Friday, January 9, 2009

Y2J and M&M : A Discussion and Outlook for 2009

About a year ago, the thought occurred to me that life sort of happens at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street.

Let me explain...

FIRST: Life

By life, I'm not referring to one's physical existence or even a lifespan, nor am I speaking exclusively of one's soul. What I have in mind is the quality of one's life and the reality that we are eternal beings. I am envisioning the glorious, free, abundant and forever life that God has made available to everyone in Jesus.

The New Testament differentiates between these characteristics of life in at least three ways, and it does so with the help of these Greek words... bios (bee-os, from which we get our word biology, it's a physical lifespan and can also include the goods and material things by which life is sustained); psuche (psoo-khay, one of two terms from which we get our word psychology, it's the eternal essence of one's life, the soul), and zoe (dzo-ay, from which we get our word zoology, this too is the soul, but more than that it's the absolute fullness of the life and soul, it belongs to God, it is real and genuine, it is joyfully devoted to God, and it is lasts forever and ever).

For clarity, here are a few biblical references from Jesus' good friend John...

bios... all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life [bios], is not from the Father, but is from the world (1 John 2:16); and, whoever has the world's goods [bios] and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17) Bios pertains to the physical.

psuche... Peter said to Him. "Lord, why can I not follow you right now? I will lay down my life [psuche] for You. Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life [psuche] for me?" (John 13:37-38a); and, greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life [psuche] for his friends. (John 15:14) Psuche is in some ways the essence of who we are.

zoe... In Him - Jesus - was life [zoe], and the life [zoe] was the Light of men (John 1:4); truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life [zoe] (John 6:47); this is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life [zoe] (1 John 2:25); and, he who has the Son has life [zoe]; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life [zoe] (1 John 5:12) Zoe is the fullness, the absolute and final reality of our being.

So with the idea that life happens at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street, I am saying that zoe happens there, as in the absolute fullness and central reality of who we are. I can have Bill Gates or Donald Trump bios, and I can have everything one could possibly dream of and work for (i.e., a long and healthy existence, a ginormous house, a fat bank account, endless retirement security, all the toys, etc.) but without zoe I don't really have anything at all. Likewise, I can (and do) have psuche, but without zoe I miss the mark. Psuche can be poured out, but if it is not poured out for Jesus, it is wasted. That's why Jesus said, many will say to me, 'Lord, didn't we do a lot of marvelous and mighty things in your name?' And I will say to them, 'Yes, but I never knew you, and you don't know me. I'm dreadfully sorry, but I have to say goodbye to you forever.' (Matthew 7:23) There are a lot of things, a lot of good and necessary things, that we can do with our psuche, but only with zoe, and that only in Jesus, will I discover that quality of life that God has made available to the whole world thru faith in Jesus Christ.

So, life, zoe, happens at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street.

SECOND: Jesus Way

It was the well-known theologian (tongue-in-cheek), Bob Dylan, who penned these lyrics...

...you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

And, Jesus spoke these oft-quoted words to His friends one day...

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14) Incidentally, if you have a hunch that the leads to life part may be part of my theme here, you are right. The way is hard, Jesus said, that leads to zoe.

We all have choices to make when it comes to the way we live, and Jesus calls us to a particular journey that is difficult and at the same time the only path that leads us to what He calls real life.

THIRD: Me Street

I am, at my core, a terribly conflicted individual, a fact that is so because I am insanely bent against the God of zoe. There are many things that I know I must do and yet often fail to do, and there are many things that I know I musn't do and yet often do, all because of the nasty reality of my flesh. My flesh is weak, it is flawed, it is corrupt, it cannot be counted on for anything good, and my passions constantly rage and quarrel and war within it. My flesh is unloving, unlovely, woeful, enraged, impatient, unkind, evil, unfaithful, crude, troubled, and out-of-control... everything that the Spirit, the Jesus Way, is not. There is nothing about it that allows me to live well... especially not the Jesus Way.

I can't even blame the devil for the awfulness of my flesh. It was Calvin who once said though Satan instills his poison, and fans the flames of our corrupt desires within us, we are yet not carried by any external force to the commission of sin, but our own flesh entices us, and we willingly yield to its allurements. Jesus' half-brother agrees... each person is tempted when he is lured and entirec by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it has fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15) This is the reality: I sin because my flesh can't help it, because I want to, because I enjoy it.

Me Street is a terribly ugly thoroughfare.

FOURTH: The Intersection

I quite naturally prefer and tend to do what I want to do. To do any other thing is purely and completely an act attributable only to the benevolence of divine grace, and this is a gift that at any given moment of rightness allows me to put to death that which conflicts my soul, that with which I wrestle and struggle and want so much to permanently rid myself of. And this interaction always takes place at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street. My life - my zoe - depends on making the right choice... and the ironic part of this is I am generally unaware of how this all works. Did I just make the right choice or did Jesus show up and smother me in grace and deliver me from disaster? Maybe it's both. All I know is that, given my inclination to do things my way, the only good that comes from me is the good that Jesus works in and thru me.

