IVP - Online Pulpit - December 2011 Archives

December 21, 2011

The Beauty of God With Us

By Matt Woodley

A few years ago I had the chance to work at a group home for six developmentally disabled adults. I assumed my job would be fun and easy, hanging out with the residents, watching television, eating communal meals and bringing them to concerts at the beach. I was wrong.

The job wasn’t always easy or fun. I discovered that I could do things for them, but I found it difficult to be with them. They continually confounded my tidy expectations about people with developmental disabilities. “William” would tell clever lies in order to pit staff members against his vindictive, overprotective older sister. “Robert” dealt with his sadness by watching Johnny Depp movies for hours on end.

Whenever the residents acted manipulatively, expressed rage or withdrew into their sadness, I often felt anxious or inadequate. Facing my own powerlessness and incompetence terrified me: I either wanted to fix them, numb my feelings or just quit.

Thankfully, I stayed long enough to learn a valuable lesson: authentic relationships require personal presence. In order to grow in love, the real me must show up and be present to the real you—not the you that I think you are or that I want you to be. Authentic love includes my willingness to be with you in all your beauty and promise as well as all of your brokenness, sin and anguish.

The Gospel of Matthew begins with a remarkable claim: Jesus is God with us (Mt 1:23). In and through Jesus God walks among us, offering his personal presence to us in all of our beauty and brokenness. This Gospel records many of Jesus’ miracles, but perhaps these are the three greatest miracles: (1) in Jesus, God is with us and he wants to be with us; (2) through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God is still with us; (3) through his Spirit, Jesus is with us as we go into the world sharing the gospel.

Surprisingly, although Matthew’s Gospel contains a huge story of transformation (Jesus calls it “The renewal of all things” (Mt 19:28), and although Jesus asks for our wholehearted commitment, he also never asked us to follow him on a triumphant, overachieving, failure-free path to the spiritual life. This “Big Way” of discipleship eventually leads to spiritual burnout, disillusionment or self-righteous pride. Instead, Jesus constantly asks us to follow him along his “Little Way,” allowing the Father to work through our poverty of spirit, our failures and suffering, our quiet obedience and trust, and our small acts of mercy for vulnerable people—sinners, outcasts, the poor and the forgotten. This “Little Way” makes discipleship accessible to all of us—except the self-righteous and the alleged experts. Jesus himself provided the way to follow him: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28-30).

So based on Jesus’ open-hearted, merciful invitation, we come and we keep coming back to Jesus. We come not because we’re worthy or qualified. We come not because we won’t stumble or fail. We simply come because he told us to come, and that’s always enough.

woodleyOP.jpgMatt Woodley is managing editor for preachingtoday.com. He served as pastor for over twenty years most recently as senior pastor of Three Villages Church in Long Island, New York. He is the author of The Folly of Prayer and, most recently, The Gospel of Matthew, a commentary in our Resonate Series.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:23 AM | Comments (1) are closed

December 8, 2011

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement

Thanks to Al Hsu for this contribution. Al is an editor at InterVarsity Press and has written multiple books, including The Suburban Christian and Grieving a Suicide.

Sometimes people “get it” when something just “clicks” and everything makes sense. More often, though, people may understand something in their head but it doesn’t stick with them. It doesn’t transfer into life change or true Christian discipleship. Why is that?

Well, it might be the same reason why you can’t remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday but you can remember all the lyrics from that song from your senior prom. When you hear the song on the radio, not only do the lyrics come to mind but the whole experience comes rushing back. You remember where you were, who you were with and how you felt, whether good or bad. Something happened that moved those song lyrics from your head into your heart.

Something similar needs to happen in our teaching and preaching of Scripture. Maybe that’s what it means to hide the Word of God in our heart and not just the mind. Singer/songwriter Michael Card says that the missing element connecting the two is the imagination: “We regard the imagination as a bridge between the heart and the mind.”

lukeOP.jpgMichael Card has been thinking imaginatively about Scripture ever since he studied under New Testament scholar William Lane in college. It’s the approach that has shaped his music career and his distinctive style of musical teaching. Now in Card’s new Biblical Imagination series, he looks at the Gospels with the head of biblical scholarship but also engages the imagination to envision what it might have been like to experience what the disciples experienced as they walked with Jesus. In the introduction to Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, Card writes:

“Some of us embrace the Bible with our hearts, which is right to do, and yet we do not bring disciplined minds into the process. Sometimes the reverse is true: we apply first-rate minds to the Bible and yet fail to be sensitive to what the Word is whispering to our hearts. In the end, it is not a heart problem, nor is it a head problem. It is an integration problem.” (p. 13)

So Card asks imaginative questions about what it would have been like to be Luke as he interviews eyewitnesses of Jesus. How did being a doctor help him notice certain details? Why is Luke attracted to particular stories and people? What would it have been like to stand in the crowd, to hear Jesus’ teaching, to feel his healing touch?

If you want a fresh engagement with the Gospel of Luke, check out Luke in the Biblical Imagination Series. You might, like Luke himself, find yourself amazed anew at Jesus.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 12:03 PM