The Abba Experience

Today I am reading in the book of Micah, in The Message translation of the Bible.

But for right now, they’re ganged up against you,
many godless peoples, saying,
“Kick her when she’s down! Violate her!
We want to see Zion gravel in the dirt.”
These blasphemers have no idea
what God is thinking and doing in this.
They don’t know that this is the making of God’s people,
that they are wheat being threshed, gold being refined.
(Micah 4:11-12, MSG)

Eugene Peterson writes in a commentary about this passage that judgment is painful, yet purposeful. There’s something to show for it when it’s over. “After the pain,” he writes, “you’re able to cradle new life in your arms.”

This passage also reminds me of Jesus’ experience at the cross. The people who were ganged up against Jesus had no idea what God was thinking and doing either. They didn’t know his suffering was the making of a people, opening the way to their refinement.

The author of Hebrews, in chapter 10, is ruminating on the cross. One thing he writes is,

But instead of removing awareness of sin, when those animal sacrifices were repeated over and over they actually heightened awareness of sin and guilt.
(Hebrews 10:2-3, MSG)

They certainly didn’t know when they were scorning Jesus that God was about all that business.

In the March 18 entry of Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning, he writes: “The greatest gift I have ever received from Jesus Christ has been the Abba experience.” (Abba is a Hebrew word for Dad. Father is a bit too formal, Daddy a bit too immature, for the well-rounded, mature connotation of the “dad” we have in God.) Jesus gave us that gift at the cross. We don’t have to reject the possibility of an open, loving relationship with God because of our baggage. He’s claimed them already. He’s carrying them. It’s not a license to sin further, which is discussed by other Biblical authors, but it is a way to allow ourselves to live loved by God and love him and others as a result of that living loved.

Not only is our guilt removed, but our awareness of it can be removed, too, if we let it, opening the way for intimate relationship.

So, friends, we can now–without hesitation–walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.
(Hebrews 10:19-21, MSG)

That ties right into what I read in Micah today, about judgment refining us. Not only does judgment in our lives refine us, such as when the Israelites were unfaithful so long and hard and ended up in long-term exile, but the judgment that Jesus endured in our place has the power to refine us if we choose to enter into the relationship with God that has been opened up to us through that sacrifice.

Noah Stepro said recently in a sermon called “Giving Up: Expectations,”

We can’t know the father, you can’t follow Jesus, you can’t experience the Spirit through logic, hard work, or moral behavior. You can only know God through a renewal, or a rebirth, of your spirit. And we’re called to be a community of renewal. That’s our vision. That we’re joining God in the renewal of all things. And that’s really hard to do if we’re old and decrepit and dying inside, and we’re living off the faith of last week, or a year ago, or our childhood…. We’re called to be present with the Lord today.

I’m certain I’ll gain no popularity for saying it, but there is great renewal to be had through judgments as discussed above. It’s through trials I’ve been refined. When I was radically steeped in my own pride a few years ago, God humbled me. I honestly believe there was some judgment taking place in my life at that time. The judgment of some of God’s people at that time, I admit, only hurt me and propelled me further into my rebellion and pride. Yet, the perfect, gracious judgment of God brought with it a radical reformation of my character. And none of that would be possible were it not for the judgment Christ received on our behalf at the cross, opening the way for open, loving communion with our creator.

I’m certain my ramblings are a bit cyclic today. But that’s okay. The Bible is cyclic, too. I’m just glad I have my Abba to hold my hand and twirl me in this dance called life.

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Disciple

I think the concept of discipleship is really foundational to living the life Jesus calls us to live. For years I’ve found myself rather disgruntled at the way Christian culture tends to trivialize really important things like belief, community and following Jesus.

It’s not enough to think the right things. Even Satan believes that Jesus died and rose again so humans can re-connect to the Father, but he won’t have a place in eternity with God at the resurrection for that belief any more than we will for merely thinking the right thing. That’s not Christianity, it’s Gnosticism. We can think the right things all we want, but Jesus asks us to believe in him, and that is much more simple, and much more costly, than an education or a choice alone. Belief in Jesus isn’t only mental. It’s life-changing. Belief in Jesus involves learning to trust him with life and soul and heart and being, in this life as much as the next. It’s certainly not instantaneous the moment we accept him as our God, but true belief brings us into the embrace of the one who will gradually turn us into disciples. If we trust the bus driver to get us to our destination, we’ll at least get on the bus and let him take us there, even if it will take time to get there.

It’s also not enough to gather once or twice a week in a crowded and controlled environment where only a few end up finding the communal family bond with one another that God offers us through Jesus. Where many are able to enter in to the worship and prayer sessions, but many others aren’t, because they haven’t had a chance to become intimate with the people gathered there enough to step into that zone with them. We have the potential for a rare form of connection as the adopted sons and daughters of God to bond deeply and become a family. I’ve seen it in AA meetings, in therapy groups, in mommies-of-young-ones meetings, and in smaller, tighter settings of faith communities gathering to do life together in celebration and love. Where there is intimacy and safety, there is a rich opportunity for discipleship.

I believe it’s not enough to eat a teeny cracker and drink a teeny tenth of a shot of grape juice in a brief, solemn, although heartfelt, symbolic act, when Jesus said to dine together in celebration of his life and resurrection whenever we get together. We’ve lost a powerful, uniting demonstration of joy by losing the tradition of the love feasts. For me, it’s like the difference between a family gathering for dinner and a family gathering for a tiny snack. There’s a richness that’s missing from the snack table, that can only be found in the more sustaining dinner table–regarding the potential for relationship as much as nutrition.

Noah Stepro pointed out in his recent sermon series on Discipleship that “disciple” isn’t a common word in our culture. It’s not one of those words that everyone just understands upon hearing. It’s something that has largely fallen by the wayside in understanding and use. For example, our educational systems are largely filled with book learning and lectures, as opposed to hands-on learning at a master’s feet. Our religious systems are also largely filled with the same. I’m not berating sermons. I just cited one by Noah above. But they’re supplemental to a life lived in the dust of the one we’re following. We don’t get very dirty in a classroom, but when we walk in the footsteps of a great leader, we end up with dust all over us (especially where I live, where more dust grows than trees).

Brennan Manning writes in the March 25 entry of Reflections for Ragamuffins, “Until I lay my head on Jesus’ breast, listen to his heartbeat, and personally appropriate the Christ-experience of John’s eyewitness, I have only a derivative spirituality. My cunning imposter [the fake self we project] will borrow John’s moment of intimacy and attempt to convey it as if it were my own.”

I would like to see a return to Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel, wherein Jesus asks us to make disciples, to teach people how to actually live the life he had just modeled for us. He doesn’t ask us to make sure everyone has right thinking, regardless of right living. He didn’t go through all he went through from his early experiences with his chosen people, to his incarnation, humiliation, torture, and even the worst kind of human death of the day, so we will believe academically that he did it all for us and then live without him anyway.