Anticipating Advent

I’ll admit it.  In the past I have been somewhat of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas.  My scroogeness was born out of all the trendy things to dislike Christmas for: over-commerclization, consumerism, Christmas cards, untangling lights to put on a tree, and mall parking lots.  I was a part of the crowd shouting to focus on ourselves on the meaning of Christmas.  Not the FoxNews crowd, but the cool – but not hipster cool – Christians who wanted nothing but Jesus and the incarnation at Christmas.

And then I had a child.

It is hard to be a scrooge when your two and a half year old is enamored by the entire season.  Luke, in a way that is capturing my imagination, is eagerly anticipating Christmas morning.  But not for the reasons most would expect.  At the beginning of Advent we gave Luke a nativity scene he could play with.  And play he has!  It is almost a daily activity to have conversations with the different figures.  I am usually the angel and he is Mary and I have to tell her she will have a child.

After explaining all the different figures, we took the baby and wrapped him in a present and placed him under the tree.  If you ask Luke if he excited for Christmas he will tell you he is.  And the reason?

“We get to unwrap baby Jesus!”

I dare you to be a scrooge in the face of that.

But it has me wondering, “Do we all anticipate Christmas morning with that level of expectation?”  The mystery of the incarnation of the Word should stir our hearts and minds.  The Christ child changes everything.  In putting on flesh and dwelling among us, God affirms his declaration that the creation is “very good.”  If the creation is very good, then that means eating is good, drinking is good, hugging is good, laughter is good, singing songs is good, giving gifts out of love is good…Christmas is very good.

But I wonder, have we been caught focusing on the past?  Has our celebration of the incarnation taken away from our anticipation for the future?

Reading the Old Testament prophets reveals an expectation that the Messiah would usher in the Kingdom of God.  They used pictures like beating swords into plowshares and everyone resting in the shade of their own fig tree (Isaiah 2 and Micah 4).  Redemption and restoration were common themes in their hope for the future.  Paul picked up on this in Philippians 3 when he anticipates the day in which are lowly bodies are transformed into a body like the glorious resurrected body of Jesus.  John shared the hope of the Old Testament prophets and Paul in his Revelation when he envisions the new heaven and new earth, where “there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”  This is the anticipated coming Kingdom of God.

In Acts 1 the disciples were wondering if Jesus would finally restore the kingdom to Israel.  Jesus proceeded to tell them that the kingdom of coming, but it wouldn’t come like the thought or when they thought, but it was coming.  After he ascended, the angels told the disciples that Jesus would one day return and at that time the kingdom would be established.  Many debate when that will be and what it will look like, but that is a secondary point.  The main point is simple: Jesus is coming back!

There was a first advent, Christmas.  As good as that advent was, there is better, fuller, richer advent, Jesus coming back.

So this Christmas, embrace everything.  Eat good food.  Have deep conversations.  Drink deeply of moments with friends and family.  Give good gifts.  Decorate the house.  Laugh together.  Take pictures.  Celebrate well.  Anticipate goodness.

Because Christ came.

And he is coming.

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Can God really be kept out?

Recently I have noticed many who profess to be Christians crying out that God has been, or is being, removed from the public square.  From the comments of Bill O’Reilly, Mike Huckabee, or the Facebook posts stating that God would love to stop school violence but, unfortunately, he’s not allowed in school (never mind the fallacy of that statement) I fear we have substituted the Lion of Judah for a house cat who needs to be given permission to get on the kitchen counter.  And the one who gives permission seems to be the government.  Tell me, on whose shoulders does the government rest (Isaiah 9:6)?  And who gives the government its authority (Romans 13:1)?

A god who has to be given permission by the government is not a god over the government, but under the government.  And a god under the government isn’t a god whom the government serves, but rather a god who serves the government.  I’m sorry, but the God of the Bible is not a God who serves the government.  He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace.

So why would God be unable to enter the school?

Does God only go where we ask him to?  

My guess is the Ninevites weren’t begging God to show up and let them repent.  Nor were the money changes asking Jesus to come into the Temple courtyard.  Or the Pharisees and religious leaders for that matter.  Reading the Bible we see God continually show up where he was not asked to.  The incarnation of the Word of God boldly proclaims that we can’t keep God from showing up.  He will come to where we are, like it or not.  To find us.  To rescue us.  To offer us life.  To redeem and restore us.

