Thursday, September 21, 2006

What is Jesus Doing?

How do you know that Jesus is at work? What does it look like? Are there definite markers? Yes! In some senses, spirituality is subjective, but in other ways, it is objective. The Bible gives us objective measures to decide whether or not God is at work. Let's look at those in this paper. A few preliminary comments first, though:

These objective evidences of God's work are not prerequisites for God's work, they are the fruit of God's work. If you see these things, God has been working. We do not cause God to work, we recognize his work. Let us be careful to get the order correct, otherwise we will put ourselves in the place of the Almighty.

If we know that these are the things that happen when God is at work, then if we do not see these things, we should conclude that God is not working. Or, more properly, we can conclude that God is at work to the degree that we see these things happening.

Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Jesus is known for saying things like this, in fact, the Bible is full of instruction and stories that tell us an inevitable result of God's grace is love. Jesus said this particular statement to his eleven apostles in the upper room (Judas had left). Among other natural rivalries, Matthew was a liberal, terrorist tax-collector and Simon was a right-wing religious nut-job. They were sworn enemies. If two brothers (James and John) love each other, no big deal. If Matthew and Simon love each other, people pay attention. "What the &$#@! What's up with these two guys? How can they support each other?" The answer . . . "Only Jesus. It must be Jesus."

What is Jesus doing? He is turning enemies into friends. He is crucifying hate and resurrecting love in the hearts of men and women. He is bringing family members, long estranged from each other, into unity again. He is reconciling churches split by bitter and ancient battles. When you see Simon and Matthew together, you know that Jesus is at work.

James (Jesus' half-brother) tells us about a hungry homeless person going to the home of a Christian asking for help. The Christian says, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled." Then, James compares this person to the demons. He says, "Show me your faith apart from works and I will show you my faith by my works." The Bible is full of instruction and stories that tell us an inevitable result of God's grace is generosity. It is easy to feel compassion for the poor. In fact, people with no compassion are despised in our society ("Scrooge"). We give to the Red Cross and to other aid organizations. How is this unusual? Everyone does this.

However, followers of Jesus get personally involved with the poor to the point that our lifestyle is cramped and sacrifices must be made. For example, I know a family who has adopted 8 children with severe medical needs. "What the &$#@! What's up with that? How can you do that?" The answer . . . "Only Jesus. It must be Jesus."

Transformed Lives
In a letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes a long list of evil and perverse kinds of people: idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, alcoholics, etc. Then he says, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." The Bible is full of instruction and stories that tell us an inevitable result of God's grace is transformed lives. It is easy to make changes in your life. People do it every day. Life transformation is a different thing.

I know a man who, as a child, was raped repeatedly by his father. When he was 14, he lied about his age to get a job at a lumber mill and began living on his own. He quickly became an alcoholic and didn't get sober until after he was married with two children, beating his wife regularly. He met Jesus. Now he is in his late 40s. He and his wife have a difficult but progressing marriage. They have 4 children, two are adopted orphans. He owns a growing business in a highly competitive market. The business gives ten percent of the profits to various charities. "What the &$#@! What's up with that? What happened to this guy?" The answer . . . "Only Jesus. It must be Jesus."

In a letter to second-generation Christians, the Apostle peter writes, "Though you have not seen [Jesus Christ], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." The Bible is full of instruction and stories that tell us an inevitable result of God's grace is joy. When I was young, my pastors talked about joy as a quiet assurance despite circumstances. I cannot fit that understanding into the Bible's use of "joy." Joy is happiness on steroids. Joy is incredible satisfaction. With joy, smiling becomes involuntary . . . you can't stop. Feelings come and go. Joy is not less than a feeling, but it is much more. You experience joy when your thoughts, emotions and volition all scream "This is good! This is so right!"

Most people have had some experience with this kind of inexpressible joy. When Jesus is at work, people experience it more and more. When Jesus is at work, we are moving closer and closer to the kingdom of heaven - closer to the time when everything will be good and right - closer to the time of full joy. Imagine hearing a spiritual testimony that goes something like this, "When I bought my $3 million house, I thought it would make me happy, but it didn't. Then I met Jesus. He made me so happy that I sold my house for a much smaller one. Now I'm even happier. My life is less comfortable, but I'm happier." Some people might respond, "What the &$#@! What's up with that? What happened to this guy?" The answer . . . "Only Jesus. It must be Jesus."

Jesus is a man of many paradoxes, not the least of which is economic. On the one hand, he was homeless and poor. On the other hand, he was known as a great partier. In the gospels, he never turned down an invitation to a party. In his first miracle, he saved a party that was going flat. In fact, he had quite a bad reputation as a partier among the religious establishment. Today, Christians are known for many things . . . great parties is not one of them . . . but it should be. Of all people, Christians have the most to celebrate. The Bible is full of instruction and stories that tell us an inevitable result of God's grace is communal celebration.

Imagine if parties were used to embrace rather than escape. Imagine parties used to celebrate what is good. Imagine a church that spends large amounts of its resources (budget, personnel, time) planning and executing amazing celebrations of God's grace -- exquisite banquets, dynamic concerts, exciting rallies, quality plays, good wine -- all to the praise and glory of God. Let's not settle for the patio potluck. Let's celebrate on earth as it is in heaven. If we do, I think many people would look and say, "What the &$#@! What's up with that? What happened to this church?" The answer . . . "Only Jesus. It must be Jesus."

The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth using a famous word-picture. The church is like a person's body. Each person in the church is a different body part. Some people are good at one thing; others are helpful for another thing. Paul is talking about all sorts of differences but he primarily defines the analogy in two ways: 1) Economic status and 2) Race (or culture). Therefore, the different parts of the body are primarily "poor" and "rich" or "dominant" and "sub-dominant" cultures. As he explains the analogy, he says that no one should look with envy at another person, just as "the foot should not say, 'because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.'" That is to say, poor Christians should not be intimidated by rich Christians, nor black by white. They should not feel or act like second-class Christians who have nothing to contribute.

Further, "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you.'" In other words, no person should discard another. On the contrary, we all need each other. In fact, Paul says, "the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable." That is to say, rich Christians should not ignore the help of the poor, nor should the white Christians feel or act like they are sufficient without black Christians.

The poor who act like victims and the rich who think they are self-sufficient both have the same problem -- they are both focusing all attention on themselves. The poor are self-conscious, the rich are self-confident. Neither are humble. The humble do not spend time comparing themselves to others, they spend time serving others. It's not that they think little of themselves, but rather that they rarely think of themselves. Humble people are quick to learn from those that are different, different culturally, sexually, geographically, economically, historically, linguistically, and generationally. They are eager to find places where they need to be reformed in their actions, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. They are not afraid to be wrong, they are not defensive when confronted. At the same time, humble people are not afraid of confrontation, nor do they recoil from suffering. They use their power to protect the weak, and they don't mind stepping in front of a train to do it. The Bible is full of instruction and stories that tell us an inevitable result of God's grace is humility.

Humble people make the best friends. They are full of grace and truth, and they are rare. Usually they are confusing to people. People ask, "How could someone be so confident, and yet not arrogant? So gracious, and yet not wishy-washy! What the &$#@! What's up with that? How does this happen?" The answer . . . "Only Jesus. It must be Jesus."


Blogger RKS said...

This is some of the best that you have written. Very powerful.

4:00 PM, September 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:36 AM, October 11, 2006  

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