~ More On The Jesus Depth Finder ~
[Click here for the first part of this Reflection, "The Jesus Depth Finder"]
Living a life as a Christian on the surface is easy to do and even convenient. When it serves us, the Christian mask has its rewards. But when a situation or challenge makes being Christlike personally dangerous, I am too aware of the temptation to switch to a state of self-preservation, protection and defensiveness. So we pray not to be led into such temptation. Jesus, during His great passion of suffering, told His disciples to pray they may avoid “the test.” They probably didn’t take Him at His word, for they failed the test and fled from Him when the heat got turned up. Unfortunately, ninety nine percent of us who bear the title of Christian give a bad name to the rest who are Christlike down to the core.
I’ve been asking myself, at least twelve times a day, how much of me has been truly crucified with Christ. How deep into my heart’s core does the absolute sovereignty and lordship of Christ penetrate?
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – that is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2a, NIV). Consider the dichotomy of body and mind. Transformation is done through a mental renewal while the body of the physical world becomes the sacrifice that is spiritual worship, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Bodies are sacred.
Contrary to some who believe Christianity disdains the physical body, seeing it as an impediment to spiritual growth, Christians celebrate the body and all creation. The first Christians and their Jewish ancestors centuries before them liberally used the earth’s fruit such as incense, spices and oils, water and fire, in their worship liturgies. Frankincense and Myrrh were the first gifts offered to Jesus and as an adult He gratefully accepted the liberal oil anointing of His feet by Mary, silencing the others who objected in indignation, explaining the powerful act of worship she was doing in preparing His body for death and burial. The iconoclastic reaction of the Reformation fostered an end, and disdain, for liturgical use and understanding of the sacredness of earthly elements for the first time in history in many denominations.
The Christ of the Godhead is understood, known and encountered incarnationally. We are familiar with His words to those He told to leave His presence: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison, and you did not look after me.” Those Christ were addressing were incredulous. They asked Him when did they ever see Him during their lives in all history in need, sick or imprisoned and not act. Christ answers, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:42-43,45, NIV).
What is lost on many people is Christ’s singular concentration on the physical needs. He did not say, “Church services were on and you didn’t go, you had time to study Scripture but didn’t, you could have taught Sunday school, but refused, you could have worshipped more, but didn’t.” I am not suggesting these are unimportant. I am inviting others to consider how striking it is that Jesus used, in teaching, only bodily criteria in separating the sheep from the goats, the tares (weeds) from the wheat.
Many people have great trouble with this. The early Calvinists strongly opposed including the Book of James in the biblical cannon due to the emphasis on faith being coupled with works of love. Others insist the only obligation of a Christian is a “profession of faith” and baptism. I have heard some people even end their prayers with, “In the name of Jesus I pray this and claim it!” This brings to mind how Christ explained that many keep trying to “lay hold of the kingdom of heaven by force.”
His disciples once asked Christ, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Again, I find myself so struck by what Christ didn’t say to that, which is proclaimed by many who preach in His name, such as, “No! All you need to do is say this simple prayer: Now repeat after me…” Christ, the Master teacher and Lord of All, did not say yes or no. He replied, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and not be able to” (Luke 13:24, NIV). The way in can only be through genuine self-denial, faith and grace, through Christ Himself.
From out of the depths we cry constantly to our Lord for mercy
for us sinners, from out of our intense yearning and love for the Christ
of all life and experience, not for the life and experience of Christ;
we cry for the Christ of heaven, not for the heaven of Christ; we cry for
Him, the Person of all our love, not out of the love for ourselves.
If Christ was in hell, would you cry to be with Him there?
And Christ is there. He is in the hell of the lost, despairing, poor, afflicted, imprisoned, the unloved and despised, the sinners, and so with me. The Scriptures repeat over and over how unconditionally we are loved by God and Christ is God’s incarnational manifestation, in the flesh, of that supreme Love. But it is His Holy Spirit within us that bears the seal and witness of this Love.
Consequently, Paul prays phenomenal words: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and deep and high is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV).
Christ cancelled the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (A good thing, since many people hate themselves.) “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another. By this all [people] will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV). Love is the marker of a Christian, but not just any human form of love. We must love as Christ did, an agape depth. This can only be done with the love of Christ dwelling in our core. This is Christlikeness to the center of our hearts, “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
In his first letter (chapter 4:7 through chapter 5), the apostle John writes a resplendid exposition of the essence of the Good News: That of incarnational love. Love is a doing more than a feeling. Feelings are passion; doing is incarnation – word made flesh, energy made matter. So understandable it is that Christ used doings as the criteria for separating weeds from wheat, although all called Him “Lord.” And so essential that Christ made Himself the object of all love, hidden in the oppressed, afflicted, poor and despised.
I’m sure you have, as well as I, witnessed horrible violence upon members of our human family. I would overhear the foot-stomping, hand slapping laughter of people telling stories of how someone was painfully hurt or how gory was their death. I would think, “Lord, these are the people you command me to love as you love them, as you love me?” Then I would typically retreat into prayerful and contemplative solitude. “The hermits and desert contemplatives had the right idea,” I would chuckle to myself.
In the solitude I would learn that it was a good idea not because they would spare themselves the impact of worldly evil. No, it was there, in solitude, that I could engage the Jesus depth finder. I could ascertain how deeply in my own spirit I allowed Christ to make His home.
Then the call of the Gospel would summon me into the world community, “even to the ends of the earth.” There is where Christ challenges us to be “doers of the word,” not just “hearers.” He did make it clear that the doing is only what matters. I would fall, retreating back into the desert solitude. The Jesus depth finder would engage again: “By your love, by My indwelling within you, they will know you are Mine.”
After many switches from hermit to man-in-the-world and back, and hours in prayer, the grace that surpasses sin grew along with the ability to love what was before unlovable. Delightfully, some of that love returned. That love incarnated in the physical world of the senses. And incarnated love is known as the Christ. I could then see Christ in the despised.
“Strive to enter the narrow door” reminds me of some cave crevices we had to squeeze through to access a large cavern, sometimes shredding our coveralls on sharp rock protrusions. From “out of the depths,” Lord, the most profound depths of my heart possible, I cry, have mercy on me, a sinner. I seek solitude so I can be fully present to people. I seek self-crucifixion so Christ can be fully present in me.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © August 31, 2002
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