More Than “Making Room For God In Your Life”

Yesterday was the first Sunday of the Advent Season. Though we have never taken part in the full liturgy of Advent, historically our church has included an Advent wreath with candles near our communion setting on Sunday mornings, and we will likely do so this Christmas season as well. But as I was looking at the many different Advent readings and meditations for the first week of the season, one of the readings for Week 1 caused me to pause and ponder it’s implications (which is precisely what Advent readings are intended to do).

its-all-about-meThis particular reading was based around the theme of “Making Room for God in Your Life.” To summarize, the idea is actually pretty simple, which is to reflect on all the clutter you have built up in your life throughout the year that causes distraction from what is most important and pushes out the most essential need we all have in life––namely, God. Often these readings will include words from Luke 2:1-7 and illustrations of Mary and Joseph being turned away from the Inn because it was already too full. Additionally there are usually questions for consideration such as, What will you do to make room for Christ this Christmas? or In what rooms of your life is Jesus not permitted to enter? All are good questions and helpful parallels of application to our lives. But…..

There’s just something about that phrase that bothers me: “making room for God…”

Is just “making room” enough? If I move a few things around in my life and open up some space to allow God in, will I truly be satisfied in Him? Is Christmas––a season in which we celebrate God entering the world He created in order to fully satisfy the requirement that no created person throughout the history of the world would ever be able to satisfy, ridding the world of sin once for all who believe––a season in which we merely encourage one another to create a little space in our lives for the God of the universe? Something just seems a little backwards in that idea. Or at least a little small.

Is everything in our lives SO valuable that we just need to rearrange them in order to make some room for God? Are we really that important? Or, do we really view everything in our lives with such importance that we consider God as just another thing in our lives for which to make room?

Let me say, I know that’s not what those Advent readings are suggesting, and if you have been uplifted by a reading that encouraged you to make room for God in your life, I most certainly do not mean to downplay or belittle that. God uses all sorts of means in life to bring us to greater awareness of Him. Nevertheless, I’d like to elaborate just a bit and perhaps add to this idea of making room for God.

What if, rather than just make room for God in our already cluttered lives, we determined to empty our lives completely, put Him in the center, and then live out the rest of our lives from there? God is the starting point, not the intruder. God is the focal point, not the one who’s “photo-bombing” your life. God is in the center, not on the fringe. God defines, determines, guides and permeates everything. He doesn’t just stand by and then jump into those areas of life when it’s convenient or when we most need Him.

He is Supreme. He is Sovereign. He IS.

Nice theological buzzwords, Chris, but what does it all really mean? And how do we really live it? How can a person be a “God-centered” person and live a truly “God-centered” life?

The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.”

In Acts 17:28 Paul describes the God-centered person like this: “for in Him we live and move and have our being.”

A God-centered person treats God as central to all of life’s concerns, from the most simple and mundane to the most weighty and personal.

God-centered language is speech that does not marginalize God or treat Him as irrelevant or unnecessary. It makes explicit that all issues that matter are related importantly to God.

God-centered decision-making is radical and different from the way the common person makes decisions. It constantly asks the question, “What does God want? Is that what we are doing?” It always considers how the decision will affect the kingdom of God first, over and above how it will affect the individuals involved.

God-centered living is ultimately more freeing and more fulfilling than “me-centered” living. It is the continual life of trusting your Creator and provider in all things and with every aspect of your life. It is recognizing that He has both His and your best interests in mind. But His is always first.

The biblical, God-centered mindset is not simply one that includes God somewhere in our personal universe and recognizes that the Bible is true. The God-centered mindset begins with a radically different starting point, namely, God. God is the basic given reality in the universe. He was there before we were in existence––or before anything was in existence. He is simply the most absolute reality.

And so the God-centered mindset starts with the assumption that God is the center of reality. All thinking starts with the assumption that God has basic rights as the Creator of all things. He has goals that fit with his nature and perfect character. Then the God-centered mindset moves out from this center and interprets the world, with God and His rights and goals as the measure of all things.

The person who “makes room” for God to be in the center of his or her universe is the kind of person who views basic problems in life as problems not because they come into conflict my rights, my desires, my wishes, my goals, etc. For the God-centered person, what makes a problem is not, first, that something doesn’t fit the rights and needs of me, but that it doesn’t fit the rights and goals of God. If you start with you or me in the center of our universe, and our rights and wants, rather than starting with the Creator and His rights and goals, the problems you see in the universe will be very different.

