The speaker was persuasive and moving. He asked us to hug a friend, stomp on the floor, and even pinch our own forearms. It didn’t hurt that he could have been a GQ model: six foot three, blond-haired, blue-eyed, and funny. When he looked each of us in the eye, we felt his personal care.
(This is not the actual speaker, just a photo of an unknown preacher I found on the web.)
The conference theme was Knowing God. Its most popular presenter was this man with passion for feeling God’s love:
He asked, “How can we know God’s love?”
He answered, “We feel love in the hug, we sense the solid floor in the stomp, and we experience pain in the pinch.”
He argued, “God knows our frame, our need for hugs; he longs for us to detect his touch. And that is how we’ll know his love. When we feel it.”
He scorned the old evangelical formula, “Fact–Faith–Feeling” with its mundane illustration of a train: the locomotive represents “fact,” the coal-car “faith,” and the caboose “feelings.”
If we put our faith (fuel) in the facts (locomotive), our feelings will follow. He snickered at its antiquated answer.
“That perversion,” he laughed, “is completely contrary to the God-man of the gospels. Jesus was a man of compassion. We know his love only when we feel it. Feelings teach us facts.”
Why did Jesus come to earth when he did? Why not immediately after Adam and Eve sinned? Wouldn’t that have saved the world from centuries of pain? Or, why didn’t he come to the slaves in Egypt instead of sending Moses? Or, why not now? Why didn’t God choose to appear on earth to our confused, depressed, decadent Western World? Why then and why not now?
Scripture says, “When the right time came, God sent his Son” (Gal.4:4); elsewhere it reads, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). The Bible says God figured out that the perfect time—the exact right time in all of history for all of humanity— to appear on earth. And it was two thousand years ago. Why then?
I can imagine a few better times. How about when “each man did what was right in his own eyes;” or the centuries of worshiping idols in the “high places;” or during those same times when the wealthy oppressed the poor, widows, and orphans? Why not then?
Or what about when brutal Assyria and Babylon cold-bloodedly conquered, pillaged, and raped God’s chosen people, when enemies dashed their little ones against stones? Why not then?
Instead Jesus came when God’s people were the most righteous they’d ever been in their two thousand year history: there was no hint of any idolatry, the Scriptures were taught in every synagogue, and temple worship was practiced exactly as taught by the Bible.
Of all the evil and needy times in the history of God’s people, why was that the right time?
We live in an age of celebrity Christians. If it’s not the mega church pastors, it’s the best-selling authors or the Christian rock stars. While we may not worship them (at least not that we admit), we certainly want to be like them. But we constantly fall short.
Christina Kelly (former editor of young women’s magazines like Sassy and Elle) once wrote,
Why do we crave celebrities? Here is my theory. To be human is to feel inconsequential. So we worship celebrities and we seek to look like them.
But it is so dumb, with this stream of perfectly airbrushed, implanted, liposuctioned stars, you have to be an absolute powerhouse of self-esteem not to feel totally inferior before them.
So we worship them because we feel inconsequential, but doing it makes us feel even worse. We make them stars but then their fame makes us feel insignificant. I am part of this whole process as an editor. No wonder I feel soiled at the end of the day.
Oftentimes the greatness of others is crushing to us.
A couple of weeks ago Christians celebrated the Ascension of Jesus. Do you ever wonder why we celebrate the Ascension? I understand celebrating the birth of Jesus, and his resurrection, and even his death on a cross (if we understand what it means). But his Ascension? Yet after his Ascension, the disciples “returned … with great joy” (Luke 24:51). They celebrated the Ascension.*
When I was about ten years old, my father taught me how to sail our small sailboat. He taught me how to capture the wind, how to steer with a tiller, and how to “right” the sailboat when it capsized.
One day after another sail together, my father looked at me and said, “Go on, take her out by yourself.” The wind was rather strong; the waves were rather large; and my mother was rather terrified. I loved it. I took the boat out alone. The wind blew splashes in my excited face. I was a ten-year-old boy alone on the sea; I was Captain Hook, Christopher Columbus, and Sir Francis Drake all rolled into one.
That was one of the most memorable days of my mere ten years of existence. I still delight in the memory.
What does the Ascension have to do my solo sail? Well, quite a bit, actually. As I’ve reflected on the Ascension, here is what God is saying to me.