"Nothing ever seems to happen by coincidence at Living Waters." That's the running joke at any rate. And so it would seem.
This morning, Pastor Scott was preaching on "The Promise of God's Protection," and using largely Psalm 91 as the main text. Two of the verses caught my attention, because they made me think about a talk I heard from another pastor from one of the zillions of podcasts I seem to listen to.
Pastor Scott talked about how the vast, vast majority of God's promises are Un-Conditional, because they are based in who God is...and NOT in something we do or earn. However, in some instances, at least in the case of God's protection, there are certain conditions that we have to live up to.
In Psalm 91: 9-11 it says that "IF you make the Most High your dwelling - even the Lord, who is my refuge - THEN no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angles concerning you to guard you in all your ways."
In other words, you have to choose to stick close to God if you expect him to keep you safe. I figure that is pretty much a No-Brainer, because why would God be obligated to protect anyone who willingly enjoys running into the on-coming traffic after being warned not to?
Front to Back:
All this week I have been listening over & over to a sermon titled "Reconciled with God" by a guy named Rick McKinley from the Imago Dei Community out in Portland, Oregon. http://www.imagodeicommunity.com/ Pastor Rick is an interesting guy. He looks a lot like Norm from the old Cheers T.V. show...if Norm had kind of gone Grunge. He has an interesting way of speaking too...a very dry sense of humor.
The text he used were Romans 5:8-11 & 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. The whole point Rick was trying to make was that we can have peace with God. (Not much new in that idea if you have heard the Gospel explained properly before) But there were some thoughts that popped into my head as I listened that both challenged, scared and confronted me at the same time.
Before I go on, I will use the main illustration that Rick used to get his teaching across: Sin is the problem that separates humans from God. Feel free to define sin anyway you see fit, but in essence it is our willful rebellion against God's desires & intentions. Or, another one that I really like is, any behavior & mindset that disturbs the "Shalom (Peace) of God."
We turn our backs away from God when we sin, and it used to be that God would turn his back from us too. However, what Paul was saying in both of these letters that he wrote, was that because Jesus' death on the cross satisfied God's wrath & justice, his back is no longer turned. In fact, NOW his back is NEVER turned. God is always facing us, even if our backs are still turned away. Pastor Rick pointed out that all of the verbs that Paul uses in these passages are past-tense. In other words, what happened on the cross is a done deal. The funny, interesting and amazing part is that Paul says that God did all of this while we were still his enemies.
We tend, in our "Religiousness," to always want to be able to bring something to the table when it comes to God...as if it were a peace negotiation. We give a little, then God gives a little, and so on. Finally, we sign a piece of paper...and then get the Nobel Peace Prize. But what Paul points out is that God already did everything. (Not that there would be much to do for, or give to, God with which we could impress him.) The only thing God wants us to bring to the table is ourselves. He already did all of the work of reconciliation. The question is wether or not we will embrace it.
Some thoughts that hit me:
#1. I often think that God still turns his back on me when I sin. However, that is not the case. "For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled (Past-Tense) to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled (Past-Tense), shall we be saved through his life!" The point is that even when I blow it, God is still reconciled to me. He took care of everything...it's over, it's done. I might have turned my back...AGAIN! But God is still facing me waiting for me to turn around again.
Pastor Rick used the idea of Divine Favor from God being directed towards us...even when are being idiots. God pursues us even when we are not pursuing him. He desires to embrace us in a divine, cosmic bear hug. He never, ever, ever stops the pursuit. When we turn back towards God, he shows the favor that a loving parent would show towards their child, their beloved.
As I was listening to Rick talk about the kind of hug that God desires to give us, it made me remember a kid I used to work with at St. Louis Park H.S. She was a Special Needs kid. She had severe M.S. and used a very cool motorized wheel chair to get around. She liked me a lot I guess, because I was the only person she would let ride the back of her wheel chair. (Not my idea...she would insist on it!!!) Holy cow, she would go tearing around the gym with me clinging on the back for dear life. I have no idea how we both didn't tip that thing over. (Typical woman driver, ya know.)
