KURT NOTE: Today we have a guest contribution by Jeff Clarke, who has been a guest before. I’m always challenged by what he writes. I hope you will be too…
“When we have our lives oriented on religious identity instead of in Jesus alone, we encounter a massive obstacle in our path.” – Benjamin L. Corey, Undiluted.
One of the biggest challenges we will ever face in life will come when we’re forced to re-examine something we believe in. In particular, a belief we’ve held for a long time and one that has contributed significantly to who we are.
When we’re confronted with such an experience, and it will happen, we should take it very seriously. And, rather than choose to ignore or deny the challenge, we should face it head-on as we look for opportunities to learn and grow.
Peter and the Call to See Outside the Lines
Peter experienced such an opportunity with the Roman solider, Cornelius, in Acts 10. Prior to meeting Cornelius, God spoke to Peter in a dream about a certain belief he held for a very long time – that the Gentiles would be excluded from God’s redemptive work.
Through the dream, God desired to enlarge Peter’s mind and belief system – and it worked. Soon after Peter visited Cornelius and his family, he told them the story of Jesus. They quickly believed Peter’s report and were baptized.
Through this encounter, God expanded Peter’s belief system and caused him to see beyond what his own system permitted.
Throughout the course of our lives, we too will be confronted with God’s voice calling and challenging us to follow Him outside the comfortable and safe theological boundaries we’ve created.
We know that Peter faced this kind of belief-dilemma because even after he “saw Jesus cross boundaries of all sorts, he had trouble crossing his own boundaries” (Scott McKnight, 40 Days of Living the Jesus Creed).
The truth is we all have the capacity to lock ourselves within the confines of a past experience, a past theological idea, or a past denominational emphasis, that continues to shape the way we see and live in the world.
And, while this way of thinking may have appeared to benefit us for a time, God has since moved on to other things, leaving us behind to wander aimlessly within the circles of our own self-made boundaries.
However, if Peter’s experience with Cornelius can teach us anything at all, it is this – God often colors outside the lines and walks outside of our boundaries.
The beautiful and mind-blowing part in all of this is that God invites us to journey along with Him into these very places.
Remember, it was Peter’s understanding of Torah that created the boundaries which locked him in to see the world and God the way he did. And, when God showed him that He was moving outside of those boundaries, Peter couldn’t grasp the idea and denied it, before finally giving in to what God was doing.
Following Jesus to the Outside
Like Peter, our personal version of God’s redemptive story has often limited our ability to see anything beyond it. As a result, the circles we’ve come to draw around God and our faith have often blurred our vision and disabled our ability to see what God is doing on the outside of our own experience and expectations.
However, in and through Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, we see how God broke through all of our tightly-knit theological circles and demonstrated how ineffective those circles were to restrain Him.
If Jesus is truly Lord, he has the right to tell us how to live (Thanks, Bruxy Cavey). And, if he has the right to tell us how to live, there will be times when he will call us to journey with him outside of our boundaries.
How do we do this? Where do we begin?
Begin by immersing yourself in Jesus’ story.
Journey along with Jesus as you read the Gospels and place yourself within the story that has him as its central character, until Jesus turns to you and says, “What do you think about this? What do you say?”
If we really want to follow Jesus, we need to follow him wherever he is leading – even if he asks us to cross over the traditional boundaries our faith has created. And, the best place to begin this journey is to condition ourselves to see and think as Jesus does as we walk with him in the Gospel stories.
If our faith has been formed largely by our context and our context has informed the way we read and understand our faith, this context has created a circle around us; a circle that causes us to see the Gospel and God’s redemptive story through a very specific and narrow lens.
However, I believe God is calling us to move outside of our theological houses – to travel with him to places we never thought we would go and to partner with Him in those areas where He is already at work – calling, redeeming, transforming and saving people in the least likely of ways – within the least likely of places.
