Sunday, March 7, 2021

Who Left Whom? - Genesis 3:8-24

While it is true that sinners cannot have communion with God, it seems to me that our take on this is that, in a sense, we have been kicked out of his presence, like Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden. However, this is not how the true narrative reads to me.

First, my understanding of sin is that by definition it is leaving the presence of God; that's what sin is. It is us going our own way. When we sin, we separate ourselves from him. This is reflected in the narrative in that Adam and Eve are not in the presence of God (the One who walks in the Garden), and symbolized by them hiding from Him.

Rather than God "kicking them out," He actually goes and looks for them. This is the God I know. As to our inability to be impure beings in the presence of a holy God, it is still we who created the separation. The analogy that popped into my head was that of a child who left the perfectly clean house and got covered in mud head to toe. The child left the house, but now they can't get back in because they will get the house dirty. They must be cleansed first, hence Jesus's sacrifice.

Again, going back to the narrative. God didn't kick them out of the Garden as a punishment. It was for their own good, so that they wouldn't eat of the tree of life and be stuck that way forever. This matters because it is a much more loving God doing what is necessary for our salvation, and not a punitive God. It also sets up the pattern of God seeking man rather than the other way around.

Am I crazy?

Monday, June 29, 2020

Is Jesus Asleep in Your Boat?

In the struggles and difficulties that we often face, we may be tempted to think that God doesn't care enough to help. We have been abandoned. The disciples felt that way when their boat started to fill up with water while Jesus slept in the back of the boat. Let me explain why Jesus asleep in the the boat is actually good news.

Monday, June 15, 2020

1 Corinthians 10:13

I know things can be overwhelming and sometimes you wonder if you're even going to make it. How can you know that you will? I Corinthians 10:13 shows how you can know that you can handle anything that comes your way. Watch my nest "Wait! What?" to find out.

If you find it valuable please share it.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hebrews 11:1 Faith is a tangible thing

Do you struggle with your faith? Have you ever said, "If only I had more faith?" Perhaps the problem is with your definition of faith. What is it really? I think a real understanding of what faith means and how we use it will revolutionize your spiritual life.

Here's my next "Wait! What?" video. Let me know what you think. If you find it useful, please share it.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Colossians 3:15 The Umpire in Your Soul

Every so often, I read a Bible verse or hear a commentary that makes me stop and say, "Wait! What?" So I'm going to try to create short videos about surprising or misunderstood verses and such. Mostly, I want to share my thoughts and comments that I've never heard someone else say.

I know the video quality isn't great, but the first one is on Colossians 3:15 "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts..." The word rule actually means "umpire." Wait! What? What does that mean. Click the link to find out what I think.

Please share it if you find it useful.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How do you become a friend of God?

In my last post, I claimed that being a “friend” of God is a higher metaphor than child or servant. The question then becomes, “How do we get there?”

As I said then, friends are in agreement. They see things the same way. Is your worldview and perspective in line with His? If not, how do you get there? The answer, I believe, is what Paul calls, “character.”

First, you must accept that your view and understanding of the world is not identical to his. In fact, it is likely that your worldview is farther away from His than you think it is. In any case, your worldview should always be changing. It must be brought into line with His. It is a process.

But this process is not about an intellectual agreement; it is about a change of “heart.” By this I mean a change at the core of your being. Two be a friend is to be like-minded, and for that to occur it has to come from who you are. I’m arguing that as your understanding changes, it becomes a part of who you are. When you act, you act out of who you are, who He has made you. This is what I mean by “friend” of God; it is part of your character.

Your character is who you are. We tend to use the word character as a positive. “That boy has character,” by which we mean by that is that he naturally behaves well, or his behavior meets or exceeds expectations. The key is that it is natural, that is that it comes out of who he is; it is not acting, or doing what he has been told. This description is part of it, but character is who you are for better or worse.

If you are naturally (innately) on the same page with someone, that is because you are the same kind of person - you have the same character. My goal is to be on the same page as God, which means a change in my character.

