Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Friendship with God

My buddy Jim spoke at our worship gathering last Sunday. Here are some reflections on his treatment of “friendship with God.”

His text was John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

One thing I liked was how Jim regularly “confused” the phrases “friendship with God” and “friendship with Christ,” as though they were one and the same. And I agree. We cannot have one without the other.

Another point that got me thinking was on the conditional nature of this friendship/relationship. Jim made the point that other relationships that we have with God are not conditional – they just are. But this friendship with God is more responsive on our part. We enter into friendship as we obey. I am wary of a treatment that creates two classes of Christians: those who believe; and those who believe and obey. There have been many versions of this “staged” sanctification in church history, and I believe that all have been shown as flawed.

So is it possible that a true believer refrains from friendship with God? My theological framework argues against it, but I am glad for Jim’s message, and how it makes me wrestle with the issue.

I appreciated the point that Jim made, purposefully, that God is our friend, and that Christ has initiated friendship, even when we seem to withhold it. Our friendship with Him is grounded in His reaching out to us.

This is a subject that demands to be applied. Do I respond in frienship to the Lord? Do I love him? Am I in love with an idea, or with a book, but not with the Person? If so, I am afraid that my greatest danger is not a deficiency in my faith, but an absence of faith altogether.

Jim is a visual guy. It just wouldn’t be the same listening to a recording. And Jim speaks visually. He strives for word pictures, some of which land him in hot water. I’m still struggling with a contemporary greeting of Jesus that includes the words “how’s it hangin’?”

Thank you, Jim, for your ministry. And thank you, Lord, for giving us this verse of Scripture, and an entrance into this level of intimacy with the living God.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Thinking through Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Moody, 2008

In the Second Introduction, and especially on pp. 27,28, the “ordinary” author refers to “experience” in a few different ways. He seems to be poking fun at the “emergent” quest for creating the optimal “experience” for Christians. This is very much a seeker-sensitive quest as well. It is just that the emergents are tending toward an experience that is less glitzy and production-oriented, and more mystical. But, my goal is not to critique the book, or even the emergents. It is to critique myself and our own church(es). We also have a worship experience.

Jonathan Edwards and others in his age talked about “experimental religion.” He was certainly not talking about a pragmatic approach to church where we keep throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, trying to find what works to make people happy and get more people to come. He was talking about the actual application of spiritual truth to life. I think when he says “experimental,” we would say “practical.” So let me combine these thoughts. What we deeply need is “experimental experience.” That is, the transforming truth incarnated by believers, who are not much like the people they used to be.

But that is not what either “experimental” or “experience” mean in our present situation. We experiment with formats and programs and approaches, trying to create the experience that will prove to be satisfying and rewarding. But here is the point – the experiment is God’s experiment, and we are the lab rats. It is not up to us to combine the chemicals. That is God’s job. The explosive results are not designed by the leadership team, but are to be seen in our lives. And the experience is not really about how we feel, or what we enjoy. The experience is a family of confessing believers who are in the process of being truly transformed, being brought into fellowship with God and with one another in ways that are not always pleasant or pleasurable. The point is not, how do I feel in the car on the way home from church, but, was God glorified?

So where, and how, is God glorified? In the worship of His people. But what does this mean? It involves Scripture, but the presence of a Bible in the lap of every attendee does not, in itself, glorify God. It involves music, but, whether hymn or chorus, piano or guitar, glorifying God can be present or absent with either. It certainly involves people, but a collection of bodies does not make a temple for God’s Spirit, and there can be more glorification taking place with four spiritual old ladies then with four hundred emotionally charged young adults.

Do we truly love God? Is that love exhibited in a sincere hearing of His Word? Does the hearing of His Word result in concrete obedience, in both attitude and action? Is the hold of the world, the flesh, and the devil on our lives being progressively weakened and crucified? Is the name of Christ regularly on our lips, both in private and public? Do our families see the change?

If so, God is being glorified. And His experiment is working out in our experience. And if not, then we ought to try something different.