The following is a devotional I wrote last year for our Vineyard Canada movement, based on one of the phrases in our Vineyard Churches Canada Mission Statement. I hope you find it encouraging.
Our devotionals are based around the central Kingdom themes manifest in our Vineyard Churches Canada Mission Statement. Selected for me is the part that I would have requested given the nature of its content and influence on every follower of Jesus, and on our direction as a community walking out a corporate journey of friendship with God. I would not have requested it because I understand it, or even hope to in the way I would love to. Rather, I requested it because this section of the statement tickles the fundamental questions ebbing and flowing in my soul over this short lifetime.
I would like us to meditate on the full import of its careful wording:
- “To be a community of churches that work together in love and service to advance the kingdom of God by making disciples of Jesus Christ. We believe that we will accomplish our mission as we are transformed by the love and mercy of God, united and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be like Jesus.
With God’s grace, we desire to BE LIKE JESUS:
1. As men and women together, embracing Christ’s example of servant leadership, seeking to exhibit humility, honesty, graciousness and integrity while also exercising his works of power, healing the sick, releasing the oppressed and bringing God’s provision to the poor.
2. Supporting an outward focus of practicality and generosity that models faith in God’s relevance and provision.
3. Effectively obeying Christ’s commission to evangelize the world through making disciples that worship God, share the gospel in word and deed, equip other believers, and serve with the next generation to plant like-minded churches in Canada and other nations.”
I think that we’re all sojourners on a path to discover what the essence of Christianity is, separating it from our understandings of Church experience and/or spiritual experience. We would all agree, in this room, that Christ-followership centers around embracing the person of Christ on all levels, and co-acting with him in the saving practice of Christ by doing what he did, and does, with him in the world.
Contextualizing that activity of the heart and life in the 21st century is our challenge now; a challenge that must be both wrestled with and risen to if we are to truly be “little Christs,” the apprentices of Jesus within the human communities we live among.
I had a vivid dream some time ago that seems to me to express and inform the challenge that we find ourselves facing. I saw a chrysalis hanging from a dew-covered branch, glistening in the field of green environing it. The chrysalis was partially opened, revealing a newly meta-morphed butterfly working its way out of its re-birthplace. For the caterpillar, the chrysalis is as much a tomb as it is a womb; as much a place of dying as it is of living.
It is my deep conviction that we as the 21st century Church are in just such an inside-out transition. To change in dress or appearance is the least form of change – to change utterly in personality and soul is a far more dramatic, and costly, enterprise. Jesus has always required this of his disciples – why would we be surprised that he invites his Church into the same womb?
The content of the Church is not essentially changing, though our perspectives on Truth will undergo reformation in this season. The form of the Church, on the other hand, is indeed changing. I do not believe that too much will change, because we are, in fact, human beings, and human beings have particular ways and reasons of and for doing particular things. But, just as the insect in the chrysalis is moving from one stage of being to another, we will change as we embrace the Kingdom meta-narrative with fresh delight, and live out that story and our part in it, in real time.
Let’s start at the beginning, as Julie Andrews put it, “a very good place to start.” Human beings have always been, according to the Genesis account, the bearers of the Imago Dei – the pure image of God. Eden suffered a breaking and a fall that distorted that image, and indeed the very fabric of the created order. If the Image and Order suffered fall through the original Adam, then the new Adam, Jesus the Christ, is our model for reclaiming Eden, and reacquainting ourselves with its sweet terrain. In Jesus-following, our quest for Eden becomes straight and true, our fellowship with God and each other is renewed, and we lead others who are also on an EdenQuest back to intimacy with God and clarity in relationship.
On the basis of these thoughts, I want to challenge us to embrace 3 levels of God’s process in teaching us to “remember how to walk on water” (L’Engel), and be conformed to the nature and character of our Lord and saving King, Jesus.
1) Be An ImageBearer
Genesis 1:27 (The Message) says, “God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth. God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.’”
Walking in holiness is nothing more than being who you were made to be, all the time. You and I were made for certain activities and beliefs that bring wholeness, healing and renewal around and within us. Princes do certain things, and do not do other things. Princesses engage in certain activities, and refrain from others that distort their true identity.
When we are, as point one in our statement above says, servant-spirited, generous, humble, honest, gracious and integrous, we are bending closer to the original Image in which we are made, and which God is reclaiming within us. In this state of innocence and God-fearing, we hold capacity for a spiritual power to be expressed through us that won’t consume us.
Reflection: In what ways do I uniquely reflect God’s image, and how am I both joyfully living in, and intentionally extending, that unique offering to the world in which I live?
