Thursday, December 24, 2009

A More Excellent Way - By Britt Fuller

As I was reading Jeremiah this morning, I was grieved and overwhelmed with verse 4:22. “For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are ‘wise’ – in doing evil! But how to do good they know not.”

Why do I miss the how? Why does the Church miss the how? “I want to know how!” was my cry this morning. I heard a subtle urging, “Seek Me and you will find Me.” I didn’t expect a response so quick, but again, I’m thinking “how” I would do it.

The Lord led me to Isaiah 55:6-9. "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I’ve read that so many times before, but this time the word “way/s” kept jumping off the page. Admittedly, more than not, I am about me - it’s my ways, my thoughts, my efforts, my solutions. Yet as I am reminded on a regular and disturbing basis, my ways, man’s ways, and often the Church’s ways, are NOT God’s ways. We can get our exegesis right, our doctrine right, but simply put, we mess up the “how” on a regular basis.

I now had clarification and a reminder that my ways are not God’s ways, but still, what about the “how”. How come the “How” is so difficult and elusive? I was thankful for the insight, but honestly, I was hoping for a more complete answer.

Later in the day, I remembered that I wanted to look up a book I had heard introduced on WMBI the previous day during my ride home. So I looked up on Jesus Nation by Dr. Joe Stowell. There is an amazing “look inside” feature and I was able to read the table of contents as well as the first few pages of the first chapter. Below is an excerpt of what I read:

“When we think of Jesus saying that he is the Way, we normally think that is the way to heaven – and he is, for which we are all deeply grateful. But he meant more than that. He meant that he is the way to live. The way to do money, to deal with friends and enemies, to manage our careers, to do family. He meant that he is the way to think, to dream, to desire, to do everything. That his ways are how we do life, not just what we do in life. That his ways are just as important as the outcomes…in fact, that his ways determine the outcomes. As someone has well said, if you have a WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet, you should also have a HWJD (How Would Jesus Do it) bracelet, as well. In short, he is the way to become all that he intends us to become.”

After reading, I truly froze in astonishment as my mind began to race. In a span of about 6 hours, the Holy Spirit had pierced my heart, convicted me, created a desire to further seek Him for understanding, and then answered the cry of my heart clearly from His Word and through Godly counsel. God’s ways are phenomenal!

I then realized what I already knew and confirmed that in my natural state and on my own, I am foolish, lacking in understanding, and (I can’t believe Jeremiah said this, but it’s true) a “stupid child”.

God’s “how” is fully displayed in His earthly incarnation, the exact representation of Himself, Jesus Christ. In the first century church, followers of Jesus were simply known as people of The Way. They truly stood out because of their actions, because of The Way they followed and “how” they lived their lives in a demonstrable manner. To the culture around them, their thoughts and ways were alien or other-worldly. Could we even venture to say that their ways were higher, as the heavens are higher than the earth? They had the “how” down and were living it out.

What did they have that I don’t? Nothing! I have the same Holy Spirit living inside me that Peter, John, and Paul experienced. I just need some “experiencing”! When Christ was preparing to ascend to heaven, He encouraged his disciples that it was actually better that He go. Francis Chan says this much better than me, so let me quote him from his most recent book, Forgotten God. “Jesus said that the Father would give the disciples ‘another Counselor to be with [them] forever’ (John 14:16). In this case, the Greek word another means another that is just like the first (as supposed to another that is of a different sort or kind). So Jesus was saying that the One who would come would be just like Him!” If the Holy Spirit is just like Christ and the Holy Spirit lives in me, shouldn’t my actions better reflect those of Christ? If the Holy Spirit is just like Christ and the Holy Spirit directs the Church, shouldn’t the actions of the Church better reflect those of Christ?

But to experience, I cannot lead, I must be led. I must be willing to remain in step with the Spirit on a regular, daily, moment to moment basis. To be identified as a follower of The Way, I must submit to the direction and leading of the Spirit. The problem is “where” or to “what” The Way leads. It is often a path marked with suffering, pain, and humility. It is not a popular, comfortable, safe, or “successful” way. It is radical. It involves carrying a cross, living sacrificially, and dying to oneself.

For the Church, The Way can be slow, uphill, and overwhelming. The Way is upside down to the world and simply leads “away” from our sophisticated perspective. “Away” from the cultural norms. “Away” from notoriety. “Away” from big numbers. “Away” from worldly power. “Away” from an efficient means to an end. “Away” from corporate strategies. “Away” from ourselves, our mission, our vision, our goals. The Way is God-focused and other-focused. The Way is about loving the Lord your God with all you heart, mind, and soul AND loving your neighbor as yourself.

How I do my life is what is most important! Not what I do. How I love the Lord and others is more important than the amount of time I spend in Church activities and programs. For the Church, how faithful, obedient, and responsive we are is more important than the numbers that fill the sanctuary from week to week. How the message changes us in evident ways is more important than the quality of the message or the personality of the messenger. The attitude of our worship is more important than the quality of the worship team and the amount of the offering. How we love the people in our community is more important than the breadth of the programs we offer. How we represent Christ is ultimately more important that what we claim about Christ.

May we find in Jesus, empowered by and under the control of the Holy Spirit, a new way to live. My prayer is that I would be accused and condemned, that the Church would be indicted and convicted of being a person and a people of The Way!

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