Intro: Years ago, when Susan, I and our family moved from Saskatchewan to Langley, one of the first things that we did is buy a map book full of maps of the Lower Mainland. We did that because we wanted to understand how the roads worked and where things were, and because we wanted to be able to navigate our way around the Lower Mainland.
Something similar happens in life. We want understand how things are in life and we want to be able to navigate our way around in life, so everyone buys a map of some kind. And the price people pay for those maps is our one and only life, for what happens is that we invest our lives in the maps we buy. We spend our lives following our maps and seeking the meaning, purpose and fulfillment that we hope our map will give to us.
Now there are lots of options when it comes to buying a map for life. People can choose from a wide variety of world religion maps, like Buddhism, or Islam. You could buy an Agnostic map which says that no one can really know if there is a god or not. There is an Atheist map which says that God does not exist. There is also a Deist map, where one believe that God exists, but that is about all that God does.
And then there is the Christian map. For centuries, it used to be the default map for people in the Western part of the world. Now many in that same part of the world reject it out of hand because it is seen as old and out of touch. We who are Christians could tell that ours is a different kind of map than all the others because it is based on a relationship instead of rules, or we could say that it is a better map because it is more logically consistent, and while all those things are true, people often remain unconvinced because their present map, whatever it may be, is still working for them, and until their present map fails, they won’t consider buying a different one.
This is a big issue for those of us who follow Jesus because we want, and God also wants, all people to live the rich, full, abundant life that He wants to give to them through His Son, Jesus Christ. We, and God, want all people to spent eternity with Him in the new heavens and earth to come where all things, including the people there, will be restored, renewed and made right. We want to be a church that helps the people of the Fraser Valley and beyond to thrive by reaching them with the Good News of God’s love and leading them into a growing relationship with Jesus. But how are we going to do that if people won’t even consider the distinct benefits that the Christian map has to offer?
The answer to that question is that part of God’s plan for renewing and restoring the whole world is for God’s people to be so attractive that they draw others toward God. Now, this makes sense, for if there truly is something distinctive and better about the Christian map, then one would expect that there would be something different and attractive in the lives of Christians.
But there are also a couple of problems with this concept. The first is that it seems to put a lot of pressure on those of us who follow Jesus, and the second is that there either does not seem to be a noticeable difference between Christians and on-Christians, or if there is a difference, it casts a negative light on Christians. In a blog post titled “3 Things That Christians Do That Non-Christians Despise,” Carey Neiuwhof, who is a Christian pastor, writes that the main characteristics we Christians are known for among non-Christians are judging, being hypocritical and stinking at friendship. So how we be the difference that makes the difference between someone following Jesus or not?
I. Solomon’s Prayer for the Foreigner
To guide us as we reflect on that topic, we are going to be looking at 1 Kings, chapter 8, where Solomon prays a prayer of dedication for the new Temple that he built in Jerusalem. In this Prayer of Dedication, Solomon includes these words, starting at verse 41.
“In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name. (1 Kings 8:41-43)
In this part of his prayer, Solomon said some things that would have seemed odd and unusual in the ancient world. First, he assumed that people outside the Israelite nation would hear about the God of Israel. Second, Solomon assumed that people from outside the Israelite nation would come and pray to that one, true God at the Jerusalem Temple. These assumptions were odd because that simply was something that was not done back then. The gods that people worshiped were seen to rule over a particular aspect of life or a particular geographic area. So Egypt had her gods and the Babylonian Empire had her gods, but the idea of a universal, international, cosmic god that ruled over everything was not a common thing. So you didn’t concern yourself at all with the gods of the nations around you and to hear about a god in another land and then to go to that land and worship that god was very strange. There would have be something very special about that God in order for that to happen. Solomon knew that there was something that was very special about that very God: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who rescued His People our of slavery in Egypt and brought them into the land that He promised to give to them. So though Solomon’s assumptions were odd for his time, there were reasonable because Solomon was talking about the one true God who created all things, who later in history will redeem all things who will one day in the future will renew and restore all things.
Then Solomon did something which, upon further reflection seems somewhat bizzare. It was not until New Testament times that God promised His people that He would hear and respond favourably to all their prayers. In John 14:13-14, Jesus said, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14:13-14) Yet, here we are 1,000 years before Jesus gave that promise to God’s people and Solomon is asking God to do for foreigners what God has not yet said He would do for His own people. Solomon prayed, And when they pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. (1 Kings 8:42b-43a)
Solomon is making this strange request because he is motivated by the Mission of God. His prayer continues: In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. (1 Kings 8:43b) So Solomon is asking God to grant the prayers of foreigners who come and pray to Him so that all people will know and believe in the one true God. And all this will happen because those foreigners are attracted to God by God’s people.
