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-THE NEW DEFAULT

Whenever I turn on my T.V. the screen displays ‘CNN’. That’s the default channel (much to the dismay of certain folks).

Grace is like that. It’s the first thing on which we want to set our minds in our everyday lives. Think of it. Grace is God’s love at work, in action. It’s God being active and moving in our lives at every moment. The purpose of that grace is to keep us connected and reconciled to God and enabled to love as God loves.

Sometimes and perhaps too often the first thing on our minds’ screen is worry about something going on in our lives like how to pay bills or get along with someone or how our children are faring, and even our own health. That default screen might be anger about someone or something that has caused our blood pressure to rise. The first thing we think about in a crisis or upon waking up isn’t always God’s grace.

But the more we get to know God and what God thinks of us and has done for us we will discover the GRACE will come into focus on that default screen of our mind. Oh, sure, sometimes we have to do that ‘reboot thing’ to get the default working. And being smart and faithful we can do it.

I love the word ‘grace’. Among all the words that might describe God, grace is my favorite. It’s the unrelenting pursuit of God for the good of God’s creation. God is eternally at work to restore all things and all people.

“Love” just doesn’t cut it. It’s too much about sentimentality and feelings whereas grace means self-giving, sacrifice, and relationship.

Love may be the essence of God but grace is that essence at work in us.

So take a moment. Turn on the screen of your mind and watch ‘grace’ displayed.

I like to start the day with the free app, PRAY AS YOU GO. Give it a try. God bless.

MICROSCOPES, TELESCOPES, AND HOROSCOPES

Humans have an endless desire for truth. We are curious. We are seekers. From the furthest reaches of our universe to the minutest movement of electrons we long for answers, answers that may well help research and progress.

We want to know the how, when and where truth is taking place that will make our lives, society and world a better place, a more flourishing environment. We develop theories, doctrines, religions and philosophies to help us not just with the ‘what’ of life but also with the why?

And this is all good ….to a point.

I think God has made us inquisitive. The sage writer of Ecclesiastes says that God put eternity in our hearts so that we will not be able to fathom all that God has done from the beginning to the end. So we will keep on searching to find truth.

But God has done something else. God has put all eternity into the person of God’s own Son, Jesus, so that though we might not be able to fathom everything about God we CAN know God intimately, know we are loved and valued by the Creator.

Oh, there are many days we don’t know if we are coming or going but to know Jesus, the Christ, is to know the heart of God, the essence of God’s love.

Which all brings me to a wonderful passage from the Bible. It’s one that gives us assurance of the intimate presence of God and providence of God for all God’s creation, believer or not.

Colossians 2:8-10 Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.

Let those words have a place in your heart and mind. Stay close to the Christ who IS the WORD OF GOD who has come to us, died for us and lives for us.

 

PLACES IN GOD’S HEART

I am wondering why some Christians, supported by denominational doctrines, and certain biblical passages, want there to be a hell of eternal torment. Is it for justice or perhaps revenge? Like ‘they’ get what’s coming to them for not believing in Jesus or doing bad things.

Surely it’s not from any sense of love. Jesus reminds us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5) We are told often in the Bible that the essence of God is love. A great definition of love is to work for the good of others even at our own expense. I am thinking of God doing that very thing through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. Why, I wonder why would God go to such an extent with his love only to one day say to some folks, ‘Too bad for you’. God’s love is eternal. (Jeremiah 31:3, for example.) I think that Jesus expressed God’s love for the thief on the cross who was to be welcomed into Paradise. Jesus also asked God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

We know that God knew, planned, or permitted the FALL to take place back in the Garden of Eden because Scripture asserts that Christ’s sacrifice for all God’s creation took place before the creation of the world. ‘Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.’ (Ephesians 1:4 NLT) The Trinitarian love of God is eternal and being shared with us through creation and redemption and finally reconciliation.

See 2 Timothy 1:9 (God’s grace came to us in Christ Jesus before the ages)  and 1Peter 1:20 (Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but revealed in these last times for our sake).

