Brush your teeth.
Comb your hair.
No, you can’t wear polka dots with stripes.
Yes you have to go to school. Yes you have to do your homework.
No, you can’t eat another chocolate chip cookie.
Yes, you are coming to church.
When you think about the list of things that comes out of a parent’s mouth (and this is just the short list of all of the things that have come out of my mouth this past week) sometimes I’m sure our (my) kids get the impression that parents just want a lot of things from their kids. We want them to brush their teeth, we want them to go to school, we want them to eat well and be in church, we want these things but its not because we want anything from our kids, despite what the kids believe, it’s because we want something for our kids.
Yes we want to see things happen from our kids, but it’s not because we’re trying to throw a list of to-do’s at them. No, it’s because we believe that all of these kinds of things when added together and done routinely over the course of years will create something for our kids. We want for our kids to love and be loved, we want for our kids to be successful in their own ways, we want for them to be healthy, we want for them to know the love of God. Even though sometimes it sounds like a list of things that we want from our kids (parents do have to be careful that it doesn’t become that) what is on our hearts and minds are those ultimate goals that we want for our kids.
Likewise, it’s really easy to fall into the commonly believed idea that our Christian faith is about things that God wants from us and Christianity is about a simple list of do’s and do not’s.
Read your Bible.
Say your prayers.
No you shouldn’t wear this or that.
Yes, you have to go to Sunday school. Yes, you should give of your time, talents, treasures.
No, you shouldn’t do that sinful thing.
Yes, you should go to church.
When this happens the Christian faith is turned into a caricature of what it is meant to be and we get the impression that God wants all of these things from us. We turn God into some over the top parent in the sky looming down at us with a disapproving glare. Then we react like naughty children who haven’t been doing what we were told. We avoid saying our prayers and reading our Bibles. We won’t look God in the eye. We rebel and do the exact opposite we were told to do. We stay away from home and stay away from God for far to long.
If that was what God was about, a list He’s keeping track of, it would be hard to come back and be back, because even if we were doing some of the things we should be doing, we know the long list of things that we are doing and thinking and saying that we shouldn’t be and that list doesn’t seem to get any shorter. But “a list” is not what God is about and that is not what the Christian faith is about.
God does not want something from us, there is nothing that we have that we can give to God that He doesn’t already have, no, God wants something for us.
God wants for us to have eternal life with Him and not be separated from Him eternally.
God wants for us to be loved by Him and receive that love.
God wants for us to receive His promises and know they are for us.
God wants us to be holy and righteous, whole and right people after God’s own heart.
What God wants for us, not from us, does not only reside in Heaven after we die, but is also right now, in this life we have today. I was reminding my son Philip of this, this past week that the relationship we have with God isn’t only so one day we get to go to heaven, but it is for right now. What God wants for us is a life lived right now with Him so we can become more and more of the kind of people God wants for us to be.
On TV this past week, the news showed pictures of Christopher Lee Cornell, the young man from Ohio who had converted to Islam and was planning a terror attack on the capitol. I watched as the news show continually scrolled through three photos of him. One of him as a young wrestler in school, then a high school yearbook photo and then his recent mug shot with a long hair and beard grown for His beliefs.
As they kept scrolling through those pictures across the screen it gave the impression of a question, “how could someone turn into this, from the ‘kid next door’ to someone who wanted to commit mass murder?” We don’t know what was going on but seeing those photos you get the impression that he was now a shadow of the self that he could have been.
Think about when someone gets involved in the “do-nots” of the Christian faith. Lying, cheating, stealing, drunkenness, addiction, hurting, abusing, lusting, fighting, gossiping, quarrelling and the like, when these things are done, they become a shadow of who they are supposed to be. When someone lies to you straight in the face, someone you love and know, you look at them and know that they are being a little less than who they are supposed to be. When someone gets lost in addiction they become a shadow of themselves as that addiction takes over. When our kids get caught cheating, we tell them in no uncertain terms, “this is not who you are!” This happens in big and small ways, little by little eating away at a soul and making us a shadow of who we really are.
This is why our Christian faith is not about what God wants from us but what God wants for us and more importantly what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Through Jesus God has given for us forgiveness, mercy and healing. God does not want us for us to become shadows of who He created us to be, God wants for us to be more of who He made us to be. God made for us to be in friendship with Him, to receive His love, to give His love and to learn to live a righteous and God-fearing life. But this doesn’t happen by accident, like brushing our teeth, like going to church, there are things to do as we learn to become the kind of people God wants for us to be. Amen.