Thursday, January 27, 2011

One Focused Center

Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.  2 Cor 5:14 The Message
The tools of our trade aren't for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture.  We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity. 2 Cor 10:4-6 The Message 
Thought, emotion, impulse. It's what's left when you strip away the exterior "tent" which is decaying.  Your body may be weakened by age, failing, unable to take care of itself. Yet your inner life remains- the thoughts, emotions, and impulses, often seen only by God, will be the expression of a spirit dedicated to...whatever it's dedicated to.  Jesus Christ, in places where he has taken root

It's this kind of mind that is able to write things like "He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own."  It's the firm decision to work from this center.  It's not simply a decision to work, because everyone is doing that(It's worth noting that no one is not working hard and emphasizing obedience to something).  It's the conviction that conformity is to a particular something, something profoundly Important in the mind of the one conforming.  Their thoughts return to it frequently.  Their emotions are set ablaze by it.  It produces an impulse to act in one way, and not in another.  For Paul, this is the death and Resurrection of Christ.

A practical note, in the way of deconstruction.  In a comment on a blog I observed this of my experience with Bible study and general "spiritual talk":
I can’t tell you how hard it is to find people in a Bible study, or even a simple conversation, who will not simply stay on the subject of Jesus himself and not shift it as quickly as possible to a “therefore, we should…” type observation about our personal lives. Aside from the practical tips that most want to reduce him to, there seems to be a constant temptation to shift the focus of the dialogue onto ourselves. Even if it’s in a positive, uplifting sort of way. In this kind of environment, it’s nearly impossible to be wounded by the Lion of Judah, much less revere, follow, befriend, or worship him. If I can’t be bothered to maintain any kind of rapt attention to Jesus, how do I expect to follow him where he’s going? 
Are you beginning to get a picture of what the "work" of shaping one's "thoughts, emotions, and impulses" according to the Cross and the Resurrection means?  It's a bit of a paradox, but the primary "work" we need to engage in, it seems like, is the work of de-emphasizing our work in favor of an emphasis on Christ's work.  Because an emphasis on our own work inevitably conforms our work to...our image, not his.

Example: in chapter 8, in the midst of a long exhortation to give generously to a particular need in another church, he quotes this standard for how the community of Jesus looks:  
Nothing left over to the one with the most, nothing lacking to the one with the least. 
Now, before all the warnings about communism start flooding in, let's ask "how does this expectation proceed from a mind determined to work from the 'focused center,' a mind that is 'fitting every loose thought...into the structure of life shaped by Christ?'  One passage that comes to mind is the prophetic announcement of John the Baptist, who gives us a word-picture that acts as one way of summing up the ministry of Jesus:
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."  
 Luke 3:5-6 ESV
In an earlier post I said that "Daily life lived as if a resurrection were coming tends to look very different from the surrounding culture."  One of the mountains that is made low by Jesus Christ is the inevitability of death.  Since death is an obstacle that has been overcome, a minor blip in the radar, a mere change in scenery, those whose thoughts are taken captive by the Resurrection do not fear that they will lack anything. They also don't crave the status that comes with having much.  What follows the leveling of these mountains is a different kind of life- one in which no one goes without, at least not while another has plenty.  Now if the death and resurrection of Christ are so important that he overcomes these kinds of mountains, what other "focused center" would you prefer to work from? 

Compare this with what is often assumed to be "obedience into maturity": creating and maintaining a life in which all your material needs are met, in which comfort is the goal, and in which it is clearly on display that you are a strong, capable person.  Sound like something you've experienced?  In contrast, the standard Paul offers for the community of Jesus is one that witnesses that no one is really any stronger or more capable than anyone else("...that puts everyone in the same boat.")- that in all and through all the Spirit moves, that riches equal the knowledge of Christ, and that it "smashes the warped philosophy" of  self-sufficiency, not provides for it. That obedience into maturity means giving what you have away because you've already got everything, not gaining what you've always wanted for yourself.  The mountain being made low here is the self-preservation and self-sufficiency instinct in every one of us, a problem brought on by man's rejection of the provision of God in favor of an order in which "by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread."  Possibly on grandest display in the "haves" of the community.  The have-nots, on the other hand, show us the valley that is "filled in" by the economic justice taking place in Gospel-aware people. 

Far from being some kind of easy way out, making the Gospel the "focused center" from which you work imposes a constant vigilance of seeing, tasting, hearing, and feeling it, and will quickly crucify anyone daring to do so.  One thing it is not, however, is a laundry list of issues or practices, each addressed severally as we try to hold together an ever-increasing number of threads, or an emphasis on "what comes after the Gospel."   Seem too simplistic? Try knowing it(John 17:3).  One focused center.  Not pep talks disguised as exhortation, or ticking off bullet pointed "ought-to's" that all suspiciously start with the same letter.  But that one man died for everyone. 


I'm just Lore said...

So good. Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping the conversation on Jesus alone. I find myself every day struggling with the flesh that wants to make the cross an object lesson--your blogs always stand starkly pointing out the error of this. I so appreciate it.

Bob said...

Coupling John the Baptizer's words with Paul's here helps me think of both in a new light. I guess I'd never really thought much about what those mountains might be that John talks about. Paul says, here's one: some are rich, some have nothing. Some are honored, some dishonorable. Some free, some slaves. These thing should mean nothing to us. They are nothing. We've died to them. We see this in Jesus' utter shamelessness, unafraid to touch of leper or a woman with a bleeding issue, or eat with prostitutes, etc. These things were, culturally speaking, mountains. Made low by Christ.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia.

Please find a radically different Spiritual Understanding of the Spirit-Breathing Spiritual Way of Life taught and demonstrated by Jesus while he was alive, via this essay and website.

Plus two references on the death, or how right life can only begin when one has thoroughly understood the meaning & significance of death - until then there is only fear and trembling.