Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Challenge of Love

September 26, 2010

John 21:15-19

Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way

The Challenge of Love

In preparing to do weddings I have learned a few things. One is that it’s hard to counsel with couples before they get married because they don’t really listen. Most couples are convinced they have a relationship that is deeper and more loving than everybody else in the history of relationships and there is nothing they need to hear. But I try to impart a few words of wisdom – not that I am an expert on words of wisdom when it comes to marriage.

One couple came to see me some years ago and I offered the young man some advice – when it comes to the wedding you probably aren’t interested in the details, are you. No, he said. So I told him that when his fiancĂ©e asks what he thinks about flowers or anything related to the wedding just to say I’m happy with whatever you want to do. Because she’s really not interested in his opinion when she asks what he thinks; she wants to know he is in agreement with her. I asked him if he understood what I was telling him. Yes, he said. They came back to see me a week or so later and as soon as they walked into the office I could tell things weren’t going well. When I asked them how things were going she started crying. So I looked at him and asked what did you do? He looked clueless, of course, but finally said they were in a store looking at stemware. He had no idea what stemware was. She had seen a nice piece of stemware, held it up and asked him, what do you think of this? I knew then what had happened. I said, you forgot what I told you, didn’t you? You actually told her your opinion, didn’t you? What did I tell you not to do? He still didn’t seem to understand. He said, I just said, that doesn’t look like it will hold much ice tea, and she started crying. I said, you’re getting married! Quit thinking!

It’s instructive to remember that even when two people love each other deeply; even when two people love each other so much they pledge their lives to one another; even when two people want to be together for a lifetime, there is still a challenge to love. Love doesn’t rule out the fact that there will be bumps in the road of life or guarantee there won’t be some conflict along the way.

This morning, continuing with our theme of Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way, we come to The Challenge of Love. As we have moved through our first year together I have based most of my messages on a few themes, and one of those themes has been the theme of love. That, of course, is a no-brainer since love is the foundation of all the work of God. But the sad truth is that not all churches communicate a spirit of love. Many people see churches as places of harsh judgmentalism and condemnation.

For our Scripture text this morning we look at this passage near the end of John’s gospel, where Jesus asks Peter three times the question, Do you love me?

It’s a rather uncomfortable passage to read, actually, because we can sense Peter’s discomfort. The fact that Jesus asks Peter this question three times is a painful reminder of Peter’s three denials not many days prior to this encounter.

In verse 15 Jesus asks Peter the first time – Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these? What’s very interesting about that question is what we don’t see in English. The English language has only one word for love, but Greek has four words for love – storge, which is a love you would find among family members; philia, which is a love between friends (as in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love); eros, which is a love deeper than friends and can also be a physical love; and agape, which is a divine love, a sacrificial love, the very deepest form of love.

The word Jesus uses the first time he puts the question to Peter is agape – Peter do you love me in the deepest way possible? Do you love me with all your heart, soul, and mind? Are you willing to sacrifice for me? These are the implications of agape love. But in his response Peter uses the word philia. Lord, you’re a good friend, but… In verse 16, Jesus again asks Simon son of John, do you truly love me? Once again Jesus uses the word agape and Peter uses the word philia. In verse 17, when Jesus asks the third time he uses the word philia, and Peter for the third time uses the word philia.

Peter could have argued that he had given up a lot to follow Jesus and he could have made a good case that he had done his best under difficult circumstances to be an effective disciple. He doesn’t argue with Jesus, he simply says, yes, Lord, you know that I love you. But there was something holding Peter back from a full embrace of love. Jesus was asking Peter if he could love in the deepest way possible, but Peter hedges somewhat, and replies by limiting his love to a level of friendship. A good friendship, no doubt, but not the full embrace of love that Jesus was asking of Peter.

The hesitation we sense in Peter is not unlike the hesitation we sometimes find in ourselves when it comes to love. It’s just safer and easier to keep love at a safe distance, because love asks so much of us.

Maybe that’s why Peter had returned to fishing in this pasage, which wasn’t really wrong, but it wasn’t the task to which he was called. Jesus had come to Peter to give him a recommissioning. When he asks Peter, do you truly love me more than these, in verse 15, he may be referring to the tools of the fisherman. Peter, are you willing to step away from something you know very well, something that represents security in a monetary sense? Are you willing to step into the uncertainty of the work to which you are called?

One of the things love does is to call us into uncertainty. When two people are married, they have no idea of all that is ahead – thank goodness! What would we do if we knew all the challenges that were ahead? But love asks us to commit to one another in spite of all that comes, and that is what Jesus asks of Peter.

