This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Jim Teague,
FPCE director of communications.
I’m a “touchy-feely” kind of guy. I cry at the emotional climax of movies, books, TV shows, and, occasionally, certain songs. I still get the sniffles when Linus tells Charlie Brown what Christmas is really all about, and I need to steel myself ahead of time before I read O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”
I jump headfirst into most of my relationships because it is there where deep emotions and memorable experiences are forged. To put it simply, I am drawn to and guided by emotional experiences. I don’t see this as either good or bad, right or wrong. What matters, in my opinion, is to be aware of my own tendencies and shape my decisions accordingly.
Being drawn to deep emotional experiences can have unintended consequences, however, when it comes to the long journey that is our walk of faith in Jesus Christ. When I gave my life to Jesus, part of what drew me to him was the way Scripture portrayed him as a person of great emotional depth. I still see that as one of the great characteristics of each of the persons of the Holy Trinity. I challenge anyone to argue that any of them – Father, Son, or Holy Spirit – would be described as cool, unfeeling, or unemotional.
But, time and time again, my early years were spent looking for emotional “mountaintop moments.” And when the worship didn’t move me the way it had the week before, or I wasn’t moved to tears at Bible study, I found myself disappointed, or at very least concerned that maybe I had drawn back somehow from the excitement of my “first love.”
While I have certainly gone through seasons where I put less effort than I could have into my relationship with God, and there have been more than a few struggles with areas of sin or disobedience, using my emotions as the barometer of my spiritual health didn’t usually serve me too well.
In the introduction to his book A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin (And Three Things He’ll Never Do), pastor, professor, and author Sam Storms writes about the contrast between our “eternal union with Christ” and our “experiential communion” with him.
Our eternal union, he writes, is “what is true of every born-again, Christ-trusting child of God.” When we repent of our sins, and look to Christ alone for our salvation, we are united with God in an irrevocable transaction. Storms lists several things which immediately become true, starting with:
You are now and forever will be in spiritual, loving, unbreakable union with God;
you are in him and he is in you (Col. 1:2, 27).
Despite the eternal consequences of this change in our relationship with the creator of the universe, it is possible for this to take place without fanfare, public announcement, or even any great emotional display.
In contrast, our “experiential communion” consists of the events of our spiritual lives.
One of the great truths of God is his unchangeable nature. We have Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6, and James 1:17 to draw from in order to trust in his steadfast character, just to name a few.
Even so, I have been moved more than once to worry that God’s love and salvation have been withdrawn from me in response to my sinful disobedience. But that came from my focus on my experiential communion, and losing sight of my eternal union with him.
In seeking to remind us that God’s promises are eternal, Storms writes:
Many have failed to properly differentiate between these two realities. They don’t fully grasp the distinction between what is eternal and what is experiential, and they don’t carefully differentiate between what is true of my union with God and my communion with him. Some so emphasize our eternal union with God that they think any reference to or emphasis on the experiential dynamics of our relationship with him is contrary to grace. Or worse still, it borders on legalism. To their way of thinking, to say that I “should” obey God, and that if I don’t and remain unrepentant in sin, I will not “experience” the sense of joy and peace that comes with being his child, is legalism. It is a failure to celebrate grace.
This struggle to differentiate between our eternal union and experiential communion is not only completely understandable; it is something God addresses in the Scripture. Hebrews 11:1 reminds us “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In John 16, Jesus speaks plainly to his disciples (and to us, by extension) about the trials to be faced in this world, but he concludes “but take courage: I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33b)
He has, indeed, conquered. This Sunday, in fact, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday prior to heading into Thanksgiving in the coming week. It wasn’t until this year that I realized why the liturgical calendar ends when it does, and the new church year begins with the start of Advent (on November 27 this year).
We have come through the last 12 months, from Advent to Christmas, Epiphany to Lent, Easter to Pentecost, and on through the calendar of Ordinary Time learning about who Jesus is, why he came, died and rose again, and then sent the Holy Spirit to us as a comforter, helper and guide, among other things. Sunday, we celebrate the eternal rule of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of All, having defeated the sting of death and ransomed as many as will come to him as his bride, his brothers and sisters in his blood.
As I have moved into my 60s, I think it highly unlikely I will ever be someone considered unemotional (and certainly not even keeled) by those who know me. But I have definitely moved from defining the quality of my relationship with God solely by my experiential communion, to enjoying the steady truth of the eternal union I know exists with him.
Whether you are with us in person or online this Sunday, we celebrate with you as we exclaim “Hail to the King!”
Blessings to all of you,
Director of Communications