Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Compelled

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are surrounded by people who look at belief as something we make up, a way to make life make sense, comfort in trials, a crutch. They look around this planet and somehow see it as a cosmic twist of fate. The range of diversity in the created world—from the snow-capped mountains of my region to the savannahs of Africa, the rolling hills of my hometown to the jungles of the Amazon to the wide oceans—all just happened. And the diversity in the living breathing population on the earth—mammals, reptiles, even insects—simply evolved without a higher power breathing life into them. And above all, with dominion over all, the creation of human beings with the ability to reason, communicate, be in relationships, love was only the result of that same cosmic bang that started the whole ball rolling, so to speak. The decision to believe is, after all, merely that—a personal choice and not a particularly smart one.

But I look around this world and see the fingerprints of God all over it. It’s too much, too big, too spectacular to be other than designed by Someone. Planned and ordered in such a way that we can inhabit it, breathe in it, subdue and, unfortunately, wreck havoc on it.

And I believe—I know—that there is more, much more to this life than I have even begun to apprehend. And that starts, abides, ends with the One who breathed life into this world, and me breathing my first breath. But beyond simply believing in some Higher Power with maybe an indifferent view of it all, once He set the globe to spinning on its axis, is the foundational understanding that He has a vested interest in us, an intimate interest, revealed fully in the man who walked the dusty roads of Galilee 2000 years ago.

Right in the center of the gospels—in Matthew 16, Mark 8, Luke 9—is the profound moment when Jesus asks the disciples what others believe about Him, those outside the few who have seen and heard all that He’s done. These are not like those who I’ve just mentioned who, if they think anything at all, they think Jesus was a good man with even great teachings, but nothing more. No, these were religious people with some understanding of scripture. “John the Baptist,” the disciples tell Him, “Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” And there are religions in this world who still believe such things about Him—Islam, for one.

But then He asks exactly what ultimately must be asked of every human being, “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” And Peter, the impetuous, the one who tried walking on the sea, who was convinced (and mistaken) that he’d never forsake Jesus, says (just as Martha does, just as the enemy and his demons know), “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” One can hear the intake of the other disciples at these wondered at, but now spoken, words. And even hear the silence that is better than applause from Jesus, before He answers, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

Initiated by God was Peter’s great confession, the way faith always is. Those people who think we decide something ourselves? They’re wrong, dead wrong. It has always felt to me—and confirmed here—like my faith didn’t begin with me. It began with a whisper of my name, a drawing me to something—Someone—bigger and more true than myself. Sure, some people say no--we have that choice--but I couldn't. It was like He grabbed me around the heart, and I was compelled to follow.

At another point in the story, when many have turned back from following Jesus, He asks, “Will you also leave me?” And Peter answers, “Where would we go? You have the Words of eternal life.” Exactly! Where would I go? Who else has not only the Words, but Life itself to offer? And after Peter’s denial, after his reinstatement on the beach when Jesus calls him again to “follow me,” Peter is empowered by the Holy Spirit and tells a skeptical panel of ill-wishers, “We can’t help speaking of what we have seen or heard.” And this is how it feels to me. I was introduced to a Man who was God and I belong to Him. I can’t help speaking of Him, I can’t help loving Him. “The love of Christ compels me."

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