What in the World is God? Part 1

“Humans explaining the nature of God is like an ant trying to explain who dropped the sugar.” Trish O’Connor

Doodle GodWhat in the world is God?  The question is posed somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  The gut level response is that it should read “Who,” not “What.”  However, it is not entirely in jest, because God is not a man; He is not a cow or an elephant; He is not a Bhudda or Mohammad or Vishnu or Brahman; He is not a cast metal statue or stone carving; He is not even really a “he” or “she.”  In fact, He is not very much like us at all; He is “something” so completely different from us that the “what” question is as reasonable to ask as the “who” one.

While it is impossible for humans to fully grasp who or what God is, Paul claimed that what could be known about Him begins with a clear understanding of the order of the universe: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19-20)

Some skeptics will claim that ignorant aboriginal people, not understanding phenomena such as lightning, thunder, earthquakes, floods, etc., “invented” God to explain what they could not understand.  However, this is contrary to the human mind, even a “primitive” one.  We look for understanding of the unknown from what we know; we build our interpretations on foundations of fact to which our minds are accustomed.  A “primitive man” (if there ever was such a one) would no more likely invent a god to account for unexplained phenomena than a modern man would invent a phegallicur to explain his smartphone which he does not understand.

First Church of PhegallicurA phegallicur is something that simply does not exist, and as far as I know has never been named before this blog.  I hardly expect a religion of Phegallicurism to develop because so many people do not understand how their phones work and I “discovered” this word.  (If you choose to start such a religion, I expect some honorarium and at least a plaque praising my discovery. 😉)  And people in ancient times would not have invented religion for the same reasons.

The revelation of who or what God is must come from Him because He is so different from us.  Thus, He appeared to the first man and woman and began to reveal Himself gradually to them, to allow them time to grow in trust and love.  Human refusal to cooperate with the trust He desired resulted in the development of many perversions of religion, false teachings that have denied the nature, behavior and attributes of The God Who Is There as He has revealed Himself to be.  Essentially every false religion is based on an attempt to excuse some way in which the founder of said religion would not cooperate with the truth that was self-evident in the creation, truth to which God will lead the truly seeking heart (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13).

To discover what God really is becomes vitally important even before we begin our quest, because He has revealed Himself as the source of everything good: the source of life, light, joy, peace, etc. (James 1:17).  The alternative to knowing God is hell, separation from all that is good, and the evidence is very scarce that we get a second chance as reincarnation teaches.  Even if one was to accept the basic idea of reincarnation, why waste time recycling through multiple miserable lives and not go for the very best now?

ResurrectedWe have no clear evidence of life beyond this one except for the resurrection of Jesus, called the Christ or Messiah.  If one investigates this evidence he or she will find it overwhelming that Jesus did arise from the dead.  And that changes everything.  It changes how I view God.  It changes what I may think He is.  It changes how I treat my wife, family, friends.  It changes how I behave in relation to what I think may be good for me vs. what He says is good for me.  It changes everything!  This change is so radical, Paul even calls us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

Earth Asia.jpgThe other part of my question introducing this blog is significant as well: “in the world.”  God is not part of this world, yet He is here, in the world.  Our understanding of what and who He is will affect how we view what is happening in this world, because He is the Creator of it and has much to say about our affairs here.  We will examine over the next few weeks several of God’s attributes, not as simply an academic exercise, but as a personal attempt to get closer to Him, to know Him more fully, and conform more to the “image of Christ” (Romans 8:29).

Note that the use of “image” here is not to convey an idea of setting up a statue or physical likeness of Jesus, but to find out His priorities, His desires, His willingness to reach out to you and me, His longing for fellowship with us.  I do not mean by “longing” that He lacks in any way if we do not come into relationship with Him.  One of the faults of the 20th century American church that is carrying over into the 21st is that somehow we “complete” God like the heroine in Jerry McGuire.  One of the first things we will discover as we begin to know Him, the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3), is that He is fulfilled by His existence.  We need Him; He does not need us.

A final note as I embark on this study of What In the World Is God?: I have studied the Bible for many years, even before I began living it.  And as I have been trying now for many years to live it, I feel woefully inadequate to live what I already know.  So like Bob Goff in Love Does, I do not wish to do another “Bible study,” but a “Bible doing.”  My hope is that as we examine what and who God is I will “do” differently than I currently do.  And if you join me in this, that you too, will decide to “do” differently than you currently do.  We are not saved by knowledge alone, but by faith that results in obedience to His will (Matthew 21:28-32), to what and who God is.