Each time Peter responds, Jesus gives him a task – feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep. Love is more than a feeling or an emotional state – love is an action, and here is where we find the greatest challenge of love. It is easy to love in a greeting card sense; that is, to love when it is easy. It is easy to say the words; it is easy to love those who love us, to love those who are kind to us, and to love those who are friends and family. But what Jesus asks is to love even those who hate and despise and use us. In the Sermon On the Mount Jesus simply says, if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? (Matthew 5:46).

Jesus pushes Peter by telling him to act upon his love – he asks Peter to do something. Each time Peter responds that he loves Jesus, Jesus tells him to take care of his sheep.

Love means taking care of people. Jesus says it in the most basic way of helping that we know – feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Jesus is probably talking about a spiritual feeding but I believe it’s also a physical feeding as well. We are called not just to minister to the spiritual needs of people but to the physical needs as well. The Outreach Committee is working hard on the auction they will host on November 10th. The proceeds of that auction will provide for the physical needs of a lot of people. The point Jesus is impressing upon Peter is this – if we fail to minister to the whole person – the physical as well as the spiritual – we are limiting love.

Love for God that does not translate into that kind of love for people is not really love for God. The book of I John makes this connection over and over, until John finally says If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother (I John 4:20-21). As one writer says, our capacity to love God cannot be great than our capacity to love others.

Jesus was demonstrating great trust in Peter. In spite of Peter’s failure of denying Jesus, Peter is being restored. Jesus trusted him to serve again. He trusted his words and actions would be one and the same. We live in a rather schizophrenic society. It is a society that likes the idea of love, but is also a society that tears people apart. There is not much redemptive love in our society, but that is the love that Jesus offers to Peter, and it is the love to which we are called.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Challenge of Materialism - September 19, 2010

Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way

The Challenge of Materialism

Someone mentioned to me recently that it must have been easy for us to move such a short distance when we came to Shelbyville. I wish that were true. Tanya and I wondered how people move from one state to another. The physical process of moving, even just a short distance, is difficult. It made me long for the days when I could move all of my stuff and only take up a portion of the back seat and trunk of my car.

Even though that period of my life had challenges, I look back on it with a measure of fondness, and one of the reasons is because of the simplicity of life at that time. I didn’t have much and I really didn’t need much.

Those of you who have been married for some time know this feeling. How many of you look back to the early days of your marriage, when you had very little, and remember those times very fondly? How many of you said, we didn’t have anything but we were very happy.

If we were happy when life was simpler, why are we compelled to accumulate? As much as we all like and enjoy our stuff, it complicates life, doesn’t it? You’ve got to find space for it, you have to insure it and hope nobody tries to steal it, and then you have to find more space for it, and then you have so much stuff that you can’t find what you’re looking for, and then one day when we’re gone somebody has to figure out what to do with all the stuff we left behind.

This morning, continuing with our series of Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way, the challenge we study today is The Challenge of Materialism. When we studied the parables earlier this year I touched on this subject, and this is one of the themes that I turn to occasionally. It’s a subject always worthy of consideration because there are so many implications to the level of materialism in today’s world. In a time when resources are becoming so scarce, in a world where so many have so little, and in a world that has been rocked economically – at least in part – because of the desire for more and more, we have reached a dangerous precipice. We are teetering on an edge of near-disaster, I fear, because of the explosion in the past generation of a level of materialism that has overheated to the point that we are beginning to see the damaging results of such rampant materialism.

But today I want to look at this topic from a bit of a different angle. Today it’s not about statistics and it’s certainly not about trying to make you feel guilty, but to ask the question why are we so drawn to accumulating?

You may have wondered why I would use this passage from the book of James in reference to materialism, but it does touch on materialism. While not addressing it in a way so direct as naming it, James speaks to materialism, I believe, as he examines the internal workings of our heart, mind, and soul. James uses rather dramatic language to describe an internal process; he talks about how desire rises up within us, and how that desire takes root and then we are dragged away.

What James is describing is a process that takes place in all of our lives. He is talking about a spiritual process that draws us into unhealthy practices, one of which is materialism. What is it about us, he is essentially asking, that draws us to stuff, and the desire to accumulate either possessions or money? Why is it, when having a bunch of stuff and the process of accumulating complicates our lives, we still find ourselves drawn to a desire for more stuff and greater accumulation?

One of the reasons, I believe, that materialism finds its way into our lives is through illusions that are so prevalent in our culture. Some of these illusions are –

The illusion of plenty.

