|Absolute Value|

“I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.” (2 Corinthians 12:11, emphasis mine)

Nothing to lose

God has made you. And when once you meet Jesus and begin to wrap your mind around this substrate fact, all the stuff through which you sift (like motes of dust, gazillions of them) to get there falls into place. But until you see the Father for who He is (which necessarily requires you meet Jesus) all that stuff looks to be for-all-intents-and purposes like a mountain of randomness doing its thing. And that is: nothing.

“And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. Lord, by Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide Thy face and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30:6-7, emphasis mine)

Look around you and glimpse the face of God. Cherry blossoms waving on the branches and then scattering in the wind. The most beautiful eyes you could ever imagine, set in the grey head of the old woman pushing a shopping cart down the sidewalk as you drove by this morning. The glint off a windshield that blinded you for a moment and filled your field of vision. A sparrow. As God is not human but does indeed have a face, you see His beauty everywhere. But the thing is, only in Christ can we make that one-to-One connection. We see his beauty and His splendor everywhere and I can guarantee you, were He to hide His face from you, if only for a brief moment, you would feel the emptiness. Come to think of it, should you be feeling any emptiness at all in the present moment, perhaps you’re experiencing what Paul might term “the sufferings of Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5). Here’s the thing, don’t “wallow” in it but be quiet and revel. Sufferings don’t last, neither does emptiness. God is sure to fill you up (or back up) but maybe there’s something He sees that we’re not aware of?

“That Thou givest them they gather: Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest Thy face, they are troubled: Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.” (Psalm 104:28-29, emphasis mine)

Nothing more to lose

Read through Psalm 106. In much the same way as an absolute value expression is bracketed by sticks (|a|) in an equation, times of suffering are both preceded by pleasantness but also followed with rejoicing and “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19). Psalm 106 is the same. Thirty-eight verses delineate a national history of backslidden Israel but that are bookended by five verses each detailing the love and goodness of the Father. He holds your value and it’s what He sees when He looks at you. It doesn’t matter how deep you go, Christ went deeper. It’s true. And the Father held His place. He holds yours even now.

“But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us;” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10)

Cross Purposes

“Some indeed preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the Gospel.” (Philippians 1:16-17)

If you read between these lines, taking nothing from the context leading up to these two verses, it looks as if Paul is the focal point, the fulcrum, for what seems to be going on in the world at large with reference to incipient Christianity. And while he is indeed addressing the Christians in Philippi (the details of which I could quite easily fill in with a simple Internet search (you’ve heard of the “Internet”, right? Capital “i”.)) and referring also to those who are taking encouragement from his sufferings, who’s to say that we can’t find ourselves in his place, in our time? Back up a bit:

“So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places.” (1:13, emphasis mine)

When you meet Jesus, it’s like you’ve touched the Singularity. He is a man, the Man, but also so much more. He, more than commands attention, the concept of “attention” flows naturally back to Him. 

Paul knew (and knows) this. He says a little later on the chapter that “to live is Christ” (verse 21). John echoes a similar sentiment when he says in his gospel (1:3) that “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” A fleeting question: Do we really believe this? Moving on. When Paul identified those who were preaching Christ and yet doing so from a standpoint of things Jesus doesn’t need in order to get His message, His point across (“envy”, “strife”, “contention”), he wasn’t too concerned. He says “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” (verse 18) In other words, you’re doing the work of God by preaching Christ! Yay. But it’s serious.

“There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:30)

Simply put, there’s nothing you can do against God. Rail at Him, shake your fist and hate him with all you have, and are. Spend yourself in your own righteousness and rightness and find Him the same when once all the vitriol is gone. He loves you. And He aims to shoot His arrow into your heart one way or another. But here’s the thing: after life (Paul also said “to die is gain” also in verse 21) you will get to see Him. At that point, you truly will see the Singularity. Distraction will give way to locked-in attention and you will understand (I hope I’m not spoiling anything) why Paul could have so much on his plate, so much swirling around him in spite of being locked away “for the defence of the Gospel” and then simply shrug his shoulders at the seriousness. The people to whom he was referring when he brought up their less-than-admirable evangelization/proselytization remind me of the same crowd Jesus addresses here:

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23)

So be careful. Know the Lord, spend time with Him and worship Him. He is kinder and more ever-present than you could even think to imagine. And He loves you. But He’s serious, more serious, even, than Paul. Referring again to the unique sufferings of Paul, think about what you’re going through in this world “for the defence of the Gospel”. Jesus sees you and He understands. And when once you rub someone the wrong way in spite of having accurately represented Christ to them, they will go about their merry way. Assuming their Christian and yet if they haven’t reconciled the relationship (yours and theirs, you understand), their testimony will be compromised and they won’t be representing Christ to the best of their ability. Pray for them and love them the same. Don’t you stop loving Jesus the way He’s shown you, though. It all flows back to Him.

