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The InsiderBringing the Kingdom of God Into Your Everyday World
By Jim Petersen Mike Shamy
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2003 James A. Petersen and Michael Shamy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGod's Eternal Purposes and the Insider
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We were just shooting the breeze, talking about whatever was on our minds, when Jack said something I will never forget. He said, "These past twenty years of my life have played out like a bad movie. As I watched them go by I kept thinking to myself, 'This wasn't the script I had in mind. It wasn't supposed to be like this.'" He paused and added, "... and I don't know what I can do to make the next twenty any different."
Professionally, Jack is one of the most successful people I know. He has a good marriage and children who love him. He grew up in the church as a Christian. So what was his problem?
Jack was struggling with some unfulfilled expectations. He had expected more from God than he was getting. He had expected to see God use him in his workings in the world. But here he was at the peak of his career and he could see little or nothing to indicate that God had ever done anything through him!
I know a lot of people like Jack. Many of my friends who became Christians in their college days are saying similar things. They had believed in Christ along with the news that he has "a wonderful plan for their lives"-and they could hardly wait for life to begin! But now the years have gone by-and they're still waiting!
What has gone wrong? The easiest response is to put the blame back on the person. (What can people expect when they don't make space for God in their daily lives?) Or, we could find fault with the way the gospel had been presented to them. (They believed in a hyped-up gospel that overpromised.) Or we could lay the blame on God. (He doesn't really involve himself in people's lives all that much.)
However we interpret this, Jack's problems are real. We all need to live for something. It's contrary to our nature to be content if we feel our lives are not counting for something that is bigger than life! God made us this way. Whatever the earthly value of our achievements, if we do not feel that what we're working on somehow transcends the here and now, we find ourselves struggling with feelings of futility. This is a universal phenomenon that runs through all of human history.
In Pursuit of Meaning
THE EGYPTIAN KINGS who spent their lives-and the lives of thousands of others-building their tombs were driven by the vision of a busy, enterprising afterlife. Many of Europe's great cathedrals were substantially funded by wealthy people who exchanged their properties for promises of perpetual prayers being offered for them from the cathedrals after their deaths. They were preoccupied with their eternal status. But one does not have to be religious to have concerns of this nature. The current popularity of the idea of leaving a legacy tells us this need is common to all sorts of people. We want to give ourselves to something that will outlive us.
This was the message of Solomon, the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes. He had both the opportunity and the means to experiment with just about every option life can offer. After doing it all he observed:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work.... Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
Solomon tried out everything "under the sun" and did not find meaning in any of it. That was his problem. His sights were too low! Our experience must extend beyond the sun to include the eternal, if we are to be satisfied. Is this need we feel not a part of our being made in God's image?
The times we spend in private devotions won't completely resolve these frustrations, either. In fact, the more we meditate on the Scriptures the stronger our desires become to know God and to participate with him in what he is doing. The Scriptures remind us again and again that following God does mean more than what Jack and my other friends are experiencing. So our question persists: What should we expect to happen in the normal course of our relationship with God?
What's It All About?
NOW WE ARE asking life's biggest question. "What's this life all about? What's going on?" And there is only one place to go for the answer. It is to ask, "What is God about? What is he doing?" If we don't have it right about what he's up to, we can be sure we won't get it right in our own life.
A futile life is one lived on an agenda that has no connection with God's purposes. It doesn't matter how fast we're going, or how high we're flying, or where we're headed-if we're not living according to God's purposes, our life is futile!
What is God doing today? It's hard to tell just by looking at things. The news from around the world is consistently grim. Endemic corruption impoverishes millions of people in country after country. Tribal wars turn millions more into refugees. Diseases of epidemic proportions are killing millions a year in Africa alone. As I write this, the news from India reports a massive earthquake with a death toll of over fifteen thousand people. The same newscast informs us of a famine in central Asia where thousands are dying of starvation.
But we aren't going to hear much more on these horror stories. There isn't room on the news hour for such incidentals. The newscasters need the time to cover "The War on Terror" and the other major conflicts going on around the world!
To suggest that in the midst of this agonizing chaos God has purposes and that he is actively pursuing them is quite a stretch! It is easier to believe that things are falling apart and that he is absent from the scene. The Scriptures, however, tell us the opposite! They tell us God is at work, bringing all things together.
The Eternal Purposes of God
IT WAS ABOUT A.D. 60 when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the emerging community of believers in Ephesus. Ephesus was also famous as the center of the worship of Cybele/Artemis, a goddess of fertility. Her temple was regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Sorcery, occult practices, and prostitution were a part of the worship practices of the temple. The new believers Paul was writing to were picking their way out of all of this. Life in the church was still pretty ragged.
Yet look at how Paul opens his letter. He addresses it to "the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus." He is reminding them of who they are! They have a dual citizenship. They are "in Ephesus" but they are also "in Christ." Yes, they belong to Christ, but they are to live out this new life within the realities of the city of Ephesus.