II. The Attractiveness of God’s People
Solomon explains on how this works in the blessing that he gave to the people that were present for the dedication ceremony after his prayer of dedication. In verses 56-61 of I Kings 8, we have Solomon’s words of blessing:
“Praise the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us or abandon us. May he give us the desire to do his will in everything and to obey all the commands, decrees, and regulations that he gave our ancestors. And may these words that I have prayed in the presence of the Lord be before him constantly, day and night, so that the Lord our God may give justice to me and to his people Israel, according to each day’s needs. Then people all over the earth will know that the Lord alone is God and there is no other. And may you be completely faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey his decrees and commands, just as you are doing today. (I Kings 8:56-61)
What Solomon is saying is this: God has given His people rest, God has kept and will continue to keep His promises to His people, God can give us the desire to follow the way of life that He has given us, and God will uphold the cause of His people each day. Because of what God does for and through His People, people all over the earth will know that this is the one, true God. Therefore follow the way God has given you, just as you are doing today. Why is it that, from a human perspective, things so not seem to be working out this way in our time?
III. The Gospel Gap
In their book How People Change, Timothy Lane & Paul David Tripp write that Christians often have a large gap in their understanding of the Good News that God has given us through Jesus Christ. When we have a gap in the Gospel here is what happens, according to Lane and Tripp:
“…there are people who know the Lord, but whose lives fail to produce the expected fruit of faith. Their lives are not characterized by peaceful, loving relationships, a sweet, natural, day-by-day worship of the Lord, a wholesome and balanced relationship to material things, and ongoing spiritual growth. Instead, these believers leave a trail of broken relationships, a knowledgeable but impersonal walk with God, a struggle with material things, and a definite lack of personal growth. Something is wrong with this harvest; it contradicts the faith that is supposed to be its source” (Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp, How People Change [Greensboro NC: New Growth Press, 2008], kindle ebook, Loc 129).
Lane and Tripp say that the reason that we end up with a gap in understanding God’s Good News is because we have a good understanding of the past implications of the Gospel (that Jesus died on the cross and rose again for our sins) and we can grab hold of the future implications of the Gospel (that Jesus is going to come to this world to raise us from the dead and make us and all things right), but the place where a Gospel gap tends to happen is our understanding of what the Gospel means for us in the here and now.
Because of the Gospel Gap and the busy-ness of life, we tend to be blind to the present implications of the Gospel in three very significant ways. First, we are blind to our true identity. Many Christians do not have a gospel perspective of who they are. Some of us do not see ourselves as sinners in desperate need of salvation, so we think that we do not need the Gospel and we dismiss it. Others of us do not accept and live out the new identity that Jesus has given us as beloved, forgiven children of God. So we live out some kind of a replacement identity. Instead of being rooted in God’s grace, that replacement identity is rooted in other things, like our performance or other people’s opinions of us, and, as a result, we live life with a distorted perspective.
Second, we are blind to God’s provision. In 2 Peter 1:3, Peter writes “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” When Peter writes about God’s action, he does not say “God will give us” or “God might give us.” He says, “God has given us.” This means that God’s action has already been completed, in the past. God has already given us everything thing that we need for living a godly life right now.
What is this passage referring to? God the Father has given us His Son, Jesus, and Jesus lives within us by His Spirit to help to grow to become more like Jesus. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us who lives within us to help us be all that we are supposed to be and to help us do all that we are supposed to do. Lane & Tripp write: “Without an awareness of Christ’s presence, we tend to live anxiously. We avoid hard things and are easily overwhelmed. But a clear sense of identity and provision gives us hope and courage to face the struggles and temptations that come our way” (Lane & Tripp, Loc 184).
The third type of blindness that we tend to have is being blind to God’s process. Being welcomed in the family of God by Jesus is not the end of God’s work in us, it is only the beginning. From the moment we first believe until the moment that we draw our last breath in this world, God is constantly at work helping us to grow in Christlikeness. While He wants us to have persistent joy and peace that surpasses all understanding, God is willing to sacrifice our comfort to help us grow. Lane & Tripp write: “Any time we find ourselves in difficulty or trial, it is easy to think we have been forgotten or rejected by God. This is because we do not understand the present process. God is not working for our comfort an ease; he is working on our growth” (Lane & Tripp, Loc 193).
Conclusion: In closing, I want to encourage you to regularly reflect on the beauty, the goodness, and the sacrificial love of Jesus. Keep reminding yourself of what Jesus and His self-giving love means for you. You are forgiven because of what Jesus has done in the past. You can look forward to a day of complete healing and restoration when Jesus comes back to this world to make us and all things right. You can rest in the new identity that you have as a beloved, forgiven child of God. You can know that Jesus is with you, helping you to grow to become more like Him everyday. You can trust that God is at work in your life, even in times of great trial and tribulation, and that God can use those difficult times to help you grow in godliness, which may make the difference in attracting someone else toward Jesus who wants to give them the same gifts that He has given you.