One of the results of a consumer economy is the perpetuation of the idea that there is always plenty, but the current rate of consumption of our resources means a great deal of trouble on the horizon, because it is growing at a rate that simply is not sustainable. In our country, with has a little less than 5% of the world’s population, we are consuming a huge percentage of the world’s resources. As China and India, who together account for 40% of the world’s population, grow more consumer-oriented economies, the stress on natural resources is going to be immense.

And the illusion of plenty leads also to a mentality of disposability, which is both wasteful and harmful to our world. My grandparents were in the generation of the Great Depression. That generation was really a generation of environmentalists because they didn’t believe in wasting anything – they couldn’t afford to!

The message of the gospel is stewardship – we are called to make use of God’s creation to meet our needs but the world belongs to God and we are to care for the world and use it in a way that respects God’s ownership of all things.

The illusion of comparison.

Years ago one of my roommates was in the process of buying a car. He told me to meet him at the car dealer late in the afternoon to see the car he was planning to purchase. He had an accounting job and at the time I was gutting an old house for my employers. I got to the car lot first, and I was grubby and dirty and as I walked around the lot it occurred to me that not a single sales person had approached me. As soon as my roommate walked onto the lot, in his shirt and tie, someone went straight to him. Now, I’m not picking on car dealers, but I decided to do an experiment. I came back to the dealership a few days later. But when I came back I made certain that my appearance was different. I made sure I was clean and well dressed and the reception I received was very, very different.

The message we often hear in our society is that everyone is special and unique, but the structure of our society is far different. We live in a culture that stratifies and categorizes people in very distinct ways. One of the way people are categorized is by how much they possess or own.

People don’t want to feel less important, or less desirable, or less worthy, but when they compare their life to the life of someone who has more, that’s often what happens. So people are driven to have more in order to convince themselves they are important and worthwhile.

This is where the message of the gospel is so important. Everyone, the Scriptures tell us, is made in the image of God. The value of a person is not based upon what they own, where they live, the kind of care they drive, the label on their clothes, or the size of their bank account.

The illusion of freedom.

I imagine that most of us are attracted to wealth, at least, because of the idea of freedom – freedom from worry, the freedom to afford what we want, and the freedom to control our own destinies.

The gospel, though, warns us of the resulting bondage that often comes as a result of seeking after possessions. During our study of the parables we talked about the rich man who tore down his barns in order to build larger ones (Luke 12:13-31). One of the powerful messages of that parable is the warning that we can become like that man – where we become the possession rather than the possessor. We don’t gain freedom, but enter into bondage. We enter into financial bondage trying to pay for everything and spiritual bondage by allowing something to possess our hearts, minds, and souls.

I think we look at people like Bill Gates and think, if I that much I would have no worries. But I don’t think that’s true. When you have a lot you probably worry about losing it. The real key is not depending on any amount of stuff to give us a sense of happiness, well-being, or freedom. Those are gifts that come to us in a spiritual way, not a material way. That’s not to say we don’t have material needs – we certainly do – but perhaps more often than not people find themselves in bondage to what they have rather than feeling a sense of freedom.

The illusion of security.

Here’s one that has taken a hit in the past few years. Even people with great means feel less secure economically these days.

There is no doubt in my mind that much of our drive to accumulate is out of a desire to bring a sense of security. There is a sense of security that comes in having enough money to pay your mortgage and buy groceries. There is security in knowing that if you lose your job you have enough money to pay those bills until you find another job.

The CEO of a large company was working late in his office one evening. As the night custodian came into clean the office, he looked at the CEO and thought that guy has it made. He makes plenty of money and never has to worry about paying his bills. I’m working two jobs trying to support my family and there never seems to be enough money. It must be nice to live a life like his. The CEO looked at the custodian and thought that guy has it made. Our stock price is down and the investors are very unhappy with my. My board is unhappy. Our competition is making things very difficult for us. Here I am, working another late night. It must be nice to live a life like his.

No amount of stuff or money can bring total security. A visit to the doctor’s office can change everything about life in a moment. A test result can pull the rug out from under our security. An accident changes life in a heartbeat. Economic forces can overnight wipe out what we have accumulated over years of hard work.

The greater gifts in life, James says – every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.

The Challenge of Materialism is one that strikes us literally in the heart. The response of the gospel is a challenge that asks us to fly in the face of the world around us and to voluntarily live differently from what our culture is spoon-feeding to us.