Ask yourself this question: Is the basic riddle of the universe how to preserve my rights and solve my problems (for example, the right of self-determination, or the problem of suffering)? Or is the basic riddle of the universe how an infinitely worthy God in complete freedom can display the full range of His perfections––what Paul calls the “riches of his glory” (Romans 9:23)––His holiness and power and wisdom and justice and wrath and goodness and truth and grace in my sin-filled life?

How you answer that question will profoundly affect the way you understand the central event of human history––the Advent of the Christ into the world at Christmas and His death on the cross and resurrection at Easter. It will also determine whether or not you have a “God-centered” worldview or a “me-centered” worldview.

So, all that to say… my Advent challenge for each of us this year is to not merely make room for God in our lives, but to fully saturate your life with God. Clear out your life completely. Acknowledge His place is in the center, and then everything else becomes influenced by His presence in your life. View everything in life though the lens of God’s presence, God’s desires, God’s goals rather than viewing God and His activity in your life through the lens of everything else.

How is this practically accomplished? Jesus said it’s accomplished by abiding in Him. Enjoy Him! John 15 tells us that Jesus is the vine. Abiding in Him means we live every moment of every day in Christ and under the influence of Christ. Value Jesus, love Him. Cherish the Word of God––read it, study it, so it is inside you, that Christ and His values and His goals may be formed in us. For the God-centered person, all of your advice comes from the Scriptures. Your worldview comes from the Bible and not the world. Your view on issues of life, problems and trials in life, joyful and happy times in life, are all put into perspective by the Word of Christ.

I will conclude with one final thought. The Bible says “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Along those lines, I want to say that Christians must be God-centered people because God is God-centered. Huh?

Yes, you read that correctly. God is God-centered. God’s love for man does not consist in making man central, but in making Himself central for man. The birth of Christ and the cross of Christ do not direct man’s (yours and my) attention to our own vindicated worth, but to God’s vindicated righteousness.

This is ultimate love, because the only eternal happiness for man (you and me) is happiness that is focused on the riches of God’s glory. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forever more” says Psalm 16:11. God’s self-exaltation is loving because it preserves for us and offers to us the only all-satisfying Object of desire in the universe––the all-glorious, all-righteous God.

Someone once said that making room for God in your life is sort of like making room for cold in the fridge.

He is. Merry Christmas!

Pastoral Exhortations Regarding The Move To Athens

(The following letter was given to the members of Oasis Church on the Sunday when the elders announced the vision to begin meeting in Athens.)

To Oasis Church Meigs from the Elders
Pomeroy, OH

7/21/13

“…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

We live in an in age in which the culture of the church of God, generally speaking, has leaned far in one direction, as far as missions is concerned, or far in the opposite direction, but has largely forgotten about the significance of the vast expanse that lies in between.  (Sadly and tragically, some local church congregations don’t have a heart for missions at all, but by God’s grace, that is not Oasis, and therefore we are thankful to say that this is not a concern that we feel we must address to your hearts.)  We’re not writing this as a letter of any concern that we have for you, but merely as a pastoral exhortation to freshly embrace the same passion for the missionary work that Jesus has called His church to walk in, by faith.

Jesus spoke the words in Acts 1:8 after He rose from the grave, conquering the power of sin and death, while His people were gathered to Him in Jerusalem.  In this short conversation, before Jesus ascended into heaven right before their eyes, He lovingly told His people why He was leaving them here on this sinful earth, as opposed to immediately taking them to heaven with Him, which He surely could have done.  Jesus left them, but not without assuring them that they have a purpose (or a mission to be accomplished) in this world, and not without assuring them that they would have the power to fulfill the mission that He was calling them to.  These words are the very last words that Jesus ever said to His church before He ascended on high, and He so lovingly made sure to leave them with words of great hope at a time when it would be so easy for them to be filled with despair.  Their Savior was leaving them, after all.  What could be worse than that?  And without Jesus, what could be worth living for?

“…you shall be My witnesses,” Jesus said.  In other words, “You are here to tell the story of Me… of who I am… of what I have done, and of what I have said I will do.”

