Have you ever seen the movie, “Talladega Nights”? Its got Will Ferrell in it so it is naturally inappropriate but way funny. In the movie Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby who is a stock car racer who is quickly becoming one of the winningness stock car racers in the sport. Towards the beginning of the movie, while things are still going well for Ricky Bobby, Ricky leads his family in saying grace before a dinner of Domino’s, KFC, Wonderbread, Poweraid, and Budweiser. Check out the 3-minute clip below.
Funny clip, right? But I would like to address one of the things (out of many) that this clip is saying about Christian faith in our culture. At one point during the prayer, the family all starts chiming in about the way they like to picture Jesus. One likes a carefree Jesus who likes to party; another likes Jesus as a ninja who fights off evil samurai; still another likes him as an angelic figure who is the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd; finally, Ricky likes the baby Christmas Jesus, so that’s who he is going to pray to. Although these pictures of Jesus are ridiculous/one-sided and we would not necessarily accept them ourselves, who are we to say that the family is wrong for expressing which Jesus they prefer? I mean, think about it. In our lives, we have the freedom to shop for our preferred food, preferred car, preferred home, and even preferred church in which we feel most comfortable. In every other place in our American lives, we make consumeristic choices based on what we prefer; so why not also with Jesus?
Of course my question above is rhetorical, but framing it that way gets at the question: are we intentionally choosing a god that suits our preferred lifestyle, or are open to who God really is in Jesus Christ (who may very well challenge our preferred lifestyle)?
When I came to Christian faith almost 8-years ago now in January of 2004, I had to face this very question. At the point in my life I was not really living a lifestyle that was honoring to God and there was no incentive in my life at that time to change who I was. But, at a worship service at Reality in Carpenteria, I heard Britt Merrick say the following in one of his sermons:
“The same Spirit that was present at creation, was also present in Jesus Christ and is present here among you today.”
Hearing this really brought into focus the truth that God is both bigger than anything I can imagine, but also very present with me in a personal way through God’s Spirit. I no longer could simply allow my preferences to dictate who God was because God was now made known to me, and I needed to wrestle with what this meant for my life-choices. I was realizing that a relationship with God is like a relationship with a lover; I could no longer make decisions that simply satisfied myself, I needed to understand the desires of my lover and strive to serve her (as she had been serving me all along) for the flourishing of our relationship. For me to serve in this way, I needed to move on from selfish practices that damaged the relationship on to practices that nourished the relationship.
So, this Christmas, while we are with family, opening gifts, enjoying meals together, and toasting to good things, let us also take time to reconsider the meaning of Jesus’ presence among us. For it is true that “God did not send [Jesus] into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). The coming of Jesus into the world is an offering of hope for the future and fulfillment in our lives. Let us be open to the life that Jesus desires for us, not simply the life we prefer for ourselves.