I had the amazing opportunity to preach at The Open Door Christian Church yesterday. This is a dynamic congregation, started a little over seven years ago in New London, MN by my long-time friend Steve Bakke. Since that time they have continued to grow in numbers and in depth. It's an exciting congregation that has a deep sense of the authority of God's word and their calling to be an outpost of God's mission in this world. Last summer, The Open Door acquired a decommissioned Bible camp called Decision Hills that has now become our new worship center. The joy and burden of caring for that property is what pulled me in to work alongside my friend Steve in this great congregation.
I preached yesterday on John 17:1-5, focusing especially on verse 3: "And this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." This idea of "life" is one that we need to pay attention to in the Bible if we're going to track what Jesus is all about. In John 10 Jesus defines his purpose for coming: "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly." So it's been a powerful experience to spend the last several weeks focusing on what it means to have "eternal life."
(If you care to listen to the sermon, you can do that here.)
As I've continued to think more about this idea of "abundant life" -- which seems to be what Jesus meant by "eternal life," in spite of the fact that we so often make "eternal life" about what happens after death rather than a vibrant experience of God's presence and power in this life as Jesus described -- I've been struck by an Old Testament parallel.
Often the Bible makes a physical action or situation in the Old Testament link up with a spiritual truth in the New Testament. In this case, I'm convinced that the Israelites' experience of being freed from slavery in Egypt, wandering in the wilderness as God shaped them for a generation, and entering into the Promised Land and taking possession of it parallels what God wants for us as we live in relationship with him. It's not hard to see the parallel between conversion and the Exodus, when God sets us free from the bondage of our old life. (By the way, "conversion" isn't a one-time thing -- we need to be set free over and over again.) Wandering in the wilderness is something we experience all too often, because God needs to strip us down and shape us into what he wants us to become.
But few Christians really get what it is to enter into the Promised Land. We fail to take hold of the abundant life Jesus talked about and modeled. Instead, we limp along in our confusion and shame and brokenness, and at best we maybe hope for a heaven in which things will be better someday.
I'm convinced that a large part of what God wants for us -- and a large part of what God intends for his church -- is that we should live into and take hold of the fullness of abundant life here and now, on this side of death. Understand, I'm NOT advocating a prosperity gospel that says you can have everything you want. Rather, I'm saying that so many of us settle for far less than God wants to give us precisely because we are too fearful to lay aside our easy answers, our medicating behaviors, our complacency. We are afraid to risk what it might mean to take hold of abundant life and live into the promises of God. In fact if you strip down the way Christians often describe heaven, it sounds like benefit without risk, without the possibility of brokenness or failure.
So I've started reading the book of Deuteronomy. This book is Moses' address to the Israelites as they're preparing to enter and take possession of the Promised Land. If you read with an eye to understanding these things, the book of Deuteronomy is practically a how-to manual for abundant life. I fully expect that as I continue to work through this book, I'll be posting more ponderings about how we can apply Deuteronomy to our lives today.