Skip navigation

Category Archives: Meeting Jesus

What it means to enter into life with Jesus

Conversations over the past weeks have touched on . . .

Delight in Jesus

Cultivating passion

Enjoying God

Finding our hearts captured by Jesus

Pressing beyond just “going through the motions”

Not only are such thoughts on my heart, but they are continually coming up in conversations I am having with other friends and followers of Jesus. So, I continue to discuss and explore and to think and to pray about just how it is that we can encourage growth in delight in Jesus in our own souls and the lives of our friends.

As I think about these things, I keep coming back to a few things that Jesus said.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)

There is a progression evident in these words:

Treasure is what draws the heart. The heart drawn pursues the treasure. The treasure obtained results in joy.

If I am not vigorously running after Jesus it is because I am not tasting joy. If I am not tasting joy it is because my heart is not finding in him what it wants. If my heart is not finding in Jesus what it wants it is because I do not see the treasure that he is. This is not a “magic formula” for joy in Jesus, but it is real progression that we all experience.

I can not “will” joy. Nor can I merely “intend” my heart to pursue Jesus in joy. So given this progression how can we cultivate joy in Jesus?

We can fight to see the treasure that he is. We can be attentive to what he reveals about himself, be alert to how he shows himself in life and in Scripture. We can watch to catch a glimpse of glory and grace and splendor. We can make much of Jesus in the presence of our friends. We can mutually magnify all that Jesus is. We can, by looking, raise Jesus’ “treasure quotient” in our hearts and as we do that . . .

We will see Jesus as “treasure-ful.” Seeing Jesus as “treasure-ful” we will run after him. Running after him as our treasure we will find him to be “all that”. And finding Jesus to be “all that” we will experience life with him as joy.

Advertisements

I was talking with a friend who is an investment counselor. He helped me understand that a big part of what he does is help manage people’s expectations. People have certain expectations about what should or could or ought to happen in the stock market, with their investments, with their savings. Some expectations might be reasonable, some are not. Helping people honestly own their expectations and then bring those expectations in line with reality is part of his job.

That conversation spilled over into thinking about our lives as followers of Jesus. And we began to think out loud about the expectations that we have–and do not have–for the “Christian life.” Having come to understand the truth that is found in Jesus, what kinds of expectations do we have for what that life with Jesus will look like?

And we began to think out loud, looking into the book of Acts. What about the expectations the earliest “Christians” might have had about the life they entered into?

The first “converts”–post-resurrection–came at Pentecost. Not even two months after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The events are recorded for us in Acts 1-2. (Which you might want to read, because I’m not going to post both chapters. ) The essence of what happens is as follows.

Jesus has instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem because he has a “gift” for them. Although he has explained that he is leaving the planet, he has also explained that his departure will mean that he will send “the promise of the Father” to them.

Those who heard this explanation prayerfully wait in Jerusalem. They anticipate some gift from the Father. And they associate this gift with the Spirit because of what Jesus has told them. Exactly what it will be like, they don’t know. But they expect some encounter with the Spirit.

On Pentecost, the 120 who are gathered together are introduced into a vibrant, experientially-real, fresh dimension of life with the Spirit of God. Consistent with Old Testament prophecies, they receive “power from on high” just as Jesus had promised.

What happened to the 120 generated a little commotion in the city as visitors to Jerusalem, there for the feast, overheard some of what was happening in the gathering of the 120. The crowd is puzzled and abuzz.

Peter gets the attention of the crowd and begins to explain. Going back to Old Testament prophecies, Peter tells the crowd that what has happened is a fulfillment of God’s promises.

Peter points out that this fulfillment of a “poured out” Spirit is part of what the Messiah (Israel’s promised deliverer) was to inaugurate. Jesus, Peter declares, is this Messiah. He was crucified, he was buried, he was raised, he ascended to the right hand of the Father, he received the gift of the Spirit, and he has poured out this gift on all the “bond servants” of God. And, Peter says, this is what has happened that has attracted such attention.

And those who are listening are cut to heart. The Spirit is working on them, even as he is working through the 120. And those who are listening cry out for help. They want to know, from Peter, what they should do.

Peter explains. If they understand that Jesus is the Messiah and that he has come to solve their sin problem through his death and resurrection and that he is the ascended Lord of all, then there is an appropriate response to that understanding. He says that they should “repent” (that means, “change your mind”). They should change their minds about how they have been thinking about Jesus. And they should “be baptized” (that means, “publicly identify yourself with Jesus”). They should not stand aloof or distant from Jesus and the community that shares life with him.

