I just finished reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian. I was not sure what to expect when I picked it up other than the fact the McLaren was rethinking how Christians think about things and sharing his insights with the world. After completing the first of the trilogy following the spiritual journey of Dan and Neo, I feel very similar to how Dan descibed himself at one point – very excited but mildly depressed. I am excited because I feel that McLaren has captured much of my own frustrations and anxieties over the current state of Christianity and the dialogue between Neo and Dan captures many of the questions I have had for some time and allows for dialogue – not necessarily answers – about them. The mild depression I find myself in is the result of a “now what” feeling I am left with. I think I am going to let McLaren’s words marinate for a while before trying to move on to the practical side of things. Right now there are certainly more questions than answers.
This morning I preached a sermon that has developed out of some spiritual awareness I have had recently. I have been thinking a lot about God’s nearness. God has been much nearer than I have known and felt. As I was preparing my sermon, I began tracing God’s presence throughout history in the Bible. I worked my thoughts into my sermon and thought I would share them here.
When God created the world. His desire for intimacy with his creation is seen as God walks in the garden in the cool of the day. God is near his People and now we claim that nearness as our own.
When Abraham feels as though the Covenant God made with him is being threatened by a command to sacrifice the very son promised to him. God’s story shows us a God that is so close He can halt a dagger as it pierces the air before it pierces the son of a covenant.
As a half million former slaves leave Egypt for a land promised to them, God’s presence leads them by fire at night and by smoke during the day, only to marvel this baby nation by paving the way through a mighty river.
As two rebellious nations make Israelites choose sides, God’s story brings us “in your face messages” ending with “thus saith the Lord” from reluctant prophets.
God’s story takes us into a foreign land where Jews mourn the loss of a Holy City. Other prophets emerge to help them know that while they are in a distant land they worship a not so distant God who shuts lion’s mouths and visits friends in a fiery furnace.
From the least likely places God shows just how involved he is by moving the heart of King Cyrus to deliver his people back to the promised land. His involvement guides prophets to expect an even more incredible deliverance from a coming Messiah.
Here God’s story takes the most exciting turn yet. Limiting the distance more than ever, God comes down to dwell in one man. Emanuel, God with us. The very God of creation walking and talking, breathing and hurting among those he created.
Just as quickly as God makes his dwelling on Earth, it appears that he makes an about face and leaves his own Son to die. In reality his ultimate attachment to you and to me is shown by attaching his own son to a cross.
When we think that God couldn’t get any closer to showing his love for us than a nail splitting wood, God’s own spirit splits our hearts and once again God’s dwelling place is not just among his people but now inside his people.
As we join God’s story we remember Jesus words before leaving his disciples. That as we go out into the entire world Jesus says, “Surely I am with you always.”
God is near.
I wonder what Jesus saw when he looked at this man. As soon as Jesus gets out of the boat this man comes out of the tombs to meet him. Did Jesus know that he too would one day be spending time in a tomb? Perhaps he also knew that, like the demon possessed man, no one could bind him. Chains could not hold the demoniac, hell couldn’t hold Jesus. The man knew who Jesus was instantly. It was as if all the evil in the world, bound up in this one man, knew the power of “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” to put an end to the suffering. As a fellow chain-breaker, Jesus knew what freedom would mean for this man. The man (or rather the demons inside) did not want Jesus to send them away, but Jesus – perhaps seeing in the man his own after death experiences, sent them away, leaving the formerly demon-possed man in his right mind. Later something interesting happens. Everyone around wanted Jesus to leave and the man, now without demons wanted to go with him. Throughout the entire book of Mark, Jesus is commanding people not to tell about their healing. Over and over again, he commands them to keep quiet. Here, but not only here, Jesus commands him to go and tell. The only other place in the entire book that Jesus commands someone to go and tell is after his own resurrection.
When tombs become empty, then people are told to go.
There are some people who are totally unemployable in the spiritual realm. They are spiritually feeble and weak, and they refuse to do anything unless they are supernaturally inspired. The proof that our relationship is right with God is that we do our best whether we feel inspired or not.
Every now and then I will read something that gets me charged. It may be a daily devotional or passage from the Bible. I feel that I can run marathons for God because of this newly inspired self. To be honest there are times when I feel like hiding from people and ministry and feel that I cannot do it. If you ask Krista, she will say that I am more introverted than extraverted. I do not feel that introverts cannot be good ministers, but in many ways I like myself better when I feel I am the “inspired, go-getter, people person.” I sometimes feel that I am disappointing God if I am not.
Oswald Chambers says that some people are “unemployable” in the spiritual realm. I think by this he means that the people who always feel the need for “inspired, go-get-em, spiritually supercharged,” revelations are unreliable. In fact I think sometimes I look for opportunities to serve where, to be successful, that is the type of power I need. Instead, I think I need to find ways of serving where I feel empowered regardless of any inspiration I may or may not have received. Then when I do get a charge, that area of service can receive a boost and be blessed even more.
Here is an interesting quote from My Utmost for His Highest.
Never be afraid when God brings back your past. Let your memory have its way with you. It is a minister of God bringing its rebuke and sorrow to you. God will turn what might have been into a wonderful lesson of growth for the future.
Sometimes the hurt from our past is something that we try to stifle and push down so its harm can no longer, “have its way with us.” What vivid imagery to describe the effects that our shame and hurt possesses sometimes. Chambers says this is a minister of God. Its difficult to think sometimes that any minister of God would want to surface some repressed hurt from our past. But, at times, this is necessary. When God brings back your past, let your memory have its way with you. How is God trying to minister to you through the pain, the hurt, and the shame which you have tried to suppress?