Question 4: God?

Of all the questions, this is the most impactful (in my studied opinion)! You will not praise him or plead his promises (intercede) if you do not know him and trust him. You will not dare to see yourself in the story if you don’t rely on him to change you. You will not hear his call to obedience if you disbelieve. You will not share if you have no hope. Your only motivation for ministering to others will be your anticipation that they will reciprocate.

Faith in God changes things. Faith in God changes you. Faith in God changes me.

Some call the usual Scripture set “Creation to Christ.” I call it “Discovering God.” That is our great need.

It is not that God is lost and needs to be found. No, we are lost and finding him gives our lives true meaning.

Asking, “What do we learn about God?” opens a Discovery Group up to focusing on the one character who appears in every story contained in the the Bible. While the next question helps us find ourselves, too, we quickly learn he is the main character. The Bible is ultimately about him.

Our lives have true meaning when lived in relationship with our Creator. Seeing how Jesus is the perfect reflection of the Father opens our hearts to the realization that he shows us God’s heart most clearly.

Many do not have first-hand experience hearing what the Bible actually reveals about God. Getting their “fingerprints on the Bible” exposes them to God’s heart.

As a young man, who came from thirteen generations of Buddhists (that they could count), read the passages from Genesis trust began to grow. He referred to God as “the One above all.” He declared, “This answers the questions I have been asking since I was a young boy!”

Question # 4 is the heart and soul of a Discovery Bible Study. I encourage you to ask and answer that question every time you read from the Bible!

How Do We Change?

Before you paint a clear picture of a new way forward and stoke the fires of dissatisfaction, be sure you know at least a few of the first steps toward the new vision. No, you probably will not know how to map out the full path the change will demand, but you must know how to take the first steps to open the way to discovering the next steps.

In 2005 I was captured by the vision of movements. Rapid replication resonated within me. It connected to the history of my spiritual family. A handful of spiritual leaders trained up thousands of “lay” leaders. They reassured farmers, cobblers and shop keepers that they could understand Scriptures. Simple people obeying simple Bible directives found their lives transformed. They became the conduits for reaching their families, friends and communities.

But I did not know how to help the mildly intrigued picture themselves getting started doing the same kinds of things in 21st century America. Talk of what happened when this region was the western frontier of the U.S., what was happening in Northern India and what was starting in West Africa did little to help these people.

The vision captured my heart. A trip to a West African nation that had only recently come out of a bloody civil war heightened my dissatisfaction. I left there amazed and troubled. It all coalesced in my self-talk, “They are doing so much with so little; we are doing so little with so much!” I was compelled to see change happen here.

 

White Unto Harvest

In John 4:35 Jesus tells the twelve, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”

Little did they know that he had opened the heart of a Samaritan woman. They could never anticipate that they were about to spend two days watching many of these spiritual outcasts come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Many believed because of the testimony of this woman. Many more came to believe because of their time spent with Jesus.

It is estimated that more Muslims have come to faith in Jesus in the last thirty years than all the previous centuries combined. Just like John 4, much of the sowing and harvesting is being done by people within the communities. Yes, they too are being visited by Jesus and some of his disciples. He is appearing to many through dreams and visions. Believers from Muslim backgrounds are leading the charge to get the Gospel out to those who have never heard.

Fear-mongers have too little faith in God to believe what is taking place. Their agendas are advanced by stirring up paranoia and hatred. What they call diligence is disobedience. Tragically, they miss the harvest God is providing.

The Good Muslim?

Yes, these recently settled people were at great risk. Their situation was dire.

The king of Assyria ordered, “Send back some priests who were taken into exile from there. They can go back and live there and instruct the people in what the god of the land expects of them….They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively—they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines. They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from” (2 Kings 17:27,32-33, The Message).

The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were descended from these peoples. This is the historical-cultural background behind Jesus’ parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” It also informs his interactions with the woman at the well and people from her village. Jews considered the Samaritans spiritual mutts. While they claimed to worship the God of Israel, the religious purists knew their sordid spiritual lineage.

Sounds remarkably similar to Islam.

Would Jesus shock us with the modern-day Parable of the Good Muslim? Would he spend a couple of days with Muslims who want to hear about the Messiah?

 

What God Expects

Take a look with me at the Samaritans. When Assyria took the ten northern tribes captive, they moved people from other nations they conquered into the region to harvest the crops so Assyria could receive taxes. (Wars are most often fought over economic resources.) Israel was valuable for the crops raised there and also the tariffs that could be charged for the products that came to and from the Far East and Africa. Nearby seaports like Tyre and Sidon gained great wealth as transportation hubs, while Israel exported wheat, barley, wine and olive oil. The rulers in Nineveh wanted people there to avoid losing the wealth to be had. Here’s how 2 Kings 17:24-26 is stated in The Message:

The king of Assyria brought in people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and relocated them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the exiled Israelites. They moved in as if they owned the place and made themselves at home. When the Assyrians first moved in, God was just another god to them; they neither honored nor worshiped him. Then God sent lions among them and people were mauled and killed.

 This message was then sent back to the king of Assyria: “The people you brought in to occupy the towns of Samaria don’t know what’s expected of them from the god of the land, and now he’s sent lions and they’re killing people right and left because nobody knows what the god of the land expects of them.”

What is God Doing?

During the seasons when they honored God, Israel shone brightly (e.g., the fame Solomon enjoyed when the Queen of Sheba visited). But when they became insular and rebellious, Yahweh still used them to reveal his glory to the nations.

