Living the God-life

I believe in God!” I was the pastor of the Methodist Church in San Luis Obispo at the time, and heard about a restaurant that made great clam chowder over in Pismo Beach. So I went there one evening to check it out. While waiting for my table I took a seat at the lounge counter and ordered a glass of wine. The man sitting next to me struck up a conversation. You know, the usual chit chat, nothing earth shaking. And then he asked the question I was waiting for.  “So, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m the pastor of the Methodist Church in San Luis Obispo.”

There was a pause of about ten seconds while the man stared at me. “I believe in God!” he said.

It seemed to me he said it in a way that had given me some kind of super power. Like I could call down thunder and lightning if the man didn’t believe in God. 

On another occasion I was playing golf at a local course in SLO, and was paired with a guy I had never met. We didn’t say much to each other during the round, but he swore after every shot, slammed clubs into the ground, and generally seemed really angry about the whole thing. This went on for several holes, until at the 12th tee box he asked, “So what do you do for a living?”

“I’m the pastor of the Methodist Church in San Luis Obispo.”

The man never said another word.

I’ve shared these experiences several time with friends, but I’ve never had the opportunity to follow up with the question that has been in my mind all along. 

What does it mean to say you believe in God?

We live in a country that, according to most pollsters, 80% of respondents claim belief in God. But what do these people mean by “god?” Because even a casual observation of the actions and desires of many (at least according to polls) indicate their belief in God is not the God I am familiar with. You know, the one in the Bible.

Mind you, there are at least three ways to interpret and understand the God of the Bible. The first, and obvious version is the Jewish one. After all the Old Testament is a testament to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (And by extension the God of Ishmael and Mohammad.) This is a God who seeks first and foremost economic justice for the people. God calls for the care for the poor and disenfranchised over 2000 times. God’s prophets rail against the rich and powerful when they do not regard the less fortunate as brothers and sisters. God even warns the people that they had better take care of aliens (we call them migrants), lest they forget they were once aliens themselves.

The God of the New Testament is the same God, yet raises the bar by revealing his very self. Emmanuel. God with us. Or as the Gospel of John says, The Word of God become flesh. Jesus is the model of how followers of God should live if they really believe in God. One place that sums this up is in Matthew 25, where Jesus says, “Whatever you do to these the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.”

The Apostle Paul provides insight into living the God-life in First Corinthians when he says the greatest of all things is Love. And how does he describe love? Patient. Kind. Never envious or boastful. Never arrogant or rude. Never insists on its own way. Bears, and hopes, and endures all things. This is the God I believe in. 

And you. Do you believe in God?