Jesus, knowing that these people had come to find their identity in being followers of Him, not only assures them that their identity is still going to be found in Him, calling them His own (“Mywitnesses”), but He said it in such a way that also communicated to them that being His witnesses is not only who they are, but it is also what they are to do (“…you shall be My witnesses…”).  This statement is both an affirmation of identity and a call to action.  This is who we are, and this is what we are to do… identity and purpose.

And hope.  “…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”  We know who we are, we know what we are to do with our lives, and now we know two more things:  One,that God will be with us as we go, in the person of the Holy Spirit.  And, two, that the Holy Spirit will give us the power to fulfill our mission.  Without either one of those things, there would be no hope for us, as we would be spending our lives in despair over the fact that God is no longer with us, and/or we would have to rely on our own strength to keep us faithful to our mission, as we tell the story of Jesus to a world that persecutes those who tell the story.

Oh, but this is not the case!  God is with us, and God is our strength!  These are words of great hope… not an intangible hope for us to be always grasping for (like we all so sinfully do, regarding the things of the world), but an unshakeable hope that will not leave us or forsake us!  This hope is the only good reason that we have for motivating us to even get out of bed in the morning to fulfill whatever tasks lie before us.  This is the only hope that guarantees success in life.  Pursuing the values and treasures of this world always leaves us reaching for that which we can never obtain or accomplish, but this hope, the hope of God in us, assures us that more than what we could ever need or want has been granted to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit’s very presence… and that more than what we could ever dream of accomplishing will be accomplished through us in the power of God the Holy Spirit, Himself.  We know who we are.  We know what we are to do.  And we are filled with the assured hope that God is with us, and that He will do what He wants to do through us.  God is our identity.  God is our purpose.  God is our hope.

We said these words at the beginning of this letter: “We live in an in age in which the culture of the church, generally speaking, has leaned far in one direction, as far as missions is concerned, or far in the opposite direction, but has largely forgotten about the significance of the vast expanse that lies in between.”  Now, what do we mean when we say this?  (Again, in this letter we are not considering the local church congregations that have no passion for missions at all.  The letter we would write to them would be much different than this, and would be written as a strong rebuke.  This is not a letter of rebuke at all, but of encouragement to a church who really loves the Lord Jesus, and who really loves the people that He has created to bear His glorious image.)

“…you shall be My witnesses… in Jerusalem,” Jesus said.  Now, Jerusalem is home to the people He was talking to, and if it wasn’t home, it was certainly kind of the “home base” for them.  By “home base” we mean that much of their lives revolved around Jerusalem.  Why?  Well, most recently it was because they had given everything they had once had, to follow Jesus wherever He was going, and so much of Jesus’ life revolved around Jerusalem.  We don’t want to get into the various reasons for that in this letter, but we just want to point out that it was a fact that Jesus and Jerusalem had a very deep and important relationship.  Now, Jerusalem didn’t love Jesus anywhere near as much as Jesus loved her, but regardless of that fact, the depth of their relationship is undeniable.

And this is where Jesus was calling His people to be His witnesses… right here at home… right here amongst the people that knew them well, and the people that they knew well… right here where they are used to and comfortable with the cultural customs… right here where they all speak the same language and slang terms… right here where everyone eats the same foods… right here where everyone finds entertainment from the same things… right here in Jerusalem, as opposed to those far-away places in the remotest parts of the earth.

Many church congregations have done well at being Christ’s witnesses (or missionaries) in the place that they could consider their “Jerusalem.”  These churches seem to have some measure of involvement in everything that is going on in their town, and because of this involvement, the town sees the church as being not only a blessing to the community, but a very important part of the community.  We want our church and all churches to be this kind of witness in their “Jerusalem.”  We want churches to have such an impact on their communities, that if they were to cease being there, the community would suffer a recognizable loss.  “Where are those people?!  We need those people!”  This is what a community should be thinking about a church that once was a part of their community, but for whatever reason, no longer is.

