Monday, January 6, 2014

God's Story: The God Who Meets Us [3]

Today is, officially, the last time you can greet someone with “Merry Christmas” until next December 25th. If you are still greeting people with Merry Christmas, you have more than likely received more than one strange look. 

A funny thought occurred to me just now. What if Christians, who know the Church Calendar, would lovingly answer back, “Yes, and Merry Christmas to you,” when greeted by someone who simply says “Hello,” or “Good to see you” during the Christmas Season (especially as days seven and beyond come and go)? Would it be newsworthy? Would a “War on the Christmas Calendar” news thread begin on our news stations when people do not respond in kind? OK, facetious part of post now done; moving on...

On this last day of this Christmas Season, we will briefly reflect on a common story heard when people start to follow Jesus. The story, which is wonderful and I praise God for them, basically says someone’s life was “a mess,” and then they met Jesus...after this encounter their life got “straightened out,” and here we are. Again, I am thankful for stories like this. They show us how God meets people where they are.

Yet we need more (and more) of another type of story. The type of story we need to hear more of goes something like this... “my life was great and I ‘had it all’...and then I met Jesus and He turned my world upside down.”

I know there are stories like this, we just need more of them – especially in our culture where pursuing the American Dream is so prevalent. After all, Jesus is not merely Savior; He is also Lord.

What I mean is the “my life was a mess until I met Jesus” story has a Savior bent to it. Yet the, “my life looked like the epitome of success until I met Jesus...” story has a Lord bent to it.

This reality does not make one story better than another. Nor does this reality mean Jesus is more Savior than Lord or vice versa. Jesus is both, and we need a growing realization of both if we are going to truly follow Him – wherever He leads us.

Interestingly, while I said the “my life was a mess” type of story has a Savior bent to it, the aspect of Jesus is Lord/King is not absent from this story. E.g., there are ways citizens of a kingdom behave – because their King says so (and this is bigger than morals).

Likewise, the “my life was great until Jesus ‘messed it up’” type of story has a Lord/King bent to it. Yet it is not devoid of the reality of Jesus as Savior. E.g., the person who has been rescued by Jesus (saved) had been deceived by the cultural influences around them. While they need a King to submit to rather than their own wants and desires...they also need to be saved from the hole in which they live (perhaps after having dug it for themselves).

Yes, Jesus is Savior and Lord. If your picture of Jesus does not include both....then something is askew, and you are not following the Jesus of the Bible.

And let us not forget that on this Epiphany Day we remember how the magi came to see a toddler Jesus; the One who, as a baby, was born King of the Jews (Mt2:2) as He would also save people from their sins (Mt1:21) some two years earlier. A significant aspect of this is those magi were Gentiles – not ethnically Jewish. Praise God for revealing the mystery hidden for ages through Jesus at the visit of the magi (as non-Jews worship Him – cf. Mt2:11), as it became crystal clear that God was undoing the effects of sin on all of His creation – including those who are not ethnically Jewish. I, for one, am very glad for this truth.

Praise God for the Miracle of the Incarnation. May we be increasingly shaped by it as 2014 progresses. May we be able to look back on 2014 (and grow to realize in the moment as well) and see a combination of how Jesus both “straightened out” our lives and “messed them up” for God’s glory. And may we desire no other way.

Friday, January 3, 2014

God's Story: The God Who Meets Us [2]

God moves first; He always has and He always will. Last time we saw this truth in the life of Abraham in chapter two of The Story. This time we will move onto another important truth we must place alongside the reality that God meets us where we are – the truth that God tests us.

Now, we may not know whether an issue we are facing is a test from God, or an attack from the forces of evil, or merely fallout from our own learned habits and desires. Yet, in the big picture, knowing this is not the issue. The issue is being faithful. 

For example, Abraham took matters into his own hands (was not faithful) and went the culturally acceptable path of having a child with Hagar rather than trusting God would provide a child for him and Sarai through her womb (cf. Genesis 16). I am not a world religions expert, but it is commonly held that Ishmael (the son Hagar bore Abram) is the patriarch of the Arab nations, and therefore Islam. Hmmm...that decision has not panned out very well throughout the course of history, has it?   

And so as God’s plan for redeeming humanity progressed, He needed to test Abraham to know whether or not he was trustworthy (cf. another lack of trusting God in the last post). We see this test in chapter 22 of Genesis. In what is an unthinkable and unbearable test in our eyes, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son – the son of the promise no less. By all accounts Abraham was willing to go through with the sacrifice (cf. Genesis 22:9-11), but was stopped by God at the last moment. The result of this test was, “now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son...” (Gen22:12).

In order to keep this out of the realm of theological debate, let us simply focus on what is agreed upon by all (I think), the fact that God tested Abraham. This is important for us to not only grasp, but also to accept, because by and large we live in a culture that does not like to believe God tests people.

Many in our culture prefer to think God wants their life to be sheer bliss and enjoyment, for people to have their best life now, to be healthy and wealthy, and never have anything bad come their way. One of the many problems with these beliefs is they are not historically true of those who follow God – let alone Biblically true. 

Yet I want us to move beyond the mere fact that God is a God who tests us. I want us to realize there is no way Abraham would have been able to pass the “Isaac test” when he first started following God (and I do not mean because Isaac was not born yet). This is because Abraham’s faith, like anyone’s, was in its infancy when he first began to follow God.

Basically Abraham had to learn to quit taking matters into his own hands and learn to trust in God. Abraham needed to spend time walking with God. Abraham needed to learn of God’s faithfulness and provision in order to be in a place where he could trust God with the life of his son (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). 

So what about you?
  • Is your faith (trust) in God able to handle more adverse situations now than it was at the start of 2013?
  • How have you tried to take matters into your own hands this past year?
  • How has God met you where you were this past year? 
  • What decisions have you made, culturally acceptable or not, that have had a negative impact on people? Remember, God is bigger than your mistakes...but your mistakes still have fallout.
  • Are you aware of possible ways God has tested you this past year? 
  • Do you look at difficult life situations as an opportunity to grow in your ability to respond faithfully moment by moment? Or do you wish and pray away difficulties?  
  • Are you following Jesus more closely at the start of 2014 than you were at the start of 2013? What is your evidence?
I have heard it said that a faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted. What a simple, yet profound statement.

And once again we come back to the Christmas Season – the Miracle of the Incarnation. Quite often in our culture we love to hear stories about how someone’s life was “a mess,” and then they met Jesus, and things got “straightened out.” I am thankful for these stories. After all, Jesus showed us – concretely – that God meets people where they are.

Yet there are other stories I long to hear...yet those will have to wait for another post – perhaps on the last day of Christmas as we embark on a new year together.