Maybe some of those places God will call us to will force us to question many of our past theological ideas about what God is like. If so, consider Peter and go. If God is calling us to move into places outside of our traditional circles, consider Peter and go. Use wisdom. But, be open.
Reformed and Always Reforming
God is much bigger than the carefully-crafted, well-defined, neatly-packaged theological systems we’ve all created. And, the funny thing is, we actually believed these human systems of thought were capable of ever defining God in the first place!
Who are we as creatures to tell the One who created us what He can and cannot do?
- Where He can and cannot go?
- Where He can and cannot move?
- Whom He can and cannot call?
Yet, our theological systems attempt to do just that.
The Spirit of God has a track record of moving in ways, in places and through people we would never choose to move in and through if the choice were ours to make.
Yet, we often find God to be precisely in those very places. And, quickly discover upon our arrival that God was actually there all along. We just couldn’t see it because our theological systems wouldn’t allow us too.
Wherever people seek after God, no matter how flawed and incomplete their current systems and methods of thought may be, you’ll be sure to find God there too. God will always move and interact with those who seek after him. Even within the broken religious and cultural systems of our world. And, perhaps especially within these broken systems.
God is love. And, because God is love, God will always move, call and invite us to meet Him, wherever we may be. In fact, God will always take the initiative to meet with us, wherever we are because love always seeks expression and relationship.
That’s what love is-
Love seeks and finds.
Love calls and invites.
Love moves and heals.
Love colours outside the lines.
Love goes to where it is needed the most, regardless of where that place may be.
A Call to Live Outside
In his book, 40 Days of Living the Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight framed it this way,
“It is easy for us to be tempted to think that we alone are the right group, that we alone are the most faithful, and that others are less loved by God because we in fact love them less. But this gets things backward: we may love others less, but God loves them the same. Humans throughout the world and across the street listen for God because they, too, are eikons of God, humans made in God’s image. Here is where we need to begin: with the recognition that everyone can be a seeker for God just as we are” (Pg. 141).
So, we have a choice to make.
God is speaking, calling and revealing. God has taken the initiative.
And will we, like Peter, listen, watch and move?
Or, will we remain locked into our tightly-knit, well-defined theological systems that deafens and blinds us from joining Jesus in those places where he is already moving and speaking and calling and saving?
- Jesus calls
- Jesus redeems
- Jesus saves
- Jesus heals
- Jesus restores
And, he is not defined or restrained by our theological systems.
God is like Jesus – seeking out the marginalized, ostracized, lonely, forgotten, empty people all over the world, calling them to embrace his healing touch.
God is like Jesus – calling us to go into those places where he already is – those places where we thought he would never be – working within the lives of people we never thought he would, challenging people, changing people and working through people we never dreamed he would work through.
And, when we find ourselves in those places, we can be confident that we’re in the right place, for this is where God has been all along. God lives on the outside – Jesus showed us that.
In fact, Jesus always seemed to hang out with people who lived outside the lines. And, he calls us to go and do likewise. But, don’t worry – you won’t be alone. He’s already there – waiting patiently for you to show up.
Walking on the Outside
I know that living on the outside isn’t normal for us. We would much rather prefer the comfortability of the inside. But, the outside is where God is – where Jesus is – where the Spirit is. And, I want to be where Jesus is. I believe you do too.
I’m not sure where God is leading you, what God has been showing you and what God has been speaking with you about lately.
However, take the time to listen carefully and pray earnestly.
Use wisdom, insight and discernment.
And, if you discern that the whispers and dreams and visions and witness are coming from Jesus – stand up and go.
Launch out into the deep and let the shorelines go.
Jesus is already waiting for you there – walking on the water.
Do not fear.
God is waiting for you on the outside.
Jeff K. Clarke is a blogger and an award-winning author of articles and book reviews in variety of faith-based publications. He blogs regularly at Jesus (Re)Centered – informing | impacting | inspiring. He is on Twitter and Facebook.