The obvious objection to this line of thinking is, “Where was he at Sandy Hook or any of the other tragedies that occur?”

I don’t know.  And that is what makes faith in the face of tragedy difficult.  Faith, in those moments, becomes a choice.  A choice to chose life over death.  A choice to work for justice and beauty.  A choice to look for the good gifts in the midst of hard circumstances.

Faith is a constant choice to believe that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

And I wonder, maybe it isn’t that God didn’t show up.  Maybe it is that we, the people of God, didn’t.  You know, those in whom the Spirit of God dwells.  Those who are called sons and daughters of God.  Those who are heirs to the same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead.  Maybe we sat idly by, distancing ourselves from any responsibility for the condition of the land by bemoaning and pointing fingers at those who want God removed from the various public squares all the while ignoring the fact that they can’t keep us out.  

It may seem like a small thing.  Me showing up.  I’m not God.  But it is no small thing for the people of God to show up as the people of God.  Jesus said, “And lo, I am with you to the end of the age.”  If we believe that then guess what?

If we go to the school, then Jesus is there with us.

If we sit with the homeless, then Jesus is there with us.

If we listen to the mentally ill, then Jesus is there with us.

If we go where God is not wanted, then Jesus is there with us.

And not just with us in a feel-good sort of way, but he is with us as we bring his shalom (peace, harmony, justice) to this place or to this person.  What if we believed that?  What if we didn’t just cognitively understand that, but what if we believed it to the degree that we lived that?  How might the world be different?

Might we experience the shalom of God more?

Maybe people would stop wondering where God was because they would know where he was.

He was the one looking them in the eye, holding their hand…the one with them.

Reframing our stories

 

Note:  This is adapted from a sermon I preached titled Reframed.

I am more convinced than ever that my life is to be about making disciples.  I believe all of us who say we follow Jesus are not just meant to be church attendees, but we are called to be people who follow so closely to Jesus that we are covered in the dust kicked up by his feet.  We are to be disciples.

As disciples, we are to make disciples.  It is the last command we were given by Jesus.  Go and make disciples.

That’s where it gets a bit hairy.  Just for fun, try this experiment.  Go into your church and start asking people how you make a disciple.  And don’t ask the pastor or a staff person.  Ask someone sitting next to you.  “How do you make a disciple?”  For even more fun, make sure you them how they specifically are making disciples.

Make sure to pass the peace after that.  They will probably need it.

For most of us the idea of making a disciple is daunting for two reasons: 1) We have never been truly discipled and so we don’t have a clue as to what it looks like and 2) We think we are disqualified.

Being disqualified could mean two things.  First, it could mean that we believe we don’t have the right certification to make disciples.  Each of us probably have some mental model about what that certification is.  It might be a seminary degree, or a Bible college degree, or at bare minimum a certification from an eight week Wednesday night class we took at church.  Whatever it might be, in order to make disciples you need this.

Or being disqualified may mean there is something in our past we believe disqualifies us from being a person who can disciple others.  I believe many of us have this belief.

In Philippians 3:13 Paul says, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  On the outset, this doesn’t seem like such a difficult passage.  In fact, if we have spent anytime in church or in the Christian subculture, we have probably won a prize playing Bibleopoly with this verse stenciled on it…or at least heard this verse dozens of times.

That doesn’t mean it is easy or simple.

After all, do you have things in your past you regret?  And when I say regret, I am not talking about the unadvised late night trip to Taco Bell that you regretted the whole next day.  I’m talking about something your truly regret.  Something you wished wasn’t there.

Do you have something in your past that you would even say was disastrous?

Ever done anything destructive in a relationship?

If your human, you should have answered yes.  We all do.  Some of us have more regrets.  But we all have them.  Now do this.  Those things you regret, those things you see as disastrous, just forget them.  Forget them and press on.  Get on with your life and leave it behind.  It’s a new day!  Get out and live with no more regrets!

How’s that working out for you?

Do you think Paul is really telling us to forget what is behind us?  Let me ask you this, do you think Paul forgot what was behind him?  Paul, who used to be Saul, was an early persecutor of the church.  His life mission was to find people who followed Jesus and put them in prison or kill them.  He oversaw the stoning of Stephen.  He went to the high priest and asked him to enact a law that allowed him to go into Damascus and bring back refugees who were fleeing his persecution.  He literally hunted men and women down because they believed in the Gospel of Jesus.

