There were no special speakers.
There was no set program or agenda.
There were no presentations, projectors or video clips.
The were no musical instruments, except for a guitar.
I knew almost everyone in the group, and so I was aware of some imposing academic qualifications and remarkable professional accomplishments. I also knew how incredibly gifted and skilled some of these people were. And I knew that quite a few were involved in areas of selfless, sacrificial service that would qualify them to be sainted by the Pope.
But hardly anyone else knew, none of it mattered and nothing was ever mentioned. We were mere brothers and sisters, and what we had in common far outshone everything else we had done in our lives, both good and bad.
Our common ground, I believe, can best be described as a simple conviction that the fullness of God is to be found in Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ has made himself unimaginably accessible to each and everyone of us.
If this truth does not strike you as mind-bogglingly profound, then it can only be because the reality of it has never dawned on you.
The fullness of God… Can we even begin to imagine what this means? Those famous Hubble telescope images testify to one small part of who he is. The rainforests of the world to another. The beauty of romance, and of music… The inexplicable nature of young children… The ocean… The fragrances, from flowers to freshly ground coffee beans… The tastes…
The list goes on and on, and still we are nowhere close to describing or comprehending his fullness.
God poured the totality of this fullness into Christ, and then Christ invited us to come to him and partake of him as a starving man would partake of a banquet prepared for a king.
This is who he is. This is what he has done for us.
Most of all: He knew who he was dealing with. He knew what he had to to for the whole thing to work out and not be undermined by our imperfections.
And so he bypassed us and gave us a single instruction: Forget about yourself and look at Jesus Christ. Behold him, hear him, trust him. That’s all you need to do. Learn from him. Do so, and you shall find yourself coming face to face with the living God…
If you believe this, I mean truly believe it, then you will soon experience an unintended and inevitable consequence: You will begin to lose the taste for depictions of him.
Mere words will no longer suffice. Screaming men in suits will no longer seem to channel him. Neither will hulky youth leaders with Jesus tattoos and designer specs, or trance-like worship songs sung by beautiful girls with angelic voices, or fog on the stage, or feathers from angels’ wings, or street healings, or football stadiums filled with people…
When compared with the face of Christ, all of it will seem like the dust of death. This disturbing awareness will become progressively stronger, and you will not be able to shake or suppress it.
It will be a natural consequence of another awareness rising up in you, something that you may never have experienced and that you do not have words for. And then, slowly but surely, you will begin to understand: This thing that I am experiencing…this is the love of God…this is love for God.
I spoke and preached about faith for more than three decades, and I realize now that I hardly knew what I was talking about. What I have just described is faith. Faith is not, as some have suggested, a type of positive mindset magic that can coerce God into falling in with your plans. Nor is it a confessed belief in a series of propositional statements called a “creed.”
No, faith is to simply look away from yourself and to look to the Author of Life. This is what Abraham did, and this is the only thing that will ever qualify any person to be worthy of the name “child of Abraham.”
Believe me: Apart from this, no salvation exists.
And so God has given us faith and love, and a way to him that is so simple that a child can find it, yet too simple for those of us who think that he needs our gimmicks to turn him into an object of interest.
What type of a god needs an atmosphere in which to reveal himself? What type of a god requires dimmed lights, and mood music, and the astounding facilitation of his presence by some or other dynamic individual who knows just “how,“ in order to show up?
I’m not sure. The hypnotic prerequisites for this type of manifestation makes me think that he is not really a “he,” but an “it” – a god of our imagination.
The good news, as mentioned earlier, is that Jesus Christ knew who he was dying for. He understands our pagan inclinations. He understand our propensity to redefine faith and turn it into something “we must do.” He understands that sheep fall prey to wolves. He knows all of it, much better than we can ever imagine.
The fullness of God indwells him, remember?
And so he is patient with us. He will even allow us to see something of him whilst pursuing his presence in the most ridiculous of manners. But this is not to endorse our behavior. It is to assist us to turn from it. Whilst we are presuming on the riches of his kindness and forbearance, he is giving us time to repent.
Which brings me back to the weekend. And to an observation of what happens when a group of people who have been spoilt for the God-facilitation industry come together in the name of the One who has spoilt it for them.
It is an amazing thing to share a common interest in the Christ who is within us. It is to stare at one another in utter wonder and amazement, knowing that the revelation of the Jesus in my brother is complimentary to the revelation of the Jesus in me.
It is to behold one another as though one is beholding Christ, knowing that we will encounter dimensions of him in and through one another that is not accessible anywhere else.
And so we had to force every conversation to come to an end. Our insight into the mystery of God expanded again and again. It would have been no different if he was sitting there in our midst, speaking to us, revealing the Father to us.
In fact, that is exactly what he did. He was there – in his body.
A wise brother said something towards the end of the weekend: “You cannot put the wind in a box.” And we all understood. There is a depth of understanding and “knowing” that is restricted to the fellowship of the body. When we “behold” Christ in one another, we see things that are not seen when we are by ourselves. We cannot capture these revelations, box them, take them home, turn them into information and retrieve them at leisure. Moses and Elijah won’t camp on mountains.
And so we left, longing for our next gathering, longing for that part of Christ that can only be seen when we come together as his members and display the miracle of God’s fullness in our love for one another.