Best practices: If I won’t say it directly to someone in face-to-face conversation, I shouldn’t passive-aggressively post it on social media.
For years I had heard about a sermon preached by John Scott for the Church of Christ at White Station in Memphis. The sermon, entitled “The Mind of Christ” was preached on April 14, 1968. To put that in its historical context, remember that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis just days earlier on April 4.
This week I ran across the sermon in written form on the website of The Church of Christ at White Station. I encourage you to click the link and take time to read this historical sermon, The Mind of Christ.
Sermons on social justice are almost trendy now, but I have to believe that was not the case in 1968. But that did not prevent Scott from delivering this sermon. Scott was not afraid to boldly address the treatment of those belonging to the Negro race in general and garbage collectors in particular. The sermon seeks to apply the mind and teachings of Jesus to a community torn apart by racial polarization, a strike, an assassination, and the ensuing riots.
Thank God for the boldness of John Scott.
If you have not read the three previous posts, I would encourage you to do so before reading this post.
Our lives are often full of attempts to assert our power and put God under our control. So we put “God in a Box” confining Him to what we are able to intellectually understand. Or we put “God in a Bottle,” acknowledging His power, but maintaining control over Him by thinking we can make Him obey our wishes. Or we put “God on a Leash,” walking around with God on display, so as to draw attention to ourselves, using God for our purposes, and in the process making ourselves look better than what we are.
What I need to do is accept “God on the Throne” as all-knowing, all-loving, eternal, ever-present, and all-powerful. I need to let God be God and stop trying to control Him. I need to allow Him to work in ways I don’t understand, in ways that make me uncomfortable, in ways that make no sense to me. Or put another way, I need to acknowledge that God can and will do whatever He wants to do, whether I understand it or like it.
God knows more than I know. I am convinced that there have been times when I have boldly prayed for something, only to have God say “no,” and that God’s negative answer spared me from something I couldn’t begin to foresee. My questions about prayer have changed from — “Why did God answer my prayer the way He did (with a “yes” or a “no”); to — “Does the God I believe in know more than me, is He truly loving, and do I trust Him, even if His answer is different from what I want?”
If I have “God in a Box,” then I will have difficulty ever accepting that God’s ways are higher than my ways. If I have “God in a Bottle,” then I will have difficulty ever accepting God’s will might be different from my own. If I have “God on a Leash” then I will have difficulty with how it makes me look whenever God doesn’t do exactly what I have asked Him to do.
Accepting “God on the Throne” means recognizing God can do whatever He wants and He is not subject to me and my wishes or whims, no matter how well-intentioned, noble, or spiritual they may seem to me. Accepting “God on the Throne” allows God to do whatever He wants, whenever he wants. Accepting “God on the Throne” means I accept God, as is, without trying to alter Him or make Him over in my image. Accepting “God on the Throne” means I accept God’s uncontrollable “wildness” without trying to “tame” or “domesticate” Him.
I cannot subdue God. I cannot control God. I cannot subject God. I cannot reduce God. I cannot solve God. And if I could do any of these things, what kind of God would He be? The way I pray teaches me a lot about who I believe God is. It can teach me that I believe God is all-powerful and loving. It can teach me that I believe God is boxed, bottled, or leashed. It can also teach me that I believe in a “God on the Throne” who is both transcendent and sovereign.
Holy God and Father,
There is none like You.
I love You, worship You, adore You.
And God, I trust You.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you have not read the two previous posts, “God in a Box” and “God in a Bottle,” I would encourage you to do so before reading this post.
This friend of mine once told me that he got a new dog. I was kind of surprised about his new pet, so I started asking questions about the dog. I found out it was a some breed of dog I had never heard of and that it loved to run with him. I still wondered why my friend had bought a new dog. After all, he travelled a lot and I didn’t know what he was going to do with the dog while he was away from home. So finally I just bluntly asked him, “Dude, why in the world did you get this dog?”
His answer surprised me. “Well, he likes to go running with me so I always take him to the park or the beach and I have found it’s a great way to meet women.” At that point in my life I had been married for a number of years and I just wasn’t quite sure what my single friend was talking about, so I asked him for more information. He explained, “Whenever I have that dog on a leash, women are constantly coming up to me, asking about the dog, wanting to pet him. It’s the best way to draw women to you. They think you are sensitive when you have a dog.”
So my friend’s new pet, which he led around on a leash, was merely a ploy to impress people. He fed the dog, groomed the dog, provided medical care for the dog, and boarded the dog when he was gone from home for long stretches of time and he did it all so that he could appear sensitive to women.