Paul describes this process in his letter to the Romans, when he says that “suffering produces endurance (other translations, “perseverance”), and endurance produces character, and character produces hope..” (verses 5:3-4). James says something very similar in 1:3-4. The point here is that when you endure through a struggle, it gives the Spirit a chance to change your character. The change becomes a part of who you are: character. When you react to similar situations in the future, you will react differently. You will ultimately react according to this new character that God has produced in you.

The key is that you must endure in trust. You must trust God that he is in control and that he will use the situation to change you. You must be able to look back afterwards and see how your faithful perseverance was the right way to go. If you go through the experience kicking and screaming, complaining and especially doing everything you can to avoid the pain; you may learn nothing. If you’re lucky, He might still be able to change you, but it will take so much longer.

Worst case scenario, you will be like the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years because they never learned to trust God. They finally perished without ever entering the promised land.

Here is an example of a kind of suffering that you may not think about, but illustrates the point well. Paul says (also to the Romans) not to avenge yourself when someone has wronged you, but let God take care of it (12:19). This can be a hard bit of advice for most of us. We want to hold a grudge. We want the person to know that they have wronged us. We want to retaliate in some way shape or form.

To let it go is to suffer. When we read Romans, we tend to think that suffering is being out of a job, or being stressed about whatever we get stressed about. This character building can certainly apply to those situations, but it seems to me that it is harder for most of the people I know to take an offense and not respond in kind (or at all). The offender might think he won! He might do it again, since there were no consequences!

It is hard to trust what Paul says and let God take care of it. Even those who believe that God will avenge them, still struggle because the vengeance is not immediate. So the first step is believing that is the right thing to do. Then the suffering comes as you bite your tongue, or you keep your mind off all the ways you can get back at the offender.

It helps to be truly convinced that Paul is right. It’s no coincidence that Paul starts the chapter with the admonition to be transformed by the renewal of your mind (12:2). But even if you are thinking, “Ok Paul, I don’t know about this, but I’m going to take your advice.” You set your heart to resist the calls in your head to retaliate. You persevere through it like a an addict in withdrawals. But when you come out the other side, you are at least a little bit different.

You should find it wasn’t as bad as you thought. Maybe you will feel good that you were able to let go of the situation. Maybe there will even be a positive outcome you didn’t expect. But your heart softens. Your character changes, even if only a little bit. The next time an offense comes, it will be a little bit easier to endure. And then a little bit easier. And then a little bit more. The beautiful moment will eventually come when you don’t even react to the offense. Or better yet, you didn’t notice the attack. That, my friend, is character.

Your newfound character produces hope (according to Paul) in that you see that your change in character is from Him and in itself proof that He is working in you. It is now a part of who you are, who He has made you. You will know in the core of your being why it is better to not retaliate.

This is a crucial step in the process of transforming your mind. You must take practical advice, apply it to your life in faith and let the experience change you. It is only in the living it out that you are transformed. You can’t be transformed sitting in a church, or reading a blog post.

So, try some biblical advice that seems strange or illogical to you and see what happens. Allow what happens to change you.

Can you leave vengeance to God? Can you love your enemies? Can you truly turn the other cheek without worrying about being a doormat? Can you swallow that juicy piece of gossip? Can you go the extra mile? Can you truly stop worrying about the future?

What is God asking you to try right now?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Are you a servant, a child, or a friend?

Not that these are mutually exclusive, but these are the three main metaphors that I have encountered to characterize our relationship with God. In this piece, I intend to argue that the best one is to be is a friend of God.

First, there is nothing wrong with having a servant’s heart. Paul tells us that Jesus, finding himself in human form, humbled himself by being obedient even the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). It is wise way to live. 5 verses earlier Paul tells us to esteem others as higher than ourselves. We should live this way.

