God according to my imagination

A friend of mine told me a story today that got me thinking. Four friends in a coffee shop saw a guy with a t-shirt that said, “Smile, there is no hell.” They decided to share their faith with him and quickly found out that he too once called himself a believer, but had since left the faith because he had come to the conclusion that, given the sad state of events in the world with its violence and rampant cruelty, God did not exist. He then directed their attention to Numbers 31 as evidence of the cruelty of Christianity’s God, to which the four friends responded, “We never knew our God did that.” Five guys at the table, four professing believers out to share their faith and one who had de-converted from Christianity, and I’m not sure that any of them really knew Jesus of the Scriptures.┬áThat unsettles me.

As I hear stories like this, I become increasingly aware that maybe we’ve done a disservice to folks in our approach to sharing the gospel in recent decades. I believe that in our zeal to share our faith and “win others to Christ” that some (not all) of us have presented a Jesus who fixes problems, who provides a passport to heaven and who is generally good for what ails us, but when that version of Jesus doesn’t come through during a difficult time (i.e., job loss, marital problems, kid troubles, pain and suffering in the world) then our “converts” conclude (and rightly so) that the Jesus they believed in isn’t real. They haven’t trusted in the Jesus of the Bible, but a figment of their imagination. How many folks have fallen into that trap?

The gospels are constantly forcing the disciples (and the reader) to expand their view of who Jesus is. He’s more than a great teacher. He’s more than a prophet. He’s more than the Messiah they expected. He is God in the flesh. And it’s interesting in the book of John where belief is such a key issue that even some who are said to believe have a faith that doesn’t allow for Jesus to be God. They’ve believed in a version of Jesus, but have rejected the real thing. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that the same thing is happening today.

I’m seeing more clearly the need for catechism in the church, of defining what it means to be a follow of Jesus – the Jesus of the Scriptures – and the high call of discipleship. I long for the day when a follower of Jesus doesn’t have to say, “I didn’t know my God did that” but that they would have a reasoned response for the faith that they hold and that they would share a clear picture of Jesus who came not just to provide eternal life in the future, but now. Who calls us to be agents of His reconciling work during this period of waiting until He returns.

Until next time, stay salty my friend.

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Not again: Another word about submission

After posting about submission the other day, another thought struck me on the whole submission thing. Submission is the way I show my love for God. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments, just as I love My Father and keep His commandments.” Submission is the way I show my love for God…submitting to His will and His authority in my life. For me, it seems easier to do that than submit to earthly authorities He’s placed over me. Then 1 John 4.20 hit me square in the nose, “If someone says, I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Ouch! My failure to submit to earthly authorities, to love them, was proof positive that I wasn’t really loving God. I’m a liar. One of the things that I believe God is teaching me during this time of waiting He has me in is that I talk a good game, but I have a long ways to go when it comes to love. Lord help me.

I’ll sign off with a tag line that a friend of mine uses…Until next time, stay salty.

Who is this? Luke 8.22-25

Great question. This morning a group of friends and I were taking a look at Jesus’ calming of the waters in Luke 8. One of the guys thought that surely the disciples already knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. So why the question?

We had a great time (invigorating for me) discussing what the historical context was, what Luke may have been doing with it in telling the story and what it means for us today. From a historical perspective, I argued that Jesus is blowing up their categories. The disciples have seen some pretty amazing things so far. They’ve seen Jesus raise the dead, forgive sins, heal the lame, the blind and the demon-possessed. They’ve heard His response to John’s inquiries about Him. They’ve experienced a miraculous catch of fish and witnessed an amazing display of love (Mary’s anointing with oil). And they’ve believed in Him as Messiah, the long-awaited-Genesis 3:15-Seed of the Woman-who would crush the head of the serpent-Messiah. But just like any good Jew of the day, they were fiercely monotheistic. They did not yet have a category for Jesus to be God. They were OT-becoming-NT saints. They were looking forward to God’s salvation.

But one thing that the Jewish nation learned from their Babylonian captivity: there is only one God, and He is a jealous God. He does not share His glory with another (message of Ezekiel). That became their mantra and the thing that held them together as a nation as one Gentile nation after another had dominion over them – Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome (Daniel, 1, 2 Maccabees). In fact in the book of John, anytime Jesus makes a claim to deity, the religious leaders pick up rocks to stone Him. There was no concept of a Trinity at that time.

So Jesus has to blow up some categories, expand their concept of Messiah, reveal Himself as fully God. And that is the progression of Luke’s gospel. The guy who was wrestling with it still didn’t buy my explanation, which is refreshing in a weird sort of way. He’s still wrestling. It’s hard for us to imagine what it’s like not to know what we now know. It’s hard to put ourselves in the disciples shoes pre-resurrection.

Luke’s purpose for including the story is laid out in chapter 1…to give an orderly account of what was seen and heard and believed.

But the piercing question that Jesus first asked a group of guys on a boat in a storm, and He still asks us today is: Where is your faith? You see, Jesus is still in the business of blowing up categories and revealing Himself in unexpected ways. Many of us have trusted Him for eternal life…which seems way out there and will be important in the future sometime. But most of us, in the midst of the storms and crashing waves of our lives, have not learned to turn to Him. He is Lord over all creation. He is God of my circumstances. He wants to be in my day to day. It doesn’t mean He will always calm the storm or even see me safely through this life’s struggles. The point isn’t prolonging my physical existence in this broken shell of a body – the widow’s son that Jesus raised from the dead is physically dead now. The point is living in the kingdom, and living a life that’s eternal. It starts now with a heavenly perspective on my life and circumstances. It’s seeing the world, my world, through God’s eyes and not my own. It’s taking every opportunity to be present with those around me every day. It’s walking by faith, knowing that this world is a shadowland (C.S. Lewis?) and one day we will step into the light. It’s not easy, and there are lots of failures along the way. But each time we fall, Jesus is there prodding us, challenging us, asking us, “So where is your faith?”

Submission

Pride. It’s such an insidious thing. It’s haunted us since our parents fell for the whole, “You can be like God” thing in the garden. It seems to dog my every step. And just when I think I’ve dealt it a fatal blow, it rears it’s ugly head again.

My particular flavor of pride tends to be rebellion these days. I really don’t like to submit, especially in areas I consider myself somewhat of an expert. Of course expert is a bit of an overstatement. It’s the area I should be an expert in. It’s what I was hired for and get paid to do, but I’m far from an expert. But still that doesn’t stop me from feeling slighted when I’m put in a position where I have to submit to someone else’s ideas and preferences. I want to grumble and complain. I want to rebel. I want to be in charge. I want to be my own god.

But there’s only one God and any rebellion is rebellion against Him. My failure to submit is my failure to submit to Him. Neither Peter nor Paul gives us a way out here. We are called, I am called, to submit to those God has placed in authority over me just as if I were submitting to Him (because I am). He is the one who has placed them in authority over me, for my good ultimately. To make me more like Jesus. But it’s hard. And I fail miserably.