GOD’S NOT MAD AT US

Many folks think that talking about hell and God’s judgment will bring non-believers to faith. That might be good psychology but not good biblical theology. The scripture teaches that God is love. While there is talk about wrath, the presupposition with which I begin is knowing that God’s central essence, around which God creates and sustains his whole creation, is love.

God’s anger is really against the evil to which humans succumbed. Sin is the result of idolatry. Idols have been empowered by human worship, and God in Christ is out to destroy the power of that evil and thus allowing you and me to worship God. Look at the second commandment. In Exodus 20 God says that we shall not bow down and worship any idol. Worship is reserved for the one true God. When the Israelites were freed from Egypt they were to go and ‘worship’ God, not just take a nice trip to the Promised Land. We are created to worship and love God. That’s where the only real life is to be found.

Now let us realize that after all the idolatry God has made peace with his creation through the Son’s victory over death. In Colossians 1:19,20 we read ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (ESV).

Christ rescues us from the dominion of darkness. ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13 ESV). Christ has disarmed all the powers and authorities against us.

The Bible doesn’t say that God was so angry with the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16). Rather it says that God loved his world so much. It was love –  God wanting the best for his wayward children.

See, the God we know is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. And that revelation is Love. It is the self-giving of God for God’s creation in order to reconcile us with him. And we know that the Christ on the cross is there because of LOVE. So if we start with the presupposition of a loving God we will then look at all God’s revelation in Scripture through that lens. Certainly there are passages about wrath and anger and God being sorry that he created this world but those scriptures are ‘the dark side of love’, a side that while expressed is not enacted but through the pain of the cross.

Theologian Kazoh Kitamori, in his book ‘Theology of the Pain of God’, wrote that God’s love becomes the wrath of God in his response to sin. God is sorely against sin because it alienates his creation from him. And if I may be so bold I would compare this to a human father loving his child who is bent on living a life in opposition to the love the father has for them. Take for example when my son was little and insisted upon playing in the street. After three times of telling him not to, I resorted to what he might have considered my wrath as he felt the sting of my hand on his butt. But I prefaced my action by saying, ‘Son, this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.’

So when the Bible speaks about the wrath of God, it means that WE experience an alienation from God when we worship idols. God has left us to our own devices but God has always been about redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. Read the book of Hosea.

Let’s look at a few passages about the wrath of God. In Ephesians 2:3 we are told we are objects of God’s wrath. But read carefully and you will notice that God loves these objects of wrath (some translations say children of wrath). You will find God’s love expressed in verse 4: ‘Because of His great love for us.’ In the MSG Version we read, ‘It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.’

In John 3:36 we read that, ‘whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains upon him.’ I believe this means that outside the Son there is the darkness of an unconscious life, which is then subject to the evil in this universe. And who really wants that kind of life? ‘All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that’ (John 3:36 MSG).

Now one more verse – Ephesians 5:6. After a litany of the bad things humans do, Paul writes: ‘because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.’ But there again it is the darkness of being apart from God that is experienced as wrath because remember, we were all disobedient to God, enemies of God and alienated until by grace through faith we stepped into the light of life. See Ephesians 2:4.

There are other passages but these will suffice to say that wrath is NOT the nature of God. That’s good news for all. God is not out to ‘get us’ but rather his purpose is to reconcile us to himself. As Jesus proved through the cross, this work of love pained him more than we can even imagine. That’s ‘costly grace’ that yearns for a response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace in a Stolen Miracle- Scriptures from MESSAGE VERSION

Most all of us have heard the saying, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’ I personally don’t believe there are atheists anywhere. God has implanted in every soul just enough light or awareness to know that somewhere, somehow God or even ‘a god’ exists. Paul writes in Romans 1:19-21: “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is!” By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So no one has a good excuse.

What happened was this: people knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, and refused to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. The reality of God is present to everyone everywhere but people, though they know God, choose not to honor God. Some people even worship or honor themselves, which is sort of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. And since the world we live in is one large foxhole you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t look for help outside of themselves.

From the Scriptures we learn there is something of God’s life in every part of creation. “Everything was created through him (the logos – universal divine reason); nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.” John 1:3

In Acts 17 Paul is speaking to the philosophers in Athens. They wanted to believe in something and he explained to them that the ‘something’ was actually a ‘someone’. 22-23 “So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know whom you’re dealing with.”

