Up The High Mountain

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. — Matthew 17:1, NRSV

Peter, James, and John are members of the original Christian “congregation.” They meet constantly, receiving Divine teaching from the Messiah and witnessing His works of compassion, healing, and justice. Their understanding of Jesus, however, still has much room for expansion.

As a part of the group, these three witnessed plenty of miraculous and awe-inspiring things. Jesus has healed countless people, fed thousands with a mere lunch, calmed storms, and walked on water. Yet the fullness of His identity as the perfect embodiment of the Law and Prophets of Israel, plus His Divine Sonship, has eluded the disciples until these three were called away “by themselves” in the Transfiguration story.

It’s when these disciples decide to accept Jesus’ invitation to climb up a high mountain alone with Him that they see Him in all His glory. It’s at this point that I find a valuable teaching, because many people striving to be faithful become stifled or complacent with “group think.” This limits their personal experience of God to moments sometimes engineered, dulled, or manipulated by community.

Now.

It’s important to have a community of faith that holds you accountable, forces you to encounter difference, and provides group worship that facilitates God’s movement in your heart and life. Faith is not a solo-only effort. We are communal animals, after all.

BUT.

What tends to happen is people leave their spirituality with whatever the community does or decides, often without taking time to consider whether or not all the facets of that community’s faith are consistent with the truth of God that individual has experienced. Sometimes half the teachings don’t make sense when thoughtfully considered, but we are encouraged to just let that go because “it’s all faith.” The problem is that faith doesn’t have to defy consistency or your own sense of what God has done or revealed in your life.

This is why it is important to also take responsibility for your own spiritual growth.

No priest, pastor, organization, or fun group of people can make up for a lack of intentional pursuit of the reality of God in your life. If you actually want to know God, you’ll have to accept His invitation, climb the high mountain, and learn to recognize Him. This takes dedication and work, often more than many people are willing to do.

But it is worth it.

There is peace and joy in knowing how close God is to you. There is beauty in realizing how sacred all people, places, and moments truly are if we become aware of God’s Presence on it all. Even if you find that your comfort zone no longer suits your needs, that scary pursuit of the unknown becomes infinitely more bearable when you are faced with personally encountering the Source of all that exists.

I hope you will take a moment to consider what you believe and why. I hope you know just how close God is to you already, and I hope you will accept His invitation to follow, recognize, and delight in Him.

Peace be with you!

Faith and 3-D Movies

When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart; and all these signs came to pass that day. — 1 Samuel 10:9, RSV

Have you ever gone to a 3-D movie? I’m personally not a huge fan, but I’ve still managed to find myself dragged to Finding Nemo, My Bloody Valentine, and other headache-inducing films that required plastic glasses. What I found was that the movie was actually more annoying without the glasses, all fuzzy and oddly distorted. When I put on the glasses, I may not have liked things flying at me, but at least I got to fully experience the actual movie.

I find that faith works in much the same way.

Living in a consumerist nation like the U.S., it is second nature to want some kind of proof or evidence before committing to anything. If I am going to purchase a product, its quality and function should somehow be vouched for or proven, which makes sense. The problem comes when we apply this kind of thinking to the experience of God.

As I will talk about next week, the Church is not meant to operate like the rest of the world. While we can shop for and “dip our toes” into everything else, the life of faith is one that comes to fruition only after we surrender to it in one way or another. Just like the movie, an immersive experience is the only way to get a full sense of God’s promises and action in the world.

The quote that kicks off this post comes from 1 Samuel 10, in which Samuel anoints Saul as the first king of Israel. After Samuel gives Saul a detailed account of all that is to come, God gives Saul “another heart,” and then “all these signs came to pass that day.” Before Saul could experience all the wonders God had in store for him, he needed a new heart, to become a different person.

As Christians, we are to “be transformed by the renewal” of our minds, in order to “prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Before we can fully experience, appreciate, and participate with regard to the Divine Presence, we must change by accepting God’s invitation as offered through Jesus. Even if we aren’t entirely sold on the idea, we must at least be truly willing to try, actively inviting God to give us a new heart with which we might understand the truth.

I used to spend much of my life waiting for signs to show me it was acceptable to submit myself to discipleship. I wanted to know this was true, dammit! The interesting thing is that it was only after I decided to actively try to believe (even in the absence of my required evidence) that I began to see all that God was doing in my life.

If you’ve been sitting around waiting for signs, I can honestly tell you that I understand. We are taught from a young age to look for evidence, to never commit to something without proving it first. However, I can also honestly tell you that the only signs you’re likely to encounter are those that point you to the curtain of faith. For anything more, you’ll have to walk behind that curtain.

What does this look like? Practice. Faith is learned by doing, not by abstract theories and considerations. If you want to see God at work among the poor, go work among the poor. If you want to see prayer work, offer to pray with a hurting stranger. The Christian faith is designed to walk, talk, and breathe. It is earthy, tactile, and real, and it can only be fully experienced when practiced.

I continue to struggle with walking in the life of faith, as I’m sure many of us do. I’m skeptical by nature, and I second guess everything. However, I’ve found that when I stop debating every Divine moment in my head and simply act as Jesus leads me, powerful manifestations of the grace of God follow. I would covet your prayers as I continue on this lifelong journey, and it’s my prayer that you will walk this road with me, that we may together experience all that the Kingdom of God has in store for us.

Peace be with you!