Sunday, April 6

Paint God's Big Picture

Dear Jacob,

When we moved to Colorado I had to assimilate. We moved into our house the first day of April carrying in boxes and watching over our shoulders the spring snowstorm that was rolling in over the Rockies. We went from spring to winter in about a minute. That was new. On trash days, the neighbors would pile up can upon can at their curb and I couldn't detect a hint of recycling. This was new. The very first time I went to the grocery store, there was country music playing and I sighed and wondered just how much new I'd really have to endure.

Part of my assimilation came in the things we had to take up and part in the things we had to give up. We took up a renewed hope, a hope that our lives would hold new meaning and effectiveness. We took up new relationships, wondering all the while which of them would be life-changing or even life-long. We took up trust in a new community, one that we thought might help us raise you three.

One of the things we gave up had to do with our parenting structures.  The designs we'd made in our old home and way of life, wouldn't fit will with the structure we were merging ourselves into here. We gave up a habit of worshiping together and let you go to kids' classes. We gave up exclusive discretion of how we presented the gospel message to the three of you. We gave up being your sole teachers and leaned on the community to play a greater training role in your lives.

I taught you the Scriptures from the beginning.  In our daily school time we included Bible lessons. Some had an impact and many didn't which is no different from any other person. But day after day with all the other tasks at hand, I think it became more a part of our curriculum than it became a part of your heart. Despite this, I persevered to teach you the nuances of knowing and following Christ and left you and the Spirit alone to make your connections.

My gospel presentation to you was always one of journey and desire. To follow Christ, you accept his invitation to be like him again and again and again.  As you remain available he guides you and before long, drawn from your very foundation, you'll genuinely identify yourself as a Christ follower. When you understand that he loves you, even died for you and your sins and rose again establishing a new life in order to give you the opportunity to be a dwelling place for God and when your response to that is service and selflessness, you'll know you belong to him.

I never wanted to use that phrase, "ask Jesus in your heart" because I didn't and don't see it in Scripture anywhere as a method by which we are to know Jesus and I didn't want you to think that lasting faith comes in a moment. That was the way I was told to enter God's kingdom and there have been many times in my life that I doubted my own "moment." This led me into some distressing questioning that I wanted you to avoid. I know now, that questioning will happen no matter what set of words we use to bring people to Jesus.

Our new church in Denver held new promises and as such we had to give up some of the shelter we'd erected, the assumption that being "pastor parents" was enough, and the fear that community could potentially fail us. As much as we had to entrust our future to the Father, we had to entrust you as well. I had to consent to let you participate in the children's ministry, with it's balance of well-meaning and flaws. It wasn't my favorite move, but it was one tool that would help you assimilate into our new way of life.

When I released you to go to children's classes at our church I knew that there would be some competing ideas you'd have to grapple with.  There would be some who taught you that you had to pray a prayer to be saved and then try your hardest to be good thereafter. There would be those who explained that God and Satan were equal adversaries who would equally tempt and guide you your whole life. There would be those who would teach you that salvation was necessary so that you could go to heaven one day when you die, like you were getting in on God's IPO and all you had to do was let your investment sit there until you cashed out. I knew these slighted teachings would show up, but I had to trust that God would, even so, invite you to himself.

I have always taught you something different. I have taught you that God is busy about renewing his creation -- a renewal that we can witness when we understand that we are now his temple. You see, God is a tabernacling God; he likes to be with his people. He is not distant. He is not far. He is with. As his people wandered around the wilderness he was with them in cloud and in fire.  He gave them the plans for a tent that would mark a space where he was with his people, a tent that would foreshadow the very lives we would have one day in Christ, covered and full of sacrifice and mercy.

He did similar things as you move through Scripture. In allowing Solomon to build a temple, he established that he didn't want to be transient with them; he wanted to be permanent.  In sending Jesus, Emmanuel, he gave physical evidence of his desire to be God with us.  His final remarkable act in sending the Spirit was simply to move in, to replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh and to be present with us always and forever.  As often as we allow him to take up residence in us, he continues his plan to redeem his creation. We move from being God-fearers to God-followers to God-dwellers. He moves in and he doesn't move out. That's how his glory fills the earth. That's his whole big idea.

The difference in these designs of how to know God and follow Jesus is simple. One way is man-centered and one is God-centered. In one we do something to secure a position. In the other God does something to secure a relationship. We don't stay the way we are and just smooth a God-colored paint on our walls.  He requires a different kind of a place, like a tabernacle in the wilderness, like a temple in the desert.  He has all the plans and all the ideas for what it should look like. Which means we have to give up our own and take up his if we're going to become his address.

I went to our cousin's funeral this week. All of us in attendance had the honor of hearing read aloud a paper he wrote about salvation when he was in the eighth grade. To this topic of living with God's spirit within us, Josh said this:
The idea of having someone living in me just seemed weird. Now, I consider it my greatest asset—it modifies my worldview. As I've grown as a Christian, I've increasingly seen people more as God sees them: dearly loved, but in rebellion. The Spirit also augments my conscience: I'm still tempted, but I can no longer allow a sin to run rampant in my life. Whenever I do something that saddens God, it also offends me (why would I dare to betray my savior) and He helps me conquer the issue. I also now have a peace, an unnatural, illogical and unexplainable peace, that I can call to whenever life throws something crazy at me. Basically, I did absolutely nothing to earn salvation; I just humbled and gave myself, and asked for forgiveness.
The Spirit envisions for us a way of living that is transformed by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  I see you as a container in which God can dwell. You're, potentially, one touch point among many where his glory longs to fill the earth.