Somewhere there is a source of justice or people wouldn’t say, ‘it’s just not fair’. Some even ask how a ‘good God’ could allow evil? These are all questions pointing to a ‘higher power’.

1-2 “God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.” Psalm 19

“God has not left himself without some witness to his being, and his goodness.” Acts 14:17

Even astrologers searched the skies for the Messiah and thus found him before the religious leaders did. Expressions such as ‘knocking on wood’, ‘the man upstairs’, ‘oh my God’, ‘thank God’ or even ‘thank goodness’, are all tied to a sense of someone outside of ourselves.

And so I would like to suggest that the lady who touches Jesus’ garment in Luke 8 actually ‘steals’ a miracle provided to her by God’s grace. Perhaps ‘steal’ is a bit too strong; we might say that she clandestinely finds a way to God through her touch.

A friend of mine says that every person on earth has some point of contact with God in his or her life. For the woman in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus garment was that point of contact, getting just close enough to the ever-present grace of God. Here’s her story from vs. 43-45: “In the crowd that day there was a woman who for twelve years had been afflicted with hemorrhages. She had spent every penny she had on doctors but not one had been able to help her. She slipped in from behind and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. At that very moment her hemorrhaging stopped. Jesus said, ‘Who touched me?’ When no one stepped forward, Peter said, ‘But Master, we’ve got crowds of people on our hands. Dozens have touched you.’”

God causes his sunshine and rain to fall upon the evil and good folk alike. Jesus referred to God’s care for everyone in the Sermon on the Mount. In William P. Young’s book, The Shack, Papa (God) says to the protagonist Mac, ‘God is particularly fond of you, you and everyone.’

For the woman in our story in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus’ garment was just enough. She made the effort to receive that which had been waiting for her, as orchestrated by God the Maestro. In Matthew 9:21 the words are recorded that she really wanted to touch this healer, this Messiah, and she wanted to do it discreetly, for her problem was probably a chronic menstrual bleeding which would have made her too unclean to touch Christ, the holy man. A point of contact. A miracle stolen. Or the grace of God just hanging there for the taking.

As a pastor there were many times I was asked to perform a marriage, a funeral or a baptism by people who were looking secretly for some good luck, a good start, some comfort, all being points of contact to touch the sky as it were. I suspect for many the motive was to get closer to God; and for many it was a matter of doing ‘the right thing’. But either way these were all points of contact. Sometimes a hospital visit for a non-believing patient, a telephone call, a prayer are points of contact. Who knows how the point of contact will bring life? Because life is what God is about and God is everywhere at every moment.

“Am I not a God near at hand”—God’s Decree—
“and not a God far off?
Can anyone hide out in a corner
where I can’t see him?”
God’s Decree.
“Am I not present everywhere,
whether seen or unseen?”
God’s Decree. Jeremiah 23:23-24

 

Now here’s the thing. Christians are the body of Christ, clothed with Christ at all levels of maturity but the grace belongs to our strong loving God. We may not even have faith enough but even that’s enough for it was the faithfulness of Jesus that impacted the lady. But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.” Galatians 3: 25-27 

That’s what people touch, the unseen faithfulness of Christ at work in us. Sometimes we know it and sometimes not but God knows and loves so well.

And now, the rest of the story. This beautiful thief is ‘caught’. Not by the disciples. They are still learning the extent of the master’s grace. They are bewildered by Jesus’ question, ‘Who touched me?’ because everyone was jostling the disciples and Jesus, pressing in against the Messiah. But in the melee there was a secret desirous touch of an unclean woman. She wanted to remain anonymous but the miracle was so evident in her body and her life that she confesses to why she touched Jesus.

Now I think Jesus is thrilled that this ostracized woman would dare come close enough, risking her reputation, but her story is meant for every soul that thinks itself unworthy of God’s grace.

Sometimes I wonder if Christians might sense the pressing in of a neighbor or loved one or a social outcast who wouldn’t darken the doorway of a church. A word, a touch, a whispered prayer may just activate the power and grace that is all around us.

WHERE DOES IT HURT?

Recently I listened to a podcast from Renovaré, a great ministry/organization focused on Spiritual Formation. The podcast was a conversation with author Philip Yancey led by Nathan Foster.

Yancey has written a new book titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: ‘The marvel of bearing God’s image’. In the book he draws an analogy between pain in the human body and pain in the Body of Christ, the church community. His writing comes after working many years with Dr. Paul Brand, the late surgeon who specialised in treating leprosy in India. Leprosy is an infectious disease within the skin and peripheral nerves leading to a disastrous consequence for those, who because of this illness, cannot feel pain.

