Sorry, folks ... I started typing this out as a "sneak preview" here on BCG a few days ago and -- as seems to be typical these days -- got sidetracked and yet another potential post here fell by the wayside. But here you go -- a real, live post!
I had the privilege of leading devotions for our weekly staff time yesterday, and I wanted to take some time to share what I put together for our staff.
I started out with a question, one that I found very intriguing from William P Smith's book Caught Off Guard: Encounters with the Unexpected God.
If you only saw God's wisdom (Molly: or power, love, mercy, etc.) displayed in the lives of worthy people, how would your faith suffer?
Here are a few thoughts I put together in response to that question, and others' response fit generally into these themes as well. I think my faith would suffer tremendously, in a number of ways:
- Always feeling I needed to "clean myself up" before I came to God for help, in sin or in suffering,
- OR, self-satisfaction in believing that if I was blessed, it was because I deserved it,
- OR, would my faith suffer at all? Do I functionally believe that God does reward me because I am worthy?
- Self-righteousness in believing that others should clean themselves up before coming to God for help
- In this vein, I also was thinking about how believing that our God is a God of mercy is what makes the Christian faith distinct from other faiths. Most other faiths believe that it is through works that we gain God's favor, and because they're never sure if they're doing enough or if they're being good enough, they have an alarming level of uncertainty and fear with respect to their relationship with God.
I read from Matthew 15:22-38, which tells the story of the Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter (he does) and the feeding of the 4,000. The key verse for me here is verse 31: "The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel."
So again I ask: If you only saw God's wisdom (power, love, mercy, etc.) displayed in the lives of worthy people, how would your faith suffer?
I would propose that maybe a "flip side of the coin" of that question is the word "amazed." I chose this passage of Scripture because I used a word search in the Bible for "amaze" and came up with verse after verse describing how people were amazed at Christ's ministry - they were amazed at his power, at his mercy - generally to the worst of the sick and sinners, and at his wisdom, which so often seemed to turn the wisdom of the world upside down.
So the flip side of my operative question: "When you see God's wisdom (power, love, mercy, etc.) displayed in the lives of unworthy people, how does your faith grow?"
Now there's a warning here, because it's not automatic that our faith will grow when we see God's wisdom displayed in the lives of unworthy people. Examples are the Pharisees and the "older brother" who resented God showing mercy to the unbelieving.
However, the whole of Scripture is story after story of God showing mercy to the unworthy. And that's the point of Caught off Guard -- Smith is retelling stories of Scripture with a view to surprising his readers with a fresh look at God's grace. The stories Smith looks at a really basic ones, the ones that most of us know by heart through songs we learned in Sunday school, but he tells them from a fresh perspective, one that's designed to highlight the insecurities, doubts, fears and failings of the main characters. As I've been reading the book on my own, I've loved how he shows what we expect of God in these situations, according to our own fears, or according to how we would respond to people who are in our situation. And he blows our preconceptions out of the water by showing how "totally other" God is in his love and grace.
A few examples, from chapter titles and then Scripture stories Smith looks at to show how God consistently responds in unexpected ways to people who are plagued with doubts, fears and rebellious behavior (these are just my notes from the devotions, so sorry if they are a bit sparse -- gives you incentive to pick up the book and dive into it!):
- Do you feel lost and confused? (Zaccheus - so searching for meaning that he's willing to publicly humiliate himself to get a glimpse of Jesus - not idle curiosity; we see Jesus respond by ‘seeking and saving the lost,' not by rejecting or mocking him)
- Do you feel as though Jesus has to put up with you (and wishes he didn't)? (Lot - has it all and makes poor choice after poor choice, "a Jerry Springer show candidate;" and yet God keeps rescuing him, full of grace and compassion, literally dragging him out of destruction that Lot was too foolish to leave on his own)
- Are you scared he'll hurt you when he's angry? (He looks at how God treated the rebellious people of Israel in the dessert)
- Are you afraid he'll threaten you to make you behave? (Talks about how fearful the people were when God appeared in thunder, smoke and lightening to deliver the 10 Commandments in Exodus 19-20. Even when giving them the law, he communicates in such a way that he shows he doesn't want slavish fear, but reverent fear - recognizing God's authority but having confidence that Christ will receive us when we fail)
- Are you scared he'll reject you when you let him down? (He looks at the story of Elijah - after seeing God's power displayed so greatly in the challenge against the prophets of Baal, Elijah flees from Queen Jezebel and totally loses confidence in God. Under conviction of his failure, Elijah tells God to just "take my life right now," but God sends an angel to feed him, physically and spiritually.)
I happen to have an inscribed copy of the book. I know, I know, I'm so special! But that's not why I bring it up; I mention it because Dr. Smith wrote a Scripture reference there that I think captures the heart of what this whole post is trying to say:
"He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities."