In this episode we explore the typical arc of a Christian journey. How does discipleship play out in a person’s life? Each story is unique, but there are some consistent elements that can help us as we navigate our unique journeys. Humans have an immense and inexhaustible need for love. And God loves us because he chooses to. We want to be loved and we also want to find something to love. A place to belong. A deeper understanding of how that plays out in our journey will help us navigate the path well.
We’ll continue today in this epic tale, our life is an epic tale; and today we’re actually going to talk about the beginning of this journey. Now it’s kind of odd that we would talk about the journey so much and only now be talking about the beginning; but I’ll tell you why that is in a moment, and it has to do with how difficult it is to grasp this beginning concept that really makes this journey possible.
We’ve talked about our life being an epic tale. We’re in this adventure, this Snow White Adventure where humanity has become dwarfed and lives in a scary forest; and we, as the rightful rulers of all creation, as God has made us, have been exiled from the way the world’s supposed to be, and we’re living in the scary forest with the dwarfs; and our basic decision is whether we can cook and sew and serve the dwarfs or despair or go on and live our own life or even become evil and try to control things ourselves.
Of course, what we’re waiting for is the handsome prince to come and rescue us, which is something that we look forward to in the future. And all these stories that we love, the reason we love them is because we’re living them.
Of course, what God wants us to do is be the hero or the heroine in this story, and just like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty or Snow White or any of the Disney Princesses or Aragorn and Frodo and the various adventure motifs, Prince Cor in The Horse And His Boy, one of C. S. Lewis’s books, what God wants us to do is live a life of great character in the face of opposition. That’s how we become fulfilled.
And as we go through life, we go through these different terrains. We go through valleys like Job did, and that’s very difficult; but it’s an opportunity to know God by faith, which is our greatest opportunity in life. We go through the everyday, the plains of everydayness, which we tend to think of as mundane; but that’s really where most of life is lived and where our biggest opportunity to know God by faith is. It’s much more difficult to be faithful in the mundane than it is when you know there’s a crisis.
And then, of course, you have the mountaintops which can be the most difficult of all because it’s in the mountaintops that we tend to grab and possess this experience instead of doing what Peter experienced, as we looked at. He had the mountaintop experience of the Transfiguration because he followed Jesus up the mountain, not because he was seeking the experience; and what he learned is to keep following Jesus even when he comes down from the mountain. So it’s difficult to maintain a life of faith all throughout these different terrains.
A need for love; a need to control
But this journey has a beginning point. And the beginning point for the Christian journey is difficult to discuss. I think the reason it’s difficult to discuss is because it speaks to our deepest need as humans, and this need is so huge and so deep that we don’t think about it; and, I think, often, we don’t want to think about it. This is a difficult concept. It’s also something that we tend to not think about because we take for granted that we already understand it.
Blaise Pascal, the famous scientist, was also a really devout believer; and he said this: “There is in every person an infinite abyss that can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object, in other words, by God himself.”
And this is the human condition that we have this immense and inexhaustible need for love.
The reason why this gets so complicated is because we also have a deep desire because we live in exile from the garden in a dwarfed condition. We also have this huge need to be in control. And, so, what we tend to do is try to get this infinite abyss filled in such a way that we feel like we’re in control of it. Which, of course, is madness; but it doesn’t stop us from trying.
God loves us because he chooses to
A friend of mine is a communications expert, and I asked him to engage with a seminary I’m associated with, Grace School of Theology and help them with some of their communications work. And he told me afterwards of his experience. And he said that I had told him—which I didn’t remember, actually. I told him, well, talk to Dave Anderson for ten minutes, and if you don’t get what this is about, then don’t spend any time on it.
And so he talked to Dave, and he actually helped Grace School of Theology come up with a short statement about what the school is about. And it’s something like this: “Spreading the love of God, a love that cannot be earned and cannot be lost.” Pretty good description.
This fellow, a friend of mine, told his story, and it turns out that he had believed in biblical values all of his life; but he had actually not believed the message of the Bible. And he was all the way into his forties. And only seven years ago or so, he finally came to faith in Christ.
He said a lot of people asked him, what stood in the way? What took you so long? He said, well, what stood in the way was mainly Christians.
And they said, what helped you overcome that? Christians.
And he said when he came to faith, he had this gnawing feeling that he just needed to do more. Somehow he needed to do more. I mean, here’s God who has sacrificed his only son; and, you know, how can you not look at that and say there must be something I can do? There must be some way I can be better for this great God.
And then he talked to Dave, who told him, actually, there’s nothing you can do. What you can do is believe that God has genuinely and truly accepted you, just because he wants to.
And this fellow said, it made me think of my dad. My dad and I have a great relationship, and my dad’s hard on me; but the one thing I know about my dad is he would never not want my best. And, of course, God would be that way.
Now, unfortunately, many, perhaps most of us, don’t have a father figure like that. A large percentage of humanity has an absent father or an abusive father or ten father figures, and none of them worth copying. Fortunately, this guy had something to look at that said, “Oh, that must be what God’s like.”
