Hello church family,
Thank you so much for your prayers as I continue to recuperate from a hernia surgery last Thursday. I am up and getting around, off my prescription pain meds, and trying not to push myself beyond the body’s limits as it heals. (This is my biggest personal challenge, though the pain does help remind one not to move too quickly or the wrong way.)
Knowing God, Knowing Yourself – Part II
Last week I introduced the current sermon series focusing on a deeper knowledge of God and of ourselves. In the introduction to this series we saw that for the Christian, these two areas of knowing are interrelated as one experience intended to be guided by God’s revelation in Christ. We cannot truly know who we are without knowing the one who created us, and we can’t truly know him without knowing how we are in personal relationship with Him as He provides both temporary and eternal life.
“There is, however, a way of being for each of us that is as natural and deeply congruent as the life of the tulip. Beneath the roles and masks lies a possibility of a self that is unique as a snowflake. It is an originality that has existed since God first loved us into existence. Our true self-in-Christ is the only self that will support authenticity. It and it alone provides an identity that is eternal.” (The Gift of Being Yourself – The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, p 17) [Referenced later throughout as TGOBY]
In trying to wrap our heads around the God who is revealed in Christ, we also have to acknowledge that we will always be learning of Him, because the creator God is infinite, omniscient, pre-existing, He is the I AM who will be who He will be. The triune God is always light years beyond anything in His creation, including the children He brings into glory. Last week saw that, even in His revelation, there will always be some mystery. There will always be more for us to learn of Him and from Him. The creation will always be subject to the creator, and will never be the creator of its own destiny. All other kingdoms that have been built on any other foundation will be vanquished.
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24)
Just as true love comes from the God who loved us first, so our eternal destiny flows from His creative and perfect will for you and for me. Even as we are being transformed from glory into glory, he will always be ALL glorious! While we will become much more accurate image bearers of the heavenly, we are always cast in His image. When Paul speaks of this transcending glory in his letter to the Corinthians, he makes a comparison between the glory of the Old Covenant and the present tense glory of the New Covenant now revealed in Christ for Christian believers.
2 Cor 3: 7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. 12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)
Though Moses’ glow had a spiritual cause, there was nothing spiritual about the effect—any person, regardless of his relationship with God, could see the glow on Moses’ face, which he covered with a veil. Not so with the glory of the New Covenant. That can be seen only with a believer’s spiritual eyes—what Paul is doing his best to open, so that we discern the gospel’s glory. So he writes, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6)
This journey he has called us on to discover who we are truly meant to be is a journey of following His glory as revealed in Christ, and giving ourselves to the light of His truth in Him. It is easy though to misinterpret the meaning of growing up into His image. “We should never be tempted to think that growth in Christlikeness reduces our uniqueness. While some Christian visions of the spiritual life imply that as we become more like Christ we look more and more like each other, such a cultic expectation of loss of individuality has nothing in common with genuine Christian spirituality. Paradoxically, as we become more like Christ we become uniquely more our own true self.” (TGOBY, p. 17)
Last week we followed the life and calling of Peter as he learned of His Lord and savior and at the same time discovered who He was meant to be. This relationship-based knowing introduced Peter to a God he could never have known apart from Jesus. Consider just a few of the things he learned:
· God is the source of new life and living hope that is based in the resurrected Christ (1 Pet 1:3)
· God is the source of a faith that is more precious than Gold (1 Pet 1:7)
· God is a fountain of inexpressible joy (1 Pet 1:8)
· God judges with fairness and impartiality (1 Pet 1:17)
· God allows us to share Christ’s sufferings as a way of knowing Jesus through identification (1 Pet 4:12-13)
· God is faithful and can be trusted to do what is right (1 Pet 4:19)
· God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet 5:6)
His knowing of God and his own self underwent a radical change because he came to know Jesus. What is true for Peter is true for us as well. Peter’s own depth of understanding of himself and of God is revealed in the outworking of the gospel in his life and vocation. He is able to see God at work in his life and the life of the church in ways that built them up, equipped them, encouraged them, and served them.