There are seasons when we go to the nations willingly. There are seasons when they come to us and we willingly present the beauty of God’s transformative covenant relationship. But there are also times when we are sent against our best-laid plans (e.g., Jonah to Nineveh, Paul under arrest in Rome). And, last but not least, there are the times when God’s people are captives to their enemies in their own land. American Christians have known the first three. I pray we never have to experience the fourth. This only comes as God’s corrective to the persistent rebellion of his people to be a blessing to the people groups [nations].

Yes, I believe the church is being watched in the heavenlies. I believe God is doing something on a grander scale than our faith allows us to see (most of the time). I believe there are times when he pulls back the curtains to give us a kingdom of heaven peek. I believe we are living through intriguing times.

A Case Study: “Are Your Kids In Danger Of Becoming Muslim?”

Over the last few years Murfreesboro (my home town) has been thrust into international spotlight over opposition to a mosque that was constructed here. Numerous media have given the story extensive coverage. While some viewed this under the rubric of a clash between Islam and Christianity or tolerance and bigotry, there are probably stronger worldview clashes under the surface.

When politics and media wade into the fray, there are deeper dynamics. Murfreesboro is home of Middle Tennessee State University–the largest undergraduate university in our state. The news of opposition to the mosque played out differently there than people might have imagined. Secularists–folks who deny God’s continued involvement in our world (atheists and agnostics) loved the fracas. They were happy to see professed Christians looking intolerant. They relished the opportunity to portray all as bigots who talk about the Constitution, but are unwilling to honor its protections for other faith groups. Tragically, the young people at MTSU did not see us at our finest.

The worldview clash between Christians and Muslims became a smokescreen for the clash between secularism and faith in a  Creator (something Christianity and Islam share). Odd, isn’t it? How many parents realized our response to this heated debate was potentially being leveraged by a much stronger third party?

Yes, there are marked conflicts between the worldview of Muslims and disciples of Jesus. But threat is far greater that our children will become secularists than Muslims.

Hold strong convictions. Exercise your freedom of speech. Realize how you say what you say is being gauged by those who know you best, too.

Tenacity Needed!

Seth Godin’s blog on Saturday, November 2, challenged:

“Tenacity is not the same as persistence. Persistence is doing something again and again until it works. It sounds like ‘pestering’ for a reason. Tenacity is using new data to make new decisions to find new pathways to find new ways to achieve a goal when the old ways didn’t work. Telemarketers are persistent, Nike is tenacious.”

His closing illustration reveals what many already know, Godin is a marketer. His usually-brief daily blog often proves insightful. Frequently I can see places where his insights transcend marketing.

A friend recently asked a group of Disciple Making Movements practitioners “what spiritual traits are needed to persevere until traction and finally multiplication happens?”

I replied, “A willingness to fail forward. Perfectionism prevents the risk-taking, trial-and-error learning that each new people group demands. Like a world-class tailor, there are basics of measuring, fitting and sewing that always apply. But each person is unique and that suit is going to hang differently. Ripping out seams and re-doing the work is often required.”

Intentionally passing on a biblical worldview to your children and grandchildren is not a “one-size-fits-all” endeavor. It will require “tenacity” as Godin defines it. We must be tenacious in reaching the goal of seeing the next two generations of our family owning a biblical worldview–relishing living under the reign of Christ! ” Tenacity is using new data to make new decisions to find new pathways to find new ways to achieve a goal when the old ways didn’t work.”

Current statistics on young people “leaving” church reveal that “the old ways didn’t work.” Will we become entrenched and persist in doing them harder, longer, faster, bigger, etc.? Or will we be tenacious and learn to make new decisions so we can  find new pathways in order to find new ways? Don’t be surprised when those new ways reflect Deuteronomy 6!

 

Authentic Faith

Exploring the issue of the worldview development in children is a challenge. The people who really need to change are the parents. The adults who shape the worldview of the children are critical. One’s worldview is more caught (or absorbed) than taught. When faced with a crisis of belief, do I trust what I know God’s Word reveals, or do I place my reliance elsewhere? “What is real?”–the fundamental worldview question seeks to explore my subjective answer to this question. It deals more with my perception of reality than rational(istic) answers to this question.

Our children witness where our professions and actions agree. They also experience the places where our “actions ring so loudly in their ears they cannot hear a word we are saying!” Because children learn our non-verbal cues long before they understand our words, they always believe the non-verbal. How we say what we say is more powerful than the meaning of the words. Tone, pace and sarcasm can radically impact how words are received.

Children learn from their parents whenever they are with them. They know when we have cowered, like Saul. They know when our profession clashes with our daily choices. They sense our authentic inner self. The best children’s curricula is the faith their parents live. How momma and daddy walk daily overwhelms thousands of classes!

But worldview is shaped in youth. Parents of friends, teachers and coaches also model from their worldviews. Comics, books and movies all interact with their perceived world from a worldview perspective. Parents cannot shelter their children from exposure to other worldviews. But they can raise them up to be discerning.

Competing Worldviews

Moses says, “In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’ tell him: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous sign and wonders–great and terrible–upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness'” (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).

Your worldview must be diligently communicated to your children and grandchildren! Do not assume they will get it by osmosis. Yes, there is much that they will absorb, but there are always competing worldviews in any culture. We are finally waking up to this reality here in North America. While this has always been true here, only a fool can deny the reality at the present time.

Earlier, Moses has given them the key: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).