Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mistaking Jesus for the Horse He Road In On

So I am learning to take delight in all things and in all situations. Last night I was having dinner with David Hunt. He was my Young Life leader when I was in high school, and the one who more than any other, I count as responsible for leading me to Christ. Even so, we had not seen each other in 31 years. Reconnecting and getting caught up was so thoroughly good. One of the things David shared that he has been learning is a lesson that parallels my own growth and journey. That is, learning to take joy or delight in Christ in all things.

Okay, I know that sounds like stock Christian saying #417, but David articulated it in a way that makes it so much more meaningful. He spoke of how he loves to drive through the piny woods of east Texas, which he had done earlier that day. He also loves thinking about being there and enjoying the beauty of places like Davy Crockett National Forest. I have spent significant time in that part of Texas and know exactly what he means.

But there is a big difference between having fond thoughts of or memories of being in a place you love, and actually, actively being there. A lot of us who are followers of Jesus seem to chase one spiritual experience after another. We love moving worship experiences. We are blessed so much by being in community and engaging in Bible study or prayer and just hanging out with good friends. We may even look forward to practicing some spiritual discipline or another that is particularly meaningful to us. Then we remember those things and look forward to our next experience of them.

Just like David driving through east Texas or me riding a lift up to the top of the mountain at Winter Park, Colorado however, there is a big difference between remembering or anticipating those experiences and actually being there to experience them.

So here’s the lesson. This is what David shared that just rings so true for me. With Jesus, there is no need to rely on remembering or anticipating. Jesus is present, right here and right now. He is not waiting in some future experience or designated location. As a bringer of the Kingdom of God, Jesus said that because he was here, the Kingdom of God was among us – a present reality.

I think I have had some sense this for a while. I've known it intellectually for most of my walk with Christ, but for some reason have not very often lived it out. But that is changing.

I was out with friends tonight at Café Express at the Shops at Legacy. As Kelly and I drove away, I thought about how much I am going to miss places like that when we move out to our new mission field. But then I thought about how much I enjoy being in places like the one we are going to. My thoughts then gathered around the idea that I really do know how to find and experience the presence and joy of the Lord in all situations and places, though I do not always do it successfully.

So why do I feel like I am going to miss places and feel regret and loss over having to leave a familiar experience or familiar relationship behind? Why can I not just take joy in what I know will be great experiences ahead? I think it may be because I have not yet learned how to find the very real presence of Christ in the transition. But the truth is, he is there too. He is in that awkward stage between one great reality and another because he is the one all-encompassing reality of realities.

So even though I had been congratulating myself on being able to take joy and delight in all situations, the truth is I had not really been doing it all that well. At best I had expanded my list of places and experiences where I could take joy in Christ’s presence, but I was still chasing experiences, events and places, even if they were a bit more broadly defined. I was still mistaking Jesus for the horse he so often road in on. (As an aside, a lot of people do this with a particular style of worship or sacred music too. I'm just sayin'.)

The danger now is that I just try to add transitional seasons to the list of places to experience Christ’s presence. But my source of joy and delight is not in the experiences or places I associate with Christ’s presence. It is with Christ’s presence. And that is available all the time and in every place. I do not mean to devalue positive and powerful experiences that serve to connect us to the reality of Christ’s presence. But they should be reminders of his continual presence, not to be mistaken for the exclusive means by which we enter and enjoy his presence. Christ is just as present with me as I type this as he was two weeks ago when I and thousands of others were being led in worship by Joel Houston and Hillsong United.

How incredibly freeing this is. I can now enjoy those special and unique experiences without having to chase them or feel as though I am left high and dry without them. Christ is here, present with me –Jesus our Emmanuel. I do not have to lean on a memory or look forward to the next great experience. Jesus is right here, right now. How could I have spent so much time ignoring that?

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