Do you think Paul forgot all that?

Of course not!  So how could he say what he said?  I believe Paul could say that he was forgetting what was behind him, not because of anything Paul had mastered or some self-disciplining technique he learned, but because Paul deeply believed the Gospel.

In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul writes, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace was not without effect.”  When Paul says this he is seeing his story, which includes all of his past, through the frame of the gospel.  If it wasn’t for the regrets, the horrendous, destructive things he had done then God’s grace on his life would not have been as profound.  For Paul, the things he hates about his past are the same things that make the gospel so sweet.

The gospel screams to the ends of the universe that your past does not define you, but the cross of Christ and the words, “You are my son.  You are my daughter,” define you.

So many of us have heard the words, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” but yet continually feel condemned.  Maybe the reason is we have never let our pasts be reframed by the gospel and so, every time we think of our past we heap condemnation on ourselves.  The gospel frees us of that.  Because if God can extend grace to a murderous, hateful man like Paul, he can extend grace to anyone.

This is the gospel.  It is the power to reframe our stories.  We, then, need to allow grace to reframe our regrets, foibles, disasters and screw-ups.  When we allow our stories to be reframed by the gospel is tells the world a very important message:

God is still working.

How has/is God reframing your story?  Please share, and let’s tell the world God is still working.

Living by Difficult Words

I’ve just had my first viral post. Well, it wasn’t really viral, but when you normally get 30-40 hits per post and you suddenly get 3000+, it feels viral. Admittedly, watching the numbers creep and trying to track where all the people came from has been fun. It has also been quite humbling. But what has been really fun and interesting is finally getting comments on a post. Not that I haven’t gotten them before, but the quantity and range of these comments was much greater. This is what I have wanted for this blog.

I started the blog to continue my learning. I have been learning, for a long time but especially recently, that as I follow Jesus I have more questions and more of a need for a place to sort out my thoughts. My thought in starting the blog was to create space for me, and hopefully others, to do just that.

As I have read the comments and interacted with people on this blog and other social networking sites I have become painfully aware of how intimate American Christianity has become with civil religion.

This isn’t new information. For a long time I have seen churches decide to make good, moral citizens over and above disciples of Jesus. Yes, at times those things are the colored middle portion of the Venn diagram. But at other times they are extremely different. When we say God is the God of the nations, when we say that there is neither Jew, nor Greek, barbican or Scythian, we are saying God is bigger than the nation-state. I have heard many Christians say, “Our citizenship is heaven,” but their actions have betrayed them.

During the events of the last couple of weeks, I wish I would have seen Christians await their “Savior from there” as much as they waited for a chicken sandwich.

I wish we would fight for the kingdom of God on earth as it is heaven as much as we fight for our rights to free speech.

I can’t get away from the difficult words Jesus taught us to live by. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” These words, along with the Golden Rule found in Matthew 7:12, seriously make me wonder, “What does it look like for us as Christians to stand up for our rights?

And even more thought provoking, “Should we?”

Even my gut wants to smack me up side the head and yell, “Do you know what you are saying?!” I do. Honestly I do. And it scares me. But when I read the words of Paul when he says the he counts it all joy to lose everything for Christ and that he wants to share in the sufferings of Christ to become like him I just have to ask myself, “Do I?”

Do we?

I don’t know.

What do you think? What does it look like for Christians to stand up for our rights? Should we? Let’s talk.

A Counterintuitive Response to Chick-Fil-A

I know that I am late coming to the party, but it has taken me a while to really formulate my thoughts.  When the uproar regarding Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy became national news, I payed little attention.  It’s not that I don’t care about the issue of marriage and homosexuality, I do, but it isn’t something that is going to elicit a passionate response from me.  I realize this means people on both sides of the issue will find me naive or not taking a stand for the things that are right (the authority of scripture on one side, and civil rights on the other), but I’m more interested in people than issues.  No, that is not semantics because when I say “people” I mean individuals, and dealing with individuals who have stories forces me to hold my beliefs in tension with my love for the person.  Pure doctrine apart from the love for a specific individual can be a blunt sword used to maim many.

No, the reason that I haven’t jumped into the fray is because I haven’t really figured out what I really thought.  There were a couple of blogs that were helpful.  Barnabas Piper’s warning about the secondary messages Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day could send articulated something I was feeling, but couldn’t put words to.  Rachel Held Evans, in her blog, urged Christians on both sides to watch the speech and reaction to those who disagree with us, lest we hurt our integrity to the gospel.  These, and other articles, said things better than I could, but still left me desiring something when it comes to how we might respond to this day.

