Thursday, 29 November 2007

Deal or no deal?

Deal or No Deal

Been asked to give a talk at a 'Deal or No Deal' related evangelistic event tonight at one of the small groups at Lancaster University. Here's what I came up with....

First – a bit of ‘Deal or No Deal’ trivia thanks to Wikipedia. Did you know that in the UK version, there’s still only been one winner of the £250,000 top prize – someone by the name of Laura Preece, who won in January of this year. And did you know that 77 countries in the world now have their own version of ‘Deal or No Deal’, the legendary John Fashanu presenting the Nigerian version?

What makes ‘Deal or No Deal’ such good viewing? Why is it such compulsive to watch?

Well, I think above all what makes the format appealing is the fact that you never really know when your best offer has come. It’s a game of chance and of judgement. And so the contestant is forced to keep thinking: do I accept what I’ve been offered or do I soldier on and hope that I’m offered something better? And so the show captures the fear that we might get stuck with something that’s second-best and then end up regretting it.

I guess we’ve all known that feeling in other areas of life. You spend the whole morning traipsing around town looking for the best deal on, say, an mp3 player. Eventually you find an offer that seems to be good and you hand over your hard-earned cash, only later in the day to find the next model up for the same price in another shop. And you think, “Gutted! I’ve been had! And now I’m stuck with second-best and I’m regretting it!”

And I guess it’s possible that there’s a few people that have been invited along tonight that feel similarly about Christianity. You’ve been brought along by a friend who seems keen that you trust Jesus and that you live your life as a Christian. But you can’t help thinking something along the lines of this: “Well, if I decide to be a Christian and live my life trusting Jesus, will I end up regretting it? Will I end up dealing too early and find myself committed to something that’s not really any different from what I already have, before I find something better comes along?”

Well if you are thinking at all like this, then you might be surprised to know that you’re not the first to think it. In fact, in one of his letters that appears in the Bible, written to one of the earliest churches, the Bible writer Paul spends time explaining why if you trust Jesus, you’ll never find yourself losing out. Let’s read together what we wrote:

15Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, 16for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. 17He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. 18Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. 19For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. 21This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

There’s plenty that could be said about this passage – it’s one of the most incredible descriptions of Jesus and what it means to follow him in the whole of the Bible. But I just want to pick out two things in particular from this passage that show that if you are following Jesus, you will never have dealt too early.

The first point is this: if you have Jesus, you can’t know God any better. Have a look at verses 15 and 16: ‘Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created.’ In other words, Paul is making a massive claim. He’s saying that the one true God, the God of the Universe, has made himself known in the person of Jesus. And look down at verse 19: ‘For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ.’ It’s not that there are elements of God that you can see in Jesus. No – in Jesus, the God of the Universe, the Creator, has made himself known. And so it’s not that if you follow Jesus you’ve dealt too early in following God. There’s no way that you can know God any better outside of Jesus.

People sometimes say to me: ‘Why doesn’t God make himself known? If he wants us to bother with him, you’d think he’d bother with us and make himself known!’ Well, Paul’s claim is that it is just a quirk of history and geography that you weren’t born in Palestine two thousand years ago. If you had been, you could have seen the God of the Universe walking down the dusty streets. You have spoken with him. You could have touched him.

And notice, it’s not that Jesus just brings a message from God. It’s not as though God had a message to get out and wondered: “Hmm – a message to get out to people on earth. Big letters in the sky or come in human form?” No! Jesus hasn’t just come to bring a message, but as a human, he’s come to reveal God. A message in the sky would never show us what God was really like – his character, his passions, his heartbeat. But in Jesus, that’s exactly what we see. Which means, if you have Jesus, you can’t know God any better.

The second point that Paul is making from this passage is this: if you have Jesus, your very deepest needs are met. Let’s pick out some of the words that describe what Jesus has achieved: reconciliation, peace, words which imply that there’s been conflict and broken relationships. But notice who the conflict is between: it’s between God and us. In fact, one of the surprises of this passage is that people are described as being God’s enemies, separated from him by our evil thoughts and actions. And we say, “Hold on! I’m no Satanist! I’ve not treated God like that!” But the story of the Bible is that this is precisely how we’ve treated God. Sure, we may not have actually articulated like this, but through the way we lived we’ve ruled God out. We’ve said to the God of the Universe, “This far in my life – but no further.” There comes a point where we think that we have the right to run our lives, and so we cross God out and stick two fingers up at him. And so we’re his enemies – taking all of his good gifts, dependent on him for our very breath, but, in the name of freedom, not wanting him to be part of our lives at all.

Well, perhaps you’re thinking, “Well maybe this is true – but can’t I just start living out in friendship with God again?” And here’s the nub of the passage. Paul is saying: as you are, you can’t. You can’t. See, in ruling God out and in living our own way, we’ve ruined ourselves and we’ve ruined other people. Think of the times that you’ve been hurt by the gossip and lies of others, remember how much it hurt – and then we begin to see the sort of hurt that we’ve caused in the lives of others as we’ve done just the same. And to a God who is a God of love, who is perfectly fair, justice must be done. Each of us matters to him, he loves us, justice must be done. Which means that, as we are, none of us can just saunter into a friendship with a perfect God.

And so here’s the wonderful news of this passage. Here’s why Christians can look at Jesus and know that our very deepest needs have been met. Look at verse 20: through Jesus, God has reconciled everything to himself. How? By means of Christ’s blood on the cross. The idea is this: Jesus – himself God in human form – willingly went to the cross on our behalf and took the punishment that we deserved. Why? So that we can be reconciled to God. So that we can be brought back into the life for which we were creator, life with the Creator himself. Look at how verse 22 puts it: ‘Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.’ Through Jesus, all those who trust him are considered holy (perfect), blameless (there’s nothing that can be pinned on us), and we stand before God without a single fault. Not because we’re wonderful, but because Jesus has come to meet our deepest needs at the cross.

And so, for a Christian, if we are trusting Jesus, then we can know that our very deepest needs have been met, in order to bring us back to life for which we were created. Let me tell you, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to wake up in the morning, to know why I am here, to know what makes me ‘me’. And that comes because as a creature, I know the Creator. It’s a wonderful thing to know forgiveness, to know that – despite my faults and my failings – I can approach the God of the Universe in friendship. It’s a wonderful thing to know that, because of Jesus, my eternal life has already started. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to look back to the objective reality of the cross of Christ, and to know that I am forgiven, even when I fail now. And it’s wonderful thing to have the hope of eternity – to look forward to the new creation, a place of solid joys and lasting pleasures where I will live out the relationship with my Creator in all it’s fullness. It’s a wonderful thing to have, as the Bible puts it, been invited to God’s wedding feast where I will see him face to face.

It’s these two facts - that if you have Jesus, you can’t know God any better and your very deepest needs are met that convinced Paul that there was no better way of living life. It’s these facts that have convinced the Christians here to keep following Jesus, even when it’s tough and costly. It’s these facts that prompted the Christians to invite you here tonight if you’re not a Christian. And it’s these facts that mean we’ll never look back at our lives and think, “Rubbish – I dealt too early.”


Chris said...

let us know how it went

connects with the feeling of longing & desire as much with the truth.

peterdray said...

Cheers mate - went OK I think. Some decent conversations afterwards; good to see several non-Christians there that had already been to lunchbars this term.