Pain is important because it’s real and it signals that something is wrong with the body. It can be physical or emotional and can include such discomforting feelings as anger, sadness, depression and much more.

Pain causes us to pay attention to our bodies. And for the Body of Christ, as the analogy goes, pain is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

These days there seem to be a lot of division and hurt in the church over such issues as exclusivity and inclusivity, liberal and conservative, sexuality and doctrine. Rules, standards, grace and love are in conflict and people on all sides are hurting. I know this personally.

So let me continue the analogy by saying the church needs to know the pain is real and then go to the Great Physician who can diagnose the pain and help each of us to care for those in pain. Jesus told his disciples that the signal of a healthy community is loving one another. He prayed for us to be one even as he and the Father are one.

We are all in some fashion broken, sick, or lost but within the community, the Body, we can recognize and address those circumstances that underlie the pain. We need to stop being against each other and instead be with and for one another. Let’s listen to each other out of love. Let’s be attentive to the pain we often hide beneath a veneer of doctrinal faithfulness, social activism and success (just to name a few methods of denial).

Read the way the Apostle Paul puts it in 1Corinthians 12. ‘If one part of the body suffers then every part suffers with it.’

Maybe the question isn’t ‘What do you believe?’ but rather the one we often ask our children, “Where does it hurt?”

Grace Matters Blogcast Episode 3: “Enough”

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Read Here

“ENOUGH”

Once upon a time a couple came in to see me for marriage counseling. I asked them, on a scale of 1 to 10, how good they thought their marriage was, 1 being terrible and 10 being wonderful. The husband responded ‘9’. The wife responded ‘3’.  The husband was rather shocked. He said, “I think it’s all good. I have a good job and help on occasion with the children. I took you and the kids fishing on your birthday.” And on he went. I asked the wife why such a low number. She replied that their marriage was a disaster; that the guy’s heart wasn’t in it and they were drifting apart. The husband couldn’t see it.

The man in this story was operating out of left brain thinking: logic, some objective measurements and his own ego. The woman was working with right brain thinking. She just knew that everything was a mess. From her creative and more artistic side she could see that the “picture” was all wrong. He could argue but she understood the relationship.

The thing is this. There may be some objective successful measurements with our current leader but the picture is all wrong. The relationship between the leader and this nation is broken. Division is apparent to some, including this writer. I am sure the leader has some logical reasons for his comments, twitters and racist statements. His allies in the government stand by him and there are many people who like him and might give him a ‘9’. But those of us who understand relationships and right brain thinking know it’s all wrong no matter how strong the base support. Trust has been broken. The leader should be a healer but this leader brings sickness to the body of this nation. There is no character. Oh similar to the husband in my marriage-counseling illustration, our leader would probably give himself a 10. But some ‘right’ thinking people just know this ‘marriage’ can’t be saved.

Enough. Let me quote part of a statement from the leaders of the National Cathedral in Washington:

As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.

There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”

That remains our prayer today for us all.

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar BuddeBishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean of Washington National Cathedral
The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas
Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral

I want to add my voice to these ministers. And while I do pray for our leaders I cannot follow them.

Grace Matters Blogcast Episode 2: “Free at Last”

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Or Read Here

‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

Religion of any stripe is too heavy a burden to bear. There are too many thousands of ‘Christian’ organizations in the world, thousands of religious sects plus countless doctrines, dogmas, laws, rituals and such.

I suppose some folks need all those rules, boundaries, and dare I say ‘chains’ to feel safe. There are people even willing to give up their freedom for security, safety and a place to belong. Some folks enjoy other people making all the decisions for them.

Maybe Adam and Eve got nervous with all their freedom, just loving God and each other. Perhaps they needed more order to their lives. Maybe they wanted to start their own religion. Maybe the intimacy with God made them fearful. So they traded love for the chains of sin. And ever since, humanity has chosen slavery over freedom with Christ. Maybe we find more security in our chains.

There are certainly risks with freedom. Shame and guilt just, to name a couple of self- inflicted consequences when we go it without rules. Jesus gave his life to do away with all rules and regulations and any bondage to the law.