And then the cliche question came to mind, “What would Jesus do?”

Would Jesus wait in line to buy his juicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries?

Would he boycott the restaurant chain and call its president a bigot?

Or might he take an option none of us expect in order to dispel the escalating demonization present in this debate?

I’ve noticed that much of what either side of this debate does is in reaction to what the other side has done.  So Dan Cathy says he believes Biblical marriage is defined as marriage between a man and woman.  This, along with money he has given to groups who support his beliefs, upsets those who hold a differing opinion so they react by boycotting the restaurant and, in some cases, saying they won’t let the restaurant in their city.  This provokes those who side with Cathy to go out like a ravenous army to eat chicken and waffle fries, and on the cycle goes.

How did eating or not eating chicken sandwiches become a theological act?  When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples, teaching them everything I have commanded you,” was he intending us to stand in line for 75 minutes for a chicken sandwich?  Or boycott?

Or is it possible that what we witnessed today had more to do with escalating reactions against those who disagree with us, and had little had do with the Bible, marriage or homosexuality?

It’s the same thing we see on the playground.  One kid bumps another kid, who pushes the kid who bumped him, who shoves the kid back, who hits the kid, who punches the kids, who tackles the kid and we have a full blown fight.  It’s the USA and the Soviets threatening to blow the other to kingdom come so both build more bombs capable of even more destruction.  It’s the campaign that smears the opponent, who smears back and on and on to the point that voters only know the negative of each candidate instead of what they really are about.  Escalating demonization is the modus operandi of our culture and I fail to see how today was any different.

I realize people will think I fail to see the importance of their side of the issue.  I get that.  But I also think it doesn’t matter.  We may have the right stance on the issue, but our reaction to people who disagree with us is just as important.  The US thought its stance was right in terms of dealing with the Soviets, but their reaction was to build more bombs.  Which led the Soviets to build more bombs, which led to, you guessed it, more bombs!  But what if one side, either the US or the Soviets, said, “Enough is enough,” and stopped building bombs?  Might we have less nuclear weapons in the world today?

To stop escalating reactions against others one side must be willing to lay down their arms against the other side.  That seems counterintuitive and a sure fire recipe for defeat, but it is the only way.  And guess what?  The gospel is completely counterintuitive!

That Jesus would tell Peter to put away his sword is counterintuitive.  That Jesus would tell us to pray for our enemies and do good to those who persecute us is counterintuitive.  To carry the cloak of a soldier farther than required is counterintuitive.  Giving away things just because you have two of them is counterintuitive.  We could go on and on.  Much of the teaching of Jesus is counterintuitive to how we believe the world works.

That doesn’t mean we give up what we believe.  It simply means we stop reacting to the other side in such a way that it begets more reaction.  It slows down the rhetoric.  It stems the tide of regrettable, unhelpful behavior.

In order for both sides to be able to converse and constructively handle their differences, one side is going to have to lay down their “arms” and say, “No more.”  I believe, and this is where it gets hard, that side should be those who profess to follow Jesus.  Because that’s what it means to be a minister of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20) in the midst of a situation that continually escalates.  Again, that doesn’t mean a concession of beliefs or an affirmation of behavior.  It simply means we react to those who oppose us or our beliefs in a manner consistent of the one we say we follow.  Jesus willingly laid down is life in the name of reconciliation.  Does that mean he compromised his beliefs?  Of course not!  Refusing to participate in an exercise of escalating demonization doesn’t mean you never take a stand for what you believe in, it means you won’t react in such a way that it encourages escalation.

When I look at Jesus and how he responds to those who question his healing on the sabbath, or his response to those who bring the woman caught in adultery before him, or arrest him, or spit and mock him it makes me think: In the face of escalating reactions, that’s what Jesus would do.

Balance

This past week I engaged nine people in transformational coaching/discipleship. This is quickly becoming one of the my favorite things about being a pastor. I used to say preaching, which I love, but I am finding that preaching without the one-on-one discipleship is incomplete. This is not to say preaching has lost its place in the life of the church. To the contrary, I still believe the proclamation of the Gospel has a central role in the life of the church. Preaching, when done faithfully, holds the Gospel in front of people, calls them to continued fidelity, shapes the conversation of the church, and gives hope to the hurting. But, for far too long preaching has been overemphasized. Rather than being a component of discipleship (which is the mission of the church), it has become the sole means of discipleship. Of course we would never say that. But by and large, if you ask a pastor what receives the majority of his time during the week, most would respond with sermon preparation.