The beginning is to accept the love of God
But the reality of the beginning place for this great adventure where we are to live as a heroic king or queen to be, living our values in a dark world and being a light, laying down our life. The beginning place for that is to accept the love of God, the grace of God. It’s so difficult for us.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
I like Maslow’s pyramid of hierarchy of needs. I think he made a very excellent observation. Here’s basically what he said:
He said people start with their base need, and once that’s met, they don’t even think about it anymore. They don’t even think about it. They just look at the next need up. And they seek to have that next need fulfilled. Boy, and I think it’s a pretty astute observation.
Basically, the bottom layer—or layers the way he set it out—are physical needs. You know, if you’re underwater and can’t breathe, you stop thinking about what everybody thinks of you or what your Day-Timer looks like tomorrow or any other thing that you happen to care about. And you’re just think about one thing: I need a breath of air.
But if you’re not drowning for air, you don’t even think about breathing. I don’t know how many times we’ll breathe today, but I’ll bet you not one time will you say, “Thank you God for air! It’s so amazing that I can breathe. Just to think about what’s happening. Oxygen is going into my lungs, and then it’s transferring into the alveoli and going into my blood, and then going over to where the mitochondria are, and then having a reaction like a fire; and it’s releasing energy, and the energy’s going into my body, and it makes me live! Isn’t it wonderful?” We just don’t think about that.
What we’re thinking about is, why is that person looking at me like that?
And the reason we’re thinking about that is because the next thing up is belonging, acceptance. We have to be accepted. And, frankly, I think this is where most of humanity lives most of the time.
And, unfortunately, in our world, most human structures are set up to offer belonging on a conditional basis. You can be part of us so long as you—Now on the one hand, it’s very sick because this enormous need that we have, this infinite abyss that only God can fill, we’re now filling with something that’s just temporary. We can never have that need met; and so we’re going to go all through life with this need unmet, one of our most basic driving forces. Very sad.
On the other hand, sadly, we prefer it this way because if it’s conditional, then who controls it, or who do we think controls it? We think we do. So we’re stuck in this world where we’re living in order to manipulate someone else’s acceptance so that we can have this belonging need met. It’s the two-ticks-and-no-dog way of living. It’s just really sad. It’s sick.
And we can find all kinds of groups that function this way. Gangs are this way. Cliques are this way. Social clubs can be this way. Church can be this way. Even family can be this way. And, in fact, a lot of families are this way.
A guy told me one time—I was asking him about his particular culture, and there was a particular stereotype about mothers in this culture; and he said yeah. He said, actually, it’s pretty much that way. There was a statue that expresses it well. Here is so-and-so person philanthropist, philosopher, community leader, and still a disappointment to his mother. Because moms tend toward this way.
You know, I will accept you so long as you—and this tends to get expressed certain ways, like, “After all I’ve done for you.” All of us are susceptible to this.
But that’s not the way God is. God accepts us the way we are in spite of our dwarfed condition, in spite of all our warts, and he gives us this new birth unconditionally, at the point in time that it’s given, and without condition for the rest of our lives.
That’s a hard thing to accept. It’s hard for two reasons: One is we don’t have any experience to tell us what that looks like, generally. And the other is we have to admit we’re not in control. Now it happens to be reality, and trying to control the universe is a pretty heavy burden to bear. But for some reason, we tend to prefer that illusion. But this is the very starting point for this great adventure. You really can’t live a Cinderella or Aragorn type life where you live a transcendent set of values in the face of darkness without this foundation of accepting God’s grace.
Now let me talk about this word grace for a minute. We tend to define grace as God’s unmerited favor. And that’s okay, but let me let me just add some breadth to this, lest we trivialize it.
The word grace that we find in scripture is a translation of the Greek word charis. And it’s not always used in a way that just applies to God. For example, there’s a verse that says and Jesus grew—as a young man—in favor with God and men. Well that’s the word charis, in favor with God and men. So man grants favors too. And that’s actually what the word charis means. It means to grant favor.
The reason why we say unmerited favor is because when God is granting the favor, we do not merit it, which is a very accurate observation; but that does not mean it’s not merited because what does merit the favor of God? Jesus does. Yeah. So it’s merited, but he has transposed the merit of Jesus onto us.
But then you have other instances of charis. God gives charis, favor, grace, to the humble. Well, then that sounds conditional, doesn’t it? If you’re humble you get that favor, and if you’re not humble, you don’t get that favor. It’s a different application of the same word.
But here’s the what’s the same: Who gets to decide what the standard of humility is? Yeah, God does. What we tend to do is say, oh, God has to grant grace to the humble. I am humble because one, two, three, four, five [reasons]; therefore, God must—What have we just done? We just put ourselves in control again, didn’t we? And now God must. Well, no, it doesn’t work that way.
And when God judges, he will judge based on standards that he determines; and those standards are not external to God. They emanate from God.
So God’s grace is actually an expression of who God is. That makes it, on the one hand, a lot more comforting because there’s not some set of rules that we have to live by—and that’s what we tend to do to one another is set up rules that we can beat each other over the head with.
But, on the other hand, it’s kind of disquieting because it’s God himself, and how do you know? Well, you’ve got to trust God. The greatest opportunity in this life is to know God by faith, and this is part of it. I don’t know what God’s going to say about me when I reach the judgment seat of Christ. I do know it will be for my best interest. And that is the fundamental foundation of living this life as an epic tale is to believe that God actually has our best interests at heart.