Next week, , we will look at what is a “Trinity.”

 

 

Tracks in the Trackless Sea

I have often wondered how God will balance judgment and mercy for us when we have done so many things so badly.  This is not about “falling short” or just making mistakes.  This is about evil in the world . . . and in our hearts.

Sour Grapes
Sour Grapes

Jeremiah spelled out some comfort for dads and moms who have messed up: In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.”  (Jeremiah 31:29-30)  Ezekiel some 50 years later expanded on this theme concluding, “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?  As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die  . . . Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:2-32)

Yet it was this same Ezekiel who warned,If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”  (Ezekiel 3:18)

The biggest interest I have had over this passage is the ripple effect.  When you throw a stone in a pond, you see how it ripples out.  When a boat makes a “track” of wakes in the sea it spreads out a long way from the narrow passage of the craft.  Our actions are like the boat traversing the ocean.  Behind us we leave “tracks” not only in the lives of those closest to our engine, but spreading out for some time and some distance.

When I think of the times I failed to do the right thing for different people God brought across my path, I not only hurt them, but those who they then failed as a result of my failure to help them be what God wanted them to be.  Like a wake traveling out from the motor of my boat, my sins affected many others whom I never met.

In the same way, when I did what was right to different people who came under my influence, the “tracks” of my faithfulness spread out to others whom they were then equipped better to help.

Tracks in the Sea
How long do the tracks in the trackless seas of our lives go on? This thought came to me as I watched the boats racing across the Adriatic Sea between Croatia and Italy.  The wakes spread out behind each watercraft; wide and long if it was a catamaran or ferry; narrow and slight if it was a dingy or sailboat.  And eventually the tracks were gone.  Lost again in the trackless sea.  There are those whose tracks are longer lasting and effective for generations, whether they be Friedrich Nietzsches or A.B.Simpsons, Pharoahs or Moseses.  And there are those of us who are small skiffs whose wakes will only affect a few blog readers.

So there is that relief for those of us who have spread “tracks” of sin; the effects will not go on forever; there will come a time when each one must give account for his/her own actions and reactions to what we did.  And the blessing will only go so far as well.  Each generation must take up the responsibility to renew the “tracks,” creating new wakes behind each one, to extend the good things we may have done.

Only One knows the answer to how far our “tracks” will influence others, and He has promised to be merciful.  Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (Ezekiel 33:13-15)

This is simply to affirm that 1) Only God can judge such matters.  2) He will judge, but not according to our standards. 3) He longs to be merciful if we only repent.  This is at once the easiest and hardest thing in the world to do.  Faith in Jesus is so simple a child can exercise it and find love and favor in God’s eyes.  Yet it requires giving up everything I want in every way I want it, doing life His way, not mine.  But once surrendered, He gives SOOOO much better in return.

We do not know how long the effects of our lives will last, and eventually the sea will forget our “tracks” but we should still leave the best that we can behind us in this trackless sea.

 

The Choice of Ways So Small, The Event So Great

When I was a child the Good News of the Gospel was usually couched in fear that if you did not “get right with God” you would go to hell; basically, cosmic fire insurance.  We were told in no uncertain terms that we must repent of our sin, which seemed to mean to confess it to God (fortunately not to anyone else!) and He would forgive the bad stuff we had done.  Not very good for Good News.

These days the word “repentance” is hardly ever uttered from pulpits in America, so much so that I do not recall the last time I heard it in a meeting of the church.  (This does not mean it was not discussed; I may have missed it or be forgetting a sermon or two.)  The focus appears to be on the wonderful plan God has for your life and surrendering your will to His.  Just figure out what God wants you to do and allow Him to work it out through you.  Mostly this seems to come from one Dr. Z. Hodges of Dallas Theological Seminary who wrote in the 1970s:

“One of the most striking facts about the doctrine of repentance in the Bible is that this doctrine is totally absent from John’s gospel. There is not even so much as one reference to it in John’s twenty-one chapters… Since John’s Gospel omits the message of repentance, are we to conclude that its gospel is not the biblical gospel after all? The very idea carries its own refutation. The fourth evangelist explicitly claims to be doing evangelism (John 20:30-31). It is not the theology of the gospel of John that is deficient; it is the theology found in lordship salvation.”

