SESSION 7: SEEING JESUS: TRANSFORMING ME
Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 2:5-11
Below is the Individual Study Guide for Session 7 of Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus, a new 8-session video series and digital curriculum resource from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Learn more at http://www.cbf.net/eyesofjesus.
By Paul Baxley, CBF Executive Coordinator
To see Jesus is to see ourselves, our communities, and the world through his eyes. To see Jesus is to be claimed by the same mission for which he came to the world. In our last session, we allowed texts from Luke and 2 Corinthians to help us see that mission just as Mary imagined it and Jesus described it. To be a disciple of Jesus is to follow him in bringing good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, and release to the captives. That’s not a political agenda. It is the mission of God in the world. The community best suited to fulfill it is the Church of Jesus Christ because it consists of those who are coming to see Jesus and the world more and more clearly and, at the same time, are given the power to participate in Jesus’ life.
In this session, we ask ourselves: What needs to change within me as I come to see Jesus more clearly and join more fully in his life and mission? Two texts from Paul’s letters help us reflect on that question. First, there is the compelling challenge of Romans 12: “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” so that you may know the will of God. Similarly, in Philippians 2, we hear the call to “let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” Both texts use a word that is translated “mind” in English. So, if we don’t know better, we are prone to assume that Paul is asking us merely to change the way we think.
There’s no doubt that there are many places where a change in our thinking would be an important step in seeing Jesus more faithfully and joining his mission more fully. But before we limit our reflection to thought alone, we need to remember the truth conveyed in Steven Fowl’s commentary on Philippians. There, he reminds us that the word translated “mind” in Philippians is best rendered “way of thinking, feeling and acting.” The word doesn’t speak just of the realm of intellect, but the entire interior being of a person; it encompasses feelings as well and it recognizes that how we think and feel determines how we act.
Several sessions ago, we encountered Jesus’ teaching that the eye is the lamp of the body and that what we see determines what is found much deeper within us. We acknowledged in general that as we come to see Jesus more intently, our inner lives are transformed so that they are more like him. That transformation is what Paul is seeking in these challenging words to the Romans and the Philippians. That’s why these texts force us to ask the question: What needs to change in me as I come to see Christ more clearly?
As we begin to ponder that question, we need to remember that seeing clearly can be invigorating and inspiring. But it can also be intimidating. The same light that shines can also burn. I’ll never forget hearing Chuck Poole preach as a visiting minister in a congregation I served in North Carolina. In that sermon 15 years ago, he quoted a phrase he attributed to the novelist Annie Dillard: “Where true light shines, a special terror falls.” Similarly, when Jesus describes the work of the coming Holy Spirit in his final words to his disciples as recorded in John, he says that the Spirit will comfort us and guide us into all the truth; but he also says the Holy Spirit will convict. Really seeing Jesus for the first time, or with deeply greater clarity, can profoundly challenge ways of thinking and feeling that are presently at work within us.
Sometimes those are ways of thinking and feeling that we do not want to release. Sometimes they don’t want to turn loose of us. Sometimes those ways of thinking and feeling are like adverse winds blowing within us. Seeing Christ can challenge existing ways of thinking and feeling. Seeing others and the world more as Christ sees can be convicting and challenging.
As we come to see Jesus more and more clearly, where are our ways of thinking and feeling most challenged? Where is there significant conviction? Where is Jesus’ transforming work the most important within me? Where in me is the greatest resistance to the way of thinking and feeling we see in Jesus?
Perhaps in these days some of us are challenged by the demand to place Jesus above all other allegiances. Because so many authorities vie for our attention and lay claim to our hearts, it is not easy to turn away from others to place Jesus above all. Think of all the other allegiances (national citizenship, political party, political leaders, personal ambitions/accomplishments, employer, educational institutions) and then ask: “What would it mean to see Jesus above, before and beyond all these others? What would it mean to allow his life and teaching to define how I relate to, respond to and interact with all of these others?”
Perhaps some of us struggle to see poverty or oppression as Jesus does. What prejudices or preconceived notions do we carry in our hearts and minds about those experiencing poverty? Did you grow up hearing that people are poor because they are lazy or because of some other failure on their part? Did you grow up in the middle or upper class, separated physically from those in poverty, or at least without any meaningful relationship with people caught in poverty? Did you grow up providing help to those in poverty without ever actually getting close enough to know stories of those who are poor or discover what you could learn?
I first discovered the power of subconscious preconceived notions about poverty when I was a high school student. The church of which I was a member allowed our gymnasium to be used by the community as a winter emergency shelter for those who were homeless. Not only did we provide space, but members of the congregation volunteered to staff the shelter overnight. This meant we shared meals, stories and physical space. The first time I volunteered, I spent more than an hour listening to a person tell the story of how he became homeless. As I listened to him talk, I felt an inner burning regarding my current ways of thinking and feeling. I’d never been explicitly taught that people end up homeless because of personal mistakes; but hearing his story made clear how much I did not know and it opened my eyes to begin to see homelessness and poverty more as Christ does.
Much later in life, I served another congregation that was deeply invested in ministry with people caught in hunger and poverty. One evening our church hosted a panel presentation on “the changing face of homelessness and poverty.” I still remember watching the changing expressions on the faces of people in our church and community as leaders of several community ministries described the growing number of homeless persons who were working multiple jobs and who could still not afford a place to live. Those persons caught in homelessness were working more hours than many of us. There was conviction and challenge, burning and changing of ways of thinking and feeling.
Part of reality in many parts of the American religious landscape is that congregations are not only racially segregated, but also economically segregated. A relatively small number of Christians worship in spaces where believers who are exceptionally wealthy worship next to believers who are poor (much less have a relationship with). This makes it incredibly difficult for us to experience the power of Jesus’ words, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,” much less to recognize the community embedded in Jesus’ blessing in Luke: “Blessed are you who are poor.”