Puritan John Owen makes my point with this statement: "The vigor and power and comfort of our spiritual life depends on our mortification of deeds in the flesh."

God help me to struggle along the Jesus Way rather stumble and bumble around on Me Street.

So I am sure by now you may be wondering what in the world all this has to do with 2009 and Y2J and M&M. Good question... here's the best I can do in explaining that for right now.

#1 -- Y2J
I want 2009 to be a year in which I increasingly and consistently choose zoe when standing at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street, because that is when and where life happens.

I want to experience zoe like never before.

I want to Yield to Jesus.
The details? I'm still working my way thru them.

#2 -- M&M

No, I don't want this to be the year in which I consume more M&M's, plain or peanut or otherwise, than ever before. (As a side note, do you remember the scene in The Nutty Professor when Eddie Murphy's character was sitting in his living room late one night watching TV, and he took a big bag of M&M's, tipped his head back, opened his mouth and dumped the bag into his mouth? Wouldn't that be awesome to do just once? Just eat and eat and eat M&M's. Mmmm...)

But I do want this to be the year in which I choose the good part, the better thing, the only truly essential thing. And for some odd reason I remember M&M's and the whole plain or peanut? question, as in which one is better? And somehow in my wierd mind I connect M&M's to Mary and Martha (obviously because of their initials) and then I automatically think "the better thing." So there you have it. Milk chocolate, with or without peanuts, always with a candy coating, leads me to think of two women who spent some time with Jesus, one in particular whom he praised for having chosen the only thing that really matters... spending time at the feet of Jesus. But what does that mean?

I don't necessarily see the story of Mary and Martha as primarily being a contrast between the choices those two women made... although there are unquestionably necessary observations to be made on that level. Neither do I see this passage as one that pastors need to break out every other year on Mother's Day because they preached from Proverbs 31 the year before... if anything, maybe this story should be taught on Father's Day.

What I do see is the heart of discipleship... sitting at Jesus' feet, listening to Him more than talking to Him, and just spending time with Him because He's such an amazing character to hang with. By the way, for Mary to sit at Jesus' feet was... no, let me put it this way... for Jesus to allow Mary to sit at His feet was flat out radical. Rabbis didn't allow women to be within earshot of their teaching in that culture, let alone sit intently and personally and privately at their feet, the customary position of every student in that day. So for Mary to be sitting there at Jesus feet may well have had more than a few people just a little bit fired up... including one busy-beaver, suzie-homemaker by the name of Martha.

But the real point is this... Jesus commended Mary for having chosen the good part because without hearing from Him, she could do nothing... just like you and just like me. Jesus told His disciples in John 15 that they could do nothing without Him. He told them to abide in Him and then watch what He would accomplish thru them. He told them to abide in His love and keep His commandments, just as they had watched Him keep His Father's commandments and just like He had abided in His Father's love. And He told them to do these things so that His joy would be in them.

We can't do anything without Jesus. And we can't do anything with Jesus until we go to Him and humble ourselves in His presence. And we can't find a better place to do that than to go to His Word, the Bible, for it is there that He speaks most clearly to us. And we can't find a better second place to go to Him than in prayer, for it is there that we find peace.

We can't be healed in the places we are desperate for healing until we spend time with Him and let His loving, gracious self touch us. We can't be comforted unless we hear His peaceful whispers. We can't have victory in the areas that we need victory until we grasp that He is our victory. We can't have any hope at all unless He is leading the way.

We need to be M&M'ers, mostly the former, Mary that is, and choose the only truly essential thing.

Y2J and M&M. They go hand in hand. We really can't have one without the other.

Lord... help us.

5 comments:

Deb D. said...

Greg:

I have been following your site for some time and sincerely enjoy the depth of who you are and what you share, as well as the humor and "real-ness" as well.

There is some information I haven't found yet. Perhaps it is right in front of my eyes and I am so missing it, or I just didn't read the right blog. But I am wanting to understand what the Luke Sponberg foundation's mission is. Is it up and running? Can you please expound on it some?

Thank you.

Deb in Indiana

KK said...

Yeah me 1 out of 2:) That is pretty good for an old lady don't you think?

Seriously, thanks for one of the best posts I've read in some time. I'll be forwarding this to my little brother since I know he'll enjoy it this evening. Thanks for sharing your mind and your heart as we all try harder to "Yield" to JESUS. Amen.
Praying for you and your family without ceasing,
Kaye

Angie said...

I hope 2009 brings us peace.
Ang

Mrs. H said...

Great discussion - great topic. Thank you for digging into it so thoroughly.

Tracy P. said...

This is fabulous. The women of our church are doing an M&M study right now--Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. It seemed to be fairly basic at first, although I never really mind that because there are some basics I always need to brush up on. However, today I read the chapter called Lessons from Lazarus, and it absolutely plunged to a new level of depth. Awesome. Good read.

I'm adding you to my blog roll.