But the danger in seeing yourself as a servant is that you may come to see your value as utilitarian. That is, that you only have value to God as long as you are useful. A servant’s relationship to his master works this way. If he doesn’t work, he doesn’t stay in the relationship. In fact, even if he does work, his value in the eyes of his master is judged according to the value and/or volume of his work. This is not your relationship with God.

Consider the story of the prodigal son. He had, I think, the right attitude when he returned home. He would offer himself to his father as a servant. Considering the way he left and what he did while he was gone, this is probably how he should feel. But his father wouldn’t hear of it. Your children are always your children, especially when they don’t behave.

Have a servant’s heart, but you are not a servant. You are a child of God. Children have an inheritance. Children have a permanent place. The relationship with the Father is one of love, and it cannot be removed. Your behavior is not a factor in determining your status or His love. It is better and truer to understand your position with God this way.

The son in the story who didn’t leave is the one who makes this mistake. He sees his value as based on his own faithfulness and hard work. He is perhaps the bigger disappointment to the Father. It’s basically like saying, “I don’t really love you. I just want something from you.”

My daughter used to come up to me and with the sweetest voice would tell me that she loves me, and I would respond, “Ok, what do you want?” It was a little game we played, but imagine if she really did say she loved me because she wanted something. How disappointing.

Is that what you want your relationship with God to be like? Are you trying to earn his favor? Are you loving Him because it’s required, you’re supposed to, or that’s how you get blessings? Imagine how you would feel if that’s really what your children wanted.

As children of God, we listen to our Father. Why? We love Him. We trust Him. We believe that he knows best.

But there is a deeper, more mature relationship beyond obedience.

Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:5).

Friends. That’s what he called them. A friend is something different. In its simplest expression, a friend is someone who agrees with you. Friendship “love” is phileo in the Greek. I remember reading in the book, The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis, he describes agape as a one way love that gives without expecting in return. Eros is a “face to face” love, and phileo as side by side. In Eros the lovers look at each other. The love is about the relationship. However, in phileo the friends are looking at the same thing. Their love is bound up in how they are of the same mind.

Friends are joined together by their common interests. They see things the same way. I am arguing that this is, if not the ultimate goal, the next step in our relationship with God. We can and should come to the place where we agree with him and act out of our agreement. A child still does what he is told, whether he agrees or not. That is obedience. A friend acts because he is on the same page.

Imagine if you had a sense that God wanted you to do something and you realized you were thinking the same thing. Imagine if you acted upon an instinct that you knew was in line with God’s heart. This is what I want.

Last year, I had a colleague who thanked me for being patient with one of his students as they struggled to pass my class. I could have been tough on the student for not turning in work, but that’s not how I work. In that conversation, I sensed God telling me to use the word “grace.” In my heart, I thought, “That sound like a great idea.” So, I did. I said, “You know, I know we sometimes need to be hard on them to hold them accountable, but sometimes what they really need is grace.” And the conversation went on.

The next day, the colleague came up to me and said, “I thought about what you said about grace yesterday. It really got me thinking. I’m really starting to rethink how I approach these kids.” I’m not sure what makes me happier, that God was able to use me, or that I didn’t have to ask twice. Anytime I feel that I am in agreement with Him, it lets me know that it’s working. He is changing me.

The other example that comes to mind was a day that I was having the librarian do presentations to my classes. Between classes, she did a quick trip through the library to pick up trash when she found a $5 bill. Her in initial reaction was, “Cool, five bucks!” Without thinking, I said, “How sad. That could be someone’s lunch money.” I think she immediately felt guilty, which made me feel bad because that wasn’t my intent. But I realized that my first response was one of compassion for the kid. The significance is that this represents a change for me over time. I am instinctively seeing things in terms of the effect on others without regard to self.

Why are these moments important to me? I believe they show that my relationship with God is changing me. I am (ever so gradually) becoming like him. I am coming into agreement with him.  Check out verses like Romans 8:29, or 1 John 2:6 and many others. I think this is what they are talking about. I want to be like him naturally, instinctively, because he has made me that way.

I believe this is the next step in the maturing process for a believer. I want to be considered His friend.