“Jesus Christ is God's language.”
– Leonard Sweet And Frank Viola in Jesus: A Theography
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7 NIV)
I am writing this from the deck of the Carnival Dream luxury liner. It is literally a floating luxury hotel. Along with 3000+ other passengers, we are speeding our way to Honduras on the first of 3 stops before returning to New Orleans.
This break has given me the opportunity to just stop. To simply stop. There are no sermons to write, reports to return, people to visit, or projects to work on. It's the gift of rest. With rest, comes reflection. Not the strained disciplined dissection of every action, motive, and thought, but the organic consideration of the meaning of things, the purposes of life, the mysteries of spirituality, and value of relationships.
The week prior to this trip, my world was rocked. One of my favorite people in life died in a tragic accident. He was a member of the congregation in which I serve on pastoral staff, a campus missionary to colleges in the area, a father, husband, and probably one of the most impactful people I have seen. Anyone who ever met Jake liked him. He lived soooo well. At his memorial service, which lasted over 4 hours but had over 1500 people from every spectrum of life there testifying to his impact and influence.
HIs life in essence was a life of love. Not the fluffy, emotive affection that we often regard as love (although, his wife shared that he did have some of that too). No, it was the fierce, sacrificial love that evokes a response. The kind of love that relentlessly pursues the object of its love.
Coincidentally (but not accidentally), I was reading Old Testament Scholar W. Brueggemann's book "An Unsettled God", devotionally. One of the many premises that he reveals in his excellent study of the attributes of God is that due to Israel's misunderstanding of the person of God, that God uses language in his redemption to reveal his character in a way that is unmistakable. The language he uses are "action words" that reveal the true character of God. (Redemption literally means to "buy back", and in the case of Brueggemann's study refers to the return of a conquored, scattered Israel back to his own land in the 6th century BCE). These words are ultimately revealed in Jesus and his body, also called the church. And I am going on record by saying that Jake Baxter exemplified what should be authentic in the church.
1. Gather: God spoke of "gathering Israel". The nature of God is to gather people together and unify them in community. Jesus came to "break down" the dividing wall between people, people groups and even that with God. Jake Baxter was a master community developer. Beginning with his home that housed friends, outsiders, the marginalized, and the opportunistic. All were welcome, all felt like they belonged. He showed hospitality as a lifestyle, not simply an event. Jesus revealed...
2. Love: God talked with Israel in romantic love. In the book of Hosea, God sees himself as husband to an unfaithful Israel that he will woo back through sacrificial acts of love. The Greek Scriptures tell us that God demonstrated his love for us in this: Christ (Jesus) died for sinners. Jake loved people in a way that cost him. He lived frugally and literally, everything he had materally, was open to be used for others in need. Some people stole from him, misunderstood his generosity, and took advantage of him, He understood that and was never angry or bitter because the purpose of the actions was not appreciation, but the demonstration of a God who is sacrificially geneorus to others, regardless of their ability to return the favor. Jesus revealed...
3. Heal: God promised to "heal Israel". There is a commitment to make Israel whole. This is different than making Israel wealthy or preventing affliction, but it's a commitment to make them complete. They would recognize that God has accepted them and that he deems them as both significant and secure. Jake ministered to many with addictions, character flaws (writer included), illnesses, and injuries (physical, mental, and emotional). He stood with so many on their journey toward wholeness. The paths of thousands were guided by Jake at sometime or another. Jesus revealed....
4. Forgive: God promised to "forgive all their sins". This shifts the understanding of God from primarily that of Judge to that of redeemer. This is ultimately revealed in Jesus who dies so that world may experience forgiveness. Jake not only practiced forgiveness but understood his relationship with God as that of a relationship of grace. It was because he was forgiven that he could forgive. Once again, Jesus revealed...
All this to say, upon reflection, I recognize that the reason that I was so impacted by Jake is because he is probably the closest reflection of Jesus that I have ever known. I know that Jake, like everyone else, was not perfect. But I am so thankful for having known him and thankful for his huge impact and influence in my life and outlook.
We worshipped Jesus at Jake's memoral services, and it was totally appropriate in light of his life.
Afterall, when Jesus is revealed, the only appropriate response is worship.
God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor