Sunday, January 15, 2012

Salvation, Eternal Life: Simply Symptoms of Something Greater….

When we lived in Santa Catarina, Nuevo León, Mexico, we were blessed to have a large sports park about two blocks from our home. Most mornings, you would find me there early walking around that park—exercising and having my “quiet time.” On that hard packed dirt path each morning, I would walk super fast, almost to the point of running, doing what I could to maintain my physical health. What any on-looker would not see was that I was also working on my spiritual health--talking to the Lord, running by Him all that I had thought about, things I had read in the Scriptures, sermons I had heard from pastors, and things I had read in books. That time was so important as I made sense of the world, of my life and ministry, and I as strived to understand our God as best as I could.

On one morning, back in September 2009, I had been wrestling especially hard to reconcile some things that I was encountering in the church we attended with some passages of Scripture that “had hold of me and wouldn’t let go.” The church leaders were really talking up “salvation”…just really driving home salvation as the end-all in life. All of their preaching was centered on salvation…the discipleship groups were hammering salvation…everything was about salvation and going to heaven.

Now, I’m all in favor of salvation…and I like the idea of heaven. No problem there. But, what I had been struggling with was whether salvation should be the primary message of the Church. Should our first and foremost message be a message of salvation…or are salvation, heaven and eternal life all secondary, more symptomatic than primary?

These were the questions that were roiling in my mind. Personally, there was something that seemed a disconnect in pushing salvation, salvation, salvation. And, pushing salvation as the key to Heaven…seemed too much like selling “fire insurance.” So, what was the real problem? Where was the disconnect for me? What was missing in this message that was being preached and taught and talked about? Something was missing.

No. Someone was missing. Where was Jesus in all of this? As I walked those laps around the path, as had my little talk with Jesus, things began to become clear. I remembered that passage from John’s Gospel—“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (17:3 NIV). Eternal life, salvation and heaven are not something we can separate from the person of Jesus—in fact, they are “symptoms” of knowing Jesus! What that comes down to, what that means is that if we want salvation, if we want to “be in heaven” someday, we have got to want to know and to be in relationship with Jesus.

So, don’t tell me I need salvation…show me that I need Jesu—really need HIM. Don’t try to get me to buy “fire insurance” that will get me into Heaven; show me how knowing Him will begin an eternal friendship that will see me though my hardest times…even through the veil that separates this life from the next. Jesus Himself said it best—“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13, NIV). If the Scriptures say He is first and foremost, perhaps we should, too.

Now, coming to this realization as I walked that September morn was not earth-shattering nor did it undo or negate all the theologies of the Christian Church. What this realization did for me was to help me begin to keep first things first. Do I want to know the gift of salvation that God offers humankind? Then, I have to get to know and spend my life knowing Jesus. Do I want to spend eternity with God in His Kingdom after this life? I better get to know Jesus—His words, His actions, His passion and His purpose…because the only way I’ll be with God forever is to live each day with Jesus on this side.

Knowing God in Jesus Christ IS salvation, IS eternal life, IS the key to God’s Kingdom. Let’s keep first things first….


Saturday, January 14, 2012

What does God REALLY want?!?

When my wife laid out the question in the middle of our lunch-time discussion last week, I knew that it grew out of our own frustrations…and gave voice to the frustrations and earnest desires of many, many more.  When we sit in church and hear the preacher…then we listen to various and sometimes competing messages of contemporary Christian music on the radio…and we sit with our Bibles in hand, and still we come away asking that very question—”Okay, so what does God REALLY want from me?  What does He REALLY expect of me??”
The question—at least in our conversation—was centered on what the Christian life should look like.  What should our lives look like on a day-to-day basis??  How does God expect us to live?? 
All too often, we seem to receive these convoluted, complex designs for Christian life.  Some of the recipes for faithful Christian living call the ‘faithful’ to a life of incessant religious work—at the church every time the doors open, mission trips every chance possible, or whatever pet project the church leadership wants to push.  Still other plans call for seemingly unending self-reflection and self-examination—an exhausting way of life that calls every act or thought in question as believers strive to live perfect lives…according their understanding of the Scriptures.  These plans and others that are set forward—intentionally or not—tend to be complex, exhausting, frustrating…or all of the above.
Is this what God REALLY expects of us??  Does God really want us to come to the end of the day frustrated and exhausted??  Hmmmm.  My reading of the Scriptures says otherwise.  As I read, I see those delicious words of Jesus, as refreshing as a mountain stream on a hot day:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28 NIV).  I like the way the Message puts it: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest….”
As Jeanne and I talked about what God really wants from us, really expects of us, another passage came to mind that allows us to recover some of the balance we need in life.  The Old Testament prophet, Micah, lived in a time when people were following all kinds of ideas about how to please God, when people were wearing themselves out to make things right between themselves and God.  The prophet proclaims these consoling words:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8 NRSV)
There we have it!  Do what is right, fair, just…love kindness—be a people of mercy and grace…and walk (not run, not park), day by day, step-by-step, with God.  That’s it.  We each get to fill in the blanks for ourselves.  For some, that doing of justice may mean taking to the streets in protest…or it may mean simply doing the right thing by family members and neighbors.  Being a people of kindness, of mercy and grace, probably means everywhere, all the time, with everyone (family included!).  And walking with God…well, it reveals that our relationship with God is a journey—we haven’t arrived yet.  And, it’s not a race—we don’t have to run ourselves ragged.  We can relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and experiences around about us as we walk forward into the future with God.
The longer I live this life, the longer I live the faith, the more I’m convinced that God wants us—no, EXPECTS us—to live life to the full, to enjoy this life…and to help others to do the same.  That full and truly enjoyable life begins when we decide to walk with Jesus.