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Rick Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif. He wrote a book entitled, “The Purpose Driven Life,” which has sold millions of copies around the world. I have taught the principles of that book on several occasions. It has blessed and encouraged millions of people in Christ.
I picked it up again the other day and read the first sentence: “It’s not about you.”
I remember the first time I read the book when I was a full-fledged Pharisee (now I’m a recovering Pharisee). I thought Rick was right on. God is God, and we are not. You tell ’em, Rick!
Since that time, God has changed my filter, my belief system. My belief system is what I believe about God, myself, others and life in general. The way I arrived at my belief system is by what I’ve been taught, what I have observed, what I have personally studied and my life experiences. God has not changed, but the way I see Him now has changed.
Allow me to illustrate:
When God told Adam and Eve not to eat the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or they would die, my old filter interpreted that to mean: “If you eat that tree, I’ll kill you. I put it there to see if you understand that I am God and you are not. Prove to me that you understand by obeying me.”
My new filter interprets the same verse in an entirely different light: “Listen, children, don’t eat that tree. It’s poison for you. You will die if you eat it. I love you. I don’t want you to die. Do you trust me?”
I could write a book on just how my view of God and Scripture has been altered before and after my filter change. I just may do that someday, but today, I want you to bear with me.
God changed my filter in July 2007 on a youth retreat. I will never be the same. The verse God used to make the change in me was I John 4:10: “This is love, NOT that we loved God, but that God loved us ...” I had read that verse a thousand times. But that day, I read it for the first time.
You see, I took Jesus seriously when He said to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. I tried to do that all my life. I always had a hard time doing it, but I could fake it pretty good. I could smile on the outside and bite my tongue when others offended me, but on the inside I was boiling. I was a miserable, unhappy human doing, not a human being. I thought God was only happy with me when I was doing something for Him (old filter).
I left teaching/coaching to become a pastor, because I believed God would love me more if I gave up the things I loved as a sacrifice for Him. It’s sick, I know, but God is healing me. I am getting better every day. It’s a Journey.
I never understood it was impossible to love God, or anyone else for that matter, if I didn’t let Him love me first. I John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” I had always believed God’s love for me was based on my performance. If I was good, God loved me more. If I was bad, God was disappointed in me. I was totally wrong.
It is impossible for God to be disappointed in us. Disappointment comes from unmet, undefined and unrealistic expectations. I expect something and I don’t get it, or I don’t expect something and get something I don’t like. Then I’m disappointed.
My old filter believed God made us in His image, and we returned the favor. We made Him into our image. I expected that God was going to treat me like people treated me. If I did what people expected of me, they loved me. If I failed to meet their expectations, they were disappointed in me. I believed God was terribly disappointed in me, because I knew I had consistently failed to meet His expectations.
Then Jesus spoke to me through my new filter: “Kenny, without me, you can do nothing. Nothing is a zero with the rim knocked off. But if you trust and depend on me, you can do anything. There is no middle ground. I’m expecting you to fall flat on your face if you are trying to live in your own strength rather than mine. I have no expectation of you being able to make it apart from me; hence, I’m not disappointed in you. I’m just waiting for you to trust me enough to let me love you to life.
“You can’t give what you have not received. You don’t feel loved because you do not trust me. I am not like people. People need something from you and therefore manipulate you to get what they want from you. I don’t need anything from you; therefore, I love you for nothing ... good, bad or ugly.
“But you cannot be ugly. You are beautiful, because you belong to Me. Now, you got that? Let’s enjoy today together.”
I believe there are only two forces in the universe: love and fear. Love is all about freedom. It is for freedom that Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1). Love always trusts (I Corinthians 13:7). Love gives me freedom to be who I am ... warts and all. Love (God is love) has no need. God’s love always gives not expecting anything in return.
Fear is all about need and control. You cannot love someone that you need. Think about that for a minute. If I need something from you, I will not give you freedom to be who you are because you might not give me what I need. I will manipulate you, control you with words or actions in order to get what I need from you. That is the very opposite of love. But if I am getting everything I need from Jesus, then I don’t need anything from you. Then I am able to love you. That means I can give you the freedom to be who you are ... warts and all. There is no greater gift.
Here is where I think Rick had it wrong when he said: “It’s not about you.” I believe from God’s point of view, it is all about me and you. Let me explain:
• John 3:16-18 MSG: This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
• Romans 5:8 MSG: But God put His love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to Him.
• John 15:11 & 16 MSG: “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that My joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you.”
John 17:22 MSG: “The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are.”
• John 14:27 MSG: “I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left — feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.”
I could fill a book with more reasons why, from God’s perspective, it is all about me and you. Jesus gave up His life for us when we were still sinners, no use to Him whatsoever. He gave us His joy, His peace, His glory, His life. For Jesus, it always was, is and forever will be about me and you. Can you not see that?
Until we understand how perfectly He loves and accepts us just the way we are and begin to live freely as a grandchild in the love of his Papa, we will always live in fear, controlling and manipulating God, and people to meet our own selfish agendas. In that case, Rick is right. Life will be all about me.
But perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18): If I ever trust God enough to come to Him and allow Him to love me, care for me, provide for all my needs, why would I ever need to sin? I would not need anything from anybody, and I would be free to love everybody.
As a grandpa, it is all about my grandchildren. There is nothing I would not do for them. I would die for them in a heartbeat. I’m always looking to meet their needs before they ever know they have a need. Do I love and care for my grandchildren more than God loves and cares for me? How audacious!
If we could only see ourselves through God’s eyes, it would radically transform our lives. I hope my grandchildren grow up knowing how much their Papa loves them. They say God has no grandchildren, but He sure loves us like we are. Think about that.
Kenny Ashley is the leader of The Journey, which meets at 10:30 a.m. Sundays at Crowders Creek Elementary School.