In the early days of this blog, I often talked about the “theme” of the things I was learning about from God. Last fall, I was talking about the theme of comfort and what it means to move out of our comfort zone and into the adventure awaiting us in God. Last winter, I felt God leading me into a focus on captivity and what it would take to break free of the things that hold us down or hold us back in being all that God calls us to be. As often happens when I am spending more time in God’s Word, I feel a new theme emerging. I often marvel at the “coincidences” of how God seems to be talking to me and those around me. Once again, the subject matter in our bible study, the insights I am gaining from the books that find their way to my book basket, and even the sermons our pastors are preaching all shout to me in concert. Let me see if I can verbalize what the new theme might be for me.
Simply said, I think I have been missing the point for the 34 years that I have been a Christian. OK, that might be a bit of an overstatement…those of you who know me well may not be surprised to hear me being a bit dramatic 🙂 But truly, I think I have been practicing a pretty selfish, small Christianity for most of my journey and I am beginning to see that my personal salvation is really only a means to an end for God. One of the things that Jesus talks about more than anything else in scripture is the Kingdom of God…”Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done, On Earth as it is in Heaven.” Here is an exerpt from an online sermon that I thought was great:
The Kingdom of God is like standing on your head and seeing the world upside down. It is seeing things differently. It is seeing things the way God apparently sees them. God, according to Jesus, sees greatness in small people and things and actions, in the seemingly insignificant people and events we tend to overlook. God is looking for justice and fairness and peace. One Bible scholar says that ‘Your Kingdom Come’ should be translated “Set the world right.”
To set the world right means to make the world a better place. It may surprise us to know that when Jesus tells us, his disciples, to pray for the coming of the kingdom, he means the outer conditions of the world as much, if not more, than in human hearts. Jesus was a social activist; he died to set the world right.
It seems to me that he would be urging us today to act for justice, to speak up for better schools, to get to the core of the causes of poverty and addiction. Jesus would tell us to talk more about peace and less about war. To build weapons of massive peace initiatives while we take action to protect innocent people from mass destruction. It is not always comfortable to raise these issues, but as Barbara Taylor says, “Jesus needs followers, not admirers.”
Our bible study this time is on Daniel and this week’s video was on Daniel 4…not a chapter with which I had any previous knowledge. It was a fascinating look at what happens when we buy into the Babylonian mentality that the universe revolves around us. Beth Moore, our bible study writer, continually refers us back to the theme of our modern Babylonian culture…” I am, and there is none besides me.” (Isaiah 47:8, 10) The self-absorption in our culture has sadly infected our Christianity with a similar malady…our faith begins to be about our own peace of mind, our own quest for meaning, our own “rightness” with God.
This week in our video session, Beth cautioned us about the two ways we know that we are buying into the Babylonian “party line.” She says that we know we are being corrupted by our culture when we:
Lose touch with (no longer see or care about) the poor and oppressed
Lose touch with our own poverty of Spirit
So what is the new theme? I guess, in a very simplistic way, it is this: God saved us so He can use us to save the world…to set the world right. It is not about a kingdom in the sky someday for those of us who are “in”…. it is about bringing about the Kingdom of God, right here, right now. When we look at the world, the idea of being used by God to set it right is overwhelming. It is supposed to be overwhelming to us, because we are not God. That’s why Jesus says, over and over again, “Follow ME.” However, we can’t do that until we get our eyes off of ourselves…until I get my eyes off myself.
For an awesome sermon on this theme, check out this link. In the Indescribable God series, listen to the 9/17 sermon by our senior pastor Rob Bromhead entitled “Our Indescribable Just God.” I would also refer you to Neil’s blog entry this week on the Sermon on the Mount. Re-read that radical scripture. as he recommended, and hear what our Revolutionary Savior has to say to us about justice!
Don’t think that the Christianity you have been practicing to this point has been small or selfish — in order to be a better Christian in the world, you first have to start with being a better Christian within yourself. You may see it as selfish, but I see it as making yourself strong before you can strengthen those around you.
If you haven’t actually read any Barbara Brown Taylor, I highly commend her to you. “Leaving Church” is her latest book, and I reviewed it on my blog earlier this year (can’t remember right off hand, but I think if you search my postings for April, May, or June it’s in there somewhere). I think you would enjoy reading much of what she has to say — all of it enjoyable, and all of it challenging!!
Hope you’re well this weekend!
Thanks for the comment, Matt. I agree that strengthening my personal walk with the Lord is an important first step on my spiritual journey. However, if our focus stays stuck there, we will never have our eyes opened to how God would use us to bring about His Kingdom. Once our eyes are opened, we would be selfish to go back to a self-absorbed Christianity.
I was given three of Barbara Brown Taylor’s books several months ago and I have not read them yet! I appreciate the recommendation…I will move them to the “top of the pile.”
Spot on (to use a British phrase). A comment on the comments, how do you strengthen your personal relationship with Jesus? If Jesus is all about the Sermon on the Mount Stuff then where are you going to find him? You strengthen your relationship by working alongside Jesus.
Same with other relationships, if I want to spend time with my wife I have to be in the same room with her, or I have to walk the same path with her… you get the point, a self-absorbed Chrisianity is no Christianity at all!
Thanks, Neil!! The key word here is “working” alongside Jesus…not sitting, not watching. I guess one way of saying this is that Christianity is not a spectator sport.