“For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” (2 Corinthians 13:8)

Journeyman

Measuring twice

“For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.” (2 Corinthians 10:18)

The old pattern of craftsmanship-as-a-trade had three levels. It applied to everything from woodworking to bookbinding to bookselling. The stages went apprentice to journeyman to master. For life, I would say many patterns we see and therefore seek to appropriate into our walk (really, our adult life) are based on that paradigm of adulthood/childhood balance. I think when once we see what we want to become, we begin, however subconsciously, working toward it. And as a Christian—a follower of Christ—who doesn’t want to be the best? To be just like Jesus in heart and mind and body?

“It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master…” (Matthew 10:25a)

“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.” (1 Corinthians 9:25a)

Just try and take a few steps in some direction you think is best and watch the whole machinery of your life come to a grinding halt. It may take some time to do so, it’s all contingent on the mercy and timing of God though, I think. I mean, if you really want to follow the Lord’s will for your life, He won’t let you get very far on your own without redirecting. Sometimes it’s painful but it’s best to heed.

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)

Apprentice

This is why it’s good to start from the bottom. I find that with the new birth in Christ (understand it’s been 27 years for me) the floor has been cleared. People often talk about the Honeymoon stage. Where everything is hope and light and joy, like Heaven. And I haven’t yet met a Christian who doesn’t have to go back and clean up the past (make amends, forgive, apologize, etc.) for a lifetime of wrong thinking and wrong doing. But this doesn’t negate the reality of the beauty you first tasted. This being said, unless you’ve had some sort of marked watershed recently (like accepting the Lord for the first time) it’s hard to imagine yourself in a life without a thousand different attendant drains on your life and time and joy and peace (and finances). This is the way of the world. Notice what Paul says:

“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin unto Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2, emphasis mine)

In other words, you’re marked. You belong to someone else. The idea is similar to the Apprentice in that you have to follow the Master around to learn what they would teach. But as a follower of Christ, it’s so much more than indentured servitude, than simply a student for its own sake. Paul speaks of the relationship as a marriage compact. You belong to Christ now, you’re part of His Bride. Notice this:

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when He hath found it, He layeth it on His shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:4-5, emphasis mine)

Journeyman

“But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that our father Jonadab our father commanded us.” (Jeremiah 35:10)

Y’know, the Journeyman stage may well last your whole life, I’m just going to say that right now. It was as true for the medieval bookbinder as it was for the Rechabites in the above. One difference, though, would have been the instruction for the latter as opposed to the unskillfulness of the former. Say you hadn’t been listening, say there was some aspect of your desired trade you were unable to wrap your mind around. Good luck producing your “masterpiece”. That was the way, by the way. Your master and the other guild leaders would expect after a time something akin to a “masterpiece”. Something that proved the Master hadn’t been wasting his time unspooling the ins and outs of a vocation worth keeping alive in the world at large. Then again, if you find yourself in the desert, still, perhaps “God’s not done with you yet”? This is cliched but it’s totally true. The Lord won’t leave you in a dry region, journeying for He-knows-how-long, forever. If you have this gnawing feeling saying that you should have been elsewhere long ago, share it with the Lord. He dwells without time. Where He is, is no time and ultimate freedom. And He is working from that place, making you into a masterpiece. Here. You can help Him along:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Following Too Closely

“And he said unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19, emphasis mine)

That was pretty much the clarion call of Jesus. Simplistically explained, we as humans want to go our own way and yet somehow shoehorn the results from such paths into the “perfect will of God.” Can you imagine being thoroughly steeped in the way of life that came along with, er, was, uh, living in that time? Free will operates pretty much the same way it did two thousand years ago as now. And so when someone—even someone more intense/intelligent/charismatic than I (that’s not really what it’s about, it’s His love)—tells me to “follow me”, as Jesus did numerous numerous people, my instinct kicks in and all I wanna do is go my own way. Either that or follow them for a time and soak up what I can and then move on. With the fallen state of humanity it’s one or the other. This is one of the many reasons why Jesus says this:

“Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

The third chapter of John opens with Jesus visiting a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews.” They proceed to chat for a bit and after Jesus brings out the idea of “new birth” follows up with “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (verse 7) In other words, Jesus tells Nicodemus to calm down at the revelation of such a counterintuitive idea. He asks: “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (verse 8) Implying perhaps that somewhere in the annals of Jewish law was a clue that may have pointed to what Jesus was getting at when He said “ye must be born again”. This is the answer to the aforementioned two different responses to Jesus’s call to “follow me”. When He remakes you by His Holy Spirit, you are able to lay down your own way and, here’s the thing, your own motives, and truly follow Him. But this is just the beginning.

