Stones. They are everywhere. Stumbling stones, stepping stones, stones for throwing, stones for piling. In the bible, stones are used for remembering. This is a place for me to pile my own rough stones of remembering along the road I am traveling, one post at a time. They are more than mere words thrown out into the wake of my path. They are a concrete testament of God's faithfulness, provision and goodness along the way.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

One Word

Increasingly in recent years I have been coming to filter everything in the christian life through the lens of one simple word. Relationship.

If we were to sum up the gospel, the good news, I think we could use this word as the theme.

God created humanity to be in relationship with Him.
When mankind rejected God, God pursued us by sending His son Jesus to earth to live in relationship with us and to show us what right relationship with God looks like.

Ultimately Jesus sacrifice was done with a heart intent on redemption and reconciliation of our broken relationship with God.

Our restored relationship with God places us into His family, a relationship illustrated by being one body with many parts. As His children  we are called to be His ambassadors, reconciling the world to Him by declaring His desire for relationship.

The more I think about it the more I am convinced the gospel, the christian life and christian missions can ultimately be wrapped up in this one word. Relationship. Picture the christian life like a three legged stool, where each leg represents a different sphere of relationship. One leg represents our relationship WITH God, one our relationship toward each other WITHIN the family of God and the third our relationship to those WITHOUT, others in the world.

Each of these legs are necessary to make the whole of a child of God. If we are not growing in our intimacy WITH God, not growing in love towards one another WITHIN God’s family, we can not be effective ambassadors to those WITHOUT. On the flip side If we are only concerned about our own personal relationship with God, we are one legged and missing two thirds of His purpose for us.

It might seem simple to wrap so much up into one word. But we all know that being in relationship is anything but simple.

I read a book recently that really caused me to evaluate my way of looking at my relationship with God. The book was based on just one word as well. WITH. It’s such a common, ordinary word, but I can’t say those words WITH GOD now without it being pregnant with meaning for me.

In a nutshell the book talks about five general stances or postures that can come to influence our view of God and as a result the way we relate to him.

The first stance is one of a life lived OVER God. This is where we live life oblivious to or at times even rebellious toward the authority of God in our lives. In a life OVER God stance our own will, emotions, dreams and desires are what dictate our choices and plans and we feel no guilt over that, because we believe it is completely within our own rights to decide our own destiny. In a life OVER God stance it is not that we don’t believe in the existence of God, but that we don’t think His existence has much if anything to do with the day to day workings of our life. We may even “fit him into our calendar” weekly, or daily, and go to Him with our prayers and petitions, but our hands remain firmly on the wheel, our foot on the gas or the brakes  at all times.

The second stance is a life lived UNDER God. This is where we live life acutely aware of the authority of God in our lives. We are aware of His holiness, and our fallenness. of righteousness and unrighteousness. We place importance on rules and rule following, right and wrong. Life under God is often characterized by a strong interest in obedience and righteousness.

The third stance is life derived FROM God.  This is where we live life acutely aware of our dependence God being our source and our supply. We recognize that all we have is from him and all we need can be found in Him. We place importance on TRUSTING God, BELIEVING God and THANKING God. Life derived FROM God is often characterized by growing trust and faith.

The fourth stance is one of a  life lived FOR God. This is where we live life acutely aware of all that God has done for us and in love and worship and passion, we want to give back. We want to live sold out, completely surrendered, we want our life to count and we want purpose and meaning that accomplish things FOR God and His kingdom. Life lived FOR God is often characterized by sacrifice and service.

Contemplating these stances was like looking in a mirror for me. I can see myself in each of these stances at different stages of life. Early on in our married life we lived our lives OVER God, plotting our own course and largely oblivious to what God might desire or require of us. Then about four years ago we felt strongly convicted to place every aspect of our lives UNDER the sovereign control of God,  and the words surrender and Lordship became very pivotal for us. Since we left for the mission field we can see how these last two stances of life FROM God and life FOR God have come to the forefront and been magnified in our thinking.

All of these stances kind of remind me of my children as they went through various stages of growth and development, and the way it affected our parent child relationship.  Like a toddler must learn obedience, and a child must learn respect, and a teenager must learn responsibility. These stances are stages we move through as we are learning how to relate to God.

if we are looking at the gospel through the lens of relationship, it is ultimately not a stance of life over, under, from or for God so much as life lived intimately WITH God that is our invitation. This is where we live life acutely conscious of, in communion WITH, in love WITH and on mission WITH God. When you think of it this way there is a vast difference between life lived WITH God and life lived FOR God. In life WITH God the focus becomes the relationship, rather than the rules, the provision or the purpose. Those things will all be there, but they will be products of the relationship rather than define our relationship.

