Reading books, and discussing the points raised by the author; leapfrogging off each other’s thoughts and reactions with even further exploration—now that’s what I call fun! Two times a week I am thus engaged.
Currently, one of the sessions is focused on Bible study and the other is a book discussion. Almost every Saturday morning, six or eight of my fellow Christ-followers gather to share our paraphrases of a section of the Gospel of John, discuss our perspectives, and how we live out what we are learning. Almost every Sunday morning, after the worship service at my church, another group of us gather round the conference table in our Sunday School class and read and discuss the main points of a chapter or two of Greg Finke’s book, Joining Jesus On His Mission.
Why do I do this? I already said it was fun for me. But even if it wasn’t fun, I would do it anyway. Full disclosure: the truth is, every minute of every session isn’t fun and games. We grapple with some tough concepts and wrestle with truths too big for any of us. We also do the extremely hard work of listening carefully to one another. But this mental and spiritual exercise bears much fruit—fruit that feeds the soul and calms the heart and renews the mind.
This past weekend was a double whammy – A point from the third chapter of the Gospel of John and some of the conversation about Joining Jesus On His Mission dove-tailed for me into a message that seemed tailor-made for me personally.
In the first few verses of the third chapter of John, Nicodemus had come to talk with Jesus at night and Jesus has told him he “must be born again.” Picking up in verse 9, the text says,
Nicodemus asked, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”
Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God? (John 3:9-12 The Message).
In the fifth chapter of Joining Jesus On His Mission, we read:
In order to join Jesus on his redemptive mission all we really have to do is enjoy people; and seek, recognize and respond to what Jesus is already doing in the lives of the people we are enjoying. Could it really be this simple? The answer is “Yes.”
Jesus has made our participation in his redemptive mission simple. Let’s keep it that way. We make it hard when we try to do the work of Jesus rather than what he gave us to do.
What was the message “tailor-made for me personally?” Well, I don’t believe I am to give up the group sessions—but I do believe that all that extraneous research I do about every little thing has to go! Here’s how my heart has received the message:
“Mary, Mary, Mary” the Holy Spirit sighs. “Must we revisit the basics? Here you are again, grappling and wrestling with these questions too big for you, (and yes, I know you find it fun, I made you that way.) But you so easily forget the main point. Don’t miss the simple truth right in front of your face. If you keep charging off into the weeds, you will keep missing the plain path I have put in front of you; you will exhaust yourself.
I have called you to love people—prayerfully leave the hopes and dreams they yearn for and their complicated ambivalences to me—simply enjoy them as I do. Just look for me as I have taught you—you will recognize me at work in their lives—simply enjoy me at work in their lives and any part I give you in the moment. It really is that simple, Mary.”
I know several people who live like that much better than I do. They are my much admired friends. I know of one well-known Christian singer and song-writer, Rich Mullins, who I believe lived that way, simply being a person and loving people. During an interview in 1976, he spoke of his disillusionment with “this ministry thing” as something we do for God instead of just being who God created us to be and to “be holy.”
Mullins was living and working in the Navajo nation when a music video was made for the song “I See You” recorded by Mullins for Compassion International. He died shortly after the video was completed, and according to one post on YouTube it was never officially released. A fan, or someone who worked with Mullins posted the video.
As first steps for me, instead of doing what Leanne Payne used to call “belly-button gazing” and what another long-forgotten saint once called “the sin of scrupulosity,” I believe I will return to the basics, loving God and loving people. I will look for Him in the faces of the people He brings across my path. [And I’ll trust Jesus to call me aside when I need to do any of that other deep exhaustive research again; and He will—after all, that’s how he made me!]
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