October 20, 2017

On The Way To Being “The New Humanity”

cupC.S. Lewis, in one of the last chapters of Mere Christianity, says that the quality of life among the “new humanity” is such that those of us around them would know there was something different- otherworldly- at work. The spiritual life that they possessed was so different from the merely material, biological life we all possess that “something” would be qualitatively, observably different.

Have I known such people? Many of us would say that we have, but I wonder how many of us would also say that those with the evident presence and life of Jesus shared other characteristics as well?

This can become a “chicken or egg” conversation because we know that God works in a synergy of gracious beginnings and loving responses, but his choices of where to begin this process can’t be mapped or anticipated. In my own life I cannot help but see how many of those who came to have the tantalizing reality of Jesus in undeniable ways had been brought to places few of us would choose from life’s menu.

One of the most evident Christians I ever knew was a man named Pat. For most of two years, I spent time with Pat every week, was able to observe his life and see into his soul. Pat was an extrovert who never lacked a word of testimony. He could be quite a handful in a room where no one was supposed to get that excited about Jesus.

Pat had been through years- decades- of heart problems and the surrounding health problems. Serious and severe. He’d lost business success and a marriage. He knew about failure. Alcoholism had robbed him of many good years. Yet he had no regrets. Every day was about the reality of God’s love in the present. Pat was not content until the fact and experience of God’s love came into the day and filled it. No matter what else might be happening, this was his peace and reward.

Christians like Pat “live well,” not because they are successful, but because they are not. Having so much taken from them in the failures of life, they are like empty cups. Gospel faith holds up the empty cup- again and again- to be filled. There is no end to the desire for God’s love or the living experience of that love.

In that same church, there were men who were chosen as leaders by the congregation. They were successful and responsible. They were role models for the community. They believed, but their devotion for Jesus was, for the most part, ordinary, without any danger of being contagious.

Pat, who would never be chosen to teach a class or be a leader because of divorce and a history of substance abuse, is one person who immediately comes to mind as one of Lewis’s “new men.” God’s love had broken the allures and possibilities of the world in Pat’s life. When he came to know Jesus, Jesus filled up a broken, humbled life with love from the Holy Spirit. He was a holy mess praying daily for a flood of the reality of the Holy Spirit.

I believe in grace, but I wonder what what must happen in my life before I have the appetite for the goodness, sweetness and joy of the Gospel? I am not talking about the joy of straight theological lines or the manipulated joy of the big show at the local megachurch. I am talking about the joy of the Gospel that lives in the hearts of the poor, the dispossessed, the disowned and the disenfranchised of the world. What will move me away from all the misplaced happiness I pursue and toward a thirst for living water and the one who is the ever-ending fountain.

I have been enjoying Bob Bennett’s Christmas CD, with his second outstanding arrangement of a song from the late 1700’s, “Jesus Christ The Apple Tree.”

The tree of life my soul hath seen, 
Laden with fruit, and always green 
The trees of nature fruitless be 
Compared to Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought, 
And pleasure dearly I have bought: 
I missed of all; but now I see 
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile;
Under the shadow I will be, 
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive, 
It keeps my dying faith alive; 
Which makes my soul in haste to be 
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I contemplate this season of waiting, knowing that God’s grace comes to me each day in Jesus. But I wonder if I can receive it well, like my friend Pat, or if it comes to me as “mere religion,” not as “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.”

Comments

  1. “He was a holy mess praying daily for a flood of the reality of the Holy Spirit.”

    I love that, Michael. I so need that flood. We all need that flood.

    And I like those lyrics of ““Jesus Christ The Apple Tree.” I had never heard of that song. You introduce us to so many interesting things. Thank you.

  2. Good to hear your voice again, brother.

  3. “Christians like Pat ‘live well,’ not because they are successful, but because they are not.”

    You have a way with words Imonk. I like this sentence.