2) Be An ImageSeeker
“The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?’ They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, ‘The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.’ Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. ‘Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?’ ‘No one, Master.’ ‘Neither do I,’ said Jesus. ‘Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.’” (John 8:3-11 – The Message)
Did Jesus ever see a prostitute? If we only look at the story, we would say, “If we believe the biblical record has any historical credibility, then yes, yes he did.” Now that we’ve looked through our own eyes at the story, let’s look through Jesus’ eyes at the Story behind the story. Jesus’ practice, evidenced in his continual appreciation for, and even affection for, the most lowly and downcast, evidences that when he looked into the eyes of a human being, he did not see the broken shards of the shattered Image. He saw the Image he was preparing to restore. Why? Simply because he was always looking for it.
I was on an airplane, preparing for a quiet and reflective trip, when a loud and boisterous man came bustling on board. The only seat available in the plane was right beside me, and everything in me was hoping that my blissful reading plans would not be interrupted by hours of conversation. He sat down beside me, and within a few minutes was asking me about my faith – doggedly and with a touch of belligerence. An angry agnostic, his little girl lies dying in a hospital, duped into believing that her mission on earth is to heal others. She regularly moves around the sick children’s ward of the hospital, praying for those little ones living in so much pain and uncertainty. Her capacity to comfort others disturbs him, and creates for him the image of a twisted and schizophrenic God who neither hears, nor acts on, the cries of people.
After a few hours of monologue (his, not mine), he began to confess to me that ten years earlier he had been ordered to individually take the lives of numerous “bad guys” in a central american country at the bidding of his commander. He said that he had never told anyone else this dark fact, but he felt somehow safe, and even referred to me as being “like a priest” (I still had not told him that I did any ministry work vocationally – he was too focused to ask me about my own life). His life, now stained with blood decades later, must now be spent in restitution, he declared – saving at least as many lives before he dies. Serving in various forms of rescue work, he is committed to assuaging his guilt by doing his own internal penance – and leaving room for the fact that his guilt may or may not be held against him in the afterlife.
For two hours, he bitterly described his hatred of God (it’s my understanding that someone has to exist for another to be angry at them!), his mistrust of authority, his anger over his little girl’s disease and his life in the fast lane. Then, the voice of God whispered to me, “Look for the Image.” I almost had to shake my head to re-orient my mind’s eye. I slowly began to see this angry man with love, and a deep compassion brimmed in my heart for him and his little girl.
Then God spoke again, “Ask him about Rachel” (names have been changed). Rachel was not a name that had come up in our conversation, and I knew that God was either precipitating a power-encounter in the back of that airplane, or that I was actually listening to one of the 347 voices I hear buzzing in my brain daily! Standing on the edge of a spiritual cliff, I asked him, “Who is Rachel, and what place does she have in your life?”
His jaw slackened, his eyes grew wide and his voice began to tremble. “How do you know Rachel?” he asked, his lip quivering. I explained that I believe that God speaks to people, and that he had a message he wanted to speak to a broken son who sees no way out of the present trap he is in. As tears began to flow freely now, he explained that Rachel was his present girlfriend, a spiritually-seeking Catholic woman who was pestering him with Jesus-talk at every turn. He was about to break up with her upon his arrival at our destination. For the next few hours, we talked about who God is, who Christ is and how God was subverting his worldview through his daughter and girlfriend. Broken by the fact that God would tell me the name of his girlfriend to get his attention, he hugged me and declared that the next few days would be spent re-evaluating his beliefs about God being near, and welcoming a spiritual change in his life.
Reflection: Who is God inviting you to see his image in right now, and to experience his love, compassion and dreams for?
3) Be An ImageRestorer
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best–the sun to warm and the rain to nourish–to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:43-48 – The Message)
“Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:16-20 – The Message)
A friend of mine is a professional artist. I asked him once how old paintings, like the Sistine Chapel ceiling or the Mona Lisa, are cleaned. He told me that a series of extremely fine soaps are applied to the work, over a long period of time, in a very regimented way. As micro-layer after micro layer are cleaned away, the brilliance of the original pigments begins to shine through. For any who have seen the “before and after” of Michelango’s work, you will know the amazing vividness with which the images come forward after such fine cleaning.
The Image of God in people is exposed in a similar way – over time and with painstaking work. As followers of Jesus, our capacity to walk with someone, over decades and through dark territory, is sometimes the most “true to Gospel” form of making disciples.
The Trinitarian God we worship lives and acts within community, within himself. We then, made in his Image, and reflecting the love of community, share life together as the Holy Spirit disciples us through one another’s living. When a healthy community reaches a place of maturity and health, like any vibrant family, the next step is always to “have children,” i.e. to plant like-minded communities.
Any Kingdom person, and any Kingdom community, will have as its healthy desire and even dream, the birthing of new communities where following Jesus is the central ethos around which they gather. Those new, missional communities would ideally share the benefit of multiple ages and perspectives lovingly shaping each other toward Christ-likeness, and furthering the Kingdom of God in the heart of the world.
Reflection: Who is God inviting you to embrace in community, participate with him in restoring through true discipleship, and mutually labor with in the launching of other seminal, Kingdom communities into the heart of the world?