My 51 years in Africa are not known by man. Among other things, I did learned three languages and always came away with great lessons from those languages. Often those lessons came from single words. Some were humorous lessons and some were serious. In Zimbabwe in the 1960s I had a humorous lesson from the Shona language. The words was ukupepa which could mean to pray or to smoke a cigarette. Only a slight change in tone indicated the meaning. I probably said, “Lets smoke” more than I said, “Let’s pray.” In Zambia , the lesson from the Bemba language was serious. It had two words for life – ubumi and umweo. Being used to only one word for life in English, I was confused, but a re-reading of the Bible made me see that the Greek of Jesus had three words for life. That lesson was instrumental in my emphasis on LIFE today.
A lesson from another single word came to Ginny’s and my attention as read devotional studies from The Book of Mysteries. The book was written by a messianic Jew and the author often presents a lesson on single words from the Hebrew language. He reveals a “mystery” of scripture each day and that lesson helps us to see God’s revelation in new ways. It is all very biblical.
One day this past week, the devotion began: “What do you have?” We thought of many things: a spouse, children, grandchildren, house, car, job, education, friends, clothes, food, television, books, furniture, appliances, electronics, church, and so on. We have all these things. The author went on to say, “It is impossible to have anything in the Hebrew language.” He pointed out that all the English translations that use words like have, mine, my, his, or theirs are just poor translations. The translations are accurate to an extent, but there is more to the original Hebrew than the translations help us to see. In the Hebrew language of the Bible, there is no true verb ‘ “to have.” There’s no real or exact way to say, “I have.” So, in the Hebrew language, in some ways. you can’t possess anything in this world. No house, wife, land, etc. I thought maybe the Bantu languages were similar. For example, in Swahili, it is said, “Ninanyumba.” Though, in English, we usually translate this as “I have a house,” – a subtle difference exists and a better translation is “I am with a house.” Relationship, not possession, is the Swahili emphasis.
The author went on to say, that the Hebrew helps us to realize that we can’t keep anything of this world. It is all temporary. At death, we let go of everything. Nevertheless, there are some bonuses with this viewpoint. Not only do you not have houses, but you don’t have problems, worries, concerns, and issues. “Such things are out there, “ he said, “you just don’t own them.” Then he added the really important lesson: “There is one thing you can have. That is God. That is the only true blessing. It’s only when we let go of all that we don’t have, that we can be free to have him.”
You see, all of that can be learned from a single word – the word “have.” That is the kind of lesson I want to make in this message. My point is this: we are keen on being a people having God’s LIFE. – having what we CAN have. How can God be at the center of our lives.
My scriptures are found in Isaiah 60:19-20, John 1:1-5, 9, and 1 John 1:5. But, the reasons for these scriptures won’t be evident until the end of the message.
Three questions will occupy this message: I) How do we help people have God? His LIFE?, 2) Is there a need for such LIFE-centered terminology? and 3) How do we live with God at the center?
How do we help people have God? His LIFE?
As a deacon in our church, I am responsible for the Connect Series. We created this series last year to demonstrate our interest in having God at the center of things in the church. The card “The Gift of God’s LIFE” and other cards were designed for the purpose of the Connect Series. Beyond the cards, we also created books for visitors and new members. But, instead of saying we have doctrines, a statement of faith, relationships, programs, money , offerings and missions. We wanted to say something differently. We asked, “How can we make each of these concerns God-centered?” How can we help people see that we want to have God at the center. So, the title of each book contains a reference to LIFE-centered something – LIFE-centered Convictions, LIFE-centered Relationships, LIFE-centered Stewardship and LIFE-centered Missions. By “LIFE-centered” we mean God-centered. That’s how we are trying to help.
God offers Himself as center. He wants to be the axis around which everything in our lives revolves. He wants to be at the core of all things. He wants to be the circle In which we are all free (adapted from Hansel 1987:153). We want to offer God in such ways. We want to give the people of this church and community the opportunity to be God-centered. But God is not an arm twister. He leaves the choice to us. Neither will we twist arms – but we want to prompt the choice.
Is there a need for such LIFE-centered terminology?
Everyone’s life has a center. Our center is the hub around which all HYPERLINK “https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-decision-making.html” decisions revolve. For some, family is the center. For others, their careers occupy the central place. Survival is the hub from morning until night for others. Money drives the daily choices of some people. Pleasure-seeking, gained through all kinds of entertainmentoccupies the central place for still others. We must add iphones and ipads to the list of possible centers. The world gives us many possibilities for a center. I want to consider just two in this messsage: self-centered ways and religion-centered ways.
Let’s consider the self-centered option. We all begin life totally self-centered. Babies are like that. With time and experience, most babies become less self-centered as they grow with two years often the beginning of transitions. But the transitions are neither automatic nor easy.
Then, throughout our lives, our cultures push us toward human-centered, self-centered ways. African cultures had more people at the center whereas Western culture has often emphasized the individual at the center. Both viewpoints fit the self-centered option but in different ways. Pushed by cultures, we don’t give God much attention at the center. Given a choice between attending a seminar on either “The Glory of God in Isaiah” and one on “How to Become a Millionaire in Ten Years,” to which would you go?’
Today, there is so much talk of self-fulfillment, self-determination, self-decision, self-confidence, self-respect. I pulled out a dictionary on my desk and found 72 words that begin with self. Those words indicate to me that there is a very complex framework of self-centeredness in our cultures today.
The web gave me some web-entertainment about self-centeredness: 1) The trouble with some self-made people is that they worship their creator, 2) It’s difficult to find a place for God when we are so full of ourselves, or as D.L. Moody once said, . “God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves.” 3) The smallest package in the world is a person wrapped up in himself/herself, and 4) At a party a woman said, “My husband and I have managed to be happy together for 20 years. I guess this is because we’re both in love with the same man.”
We may say, “Oh those statements don’t touch me.” I am tempted to reply the same way. But an article entitled, “How to be Miserable” changed my thinking. To be miserable, It said, “Think about yourself. Talk about yourself. Use “I” as often as possible. Be constantly concerned about what other people think of you. Listen greedily to what people say about you. Expect to be appreciated. Be suspicious. Be jealous and envious. Never forgive a criticism. Trust nobody but yourself. Insist on consideration and respect. Demand agreement with your own views on everything. Grumble if people are not grateful to you.” I read the article and admitted, “Yeah, I can still be self-centered.” Today’s churches can easily become far too people-centered, and not sufficiently God-centered.
So, yes, there is a need for God-centered terminology. Self has to go and be replaced by God at the center. Let’s go on to consider the religion-centered possibilities offered by the world..
This is a great danger for many because it can easily involve us in the church. A fine but distinct line exists between being God-centered and being religion-centered. Many people who have religion at the center think that their lives revolve around God, when, in truth, they are imprisoned in a religious system. Some Christian denominations focus so much on strict performance standards, rules and regulations that the presence of God Himself is pushed into the background. 3) Some people receive God’s LIFE, but keep it in a religious place of their own making. We need to fight against that tendency and allow God his central place in our lives and in our church. Being religion centered can never substitute for being God-centered.
One consequence of being religion-centered was summed up in this way by Selwyn Hughes: When we are anything but God-centered, we jump from problem to problem, crisis to crisis, issue to issue, emphasis to emphasis, doctrine to doctrine, program to program, and the whole thing lacks consistency. We need to take our stand on the centrality of God and work OUT from him in these matters. With him at the center, there can be harmony for everything in the circumference of our lives. .
In order to differentiate between a God-centered and a religion-centered life, it helps to know the difference between the two. I myself did not know the difference for 20 years of my Christian life. A malarial fever in the 1970s when I was in Zambia became a time when I faced up to the fact that my mission work, the churches, and religion were at the center of my life. God was not there. I was the center of my little religious world. I was 29 had been a “Christian” since I was 9. Here, 20 years later, I began to distinguish between God and religion. It was good time. I woke up the next morning explained to my wife what had happened and said, “I don’t know how to do this, yet, but we must let God be the center of our lives and our mission work. We must help others to become God-centered, too.” Now I am 73and I am still letting God show me his God-centered ways. Every day is a new day. And, I am still seeking ways to help people to get out of the center and make room for God.
So, yes, there is a need for God-centered terminology. Religion has to go from the center of our lives, so that God can occupy that space.
How do we live with God at the center?
We find all kinds of advice out there for being God-centered. I even found a website called God-centered Life.org. As I looked through their site, I saw the “samo, samo” – more prayer, Bible study, fellowship, stewardship, and so on. But I failed to see reference to the necessity of God’s LIFE. Someone else has said, “A God-centered life is one that revolves around the character of God. Decisions are made from within that center, based upon that which pleases or displeases God. That sounds good. But I like LIFE better than character. Character is academic, abstract. LIFE is real. So, ”A God-centered life is one that revolves around the LIFE of God. Not simply on that which pleases him but on that which reflects his LIFE.” So, how DO we live with God at the center.
First, we must get out of the center with our self-centered and religious notions. To live with God at the center means that we become ec-centric. The word means “off center” and is often used to refer to someone who is different. I had an eccentric aunt – she was married seven times. Eccentric. She married one man twice. We need a different understanding of how we can be eccentric. To be eccentric Christians means that we get out of the center with our religious notions and that takes a radical departure from previous ways.
Four hundred years ago, two scientists named Copernicus and Galileo demonstrated that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the solar system. The Copernican revolution was just that. It shook the very foundations of astronomy , science and even theology. These two men called for radical rethinking and readjustment of the way we envisioned the solar system – so radical that Galileo was condemned as a heretic and excommunicated from the church. They discovered a new center. It was radical. Our discovery of a new center for our lives and our church must be just as radical.
Secondly, We must allow God this central place. We are like the Christians of 400 years ago who wrongly thought the world was the center of the universe. We can even learn lessons from the sun as did those early scientists. At the center of our solar system, the sun’s rays radiate from that center to all of life. From that center, all of life is made possible – people, plants, animals, fish, birds, the land, the sea. From the center, the sun reaches everything. God is like the sun, but he is more than the sun. From the center, he can touch everything.
Now you can see the reasons for the scriptures I chose at the beginning of this message. We need not be dazzled by the sun, because the day will come when “The sun will no more be your light by day . . . for the Lord will be your everlasting light (Isaiah 60:19-20). Of Jesus, the Gospel of John says, “In him was LIFE , and that LIFE was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). The relationship of God ,the sun and light becomes even more stark in 1 John 1:5, which says, “God is light. In him is no darkness at all.”
From the center, God wants to reach all aspects of our lives, every nook and corner. He wants to shine throughout our lives – every day and in all circumstances. God forbid that we would treat him like a torch that we can turn on and off.
Is God at the center of your life? If not, what is at the center? Do you need the radical change that Jesus can bring into your life?