God Invades our Spiritual Lives
Romans 5:1-5 and Colossians 1:8-10
October 26, 2014
R. Mitch Randall, DMin.
Is there a difference between our religion and our faith? Webster defines religion as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods.” Faith, on the other hand, is defined as “having trust or loyalty to God.” Both seem very valid in our religious faith-walk, but would you agree that it seems the modern church stresses one over the other at times?
In the era of the modern church movement, the question should be posed do we stress a system of beliefs over a sense of trust in God? Another way of posing the question is are we more worried about what someone believes about God over their experience with him? One more way of putting it, do we worry more about what someone thinks about the Bible over experiencing God’s grace and love through their encounter with the church?
Now, before I go further, please hear me. I am not saying “faith over belief” or “belief over faith” is right and the other wrong. What I will be arguing this morning is the need for our religious beliefs and our religious practice to be infused by the presence of God. In other words, both our belief and faith desperately need a God-breathed life into them. As followers of Christ, the church needs to open our minds and hearts to the invasion of God that his presence might both challenge our beliefs and inspire our faith.
Remember how the Gospel of John begins?
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
God so loved the world that he sent his son to invade the human realm transforming life as we knew it. In his most famous sermon in Matthew 5, we hear Jesus constantly saying, “You have heard it said…But I say to you.” The word made flesh tells us very plainly when God invades the world, the world better be ready for transformation, especially our beliefs about him and how we practice those beliefs.
Therefore, as we begin this morning, let us be reminded that God’s spirit fills the room, fills our hearts, fills our minds, and fills our spiritual lives with the mission of transformation as the result. We are called to be transformed in how we think, how we act, and “yes” how we live.
There is no better place to start this intrusion of God into our lives than talking about how we think about him and how we practice our faith in him. Writing to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul begins his letter with his deep desire that his readers grow in their understanding of God.
8 and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit. 9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
Before we can understand God, we must be open to receiving his spirit. And when I mean being open, I mean being willing to accept that within all the strangeness and chaos of this complicated and fallen world, there is a divine thread that runs through life maintaining a common decency that can only be ascribed to God.
I was reminded of that thread this very week.
Last Sunday, during all the exciting chaos of the open house, I met a young man brought to our church by one of our members. This young man served his home country of Afghanistan as a local doctor in Kabul. When allied troops entered Afghanistan, this young Muslim man assisted U.S. troops as an interpreter. Once the war was over and American troops started to leave, his life was in grave danger by those considering him a traitor. Fearful, he sought and received permission to enter the U.S. leaving his home and family behind.
Now, he lives in Oklahoma having no understanding of what his future holds. We met this week in the Compass Café as he retold his story to me. Before we met though, God was already one step of us in the most unusual way. I received a phone call from Baptist News Global, formally the Associated Baptist Press, wanting to interview me about NorthHaven’s interfaith work. Immediately after hearing from the reporter, I received call from our member and his Afghani friend. As we met for coffee, the reporter called me ready for the interview. As I was visiting with him, I said, “Jeff, this is great and all, but there maybe another story you might find interesting and it’s unfolding as we speak.” He agreed and interviewed all three of us over the phone right then. After the interview, I posted my new friend’s need on Facebook asking for the kindness of strangers. Many people shared and contacted me about his situation and waiting to help with a job.
Seriously, how mazing is that? How unbelievably amazing can God be when we set down our preconceived notions about him? How often could we see his glory if we dare to think outside our understanding of the world and see it as God sees it? My new friend is with us this morning. Thank you for your service and reminding me God still leaps over our understandings to do amazing things.
What if the church opened our souls to receive a fresh breath of life from God?
I can tell you what would happen…with all due respect to the Reformers on this Reformation Sunday….what would happen if the church started seeing the world as he did….the Reformation would look like a Sunday School class compared to the impact God’s invasion would have in this world. Remember those words from weeks ago, “On earth as it is in heaven?” Yea, that would happen and God’s justice, God’s glory, God’s hope, God’s grace, and God’s joy would flood the streets and villages of this world.