This sounds all well and good, but the fact that John’s gospel does not mention “repentance” is hardly justification for eliminating this doctrine of historic Christianity.  In fact several points of reasoning show this “theology in lordship salvation” is erroneous and at times downright dangerous.  The result is people who attend church, sing the worship songs and lead in prayer, and then promptly go out and live as though God was not aware of them; at least, they certainly seem unaware of Him!

Repentance means “turning away.”  Plain and simple, it means stop doing what you are doing that is displeasing to God.  It is more than just accepting another plan; it is more than just remorse (Hebrews 12:15-17); it is more than just regret (Matthew 27:3-5).  This is not an attempt to bring back “fire insurance” salvation, but to balance the idea of Jesus’ lordship with the fact that we cannot honor Him as Lord and behave the way we did before.  We must be willing as C.S. Lewis says to go back to where we first left the path.  “Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.  If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

First, the Gospel of John is not the only book the apostle wrote.  Repentance is featured heavily in the Revelation where five of the seven churches of Asia are told to repent.  Ephesus (2:5), Pergamum (2:16), Thyatira (2:22), Sardis (3:3) and Laodicea (3:19) are each issued dire warnings if they refuse to repent.  Refusal to repent is justification for severe judgment in Revelation 9:20-21 and 16:9-11 for those outside the Church.

Further, in John’s letters, although the word “repentance” is again missing, its concept is not.  He goes so far as to say, “the one who makes a practice of sinning is of the devil,” and that one who is born of God “cannot keep on sinning.” (1 John 3:4-10)  Not abiding in the teaching of Christ is paramount to not having God at all! (2 John 9; 3 John 11)  The same can be said of John’s Gospel.  Just read John 3 and try to understand being born again without the repentance clearly called for in 3:16-21!

Furthermore, the argument from absence of “repentance” in John’s gospel is a logical fallacy based on an argument from ignorance, similar in informal logic to the argument from silence.  The Apostle John also never mentions God’s grace in the gospel.  Are we to conclude that we should avoid teaching about grace because of its absence from one book?   One could just as easily contend that because the word “love” does not appear in the Acts of the Apostles, it must not matter to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Lastly, the Gospel of John is one of 66 books in the mini-library that is the Bible (see January 25, 2015).  It is not difficult to do a word search for various words of significance to our relationship with God and find several books that do not mention any of them: justification, sanctification, love, grace, peace, joy, etc.  Our understanding of these themes must be developed based on the “whole counsel” (1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21) of the Scriptures.

The Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and yes, even Jesus all began their service to the Kingdom with calls to repentance (Matthew 4:17).  Jesus said, “there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

Biblically, “repentance” that does not result in a change of direction is clearly not repentance.  John the Baptist commanded his listeners to behave in a way that showed they had repented (Luke 3:10-14)  It is not just a change of mind, but a change of mind that results in a change of action.  We will behave according to what we really believe. (See April 19, 2015, Do You Agree or Do You Believe?)

This is not written smugly as though I have found an answer to sin and if you do not, you can go to . . .; God help me if I ever forget the pit from which he brought me.  My heart is for you, dear reader, that you will find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16), strength from Outside yourself to be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2) that will result in a change of heart so that you will be able to worship Jesus as Lord without faking it (Acts 8:20-23).

Nearly they stood who fall;
Themselves as they look back
See always in the track
The one false step, where all
Even yet, by lightest swerve
Of foot not yet enslaved,
By smallest tremor of the smallest nerve
Might have been saved.

Nearly they fell who stand,
And with cold after fear
Look back to see how near
They grazed the sirens’ land.
Wondering what subtle fate,
By threads so spidery fine,
The choice of ways so small, the event so great
Should thus entwine.

Therefore oh, man, have fear
Lest oldest fears be true,
Lest thou too far pursue
The road that seems so clear,
And step, secure, a hair’s
Breadth past the hair-breadth border
Which, being once crossed forever unawares,
Denies return.
the Guide in Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S.Lewis

An Intermezzo Blog – Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow

Hmm, I felt very uneasy with the start of this trip as you know if you receive my emails (yes, I am that ancient; I still use “old-fashioned email”!! 🙂 )   Anita and I were involved in what felt like a near-death experience.  More on that in a minute.   The jump from Lexington to NY was a nice boring hop on AA, the kind you wish for when flying.