And then Peter says this intriguing thing:

“And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

What is so intriguing to me about this is what Peter does, and does not, say about coming to put one’s trust in Jesus–seen in the repentance and baptism. If Peter had responded to the crowd the way that many Christians in our day and age talk about the Gospel, he would have invited people to put their faith in Jesus and then he would have said:

“And you will one day get to go to heaven. For having your sins forgiven is the big point and it is for you and for you children and for all who are far off, and being forgiven means that you will get into heaven one day.”

Now there is truth in that. I am not denying that. Peter did mention the forgiveness of sins in speaking of Jesus (in Acts 2:38). But Peter’s expectation–and the expectation he stirred in the minds and hearts of his hearers–was not that responding to Jesus merely meant that eternity future would be changed. Peter’s expectation was not simply that one day those who responded to the message would get to go to heaven. Peter’s expectation–and the expectation he stirred in the minds and hearts of his hearers–was that responding to Jesus would mean that from that very day forward their every day life would be radically altered because the Spirit of God would show up in a manifest way in their lives.

Peter doesn’t even mention “going to heaven when you die.” They wouldn’t have thought that was what the Christian life was all about. For these earliest Christians, the “Christian life” was wrapped up in a Spirit-enabled, experientially-real, present-day-life-altering encounter with the living Jesus.

Over the past few days, in personal study and reflection as well as some conversations with a few friends, I have been challenged (again) to think about how much I really live life like Jesus. I say I want to “follow Jesus.” I affirm a desire to be his disciple. But I tend to be selective.

In the book of Acts, a couple of Jesus’ followers get hauled in before the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem. After a little time with them, the council recognizes that these two men “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). These two disciples (Peter and John) were identified as “uneducated and untrained”–for the ruling council, this meant that they had not received formal rabbinic training. The council was wrestling with what these two men had done–they had healed a lame man who had spent his life time begging at the Temple. They observed Peter and John’s “confidence” (freedom or boldness in speaking) and that confidence, coupled with what had happened, left the religious leaders “amazed.” And they recognize that Peter and John had “been with Jesus.”

This appears to be more than just that the religious leaders remembered that they had, at some time in the past, seen these two guys in Jesus’ company. It would seem that the leaders noted that something of Jesus had rubbed off on these men. Peter and John reminded the leaders of Jesus. There was a similarity. And that was right.

In the days of his incarnation, Jesus gave himself to a particular kind of life and ministry. It is true that there are some unique things about Jesus’ ministry. But there are also aspects of his ministry that he intended to be duplicated in the lives of his followers.

Jesus said that his followers should love others as he loved (John 13:34; 15:12).

Jesus said that his followers should serve the way that he served (Mark 10:43-45 ).

Jesus affirmed that his disciples were “not of this world” even as he was not of this world (John 17:16).

Jesus explained that he was sending his disciples into the world even as he had been sent by the Father (John 17:18).

Jesus called his followers to actively participate in the same kinds of ministry he carried out–proclaiming the coming of the kingdom with an accompanying demonstration of the reality of that breaking-in kingdom (Mark 3:14-15; 6:7-13; Luke 10:1-17).

Jesus stated that the works that he did–the things that demonstrated the reality of the Father’s presence with him–were the very works that his followers should do (John 14:12).

Jesus really intended his disciples to resemble him–in a genuine way, in both character and ministry.

But I am selective. I pick and choose a few characteristics of Jesus’ life that I like, that I think will be manageable. And then I try to mimic some aspect of those qualities. But I don’t think I’m really fooling anyone.

I am not sure that if some opponents of the Gospel who recognized the kinds of things Jesus did and the kind of man he was would necessarily be carried to the conclusion that I have “been with Jesus.” I am not sure that very much of Jesus’ life and ministry has rubbed off on me.

I selectively love a few. I serve when it is convenient and when I can benefit from the service. I live much like the world does around me. I am not on mission into this world. I don’t actively participate in a ministry that truly resembles Jesus’ own. I am not purposefully engaged in the very works that Jesus himself had done. And, given all of that, I have a sneaky suspicion that if I was confronted by some opponents of the Gospel, they just might not conclude that Jesus had rubbed off on me much at all.

When you first notice it, it is fascinating. Watching Jesus interact with people, as recorded for us in the Gospels, we see how he shares “the good news” with those he meets. And his variety in sharing the truth about how people must come to find life in him is startling.