As I reflect on how people view God I have to say, there are some people whose relationship with God seems very similar to my friend’s relationship with his dog.They are willing to put up with the inconveniences of God as long as they can walk around with “God on a Leash.” God on display.
To be more honest, what a great way to put yourself on display while all the time making people think you are interested in displaying God. What a great tactic to make people think about you what you want them to think. After all, when they see you walking around with God displayed on a leash, they will be impressed.
“God on a Leash” can be a great way to make people think you are a great guy — moral, spiritual, and even safe. When they see you out walking Him, when they see you pat him on the head, when they see the tricks you have taught Him, they surely will be impressed with your. . . religion. They may want to ask you about Him. They may want to know more about you. She may even give you her phone number.
The best thing about “God on a Leash” is that, just as with “God in a Box” and “God in a Bottle,” you control God. He goes where you want Him to go. He does what you want Him to do. There are no surprises, everything is under control, your control.
Sometimes it seems as though the Pharisees walked “God on a Leash.” Everything they did was for people to see. They wanted people to see them. They wanted people to be impressed by them. They wanted to project an image by the clothes they wore with all the religious accessories they could find. And whenever God pulled hard on the leash, they would tighten up on that leash and choke Him down with their traditions. So, to them for example, the Sabbath was “the Lord of God.”
But it’s not just the Pharisees who try to keep “God on a Leash.” As someone once said, we often use the Pharisees as whipping boys when we should be using them as mirrors. I confess to you that I have seen myself in them, a clear reflection. Do you?
Do you ever want people to think highly of you? Do you ever want people to make positive remarks about something you have done? Do you ever want them to take notice of you? Do you ever want them to give compliments to you? Do you ever want people to think you are spiritual by showing them your religion? Have you ever hijacked a sermon into being all about you? Have you ever hoped to impress others with words that were supposedly spoken to God? Have you ever wanted people to recognize you for your generosity? Have you ever allowed your religion or even your ministry to be about you rather than God?
We need to unleash God. We need to stop using Him for our benefit. We need to embrace the notion of losing ourselves that He might be glorified.
Forgive me for the times I have wanted to be seen so badly that I used You to accomplish my mission.
Cleanse my heart of unclean motives.
May there be more of You and less of me.
In Jesus’ name,
Tomorrow: God on the Throne
If you have not read the previous entry, “God in a Box”, I would encourage you to do so before reading this entry.
God is amazing. He can do amazing things. He can heal. He can hear and answer prayers. We must not try to put God in a box. But neither should we put him in a bottle, you know, try to bottle Him up for use whenever we may need Him.
When we embrace this “God in a Bottle” view of God, God becomes like a genie in a bottle. And God performs for us — all we have to do is know how to rub the bottle the right way — then presto, God appears and our wishes are granted. Confession time: I remember a time when I was downright haughty about my prayers being answered. I had pity on the poor, unspiritual people who did not know the correct formula for rubbing the bottle. I had put, or tried to, God in a Bottle.
God as a genie in a bottle.
I actually read an interview with a singer recently who was asked if she had any good luck charms. Her response, “God.” Sometimes people treat God as if He were a charm to bring good luck. It’s like sometimes people think they carry God around in a bottle and whenever they need Him, they just rub the bottle and He comes out and does tricks.
Sometimes it gets much more personal and sincere than what we witness in some people who have stars in their eyes. Some Christians get depressed and feel guilty, thinking their prayers were inferior, their faith too weak to have God answer. And so we say, “If I had only prayed more, my son would not have. . . .”
God, as I know Him, is powerful, make that, all-powerful. God can do anything that can possibly be done (please, none of that, “Can God make a rock bigger than He can lift?”). God can heal. God can do things that leave people in utter amazement. God answers prayer.
But God does not always do what we think He should do. God does not always do what we ask Him to do. God does not always say “yes” to every prayer we offer up to Him. God does not always make everything go perfectly for His people. Or to continue my metaphor, God does not always come out and perform for us.
As you think through this with me, consider these quick references —
- The Jewish people of the Old Testament. See Joseph. See Job. See the entire nation.
- Jesus. He died on a cross, a death designed for criminals deserving of the death penalty.
- Paul. When you first read about him in Acts (as “Saul”), he is killing Christians. Were they praying? Was anyone praying for them? Later, after Paul becomes a Christian, he faces all sorts of hardships (you can read about many of them in Acts as well as in an autobiographical section of 2 Corinthians, in chapters 11 and 12).
- People buried in every cemetery in town. Was there no one praying for them? Did none of them pray? Why does everyone eventually die, even those who have at some point been healed?
