Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blessed - Exchanging My Will For His

What does it mean to be “blessed?” We all want God’s blessing – most of us anyway, but what is it? It is God’s favor. Do you want God’s favor? How bad do you want it?

Do you remember the TV game show, “Let’s Make A Deal?” Monte Hall would select contestants who had dressed in rather interesting and provocative ways to gain his attention; and as a result of gaining his favor, they were given opportunities to select prizes behind either door number one or door number two. Behind door number one was a toaster, a barbeque set and a lifetime supply of Windex. Behind door number two was a luxurious car, a boat and a cruise to the Bahamas. Which contestant was “blessed?”

To make it clearer, at the end of the show, Monte would go to the “big” winners and offer them one last deal. They could trade their prizes for something else – something unknown – hidden behind a curtain or in a box. What if the exchange was for either $10,000,000 or God’s favor? Which would you take? Be honest.

Looking around this room, we see those that have come here for this meeting – some of them may give us pause – we never expected to see them in a gathering like this, because we knew them in days past under much less sanctified circumstances. The point is that no one here is here against his or her will. God has made each one of us with the ability to choose. He has bestowed upon us freewill. Created in His image we were designed to be free agents with the power of choice just like our Creator. Whatever we as His created people decide, within certain constraints, is binding – and God, who we have proclaimed is not limited in His abilities; though He may be able technically to violate your will – has determined that whatever your desire is, He will honor it. But think on this - if He is able to violate the freewill He made you with whenever and however He wants to – then you never really had a “free” will in the first place. If we cannot really choose Him if we want to, our response to Him is nothing but a programmed response – our love for Him, technically speaking, means nothing – it is merely software, properly following the logic prescribed by the code writer. The strict adherence to this sort of intelligent fatalism is called Calvinism. Goodness, i.e., doing good things, is a program – but then so is badness also. Of necessity, we must attribute God with the creation of evil because we have proclaimed Him to be the creator of all things. Following this line, all are predestined to heaven or hell per the logic of the program. The outcome has been determined. But is the truth so simple? The real truth, it would seem, is deeper still.

If our choices are illusory, blessing is not God’s favor for those who have chosen Him – it is only God’s favor for those whom He has chosen. This is teaching is commonly called “predestination” and presents a doctrine describing a God who has made everything and prescribes the movements of all things. He is responsible for life and death and is the determinate cause of all things. While I see the necessity of ascribing the characteristic of “omnipotence” to the Almighty, I also see that, as presented, predestination is only half the truth. The biggest trouble with this doctrine is that it systematizes and theologizes what we know about God and makes it stiff, boring and impersonal. It abandons experience as a formulating factor in understanding truth and builds it purely to dogma. When you add personal experience I believe you find the real truth. Our relationship with God has certainly been established as a result of His choosing us, but perhaps even more importantly, our decision to accept His invitation and choose Him back. Without this freedom to choose, God cannot experience what the redemption of mankind was reaching for. God needs our choice to bring about glory for Himself. Robots cannot give Him glory. Our relationship with God is a love story not systematic theology. In choosing Him we bless Him and the blessing from Him is made complete. It’s the most precious deal of our lives. Those who choose Him may not get $10,000,000, but they will receive His favor and His promise to neither leave nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:5).

Something else happens when we receive God’s favor, something really cool – He causes us to suffer (Acts 9:16). Doesn’t that sound fun? Since God is our Father, His desire is that His children should receive the abundance of all things. While He has purposed to lavish us with His blessing, it is not without cost. Everything worthwhile provided by God for us can only be fully appreciated through suffering. In this way we will be able to share not only in the suffering of Christ, but also in His glory (Romans 8:17). God wants us to fully understand Him by gaining a perspective of His character incorporated into our character. This can only come about through suffering. This “suffering” is not punishment, but a privilege (Acts 5:41). The early church understood this. Upon actualizing on “what God has done,” the proper response can only be suffering. That word seems abhorrent. No one wants to suffer. But is this true? In a relationship with another person, in order for love to be actualized, suffering must happen. It is the yielding of the will in submission to the will of another that suffering is best understood. The freewill of each individual is not violated, but each is influenced to do something they would not have chosen to do otherwise. Selfish desire is set aside for the benefit of the other; a benefit that the other person did not necessarily earn. This unearned benefit is called “grace.” Suffering then is the fulfillment of what it means to be blessed because it allows grace to flow in both directions. Both parties are beneficiaries.

The initial encounter with God seems to be the most exciting. In his first encounter, Moses saw a burning bush on the slopes of Mount Horeb. The bush burned and yet was not consumed by the flames (Exodus 3:1-6). God spoke to him there for the first time. Moses had to set aside his agenda in favor of the plans that God had for him. Moses did it because he wanted to, not because he had to. The promise he had from God was that God would be with him (Exodus 3:12). And even though there would be many trials through the years, God would never leave him. This important truth has been compromised in our time. We have been taught that God does not go with us into a bar or into the arms of a prostitute. We have been lied to about the nature of the relationship we have with our Father God. To many it is unimaginable that God would be with us while visiting a pornographic theatre of having sex with a stranger in a dark alley. But this is exactly the kind of relationship we have with God. Though during these altered moments we may not be able to receive the full benefits promised – His attending presence with us is not predicated on the basis of our waywardness – He stays with us while we wander; patiently waiting for us to return to His blessing. His love is not only unmerited, it is unchangeable and unconditional. Our deviations are real and the consequences for our wanderings could be fatal, but nothing can ever separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). We can by an act of our freewill through faith at any moment return to His arms of blessing, and He will give us the comfort of His love. He is aware of our sins, but they do not separate us from Him any longer. At Calvary, conditional relationship was obliterated by the blood of Jesus and God’s wrath was finally appeased.

Rev. Bob Ellis


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