  4. It’s good to have you back, though I appreciate Chaplain Mike’s pinch hitting. As what you’ve written here, I find grace most evident in the deepest brokenness, both in those who I’ve known over the years and in my own life. My own desperate neediness has been the means of grace that God has repeatedly used to remind me, over and over again, that it’s His strength, never my own, that opens my eyes and gives me ears to hear. The continuing irony of God’s way is that it takes my acknowledgment of my willful blindness and self inflicted deafness to have my eyes and ears opened. The gospel is for me because I’m desperately sick and need a great physician.

  5. I hope you are feeling a bit better. Health changes really can really mess our plans up bigtime.

    People like Pat are great, they never fail to remind me of the refreshing nature of grace.

  6. Michael, hope all is well and thanks to Chaplain Mike.
    I believe I know what you mean – in my own way. May we each graciously receive all that Jesus wants to give us this holiday season, which is to say, Himself. Jesus the One who is glad tidings of great joy for all people.

  7. Glad to now you are on the way to recovery. I will continue to pray for your health.

    “Christians like Pat “live well,” not because they are successful, but because they are not. Having so much taken from them in the failures of life, they are like empty cups. Gospel faith holds up the empty cup- again and again- to be filled. There is no end to the desire for God’s love or the living experience of that love”

    That is deep. It reminds me that we are to deny ourselves, and look solely to Christ. We who are broken are made whole by Him who was broken for our sakes. If only we would remember this daily! Thanks be to the Father for His lovingkindness and forgiveness in Christ Jesus!

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      Makes you wonder what your breaking point is – how far away from any hope of a happy life does a person need to get in order to be saved by the Gospel?

      Many people claim substance abuse, ruined love, financial failure, wasted years, but for most of us, these bad times are merely self-indulgent miseries in a life spent managing our pleasures. Our little bereavements warp us, make us mean-minded and sap our innocence, but they don’t break us forever. What’s wrong with Christians, that our pains don’t make us honest?

      • I love something Frank Herbert once said (C.S. Lewis isn’t in the canon, either, so go along with me here). Paraphrase: “A thing will do everything in its power to keep from becoming its opposite”. And what is sanctification, if not the process by which the Holy Spirit turns men into their own opposites? If Frank was correct, we’ll endure a lot of pain before we truly submit to the process. A bit like trying to give a cat a bath. It kind of depends on the cat, too.

  8. This post reminds me of the book “Divine Nobodies” by Jim Palmer — which contains numerous stories of how ordinary people are often the best pictures genuine Jesusness. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It also makes me think of of C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” — particularly that part where an ordinary woman of simple humility, faith, and love is revealed as a glorious queen in heaven.
    Sometimes I suspect that God may be a bit of prankster, who gets a kick out of bypassing all of our established avenues and criteria for fame, success, greatness, and even sainthood — rather choosing to reveal Himself through some of the least likely people imaginable. And when He does this — when He shows us how bent, inadequate, and shallow our standard measurements for human worth really are — we can respond by being either offended or humbled. Maybe this is God’s way of reminding us that this world is destined to be filled from end to end, not with our glory, but with His alone — and that, even if He honors us with crowns for our service in this life, we’re going to willingly lay them down at His feet once the full extent of His grace and mercy is finally revealed to us.

  9. RonP….I went to mass a few weeks ago and we are back to not being able to shake hands during the “Sign of Peace” part of the mass due to the H1N1 flu. So I nodded to the people around me saying, “Peace be with you” the way we do, but when I turned around there was an obviously mentally challenged woman behind me who I had heard throughout the mass making regular “Ughhh” kinds of sounds. She held out her hand and I took it. I told my husband when I got home, “She is obviously mentally challenged yet she knows that at that part of the mass, we shake hands.” Months ago I was blessed by a baby reaching out her hand to me, but that was when we COULD shake hands. I tell Tom I go to mass be be blessed by babies and the mentally challenged.

    • That’s really cool, JoanieD. Jesus embraced the lowly, sick, and disabled during His earthly ministry, and now I think He often embraces the rest of us through them.

  10. Glad to see you back, Michael!

    I second what Patrick said: “What’s wrong with Christians, that our pains don’t make us honest?”

    That’s me as much as – or more than – others.

