Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mind the Gap

The old story/joke about Christian Education goes like this: a Sunday school teacher was in the middle of a lesson with her class when she asked, “He crawls up trees, gathers acorns and other nuts and he has a long bushy tail, what do we call him?” A little boy raises his hand, “I know the answer’s ‘Jesus’, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”  Meant to poke fun at our evangelical tendency to make ‘Jesus’ the answer for every question, when the conversation is about the nature of the kingdom of God the answer really is, ‘Jesus.’

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, particularly as I prepared a series of messages for this month.  Yesterday, a very good question by a Facebook friend has turned up the volume on the thoughts I’ve been having.

Jesus is called Autobasileia, Origen’s clever way of saying that Jesus is the kingdom in person.  If we want to know what the kingdom is all about, what kingdom living looks like, we simply refer to Jesus.

If we accept that premise, we’re faced with some hard challenges.  In fact, I think the list of things that acknowledging this challenges in how we presently appropriate faith would be so long as to be practically impractical. Like the mosquito in the nudist colony who could see the job but didn’t know where to start, the amount of reform, personally and corporately, seems beyond reach.

Unless we had someone who could help us.

I think the old poem by Wilbur Rees (I think I first read this in Swindoll’s Improving Your Serve – back before Amazon boys and girls), Three Dollars Worth of God hits the mark that I’m trying to get to:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

When I honestly evaluate my own life in contrast to the Autobasileia, I sense a substantial gap between the way I’m living it and the way he lived it.  The gap isn’t one of commandment keeping, while I’m far from perfect in that regard, I’m much closer to the Autobasileia than I am, say, Donald Trump. If we can all be honest for a sec, not ‘sinning’ isn’t really as hard as we sometimes make it out to be if we reduce our definition of ‘sin’ to the letter of the law.

The challenging bit is living like the Autobasileia, loving like him, giving like him, forgiving like him, giving up my life like him, carrying my own cross every day.

Personally, I prefer a more comfortable cross.  I like a more reasonable expectation on my life than living it for someone else.  I’m happy to put my family before myself (often – not always) but that’s where I want to draw my line.  That’s the contribution I prefer to make.  And the irritating thing is that the Autobasileia keeps erasing that line or refusing to acknowledge the existence of that line or respect that line – and he keeps calling me out to where he is, way beyond my lines.

There’s another old story about an ancient church father who was fielding some tough questions from recent converts to faith in the Autobasileia. The original Bible Answer Man?  The question came from some new Jesus followers whose occupation had been idol making.  The local church leaders told them they had to give up their trade and get a whole new bag.  They appealed to this church father back in the day about the unfairness of their situation and wrote, “We must eat!”  The church father had a simple reply, “Must you?” I hate that story because it challenges some of my own presuppositions that deep down I know aren’t really true.

Honest investigation sucks because you end up with answers that are incredibly inconvenient and almost always demand a change in the way you think and live.  An awareness of church history and general history adds to the uncomfortableness.

Dwight L. Moody famously quoted a word he received from a friend, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” I think of Antony when I read that quote.  I think of Francis.  I think of Martin.  I think the reality is that we have seen, and we create a special classification called, ‘saints’ to explain these outliers.  These are our pros, the rest of us are just amateurs unless we decide to turn pro.

I know you don’t struggle with this.  I realize this is my own internal conflict between the Autobasileia that I read in the Gospel and the pale imitation that inhabits a corner of my life and that I bring out at the appropriate times and places.  But today I wanted to share that struggle, to share my wrestling in the off chance that someone might share my struggle, someone might be interested, that someone might be on the same journey on which I find myself on this road to the Autobasileia.

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