Our past often influences how we see life, and how we see God. Sometimes we keep God boxed up in our nostalgic experiences that define our sense of self. Such a god is not the living God, but an image of God we have have created in our self.
It is difficult for us to think of God outside of our personal experience. Our religious training, our feelings, The American Dream – or whatever concept drives our understanding of life – all become filters for how we see God. God is personal to us. Yet God does not begin with us nor end with us. To have a true biblical view of God, we must allow God to strip away these self made lenses, these pictures of God we have drawn within ourselves. We must learn to hear the true words of Jesus, not His words filtered through our cultural experience.
At a conference a few years ago we were discussing why the modern American church was so far afield from first century discipleship. I said at the time that our problem is that we identify Jesus as our hero and blend Him with The American Dream, yet Jesus gave up everything and glorified God by suffering on a cross; and that doesn’t work.
I am now reading Radical by David Platt. The subtitle tells it all: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.We who have been raised in the want and lust for goods and self fulfillment of the American culture can hardly hear words like: “Sell everything and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” or “Unless you pick up your cross you cannot be my disciple.” We rationalize these versus to mean something else because we cannot fathom such demands calling for us lose stuff. In our culture, possessions and fulfillment are the gods which define our happiness. Even modern evangelicals cannot escape this cultural grip.
For example hear Platt: “The modern-day gospel says, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved.’ Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, ‘You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.’ The former sells books and draws crowds. The latter saves souls. Which is more important.”
God is personal. He reveals Himself to people. The Bible is filled with stories of God making Himself known to people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, David… and more. Jesus revealed God in himself as a person, “The Word became flesh.” About ten years ago I asked God how I should pray for the Muslim nations. God told me to pray for them to have visions of Jesus. Since then, I have heard and read that Jesus is making Himself known in the Muslim nations through dreams and visions. God uses personal experiences to enable us to know Him. Where we go wrong is when we let self become the center for truth defined through past experiences, social norms or culture. The Bible remains God’s clearest revelation.
In my childhood I loved to drink soft drinks. My favorite was Dr. Pepper, a drink founded in Waco, Texas. I lived mostly in Oklahoma and Texas, so Dr. Pepper was a drink I grew up with. I would drink Coca Cola, but I preferred Dr. Pepper. In fact, when I was real young I thought Dr. Pepper was medicine because my mother gave it to me when I had an upset stomach. Plus it had a “Dr.” on the label. In those days, Dr. Pepper and Coke came in bottles. They were delivered in wood crates as you see above. Soft drinks were also made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. Sometimes you can find the sugar version of Dr. Pepper . It tastes better in my opinion. As a child, though, we did not drink soft drinks every day. They were a treat. Today, sweet drinks, including soft drinks, have become a norm for every day consumption. Our culture has created a demand to be satisfied with sweet foods. The craving for sweetness is so strong we feel we are deprived if we do not have our drinks, even if our nation is busting the scales with obesity and suffering from dietary illnesses. Culture is a strong driving force to how we see life. It can interfere in the health of our bodies as well as our souls.
Platt is right. A shift in thinking about God and discipleship would be radical for our day. It would force us to get God out of our cultural box. Yet, Jesus was radical for His day as well.