No, we must not put God in a box. We need to be open to the amazing power of God. But we must not put God in a bottle either. Think about it — when we understand God as a being who must act the way we want Him to, whenever we ask, we really have placed Him under our control.
Here are some questions I am wrestling with as I try to better know my God. Am I willing to admit that God’s understanding is greater than my own? Am I willing to admit that God’s view of the big picture of life is clearer than my own? Am I willing to admit that I may be praying for something that God, who knows more than me, might know to be harmful in the big picture of things? Am I willing to let God out of the box without putting Him in a bottle?
You are amazing.
Your power is amazing.
Your wisdom is amazing.
Your love is amazing.
Your listening to me is amazing.
Your answering me is amazing.
Amaze me, God,
in ways I do not expect,
in ways I do not understand,
in ways that I cannot comprehend.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Tomorrow: God on a Leash
Some believe they completely understand everything God does. They will gladly provide you with a list of things that God can and cannot do. Truth is, if you have God completely figured out, you might want to look for a new God. If you have God completely figured out, expressed in a logical formula,and reduced to a set of traditions, then I want to suggest to you that it’s not the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, all-loving, God of scripture.
Without realizing it, you may have settled for a God created in your own image.
I have some friends who, it seems to me, have tried to put God in a box. They do not believe God’s Holy Spirit lives in the body of a Christian. They deny God’s power to heal today. To be honest, I’m not sure why they pray, since any answer would require God to work in a way that is outside the box they have tried to put Him in. These friends cringe if you use the word “miracle.”
Four quick stories.
On a shelf in my office is a photograph of a Skyline member who is cooking chickens on the BBQ grill that is located behind Skyline’s activity center. The significance of the photo is that the man cooking was supposed to be dead. Doctors had given him weeks, maybe even days to live. And that prognosis was offered over a year before the photograph was taken. We prayed. He lived. Our church family gave credit to God. We believe God is powerful. We try not to confine Him.
Last Wednesday night a Skyline member came to the weekly meeting of elders and ministers. She wants to be healed of her sickness. She is preparing for surgery. The elders read scripture(James 5), anointed her with oil, and prayed for her. This scene unfolds frequently in our meetings. It is a regular part of the ministry of our shepherds. We believe God is powerful. We try not to confine Him.
A family called for me, their minister to come to the children’s hospital. Their infant son was in an intensive care unit. The doctors had “called in the family” in anticipation that the baby was not going to live. When I arrived at crib-side the family was gathered around, weeping. They were unable to hold their little baby, who had all kinds of tubes running in and out of his body. A monitor indicated the baby’s temperature was nearly 105. When I walked in they immediately asked me to pray. I prayed. And as soon as I opened my eyes after the amen, I watched the monitor as the number slowly, steadily dropped. Within a matter of 3 minutes the temperature was 98.6 degrees. The family was now crying tears of joy. I was more sure than ever that I didn’t have any power. God received the honor and glory. We believe God is powerful. We try not to confine Him.
The phone rings at my church office. One of my good friends, a deacon at the church, calls to say his baby nephew has a brain tumor. His call set in motion at Skyline what was already in motion at the baby’s home church. Phone calls went out. Prayer requests were emailed. The baby was taken to first one hospital and then another. There was testing, diagnosis, surgery, treatment. All the while there were prayers being offered and a blog detailing the day to day progress of the treatment. The phone rang again at the office. This time the message was about the results of the latest tests. Doctors would not say the tumor was completely gone, but it was so small they couldn’t measure it. This family gave thanks and praise to God. We believe God is powerful. We try not to confine Him.
I’ve briefly recounted but four stories when I could have included many, many more.I hope these will encourage you to examine your faith. I don’t mean “examine your faith” as in whether you believe or not. What I mean is to examine your faith, in particular asking yourself who you believe in. Who is this God? Have I created Him in my image, with human limitations, allowing Him to do only what I can comprehend or explain? We believe God is powerful. We try not to confine Him.
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You.
I want to know You.
Forgive me when I try to box up up in a neat little package.
Forgive me for the idolatry that happens when I try to recreate You in my image.
Let Your glory be seen in spite of me.
In Jesus’ name,
Tomorrow: God in a Bottle
Here is a section of a sermon entitled Deeper Vision that I preached at Skyline on February 4, 2007. Throughout the year several friends have referred to it as that “I Have A Dream” sermon. Now several months later and after much additional discussion by the church leadership about our direction and vision for the future, I still believe this is an accurate picture of what by the blessing of God can be the future of Skyline. The scriptures that are included were those on the screens behind me as I preached this section of the sermon.
Today I want us together to imagine what Skyline can be – I want us together to have a vision of where we are going.
