Friday, September 21, 2007

Basking in God's Love; Adventure

A couple of points from recent sermons have hit me in an unusual way, and I wanted to comment on them.

First, from the 9/9 sermon, the idea of loving God, and rejoicing, basking in the love he has for me. This is not the direction that my mind naturally tends to go, partly of course because of Satan. But to help with this concept, this picture was offered:
When I was in high school, a friend of mine told me about a girl who, my friend said, liked me. And I could not believe it, because I knew this girl, and she was way out of my league. You know what it is when someone is way out of your league? She was way out of my league. And I said, "This can't be true."

And my friend said, "It is true." My friend said, "I don't understand it either, but it's true."

And that night, my mind just kept delighting in this thought: "She likes me." I just couldn't stop my mind from going there; it just went there and delighted in it. She liked me. And the next day, although I could hardly believe it was true, I called her up and asked her out. And it turned out it wasn't true. But I had one really good night, just thinking about it, okay?
This is a great picture. The point, of course, is that God is way out of my league; I'm in the Sinner league, and he's in the Perfection league; how many huge steps below God are people like me?

But it doesn't help me much with rejoicing in God's love. And why not? Because God's love isn't scarce; it's not rare. In one sense, God's love is astonishing; in another, it's expected! (Does not the Bible say, "God is love"?) So that picture doesn't help me a lot to appreciate God's love. Here is something that is just a bit more helpful for me: the idea of being his workmanship, and of pleasing him.

One of my favorite passages talks about pleasing him:
we pray that God will fill you with the knowledge of his will... in order that you
  • may live a life worthy of the Lord and
  • may please him in every way,
    • bearing fruit in every good work,
    • growing in the knowledge of God,
    • being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, in order that you may have great endurance and patience, and
    • joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you (us?) to share in the inheritance of the saints....
from Colossians 1
(bullets added)
Another passage that talks about pleasing God is this one:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.
from Hebrews 11
And then there is this one:
we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared for us beforehand, that we should walk in them.
from Ephesians 2
Maybe other people like the illustration of the girl who's way out of my league, but these passages here are more helpful to me.

I'll bet part of it is because when I make something, typically some software, if I do a good job on it, then it pleases me. So the idea of being God's workmanship, and of pleasing God, is something I can identify with to some extent. (We are created in his image, right?) Now part of what pleases me about stuff that I build well is that it behaves as it's supposed to. From this I extrapolate the idea that part of pleasing God is doing certain kinds of things:
  • bearing fruit (having a life with meaning) in every good work
  • growing in the knowledge of God
  • being strengthened ... to have endurance and patience
  • joyfully giving thanks
  • trust God to reward us
  • do the good things God prepared for us
And though part of me says, "No, no, no; it's not what we do that matters--because we are saved by grace through faith, not by deeds," yet I also know that Jesus talks about the kingdom of God in terms of actions: "You have been faithful with little, you will be entrusted with much; come, enter into the joy of your master." Right? And doesn't Paul pray God's blessing on us for every act prompted by your faith (2 Thessalonians 1)?

The second point

The 9/16 sermon talked about the idea of adventure. "God will give us as much adventure as we are open to receiving," but when I heard that I must confess that I thought, "Bleah."

I don't think I'm the only one profoundly uninterested in adventure, at least at some times on some days. There are just so many things to do -- some of them good things to do to be a blessing to others (giving blood for example, or inviting new people over for dinner, or going to some large-group event to help them feel welcomed into the church community), not to mention just keeping the balls in the air -- home and auto maintenance for example, periodic physicals, dental check-ups, eye exams, exercise.

What's the way out? One thing is, we need to be reminded of Dallas Willard's admonition to carve out a satisfying life... so that sin won't look so good. And just remembering that may not be enough; some of us (some of me?) need instruction on how to do that. Cut out the TV? I think the DVD I watch with my wife and daughter once or twice a month isn't what's killing me. We had a sermon on this some months back, and perhaps I ought to practice that more. Like taking time more frequently (daily?) to reflect on God's goodness. Making a list, maybe, of blessings?
  • Good sleep.
  • A kiss from the lovely Carol while still in bed.
  • A phone call from the elder teen this morning.
  • Brown sugar to put in my oatmeal.
  • A vehicle that works.
  • Pleasant chat with the younger teen en route to school.
  • Monthly train pass.
  • Sunshine this morning while waiting for the train.
  • Free jacket (!) from the office (the red fleece with the "Anchor Steam" logo, because it's cool outside.
  • But not too cold.
  • A folding umbrella for the possible showers this afternoon.
  • Pleasant relationships with colleagues and my boss.
  • Mostly nearly on-time rail transit.
  • Leftovers to take for lunch.
Well, maybe that's enough for now.


I started writing this a few days ago, and last night I saw some missionary friends in Mountain View, where I heard about some of their current adventures. Some amazing things are happening in the mideast, even at this very desperate point in history. There's an attorney, grieved at the sectarian violence in his country; he recruits young people from the 15 or so ethnic/religious groups in the country, forms them into a team to lead youth camps, and then persuades parents from various groups to send their children to these youth camps. These missionary friends are working to help him manage growth, even as a third of his team emigrated (everyone who can get out does get out because of the desperate security/economic situation).

There's a medical doctor in another country, who "made it" in the US but returned to help her people. Finding two problems--a shortage of hospice care (and assisted living facilities), and high unemployment--she started an organization to train unemployed/unemployable youth in cooking, mobility assistance, feeding etc. She's addressing both problems at once! This movement has caught on, and these missionary friends are working with her team to preserve the culture (sharing Christ's love even as very practical needs are being met) she's developed so far as the organization expands into other cities.

These friends are living the adventure, a life which is attractive and yet strikes me as an obvious mismatch for me. A paradox? On one hand, to feel on the brink of disaster--where if God doesn't come through for me I'm in really big trouble--that would tend to focus and invigorate me. For a little while, anyway. After that, it would not really work for me. At least that's what I think now.

Yet I've often been very glad I did something, though I'd initially meant to skip it.

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