"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Thursday, May 30, 2013

View from Above

May's trip to Laguna was the third time I have been there. Before this trip, I would have told you with a clear conscience that I knew what Laguna looks like. The first two times, I drove downtown and walked out on the beach. I truly believed I had seen Laguna Beach, California.

This time, Laguna was not an add-on, it was our main destination. I found an old but nicely remodeled hotel about a mile from the city center. Wanting to avoid walking down Highway 1, I got out a map. What I discovered were several hidden coves with public access, and some parks granting views from above. From this perspective, you can see down through clear water to light sand, dark rocks and kelp forests. From the park closest to our hotel, you can see the city of Laguna and all the way down the coast to Dana Point. The eye level beach views are relaxing; the view from above is, well, breathtaking!

Paul refers to perspectives as he addresses the believers in Philippi. He has just laid out for them his value system: there is nothing in this world he loves as much as Jesus Christ, and he had willingly given it all up for the sake of knowing him. He had gone on to say that he has not arrived in his faith, so keeps straining forward for the fullest realization possible of Jesus' calling on his life. Lest the readers think that this is some ultra-spiritual perspective possible only for Paul and the apostles, he clarifies:

"All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." Philippians 3:15-16

Paul's "view from above" is to be shared by all who have made reasonable progress in the Christian life. He acknowledges that there may be different points of view and, as if referring to an earlier statement that God will complete in them the good things he has started, he affirms that God will show each of them in due course all they need to see. In the meantime, he reminds them to live the life they claim to believe. God reveals more and more to us as we demonstrate faithfulness where we are, with what we know. It is important to note that this perspective, too, allows Paul to love them where they are without dogmatic insistence on immediate agreement.

From above, we find joy in the present and future, in the darks and lights, and in the ups and downs. Each contrasting feature adds to the beauty of the scene God has created. We just can't see it while we stand at sea level. Be faithful where you are and ask God to create a deep yearning in your soul for the view from above. It will take your breath away.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Press On

On our recent trip to Cali, we passed through parts of 5 states. We saw many types of scenery each day...variations on the desert theme, mountain landscapes, palms, pinions, dramatic rock formations, even Las Vegas rising like a gaudy lady of the night in the unlikely surroundings of a barren landscape. We stopped in a smaller town to be nourished by pool, spa and buffet. For many, this little stop in Mesquite, Nevada was the final destination of their journey. For us, Mesquite represented a milepost along the way, but it was not our destination. While we were clearly no longer in Colorado, we had not yet arrived.

The Apostle Paul speaks of a similar dynamic in his walk with Christ. He lays out the unsurpassed joy and fulfillment of knowing Christ in Philippians 3:7-11. Then he makes sure his readers know what he knows, that he has not yet arrived:

"Not that I have already attained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14

Like travelers on their way to a destination, Paul knows that he has not yet fully attained his goal: To know Christ, to emulate Christ, to become all Christ wants him to be. He strains toward it with unswerving focus. He will not be satisfied with some lukewarm approximation of the real thing in his life.

Mesquite is okay. Sitting in the hot tub under the sunset, with chattering Mexican Grackles making their nests in the palms overhead, while a sliver of moon arose over the desert mountains, it was not hard to see why some would stop there. How different our trip would have been had we settled for this midpoint in our destination. We would have missed standing on cliffs overlooking the vast Pacific surrounded by lush gardens and the music of surf and gulls.

Keep your eye on the destination. Like Paul, forget what is behind and lean forward to fall head over heals in love with Jesus, becoming him to those around you, absorbed with this goal so that all else pales by comparison, overwhelmed with joy.

He has more in mind for you. He truly has your eternal best interest at heart. Press on!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Knowing Joy

I have become acquainted with a great many leaders and teachers over the decades. Seeing them from a distance, most seem admirable, projecting just the right balance of humility, giftedness and strength. Coming to know them on a more intimate level, their human frailties and flaws become more evident (as with all of us). A few exceptional men have proven over extended periods of  time that they are who they seem to be. When this happens, it is a priceless, inspiring experience. Take that experience and multiply it by an infinite power, and you will begin to understand how Paul felt about knowing Jesus Christ:

"But whatever was my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7-11

Paul had just admonished the Philippians not to rely on the works of the flesh (in this case, trying to fulfill the law of Moses) to achieve righteousness before God, and reminded them of his own accomplishments, education and birthright to take pride in such things. Now he elaborates that all of that is less than worthless (counting it all as rubbish) in comparison to knowing Christ. His righteous standing before God is not by keeping the law, or personal perfection of some sort, but is by trusting in the perfection of Christ, who fulfilled the law on our behalf--deep faith in him resulting in a willingness to join in his sufferings--dying as he did, to be raised as he was. I believe that Paul's use of "somehow" here cannot imply that he must be good enough at all this to attain resurrection (thus contradicting the thrust of his argument), but  simply means it is beyond his ability to explain the miracle of it.

Mature faith is so enthralled with Jesus, so obsessed with him, that nothing else matters, or if it does, it only matters as a temporary means of glorifying (and bringing others into relationship with) him. This is true serenity and joy, when all that matters is knowing him in all his excellence, integrity, faithfulness and gifts. It does not happen by straining or human effort, but by giving him our all. We give everything to him, not because he needs it from us, rather so that he can redeem it all in time. Paul could joyfully say that he had lost everything for Jesus. If we see Paul's faith as special and beyond our abilities to achieve, we forget that he was once full of hatred and murderous venom. Jesus took the greatest of sinners and transformed him into a light for the ages so that we would have the same hope, the same possibilities, and the same joy.

Know Jesus, know joy.