God is a good ‘love investor’, having already planned for the inevitable conclusion of giving humanity free will. God was not giving up on creation and surely not on any of us who were created in God’s image, stamped with the life of God’s son, and it is in God all humanity lives and moves and has its being. (See Acts 17:28 for this last phrase.) This is all grace.

Scriptures declare that even after the rebellion of God’s people God’s love remains everlasting. Paul even writes that all ISRAEL will one day be saved. (See Jeremiah 31:33,34 along with Isaiah 59:20,21 for God’s everlasting love and Romans 11:26 for Paul’s statement about ‘all Israel’.)

Do I really want murderers, rapists, Nazis and the like sitting with me at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9)? ‘Of course not’, my flesh replies, but if I walk by faith and love I will not reply from my flesh. And yes, my flesh looks for the Bible readings where the righteous prevail and the wicked are doomed but I want to live by grace, forgiveness and with enduring love.

The Bible tells us that ‘God will be all in all.’ (1Cor. 15:28) Perhaps it’s a mysterious passage or it well could match up with what Paul says to the philosophers in Athens about everyone having their whole lives wrapped up in God with the possibility that we may indeed look for God and find God.

In the meantime the church is Christ on earth to help bring creation back to the Garden as it were. God, through the church, is filling the earth with God’s presence. (See Ephesians 1:23) That is a call to responsibility and joy.

The final scene in the movie PLACES IN THE HEART depicts a gathering at worship of all the characters, the ones who have died and those who are alive. Some have been mortal enemies. They are sharing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper together. I pray and hope that one day all people will bow and worship God as one. Paul writes that in Philippians 2.

So this Christmas let us proclaim God’s love, an eternal love, for all creation. It’s going to be a great day when all the creation realizes that the babe in the manger came to redeem the ones God loves so much.

 

LUCK, CHANCE AND ACCIDENT and THE CHRISTIAN

I used to be a strict Calvinist believing that God determines and wills everything that happens in this life. But I have come to understand that in life there is such a thing as accident and chance referred to by some as luck. Bad luck.

Wars, famines, disease, tsunamis, earthquakes, accidents and bad people cause things to happen that a loving Father would not ‘cause’. There’s a verse that I will paraphrase. Jesus is speaking to his disciples about bad things going on in the world and the danger they might be in for. It’s in Matthew 10. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of the planes that go off course or the bullet coming your way, or that illness that’s driving you mad. These things can torture you. They can kill the body but not the soul. The soul belongs to me. There is nothing that happens in your life by chance or designs where I am not involved with you. If you hurt I hurt. My image is in you and that image will not be destroyed.”

See, God can work in and through any circumstance in our lives to orchestrate some good, good according to God’s will. God’s will we might not understand while in our earthly bodies, but it is a will that is ultimately good. I think it is well to say that while we don’t understand God’s will, we understand the heart and purpose of God revealed in Jesus on the cross where he brings all God’s good purposes for humanity to fruition.

I have a good friend who died some years ago. His wife said that God had numbered all his days and my friend’s time had come. He suffered through cancer and died too young as many do. While the grief she felt was not a subject for theological debate nor was I going to argue with the Scripture she knew so well. Psalm 139. Though now I would suggest that the part of Psalm 139 about all our days being numbered might have been the Psalmist’s understanding of God’s sovereignty at that time.

When the disciples related to Jesus some tragic events where people were killed and they were wondering what those folks might have done wrong, Jesus replied to them that it was not their sin that caused the towers to fall but that the disciples should pay attention to their own lives and relationship to God. See Luke 13.

It was no one’s fault that a certain man was born blind but the disciples always wanted things explained and Jesus said it was nobody’s fault but in this instance Jesus healed the man and brought attention to the love of God. That love is not absent in other tragedies, no matter the belief, because Christ is there, crucified and taking that seeming separation, like his own on the cross, and bringing glory to bear on every situation. Wow I am sorry for that long sentence.