One summer when I was in high school I was at church camp, and I was wondering if I was accumulating too much. Which is kind of funny because I didn’t have much of anything. But I was spending a lot of money on records and saving money for a stereo. I was walking across the camp one afternoon with a counselor and asked should I get rid of all my stuff? Am I spending too much money on it? He didn’t really give me an answer, except to say that I needed to prayerfully consider what I thought God wanted me to do. I remember thinking, I could use something a little more specific than that. But over the years I have realized he was right. He couldn’t tell me what to do, but he challenged me to begin a process of thinking and praying about it, and that’s a process that hasn’t stopped. I am often not where I should be in relation to the question of materialism, but I pray that the spirit of God never lets go of my heart when it comes to this issue. And I pray that he doesn’t let go of yours either.

The Challenge of the Future - September 12, 2010

Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way

The Challenge of Change

Some years ago I was listening to one of my old vinyl albums. As I lifted it off the turntable Tyler walked into the room. Looking quizzically at the album he asked, Dad, what is that? It hadn’t occurred to me that he had never seen a vinyl album before. Tyler has grown up as a member of the iPod generation, and is unfamiliar with vinyl albums, 8 track tapes, and cassette tapes. The changes in how we receive our music is but one facet of the rapid change we face every day of our lives.

The speed of change in our world has reached a mind-boggling rate. Before we have time to adapt to one change the world has moved on to several more changes.

I was at the Regional Assembly in Lexington this past week, and there was a lot of talk about change. The Region, you may or may not know, has been going through a process of reinvention called Surfing the Edge. There was a great deal of talk about change, reinvention, and reinvigoration.

A lot of churches yearn for the “good old days,” when all you had to do was open the door and get out of the way. The conversation goes remember when Reverend so-and-so was here? He really used to pack them in.

The golden age of the church was the 1950s. It coincided with the Baby Boom. It wasn’t that churches were always doing things right; it’s that social forces and the culture in general favored church attendance. Just as social forces and the culture helped to pack the pews a generation ago, there are social forces in our culture now that help to empty those same pews.

Some churches, with less attendance than during their golden age, may actually be doing church better and possess a greater sense of mission, but they are seeing less results in terms of attendance.

It seems as if everything is changing, and not for the better, and we just want to cry out stop the change! Can’t things stay the same?

They can’t. We are living in an era of change that is happening at unprecedented speed, and the forces that bring about the change are beyond our control and they sweep us along as though we are caught in a raging river and we are captured in the current.

These few sentences spoken by Jesus in our Scripture reading remind us that change has always been a constant, and sometimes change is bad, sometimes good, but almost always uncomfortable.

I don’t think the desire for or interest in faith has changed much in our society, but the delivery system has. People no longer feel they have to turn to a church for their spiritual needs to be met. Flipping around the radio recently the topic for discussion was this – is it necessary to attend church to be a Christian? Many of the callers said absolutely not. To many, the church seems like an 8 track tape in an iPod world.

The discussion about change going on in many congregations is not really about change; it is about several questions. Is church still relevant? Why do churches decline? What can be done to turn around the decline? How do we recapture what we were ten, twenty, thirty, forty or more years ago?

As Jesus talked about change, he was talking about a few specific matters –

We are called to build the kingdom of God, first and foremost.

Jesus never preached a sermon, as far as we know, about 8 Ways to Grow a Synagogue or 10 Outreach Ideas for the Temple. It was always about the kingdom of God.

When we talk about struggling with change we are almost always talking about the impact of a changing world on the institutional church. Will we continue to grow, will we receive enough money to pay our bills, and those kinds of questions.

When Jesus spoke the words we read a few minutes ago, he was talking about something larger than just institutional expressions of faith; he was talking about the kingdom of God. He was faced with an institutional approach to faith that had, in many ways, become aloof and out of touch with people. That’s not unlike much of what we see in institutional faith today.

I believe in the institutional church, and it’s not just because that’s what pays my salary. I believe the local church provides a much-needed community of faith that nourishes us and supports us and challenges us and provides us with an outlet for our spiritual gifts.

But in some places, the kingdom is over here and the church is over here. What Jesus was talking about was a change that was more than just cosmetic, it was a radically different way of understanding not only that God was at work in the wider world but how people could connect with what God was doing.

Churches must become kingdom outposts.

Does anybody want to guess what is the most successful church outreach ministry in recent years? Most people probably don’t know it’s a church outreach ministry. Habitat for Humanity.

