Go WITH God? Or go FOR God?

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Last summer, my daughter had a season pass to Six Flags, and since I’m the annoying dad who tries to turn everything into a teaching opportunity, I decided to try to explain the physics of rollercoasters to her. That force that makes it hard to lift your hands while you’re in a loop-the-loop, I explained lovingly, is called centrifugal force. Conversely, the force that pulls inward toward the rollercoaster track is called centripetal force.

“Uh-huh,” my daughter said without looking up from her phone. Those principles are not only helpful for understanding rollercoasters, they can help us understand God. When it comes to the community of faith, God has established two forces: one that pulls us in and one that sends us out. These forces can be seen in God’s relationship with his people throughout history.

The centripetal force is represented in the inward focus of God’s people, especially in the Old Testament. Then, worship of God was centralized and controlled. God is always sovereign over all people in all places, but he started his rescue effort with one family in one place at one time. There was one chosen people and one temple that attracted them all to worship. There was one place where God’s name dwelt with his people. The temple itself was constructed in concentric levels of holiness with the most holy place right in the center. Even today, we are continually pulled back to that center every time we read the accounts of God’s actions in ancient Israel, and in the accounts of Jesus, the central figure in all of history. But the Bible also describes an equal and opposite force, an outbound propulsion. After Jesus rose from the grave, he gathered his disciples on a hill in Galilee and pointed them outward. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Not, “Come and be my disciples”; He had already issued that invitation. Not, “Go and bring back disciples”; for the dwelling place of God was no longer the temple, but the church, the people of God scattered through all the world. It would be easy to say that God changed directions; that the Old Testament describes an inward-focused God and the New Testament describes an outward-focused God. But that’s too simple.

In God’s very first encounter with the representative of his chosen people, all the way back in Genesis 12, he told Abraham, “all the people of the world will be blessed through you.” God has had his eyes turned outward from the beginning. Likewise, Jesus said that the result of his being lifted up would be that people would be drawn to him. And just days before Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission quoted above, he chose the iconic last supper to tell them this: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Love inside the church is to be our hallmark. For every one of our faith's centripetal forces (temple, sacrament, Israel, Christendom, come-and-see, the New Law), there is an equal measure of centrifugal force (mission field, Gentiles, diaspora, go-and-tell, Great Commission). God brought us near to himself while propelling us toward the nations. We are meant to live in rhythm with these two forces, like inhaling and exhaling, on the roller coaster of faith. A delicate balance of going out, but staying close to the tracks.

And that is why our current form of exile is particularly difficult. Not only has coronavirus kept us from gathering in celebration, it has kept us from scattering in mission. Shut up in our homes, barely getting by on webcasts and prayer chains, many of us are wheezing through this pandemic. We look forward with great anticipation to the day we can gather at 2435 Kinwest and take in a deep breath of fellowship and communion. But when that happens we’ll also be free to breathe out our reckless love to our neighbors robbed of spiritual breath.

Anyway, that’s what I told my daughter about rollercoasters. I’m sure she was listening to every word.

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