Tag Archives: in Christ

“In Christ” is where I find a Jesus lens

At the Partner Summit of the Jesus Collective we were sent off into Zoom groups (God save us!) to practice “community discernment.” Nothing could be more countercultural and more appropriate. We did not have the capacity and environment to do it (it was Zoom, people) but we did have the audacity to try it! We zeroed in on what it means to see the Bible and the whole world with a “Jesus lens.” This is a primary characteristic of the Jesus Collective movement – not just seeing through the lens of theology, politics or personality, but seeing our way to life as the living Jesus show us, alive in our midst. Sounds like the Bible and sounds unlikely, right? I was glad to be there.

Searching for a Jesus lens

I thought many people provided good, left-brain, conceptual arguments for their views on the Bible. Others came with other views, so we had quite a few views. We were mostly practicing discernment. It is not that easy! We were not assigned to come up with a definitive piece of theological and relational understanding via Zoom. But I imagine most people were as stimulated as I was.

After all the input, I came away thinking a Jesus lens is not going to be much use unless it is derived from being born again into Christ, living in Christ, and seeing the whole world encompassed by the love in Christ. Here is a key verse for me.

In Christ Jesus
you are all children of God through faith,
for all of you who were baptized
into Christ
have clothed yourselves
with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one
in Christ Jesus.”  — Galatians 3:26-28

I think the common, simple New Testament phrase “in Christ” is a forgotten starting point for mutual understanding. In the portion above, Paul is speaking to the Christians in Galatia, reminding them of their new identity since they placed their faith in Jesus Christ. To be “baptized into Christ” means that they are identified with Christ, since they left their false selves and are putting on their true selves in Christ. When we respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing we are baptized us into the family of God — “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13).

I think many people with whom I travel are often missing their sense of identity “in Christ.” They aspire to go there, but it is not where they come from. They conceptualize it, but they are suspicious of feeling it. They love Christ in the Bible, but don’t seem to have the Bible’s sense of loving Christ in the here and now. The New Testament is filled with references describing Jesus followers “in Christ:” 1 Peter 5:14Philippians 1:1Romans 8:1. NT Wright can tell you a bit more

Now is the time to live in Christ

I am talking about a theme that interested me in a Zoom discussion, not making a report on data. So don’t think I am coloring the Jesus Collective, please. I just think many of the people to whom I was listening may have struggled with finding a common Jesus lens because we could not agree where Christ is outside of ourselves, individually, from “my personal point of view” or “in my opinion.” I think most of the group were sincerely coming from a place where Christ is, in them.

In this age, most of us practice identity politics by habit, even though the idea didn’t really enter our societal imagination until the 1980s. So we present ourselves according to our sense of identity, usually based on our place in society: gay, Black, white, Canadian, Goth, engineer, etc. Nowadays the idea of identity is refined by the academics until no one feels safe until everyone has tagged themselves as a “cis white male he him his,” or whatever labels you.

It is easy to apply such hyperindvidualism to the Bible. You could read it this way:

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery,
which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom,
so that we may present everyone mature
in Christ. — Col. 1:27-8

Many people see one important thing in Paul’s statement: Christ in me is my hope of glory (that is, my hope of sharing God’s life and eternity). Meanwhile, the “mystery” Paul is talking about was made known to a group, not just me. What’s more, Paul is teaching “everyone.” And the goal is maturity “in Christ” not Christ maturing in me. I am not the mystery even though my right brain, at least, is organized to receive it.

I’m making one of those binary distinctions: is it Christ in me or is it me in Christ? It is both. But I think the mystery that was revealed is that we are welcomed to live in Christ. If you are tracking with me, I hope we are meditating on living in Christ together, so we can see with a Jesus lens and create environments where Jesus is known, not just thought about or turned into morality that looks like our present set of principles.

What is being in Christ?

The immediate “mystery” Paul was talking about in the previous passage is this: the Gentiles are also included as fellow heirs of God with the Jews. The ultimate mystery is this:  everyone living in Christ experiences hope as life wells up in us. (More from Pete Enns on mystery)

One could read the following portion individually: “Christ dwelling in me is the mystery revealed to me.” But, more accurately, we could read, “Me living in Christ is the mystery.”

For this reason I kneel before the Father,
from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you,
being rooted and established in love,
may have power,
together with all the Lord’s holy people, 
to grasp
how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,
 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:14-19

  • Being in Christ is being restored to one’s place in the family of God, the Creator of familiness.
  • Being in Christ is sending down roots into love, the humus of reality that grows humans.
  • Being in Christ is being one of God’s people as a primary identity
  • Being in Christ is entering the spacious environment of grace that is beyond human understanding

I need to kneel, I need to be strengthened in my inner being, I need power to grasp the gift I have been given, I need to be filled to my fullness. But none of this happens unless I am in Christ. Christ is in me because I am in Christ. That is the mystery of my remaking.

