Everybody Wants a Word From God Until They Hear What He Has to Say.

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Everybody wants a word from God until they hear what He has to say.

Most of us have a visceral longing to be understood and an idea of what kind of person it is that we want to be. But getting to know ourselves is an uncomfortable process, because every new piece of information expands our perception of reality, and we rarely let go of our presuppositions without a fight.

The scriptures speak often of God as a Potter who moulds us like clay. We relish the idea of being formed into a more beautiful shape. But any clay with a mind of its own knows the incredible pain caused by the powerful hands drowning and pounding it then carving and burning it to realize an emotional and creative vision. Transformation is painful, and we are so quick to avoid it.

We like the idea of being made better, but we discover that it is difficult to endure the manufacturing process.

When Christ first encounters a fisherman named Simon, He says to him, “You are Simon (which means “shaky”) but I call you Peter (which means “stone”). There was nothing necessarily in Simon that would lead to this conclusion, but Christ saw him for who he would become. And He knew what travail and duress would have to be endured for Simon to realize this identity in Christ.

There is a powerful scene in which Christ tells Peter the manner of His earthly mission- that He will suffer and die and then eventually leave the earth. Peter, mindful of his enjoyable earthly experience of Christ, challenges Him. Christ rebukes him saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”

Peter had not yet understood the nature of Christ’s ministry. To fully realize His role as the savior of mankind, He would have to suffer and die, resurrect from the dead, ascend into Heaven (leaving them), and then send His Spirit to embody those who would receive of His salvation. Christ told His disciples that it was better for Him to leave, for when He left He could send His “Comforter” (the Holy Spirit) who would guide His people into “all truth.”

In other words, the ministry of Christ would only take it’s intended form once those who knew Him deepest would endure the pain of temporarily losing Him. But God the Father delights in delegation, and when He sent His Son to save the world from our sins, He always intended that the ministry of Christ would be perpetuated by Christ’s disciples who, being empowered by the Holy Spirit, would become the literal body of Christ. Thus expanding the ministry of Christ exponentially.

Christ’s death was like the death of a seed that would resurrect into a fruit-bearing tree, with every piece of fruit dying a similar death (as it were) that would lead to further fruitfulness.

But Peter, in his earthly estimations, was not yet able to see this dynamic. And so the Lord of Glory kindly rebuked him. And after Christ ascended into Heaven, He sent His Spirit unto His disciples. And on that day, Peter became the rock on which Christ’s church (His body) was established when he preached on the day of Pentacost (which was un-coincidentally Shavuoth, the Jewish celebration of harvest).

Had Peter continued to savor the immediate pleasures of His earthly time with Christ, He never would have tasted of explosive and perpetuating nature of Christ’s ministry.

That is the process for every work of God. It is always bigger and more dynamic than any man could imagine. And it is always perpetuated through a process of transformation that brings with it a profound degree of discomfort and pain.

There is hardly a greater pain than death. In the face of death, people often encourage themselves by ensuring that their loved ones are “in a better place.” Now, it is between the deceased and God as to where the soul of their beloved has sojourned.

We have all been to funerals. When a sincere man or woman of God passes on, the believer has no doubts as to where they have gone. They so clearly lived for Christ, and we deem it fitting that they would be spiritually united with Him in death. But we have also been to funerals of another variety. When people eulogize their now-dead loved ones, who lived in total contrast to God, and assure the grieving family that they are indeed in a better place.

Well, as I said, that is between the the deceased and God. We comfort ourselves with this wishful thinking. But why would a person, who has no desire for the things of God, be magically ushered into His presence in death? Perhaps this is where the Roman Catholics derived their idea of Purgatory. For they felt that a sinner would require a process of preparation to fit them for their celestial communion.

My point here is not to cause a grieving loved one to fear the state of their beloved’s soul, but to unpack that notion of preparedness.

The lump of clay or block of wood cannot embrace a process of fierce reshaping or piercing carving so long as it savors its amorphous identity.

Identity is a lofty concept, that I won’t attempt to unpack here. But it’s important to consider our own perceptions of identity. I tend to think that our identity, as it stands in this moment, is informed by things that are both engrained and inscribed.