If we look at the life of Jesus we see him teaching the masses and proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God. But we also see him sitting at the well with the Samaritan women and making his way to Zacchaeus house for dinner. He stands on the mountain teaching thousands, then retreats to a solitude place with his three closest disciples. In the life of Jesus we see a balance of preaching and one-on-one discipleship.

This is also evident in the life of Paul. In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” It is one thing to share the gospel. And that is right and good. But it is another thing to share your life as well.

The question is, “Do we?”

Do we intentionally love another and share our lives with them?

Do we intentionally love another allowing them to share their life with us?

I am convinced that preaching the gospel explicitly is absolutely necessary. I am convinced that, in the proclamation of the God who took on flesh and went to the cross and rose again, conversion can happen. But, I am also convinced that true discipleship happens in the context of relationship. Without the delicate balance of proclamation and relationship, deep, “from one degree of glory to the next,” transformation will not happen.

I am finding that balance. I’m not there yet, but I am finding it. And it gives so much more meaning to what I am doing. My preaching is better because of my relationships with those I am discipling. And my discipling is better because of my study and work in preaching.

And here is the dirty little secret…this balance is transforming me too.

Following Jesus means giving up EVERYTHING

Luke 5 records Jesus calling his first disciples. In both instances, in the calling of Simon Peter and Levi the tax collector, Luke notes they “left everything and followed him.” That jumped off the page when I read it. Jesus extends them an invitation to follow him, and they drop everything and follow. Right there, on the spot. It is recorded in another place in Luke’s gospel that others wanted to take care of their affairs before they followed Jesus and Jesus basically told them they could take care of those things or follow him. But they couldn’t do both. And they weren’t insignificant things. It wasn’t like they wanted to go check Facebook one last time. No, one person wanted to bury their father, and the other wanted to say good-bye to their family.

But Simon Peter and Levi dropped everything.

Everything.

Most of the time when we read that they dropped everything to follow Jesus we picture them leaving their boats, their nets, their tax collector booth, and their other possessions. And that’s all true. But they also left their families, their houses, and their careers. That doesn’t mean they never saw their families again. We know they stayed at Simon’s house as Jesus healed his mother-in-law. But they were willing to. Those who followed Jesus turned their lives upside down for three years to be near him and learn from him.

Those who followed Jesus gave up everything.

Everything.

They gave up their expectations, understanding, and hopes about what the Messiah would do. We see them struggle with this even after the death and resurrection. In Acts 1, after spending time with the resurrected Jesus they ask, “Are you now going to establish your kingdom?” They still believed Jesus was going to build an earthly kingdom like they had grown up believing. But they had to give this up to really follow Jesus. In order to live into the mandate they were given to make disciples, they needed to give up trying to build an earthly kingdom.

The disciples had to give up their desires for success. We see an argument between James and John about who is greater and who will sit at the right hand of Jesus. When Jesus confronts them about this conversation, he turns their understanding of recognition and privilege upside down by saying the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

Over and over again the disciples had to give up their prejudices. Prejudices against the poor, the righteous, the Samaritans, children, prostitutes, religious leaders and themselves. When we follow Jesus we are called to give up everything.

Following Jesus is one of the most difficult things I have done with my life. And the reason it is so difficult is precisely this idea of giving up everything. It is one thing to give up possessions, but giving up the prominence my family gets in my life is difficult. Many in ministry make a commitment, and rightly so, to not sacrifice their families on the altar of ministry. Far too many families have suffered from being treated as second fiddle to a pastor’s ministry. But at the same time, to follow Jesus, and to be willing to leave family means that one cannot sacrifice following Jesus on the altar of family. Personally, I find this a difficult, but good, tension to live in.

Many of us have worldviews that are based more on political ideologies than the teachings of Jesus. Many of us live our of our self-protections rather than our trust in a sovereign God. Too many decisions are made because of idols we cling tightly to rather than making decisions out of a decision to follow Jesus with everything. But following Jesus means we give up everything. It means we give up our world views, our ideologies, our desires, our idols, our insecurities, and whatever else we give authority to in our life. If we are to become like Jesus, which is what following Jesus is all about, then we must give up everything.

