It’s spring break this week, and the majority of our youth ministry students are out on vacation. So I sent a Facebook message to a LeTourneau University student that I’ve been meaning to connect with:
“Hey dude, I’m Brent Stafford the youth minister at LCC, want to grab lunch this week? I’ll eat anything, what would you like?”
His response came back: “I’m new to the area, how about Chinese?”
We met at Panda Express and I got a double order of Orange Chicken and fried rice (it’s spring break, so calories don’t count), and we began to share our stories. We discussed how we ended up in Longview, and our conversation eventually drifted towards theology. We talked for over an hour, but the thing that stuck with me was his comment about God:
“When we don’t look at God like Jesus does (as a father), we get a really messed up view of how our relationship is supposed to work”
I’ve been chewing on that thought for the past 24 hours.
Judge, Genie, Creator, Father
When I was little, I looked at God the same way I looked at Santa Claus. God was “Making a list, checking it twice, he’s gonna find out if I was naughty or nice.” So I always had to be on my best behavior (which was difficult because I was a BIG troublemaker as a kid).
In middle school, I looked at God as a genie that would give me what I wanted if I would pray hard enough. Not surprisingly, God did not deliver me from the consequences of the mayhem that I caused. And he did not magically make the answers appear in my brain for the tests I didn’t study for. I never got sick to get out of school when I wanted to, and the girls I liked did not like me back because I prayed for it. Treating God like that did not work.
As I got older and took my faith more seriously, I worked hard to attain a ministry degree. With everything I learned from the faculty at Oklahoma Christian, it was easy to see God as a creator. He was omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, the Alpha and Omega, the architect of time and space …but He was distant. I saw Jesus as a “lifeline,” because I wasn’t good enough and could never be good enough. I felt like salvation was God’s way of fixing a broken and messed up world, because we could never be the creation that He made us to be. My conversations with God were centered on how messed up I was and how much I needed him to fix me.
Over the past 8 months I’ve been trying to relate to God as a Father. When I treat God as a judge, it’s easy to understand: relating to God is as simple as not doing bad things. When I treat Him as a Creator, it’s easy to praise him. However, that makes Him seem distant, and I list my mistakes/shortcomings as a failure to be what I was created to be.
But when I look at God as a Father, my control is gone. My relationship to Him transforms into a response to His outpouring of love through Jesus. It means that when I use that phrase “God opened/shut that door”, it wasn’t to punish me or reward me. In fact, it means that it’s not really about me at all: it’s God guiding my life on the path that He has set, even if it isn’t comfortable or safe. God as a Father doesn’t have to answer to my child-like questions of why the terrible and uncomfortable events that take place. I have to learn to trust that my Father knows what is best. In the words of Paul in Romans 8:28:
“that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who
have been called according to his purpose.”
It’s really hard to pick the stuff you don’t like out of Chinese food (like those tiny little red peppers that somehow always sneak into a bite and light your mouth on fire …they’re sneaky and they’ll get you every time). In the same way, we really want to pick out the parts we don’t like about God.
Some of us like grace, but want to pick out the calling to live a holy life.
Some of us feel like we deserve judgment, and want to pick out the grace.
Some of us want to add a lot of salt (good deeds) to our relationship with God in the hopes that it will cover up the bad stuff we’ve added (sin).
Some of us feel hurt, abandoned, or hated by God and won’t even engage with Him, like a person who had food poisoning at a restaurant and vows to never return.
We can’t be picky eaters in our relationship with God. I can pick and choose, but then I’m not worshipping and interacting with the God that is. I’m worshipping and interacting with a god of my own invention with whom I’ve replaced the living God. I shouldn’t be surprised that the true God who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only son” [John 3:16] doesn’t look like the god that I invent to help me manage my guilt and feel better about life.
What if we responded to the living God in the way that Paul talks about in Romans 12:1-2:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
This week, take a step back and think about how you relate to God. Do you treat God like a judge, genie, or creator? Or are you willing to take that step of vulnerability and treat him as a father?