I mean that our identity is engrained in the sense that there are things about ourselves that we must never compromise. Our relationships with other people eventually reveal to us which things we are willing to part with for the sake of that fellowship. But we all have certain qualities that are never to be parted with.

What makes you tick? What gives you energy? What puts you in your element? God has engrained in you a unique set of desires and characteristics that you must never disregard. It is not easy to decipher which of our attributes are fundamental to our unique identity. But we all possess them.

But our identity (yet to be fully realized) is also rooted in the affects of our upbringing, our past experiences, and our imperfect nature. Our relationships with other people serve us by highlighting both our strengths and our weaknesses. In one sense, we must defend ourselves from those who dismiss our engrained qualities (and allow more supportive persons to encourage us), and in another sense we must let others shine a light on our lesser qualities.

We can consider these lesser qualities by measuring them to a certain moral standard. We may find that we are hardwired to paint, write, engineer, teach, or pursue some other creative endeavor or to connect with others in a particular social dynamic. But we may also find that we are hardwired to be selfish, antisocial, squeamish, or arrogant. The former qualities pertain to an engrained nature. The latter pertain to a nature inscribed by our experiences and our imperfect natures.

In consideration of our identity, we often savor the wrong things. Every strength has a corresponding weakness, and it is easy to rationalize our inscribed weaknesses as being in part and parcel with our engrained qualities.

So what does this have to do with wanting to “hear a word from God” or to become a better version of ourselves?

There are fundamental qualities to wood or clay that make them fit to be transformed into works of art. Michelangelo saw King David within the block of marble and realized his duty to set that form free. Christ saw Peter, the zealous servant of and mouthpiece of God, in the wavering and overzealous Simon.

Simon had engrained qualities (as God had made him) that needed to be set free, forming him into Peter, a foundational stone fashioned and hardened from a miry clay.

We all want to be that raw stone fashioned into a work of art and utility, and we are all engrained with unique qualities fit for that purpose. But there is a painful transformation process that must take place.

This process prepares us. When we ask God to give us a word, He will tell us things that we don’t want to hear. When we ask Him to make us into something better, He will challenge all of those inscribed qualities with which we identify.

Consider your utmost desires. Are they integral, or are they shaped by the psychological impressions and hurts of your youth? We often don’t know what we actually desire. We pursue relationships, professional endeavors, hobbies, or other lifestyle choices that feed our assumed needs.

But when we submit our own wills to the God who knows us and Who sees us for what He envisions, we are (in our natural state) unable to receive what He has planned for us.

So when we ask God to guide us in a relationship, or a job, or hobby and the like, we must consider that he has intended for us a higher calling- a better relationship, job, or hobby that is unobstructed by our former pains, insecurities, and temporal desires.

Death is not a prerequisite for Divine fellowship. That fellowship is nurtured in a gradual devotion on earth (or Purgatory, if the Catholics have it right). There is a preparation process that must occur to ready one (however imperfectly) to realize true fellowship with God.

In like manner, if we are asking the all-knowing and wise God to order the steps of our life, we must be prepared for Him to carry out the grueling process of preparing our desires (in spite of past experiences) to be ready to receive the wonderful gifts that He has for us.

God desires to mould you into the very best version of yourself. You, like Peter, possess those qualities. He has engrained them in you. But you have many other of desires and impulses that contradict His design for you.

So when you ask God to give you a word or to make you into something greater (who He wants you to be), remember to ask that He also prepares you to receive those gifts He has for you, be it a personal transformation, a relationship, or a lifestyle. That He gives you the discernment to know the uncompromisable, engrained parts of your nature and the strength to part with those inscribed things (with which we so strongly identify) that He might help you to realize His vision as opposed to our own.

And when we ask God for a word, let us not forget to consider the words He has given us already. Christ tells us that if we love Him, we will obey Him. Furthermore, He tells us that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness that all of these things (or temporal needs) will be added unto us.

Sometimes we ask God for a new word because we’ve found that the words already given are difficult to follow. The psalmist tells declares that the in God’s presence is the fullness of joy and elsewhere, that the joy of the Lord is His strength.

