Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You Are Not the Point but a Point

Several years ago I had a conversation with a missionary who was working in Nairobi Kenya.  She mentioned how everything was going quite well until Christian television began broadcasting in that country.  The problem is that much of the Christian programming that was being broadcast in Kenya was of the prosperity gospel variety and was threatening to undo much of the work of faithful ministries that had been laboring there for years with its message of God wanting to make people healthy, wealthy and prosperous as evidence of their Christian faith.  She told me of how the pastor of her church went from being a simple devoted follower of Christ to a person who would rail on his congregation weekly telling them that they needed to give more money so that he could drive a Mercedes like the pastor down the road.  She even showed me an article from the newspaper in Kenya that noted that the most lucrative job in the country was being a pastor.  Recently I have heard similar reports from others who have been doing missions work in Zambia.  I would venture to guess that what these missionaries are reporting in Africa is no doubt happening on mission fields around the world as this very Americanized perversion of the gospel makes its way through numerous TV and radio stations making inroads in to the developing world.  When I hear these stories I can’t help but think of how easy it is to miss the point of the gospel.  

What if God's blessing wasn't meant as his approval of our faith, or even as an end in and of itself?  What if there was more to the Gospel then just being healthier, wealthier (materially speaking), than having whiter teeth and fresher breath?  If we can step back a moment from this cultural lens of viewing the Bible I am convinced we will find a completely different story.

When God Launches a Rescue Plan
Way back in the book of Genesis we find the beginning of God’s rescue plan for the world.  How does God start this plan?  By initiating a relationship with Abraham that, like leaven in bread, will eventually permeate the world.  When we look at the call of Abraham we see a window into how God blesses and how he intends blessings to work in the grand scheme of his rescue plan. 

Genesis 12 states
 1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
 2 “I will make you into a great nation, 
   and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
   and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, 
   and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
   will be blessed through you.”

In my years as a Christian I have heard many a pastor talk about the blessings of Abraham as a way that God wants to bless us:  God wants to bless you!  God wants to prosper you!  God wants to make your name great!  Yet unfortunately many pastors miss the underlying idea that God was blessing Abraham so that he could be a blessing.  In other words, the blessings of Abraham were not to simply end with Abraham but to continue through him and (in Jesus) to bless all the people of the earth.  When we fail to realize this core concept of blessed-to-be-a-blessing then our spirituality becomes self-centered and selfish because the blessings stop with us.  One need only look at the narrative of the Old Testament to see that this was the error that Israel frequently made.  Though God had wanted Israel to be a nation of priests that would lead others to God, they often mistook God’s blessings as simply a validation of their special relationship with him.  This frames the understanding of Jesus' words on being salt and light  in Matthew 5:13-16.  Salt is no good sitting in a shaker on the shelf.  It must be poured out to do its work.  The same is true for a lamp.  A lamp hidden in a closet will do the room no good at all.  Jesus' words were an indictment of Israel's failure to stick with the plot and purpose.  Yes God blessed them and wanted to continue to bless them but it was so that all the nations of the earth could get in on those very blessings of being reconciled to God. 

While I am a firm believer in God’s blessings I can no longer go along with believing that God’s blessings are an end in and of themselves.  When God blesses you or me it is not simply about showing us he loves us but rather intended to make us into a blessing so that others might experience God’s love, mercy, compassion, generosity, etc. 

I’ve prepared the following diagram to demonstrate this idea:

I don't know how many times I have heard the line "if you were the only person on planet earth Jesus would have died for you!'  While I agree with that line it seems to leave things in a very individually focused place as if you or I are the point of all of this.  The truth is that God offers us salvation, love, peace, healing not only so we are reconciled to God but so that we can then become part of the rescue plan; the rescued become the rescuers!  If we forget the second half of this principle on blessing then we may experience  the blessings of God but we will never grow into the fullness of life that comes through participating in the mission of God.  One of my favorite New Testament scripture that demonstrates this you-are-not-the-point idea is when Paul talks about his own becoming an apostle:

1Cor 15:9-11 
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul, was a guy who encountered the grace of God in a profound way.  In the midst of persecuting the church, ripping apart families of Christ-followers, and consenting to the death of none other than Stephen, he bumped into Jesus.  When he ran into Jesus, he did not run into wrath or judgement but overwhelming and unfathomable grace.  And though it must have felt amazing for Paul to be forgiven of such massive sins he didn't just sit on his forgiveness as if that was the point.  What we see in these verses is that Paul was not only saved by grace but driven and compelled to do amazing works by grace.  Paul understood that Jesus didn't simply die to forgive his sin but rather so he might get in on the good work of bringing Christ's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  This is why one will consistently find loving God linked to loving people.  

You are not the point, but a point in the ongoing story of redemption that God is continuing even now.  Help us Lord to not forget that!  May His story continue to us and through us this day!

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