Brooklyn TabWe were privileged to visit Brooklyn Tabernacle and the worship was absolutely amazing; a little too loud, but tolerable in the balcony and with ear plugs.  The best thing about it was from the encouragement from Jim Cymbala, the pastor, to talk about Who we know; not what we believe, not where we go to meet with the church, not our theology nor what the Greek for this word or that word may mean, but to simply talk about Who we know; not in judgment for those who disagree, not with legalistic regulations of what we should or should not do; just tell people Who you love more than your own life.

The next day DQ, our wonderful “Chinese little sister” gave us a marvelous gift of coming all the way from NJ to visit us briefly at our hotel, just to show that she loved us!  What a blessing to have such remarkable friends that feel like family!!

JFK Airport DepartureAfter her visit we left for JFK and had a leisurely afternoon in the airport, as we were too early to even check our bags.  With all our luggage on a cart, we wheeled around and ate a late lunch and parked at the ticketing counter to check in, still with hours to spare.  With yet more time on our hands, I called my brothers and sisters and wished each of them to be as blessed as Anita and I are.

Jet Wing 1Then came the flight.  Here is where it gets interesting!  Our Lufthansa pilot began a slow ascent from NY where the sky was beautifully open and clear.  We were airborne about 30 minutes.  The flight attendants were just preparing to serve us our first round of goodies when the Air Bus 330 began to shake.  The shaking became more violent and the captain announced for the crew to be seated immediately.  Sitting over the wing Anita and I looked out and saw the metal bending up and down like a starling in flight!!  Some on the jet were screaming in terror.  The dips and shaking continued to lunge us forward and backward,Jet Wing up and down, as Anita and I leaned into each other and prayed.  “Father, we are yours and our lives are hidden in Christ Jesus, so whatever you wish to happen to us, we are ready for You.”

My mind raced to Sean and Mikki, Jon and Alicia, LaVonne, Ric and Jacque, Eldon and Martha, Ellen, Ben and Michelle, and I thought of Ming and DQ and hoped that our most recent conversations with our families was as much a blessing to them as it was to us.  There is no one I hate nor against whom I hold any grudge, so my conscience was clear as I prayed quietly in tongues and with my understanding (See 1 Corinthians 14:4-5; 14-15) and talked with The God Who Was There.  Yes, I knew He was in the jet with us.

As the jet continued its careening under the cobalt blue I wondered if we would crash into the ocean, and if we would die from impact or drown in the sea.  Neither was an attractive option, yet I found myself preferring an instant death on impact rather than drowning.  Though the prospect of pain or discomfort at death was very frightening, the idea of dying was not.  Similar to when I had a major stroke in 2007, I simply wondered who would greet us and explain the strange visions of the prophets.  While fearing some pain, the rest was easy, and I ‘felt’ Jesus clasping Anita’s and my hands as we clung to each other.

The Lufthansa monitor on my tv screen showed the pilot turning sharply north and I wondered if there was a mechanical problem and he was taking us back to NY.  I saw some shore to the north of us and thought maybe it was Nova Scotia or Prince Edward, but it was actually the south coast of Cape Cod, I found out a few minutes later.

The four minutes we were being jostled seemed like a VERRRRY LOOONNNNG time until the wings began to calm down.  The pilot came on the intercom a minute later and explained we had encountered some unexpected turbulence (Oh, reeeeally?Emo1) and that it had not been noted by any weather watchdogs or other pilots so it had caught them unaware.  His northward turn was just to follow the flight plan as he was easing us up out of the turbulence to our cruising altitude.

Schullers My JourneyI believe it is in Robert Schuller’s autobiography, My Journey, that he recounts an accident that almost killed him when he hit his head on a car door and did not notice any problems until he had passed out in his hotel room.  After being treated at a hospital and released, he wrote about “standing on the edge of tomorrow” and being in amazement of what lay ahead.

I have been there, now twice!  Once in 2007 when the ER nurse put a mask on my face to anesthetize me and I thought, “This is the last thing I will see on earth.  Tomorrow I will wake in a new world!”  Again, as a jet jumped around in jolts of turbulence, and I hoped our passing would not be too painful, but comforted that either the impact or drowning would be fairly quick.