How do we receive the presence of the Lord which gives us joy and strength?

Worship.

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Who Would Jesus Vote For, and What Would He Name His Yacht?

“It Looks Just As Stupid When You Do It.” That was the caption on an anti-tobacco refrigerator magnet I was given in junior high.

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Anti-Tobacco Ad

Whoever wrote the ad was either untrained in persuasion or was trying to subliminally create a positive association with cigarette smoking. One’s first thought at this ad is that, despite how silly the creatures look, they do at least look pretty cool. If nothing else, it created an indelible mental association between cute and innocent animals and cigarettes.

More importantly, people (especially young ones) do not care about whether or not they look stupid unless looking stupid makes them uncool. Studies prove that the addition of a cigarette in one’s hand often does make them appear cooler to the bystander. Albeit, it seems that there is a coolness threshold, wherein a nicotine-slave fiendishly sucking down a chain of cigarettes crosses the parabola into unsavory (uncool) territory. I’m not even going to address the blatant uncoolness of electronic cigarettes.

The point is, nobody cares about appearing stupid unless appearing stupid is a barrier to their social acceptance. If one is preoccupied with impressing others and must do so via means of stupidity, then they will not think twice. “Not thinking twice” is actually a pretty good definition of stupidity.

The other inherent silliness of the ad is that it presupposes a similarity of social roles between humans and non-humans. And this is my main point.

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Tell me this chimp doesn’t look cool!

The animals don’t look silly because they somehow know better than to smoke cigarettes. They look silly, because their civilizations have not advanced to the level of establishing complex structures, such as a tobacco industry that generates three quarters of a trillion dollars annually, for instance. Animals, it turns out, enjoy cigarettes too. They just were never clever enough to invent them and skilled enough to make them, but that’s not to say they were never unwise enough to habitually smoke them.

Another slogan that was popular in my youth was “What Would Jesus Do?” People would wear bracelets with the slogan. It became a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon.

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And apparently Kanye West still sports one?

The original intent of the bracelets (other than financial profit) seemed innocent enough. They could be used as a reminder to “do the right thing” throughout the day. While it is asinine for someone to need a bracelet to remind them about what they should be meditating on already, sometimes infants need their milk. The bracelets became no more than a fad and an unoffensive context for a Christian subcultural foray into the mainstream.

“Would Would Jesus Do?” as a fad was pretty harmless, but as a theological principle it is incredibly unhelpful if taken to its logical conclusions. You see, the fad did not end with bracelets. After George W. Bush began sending troops into Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 I started seeing bumper stickers on people’s cars that read “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” Then in subsequent elections “Who Would Jesus Vote For?” started appearing. The trend continues.

I should make a bumper sticker that says “What Would Jesus Name His Yacht?” or “What Would Jesus Name His Firstborn Daughter?” Imagine contexts in which Jesus might be purchasing a yacht or being married and having children. It’s a funny thought, isn’t it? Is it a sin to own a yacht? Some people probably think so, but no, not if you have the means. Is it a sin to bear offspring? On the contrary, the Scriptures tell us to “be fruitful and multiply.” So why is it a funny thought? Because Jesus had a different social role and function than other people do.

The anti-tobacco ad is silly because it unfairly associates human civilization and capacity with animal civilization and capacity. Jesus is fully man and fully God. As peers in Christ’s human nature, we are able to laterally relate our experience with His. Herein, Jesus refers to us as His “friends” (John 15). But as subjects unto His divine nature, our relation to Him is quite different.

Jesus came to earth with a very specific purpose and role. The example He has set before us and the lessons He has taught us provide us with the instruction for leading lives of holiness, but they do not define the nuances of our daily experience. Because of Christ’s Messianic role He lived in such a way that promoted His mission.  Although our Christian mission is to proliferate His, our earthly role is not materially the same. It is of the same Spirit, but of different functions. The body performs a different set of tasks from the Head (1 Corinthians 12).