Most of those who have been in “church life” for any length of time end up with a perspective as to how to “share the Gospel.” We learn a particular way to tell the “good news” about Jesus. It’s not that such models or templates (like “The Four Spiritual Laws” or “The Romans Road”) are not helpful. It’s just that we often end up sharing the truth with others in an identical way even when the people we are talking to are not living life in identical ways.

Jesus speaks to one man, Nicodemus, about being “born again.” But contemporary Christians use that language broadly, speaking to varied individuals with the language Jesus used for one. With a Samaritan woman, Jesus spoke about living water. With a struggling rich young man, Jesus talked about commandments and riches. Although Jesus was clear about what was essential in his message–that people rightly relate to him so that they might experience life with God–this message of grace came in varied ways designed to reach the particular person to whom Jesus was speaking.

I believe this is the idea behind Paul’s words to the Colossians about their “sharing the faith” with others.

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

Whenever we speak, we should be alert to the possibility of sharing the Gospel, making most of each exchange. In so doing, we need to be sensitive to flavor all such conversations with grace. The last phrase in this short encouragement highlights the “particularization” of the message that we see in Jesus.

We need to think well about how we should respond to each person as a particular individual. Although the Gospel is a “one truth for all people” message, the way the Gospel comes home to someone, the way the truth first breaks into his or her heart, the particular aspect of Jesus’ character and care and love reaches a heart, is not a “one size fits all” endeavor.

To the weary one, Jesus is the one who gives rest. To the spiritually dry, Jesus offers living water. To the religious “doer,” Jesus calls for new birth. For the hard-working rules keeper, Jesus invites extravagant abandonment to himself. To the spiritually bound, Jesus extends freedom. To those who cannot see spiritual realities, Jesus provides new sight.

Ultimately, every individual on the planet needs to meet and know this Jesus and experience the life he alone can offer. But that initial introduction to Jesus–that might come in a variety of ways. That might come through grace individualized for the need of the moment, for the sake of the one who needs to hear.

I know that Jesus is brilliant and kind and gracious. Clearly he knows what he is doing and does what he does in love and wisdom. But at first read, sometimes the questions he asks strike me as, well, pretty crazy!

One of those seemingly crazy questions comes in John 5, when Jesus travels to the pool of Bethesda in the city of Jerusalem (John 5:1-9; you might want to read the account before continuing).

This particular pool was considered to have healing properties–at least when the waters were “stirred.” It was thought that an angel agitated the waters from time to time and the first to enter those moving waters would be healed. So, as you can imagine, the area around the pool was littered with the sick, the diseased, the deformed, the needy. All were waiting for the stirring of the water. Those who were blind would have had to have someone watching with them. The lame or the bed-ridden would have to have others ready to push them in when the water was stirred. A chaotic, crazy, desperate picture.

Jesus walks into that scene and approaches one lame man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years and had been lying there, in that condition, for a long time (John 5:5-6). And Jesus asks him a question:

“Do you wish to get well?” (John 5:6)

I can almost hear the man’s eyes roll around in his head as he stares incredulously at Jesus. “No, I’m just really happy to be lying here crippled among all these diseased and deformed people! I’ve grown so accustomed to the stench that I can’t imagine waking without the aroma of decaying flesh filling the air!” Now, the man doesn’t respond quite that way (although I might have).

The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” (John 5:7)

Why would Jesus ask this man that particular question? Does it not, on the surface, appear to be a foolish, silly question? Why would the lame man be there unless he really wanted to be made whole?

And I begin to think. Sometimes we can get so accustomed to our particular “affliction” that we find ourselves defined by that. We see ourselves in a particular light based on what we have struggled with or are struggling through. And to be healed or delivered or set free would really radically change our lives.

The lame man would no longer be able to think of himself the same way if he got up and walked. No freedom to beg from others. No longer on the receiving end of almsgiving. His days would change. Those who cared for him might turn to others. He would have to find work. So it is a legitimate question: Do you really want to get well?

I think that is the kind of question Jesus asks all of us at various times in our journey with him. We find ourselves angry or frustrated with a particular situation. We are unhappy with how things are playing out. We want someone to help us but there doesn’t seem to be anyone there to “put us into the pool.” We can grow content with the discontentment, subtly enjoying the pity and the comfort others extend to us when they see our distress. And Jesus comes and asks, “Do you want to get well? Would you like to be healed? Can I change your life?”

That is a scary, challenging, eye-opening, life-shaping question. Am I really interested in having Jesus step into my brokenness and lameness and bring health and healing and wholeness? If does that, I won’t be able to just lie around, spiritually speaking, any longer. I would have to get up and get on with this journey with him.

Can you hear him asking?

%d bloggers like this: