I have been working with my son Al to finish up the P.R.A.Y. program to earn his God and Family award for Cub Scouts. The course uses the analogy of a pizza to illustrate how God works in our lives, in our own families and in the larger family of God. We started with the crust, which represents the foundation of our lives being the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Then the sauce represents our heritage (both within our families and the people of God through the ages), the toppings represent our gifts and abilities, and the cheese represents the rules/laws that help hold everything together. Next we talked about baking the pizza, and how sometimes the difficulties in life put a lot of “heat” on us. This chapter’s assignment was to make a set of oven mitts using paper and yarn (we had made each part of our pizza with paper, glue, and a pen to write with). On the mitts, Al was to write a Bible verse that would help him when he found himself in those difficult situations.
I would probably have picked a verse like Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Since we had studied the story of Paul and Silas in jail as part of the lesson, Al wanted something from that story. Since Paul and Silas had been singing praises to God, I was going to suggest something from the Psalms, praising God and remembering his promises to take care of his people.
But Al picked something very different. He wrote out Acts 16:26
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.
I asked how that verse would help him, and he explained that it would make him remember how God took care of Paul and Silas.
I reflected on the verse as he wrote it out. How many people, I wonder, would see an earthquake as God’s means of taking care of them? I’ve never been in an earthquake – at least not one I was aware of. (Apparently there was a very minor earthquake one night back when we lived in New Jersey. It woke Jon up. I slept through it.) But I think I would tend to see an earthquake more as the thing I needed God to save me from than the means of his saving me from something else.
Lots of times, though, we’re mistaken about what we need saving from. Even the prison and the chains weren’t apparently what Paul and Silas were most concerned about escaping, as they didn’t take advantage of the broken prison doors to hightail it out of there. (I’ve always wondered how the other prisoners felt when Paul and Silas announced to the frightened jailer that no one had escaped.)
Last night I started reading a book I found sitting next to me in the home of friends who had invited us to watch the Super Bowl with them. I spent the first half watching the game and the commercials, although I had trouble following the game (I can only tell where the ball is when the camera follows it, or when a dozen players pile on top of each other), and most of the commercials weren’t very funny. (My favorite was the one with the kid dressed as Darth Vader.)
During half time I picked up the book, which I had seen advertised at worldmagblog. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream contrasts the form of Christianity found in many American churches with what Jesus taught about following him, and with how believers in many parts of the world live out that faith (where giving up family, possessions, and often one’s life to follow Jesus is a common experience). Absorbed in the book, I only occasionally looked up to watch the rest of the game or the commercials, and when Jen offered to let me take the book with me to finish it, I jumped at the chance.
I’m only about halfway through the book, so I’ll wait until I finish it to write a blog post about it, but it has me thinking and praying a lot about the shallowness I see in my own faith. Particularly in the part where author David Platt talks about doing church programs that depend primarily on our own resources and abilities, rather than on the power of God, I thought about my own involvement in programs where it didn’t seem to make much difference what state I was in spiritually before participating.
I thought how easy it is to focus more on finding satisfaction in things that I can make happen (doing activities I enjoy, accomplishing things I am good at) than on the glory of God. It seems like every couple of years I read some book that gets my attention this way, and for a while I try to think more about how I can glorify God in my life. But after a while, the intensity of that desire fades, and life goes on pretty much as before.
Perhaps this book is a small earthquake, jolting me out of being satisfied (or trying to be) with things as they are. Or perhaps there is some bigger earthquake coming. Will I ask to be delivered from the earthquake? Or will I see it as God delivering me from the prison of life-as-usual?