With these things in mind, it is not helpful to constantly pose the question of what Jesus would or would not have done. It may be relevant to basic questions of morality, but it is useless in light of complex social scenarios. These questions are not helpful because they miss the point of the Gospel entirely. Christ’s Gospel is good news for condemned sinners. It’s chief aim is to save and internally transform a person (gradually) into the person God designed them to be.

To this end, we are given the instructions for daily living. In addition to being preoccupied with one’s conversion and spiritual growth, Christ’s instruction is also focused on the growth of His Kingdom as promoted through evangelism and discipleship. For that reason, the complex social structures in which we try to retrofit Jesus Christ do not boast the precedence that His Kingdom holds.

That is not to say that Christians are not tasked with engaging with the complex systems of our surrounding societies. At times, many of you have probably felt immense internal conflict regarding that engagement. I will address that at a future date. In the mean time I’m pretty sure I know who Jesus would be vote for, but I’ll address that in my next post.

 

Evangelism is Not an Elective

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“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….”

Matthew 28:19-20a NASB

As He ascended into Heaven, Christ parted with words that would set the tone for the entire future of Christendom. His disciples would go on to obey this edict and take the Gospel to the the whole of the known world. The Church of Jesus Christ continues to pursue this mission to this day. Some of them do, anyway.

In my last post I recalled a recent experience in which I totally disregarded an opportunity to evangelize a stranger. This experience was disappointing for me, despite the fact that I’ve not recently had a tendency to evangelize, probably due to distraction and self-centeredness.

In the preceding weeks, God had begun to stir up a passion in my heart toward these matters. This is always the origin of Christian evangelism. As the late Keith Green said, “You put this love in my heart.” Evangelism arrises from an overflow of love and gratitude for our Savior. It is mercifully driven by His work in us.

“…[The religious authorities] commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:18b-20 NASB

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When confronted by opposing religious authorities, Peter and John expressed an INABILITY to stop preaching the Gospel. They were so wrapped up in their love for and thankfulness toward Christ that they couldn’t help but tell all about it to others. Their love for and fellowship with Christ led to a compassion for others, to see them become believers of His Gospel.

The day after my aforementioned experience, I had an experience of another sort. I work at a homeless shelter and have recently gotten to know a man who is staying there. Before I left for the day I struck up a conversation with him. He told me that he was moving out soon. As I was about to leave, I felt a compulsion to share Christ with Him. I almost ignored it entirely, but I was constrained by the Holy Spirit.

I began conversing with him, prayerfully seeking an opportunity to mention Christ. Finally he made mention of a local Christian ministry at which he had attended some services and performed some court-ordered community service hours. I abruptly asked him, “Are you a Christian?”

He pinched his fingers together as he informed me that he believed in the power of prayer and that he felt like he was “almost there”- almost ready to commit himself to God. I sat down and talked with him for a while, and he began to tell me his life story. He kept stopping and saying, “I’ve never told anyone this stuff before. I don’t know why I’m telling you.” I answered some questions he had and persistently shared the Gospel.

As we wrapped up, I asked if I could pray for him. He eagerly gave me his hands, and we prayed. As I left he kept remarking on how amazing it was that this conversation had occurred, as he has been on the fence with these matters. I gave him my number and went on my way, assuring him that I only spoke with him because I felt God leading me to do so.

Although circumstances like this have been normative in my life in times past, this entire episode was a unique experience for my life in recent years. My hope is that, through God’s help and courage, I begin to seek out evangelistic opportunities elsewhere. It has been natural for me and so many Christians to disregard this critical piece of Christian living.

We are not only called to lead righteous and holy lives, but to love God and to love one another. Jesus tells us in John’s gospel that if we “love Him, [we] will keep His commandments.” Therefore, if we love Him, we will obey the call to share the Gospel persistently with others.

Might I challenge you, as I am being challenged, to pursue a pure fellowship with Christ through the Spirit of God? Will you make specific requests of Him that He will surround you with His Spirit and keep you in His steps? That He will give you a love and a passion for Him that overflows into a deep love for others? That you will be granted wisdom, opportunity, and courage to share His Gospel to those you meet? He commands it! Evangelism is not an elective for the child of Jesus Christ!