I was reflecting yesterday on an old story. Yesterday was the thirty-six-year anniversary of the genesis of my high school nickname. I once made the mistake of trying to tell that story to someone who had only known me in the years following high school. I made that mistake only once. The reason it was a story-telling train wreck (actually, if it had included a train wreck it would have been a far better tale) is hard to say. In fact, the story itself is hard to relate because it was one of those spontaneous, silly, juvenile moments of life that is lost on those not present as witnesses. And that is, I suppose, why the re-telling was such a whimpering failure.
Dig into your memory bank. Recall the last time you experienced something take-your-breath-away hilarious, but because of the context and/or the complexity of the details, attempting to convey the hilarity of the moment only bored to death the poor saps to whom you later told it. Remember that experience that was so mind-blowing or so life-changing that it was nearly impossible to describe with the same pungency of the original experience.
Some experiences are so imprisoned to the moment that only witnessing them firsthand allows them to be truly “known.” This is not only true of some experiences, but of most relationships. If I suppose I can know someone else to any meaningful depth without being with them, I am a fool. To grasp the contrast, compare the depth of the relationship you had with your eventual spouse when you first passed him/her that note in study hall to your “knowing” of them now (assuming you are no longer in study hall). What makes the two levels of knowing so drastic? The amount of time being with them through a variety of experiences.
The same principle elevates genuine Christian faith above and beyond all other religious experiments. Faith in Christ is a walk. It transcends mental assent, verbal decree, or ritual behavior. It is encounter and experience. You have to be with Jesus to know Jesus.
Bill Hull has developed an effective tool for making disciples in churches by modeling the ministry of Jesus. This tool happens to also illustrate the relational nature of Christian faith. From beginning to end, Jesus called people to Himself (not to a religion). At every stage of His ministry His beckoning language was an invitation to relationship. At the start Jesus enticed potential followers with the words, “Come and see.” The invitation was not to attend a class entitled “Jesus: Liar, Lunatic or Lord,” or to meditate alongside Him on the Mount of Olives. Those first few curiosity seekers were challenged to tag along for a few months and get a feel for who this man was.
Later the urging of Jesus would pry a bit deeper when he said “Follow me.” The Rabbi sought an intentional attachment of life to life as disciples traveled with Him, watched Him teach, witnessed the miracles, and sat front row for His wrestling matches with the opposition. Slowly they were peeling their way deeper into the core of this man.
After a night in prayer, Jesus decided upon twelve men into whom He would pour His purpose and power. In essence, He said to them, “Be with me.” Jesus was opening Himself to share His presence with the Twelve, slowly engaging them in His ministry through delegation of responsibilities and investment of power.
The final phase of His discipling came from His words in John 15: “Remain/Abide in me.” The relationship became a union of soul to Spirit. Christ offered Himself as a home in which the disciple was to dwell. No greater intimacy may be experienced.
The beautiful and staggering thing about life in Jesus is how invasive it is intended to be. Faith in Christ means an encounter with the Living God through the Incarnate Son. All other religious expression fails as either a sterile adherence to doctrinal tenets, or a treading in waters of spiritual vagueness. Faith in Christ defies both errors: calling disciples to a personal encounter that is relational and quite tangible.
Because of this, the Jesus life cannot be understood apart from trusting Him to enter into it. Seeing comes after believing. We have to be there to get it. As much as we may want to relate to the skeptic the experience of walking with Jesus, it cannot be adequately done. All other religions can be passed along by the textbook. In Christ alone an actual life is bestowed.
So, Jesus invites us to encounter and experience Him. He provides no courses at satellite campuses. You must come to Him to know Him. And we, His disciples, must be diligent to go beyond an insipid retelling of the Jesus story. We must live it and allow those around us to encounter and experience Jesus through His body (that body is you and me, the Church).
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! – Psalm 34:8