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

I can imagine I would have been tempted to ask where we would be going, had I been there. Had I been one of the ones to whom He personally addressed (as in, in person) His two words of “Follow me.” Oh don’t kid yourself, the call has gone out into all the world and every heart has heard it and one point or another (see Revelation 3:20). But if I were fully ensconced in a life that included tending a small cart of produce my father had harvested or helping keep my family’s inn in the black, I would have needed some more information. I’ve asked this before but what was (is) it about Jesus that inspires people from all walks of life to give up that last word (“life”) and all its baggage and packing material to do something that necessarily places me, not last but most certainly, going forward, not first? It’s in His eyes. And so, fast-forwarding to today, I can assure you the “continu[ing] in [His] word” will unravel everything about your person in much the same way were you to take all the pieces of your life in the present and posit them back in first century Israel as a sort-of ancient version of yourself. He’s calling you. There are depths to us that we’ll never reach unless we continue following Him. As He’s the one who made us, and as such can remake us, He knows what’s down there. He knows the intricacies of our individual hearts and minds. As an aside, when He tells Simon Peter and his brother Andrew He’ll make them “fishers of men”, the deeper you go with Christ, the more fish (i.e. people) will you be able to influence.

The same ways of thinking affect us now as then. We can either follow Jesus or go our own way, thinking however erroneously, that somehow we’ll end up back at God. And just because He says “follow” doesn’t mean He won’t tell you what’s ahead (see Isaiah 45:11; John 16:13).

And, in an admittedly cheap bait-and-switch tactic, the title of this post is somewhat of a misnomer. There is no such thing as following Jesus too closely.

Higher Math part one

“I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30)

The same idea is echoed in Jesus’s statement to Philip of “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). I find it remarkable to place myself, purely by power of imagination, back in the time of Jesus and see Him say these things with my mind’s eye. Following this line of thought, I inevitably find myself wishing to a certain extent that I was indeed back there, living and walking around during the time of Christ. But as this is not Science Fiction (time travel, you understand), I gently realize that I am living in a body during 2015. Called by the Lord to take up whatever dimensions I do in the world at large, today. And this is where what Jesus said to Philip takes on a new meaning.

He (and she) that hath seen me

It was easy to see Jesus. Just plant yourself on your step and watch him walk by, “thronged” (Mark 5:24) by the multitude. And there you have it! Not only are you seeing Jesus (as in, the Christ), you’re also looking at the purest expression of “I Am” (see Exodus 3:14) as was ever revealed to the human race. Come to think of it, you may have had to press through the crowd in order to do so, as apparently He had a hard time going anywhere alone when once word got out that He was who He is.

But how does this help us now? My opinion is, everyone would want to see God. In a halfway-intelligent philosophical discussion (even with yourself), you’re bound to come across this: the ontological argument. This line of reasoning says that because existence is equated with perfection, and as God, or “God” is the most perfect being that can be conceived of, He must exist. No two ways around it. But not only is this easily falsifiable (seriously, ask yourself if you’ve ever thrown your imagination out to the four winds/ages and seen God the way He might be if He truly was all you could wish and hope for—and then wordlessly snuffed it out) but it also lends itself to creating a God in our own image. With a skewed nature of perfection that doesn’t hold all the variables in check so as to order a world the way it truly is. Ontology. And yet wouldn’t God have had to create the concept itself, if He truly was perfect? I digress. The reason I asked the question I did at the beginning of the paragraph is because as we all live in the present age, we don’t have the ability to see Jesus with our eyeballs. I mean, assuming He were still with us now the way He was back in the pages of John’s gospel, I would have sold all my belongings (whatever it took) in order to go visit Him—if but for a moment—in Israel. I want to see the person who claims to have come from the Father and yet do nothing to prove His point except die after doing a bunch of kindhearted things.

“And the glory which Thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one…” (John 17:22-23a)

Read through the seventeenth chapter of John. Long one of my favorite in the Bible, we see something about the Lord that we haven’t before. It’s as if He’s laying out the entire strategy of the Father retroactively. He alludes to some primeval time in verse five with “before the world was”. So evidently He would’ve been there with the God we so easily imagine as the solver of all our problems and the perfect example of ourselves in divine form. But again, how does this help us now? Because Jesus has left the earth. But! This is where one plus one gains another.

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if depart, I will send Him unto you.” (John 16:7)