When I get onto an airplane I am taking very little chance with my life. But what chance there may be I will surrender to my God. I pray that when the time comes that I die or am dying I will surrender that to God. Perhaps with complaint but still in the presence of God. I will trust in the faithfulness of my Lord than in myself.

We all groan while on this earth. Some groaning is more evident than others. And when we see children suffering and dying we run to the Master to ask why this has to happen. There is a grief that only Christ can truly understand and redeem. He told his disciples that in this world they would have tribulation, problems untold, but that he had already overcome this travail through his own suffering and his presence.

There may even come a time when I want to forget God but now in my lucidity I want to pray that God never forgets me. And Christ is that assurance.

Yes, God does answer prayers and brings certain things to happen and prevents certain other circumstances. These answers are a constant reminder to us of God’s presence. And that is with our physical bodies. There are untold matters of healing of the soul and forgiveness of sin and reconciliation of the whole world to God that are worth celebrating too.

When God told Abraham to count the stars, if he could (Genesis 15), God was telling Abraham that the souls of all humanity would be blessed through what God was doing with Abe. That’s Good News.

So I want to make apology if my words in anyway seem to minimize God’s love or role in God’s creation. I rather want us to understand that this world turns WITH God, no matter how it seems. When I read of the unfathomable evil in this world I do not understand why it is allowed. But I trust the God who is able to overcome, and will do so for this world.

So let us go out and live, surely praying that God be with us, asking for help and thanking God that God so loved the world he gave his only Son. And if God gave us Jesus will God not give us everything we need to enter God’s Kingdom forever.

So if you are reading this and have experienced tragedy or know of suffering please be assured THAT NOT A SPARROW FALLS TO THE EARTH APART FROM THE PRESENCE OF GOD. And in the words of the old gospel hymn,” if his eye is on the sparrow then I know he’s watching me.”

One final anticipation of some protest. There are many passages in the Bible that indicate God as the cause of EVERYTHING. There is some of that perspective but we have to put them all together and use the minds and hearts God gave us to search God’s heart. Our spirits and God’s spirits can do this together.

Will anything ever separate us from the love of God? NOT A CHANCE.

MIXING POLITICS AND RELIGION

Even in my Bible study group people say don’t mix politics with religion. Well, Jeff Sessions has gone and done it. And it’s gonna bite him and this administration. When you mess with God and God’s little children by quoting scripture as some kind of proof text for your behavior you are on a slippery slope south, and I don’t mean Virginia. What we sow we reap.

We, as a country of Christian values and morals, have now set a ‘made up law’ above Christ’s commands to love, and God’s command to take care of the poor strangers and immigrants among us. And the current regime cannot get out of this by blaming another political party. And to further aggravate God I read that the leader is using this FAMILY SEPARATION as a bargaining chip to get his way on things like THE WALL.

In my less than theological language I say this all sucks. I cannot keep silent living in a country that has such a terrible track record and history against people like native Americans, Africans, and immigrants who trying to find a way to life which is what we all want.

“Hey, he’s the head of a country, and I mean, he’s the strong head, don’t let anyone think anything different,” Trump told Fox News “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” The  leader of this nation has made it clear in humor and seriousness that he prefers the totalitarian way of rule over democracy. I believe him. Christians must stand up and say NO.

Jeff Sessions, Sarah Sanders and the whole administration can quote Romans 13 all they want but may they never forget that we as God’s people do not bow to the IDOL OF LAW. We stand against any laws that go against the will of God as the book of Daniel illustrations, as the early Apostle’s practiced against Rome, and as people throughout history have done perhaps best understood in the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD.

At the Southern Baptist Convention Jeff Session invoked God in his defense of making life more miserable for immigrants than that life already is. But the President elect of that body of religious people made something else clear:

“Greear in particular had urged the denomination to step back from politics, including this passage in his speech to the meeting on Monday, prior to his election:

“We believe that Jesus is the lord of the whole earth. He is the king of kings and he is the lord of lords. We believe that he, not any version of Caesar, is the Messiah. He is the Christ, the son of the living God, that salvation is found in him, not in the Republican platform or the Democratic platform, and that salvation did not come riding in on the wings of Air Force One. It came cradled in a manger.””

