An Unlikely Encounter
Last year I received an unexpected phone call from a man I hadn’t heard from in several years. He just called me out of the blue. Of all people it was Rabbi Martin Siegel. He’s the most fascinating rabbi I have ever encountered and one of the most lovingly ecumenical people I’m privileged to know, too.
Several years before that I had heard Rabbi Siegel give a lecture on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I would have thought that the teachings of Jesus are a rather taboo subject for a rabbi. But this rabbi found tremendous wisdom in Jesus’ teachings and wanted to show us Christians the underlying Jewish meaning of Jesus’ words in order to plumb down to the real powerful depth of what Jesus was saying. I later asked Rabbi Siegel why he was doing this. His simple answer: “I hope you’ll be a better disciple of Jesus.” Wow… (On a side note, Rabbi Siegel said that he very much respects Jesus as a teacher. “Talk about him as Lord and Savior, well… that’s above my pay grade.” Very nice.)
Several years later in the summer of last year, Rabbi called me. He wanted to check on how I was doing and to invite me on a retreat he was leading. I told him I was interested, but I would want to get together with him to get caught up and learn more about the retreat.
That began a new relationship I never would have expected. The day we got together changed everything. I began to study with him every week. And here’s the key. I wanted to be around him. I wanted to learn. I wanted to safely explore my own faith and questions with a man who could help me from his unique perspective. I wanted to grow closer to God and I knew this rabbi could help me. (And he did.)
How was a rabbi, a Jew, able to sway this Gentile Christian? It’s because he loved me. He was sincerely interested in me and in my wellbeing. He exuded patience, grace, and passion. Basically, he was and continues to be an embodiment of God’s grace and wisdom.
I share this story because I wonder why more people don’t feel the same way about their Creator? For most people, God seems to be a mere afterthought rather than Someone in the forefront of their minds and hearts. We might turn to God if we need something- if we’re desperate enough!- or we invoke God’s name as an OMG (or far worse yet, OMFG, which I will not elaborate on!) But in terms of a desire to be around God, to walk with God, to listen and learn from God… I don’t hear too many people talk like that, even many fellow Christians.
What’s up with that? Two things: religion has certainly mucked up and overly-complicated how people approach God. But I also believe there is another, much darker reason. We project onto God our own distorted views of ourselves, parental figures, and religious authority figures.
So God becomes this fussy, distant, cranky, capricious, judgmental god who blesses us when we’re good little boys and girls but punishes us when we’re bad. Or, we image God as a cosmic Santa Claus who mysteriously gives us the stuff we want if we ask him and if we’re good- well, sometimes. But be on your guard. This same cosmic Santa Clause never fails to leave us coal and switches if we get on his naughty list. Either way, this fickle god is someone to be afraid of, a god we can never understand or hardly approach except when we’re truly needy.
I believe the way to look at God in a more biblically realistic way is to first look at how God really sees us. That’s where we begin. If we know what we mean to God, we would have more confidence to look back at God to see who he really is- as much of God as we could humanly comprehend, anyway. Then we could encounter God less encumbered by the distortions and falsities we have created to imagine God.
An Important Series of Messages
Starting this Sunday, I’m sharing one of the most important series of messages I have ever given. I’m calling the series “How Does God Really See Us?” No, I could ever fully answer that question, but I’ve found at least five biblical ways in which God regards us, his human creation. I’ve seen them biblically and have experienced them myself:
- God’s Special Creation
- Forgiven and Redeemed
- God’s Beloved
- Chosen and Called for God’s Purpose
- God’s Friends
These messages really tell a story of how God creates us in his image, forgives and redeems us when we fall, all through his Son Jesus, loves us as his precious children, purposes our lives to to be included within God’s divine plan of worldwide redemption, and ultimately calls us his friends.
Why are these messages so important? Because if we don’t get this right, we can never fully experience God for who God is. We would otherwise be forever distanced from God by our own limited, negative perceptions.
If you live near me in the greater Annapolis area, I hope you’ll come and experience these messages. I would to see you. And more importantly, I would love for you to encounter my master and friend Jesus who has made all the difference in my life. That’s not mere religion. It’s a relationship with a living God, something that blows apart religion. Come see what it’s all about!