When you are aware of it the Bible just overflows with “withs”. Jesus said, surely I am WITH you till the end of the age” and God says that he has raised us up to rule WITH Christ, and that He will give us the right to sit WITH Him upon His throne.

I challenge you when you are reading the Old Testament to look at each story through the lens of relationship. Adam walked with God in the garden. Enoch walked with God. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, were all noted for their intimate personal relationships with God. Even the 10 commandments take on new meaning when you consider them through the lens of relationship. The first 5 protect our right relationship with God, and the second 5 protect our relationships within society.

Obviously if we are  living life WITH God, we are called to be in relationship not only WITH Him, but WITHIN His family. We don’t just get a Heavenly Father, we inherit a whole lot of relations. I will be honest with you. This is sometimes the place I have the most struggle. It’s easy for me to be patient and kind with those who don’t know any better but my patience often runs thin for those in my own family, and in God’s family too. Much of our ministry is based on teaching about stages of spiritual growth and how to disciple people to spiritual maturity. I have to remind myself often that  other people’s spiritual growth is not my goal. Bringing people into right relationship WITH God and with each other is the goal, growth will be the result. Again, looking at everything through the lens of relationship. This makes my work so much simpler and fulfilling.

So much could be said about our relationships with each other within the family of God.
Read the New Testament through the lens of relationship and you will be struck by how much of the epistles are full of advice on how to protect and promote relationship within the family of God, 1 Cor 13 is often referred to as the love chapter, but even this I have come to view as the relationship chapter.

Finally. As a church, God has made those of us within His family ambassadors to the world without, to be in relationship with the lost and to invite others into relationship with Him. We can not share what we do not possess. In order to invite people into relationship with God, our relationship WITH Him needs to be such that it backs up what we say about Him. Our relationships within the body need to be governed by the fruit of the spirit as well as grace and humility. Our heart for the lost needs to be one of deep love, not just a puritanical commitment to fulfill the great commission.

In all of this, Jesus is our example. As I look at Jesus life through the lens of relationship I become more and more aware of  how intentional and focused He was on relationships. He didn’t write books, he didn’t book amphitheatres and hold crusades. I highly doubt he would have had a facebook or twitter account. He ministered for the most part in the context of personal connection and relationship, even though at times that context grew to include great crowds.

This leads me to my final observation of what I am learning in my own life. Relationships require energy. Lots of energy. Our energy is limited. Especially if we are introverts.  Even Jesus energy and sphere of influence  was limited. I am struck by how many times in the gospels it quietly states “jesus withdrew to a solitary place”, or Jesus withdrew from the crowd with his disciples or something to that effect.

Don’t you find it interesting that Jesus didn’t do a European tour, a Middle Eastern tour or even a 12 tribes of Israel tour. His ministry was very localized and for the most part centered around 12 men, 3 to an even more intimate degree. In Gethsemane the night before he was crucified he made a statement that has really come to have a huge impact on both Pietro and I. He said “I have completed the work for which I was sent.” He was not referring to the work of the cross here. The subject of this prayer is not the cross at all, it’s his disciples. The entire prayer is about how he had completed the role of disciple maker with his disciples. He was confident that he had impacted those who had been chosen by the Father for Him to impact, he refers to them as “the ones you gave me”

This is very freeing for me. I can not be in relationship with every lost, hurting, needy person on the planet. I am so thankful God has revealed this to me because if he hadn’t I am sure I would be suffering from compassion fatigue, exhaustion and breakdown. Although we are called to love all, I can’t be a friend, mentor, or servant to every person that crosses my path. But I am becoming more and more in tune with that still small voice that says “this one. Be a friend to this one. Mentor this one. Serve this one. As well as the voice that says “not this one.”  Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. I am learning more and more what that means. When he tells me “this one” He is already at work in that person’s life, it’s like the soil is already plowed and he is merely inviting me to fall into step with him and scatter seed in the trail he is blazing.

Like Jesus, with his disciples, our greatest and most lasting impact can occur as a result of our closest relationships.  The impact being in relationship with him for 3 ½ years had on 12 ordinary men, ultimately impacted the world and each one of us. Like my lady on the step, our greatest impact might happen when and where we least expect it, and we might not even realize it.