Growing up in a Christian family, my views of God, myself and the world around me were pretty well dominated by my experiences and impressions of church. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’ve met and know a lot of really nice people in church. Still, my church experiences (church meetings, church sermons and Sunday School lessons, church relationships, church conflicts) were a pair of glasses affecting what and how I could see.
God seemed to be small enough and limited enough to be constrained within the priorities and practices of our church and the lives of these people. God really didn’t seem to have much interest in more than us, our meetings, our church building, etc. I know this sounds strange, even egotistical, as though we were the center of everything. Really it was that I had seen and understood so little of what God was up to that I thought we were mainly ‘it’ for him.
With a few more years, a few more experiences with God, and a lot more time learning to think through the biblical material, things look very different!
Our little church with its meetings, members and all the rest are important and did have a place in God’s attention and affection. But there is so much more to the story.
Our church was always a part (an important part, surely) of a larger strategy that God was pursuing in this world he created. The danger, however, in not seeing the bigger picture is that we can miss the purpose and end up not really participating in the truly important things in life. If you have ever heard anyone talk about ‘playing church’ this is what they meant.
Here’s the larger story. Throughout the bible’s record of God’s rescue and restoration of lost mankind, there is a discernible strategy that God is following. Its goal is to return people to the life they were created to live. The flow of the unfolding biblical story culminates in a three-stage rescue.
- Stage One: God reconciles people to himself through Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews and the Lord and Savior of the world.
- Stage Two: God repairs and rebuilds these reconciled children, restoring them to the image of God using Jesus as the pattern, by leading them along the well-marked path of the Way of the Lord. All of this ‘reworking’ is accomplished through the powerful activity of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
- Stage Three: God will ultimately transform their bodies so that they are able to handle the fullness of the power and life that will be restored to them at the Resurrection for an eternity of living, working and fulfilling God’s purposes. (Philippians 3:20-21)
When I only had on the ‘glasses’ of my small church experiences of my youth, it was easy to think that the goal of life was to attend church meetings, avoiding obvious errors and sinful behaviors, and hang-on till either we died or Jesus came back for us.
Now, seeing the bigger picture of what God is really up to, a lot of things look very different and the priorities of life have changed accordingly.
- My relationship with God is about much more than my escape from hell. It includes that, but is much more about a reunited relationship, a reconnected life, a restoration of something lost, something precious, something powerful and totally life-changing for me.
- It is now very important to me to cultivate this relationship, to explore it, to grow in it with Him. Knowing God is the true treasure of my life; its not a neglected nic-nac relegated to a shelf somewhere in a corner of my life.
- God’s plan for my life is much more than mere faithful church attendance and reasonably good behavior. Becoming a follower of Jesus means that I’m involved in a radical redefinition of what it means to be human, to live a good life and to be a successful person.
- It is now very important to me that I do more than ‘mark time’ in life. I have the opportunity to become what I really want to be, ‘A good person’, a ‘successful person’ if I will walk with God on the Way of the Lord and cooperate with Him in the remodel job He is undertaking in me.
- This is all going somewhere. This life I am to learn to live in God is a life of preparation for a future life that is bigger than anything I had ever dared to dream of.
- How can I be content with the smallness of mere power and success in this world? So many of the things people are willing to sacrifice their lives, their families and even their health to achieve will very soon evaporate and be forgotten. But, I can give myself to achieving something that will have long lasting (even eternal) success-becoming the person I was created to be so that I can fulfill the purpose I was created for as child of God, a co-heir with Christ, and as a member of a holy priesthood with an imperishable inheritance in the Kingdom of God.