Writing to the Romans, Paul would conclude…
1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
And this is where we start in this new dynamic in faith. We start with God’s love poured into our hearts. Let that settle in for a moment, shall we? Our faith in Christ Jesus began with love. It was baptized in love. It was nurtured in love. It went to Sunday School in love. It listened to sermons in love. It was doused with love! So, why is it the faith that I often encounter these days sounds and feels more like the rigid religiosity that Jesus combated and not the faith in God he championed. “You have heard it said, but I say to you….”
More than any time in our history, the church needs to be reminded that we were birthed out of God’s love for us all. Not a love for just a select few, but a love that reaches out and covers all of God’s creatures. We are justified not by our beliefs about God but by our faith in him. God’s grace and mercy has been delivered by the means of his love. We are justified not by our works, not by our deeds, nor by our beliefs. We are justified by our faith in him and his ways. And, our faith is fueled by our love.
Young French Catholic nun, Saint Terese of Liseaux, wrote, “My vocation is love!”
In one of her final written prayers before she tragically died at 28, Terese wrote…”May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”
My dear friends, the time for the church to throw open our hearts and throw open our arms is upon us. It is time to start understanding God not by the rigid doctrines we pronounce, but by the life we share with him and others. We need a fresh understanding, a fresh encounter, a fresh experience. We need to believe that no matter how dark this world gets, no matter how deep the waters rise, God will always be available to offer hope, peace, and love.
In our staff meeting this week we discussed this very topic. We talked about how life crisis can open us up to fresh new ways of understanding God. Bryan Partridge said it this way, “If you want to be open to God, be open to the crisis all around you.” Crisis have way of breaking us apart that permits the spirit of God to finally break through. Whether we find ourselves suffering at life’s hands or sitting in a country a world away from our family, God wants to infuse our lives with all of his attributes….not just a few.
Ann Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
“Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak stuff anyone (or this world) can throw at us.”
In the end, what we discover is that God’s love wins.
What the church needs today is what author Shain Claiborne describes as “God comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comforted.” We need to rethink our theology in the terms of letting love be our first reaction to people and events, not the last. The people of God need to think and rethink issues with God’s love saturating every part of our theology and practice.
Let me be even more clear, the era of measuring Christianity solely on rigid doctrinal proclamations is behind us. The era of creating community based up exclusionary ideology has created empty churches and shallow minds. Some may see this as a bad thing, but I do not. I see it at as opportunity. For when something or someone is empty, be it a church building or a mind, it offers the opportunity to fill it with something else. Why not God? Why not God’s love? God’s grace? God’s hope? God’s wisdom? What we believe will always matter, but if our actions do no match our ideologies then the world will condemn us for the hypocrites we have become to them.
Instead of arguing and manipulating people into God kingdom, I believe Jesus has taught us to love people into his kingdom. Like the blind beggar and the woman at the well, Jesus demonstrates compassion and love to promote God’s desire for them. We would do well to to infuse ourselves with the attitude of John the Baptizer when asked about comparing himself with Jesus. John responded, “He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).”
It is quite simple, the more we decrease, the more God’s presence is poured over us and in us. And as we discovered last week, when God fills the room, we all rise. I hope we can agree the old ways of thinking about God have become frustrating, because it seems we were always promoting a faith of “no.” “No” to this, “no” to that. I am tired of it. I’m ready to change the conversations. I am ready to start saying “yes.” “Yes,” to God’s grace. “Yes,” to God’s love. “Yes,” to God’s hope. “Yes,” to God’s justice. “Yes,” to God’s call for me to love him and to love my neighbors.
You want to know what went through my mind this week when I received a phone call about a young Muslim man who had a need? I can guarantee you it was not the word, “no.” More than any time now, we need a new perspective of on God and his ways. More than any time now, we need to start “saying “yes” a lot more so God can saturate our lives, our churches, and the world with his presence. I’m with John the Baptizer, how about you?
Less us, more Him!
Let’s get ready for transformation!