What is it about God, anyway?

Ever wonder why people believe in God? Or what it means to follow him?

Everybody seems to have a different opinion on this – so how do you answer the question? My suggestion is: listen to what God says about himself.

There’s a story in the book of Exodus about how God had a discussion with Moses. Or maybe it was Moses had an encounter with God. And Moses, who seemed to be able to put the point across when it suited him, is feeling narky because the Lord had called him to lead the people of Israel, and yet he had not shown Moses his glory. How Moses said this with a pillar of cloud guarding the camp, and having been led through the Red Sea on dry ground, I don’t know. I know it probably wouldn’t happen today, but maybe Moses just had a short memory when it came to God’s goodness.

Anyway, God decides to show Moses his glory. He does that by proclaiming his name. As with most ancient near east cultures, a name revealed one’s character.

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19, NIV)

Lots of good things can be said about God, but what he says about himself tells us volumes. The core of God’s character is mercy and compassion. Deep seated care, grace and love for his people and for his world. That’s it, right there.

It’s no surprise, then, to see such mercy and compassion revealed in Jesus, who loved people who were his enemies and who befriended outcasts. He gave his life on the Cross to bring us back to this merciful and compassionate God.

And God’s plan is for his character, and the character of Jesus, to come to expression in his people. Christians, more than anyone, have the privilege to live mercifully, compassionately and humbly.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12–14, NIV)

Think of the people God has placed around you: who needs your compassion? Who needs your mercy? Who needs to see who God really is and what he is really like? Go. Do.

Ministry to the unknown

A few years ago we visited Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. A lot of things impressed me. I remember the army of 60 volunteers who gave a few hours of their time every week to assemble thousands of newsletters for the next day. I was impressed with Saddleback’s commitment to see their vision, mission and values applied right across the board. I know some people find some of Rick Warren’s canned and contrived, but their alignment to their vision has really worked to make this huge church an effective community of mission and ministry.

One memory is particularly inspirational. As we walked from the car park to the worship centre we were met by one person after another whose ministry was to make us feel welcome. It was as if their passion was to minister to the unknown. We were unknown to them, but they greeted us like family. Like we were old friends. I remember one particular greeter, a young girl of about 11 or 12 years old. Newsletters in one hand, the other outstretched in a gesture of welcome, smiling warmly toward us, “so nice that you’re here today, welcome to Saddleback!” It was beautiful. I thought I might have seen something of heaven in that moment.

People who welcome others to worship or other gatherings of Jesus’ community have such a critical role. Theirs is a ministry of first impressions. This is always important. But the stakes are way higher when people who might be far from God are entering a place of worship for the first time.

So the people in these roles should be the warmest and most relational people available. People who delight to minister to the unknown, and who will love people they do not know. Not only will these people give others a powerful reason to return and a positive first experience, they will also be revealing the character of a seeking God to those who may be seeking him.

Q: how can you draw those involved in greeting ministry at your church into a more Christlike expression of ‘ministry to the unknown’?

Grace and peace: Dave

Location:Sturgeon St,Ormiston,Australia

Of the World, But Not In It?

I am writing a new sermon series (with Clinton) on the Sermon on the Mount. My first message is coming Sunday (Feb 07), and it comprises the whole Beatitudes passage – Matthew 5:1-12. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

I was reflecting about how Jesus calls his followers, broken as they are, to respond to the brokenness around them. One of the thoughts I had was that only a broken church can respond with blessing to the broken world they are in. This is how we reveal the kingdom of heaven, and show what it is really like.

Then I wondered about how does a church of reasonably comfortable suburban Christians start to enter into the brokenness in their community?

I was thinking we could email local MPs and local government people and ask them for guidance in where the greatest areas of need are. Then an uncomfortable realisation lodged itself in my mind, ‘why do I even need to do that? Why don’t I already know about brokenness in my own community? Why do we find it so hard to know what the greatest areas of need are? Why do we find it hard to see this?’

I think it’s because we get involved in our own lives, busy in our work, busy loving our families. We feel wronged when we don’t have any time to relax with our friends. Our churches are great, but there are so many things to do, so many programs, so many areas of ministry and service, that it’s just too easy to lose touch with the world around us. So we lose our connection with real people and their brokenness. We striving to get ahead financially, we want to make ends meet, become financially independent. We buy into the view that financial independence, comfortable living, owning the latest and greatest, brand-names-on-the-outside wardrobe, are the things that really matter. And as it turns out, we end up being of the world, but no longer in it.

Has the lifestyle of western suburban Christianity become a the new monasticism? Where Jesus’ people withdraw into their own virtual enclave and remove themselves form the world and its suffering? Is this why we do not perceive the brokenness around us?