A timely book came to my doorstep this week (How I love when those little brown parcels arrive!) which has offered a refreshing reminder of how transformation into Christ-likeness works. This is a practical book, no formulas, no elite ‘spiritual’ exercises. In fact the bulk of it is built around the premise that it will be in really seeing Jesus that we will be transformed. He is the one after all that invites us to come to Him, find our hungers and thirsts quenched in him, rest in Him, and follow Him. He didn’t talk like we do about a ‘plan of salvation”. He said, “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn.14:6)….’Come to Me that you may have life’… ‘I AM the Bread of Life’ (John 6,7) ‘Eat Me, drink Me, Abide in Me’… It will be in knowing Him intimately that we will be changed.
So I was taking a closer look at Jesus in the boat with his disciples. They’re fretting about not having enough bread with them. Now, mind you, this was very shortly after the feeding of the thousands with just a few loaves. Jesus is grooming these men to advance the Kingdom of God and they are hung up on ‘what’s for lunch?’. Nonplussed he uses the teaching moment to warn them about the bad ‘yeast’ of the Pharisees but goes on to ask them if they really didn’t get the point of the miracle of the loaves and fishes…
Now, I can sympathize with those disciples. Have you ever been stuck on a boat with no food? Good food is an essential element of a good sailing trip for me. Last weekend was our first overnight sailing trip of the season. The captain being an eager sailor was glad to take the clothes on his back and set sail but I was not fully ‘ready’ to embark till I’d made a quick trip to the grocery store for ‘provisions’. Not that we wouldn’t have had enough to survive otherwise—canned things and emergency snack food, but there’s an improved morale for me in a trip that includes a fresh, crusty-but-soft loaf of French bread… and some chops to grill… and maybe some fruit and chips…OK, so all the disciples wanted was bread; but they too knew it’s no fun being stuck on a boat without food. So they were pre-occupied. Jesus says, ‘Don’t be, this is just stuff. I’ve got you covered.’ He was disturbed that they hadn’t gotten that lesson when they’d collected the TWELVE BASKETS of broken pieces leftover from the breaking of the five loaves for the five thousand. Twelve baskets was enough for one basket each for the disciples… plenty to eat and to share! When Jesus is with you, there is no want. When Jesus breaks the bread there is always enough and plenty to spare.
He is the one who broke the bread at that last supper they shared and handed it to His disciples saying: “This is my body, which is given for you. Take. Eat.” (Mt.26:26; Lk.22:19) What more could He give? What more could we need?
Paul spells it out in Colossians when he says: “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete.” This word ‘complete’ means filled up to the brim so that nothing shall be wanting, complete in every particular, rendered perfect. It is the same word used of a fulfilled prophesy, of something realized or accomplished. This is us, in Christ. So what is the obvious necessity for growth or service or any other aspect of fulfilling my calling as a believer? It must be in cultivating this connection with Jesus.
Which brings me back to that book I mentioned….Subtitled, Experiments in Christlikeness, it’s all about weaving simple disciplines into the ‘ordinary fabric’ of our days for this very purpose. From the start this clarification of motive jumped out at me. The point of doing any ‘spiritual’ exercise, for instance daily Bible reading, is not ‘to be a better Christian or to be holy’. It isn’t? (I had to read that one over again.) What then is the point? I am to discipline myself to read or to pray or to spend time in quiet… for the purpose of connecting with God, of learning to abide in Christ, to hear His voice, to share my heart and know His… A simple discipline is only a tool toward the cultivation of relationship. And it will be in the cultivation of that relationship that I will be transformed into Christ’s likeness. This transformation will be a product of abiding in the Vine. Now that does make sense. But how easily I can forget the point and think that my ‘doing’ is making me ‘holy’
“The distinction of where to put the effort is crucial: not in trying to be good (or do what Jesus did) but in connecting with Jesus himself….You do the connecting (with God), and God does the perfecting (in your behavior).” (Johnson,21,22) I find this thought tremendously freeing. I have long recognized myself to be a ‘pleaser’ with a strong desire to come across as ‘nice’ regardless of what is beneath the surface. I was the model child they say—‘good little Lindy’, an “A” student, quiet, an ‘easy’ child…but little known. My few best friends knew I wasn’t so quiet (and not so ‘nice’ all the time perhaps?) Unfortunately, growing up in a sub-culture that valued a ‘holiness’ that was easily mistaken for outward conformity to multiple “do’s” and especially “don’ts”, I learned to believe I was truly ‘nice’, even before God. I had better be–sinlessness was the goal! Covering sin up or denying it was the practical outcome. Relationship was really not emphasized as much as behavior. So, I toed the line and took my ‘nice’ disposition and circumspect behavior as being ‘holy’.
How woefully wrong was I. It’s not about being ‘nice’ anyway; it’s about being perfect—“brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness”. This is no self-study program! Divine intervention required. Have you ever squirmed in reading, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt.5:48) ? I was intrigued to find this same word used when Jesus instructed the rich young ruler in what he must do to inherit eternal life. After a quick review of the commandments Jesus said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” There was something keeping this man from treasuring the Kingdom above all else, and that something kept him from following Jesus. I think this is the point. It’s not so much about what he needed to DO as it was about exposing his heart and its treasure. If I will cultivate a heart that treasures Jesus, that ‘feeds on’ Him above everything else, the doing (and the being) will fall into place. Everything ‘necessary to completeness’ was accomplished at the Cross when Jesus declared: “It is finished (perfect)” (Jn.19:30) That’s enough for even me. Let’s eat!
“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev.3:20)
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (I Thess. 5:23,24)
I always enjoy Twila Paris. Here’s a reminder to “Hold On” to the real treasure and let the rest go.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZwelxYavVY (Never mind the Hungarian (?) subtitles. Her words are clear.)
“Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…” Deut.30:19,20