Everything.

So what are you holding on to?

What have you not given up to follow Jesus more closely?

Hide and Seek me and you will find me

The other day I was playing with my almost two-year old son Luke when he informed me we would be engaging in an rousing game of hide and seek.  Now, in our house, under Luke’s rule (and yes I meant “rule” not “rules”), playing hide and seek means he tells us where to hide.  He will then go wait for us to hide, and then we yell for him to come and find us.  It’s a rather short game.

This time Luke told me to hide in a little nook created by the wall, chair, and couch in our living room.  I hid, he found me.  He then told me to hide there I again.  I hid, he found me.  Again he told me to hide there.  I hid, he found me.  Once more he told me to hide there.  But this time I wasn’t going to play along.  My competitiveness (yes with my 2 year-old.  Don’t judge me) and my desire to teach him the world doesn’t work that way (yes with my 2 year-old.  Don’t judge me) kicked in and I hid behind the couch.  I didn’t move far, just far enough that he wouldn’t be able to see when he looked to where he thought I was going to be.

I called for him to come find daddy.  He looked.  I wasn’t there.

“Where’s daddy?”

“Daddy?”

Luke began to wander around the living room asking where I was.  He wasn’t anxious or worried, just confused.  And he really wasn’t looking hard.  He just sort of stood in the middle of room where he could see where I should have been.  Even though he knew I wasn’t in the previous spot he continued to stand and look at that one spot saying, “Where’s daddy?”

As I hid and listened to him these verses popped in my head.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29:13

 

“Seek and you will find.” -Matthew 7:7

How often do we really seek God out?  With all our heart?

Or do we tell God where he should go hide so we can find him?  And then when he isn’t where he supposed to be we begin to wander aimlessly, casually calling to see if he will answer, but we don’t really look.

Not really.

We just continue to do what we have always have done hoping that God will show up where he has in the past.

How many times have we experienced God in a moment of worship, or on a mission trip, or reading a book, or by some routine only to find those things are later ineffective?  So we experienced God during a time of worship with a particular song, and now that song becomes the go-to song to find God, but after a while its ability to bring a transcendent experience dries up.  But yet we continue to go back to it.  In our minds, this is how you experience God.  Or it’s this book,  this preacher,  this type of mission work, this routine or whatever.  And what used to work, no longer does.  But we don’t try something new.  We don’t look harder, we begin to blame the thing.  The book isn’t deep enough.  The song is too poppy (which is probably true).  This preacher isn’t as good as that preacher.  Now the thing that was the vehicle ushering us to the presence of God becomes the thing we go to in order to experience God rather than going to God to experience God.

God isn’t in the book or the song or the sermon, he is in you.  And that isn’t some New Age bull, that’s the Bible.  Paul said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  In Colossians Paul says the mystery of the faith is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The questions is, if that is true, what does it mean to seek God with all your heart?

I don’t think it means finding your true self.  That’s hogwash.  Your true self is found when you find Christ.  Your true self isn’t rooted in you, but it is rooted in your heavenly Father who calls you son or daughter.

We find more of God in our lives when we begin to live more of God’s life in our life.  The reality is most of us know everything we need to know about being disciples of Jesus.  We know.  We don’t do.  Therein lies the secret.  If you want to experience more of God, if you want to seek him with all your heart, if you want to find him, then do what he says.

Jesus says, “If you hold to my teachings (read, if you obey my teachings) then you will really be my disciples, and you will know the truth; and the truth will set you free.”  Experiencing more of God does not come through more songs, more worship services attended, more sermons listened to, or more books read.  Experiencing God comes from living more of God’s life.

And the only way you will do that is if you, truly with all your heart, want to find Him.

 

Shallow

Not long ago Christian Smith in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, coined the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to describe the functional faith and beliefs of American adolescents.  Smith and his team of researches outlined the basic doctrinal beliefs in the following way:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

While this is a simplified, and perhaps overly reduced, outline of the functional beliefs of American youth, it is very telling.  The central goal in life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.  In this belief system God is a being that helps us achieve this goal.  God does not require sacrifice, there is no talk of repentance, and the idea of conforming our lives to God’s intent is foreign.  God is, to be frank, or a sort of cosmic waiter who wants to make sure we have the best experience while on earth.