His grace has set us free to love intimately, deeply and widely. Just love. Simply love. Enjoy Christ today under no compulsion or compunction but rather because you have a friend who wants to give himself to you.

new look, new podcast, & Rory MacNish

Want to give a shout out to my friend and Photographer Rory MacNish who took the photo you see on the new podcast opening. The sunshine coming through the tree on a misty North Fork Long Island morning is a fitting expression of God’s grace breaking into our world showing God’s mercies new every day.

I hope you will get to listen to the Podcast. It’s a work in progress but is happening thanks to Rory, my son Josh, and my wife Gigi. I show up in a small way. But most importantly Grace always shows up.

Please check out Rory’s site. Just google Rory MacNish photo. Maybe I can get Rory to mention his own work, modest though he is.

Grace Matters Podcast, Episode 1

After several years of sharing my thoughts through the “Learning Jesus” blog, and enjoying the conversations with you that have resulted, I have decided to venture into the world of podcasting, with the help of my son, and producer, Josh!

What will be taking place in the coming weeks and months are a series of podcasts based on the latest writings, “Grace Matters: Thoughts on God’s Amazing Life in Us”.

I value my relationship with you, my readers and listeners, and so, I welcome your feedback on both the matter of grace and the matter of this new venture.

Just remember: Grace matters, and so do you.

Grace and peace,

George

THE TIME HAS COME TODAY

The church and individual Christians, including yours truly, has for too long lived by law, exclusion, judgment, and even punishment. The time is right and the opportunity is now for inclusive love, barrier breaking and yoke removing love. The love of Christ knows no limits, sets no boundaries.

 

“God’s love is meteoric

His loyalty astronomic

His purpose titanic

His verdicts oceanic

Yet in his largeness

Nothing gets lost

No human, not even a mouse

slips through the cracks.” Psalm 36:5-6 MESSAGE VERSION

 

ONLY LOVE CAN LEAD THE WAY TO CHRIST

THE FALL

There are leaders in this world and in our own country who have elevated pride above all other character traits. Now, let me be clear. There is a kind of pride that is good as it celebrates compassion, kindness, justice and even achievements in line with virtue.

But there is also a PRIDE that elevates us above others, that boasts in success and pushes for might and power at the expense of goodness and truth. There is a pride that sees no fault of its own, sees no need for forgiveness or even humility before God. There is a pride that provides spacious habitation for evil to roam and thrive. Pride can accomplish much on the world’s stage but in the words of King Solomon:

‘Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.’ (Proverbs 16:18,19)

While Christians are bound to pray for their leaders they are not called to give allegiance to any but God.

Let us pray. Let us be vigilant.  Let us not be led into temptation.

 

LOVE HELD HIM THERE

Christ did not die to remove us from evil by taking us to heaven. Christ died to destroy the power of evil within us. When Christ came to earth he brought the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In the death of Christ the power of evil was defeated. As the Gospel of John explains:  ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:3,4 (ESV) Paul writes similarly in Colossians 1:13; 14: ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’

Jesus did on the cross what Israel of old could not do- be faithful to God and to God’s project of redemption for all creation. Israel had succumbed to evil inclinations and rebellion against God. And so God in Jesus comes to defeat that evil, not Israel but the forces and principalities of darkness. Romans 8:3: ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh’. God wanted a relationship with God’s people. They wanted something more and so they got the LAW through which evil was happy to exert its powers. And then God in Jesus lured evil to its demise and stripped it of its power. Now through Christ the relationship of love has been established for good.

At the cross of Christ all the political and religious forces as well as the power of evil converged upon Jesus to rid the world of God’s saving love. But there on Calvary those forces of evil were led to defeat by God’s love. In the words of theologian N.T. Wright, Jesus bears the taint of evil, taking it away by exhausting its power.

It brings to mind the tactic of a boxer who allows himself to be pummeled by his opponent until his opponent is so exhausted that he is able to be defeated.

Evil tries its best to destroy our relationship with God like it did to Jesus in the Temptation in the Wilderness. God’s love gave Jesus and us a free will to love God or resist God and give room for evil. And the number one tool of evil is PRIDE. It is the living space in which evil thrives. But we need to know that evil cannot ‘take’ power. It can only be given power. Oh, it may whisper in the halls of Congress, on the battlefield, in relationships and in the courts of justice. It may utter a quiet invitation to walk away from God but the real power resides in the weakness of our surrender to Christ, trusting in his faithfulness. And that surrender in this world is necessary every day. It is a surrender to love, a love that never fails.

IT WAS LOVE, NOT THE NAILS THAT HELD JESUS TO THE CROSS. (Anonymous)