While I do not equate the actions of this present government with those of Nazi German  I do find the following quote most interesting:

  • Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord. (Mein Kampf)- Adolf Hitler.

Yes, we have all heard about safety, about laws and how we are a nation of laws. Maybe we need to read more about grace and love and caring for the ‘least’.

This government, if it has the will, can find a way to alleviate this situation, govern rightly and justly and if we are going to side with God then we had better make sure we understand who God is and whom Jesus died for.

Let our leader make the same effort for our neighbors to have peace as he is making with the worst totalitarian leader on the planet. (My opinion).

 

Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22 – “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.”

Exodus 22:21 – Moses gives God’s law:  “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

I urge you all to find a way to donate to groups/organizations who are helping with the refugee crisis because in truth you cannot have politics without religion.

Please let’s find a way for these little ones to be with their parents.

 

 

THE ATTRACTION OF UNIVERSALISM

It is difficult for me to comprehend how humans can think to be more merciful than God with regards to the eternal destiny of each human soul. After all we are made in God’s image to love, and to forgive but it would seem that according to traditional Christian teaching there is a limit to God’s own loving nature and actions.

In 1990 I became a convinced Calvinist assured that God’s glory was somehow tied into the justice of electing some out of all the reprobates on earth. Otherwise, I reasoned, we should all end up in eternal torment if not for the limited atonement of Christ for certain people.

But as I read the entire Bible it appears more and more that God’s plan is to bless the entire world and those in it. It appears that God’s desire is to have mercy on all people, that Christ is the second Adam in whom all are made alive.

Jesus said he would draw all people to himself through his death. And the Bible states that God really desires all people to be ‘saved’.

In my own mind without doubt is the idea that God’s love and grace are universal. But is that grace finally successful? I believe it is. That’s my presupposition if you will, somewhat akin to the presupposition of a loving God as see through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

I will use a universalistic hermeneutic (way of interpreting the scriptures) as I study God’s word and writings that pertain to this subject. I want to make the case for believing that the new heaven and new earth will resolve all sin, injustice and sorrow to the glory of God.

In my mind the story of the Bible is not about the power of God but the love of God as revealed in Christ and known through the Trinity.

Your reflections and questions will be most appreciated.

 

 

MY FRIEND GARY

My friend, Gary, died this past week. His body was ravaged by cancer for almost a year. Gary was 66, not quite making it to retirement.

A faithful Christian, husband, father, grandfather and brother, his body finally succumbed to the groanings and travails of this earth. So many prayed for his healing and strength. They prayed by touch, by distance and most assuredly in the name of Jesus.

Gary kept saying to doctors and friends alike that his problem was a ‘win, win’ situation. He quoted scripture that to live is Christ and to die is even greater gain. And yet a great earthly sorrow darkened his last days until the comfort of hospice and his loving family along with some special doses of morphine allowed him to pass from this earthly life into eternity.

Some friends and I were talking about how that should have been us if this illness had anything to do with living a less than good moral and faithful life, which Gary lived. And I question the notion of ‘faith healing’ that was so desired by and for Gary. This world is frail and broken by all kinds of things and I just can’t fathom why Gary had to die. Death seems to be no respecter of persons. It is called in the Bible ‘the enemy’.

And yet when I look to the Christ on the cross I see a God who suffers with us while God works to restore and reconcile God’s creation. And in that suffering I do not know how my good and loving God is bringing about God’s purposes but I trust this Christ whom I know, the same Christ who in his own agony said to his Father, “Thy will be done.”

The earliest Christians were always facing one hardship or another. Everything from illness to persecution and martyrdom was their lot and we read in Hebrews 11:16 that they looked for a better home. This one breaks down after a while.