Hope: The quality of aliveness right under our noses

Last Saturday, I kept running into hope and it made me cry.

  • As I rolled in to the Good Business Oversight Team summit, Pie Jesus came on my player right when I was thinking about the epidemic of heroin-induced deaths in our city and country. My grief over the loss of hope among the victims (and now their families!) made me a dangerous, vision-impaired driver!
  • Then I went to the Love Feast and felt the worship team and the covenant-makers stoking our hope as they expressed theirs – we were, in fact, a Circle of Hope. It made me weep with joy.
  • Before we went to bed, we tuned into Netflix and watched the last episode of season six of the most Christian TV show ever: Call the Midwife. The sweetness of their hope in the middle of a changing world and troubling family situations unleashed my own hope – and the tears.
hope
Click the pic if you want to see the scene

What a wonder it is that so many of us are drawn away and turn away from the death-dealing world and find God “right under our noses” so to speak. We’re often like Dorothy waking up from her vision and realizing her heart’s desire was in her own backyard all the time and among those who love her.

As Cynthia Bourgeault ends her book Mystical Hope she tries to sum up her profound teaching about finding hope right under our noses, while rolling down Washington Ave, and especially in the moments of love we give and receive. She is teaching us to find hope in a new way, not as an object of desire, but as the subject who is as near as a turn of heart. I am going to quote quite a bit of it for you:

“I have tried to suggest a new way of picturing hope. In this new positioning, the underlying sense of corporateness is physically real, the that ‘electromagnetic field of love’ is the Mercy – and the Mercy is the body of Christ. Through this body hope circulates as a lifeblood. It warms, it fills, it connects, it directs. It is the heart of our own life and the heart of all that lives.

Hope’s home is the innermost point in us, and in all things. It is a quality of aliveness. It does not come at the end, as the feeling that results from a happy outcome. Rather, it lies at the beginning, as a pulse of truth that sends us forth. When our innermost being is attuned to this pulse it will send us forth in hope, regardless of the physical circumstances of our lives. Hope fills us with the strength to stay present, to abide in the flow of the Mercy no matter what outer storms assail us. It is entered always and only through surrender; that is through the willingness to let go of everything we are presently clinging to. And yet when we enter it, it enters us and fills us with its own life – a quiet strength beyond anything we have ever known.

And since that strength is, in fact, a piece of God’s purposiveness coursing like sap through our own being, it will lead us in the right way. It sweeps us along in the greater flow of divine life as God moves – and in the western religions, God does move – toward the fulfillment of divine purpose which is the deeper, more intense, more subtle, more intimate revelation of the heart of God.”

Long before we know Jesus, we have had experiences of being swept up in the flow of God’s good purpose. This “quality of aliveness” was called “righteousness” in the Old Testament, as in Psalm 23: “He restores my soul; he guides me in the paths of righteousness.” Unlike how many people read that couplet, the psalmist did not mean we should stay within the lines of a moral template so we will succeed at building an ideal replica of God’s kingdom and be justified by it. The poet was reminding us we live in a Spirit-charged “force field” (as we might picture it), a force field in which everything we do must move in order to come to fruit. The inner and outer need to sync up: our souls are restored and our feet are guided; as Jesus says, we become good trees that bear good fruit; as Psalm 1 says, we are good trees planted by flowing streams of righteousness.

In the New Testament, Paul calls this territory “in Christ.” In Christ we find that quality of aliveness we need.

To [his saints] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ….I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving…For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. – Colossians 1:27-2:10

“Christ in us” and “us in Christ” is the Mercy, that place of assured understanding, that mystery that continues to unfold as we experience it in our hearts “encouraged and united in love.” Christ in us is the “hope of glory.” In Christ we come to “fullness.”

Paul sounds a lot like Cynthia Bourgeault as she piles up metaphors and viewpoints, circling in on the mystical hope she can feel better than describe. Her everyday way to “in Christ” is meditation that turns her in toward that golden kernel of her true self, protected and saved by God. In a somewhat seamless movement, that everyday prayer then turned her out to write her book, knowing that no self-giving love is wasted in the world, not on her and not on us, either. Our prayer, especially the prayer of meditation, is not only what saves us from the world, it is also the key thing we do to save the world. It is our way to hope, our way to become a circle of hope, and our way toward encircling others with hope.

I have enjoyed sharing these five posts inspired by Bourgeault’s book. I’d love to hear how your own prayer was encouraged or developed as a result. Let me know. If you missed one, I think you can find them all by searching for “Cynthia Bourgeault” with the search bar.

More on Mystical Hope
Previous: Mystical hope in a deteriorating world
Swimming in the Mercy: The experience of hope
Anxious and tired: Prayer that turns us toward hope
There is hope: But you’ll need to die to enjoy it

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