed it! I had missed it. The camera had caught it, but I didn't. The emotions - the magnitude - of being fully present in the moment had been lost. I had watched it through the lens of a camera but my heart and soul had only glimpsed it from a distance.
Whenever I try to capture something precious and draw it to myself through artificial means, something is lost. A friendship may be smothered...a friend controlled. A marriage may be shrunk down to my own idea of it, leaving little room for my spouse to be the uniquely crafted person God has intended. Tethering the bird-like spirit of another to the cage of my own world, I suddenly find the winged life is gone. The preciousness of the moment is captured, but the problem is that as we draw the spirit of anything to ourselves, it no longer is what we cherished. The only way to truly capture something without diminishing it, is to be fully present in it; breathing it in...seeing, really seeing, what is there and letting it fly as itself in our world.
Life, and all that it holds, was meant to be, not a trophy, but a treasure.
What does it look like in real life...seeking first God's Kingdom and His righteousness?
It means a man who could make a lot of money in a business deal if he bent the truth...just a little...but he chose not to.
It means a woman feeling on the outside of her social circle because she chooses not to participate in gossip or behaviors that dishonor righteousness.
It means taking food - at God's prompting - to someone in need when you yourself are in need and trusting that God, against all common sense, will take care of your needs.
It means choosing not to pass on a rumor about a political candidate of the opposite party without knowing of its truthfulness.
It means the end does not justify the means. A righteous end can never be secured by unrighteous means. Great carnage has happend in human history at the hands of those proclaiming to do it in the name of God: the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the violence in Northern Ireland, most of the wars of the Middle East, terrorism...to name but a few. Such can only happen when we separate God's Kingdom from His righteousness. A crusading spirit can latch onto God's Kingdom and defend it at all costs. Yet Christ, in Matthew 5, insists that the only defender of God's Kingdom is righteousness; the only enemy of evil is good. If you and I fight evil with the world's weapons, then no matter who is left standing at the end of the battle, evil wins.
We must train ourselves to see with new eyes; to see God's kingdom and His ways through a righteous lens. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the archaic system of an old order. You and I have been called into a whole new order of human being in which how we walk is more important than what we accomplish. If we lose righteously, then we have won.
"If you would live you must die; if you would be first, you must be last...if you would be master, you must be servant."