~ Personal to our Readers ~
For those of you who receive these Weekly Reflections through our e-mail subscription, the usual personal introduction was virtually absent for this one. That's because this Reflection is more of a personal letter than an exposition of the Scriptures. I am addressing this to those of you who love our Lord, the Christ, and embrace His redemptive gift. And all others are lovingly welcome to look over my shoulder and consider what I have to say with your heart and mind.
I don't know most of you, scattered throughout this earth. But that I will, someday in the heavenly realm, is an anticipated joy. Christ provided His children with various gifts and tasks to "prepare God's people to serve and build up the body of Christ. This is to continue until all of us are united in our faith and in our knowledge about God's Son, until we become mature, until we measure up to Christ, who is the standard." (Ephesians 4:12-13, GW) So I have always written to you in prayer, ever so conscious of how responsible is the task of being an "ambassador of the Kingdom." The grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit is what has provided you these writings. And I am aware that people yet to be born may also read these Reflections. Remember St. Paul's assertion: "Glory belongs to God, whose power is at work in us. By this power he can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine." (Ephesians 3:20, GW)
St. Paul also writes another truth that stuns me into silence: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good work, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10, NIV) The original Greek word for "workmanship" is poiema, a poem or work of art. (We are also described as the pottery of the Master Potter in Isaiah.) So we, my brothers and sisters in Christ, are the poems of our Creator! God intends for us to be living poems, more beautiful and inspiring than the wondrous written poetry of the Psalms. As such, like St. Francis said, we can be witnesses to the Gospel and reflections of Christ to each other and the world without speaking.
Yet another contemplative-silence evoking statement is: "His intent was that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus, our Lord." (Ephesians 3:10-11, NIV) How staggering! God 's intention is for us, the body of Christ as His Church, to be witnesses to heavenly powers of His wisdom! To me, that's more incredible than Christ choosing Paul, the "chief of all sinners" by his own admission, to bear witness to the Gospel to the earthly powers.
Recently, a humble and authentically Christian brother approached me in a melancholy mood. His church had much strength, foremost a devotion to biblical teaching. However, he described many counterfeits of the Holy Spirit's work, needed because the church was not being driven by the Spirit but by the psychological and marketing tools of the world. He was particularly sad because he was reluctant to bring a guest to the services knowing the guest would not see Christ but human performers in love with themselves instead. The man intended to pray about his attitude and perspective, hoping to discern if the problem was him or the church or both and what to do. As he lamented over the state of many churches and those professing to be "following Jesus" but exhibiting no "fruits of the Spirit," I could clearly hear the Christ in him.
The marvelous mystery and miracle of Pentecost is that Christ's Spirit lives in you! Jesus told His disciples if He didn't ascend to the Father, He could not send the Holy Spirit; He could not be literally dispersed and infused in His followers and the Church of which they are the body. Christ was the One lamenting in my friend. The man was feeling the cries of Christ over His people. The most appropriate, immediate response may well be just to cry with Christ. One of the reasons why solitude, silence, and a contemplative prayer life are essential is so you can hear the still, small voice of God within you. Jesus remarked, "How can I describe the people who are living now? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and shout to other children, ‘We played music for you but you did not dance; we sang a funeral song but you didn't show any sadness!’" (Matthew 11:16-17, GW) How we must hurt our Lord if He sings joy to us from within our spirits and we don't rejoice, or if He cries in our hearts and we don't cry with Him.
Christ's sufferings didn't end on the Cross. Although difficult to understand in human time, Christ, the Lamb, "was slain from the creation of the world." (Revelations 13:8b, NIV) The suffering of Christ, my brothers and sisters, continues at this moment. And it will continue in us. Didn't He say we would be persecuted in His Name? It is the Christ in us Who is persecuted. The Cross isn't finished and there is more suffering for Christ to bear. St Paul says, "In my body I am completing whatever remains of Christ's sufferings. I am doing this on behalf of his body, the church." (Colossians 1:24b, GW) Jesus told us that whatever is done to us is done to Christ, for the better or the worst. He asked Saul (later St. Paul), "Why are you persecuting Me?" But Paul was persecuting people. That apostle later learned those people were temples of Christ's Spirit.
