Over the next several weeks, my colleagues and I will be reflecting on the “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John. The practice of reflecting upon, and recalling who God is, should be a source of comfort for us – especially in times of trouble, grief, pain, or uncertainty. Sadly, as pastors and church leaders, our attention to Scripture is too often guided by our need to teach, to sermonize, or to provide guidance for others. But, to sit under Scripture, to be nourished, to receive comfort, to be read even as we are reading, these are the gifts that God’s gifts to us all. – Adam Mixon
There was a very cautious man
Who never laughed or played
He never risked, he never tried,
He never sang or prayed.
And when one day he passed away
His insurance was denied.
For since he never really lived,
They claimed he never died.
What a tragic reality to reach the end of our days and look back over our lives and realize in the end we never really lived. Such is the case for those who despite big dreams, vison, competency and calling never really manifest the desires of their hearts and fulfill Gods calling on their lives. Equally tragic and sad is this same reality for congregations. Despite well-crafted vision statements, endowments and claims of being a missional church, some congregations would have their life insurance denied just like the nameless man in this poem. As a pastor, one of the most frustrating and sad facets of ministry is doing life with people who chronically and habitually remain stagnant and unactualized, those who live dead end lives and expect the church to stay comfortable and stagnant with them.
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 NRSV
As we stand on the precipice of Lent there is no better time to reflect on and remember Jesus’ sacrificial act of dying on the cross for our sins. It is pivotal because Jesus’ crucifixion solidified our salvation and the death of the negative effects of sin and shame, however, the beauty and resonance of the season lies in the drama and freedom released by Jesus’ resurrection. Lent focuses our eyes in the direction of Jesus’ long journey toward Calvary and beyond toward the resurrection which reminds us of Jesus overwhelming humility to accept the cross, and His overwhelming power to transcend it.
Unlike some religions, we don’t worship a human who died and is martyred for their actions in history, but we worship and are in relationship with a living Savior whose resurrection secured our ability to live in freedom and abundance. Scripture tells us,
“The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, til it overflows)” John 10:10 AMP
I like to think Jesus came so that we could “glow up” and live a resurrected life individually and as communities of faith. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the resurrection is the ultimate “glow up” and as Jesus’ followers we should glow up too. Now stay with me, I am not merely trying to be witty using this phrase, nor am I trying to trivialize the resurrection. A “glow up” is defined as an “incredible transformation,” or “to go from the bottom to the top to the point of disbelief.” You must admit Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate incredible transformation. What better example of “going from the bottom to the top to the point of disbelief” than being crucified on a hill called Calvary between two thieves to being raised on the third day and seated on the right hand of God with all power in His hands?
Jesus’ appearances post resurrection had one common denominator shock and disbelief. Although the disciples and Jesus’ followers believed in Him and who He said he was; they were still in disbelief when they witnessed His transfigured self. If Jesus experienced transformation to the point of disbelief, why do we not expect the same type of unbelievable transformation for ourselves and our congregations?
Romans 6:8-11 says, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once and for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Scripture tells us that just like Jesus died and now lives, in the same way we are to count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Jesus Christ. If that’s the case, then why do we settle for dead-end existences of scarcity, mediocrity, mundanity, and fear instead of “having and enjoying life, and having it in abundance…to the full, til it overflows”?
Howard Thurman put it this way,
“Keep alive in me the forward look, the high hope, the onward surge. Let me not be frozen either by the past or the present. Grant me, O patient Father, They sense of the future without which all life would sicken and die.”
Whether we use the language of “glowing up” or the “forward look” we are talking about a continuity of existence physical and spiritual that isn’t based on temporality or a generalized sense of spirituality but on life with Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. To be a Christian is to constantly be growing from one state of life into another state of life. What would our congregations look like if we grew this way too? Instead of always lamenting the life we are growing out of, perhaps we would embrace, encourage, and even celebrate the life we are growing into.