In the past couple of weeks, we've discovered that a communal expression of Jesus is one that embraces its destiny as world-blessers. In Antioch (Acts 11:23-26; Acts 13:1-3) communities of people lived like the Crucified One (humble teachability, uncommon dependency, proactive, sacrificial generosity) in such tangible ways (restoration, reconciliation, and wrong things being made right) that those who didn't see Jesus as the fulfillment of God's Promises made fun of them: You act just like the Crucified One!
The called them Christian hoping to insult them...but the Christians wore the name like a badge of honor.
When the community of Antioch communities got together, I imagine they prayed prayers like this:
We want what we're experiencing for others!
What now, God? What next? And where?
In response, God's Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul...their two lead cultivators.
On paper, that doesn't make sense. Send away our two primary leaders?!
In God's economy, it makes perfect sense...because in God's economy its never about the leader(s).
The Antioch communities listened well and lived what they heard. They sent Barnabas and Saul who, in turn, went from city to city living and narrating the Story of God made real in Jesus. Wherever they went they faced opposition (usually from the super religious) but they always left a communal expression of Jesus in their wake. At the highest cost to their own well-being, we watch as they insisted on the spread of the Gospel.
What was it that fueled these two men? Was it strategy? Was it their creativity and where-with-all? Was it a manipulation technique rooted in their own desire for importance? Or was it something far deeper...far stronger...far more real?
What was it that empowered Paul to later write:
I must preach Christ! I must live Christ! Judge me for losing my Jewishness? Fine! I will become anything to anyone for the sake of them experiencing what I am experiencing in Christ. Judge me for living recklessly or for not stewarding my reputation? Fine! I cannot stop myself from living and narrating the Redemptive Story of God. Beat me up? Fine! Kille me? Fine! I must live and preach Christ!
What was it that fueled him forward? Belovedness.
Paul knew what God thought about him. He knew that his significance, value, worth, and identity were secure in the fact that He was God's beloved child.
How did that impact his everyday? Paul no longer lived fueled by shame, guilt, regret, or fear. He no longer existed to please or prove himself to God. God was pleased with Him. God was crazy about Him. He knew that when God looked at him, God saw him through lenses of red...God saw Jesus when He looked at Paul.
Thus, Paul also lived completely free from others' opinions of him. His security as the beloved child of God meant that he no longer cared what anyone else thought of Him. Living untethered to the need for people's affection meant that Paul lived free.
Christ, therefore, did not simply free Paul from the penalty of his sins. Christ freed Paul from the need for his own affection and the affection of others. Christ freed Paul to live an unhindered, reckless life for God. Christ freed Paul to live like Christ.
Belovedness. Its where this all began. Its where it all begins.
Following God in the Way of Jesus begins with you and I becoming people who learn to listen for, embrace, and become fueled by our belovedness.
The Postures and Practices of Jesus.
There is no once-and-for-all belovedness fix. Its impossible to come to a weekly gathering and get a once-a-week fix. Listening for, embracing, and becoming fueled by our belovedness is a daily practice that requires the posture of stillness and the practice of listening.
To this point, I was reading Isaiah 48 today and stumbled upon this:
You've never been good listeners to Me. You have a history of ignoring Me.
Is it possible that in being horrible listeners with a history of ignoring God that we have failed to listen of (or even become convinced of) our belovedness? Is it possible that in not listening for the voice of God, we're ignoring the sole truth with which God intends to fuel our lives: You're mine. You were worth My Son! I could not imagine living life without you. You are My beloved. Is it possible that in not listening for...in ignoring...the voice of God who repeatedly speaks to us of His love for us that our actions (righteous as they may be) are more about proving and earning then they are about responsive, compassionate obedience?
Is it possible?
So how do we listen for, embrace, and become fueled by our belovedness?
The Postures and Practices of Jesus.
Silence. Stillness. Saturation in the Scriptures. Communal Disciplined Dialogue (What is God saying to us? What is God inviting us to do about it?). Fasting. Living what we hear. Reflection/Remembering (oral, written, artistic).
Perhaps framed this way, the Postures and Practices of Jesus have nothing to do with earning or proving anything (to God, to ourselves, to others). Perhaps they are essential because it is only in the Postures and Practices that we listen for, can embrace, and become fueled to live The Story we claim to study.