Sometimes people report marvelous miracles. Other times I believe God is quietly transforming death into life. And through it all I trust God. So do many of you.

Now this part may wonderfully disturb you but I believe that Gary, being with Christ, is praying for me even as I write. I believe that Gary is as much alive now as he was 10 days ago, and even more so. And why wouldn’t he pray for others and me in the presence of Christ.

Thank you Gary. God bless his family and friends and may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus be praised for Gary’s life and witness. I miss you, my friend.

THE TRAIN AND THE PATH: A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FOR ALL

In John 1:14 we are told that everything about God, his presence, being and most of all his love became a human being in Jesus and lived with us.

This is the message of Christ for everybody. It’s a message of grace to the world made evident in Christ. God, we are told, was pleased to have all his fullness in Christ. (See Colossians 1:17)

Grace is God’s initiative in bringing salvation to the world through Christ.

Not that grace was missing in the Old Testament. Certainly it is evident through creation, covenant, kindness, mercy and forgiveness on the part of God. But in the Old Testament it was the LAW that held the covenant people together. The law was the boundary, the wall, or the custodian, all set in the context of rules and regulations for the safety of society.

Let’s compare LAW AND GRACE this way.

The LAW is a passenger train with God as the conductor. If in disobedience you jump off the train you are on your own. Oh, every once in a while you will hear the whistle blow and if you are strong enough and fast enough you might catch up with the train and pray the conductor to let you back on.

GRACE is the pathway through the wilderness. (See Isaiah 43:19) Jesus is at the front, at the back, and by the side of each traveler. If you should wander off the path, Jesus goes with you wherever you are and finds you another way with him to the goal of everlasting life with God.

Grace is the drawing influence of God upon the whole world. (That means you and me wherever we are.) You can get off the TRAIN at the next stop, which would be RIGHT NOW, and begin the journey with Christ.

Christmas is the word of God to the world that the grace of God has been revealed bring salvation to ALL PEOPLE.

So …a Blessed Christmas to all.

 

 

I CHOOSE GRACE

Why does God choose to work in our weaknesses rather than in our strengths? Does God want to show us who is boss? Does God have a pride problem? Does God perhaps want to humiliate us for our sin? Is God himself weak?

No. It’s because God cannot develop a relationship with his creation if we think we are strong enough to succeed by ourselves. That’s what happened in the Garden a long time ago. And it’s what happens whenever and wherever humans build their own egos (their territorial walls) against the love of another, in this case God.

God wants to love us and love is best enjoyed when neither lover is a bully or egotist.

God has already demonstrated his own weakness and vulnerability in Jesus. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Not only does God live with us but God loves with us and suffers with us in order to give love a fertile ground in which to thrive. See, God’s grace can only flourish in weakness. It’s the law of God’s universe and God’s salvation and restoration of humankind. And while much suffering is unthinkable and unbearable it is the only path of love in this world and God wants love enough that God gives freedom even to evil and greed on this journey. Certainly God can work all things to the good for those who understand this but unfortunately not many do. And God will not force his love on us or coerce us to love him. That would be abusive and meaningless.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God tells Paul that God’s love is sufficient/enough for Paul’s needs in the midst of Paul’s own suffering. And through it Paul will develop more understanding of God’s love in this world. It will be the kind of love that will develop community and form a bride for the living Christ. And through Paul’s own suffering God will develop a character that God can trust with his powerful love and restoration of this creation.

It’s as though God is letting the EGO of this world be ‘lost’ in order to be ‘found’ again.

There are a great many trees in our contemporary Gardens of Eden. And if we could we would choose them over God and make our own way. But creation doesn’t work that way. It is been arranged that we NEED each other. We love each other. We care for each other. And without suffering there would be only self-sufficiency.

Fortunately the tree is now inaccessible and unavailable try as we might to find it or grow our own.

Before the tree there was only love. Now through Christ love, eternal love, has been restored. Through the poverty of Christ our lives have been enriched. There is a choice now: self-sufficiency or grace. I CHOOSE GRACE.