Paul wants the Ephesian believers to understand that despite all that is going on around them, they are a part of and are significant to God's eternal purposes. With a few words he paints the cosmic landscape. He writes:
He chose us in him before the creation of the world... to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.... In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.... He made known to us the mystery of his will... which he purposed in Christ... to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
This paragraph is filled with vital information. God has purposes. He has a plan and right now he is in the midst of working it out. This is not an emergency rescue operation that God is performing, a sort of "plan B" after things went wrong. This plan was in place before God created anything at all! We also learn that at the center of this plan is the creation of a people, and that the cost of getting them would be the blood of his Son. In summary, this passage tells us that life has to do with a people and a cross!
This same idea is addressed in Psalm 2. It opens describing a revolution in progress-the human powers revolting against God. "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One." Down with God! Up with us! We don't need him! they chant. "'Let us break their chains,' they say, 'and throw off their fetters.'" We're taking over!
The demonstration is interrupted by laughter. Someone is laughing! It's God! "The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them." This rebellion is so ludicrous it makes God laugh! He addresses the rebels: Look over there. Look at the throne you intended to occupy. It's already filled. My Son is on it! "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill." Then God turns to his Son and says, "You are my Son.... Ask of me." What can I give you for your inheritance? The Father offers, "I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession."
Here again, we come away with the same message. Attempting to live apart from God is foolish, even if you're a king. What is God doing? He is creating an inheritance for his Son. It consists of people of all nations.
The Day of the Refugee
BUT, NOW, WHAT is this next statement God makes to his Son? He says, "You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery." What is he talking about? Who is going to be dashed to pieces? It's the rebel kings, those who were revolting against God! He tells them, "You kings... be warned, you rulers of the earth... Kiss the son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed."
Throughout history, ever since these words were written, God has repeatedly acted on this promise to his Son. A society builds a system that, in time, shuts God out. As the rebellion of its leaders hardens, the people in that society are deprived of any direct news about God. At some point, God intervenes. Suddenly, the repressive system is no more!
This is, indeed, what is happening all around the world today. God is breaking to pieces the powers that rule people's lives, the things they believe in, the things they have traditionally looked to for security. Governments, economies, cultures, markets, and religious systems occupying people's minds and souls for centuries are breaking apart. The "isms" are falling and the people these systems held captive are being freed to become part of Christ's inheritance. The refugee is a good example.
I have a friend, Isma'il, who is living as a refugee in a Middle Eastern country. His home country is Iraq, but he and hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis have migrated to this particular country in search of a more secure place to live. Isma'il is a contagious follower of Christ, living in the midst of a solidly Muslim society. Over the past two years he, with the help of a few friends, has planted the gospel in five different communities of refugees, where it is now taking root and growing. The uncertainties of life for the refugee combined with the newfound space to think and seek truth are breaking up the hold of the Muslim religion and creating fertile ground for the good news of Christ. This is happening in many places around the world.
It's All Coming Together
GOD IS BRINGING "all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ." This phrase, "bring... together," is the verb anakephalaioo. It expresses the idea of gathering things together to present them as a whole. In rhetoric, the word is used to describe summing up the argument and to show how each part of it fits together to substantiate the thesis. In math, the verb refers to the process of adding up columns of figures and then putting the sum at the top. All of the pieces that make up this chaotic world will be put in their places, and the picture will become clear!
So God continues to create! Jesus said, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." This time he is creating an eternal people who will be his citizens, his heirs, his household, and his family.
This outcome is not in doubt. Coming out of a vision, the apostle John reported what he had seen:
I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.... They cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."
There they are! It's as good as done. God is bringing his eternal family together. Today, God looks at this same chaos we fret over and says, It's all coming together! In spite of the mess mankind is making, my work is right on schedule.
A People and a Cross-and Jack
SO WHAT ABOUT Jack? God is working in this world, but Jack doesn't feel he has a part in that work. It has turned out that the main feature in most Christians' lives today is congregating. This makes most of us passive participants. Jack is not comfortable with that. His problem is, he too lives in an Ephesus. He knows in his heart that he has an inside track on a world of lost people-and he doesn't know what to do with that! Most of his waking hours are spent rubbing shoulders with people who are in one self-destruct mode or another. But he feels like an alien in their midst. He lives a divided life. One part of it is in church; the other is in society. He senses there has to be a way to bring these two worlds together to where all the parts of his life-his work, social life, leisure, and civic activities-count for something.
Jack probably couldn't put this into words, but he realizes something big is missing! He isn't interested in adding another activity to his life. He's already too busy. He isn't looking for an evangelistic program that will help him reach some of his friends. Programs begin and end. He's looking for something bigger than that. Jack needs to engage his life with God's purposes in ways that endure. He longs to live all of life to the glory of God!
That's why we've written this book. We want to help people like Jack understand their calling to participate in what God is doing today. We want people to see that this calling is to be worked out within their existing relational networks where they are already positioned as insiders. God intends that every part of our daily life should line up with his purposes, to his glory. We believe this is something that is within reach for all of us, not just the gifted few.
Excerpted from The Insider by Jim Petersen Mike Shamy Copyright © 2003 by James A. Petersen and Michael Shamy. Excerpted by permission.
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