You Just Have to be there!

Blind Faith (No. 23, 2017)
Weekly Devotional for June 8, 2017
You Just Have to be there!

A major attraction of vacation season is getting to experience firsthand
what we have only been able to think about or imagine previously. Other
people might have told us about their enervating, delightful direct
encounter with something they had eagerly anticipated. Maybe we have read
about a place or event or have imagined ourselves actually participating in
what we have seen onscreen. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but
being on location, feeling the expanse, smelling the aromas, and hearing the
sounds distinctive of that place are a different, higher order of life.

That is not to disparage visions of destinations we might gather
from stories, photos (yes, even selfies!) or videos that have piqued our
interest in taking a journey. Those images fuel our imaginations and
stimulate our desire to be in similar pictures and tales ourselves. Photo
Shopping ourselves into the picture or constructing a fictional narrative of
being there is not nearly enough. We often expend considerable effort to
make the representations as life-like as possible. TV screens in recent
decades have progressed from shadowy cathode ray tubes to digital displays
to high definition screens to 4K in order to offer ever-clearer video
resolution. Each development raises the bar significantly. HD is noticeably
sharper than previous image specifications, but 4K quadruples the number of
pixels comprising the image. The picture can take on near-3-dimension
quality without the funny glasses! Viewers can approach a 4K screen more
closely without any distraction by the dots making up the image. The
difference between HD and 4K is similar to the sharper, more vivid
replacement of the First Baptist Church, Huntsville “Cosmic Christ” mosaic.
The original mosaic was comprised of about 1.4 million ceramic tiles, while
the renewed mosaic will be made of 4.3 million glass tiles. The image will
be clearer, with enticing subtleties of color missing from the original. The
greater resolution is sure to be striking — but it is still only a flat
image on a wall and not the essential living Christ.

Personal involvement with the places and events we have imagined
makes all the difference. Watching a documentary or seeing a friend’s photos
of the Grand Canyon cannot compare with standing on the edge of the
magnificent gorge and sensing God’s awesome power in creating such a wonder.
Opening a post of beach photos someone has shared on social media does not
approach walking on the squeaky shoreline sand or playing waist-deep in the
crashing surf. Imagining the beauty of Paris is a pale spectre of gazing
over the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower or looking down the
Champs-Élysées from atop the Arc de Triomphe. A postcard or brochure
panorama from the height of a roller coaster in a beloved amusement park is
no substitute for being in the ride’s car – and taking the screaming plunge!
You just have to be there!

Paul did his best to describe what living in faithful
relationship with Jesus is like. He wrote careful letters to dear friends in
churches he planted across the Roman Empire. Time and again he tried to
communicate clearly the amazing grace God bestowed upon us in sending his
son, Jesus, to forgive our sin and to set us free to live life in its
fullest. When he was present with believers and other inquirers about the
way of Jesus he tried to model plainly how to love others like Jesus did and
how to encourage others to follow Jesus faithfully. But Paul knew that just
reading about Jesus or seeing someone trying to imitate Jesus simply was not
enough. He continually invited people to experience living by faith in Jesus
for themselves. Nothing else would do. Only by personal involvement with
Jesus by faith would they transcend a flat conception of Jesus to become
engrossed in firsthand knowledge and understanding of living by faith.

When Paul wrote to his original audience he was addressing each
of us, too. The first believers in Ephesus did not have as much background
in God’s grace and loving-kindness as some, so he assured them that he was
praying for them to step into faithful living for themselves. His prayer for
them is also a prayer for us to experience life with Christ firsthand.
Carefully note the personal, full-dimensional nature of faith and the truly
awesome experience with God that Paul invites us into:

I pray that, according to the riches of [God’s] glory, he may grant that you
may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, {17}
and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being
rooted and grounded in love. {18} I pray that you may have the power to
comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height
and depth, {19} and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
{20} Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish
abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, {21} to him be glory in
the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:16-21 NRSV)

Paul prays for more than an ultra-HD image of life with Christ. He is not
content with merely entertaining people with his own testimony of living
with Jesus. He implores us to get going on the journey of walking with Jesus
day-by-day, and he prays that God will be our constant tour guide! It’s not
enough to live vicariously through someone else’s depiction or testimony of
living by faith in Jesus. God’s gift of such life is far beyond what we can
think or imagine. You just have to be there yourself!

· J. Edward Culpepper

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