Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Am...With You Always

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore, go and make disciples…baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely, I am with you always, to the ends of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus has every right to not only ask something of me, but to issue a command.  He has, after all, been given the authority directly from the King of Kings, who happens to be His Father.  However, one of these commands is truly difficult for me.  Which one?   Discipleship.  That may seem odd, for those who know me, also are aware this comprises the “bulk” of my life.  Yet, truth be told, what I do feels a lot like smoke and mirrors. 

To explain, let me expound a minute on what Jesus meant when he used the two words “make disciples.”  Simple enough, the phrase came from a Greek word meaning “to train as a follower.”  However, it meant much more than just imparting head-knowledge.  This word implies deep character-shaping and the cultivation of a biblical world-view (beliefs and values), through a close personal relationship between the disciple and the instructor.  In fact, Jesus’ followers would have known this meant the instructor sought to “stamp his image” on his disciples!  In order to accomplish this goal, the two must have time, experience, and fellowship with one another.  In the end, the student would emulate the instructor, yet not lose his individuality (that’s the real tricky part).  Jesus was asking his disciples to go, and do, exactly what he’d been doing with them.

Hence the reason why I wrestle with this command, and why my brand of discipleship doesn’t quite measure up.  I love the safety of my office.  I can give a measure of myself to the young women I “disciple.”  Yet, at night, I can go home, close my door, and isolate myself (well, to a degree).  What Jesus is asking is for true relationship, one-on-one time, and doing life together.  He’s asking for us to be willing to open up our very messy lives filled with fears, failures, and frustrations to “followers,” and show them how he, himself, would have responded.  I have a hard enough time with the revealing, let alone the responding…  Only one word comes to mind when I meditate on “making disciples” in its true sense.  Ugh!  For one who scores fairly high on the introvert section of an MBTI (Myers-Briggs Personality Profile), that much time around others can be exhausting.

Before the “ugh” gets verbalized, however, Jesus jumps in with a promise to wipe out all fears, “I am with you always.”  If I have his presence, I have his power.  If I have his presence, I have his wisdom.  If I have his presence, I have his reactions.  If I have his presence, I have his provision.  If I have his presence…well, you get the picture.  With him, I have no excuses!  I can do all things I normally can’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t.  This promise is the best guarantee I can have for doing life with another.  Jesus commands me to “go,” but I am never left to “go it alone.” He is with me, even to the end of the age.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I AM...I AM!

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you before Abraham was born, I am.”
John 8:58

We don’t like to think of Jesus as being controversial, yet when Scripture tells us he was a stumbling block to many that is exactly what he was.  Every “I Am” statement he made, took the Jewish people back in history to the time of their greatest deliverance (and it wasn’t the face of Charleton Heston they were seeing).  They were reminded of another who stood before a great king and answered an inquisition with these words, “I Am that I Am has sent me to you (Exodus 3:14).”  It’s one thing to hear those words from Moses, who claimed to be sent by I Am, but it was another to hear them spoken by Jesus who claimed he was THE I AM.  In their minds, this was blasphemy.  The only answer for blasphemy was death.  So, from the get-go the Sanhedrin looked for a way to accomplish just that.  What they didn’t realize was when they finally achieved their goal, they were judge, jury, and executioner of God…and, were literally robbed of fully understanding who the “I AM” really was.

The name of God that most reflected his nature is this one: YHWH (I AM).  Scholars of the day could not catch the full implication of the word's meaning.  Some believed it referred to the timelessness of God.  To others it reflected his self-sufficiency.  To yet others, it reflected the sum of all that God was.  Add to this, the fact that to the Jew, this name was completely sacred.  So sacred, they would not speak it.  So holy, that they even translated it differently in their writings, as Jehovah, or Yahweh.  So revered that when they wrote it in their sacred scrolls, tradition tells us that the scribe would stop and say, “I am writing the name Yahweh for the holiness of His name.”  If he made an error in writing it, he would have to destroy the entire papyrus on which he was writing.  (That’s a message in itself about how careless we are today when flippantly tossing around the name of God.)

However, since a person’s name was his character, this means that more than any other name, I Am that I Am, gives us a glimpse into God.  Here’s where understanding the importance of Jesus' “I Am” statements should ring the most clear.  When Jesus said, “I Am_________________” (fill in the blank), he was saying, “I am here to show you my Father unlike you have ever seen him.  I am here to show you God in the flesh.  You don’t have to hide yourself behind a rock, covering your face, and look at his backside.  You can gaze at his glory and not die.  You can have relationship with him…and LIVE (life abundantly)!”  What an opportunity!  It’s not one I want to miss.

As we see God the Father in the life of His Son, we also uncover more of the name of God that has bewildered theologians for centuries.  A bigger blessing is this: we can then understand that strong tower into which we can run, and find a place of security in our most insecure moments (Proverbs 18:10).

Monday, July 4, 2011

I AM...Gentle and Humble in Heart

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.
(Matthew 11:28-30)

Like most folks, I imagine my eye is drawn to one particular word in this passage:  rest.  We live in such a chaotic world that most of us don’t do “rest” very well.  So, when Jesus offers us an invitation to find rest for our souls, we snap to attention.  First question that comes to mind is, “How?” or maybe, “Where?”  Instead, it should be, “Who?”  We can have the opportunity to learn about rest from the very one who could calmly sleep in a rocking boat on a stormy sea with a dozen fear-driven, raucous men.  I would say Jesus knew how to do “rest” fairly well!

Our invitation is to come to Jesus.  It’s open to anyone who is weary of being heavy-laden (bent over from a load of worry, want, or a waxing/waning lifestyle). Whew! Know anyone like that?  I’m ready to jump all over the offer…except…wait…  There is a condition to this invitation.  The condition involves taking a yoke.  The disciples knew exactly what Jesus was asking.  If we think about it for a minute, so do we.  A yoke was a collar worn by a pair of oxen for the purpose of doing a work.  Each yoke was fitted specifically to the oxen that would wear it.  Generally, a head ox took charge of the team; and the other ox submitted to the leadership of that head.  Jesus’ invitation involved submission

Now, there’s a word that makes us all a little nervous.  I’ve certainly been burnt before, submitting in situations where I’ve been taken advantage of, treated unfairly, and hurt.  Submitting now leaves me a little skeptical, and…cautious.  You, too?  Must have been true for Jesus’ audience, as well, because right away, he gives all of us a reason to not give in to our trepidation.  There it is, the “I AM” statement:  I AM gentle and humble in heart.  We don’t have to be fearful of submitting, when the one who is leading us underneath the yoke is:
Gentle:  Our Savior is a man of strong character, under control, tempering his strength with meekness and kindness.
Humble:  This is the man who was by very nature God, but chose to come to this earth for one purpose – to serve.  Speaks volumes to me.

Under the yoke of Jesus, we are treated with kindness and tenderness; our good is always considered above all; and, we are deferred to with love, mercy and grace.  It’s a “better” yoke…a light load.  In other words – we’re already under some yoke anyway, why not exchange the one we’re hauling for an easier, better one – one that is light and under which we can “rest”?  It’s easy.  It’s light.  It’s better.  All because of the One who carries it with us!

The invitation is really to submission.  Submission is rest for our souls.  They are one and the same.  We can’t have one without the other.  We'll never get burnt by the one alongside us - the one who is always gentle and humble of heart.