So how was the meeting of the church yesterday? Was it about as exciting as the Eagles’ rout of the Bears? Did you skip it because you thought it might not be worth driving to? Are you out of the habit?
Maybe prayer has even slipped out of your schedule and you replaced it with caustic remarks about people who “drank the Kool-aid” and keep acting excited about things you “got over” a long time ago. Maybe you chalk up your boredom to your “meeting fatigue” or “lack of bandwidth.”
I don’t mean to shame you if any of this is true about you. I just want to be honest. Christianity is intense – all the time. It is a life and death matter – all the time. Most of us have a moment of that intensity here and there, or we would desert Jesus altogether. But we need a movement, not a moment. And if we expect to reveal Jesus to the world and work with the Spirit as God transforms it, we certainly can’t do it with a few moments of intensity.
In Philippians 1:20 Paul says, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Many translations says he has “earnest expectation” and hope. He is intense. The Greek word has the idea of a head that is outstretched, as if waiting in suspense, eyes peeled, ears open.
We can all relate to this sense of expectation. My grandchildren were afraid and delighted to be going to race go-carts the other day. You may have a job interview lined up. The baby might be due. For Paul, he is writing while awaiting trial before a Roman court. It could be that the delusional Nero will give him a death sentence. What was Paul’s expectation? That Christ’s glory would be seen in his body whether he lived or died. That was his EARNEST expectation.
Paul’s intense desire was that Jesus, in whom he lived and who lived in him, would have free rein of him so he would prove to be the best vehicle of transformation he could be. If dying proved to be a better strategy, then so be it. Really! He wrote that to the church in Philippi, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That’s intense.
Paul did not come equipped with his courage or will. We humans have those capacities, but they are mostly moments, not movements. His courage came from the Spirit of Christ who made him alive, even if he died. He was not talking about achieving an ongoing integration of Christ “into his life.” This was not post-therapy, post-intellectualizing Paul telling us how he ended up enlightened. Jesus is his light and he is confident Jesus will shine through what he is and does whether he lives or dies. That is basic Christianity. It feels intense to us.
If the Sunday meeting does not provide us a moment, we might feel like we have no movement. If a person feels like they are too intense, we might want to put the brakes on their movement, since it feels like we are getting run over. I supposed we are getting run over — meanwhile, Paul appears to like getting run over. Being a vehicle for God’s glory is his definition of wonder-ful.
How do we get into the movement and stop living off the “crumbs” of the spiritual moments that don’t add up to enough?
1) We need to pray
Pray for yourself. Pray for others. Pray for the Congo. Intercession is crucial if anything is going to happen. If things seem flat, maybe we are not praying! But even before you get to interceding, practice the turn into the movement of God’s Spirit. Work on the meditation that gets you out of thinking your courage and capacity makes it all happen.
2) We need to relate rightly
If you are talking about people instead of to them; if you’ve decided you can’t talk to them so you are just avoiding everyone, you are starving for connection and it is wrecking you. The moments of love you get may hurt, since they just point out how much more you need. Those moments might make you mad, since they seem to be depriving you or demanding of you. You need to be in the movement.
I wish our leaders told us every week that the Sunday meeting is not just about the speech or the songs; it is about the relating, the being together in the Spirit, the relationships built and the plans being made. What happens before and after the scheduled events should be just as important as what happens during them.
3) We need to do something. Trump is president.
The fact that the populace (or at least the system) elected a liar who would rather have a strong-man government like Russia’s demonstrates that the world needs saved. What are you going to do about it? Get depressed? Be resentful? Withdraw? Join in and make as much money as possible while the doors are open to exploitation? Get as mean and divided as the powers are promoting? Conform to an even more debased way of thinking? I wish I did not have to even list those things, but people are doing all those things.
Many people are doing just the opposite, of course, but temptation is everywhere. Black Friday background checks for gun purchases soared last week while we were calling for “buy nothing” day. While we are calling each other to Turn Up to Bail Out, the Ku Klux Klan claimed a surge in new members. Some of us are overwhelmed. We would never have done anything to get into prison like Paul did and if we did get there we might have gone crazy instead of converting the Praetorian Guard.
The main thing Paul does is demonstrate the glory of God in his body whether he lives or dies. He does not have a plan to save democracy or depose Nero. He is part of a movement of God’s Spirit that is way more than the present moment. He trusts in it. He is confident in it. He is not waiting for a moment or disappointed because he missed it. He lives in an eternal now with Jesus.
The main thing Paul expects the followers of Jesus to do is demonstrate the presence of the risen Lord as the body of Christ. How we do that is discerned moment by moment, but we are always in the movement. If the powers that be try to kill us, that will make Jesus even more obvious.
I, for one, would not be a Jesus follower if Christianity were not intense. That’s why it is hard, sometimes, when I think the meetings feel a little dead, or I run into loved ones who are more resistant than resplendent with glory. But then, like today, I often remember Paul’s letter to the Philippians and note the contours of my cell — and maybe even pen my own letter, of sorts. Jesus is with me.
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