Opposite Jerusalem is what Jesus referred to as “the remotest part of the earth.”  To us Christians here in America, this means places like Africa, India, Iraq, Afghanistan, Peru, China, North Korea, etc…  Places super-far away with extremely different cultural practices and values than we are accustomed to, here where we live.  Jesus told us that we (who live in our various “Jerusalems”) are to go out to these far-away people and be a witness to them of the glorious news that Jesus came to this world, lived a sinless life, died as a holy sacrifice for our sins, rose from the grave, ascended into heaven, and gave His faithful word that He would return one day to judge the whole world and bring those who believe in Him to the place in heaven which He has prepared for us.  We call this “the gospel,” and it is our job to spread it as far as we can.

We tend to call the people that go from their Jerusalem to the remotest part of the earth “missionaries,” and that is exactly what they are.  Now, the truth is that every Christian is a missionary, in the sense that God has sent all of us on the same gospel-spreading mission, wherever we may be, but these missionaries have a huge task before them.  Before they can go to these strange people in strange lands, they must first spend an incredible amount of time educating themselves about the people and the place that they will be going to.  They have to learn of the different cultural values and customs.  They must learn about the climate in which they will be living.  They must learn of the history of the people.  They must learn more things than we have time to mention in this letter, oftentimes even how to speak a whole new language, which could take years.

There are countless stories of these specific missionaries going out to these people, so that they could be saved by hearing and believing in the gospel, and we listen to these stories and so often hold these missionaries with high honor in our hearts… which is the only response due them, as they have sacrificed literally everything they had to go out to these people, so that they might come to know Jesus.  We need more of these missionaries in the world, just as we have need of in our own home towns, our Jerusalems.

But what about “Judea and Samaria?”  Jesus said, “You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

What is “Judea and Samaria” anyway?  Well, Jerusalem was in Judea.  It was a small, but significant, part of Judea.  Jerusalem was a town, and Judea was a region, made up of many towns and a lot of countryside.  Samaria was the region that neighbored Judea, which was also made up of its own many towns and miles of countryside.

Since Jerusalem was in Judea, there were some cultural overlaps amongst the peoples of the neighboring towns that were in Judea, although each town did have its own unique characteristics.  Being kind of far away from Jerusalem, the Samaritans, on the other hand, were quite a bit different from the people of Jerusalem.  Not completely, but more than the people that live in towns closer to Jerusalem.

Despite their differences, however, Jesus told His people that they were to leave Jerusalem and go out into all Judea and Samaria, to be witnesses of the glory of God.  What this required was not so much education and training, as if they were to be going to the remotest parts of the earth, but rather just a little bit of sacrifice… a little bit more work… a little bit more devotion and commitment to the call to follow God by loving these people.  Sacrifice takes time, effort, a giving of one’s self, and commitment takes a steadfast heart.  All Jesus was saying here was, “Hey, I died for all the sinners that would love me.  Will you get up and go tell the sinners that?  They need to hear it.”  This is what it would take to fulfill the call to be God’s witnesses in “all Judea and Samaria.”  It was something to ask of them, but not too much.

The churches in America today who are passionate about spreading the gospel tend to put a lot of focus on sending missionaries out into their own Jerusalems and/or to the remotest parts of the earth, but spreading out to Judea and neighboring Samaria doesn’t seem to be as high of a priority for us American Christians today, for whatever reasons.  But Jesus wants us to reach the whole world with the gospel, whether it’s our next-door neighbors, the people in the Middle East or anywhere in between.  Everyone needs Jesus, and they need to hear that He has come to save them.

Oasis, Jesus is sending us on a mission to fulfill Acts 1:8.  He desires for us to be passionate about all of these things.  He has given us the gospel, yes, so that we would be eternally blessed by it and celebrate together because of it, but also that we would spread it… near, far and everywhere in between.  He is sending us past the boundaries of Pomeroy and Meigs County, our Jerusalem, and into Athens, where there are more people needing to know of the grace of God that has come to us in the person of Jesus.  Athens is just another town out there in Judea.  It’s not that far away.  It’s not as different as some may think, although it is different in some ways.  And it won’t require much of a sacrifice for us to reach out and love them with the love of Jesus.  And remember, since He is the One sending us, He will also be going with us to accomplish His work through us.  His Holy Spirit will empower us to fulfill this mission.  Our question to all of you at Oasis is:  Will you come and follow God with us to these people?  Jesus gave His everything for us.  Will you sacrifice something for the love of the gospel, and for the love of these people who need to hear it and see it alive in action?  You are being invited to come with us to love God by loving the people of Athens.  Will you come?