The role of parents must be noted.  Smith and his colleagues found that “For better or worse, most parents in fact still do profoundly influence their adolescents – often more than their peers…This influence often also includes parental influence in adolescents’ religious and spiritual lives.”  If this is true, then it would be logical to assume that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not just the faith of teens, but is the faith of adults as well.  Experience tells me this is accurate.  I can remember having a conversation with a parent who wanted their teen to come to youth group because it would help them make better decisions when it came to friends and moral issues.  While that comment seems inherently innocent, the underlying belief is that the goal of church and Christianity is to make people more moral.  Morality is not the goal of Christianity.  If morality is the goal, then why did Jesus ever need to go to the cross?  The cross becomes irrelevant because we can, through our best white-knuckled disciplined, clean up our act enough to be deemed good by God.  Isaiah 64:6 says that even our most righteous acts are considered like filthy rags before the all holy God of the universe.  That is to say, we can’t be good enough to be accepted by God outside of the cross of Christ.

Nor is the goal of Christianity about us feeling better about ourselves.  While it is true that understanding the unconditional love God has for us can make us feel better, it isn’t the goal.  Christ didn’t come so that we may have greater self-esteem going into a job interview, or a board meeting, or in our relationships.  Even the doctrine of adoption of us by God as outlined in Ephesians 1, which simply states that before the creation of the universe God chose us to be sons and daughters, is not given so we feel good about ourselves.

So what then is the goal of Christianity?  To what end are we following Jesus and seeking to be obedient to him?  Moralistic deism would have us believe the goal of following Jesus is being a good person, but isn’t there something more.  Or maybe the better question is, “Do we really need Jesus for that?”  Think for a moment of the crucifixion of Christ.  Imagine the pain, physical and emotional, he went through.  The betrayal of a close friend leading up to his arrest.  The anxiety in the garden as he pleaded with the Father to take the cup from him.  The loneliness of being abandoned by all of his friends in his greatest hour of need.  The brutal agony of having the flesh torn off his back as he is scourged.  The excruciating pain of having nails driven through his wrist.  The heartbreak of looking down and seeing his mother weeping over the torturous death of her son.  The isolation as he is separated from the Father.  The desperation as he strains to breath under the suffocating weight of his own body.  Imagine Jesus going through all this, and for what?  So you and I can be good people?  So we can feel better about ourselves?  The major beliefs of Moralistic Deism as laid out by Smith do not measure up to the price Jesus had to pay.  There has to more to it than that.

The disheartening reality is that, for many people who call themselves Christians, being a good person is the point of Christianity.  While a life of adventure and purpose is waiting for them in Christ, they reduce Christianity to playing by the rules.  You don’t need to follow Jesus to play by the rules.  You don’t have to follow Jesus to be nice.  Join the rotary club if that’s what you want.  The life that awaits us in Christ is one we could not imagine.  The life Jesus offers us is one in which we do “even greater things” by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But to share in this life, to taste it, to live it one must die to themselves.  One must be willing to sacrifice everything.  One must be willing to go where they don’t want to go, or where they don’t they can go.  One must be willing to deny themselves for the sake of another.

Which doesn’t sound much like simply being happy and being a good person.

Reflections on Philippians 3:10

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

There are four things that Paul desires in this passage that I find extremely challenging:

  1. To know Christ
  2. To know the power of the resurrection
  3. To know the fellowship of sharing in his suffering
  4. To become like him
I am struck that none of these things can be known simply by cognitive assent.  To truly know these things one must know them by way of experience.  Fellowship is not known apart from fellowship.  The power of the resurrection is not known by studying books.  Even more so, Christ is not known with out experiencing him in relationship with him.
I wonder how many of our churches are filled with people who are simply nodding their heads to what’s being sung or said without experiencing the truth of what is being said?  I wonder how many people are vicariously living the faith through others who are really living their faith?
I wonder how often I sacrifice knowledge about Jesus for knowing Jesus?
I really do desire to have the single minded focus of Paul to know Christ.  I don’t want to settle for knowing a lot of about him.  I want to know him!  I want to see the power of the resurrection.  Now,I’ll be honest, the fellowship of sharing in his suffering is not something I readily am asking for.  But, if it is the process God ordains that I might become like Jesus, then bring it on!  To live larger than life so that death cannot contain or extinguish life, yes, I will take some of that.