The Subversive Act of Worship

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace.

So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:13-14 (NLT)

For some reason I always read this verse, “let us go out with him,” as in “let us go with him carrying our cross.” And we are supposed to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). But this verse says, “let us go out to him.” And with that little change there is a different message, a different focus. Let us go out to where he is – outside the camp. He has always been outside the camp.

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. Exodus 33:7 (NASB)

“Our permanent home,” mentioned in the above verse, is the place we meno. The Greek word meno means to stay, abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand. It is not this temporary world-camp where we are to abide. Meno is the word used in John 15.

Remain (meno) in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains (meno) in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 (NIV)

This world is not our meno-home. Jesus is our meno-home, and where he is, there we are to be – plugged into the Vine. And Jesus is outside the camp because He chose the cross.

Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. So let’s go out to him … Hebrews 13:11-13 (NLT)

To the people of Jesus’ day death on a cross was worse than a disgrace. Cicero said that it should not even be in the thoughts of a Roman citizen; it should not even be mentioned in connection with a citizen.[i] Yet, this is where Jesus willingly chose to go. Outside the city gates. Outside the temporary camp. Outside the culture of the day. Outside the religious systems. Outside the politics and governments of the day. Outside the traditions and popular beliefs. Outside of all the hopes and dreams for this life. James V. Brownson says it better than I can:

The cross collides with the values and assumptions that shape the world around us. It shocks us out of the status quo, out of the norms and assumptions that surround us, and calls us to an alternative vision … “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The “foolishness” Paul is writing of here is not a certain theological axiom about the cross of Jesus; it is the blatant offensiveness of the cross, both to Jews and to Gentiles. The point of the divine foolishness is simply this: If God has raised from the dead someone who was crucified, if we worship someone who was crucified, we can no longer hold on to the common values of respectability that are characteristic of normal human society. All our assumptions about what constitutes right and wrong, about what is worthwhile, about what really matters – all that has to be revised and reversed, if you engage in the subversive act of worshiping someone who was crucified. In other words, if you are going to worship someone who was crucified, you have to undergo radical conversion.[ii]

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace. He had already chosen to be identified with the lowly and meek, the poor and unclean and diseased and despised. If we engage in the subversive act of worshiping our crucified Lord, we need to identify there too. Let us go out to him. Let us meno there.

 

For more on “meno” see The Art of Remaining Present

Image: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the Cross, by Darren Barefoot https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=jesus%20cross

[i] Hengel, Martin Hengel. Crucifixion. 1977

[ii] Brownson, James V. Holiness and Hermeneutics. 1999.

Love is My True Identity

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.  -Thomas Merton

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3: 3 (NASB)

And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:5 (NLT)

Yes, Lord, fill my heart with your love. Let your love become my true identity, my name, my character. Let my life be hidden in you Jesus, let me live in love. May the world only see you and how much you love them when they look at me. May the words I say, the prayers I pray, the thoughts I think, the healing touch of my hands be yours – for you are Love.

 

Image copyright Jack Bair 2019

Accepting God Accepting Me

Maybe part of returning to God is discovering who he is, his character and unfailing love. And once you know that – not what the world thinks or what you are afraid he is – but who he really is, his true character and identity, then you also know who you really are.

Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope. Zechariah 9:12a (NIV)

In our last Bible study at the jail we looked at the above verse. One of the sweet ladies commented that to her, “returning to the fortress” meant coming back to who God meant her to be. “Accepting God accepting me” is how she put it.

At first, I didn’t get it. Doesn’t “return to your fortress” mean returning to God? But I think she was on to something. Maybe part of returning to God is discovering who he is, his character and unfailing love. And once you know that – not what the world thinks or what you are afraid he is – but who he really is, his true character and identity, then you also know who you really are. Who you were meant to be. The loving Father loving you, his beloved child. The good Shepherd caring for you his little lamb. The hen who gathers her little chicks under her wings. Is this what Jesus meant when he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15 NIV)?

“For too long we’ve primarily associated repentance with someone pointing a finger at us and saying, ‘Behave!’ Here’s how I see it. Repentance is the hand of Jesus reaching out to us with the invitation to, ‘Become.’ Becoming begins with beholding God as he truly is (i.e. like Jesus). When a person catches a glimpse of the true and living God and they begin to really believe, they also begin to believe in the possibility of their life becoming far more than they ever imagined before.” J.D. Walt[1]

Concentrating on behaving can turn us into finger-pointing hypocrites. Concentrating on becoming, or being, makes us beloved children with our eyes turned adoringly to our Father. “That’s my Dad! I want to be just like Him.” And Jesus showed us how to do that. We can only truly become who we were always meant to be under the shadow of his wings, abiding in the Vine, following the Shepherd in his flock, with the Father’s loving, guiding hand upon our heads.