Imagine with us shared worship gatherings where all present are invited to offer praise to God, joining hearts before the throne of the almighty God. (Psalm 122:1)
Imagine with us participating in a blend of worship styles and diversity of worship expressions in an atmosphere of freedom. Gatherings where it’s about God rather than us. Gatherings where together we can express our greatest joys and our deepest sorrows. Gatherings where we are drawn closer together rather than divided by our diverse personalities and preferences. Some of us are extroverts, demonstrative with our feelings. Others are introverts, introspective with our feelings. All of us can be together and let our love for one another override our differences in personality and preferences in gray areas. (Psalm 100:1-2)
Imagine with us being lost in the wonder of God’s grace to the point where we accept each other as God has accepted us even when we disagree in matters of opinion. (Romans 14:1)
Imagine with us a church where it’s not about me – it’s about God! Imagine a church where the members are seeking to lose their lives in the cross of Jesus. (Psalm 115:1)
Imagine with us worship overflowing the walls of the church building and turning our everyday lives into a temple of praise as we die to ourselves and live to imitate Jesus. Imagine learning to think, walk, and talk like Jesus in whatever situation we encounter. In the good times, we are like Jesus. In the bad times, we are like Jesus. All the time, we are like Jesus. When people treat us like royalty, we are like Jesus. When people mistreat us, we are like Jesus. No matter how people treat us, we are like Jesus. Imagine being mistaken for Jesus. (Romans 12:1)
Imagine with us lives being transformed in a way explained only by the activity of the Holy Spirit of God. Imagine hearts filled with love by the presence of God’s Spirit. Imagine minds renewed with wisdom and discernment by the indwelling Spirit. Imagine rather than trivializing the Holy Spirit, treasuring the Holy Spirit by putting the “Holy” back in Holy Spirit. Imagine being shaped by the holy power of God’s Spirit into a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Imagine with us a community driven by love for one another. A community that recognizes that claims of loving God are hollow if we do not love people. (1 John 4:20-21)
Imagine with us a people ready and willing to carry each other’s burdens and meet each other’s needs. Imagine being one with God and others. Imagine a oneness with one another that can only be understood by the oneness between Father, Son, and Spirit. (Galatians 6:1-3)
Can you imagine that kind of church family?
Imagine with us engaging times of prayer in which we hear God speak out of the silence. Imagine when we are in pain, in a time of wilderness, being able to hear God’s reminder of His joy and peace. (Psalm 42:4)
Imagine with us a family devoted to praying for one another at all times, particularly in times of great need. Imagine a family that wrestles in prayer for you. Where your ministers and elders and fellow members are praying for you daily that you may be mature and have full assurance of your faith. Imagine being in conversation with the Almighty. (Colossians 4:12)
Imagine with us people coming to Christ because of the way God reveals himself through us as we live and speak in the world. Imagine people seeing us and knowing we are disciples of Jesus, children of God because we love each other enough to be united. (John 13:35)
Imagine with us a body which always keeps its eyes open for opportunities to spread the love of Christ. Imagine being God’s messengers of hope and grace to our hurting world. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
Imagine with us recognizing baptism as an historic confession of faith in Christ and an initiation into the community of faith. But more, imagine a church where baptism is about receiving the greatest gift of God’s grace — forgiveness. Imagine a church where baptism is about grace and about Jesus. Imagine being intimately united with fellow believers and with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Imagine being born again. (Galatians 3:26-27)
Imagine with us hearts emblazoned with the words of Scripture. Imagine people whose words are shaped by and drawn from the very Word of God. Imagine preaching and teaching that flows from the living Word. Imagine a church where the preaching is a time of worship – where God is revealed and we are called to bow before Him with our very lives. Imagine being taught by God. (1 Peter 4:11)
Imagine with us a congregation actively partnering with God in his work in Jackson as we call people into the community of faith, reaching out with God’s love to the lonely, the forgotten, and the marginalized of our community. Imagine being a church that will do whatever it takes to reach the least, the last, and the lost even if that means doing things that challenge traditions and leave some people scratching their heads and saying, “What are they doing now?”
Imagine with us being a church where the most important members are the ones who aren’t here yet. Imagine reaching out beyond Jackson into the surrounding communities, and beyond to Panama, Mexico, Africa, Australia, China and into all the world. Imagine being Christ’s hands and feet in the world around us. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Imagine with us a church family that is the body of Christ. Imagine a church where everybody is clear that we exist to love God and love people to the praise of God’s glorious grace. Imagine a church where each part is a member, each member has a function, and everyone is committed to carrying out their part in the functioning of the body.
Imagine with us a church like all this – that is what we want to be!