  11. Reading about Pat always makes me wonder about myself (is that narcissistic?). Having been a believer for almost 35 years, I confess that I have never – as in Never – had that kind of joy about the Gospel.

    Certainly I am deeply grateful and feel incredibly humbled by God’s grace in my life but . . . the kind of exhilaration iMonk is describing here escapes me. Still. Always.

    Maybe it’s a matter of temperament or gifts or place in the Body of Christ, but I seem to be continually filled with a sense of sadness as I move through life. It is a sadness born of several things: knowing that most people are perishing, understanding that the world was never meant to be the difficult and at times horrific place it is, and seeing believers plunge headfirst into some of the same shallow, rock-filled waters that I swam in before becoming a believer at age 25.

    All those things conspire to create a profound sadness in me. A sadness for them, not for myself. I try to rationalize it, if that is what I’m doing, by reminding myself that there is no record of Jesus ever “walking and leaping and praising God.” There are times that he wept but no exuberance. But there’s too much in the New Testament for me to fool myself for long.

    I suppose there is something wrong with me, deep inside, that keeps me from frolicking with so many of my brethren. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the Pats of the world: I thoroughly enjoy being around them and vicariously participating in their happiness. It’s just that my joy – this deep, settled feeling I have that things will turn out as God intends – never rises to such heights, buried as it is under the pain of seeing so many suffer so much for so long.

    Something must be wrong.

    • I’ve been reading the early desert fathers a lot lately and they frequently talk about the sort of sadness you mention. Not that they wanted to be morose all the time, but that they never wanted to lose sight of those perishing and the sadness that should bring. Just saying that your conclusion about yourself may be going too far. I’m not disagreeing with IM either—there’s always a balance.

    • As a pastor I’ve felt a little guilt on this same issue. How can I communicate the joy of God’s forgiving grace if I’m not always … joyful? You noted that it may come from innate personality, or a deeply rooted connection to the troubles of the world. Perhaps it’s a greater sensitivity for you on behalf of others’ suffering. Over the years I’ve taken some comfort in Eph 3:7 – that we’ve been given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The measure I’ve been given may seem inadequate in the ‘joyful’ sense compared to others at times; but it’s what I have been given. In some strange way, maybe you communicate some other aspect of faith that is your gift to give.

    • I can relate to your experience. Some are called to “weep” like Jeremiah, others to dance. Some more somber others ecstatic. This I believe is both personality and Spirit in us. But I also believe (and still struggle to receive) joy that is both beneath and above our personality, experiences, focus of ministry (like those who work where there is a lot of pain and suffering) or circumstances. Jesus, the “man of sorrows” also prays that his joy would be in us. We are told he was “full of joy in the Holy Spirit when he prayed after the 12 (or 70) returned from mission. J the B, another guy who seems to be alway serious, irritated or in a bad mood speaks of the joy he has in hearing the bridegroom’s voice and his becoming less as Christ becomes greater. We may be called to grieve or may be a more serious minded person but we also need the Lord to help us to be/do this in hope and in living in the light of the resurrection – now. May we learn to recognize and practice being joyful for the resurrection stories that are also, always present.

    • Dr. Mike, you spoke about being sad “knowing that most people are perishing.” I think that may be the problem right there. The Christmas message is a joyful message because Jesus came as God in the flesh because he loves all of mankind and wants to save all of mankind. I am a Christian who happens to be an “inclusivist.” You can read more about it here: http://thetruth.atspace.com/inclusivism.html It is NOT the same as Universalist. Jesus tells us that some people will never choose the light of his love, preferring darkness. But if you read the article, you will see that a lot of “famous” Christians believed that MANY more people will be saved than you may have realized. Our God is a loving, forgiving, gracious God indeed. I wish you peace and joy. My joy is not one that is always splashed across my face. In fact, I look pretty “serious” most of the time. But I do have this inner sense of calm and peace because of Jesus. It helps to practice Centering Prayer which can lead to Contemplative Prayer which is resting in the presence of God. It helps to divert us away from our daily cares and worries and just rest in the love that God has for us. Centering Prayer is not the only way. There are many ways, but it’s a way that has helped me. You can read about it on the internet. Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating have taught it.