As J.D. Walt goes on to say, “Anyone who has walked more than a mile or two down this road knows that behavior has a way of taking care of itself when the Holy Spirit empowered process of becoming takes root.”

Yes. Accepting God accepting me. Return to your fortress, oh prisoner of hope!

 

[1] Taken from Don’t “Behave.” Become by J.D. Walt https://www.seedbed.com/step-19-dont-behave-become/?mc_cid=ad45fa3de2&mc_eid=27234cb1e3

Thank you to Ian Livesey for the photo of the lamb on Flickr.

To Discover, All Along, to Whom I Belong

Receiving my true identity as accepted in the beloved and a delight and a treasure to Him is like a consuming fire, searing and painful, but cleansing and healing and life-giving.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these … Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Matthew 19:14, 16 (NIV)

God has been speaking to me about identity lately. Who am I? What is my real identity as God sees me. Matthew chapter 19 contrasts two different identities. A little child, who is totally dependent for food, clothing, everything. A little child whose identity is in his family – I am somebody’s child; I am somebody’s sister or brother. A little child who clings to his mother and father because they are life itself. A little child aware of his helplessness.

The other person is a very self-sufficient young man intent on building his own identity – what must I do? The child possesses very little, if anything. In fact, especially in those times, a child was legally considered a possession, whereas the rich young man saw himself as having many possessions. To one, the Kingdom is freely given, the other is intent on getting it – what must I do to get? The Greek word means to have i.e. own, possess. His identity was bound up in his doing and his possessions.

The children were invited to simply come to Jesus and the Kingdom was given them. Jesus invited the young man to enter also, to come and follow – but he would have to leave the possessions and the doings, his present identity, outside. He would need to become a dependent child, and that was something he felt he could not do.

For most of us, our identities are broken, the result of rejection and based on hurtful lies we have taken down deep into our souls. I am not (good, pretty, smart, etc.) enough. I am a disappointment. And worse, much worse. We spend our whole lives rebuilding our broken identities by doing, performing, acquiring. Trying to live up to somebody else’s expectations. Trying to be somebody that could be loved and accepted. Performing in the crazy, imaginary theatre in other people’s heads. Or, completely rejecting them all, thumbing our nose at everyone. Either way, writing our scripts and collecting all the props and costumes needed to play the part we choose. I become the book person, or the cat person, the financially successful person. I am the wise professor, the talented musician or mechanic, I am the good prayer warrior, the effective evangelist, the humble servant of Christ. None of those things are bad. Just like the rich young man, we may be doing everything right, but our identities are built on the wrong foundation. I am significant because of what I can do, what I can “get.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen† has written of how self-rejection is the enemy of our true identity. “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection … Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Our core, the essence of our being is our identity – who I am, who I was made to be. Anne Voskamp in The Broken Way writes – “at the core of every one of our issues is this attempt to construct our identity on something else besides Christ” – in other words, to give in and accept the world’s definition of our identity, or to stand defiant and create my own. But, listening to the self-lies, in some kind of self-pitying martyrdom, trying to create my own acceptable identity – is sin and deadly. “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God … Human beings were made not only to believe in God in some general way, but to love him supremely, center their lives on him above anything else, and build their very identities on him. Anything other than this is sin.” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God). My identity is not what I “must do” or what I “get,” like the rich young man in Matthew 19. My identity is found in simply accepting the invitation to come and be.

I must receive my true identity as His little child, totally dependent on Him for strength, faith, life, breath, food on the table, shelter over my head, talents and gifts. I’m realizing that even the words that come out of my mouth when I pray for someone, the love in my heart for them, the willingness and passion to serve – it all comes from Him – everything. At least the part that brings life to others. Otherwise, it is just me doing and getting for myself.

Receiving my true identity as accepted in the beloved and a delight and a treasure to Him is like a consuming fire, searing and painful, but cleansing and healing and life-giving. Lord, I pray that you would be all my treasure, all my identity, all my value, all my significance. A dear friend once prayed for me that I would “discover, all along, to whom I belong.” I believe God is answering that prayer. I am finally opening the Invitation.

I am a child of God 

I am beloved 

I am precious in His sight 

I am His 

And you also are among those who are called (invited) to belong to Jesus Christ. Romans 1:6 (NIV) 

They say that love can heal the broken
They say that hope can make you see
They say that faith can find a Savior
If you would follow and believe
With faith like a child
from Like a Child by Jars of Clay

 

† You are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. 2017, p. 12.

The image is a photograph of me with my beloved Mom.

This blog post has been revised into a Bible study which may be freely used and copied. It can be accessed at Hidden Treasure Bible Studies here.