The success of Habitat for Humanity is in doing something for others. Remember last week when I was talking about experiential faith? That’s exactly what Habitat does. There are thousands of people doing work for the kingdom of God through Habitat and they probably don’t even know it!

This is where the church can do so much to connect with people. People are tired of seeing churches as little more than agents of moralizing. They just think well, I’m a good person, at least as good as most of those people, so why do I need them?

We can’t get ahead on moralizing; there are too many shortcomings among us to win at that game. But we can call people to something, just as Jesus did.

We have arrived at a point in human history where we cannot afford to disappear into our own lives. It is an abdication of responsibility, I think, for anyone to decide they are going to live their life without thought to the lives of others. There is simply too much at stake. There is too much brokenness, too much violence, too much hunger – both spiritually and physically – to much fear, too much poverty – both spiritually and physically – for anyone to be indifferent.

The key to our future – and the future of any church – is to be an outpost for the kingdom of God.

The Church in the Emerging Culture (interview with Frederica Mathewes-Green, pp. 178-179)

What of others who are outside, in the secular culture?

There is no outside. There is no place where God is not, even now. Even those who do not know the truth of Christ are also created, beloved, and known by him. He is closer to them than their own breath, though they do not know him. We work together with God so that every person can come to saving knowledge of Christ and be healed and transformed alongside us.

What has the culture to do with this?

Christ has compassion on those who are harassed and helpless because they do not know their shepherd. The culture is ever-changing weather conditions that these sheep must endure, which they try to respond to as best they can, though they are confused and wounded. Protection and rescue of individual sheep is our primary goal. It is less worthwhile to try to change the weather. We may occasionally have isolated success, but it appears that every weather pattern will have both good and bad elements, and weather itself is bound to be a perennial phenomenon.

How can we convert the culture?

A culture cannot be converted. Only individuals can be converted. God knows how to reach each individual; every conversion is an inside job. We cooperate by listening attentively for God’s directions and speaking the right words at the right moment, doing a kind deed, bearing Christ’s light and being his fragrance in the lies of people we know. This is the level where things change, one individual at a time, as one coal gives light to another. When enough people change, the culture follows – though, again, the hope of ever having a perfect culture is futile. Our effectiveness as witnesses is tested not on the public stage but by our private daily conduct. If we are not being healed at those levels all we do for public display will be garbage.

What a powerful line that is – there is no outside. In a day and age when there are so many who think in terms of us versus them, it is important that we demonstrate that we do not think in such terms. May we be instruments of change, of breaking down walls, of removing barriers. Let us pray.

The Challenge of Allegiance - September 5, 2010

Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way

The Challenge of Allegiance

When I was in seminary I had a job working for an interior design firm in the Butchertown community of Louisville. There was another seminary student who worked there as well. The owners of the business lived above their store and as they were preparing to travel they asked the other student to stay in their apartment and keep an eye on everything. They had a beautiful apartment and were very particular about it, so they gave him strict instructions – no visitors. So what does he do? He decides to have a party in their apartment, a night or two before they were to arrive back in town. He invites all these people and they are having a grand time. And guess what happened. The couple came home early. Without warning. They open the door and walk into the middle of this big party in their home. It did not work out well for my coworker, but I was suddenly given the better jobs.

Our Scripture passage today comes from a famous event that took place while Moses is on the mountain receiving the law from God. While he is away, the Hebrew people fear he is not coming back so they approach Aaron and ask him to make a god that they might worship. Aaron instructs the people to bring him gold and from that gold he fashions the golden calf and declares there will be a big celebration the following day. The people throw a big party. There is dancing, and singing, and feasting, and into the middle of this big party enters Moses. He and Joshua are coming down the mountain, hear the noise, and Joshua says there is the sound of war in the camp (32:17). Moses listens and realizes it is something far different. Moses storms into the camp and in his anger at what he sees throws down the stone tablets, destroying them, burns the golden calf, grinds it into powder, scatters it on the water, and has the people drink the water.

This morning, continuing on with our series Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way, we are looking at The Challenge of Allegiance. Why did the Hebrew people so quickly abandon their allegiance to God and ask Aaron to create for them a new god? What was it about this group of people? As we read the story of the Exodus we find the Hebrews were such a fickle group of people. They were stubborn, they were fearful, they struggled to be faithful, they complained about their lot in life, and they complained about their leaders, turning on them at the drop of a hat. Do you know who they remind me of? Us! Some things never change – human nature certainly doesn’t.

One thing that doesn’t change about human nature is the desire to fashion our own gods. What the Hebrew people did in asking Aaron to fashion them a god is not different from what people have always done and continue to do – create God in their own likeness and in accordance with their own desire.