So anyway, The following year I was assigned to the Junior High. But one of the teachers asked me to come back for a visit later that Spring to the High School. So I did. When that student saw me she said she wanted a hug. I leaned over her chair for the basic "Buddy Hug," and she rapped her arms around my neck so tight I thought my head would pop off like a champagne cork...she didn't particularly seem to want to let go either. When she finally did, my entire head and face were purple for about 5 minutes.
So, thats kind of the type of joyful hug God wants to impart to us when we turn around and face him...albeit much less painful...and with more oxygen available.
#2. Pastor Rick brought up an idea that kind of scared me a little. In 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote that "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them."
It reminded me of another verse in Colossians 1:19 & 20, "For God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile (Past-Tense) to himself ALL THINGS, whether on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." In other words, God has made peace with all of creation...including all of humanity.
To me, this smacked of "Universalism," the idea that everyone has been saved and that all is well, and that everyone will end up in heaven regardless of their relationship with Jesus. So I balked at embracing those verses. Not everyone will be saved. That much is clear from the scriptures. I wish that were not the case, but it is.
The obvious point that I was missing was this: Yeah, it is true God HAS made peace with everyone because of what he accomplished on the cross. He HAS turned his face towards all of creation, all of humanity. He did all of the work. There is nothing what so ever that we could, can or will be able to do about making peace with him...because he already did all that there was to do. If there WAS something that we could do to establish peace with God, it would no longer be Grace. The real question is this: Have YOU turned around and embraced it?
Based merely on John 3:16 and 1 John 4:8 & 16, I believe that God loves everyone. (Feel free to disagree with me if you are a Hyper-Calvinist.) That includes Hitler, Stalin, Mao...and even Osama bin Laden. God had and has his face towards them. The question is not about God's ability to love the unlovable. (He loves me, after all.) And it certainly has nothing to do with whether or not anyone somehow deserves his love. The question is whether or not any sinner will turn around to face God and stand in awe of all that God has done? Or better put, will we stand in "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!" of it?
I don't know what were in the minds of the world's 3 greatest mass-murderers before they bit the dust. However, I am inclined to say they probably didn't repent and turn towards Jesus. But, there is still hope for Osama bin Laden. (Jesus did tell us to pray for our enemies, folks.) Even with his twisted and sick view of God, God still loved Osama and wants him to turn around. It would really be something if he did, you have to admit.
(On a total aside: I heard on "Wait, wait...don't tell me," the MPR news quiz today, that at one point Osama wanted to make Whitney Houston one of his wives. Wow, the only guy on the planet worse than Bobby Brown that she could have married.)
#3. Back to Living Waters this morning: there are still a few areas of my life that I stubbornly refuse to hand over to God. I want to make God my refuge, my shelter. But there are some aspects of his promise of protection that are conditional. I know that he is facing me, even when I am being stubborn like this. Why is it so hard to simply hand these things over in exchange for his Divine Favor and galactic bear-hug? Perhaps that is just a part of the human condition.
Believe me, I am praying for all sorts of divine intervention to get me to let go and hand it over to Jesus. In the mean time, it is immensely comforting to know that he is always facing me...always pursuing me.
There is a poem by Francis Thompson that was published after his death titled "The Hound of Heaven." The poem refers to a man running away from God, and God as this relentless hound chasing after the man. I like the thought that God never gives up & quits the chase, but is relentless in his pursuit of fallen people...and even those already his children who insert their heads up their butts from time to time.
"I fled Him down the nights and down the days.
I fled Him down the arches of the years.
I fled Him don the labyrinthine ways.
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated.
Adown titanic glooms of chasme d hears.
From those strong feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed d pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
they beat, and a Voice beat,
more instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betray me."
All the stupid things that I stubbornly hold onto will ultimately betray me, but God will not. He stand with his face towards me, and his arms outstretched. He invites me to his table. He asks me to lay all my crap onto it....to just let it go. If I do, then my hands will be free to put my arms around him and hug back.
I can feel him looking at me even now.