      • I would like to be able to believe in inclusivism but my exegesis doesn’t allow it. If it were possible to maintain my integrity, I would do it: I’ve tried to find ways to become more inclusive through theological loopholes and hermeneutical gymnastics. But the preponderance of the biblical evidence is against it, and when I come to the end of my efforts I have to accept that fact – a fact that may have direct bearing of the fate of my deceased father, as well as many other family members who had little use for God during their lives.

        God is not always who I want him to be. Whenever I try to “soften” the truth, I feel as though I am minimizing the suffering of Christ and making light of the holiness of God. I have to keep in mind who is the Creator and who is the creature, who makes the rules and who is called to live with them. It’s not about me.

        • I agree with you, Dr. Mike, that we need to keep in mind who is the Creator and who is the creature. And yet, my perusal of the scriptures leads me to believe that God will save all who seek Him and if they are saved, Jesus has saved them. And in regard to your deceased family members, only God can know what happened with them in the last seconds of their lives. As Jesus was being crucified, he prayed to the Father to forgive the people crucifying him because they didn’t know what they were doing. How many of us really know what we are doing? God’s mercy knows no bounds.

  12. That reached me this morning, thanks

  13. I like what you said about Christians ‘living well’ because they are not successful. I really think that’s what it’s about.

  14. I loved this. Thank you!

  15. your writing here reminds me of what i first loved about brennan manning’s the ragamuffin gospel. until we let go of our pretensions and utter depravity in sin, we will not have the fullness of the joy that is ours. i’m searching for word for a tea with the women in our church. not the usual fluffy-feel-good touchy-feely woman crap. i really want them to understand the gospel and take it to heart. to understand that in-spite of their femininity, they too are entitled to the deep and soul changing love and grace of the god we say we serve. maybe i expect too much from women who are talked down to in most of christian culture. but i don’t expect too much from the spirit that i know can reveal the truth to their hearts, if they are willing. sorry… too ranty?

    • This being Advent, the Magnificat is maybe a good place to start?

      “He has looked on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all generations will call me blessed”.

  16. No other experience will increase your faith more than when you have to TOTALLY and completely trust God. It wasn’t until I was broken by life that I understood the extent of God’s love for us. Because of depression, I couldn’t handle being a husband and father, a productive employee, or anything else. A counselor at the time reminded me again and again in our sessions that I must completely trust God for everything. She continuously reminded me that God provides everything we need in this life; this, for me, included moods and attitudes that I couldn’t bring myself to change. I began to trust and see little miracles in my life everyday. I had to reach out to him every day just to make it, and let go of even the little control I thought I had. It was amazing to sit back and see the hand of God at work. It made me love Him so much and made me so thankful for what Jesus did. This has stayed with me ever since that time. I wasn’t in that pit for very long, maybe a few months, but it changed me for good. Now, when I dip a little, I’m reminded of that time and thankful for the experience. It hurt, but it made my faith great.

  17. Christopher Lake says:

    I have had more than a few severe traumas and personal setbacks in my life, both before and after becoming a Christian. I’ve also made some (looking back) not-so-wise choices, in terms of my career life. Last (but not least, hehe), I have Cerebral Palsy, a physical disability which causes me to have to use a wheelchair for much of my “getting around” and which also contributes to my not being able to drive.

    At the age of 36, I have a college degree but no paying job. That has been the case for longer than I care to remember. I have a deep desire to marry (not just any woman, but a Christian who shares my beliefs, values, and maybe a few of my interests), but largely due to my financial state, I don’t know when or if that will ever happen.

    I have good days and bad days. My temperament is definitely more on the “serious” side than the “bubbly” one. 🙂 My hope and joy, however, are rooted in much more than my earthly circumstances. They are rooted in Jesus Christ and His work for me on the cross. As long as Jesus knows me, and I know Him, I can live and smile (at least sometimes) with a deep sense of joy and stability in this life. It’s not always easy, but it’s the life I have. When I compare it to the abiding emptiness that I felt (even in my happier moments) as a non-Christian, it’s actually a pretty great life. 🙂