There are many versions of God that humanity has created. Here are a few –

The God who loves me but not you.

This is a God very much designed and perpetuated by some churches and some church people. It says God loves us because we are so good, and he doesn’t love you because you are not good, or at least not as good as we want you to be or in the way we want you to be or in comparison to us. This is a God who, it is claimed by some religious people, can’t hear the prayers of certain groups or won’t bless certain groups, or doesn’t like certain groups. This is the God of the Pharisee who, as he prayed by the tax collector said God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get (Luke 18:11-12).

It is very, very presumptuous when people start deciding who God should love and who God does love. It is, I would say, the height of arrogance to try to say who God should love and does love.

The Partisan God.

There are some variations that go along with the partisan God, but it goes generally like this – I don’t have a political opinion; I have God’s political opinion. And amazingly, God’s opinion just happens to line up with that person’s political point of view.

The Bible is a very political, but it’s political in a different way from how we often think of politics. God is political most often in the Bible by way of justice. In the Old Testament, for example, the prophets often bring a message of God’s displeasure with the financial and social inequities that were present in the world then and still exist today. The prophets decried the way that so many people, especially the poor, were kept in financial bondage as a way of benefitting some people. Some things don’t change, do they?

In the New Testament, the Triumphal Entry was an extremely political act. Pilate would have had his own triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a way of warning people not to think of revolt, and one of the messages of the entrance of Jesus was to reject political might.

When Jesus was asked about paying taxes to Caesar it was an attempt by some of his opponents to draw him into a very partisan political controversy of the day (Matthew 22:15-22). Jesus raised the discussion to a very different level, refusing to take a partisan stand and instead taking an approach that dealt with one of the much deeper issues.

The Good-Buddy God.

This God is one that is a me and God, we’re tight. We’re just like this. He hangs out with me and goes fishing with me or golfing with me. We just pal around and kick back together.

One of the messages of Jesus was that God is very intimate with us, to the point that he called God Abba, which is Aramaic for daddy. It was considered irreverent to refer to God in such a familiar and casual way, but Jesus was making the point that God is not distant and far off, but close and accessible.

The mistake of the good-buddy God is assuming that God is just a casual friend that would never ask anything of us. The Scriptures are very clear that God is very close to us, but he is also not hesitant to challenge us in very significant ways. He asked the rich young man to sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor (Mark 10:17-22). He asks us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:45-48).

The God of blessing.

The prosperity gospel, the teaching that combines religious themes with materialism, is a blight on faith, I believe. But the God of blessing is not just about the prosperity gospel; it’s about the idea of a narrow blessing – I want God to bless me, to bless my family, maybe some friends and few others, and well, I won’t worry about everybody else.

This God was expressed in a piece I read recently, where a journalist expressed their feeling about being abandoned by God when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her family home. That was, indeed, very tragic. But the problem was God was okay as long as that person was not experiencing any difficulty, but when tragedy came home to her, she abandoned her faith.

Our prayer should not be that God blesses us, but that God blesses everyone. We should not seek a narrow blessing for just a few people, or just a region, or just a country, but for all people.

It is not possible to label God with just a few characteristics. God is beyond what we can imagine and what we are capable of fully understanding. Whatever we grasp of God, it is only a small part of who he is. Far too often we create a God that suits our lives and our interests. Far too often churches seek to bring God down to nothing more than a list of propositional truths, to a series of doctrines or dogmas, to little more than a belief system constructed to enforce their own opinions and point of view. The story of God in the Scriptures is that of experience.

God, the Scriptures tell us, is the God who walks with us. God is the one who invited Abraham to leave his homeland and follow him. God is the one who asked Moses to led his people from captivity and to follow him through the wilderness. God is the one who asked the disciples to follow him. This means God is experiential – he is with us and walks with us and asks us to walk with him.

This is the area, I believe, where we must connect people to God – in the realm of experience. Why is it that on a trip to All Peoples Christian Center that the youth really come alive? They worked to raise money, gave up a week of their time, slept in less than ideal conditions, but loved it. It’s because they were walking in the spirit of God by giving of their lives to others; it was experiential. We are not created just to give assent to a list of beliefs; we are created for a living, experiential relationship where we learn about God through walking with him and experiencing him during that walk.

At our church we don’t ask people to simply memorize a list of doctrines or beliefs. We don’t asking people to adopt a series of political points of view or dogmatic statements. We are inviting people to walk with God.

We invite you to walk with us.