Poverty is not separate from the life of the Church; poverty is part of the Church’s experience. For this reason, Christians who are not poor must not see the poor as “other” than us, but rather as sisters and brothers in Christ, to whom we are joined in baptism and in the life of God. Really seeing Jesus compels us to see poverty differently; and sometimes that new way of thinking and feeling convicts us. How might your ways of thinking and feeling about poverty be challenged and changed by seeing Jesus more clearly? By seeing as Jesus does? How might you and I act differently as our ways of thinking and feeling change? What does it mean to really follow Jesus as Lord in the face of growing poverty and economic disparity?
For others of us, seeing racial difference as Jesus does is also a source of conviction. Jesus’ first disciples struggled with Jesus’ view of Samaritans, who were actually racially and religiously different from Jesus’ Jewish disciples. But Jesus established community with a Samaritan woman, used her witness to start a disciple community among Samaritans, and then told a powerful story that held up a Samaritan as an exemplar of faith. An African man, Simon of Cyrene, becomes the last person to take up a cross and follow Jesus in the Gospel narrative.
When Christ is risen and ascended and the Holy Spirit falls, it falls on people from every nation who speak every language as it did on the Day of Pentecost. When the first Christian missionaries were sent from Antioch of Syria, the sending church was racially and ethnically diverse. So, it should be no surprise that later on Paul would write the Galatians that “in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek,” and that he would write the Ephesians that in his death, Christ tore down the dividing wall of racial hostility between Jew and Gentile.
The story of the ministry of Jesus and the life of the early church is not one of elimination of racial difference. It is certainly not a story of one race, tribe or ethnicity being elevated over others. It is instead a story, as Brad Braxton writes in his commentary on Galatians, of the end of discrimination and demonization based on racial difference. Racial and ethnic diversity reflect the creative intention of God and the very image of God. Christ draws us all into a community not of sameness, but of shared focus on him and abiding love for one another.
To see in that way, to see racial and ethnic identity as Jesus does, challenges me to wrestle with the very different ways of thinking and feeling about race and ethnicity in our world. Put bluntly, seeing Jesus clearly requires renouncing white supremacy. Seeing Jesus clearly invites us to ask Jesus to cleanse us from the sin of prejudice based on race. Seeing Jesus clearly compels us to resist voices and forces in our world that seek to foster racial division. Seeing Jesus clearly convicts those of us who are white not only to repent for ways we may have perpetuated white supremacy, but also forces us to reckon with the ways structures created to support white supremacy have given us advantages that do not exist for black people, particularly those who are descendants of enslaved persons.
If, as Paul wrote the Galatians, we are all the children of God, how do we treat one another as children of God? How do we come to terms with histories of prejudice and white supremacy? Through our words, our actions, our gifts and our investments, can we repair the devastations of many generations? The long history of racial injustice in the United States reveals that white supremacy and prejudice are also ways of thinking, feeling and acting that have structural as well as emotional dimensions. The way of thinking, feeling and acting we see in Jesus calls us to sacrifice for the sake of faithfulness, to exhibit resilient love in the face of hatred, and to use our words and or deeds to move first our own lives and then our communities toward the way Jesus sees racial and ethnic identity.
When we take such steps, we also discover how much we can learn from Christians who are from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and who grew up in different places. Too often Christian mission and white supremacy, or Christian faith and western culture have been dangerously intermingled. The Christian faith is truly global. The Risen Jesus has gone ahead of us and is at work among people all over the world. In all of those places and languages there are opportunities for us to serve and share faith; but there are also opportunities for Christians from the United States to learn, be challenged and grow. As we grow in thinking, feeling and acting more as Christ does, we find beautiful ways new sisters and brothers can be part of an expanding community that checks our vision and helps us see even more clearly.
How does really seeing Jesus challenge previous ways of thinking feeling and acting? How am I being drawn into a way of thinking, feeling and acting that is more like Christ? What in me is being challenged? What needs to change? How am I being invited to grow so that I might offer myself more and more to Jesus’ mission in my community, my work and all of my life? How might my faith grow until my life could really sing the song:
Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in endless praise.
Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.
Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee.
Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose.
Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.
Questions for Reflection
By Harrison Litzell
1. What needs to change within you as you come to see Jesus more clearly and join more fully in his life and mission?
2. Do you experience the Spirit as a source of comfort and conviction? What experiences spring to mind when you think of the Spirit?
3. Where is your greatest resistance to the movement of Jesus?
4. Reflect on a time in your faith journey when you changed your mind about something in your life. What brought about the change? How has that change impacted your journey? What role did the Spirit play in that moment?
5. How can we come to terms with the histories of white supremacy and invest in repairing the devastation wrought over generations? What is our responsibility to this work as Jesus-followers?
Invitation to Prayer
For our time of prayer this week, we invite you to walk outside and be in conversation with Jesus. Allow your mind to wander through your concerns, hopes, dreams, dreads, etc. As things come to mind, offer them to Jesus to see if they are close to his gaze or far away. As your walk concludes, say a word of thanks.
Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus is a new resource from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that calls us back to the central focus of our Christian faith—the Risen and Living Jesus!
Access this free 8-session video series and digital curriculum resource at https://www.cbf.net/eyesofjesus
- Missing Jesus—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 1)
- Jesus is Lord—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 2)
- Really Seeing—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 3)
- The Danger of Distraction—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 4)
- A Community to Check Our Vision—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 5)
- Seeing Jesus and Claiming Jesus’ Mission—Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus (Session 6)
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