The lesson of the lurching jet is that I am to “stand of the edge of tomorrow” every day.  Like Paul says, For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:8-9)

Come stand on the edge of tomorrow with me.  Do not count your life of any value but that He keeps us here to share His love with others (Philippians 1:23-24).  Why else would He not take us home the moment we put our trust in Him?  He gives us to each other while waiting for Tomorrow so that we can encourage each other to trust Him more.
So whether here or There, see you Tomorrow! 🙂

 

Why Go To Church Meetings?

Why should we go to church meetings?  Well, there is the obvious: the Bible commands it.  Hebrews 10:25 says we should not neglect meeting together, and that this becomes increasingly  important as we see The Day approaching.  But there are two major reasons for going to a meeting of the church and a bunch of other ones (that I will not dare to call “minor!”).

We used to sing a song, “I Don’t Know What You Came To Do” that attempted to answer this question back in the ancient times of the 70s.  The words of the original were very simple:
“I don’t know what you came to do,
I came to praise the Lord.”
Then there would be a bridge with “Allelu, allelu, allelu-u-ia.”
A creative alternative to verses in a church meeting I attended once had additional verses, but all centered on worship:
“Some people come just to show off their clothes,
But I came to see the Lord.”
This was followed by:
“Some people come just to talk to their friends,
But I came to hear from the Lord.”
And a couple other verses that followed this theme.

IMG_5417.JPGSo one of the beneficial reasons for gathering with other followers of Jesus Christ is to worship him in corporate fashion.  There is something tremendously uplifting to hear an anthem choir sing, whether it is patriotic songs, Broadway show tunes or love songs.  But when the object of that anthem singing is a friend and lover, a savior and healer, one who loves you more than His own life, prestige, privilege or comfort . . . and when the anthem in sung from the hearts of a large group of people, there is something overwhelming in it.  It lifts you into a preview of Revelation 5:9-14!  Beyond that are times of corporate prayer, either led by someone or simply everyone joining together to talk with the Lord.

There are two major reasons, though, for gathering with a meeting of the church.  The first is simply because sometimes I need the encouragement of others struggling with the same things with which I struggle.   They may at times be further along than me in following Jesus and can tell me how to listen more carefully to His voice, what He is teaching them in their conversations, and what “the Spirit is saying to the churches”  (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 12, 22).  Their “ears” are simply better attuned than mine.

Along with this is solid Bible teaching from scholars who study the history and cultural contexts of the Scripture’s human authors.  Their insights can often make a difference in how I understand certain passages of the Bible.

An example of this is what Ron Gifford once explained about loving our enemies.  Proverbs 25:21-22 instructs us:
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward
you.”
Paul reiterates this instruction years later in his letter to the Romans in 12:19-21:
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Now when I was a kid, I heard this expressed as a wonderful way to make an enemy suffer!  Like the old adage, “Smile; it’ll make your enemies wonder what you are up to,”  my understanding of these verses was that by being kind, my enemy would wonder what I was scheming and would become suspicious, always looking over his shoulder for when I would get even with him; his life would become a constant misery because I had been nice!

However, when a historian explained this in its cultural context, I realized I had a lot of growing up in Christ to do!  You see in the times in which Solomon and Paul lived, they did not have matches or automatic lighters.  Fire was actually a precious commodity, especially for cooking or staying warm in cold months and for light at night.  When someone lacked a fire he could not cook his food, warm himself or light his path!

Coals of Fire on Their HeadsA common way of transferring fire was to put the hot embers in a large bowl and since heat rises, it was awkward to carry it in front of your body, so the bottom of the bowl would be wrapped and placed on ones’ head.  I learned from those wiser than me that my heart had some adjusting to do to come into line with what the Scripture actually taught about loving my enemies.

There is a second major reason for going to a meeting of the church.  Sometimes others need the encouragement I can offer because I have overcome some of the struggles with which they are struggling.  I may at times be further along in following Jesus than some others and can help them listen more carefully to His voice as He is teaching me stuff in our conversations.  My “ears” may be better attuned at times, and if I do not offer how God is guiding me, it reflects a selfishness that is less than Jesus wants from me.  This includes sometimes sharing insights that I have learned in Bible study . . . or from Ron 😉!

So among the many reasons for attending a meeting of the church: fellowship, Bible study, worship, friendship, mission sharing, etc,  there are two major reasons for going;
Sometimes I need it; Sometimes I am needed.