Why are the Church and Christians more powerfully devoted to and in consuming love for Christ in nations where they are persecuted for the faith? Generally speaking, Christians in free countries, such as the US, are part timers, weak and wimpy. The reason, I think, is not so much because suffering builds strength, but because suffering wakens you to the suffering Christ, our Beloved, within you. There is nothing like the suffering of a loved one that will wake you up out of a content slumber and keep you awake as you hold vigil with him or her. How can we be complacent when our Beloved is crying within us? More then once I have read the claims of those who were tortured for our Lord, that their suffering lessened their desire to be released from the body into heavenly realm. They wondered how they could be happy with the knowledge that the Beloved Lord continues to suffer on earth in His children, people like they, who willingly suffer with Him.
At the same time, and again difficult to understand except through experience, the Christ within us is a Power, a Source of indescribable peace and love. The declaration that "wherever two or three of you are gathered together" Jesus is present among us, puzzled me. Is not the Christ in me and thus always present, even when I am alone? He cannot be more present when we gather, can He? He is either present or not. Then Christ answered me in an interesting way. As I was pondering this and other things walking into church, a Christian brother who was some distance away raised his arm up and yelled, "God blesses you, my brother!" My heart rate jumped a bit in joy. That blessing was as far from the "God bless you" reaction you get when you sneeze as hell is from heaven. I knew the Christ in my Christian brother was the One talking. When I approached him, the Christ in me told him, "Thank you. I am blessed and God blesses you also." One part of Christ's body was talking to another part, much like one of our hands may rub a sore spot in the other hand, bringing comfort. The Christ in each of us was talking together in multiplicity. Imagine what is happening when many of the parts of Christ's body gather for prayer, worship and praise! That is a deeper level of understanding why the Scriptures encourage us to gather together in His Name.
In the introduction to many of these Weekly Reflections, we have encouraged you to pray for us as we pray for you, even though we don't know each other in person. I don't regard this as a courteous gesture of good will. The request is real and sincere, for when we pray to our heavenly Father, His Spirit in you hears and responds. We literally connect in spirit through the Spirit. When I pray for Christ to comfort me, or to strengthen me, and soon a brother or sister in Christ meets me with words or a presence that comforts or strengthens me, that is the Christ in him or her responding to my prayer!
Scripture warns us to treat strangers with consideration and care because sometime the strangers are really angels and we don't know it. However, with our authentically Christian friends, there is no guessing or wondering. We must treat them as though they are the Christ Himself, for the Christ within them feels our treatment and words and we make our Beloved Lord happy or sad, loved or ignored. And so I pray the Christ in me, not I, always does the talking, interacting and writing. Often I don't surrender fully to Him, and thus sin against Him, and that saddens me so much. Who ever wants or can bear to hurt the most Beloved One in our lives?
In Isaiah 48:12b (NIV), God describes Himself as "I am the first and I am the last." In the original Hebrew, the two “Is” in English are meaningfully different. The "I" that is first is ani-hu, meaning "I-he". The "I" that is last is ani, meaning, "only I". Transliterated, God is saying, in effect, "First, I-he (a union of co-existence) Last, I (a union of oneness).” On this earth, it is God and us, which is how we begin. Through the infinite power of love and redemption, we move toward the heavenly state of "I" in God where, since Christ abides in us, we can join Him in saying, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." Jesus prayed for this as recorded in St. John's book, chapter 17.
Finally, brothers and sisters in Christ, this miraculous indwelling of the Christ gives us another fairly unused gift. If you are very close to your parents, spouse or friends, don't you have a good idea of their will (or intentions) for you? If you do not, doesn't that mean there is a problem or disconnection in the relationship? So if God abides in you in mystical union, why the too prevalent angst or tortured questioning such as, "Are these plans God's will?" or "Are my prayers in God's will?" or "What is God's will for me?" Consider that Paul writes, "We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through every kind of spiritual wisdom and insight." (Colossians 1:9b, GW) Elsewhere the apostle says, "Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." (Ephesians 5:17, NIV) “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2b NIV)
Recall that the angel announced Jesus will be called Emmanuel, meaning "God with us." That, indeed, is a new covenant between our Creator and us! "God has placed all people into the prison of their own disobedience so that He could be merciful to all people." (Romans 11:32, GW) Well, the Christ in you is Truth, and that sets you free! (John 8:32)
Thank you from my heart, brothers and sisters in Christ, for reflecting with me. "May God, the source of hope, fill you with joy and peace through your faith in Him. Then you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13, GW)
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © June 30, 2001
"God's Word" is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. Quotations are used by permission.
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