But how do we do this? One way we come to know Jesus is through a Spirit guided meditation on the gospels. We enter into specific moments in Jesus life and experience these with him. David Benner suggests that this is an exercise more of imagination than that of intellect. It seeks to be more than a Bible Study, though we are immersing ourselves in God’s word. In our own church gatherings we have practiced some of this process through lectio devina. Asking God to take the words of scripture and make them meaningful to you. Reading a gospel passage over several times and journaling what sticks out to you as you read it. In chapter 2 of TGOBY, Benner takes the passage of Mark 10:17-22, where a young man runs up to Jesus as he is preparing to go on a journey and poses this question: “Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life” Benner suggests that we, like a spectator, observe the events as they unfold. Watch and listen, paying special attention to Jesus. Don’t try to analyze the story or learn lessons from it… (especially hard for those who teach!) Just be present to Jesus and open to your own reactions. This might be a good time to do just that with this passage… Please set this email manuscript aside, and read for yourself Mark 10:17-22 aloud several times. In between each reading think about Jesus words and reactions.
One of the things that I discovered about myself in reading the gospels this way is my tendency to ‘truncate the truth’. To jump right to the lesson Jesus has for everyone at the end of a particular section of scripture. To go for productivity and efficiency. I was so much in the habit of gleaning a teachable moment from the scripture, that I missed other details of the story pertinent to the actual experience in the life of Christ. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that we all come to different conclusions about what the life of Jesus means for humanity, but rather in our own personal knowing of our savior, that His Spirit guide us to knowing him in ways that inform us, settle us, complete us, and transform us. By way of example, in doing what I suggested above with this particular text, I had never noticed before that Jesus was “preparing to go on a journey” when this young man comes running up to him looking for answers to life’s questions! Where was Jesus going? Was he in a hurry? Was this man’s question seen by others or by Jesus as a delay? Did the man catch Jesus on the fly hoping for a quick answer and a pat on the head? You might take time to notice how different Bible versions present the text:
Now as He was going out on the road… (NKJV)
And when he was gone forth into the way… (KJV)
As he was setting out on a journey… (NRSV) and (NASB)
And as he was setting out on his journey… (ESV)
And as he was setting out on his journey… (RSV)
As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem… (NLT)
Benner also shares that you and I might encounter the difficulty of wandering attention. Don’t be upset by it, God designed our brains to follow pathways of association. Understanding is never purely isolated without the brain engaging other associative situations and topics. Simply return your mind to the meditation at hand when you find your thoughts wandering.
“Spending time with Jesus in Gospel meditation has begun to put flesh on the God I have been seeking to know for so many years. As Jesus has begun to become more human and real to me, the invisible God of whom he is the image has become more accessible. Jesus bridges heaven and earth, the human and the divine. If he is so divine that we cannot meet him in his humanity, God remains wholly other. But in Jesus, God is present. This is the truth of Immanuel – God with us.” (David Benner, TGOBY, p. 39-40)
As a church for so many years we emphasized being “the Bible Answer Man” when it came to scripture. But what we are describing here is a kind of meditation on the life of Christ that is absolutely essential if we are to ground our God-knowing in the gospels.
“Gospel meditation is gazing on Christ. When Jesus compared himself to the bronze serpent that God told Moses to make for the children of Israel to gaze upon when they were dying of snakebites (John 3:14-15), one of the things he was saying is that gazing on Christ in trust and devotion allows the Spirit of God to take his life and make it ours. God gave us Jesus as the divine image so that we could gaze upon him and thereby come to know God. This is why gospel meditation holds such transformational power.” (Benner, TGOBY, p. 40)
May we each grow in understanding the God who reveals himself in Jesus as we learn more about ourselves.
Your pastor & brother,
Grace Communion Melbourne
Grace Communion Orlando