Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Faithful and Proactive Christian

Luke 6: 17-26 and Jeremiah 17: 5-10

In Luke, chapter 6, a great multitude has come to hear Jesus preach, to have their diseases healed, and their spirits cleansed. They are coming to him in need. That’s often how it works. It’s when something is wrong or we’re desperate that we do our best crying out for help. It's when we need saving that we turn to God. It’s when we’ve been drive to our knees that we pray.

Jesus is filled with joy when we come to him in our need. He listens compassionately to us when we cry for help. He reaches to catch us when we are falling. What distresses Jesus is when we don’t need him at all. Or at least we think we don’t. When we don’t rely on him. When we go elsewhere to get our needs met.

Imagine the scene of Luke 6: Jesus standing amongst the crowd on a level place. People everywhere trying to touch him because they know that he can help them. And he does help them. The Scripture says, “All in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.”

As Jesus looks around at the scene, he notices who is among the people there and who is not. The only ones who have come in search of him are the ones who need something that only he can give. So Jesus says, blessed are you who are poor because you have come to me in your need, and I will help you. He says, blessed are you who are hungry because you have come to me in your need, and I will help you. He says, blessed are you who weep because you have come to me in your need, and I will help you.

But you see, those unfortunate people who are already rich, already filled, already laughing, they don't seek out Jesus because they don't think they need him. They are self-reliant. They have what they want without God's help, and if they are thinking anything spiritual at all, it certainly isn’t that they need a Savior. While they are satisfied in the physical world, they have lost their spiritual center. Thus, they are cursed because they do not turn to God.

As disciples of Christ, it is crucial that we turn to God in every situation we find ourselves in. When we are satisfied and well, that is our opportunity to praise God and give God thanks. When we are lacking and suffering, that is our time to trust in God's mercy and ask for help. Jesus is on the side of those who suffer. He intentionally seeks out the poor, the hungry, the sad, and the weak because it is his mission to change our broken existence and heal us until we are living abundantly as God's children.

We all know this. I'm not saying anything new here. Turn to Jesus, and he will save you. Give Jesus thanks for being our Lord and Savior. In fact, I think we know this message so well that our thinking and living has become distorted in some way. The message has become a problem. Too often, Christians take a passive role in their own lives, remaining weak and unempowered, waiting for God to come to their rescue. Waiting for God to do something, to take charge. We are continually being bombarded with the message: just give it to Jesus, give it to God, and God will take care of you, as though we have no role or responsibility for our lives and the development of God's kingdom here on earth.

Think of some of our most beloved hymn titles: God Will Take Care of You, Have Thine Own Way Lord, Trust and Obey (for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey), If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee, Only Trust Him. These songs continually affirm our reliance upon God, which is true, we do rely upon God.

My fear is that they do so in detriment to our own responsibility as the children of God. While the Christian faith is all about turning our lives over to God, we have to be careful not to slip into the kind of thinking that will strip us of all accountability for our lives. There is alot of truth to the saying: God helps those who help themselves. This is your life, and while you have given it to God, still you must be empowered to make your own decisions and active in shaping your own future. Even with a God who is Lord and Savior, you play an active role in keeping your mind, body, spirit and relationships healthy. You play an active role in creating your own destiny.

The Holy Spirit is here to guide us and empower us, and it is our job to discern the leadings of the Spirit so that we can make choices for ourselves and for others well-being. This is why God gave us free will. So that we can make choices about the kind of people we will be, about the kind of life we will lead, and about the kind of world we create. With great discernment on our part, we can use our wills to bring about God's will on this earth.

I think of Ecclesiastes 3, which says that there is a time to sow and a time to reap, a time to be born a time to die, a time to laugh and a time to cry. A time to wait for God to reveal the future and a time for you to make choices that help to create the future.

As Jesus' disciples, we are all called to be co-creators with the Creator of the world. For example, when we make a choice to give love, we create the reality of love in the world. We also create ourselves as a more loving person. The opposite is also true. When we make a choice to act in anger, we create the reality of anger in the world. We also create ourselves as a more angry person.

[That is why it is very important for us to figure out why we make the good or bad, healthy or unhealthy decisions we make, and how to change our decision making process so that we are always choosing for the good, for health, for love.]

Believing in God does not mean that you have to be a weak, unempowered, passive human being. You should never feel victimized, like how did this happen to me, because you are following Jesus. You should not be complacent in the face of your or someone else's suffering because you believe that God's will will prevail.

Let me tell you about a woman I know named Margaret. Margaret is a faithful and spirited woman, but she fell prey to the sort of thinking I am warning against. When she was married and she and her husband wanted to have a child, but could not get pregnant, she sadly concluded: It must be God's will. Then, when she unexpectedly got pregnant years later, she joyously concluded: It must be God's will. About the same time, Margaret received a promotion and a raise at her job. She had been thinking about quitting work to stay home with her baby, but instead of following her instincts, she figured that the promotion must be a sign from God. God must want her to continue working, so she concluded: It is God's will that I continue at this job. When Margaret was laid off after her son turned five, she regretted not having been home more to watch him in his earliest years. Was her regret God's will too? I don't think so. I think Margaret's major regret was her complacency, her passivity (just accepting that anything that happens is God's will). That is mistaken theology. The real regret any of us could have is that we let our lives pass us by, without being assertive and active in making our own choices and cultivating our own destinies.

People throw the term "God's will" around much to casually as if anything that happens in life is God's will. When tragic events occur, we say, there must be a good reason for it. That's not true! Yes, good things can come of tragic events, but that is no reason to rationalize the pain and suffering of people. There is no good reason why children die from hunger. There is no good reason why women are tortured and violated as the spoils of war. There is no good reason why young men are being murdered in the streets by people they don't even know. If there is a reason at all, it's not because of God. It's because evil and greed and sin exist, and we do nothing to stop them.

God has given you a mind with which to think, a heart with which to feel, a will with which to choose, and as the New Year begins, I want to encourage you to use them all. This is your life, this is our world, and we are responsible for what happens. While it is good to yield and to be open to that which presents itself, it is bad to let life pass you by or happen to you and end up feeling like a victim.

Yes, we want God's will to be done. Yes, we must reach out to Jesus for help. Yes, we trust in the Lord. At the same time, we cannot afford to passively stand by thinking that whatever happens is God's plan. God had a plan when he created you and empowered you with his Spirit. Now is the time to use what we have been given - our minds, our hearts, ours wishes and our will - to establish Christ's kingdom on this earth and be the kind of people God gave us the potential to be.

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