Above & Beyond

Out-of-the-ordinary living for everyday life.

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. – Ephesians 3:20-21

When I went away to college in 1973, I had high expectations. I was headed off to a new city thousands of miles away from home and out from under the influence of my parents, and I was going to make the most of the situation. The best part was that I had my own set of wheels for the very first time in my life. I was the proud owner of a 1969 American Motors Ambassador. Sure, it had well over 100,000 miles on it, happened to be bright yellow with a black roof, and had a more-than-passing resemblance to an off-duty New York City taxicab, but what did I care? I was an 18-year old with big plans and a semi-reliable means of transportation – two key ingredients to a successful college career for any red-blooded American male.

Low Expectations

Of course, it wouldn’t be long before my dream car went from mobile chick magnet to just a rolling punch line of the joke that had become my freshman year. But in those halcyon days of early September 1973, I was living the good life. I was tooling around town in four-door luxury – an 8-track player the size of a small kitchen appliance thrusting up from the floorboard, blasting out all my favorite tunes, and periodically spewing out half-inch recording tape like it had eaten something that disagreed with it. But I was in heaven. Albeit a very preacher’s-kid-on-a-tight-budget version of heaven, but heaven none-the-less. The truth is, I had extremely low expectations. They say ignorance is bliss. In my case I was in a state of perpetual bliss. I just didn’t know any better. But it didn’t take me long to wake up and smell the coffee.

In less time than it took to add a quart of oil to the engine, I discovered that no one else on campus was driving anything that even remotely resembled my AMC Ambassador. There were Mustangs, Camaro Z-28s, Monte Carlos, Grand Prix coupes, Grand Ams, and the hot new Nissan 240Z. What was I thinking? What was I driving?  I had to face the painful realization that I had set my transportation expectations way to low. I had settled for less. All around me were visions of vehicular nirvana and here I was driving my dad’s hand-me-down six-cylinder tribute to engineering ineptitude. Sure, it got me where I needed to go. It was utilitarian, but it was also extremely ugly.  Surely I could do better. Certainly I deserved better. The problem was, I couldn’t afford better.  There would be no Trans Am in my immediate future. A car like that was beyond my budget and out of my reach. I would just have to settle for less. I would just have to find satisfaction by living with lower expectations.

Transcendence, not a Trans Am

This article isn’t about cars, but it is about our tendency to find satisfaction by lowering our expectations – something far too many of us do as Christians every day of our lives. We settle for less. While God has offered us the “ride” of a lifetime, we content ourselves with a late-model, four-door sedan with vinyl seats and no AC. Sure, we see the other cars driving down the highway. We admire their shine. We envy their performance. We dream what it would be like to get behind the wheel. We look at the ads promising the driving experience of a lifetime, but we resign ourselves to the fact that those kinds of cars are way out of our league. And the more abundant Christian life seems just as out of reach. So we learn to be satisfied with less, and convince ourselves that it is really more.

Yet God has created us to live lives that are transcendent. Which basically means He made us for something greater – for something more, not less. The word transcendent means “going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing; exceeding.” It is “the state of being beyond and outside of the ordinary range of human experience.” Transcendent living is life that is out of the ordinary. It is beyond the status quo and far from normal. It is radical and revolutionary. To transcend is to be a part of something bigger and beyond your limited little kingdom of small expectations and subdued satisfactions. It is to live for something significant and life-changing. It is to experience life the way God intended it to be.

The Quest For More

In his book, The Quest For More, Paul David Tripp has this to say about transcendent living: “We simply weren’t constructed to live only for ourselves. We were placed on earth to be part of something bigger than the narrow borders of our own survival and our own little definition of happiness. The desire resides in each of us, and it is called transcendence. To transcend is to be a part of something greater. We were created to be a part of something so big, so far beyond the ordinary that it would totally change the way we approach every ordinary thing in our lives.”

He goes on to describe transcendence as “that feeling of being part of something significant, of your place and your part mattering.” We were created for more than simply filling up our schedules with the self-satisfying pursuits of pleasure. God never intended for us to live our lives content with the small satisfactions this world has to offer. We were made to do more than simply meet our needs and fulfill our desires. But many of us have narrowed the size of our lives to the size of our own existence. We end up as the king of a little self-focused realm where everything is about us, for us, and revolves around us. We limit our vision. We diminish the borders of our kingdom to only as far as we can see. We even convince ourselves that God exists to ensure the success of our kingdom and guarantee our personal satisfaction. We become bound by the limits we place on our own lives. While Jesus offers us so much more.

Transcendence begins with Christ’s preeminence

In The Quest For More, Paul David Tripp makes the radical statement, “There really is no place for Christ in many people’s Christianity. Their faith is not actually in Christ; it is in Christianity and their own ability to live it out.”

To live transcendently means I have to live with Christ at the center of everything I think, desire, say, and do. It is to make Him my greatest treasure and the focus of my life. But sin causes me to want the spotlight. It makes me desire to be the center of attention and the master of my fate. Sin causes me to want to be the king of my own little kingdom with my own set of rules. It tempts me to settle for less and mistakenly believe that it is really the more I was created for. But transcendent living is Christ-centered living. It is to live every dimension of life in a Christ-centered, big kingdom-focused way. But for many of us, we have replaced Christ with Christianity. We have replaced Him with nothing more than a religion to follow, a theology to believe and a set of rules to obey.  It is less about Him than it is about us. He may have saved us, but it up to us to transform us. In other words, our pursuit of righteousness becomes our job, not His. Our world ends up revolving around us, instead of Him. We slowly, imperceptibly remove Christ from our Christianity or simply replace Him with our pursuit of Christianity. And in doing so, we settle for less.

When less becomes more

Settling for less. That is what the enemy is always trying to get us to do. He wants to deceive us into thinking that this world is all there is. He wants us to mistakenly believe that our 1969, high-mileage, oil-leaking, AMC Ambassador is as good as it is going to get. But God has promised us more. So much more. He has promised us abundant life through His Son. He has promised us eternal life. But He has also promised us a transformed, transcendent life – right here, right now. But we settle for the lie that less is more. We catch ourselves believing that this world can deliver what we are looking for. That putting ourselves first will bring satisfaction. That meeting our desires will make us happy. That ruling our own little kingdom of one is better than living as a citizen of the kingdom of the Holy One. And in the end, we settle for less – so much less. It reminds me of the oft-quoted line by C. S. Lewis from his book, The Weight of Glory:

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Far too easily pleased. But God has called us to live transcendent lives. Lives that are out of the ordinary, way past the bounds of normal human existence, bigger and better than anything this world has to offer. He offers us life that is “exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). He offers us the  more of a life that is marked by significance and sacrifice, purpose and power, forgiveness and faith, hope and healing, transformation and transcendence. Are you experiencing that kind of life? Do you want to? Then why not begin your personal quest for more by attending The Quest For More conference on May 14-16 here at Christ Chapel? This practical conference will help you see beyond the worldly deception of personal achievement, success, and materialism, and break free from the little kingdom of one that has left you too easily satisfied with less. You were made for more. Why not begin experiencing it?

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