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The Love of God, 2

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Genesis 2 is typically known as the chapter where God commands Adam not to eat of the fruit of one of the trees in the Garden of Eden.  This is sometimes thought of as when morality begins.  In fact the name of the tree itself seems to have a moral connotation, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Thank God that there is a lot more to goodness than commands.  Let me talk about that.

Yes, verse 16 starts, “And the LORD God commanded the man…” But let’s take a look at what God provides in the context.  Chapter 1 was mainly about the beginning of the existence of things, and along with that some of the essence of things, like man being made in the image of God.  Chapter 2 adds to the existence with provision.

Notice all of the things God does to bring life to things in Chapter 2.  In particular notice the life-giving verbs, like “formed from”, “breathed into”, “planted in”, “put in”.

“a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground” (verse 6)

“then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (verse 7)

“the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east” (verse 8)

“out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (verse 9)

“A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden…” (verse 10) In fact it tells of a whole system of life-giving rivers.

“Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them” (verse 19)

God is the source of goodness, or “sources goodness” to use it as a verb, both the initial seed and the resources and process by which things live and grow into what they are.  Not just what they are, but what they are meant to be.  With a personal God, things not only have existence, they have meaning.  And they were meant to have everything they need to fulfill that meaning.

Meaning is very intentional.  It takes a person who intended something.  We see this in the statements, “there he put the man whom he had formed… The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (verses 8 and 15).

Likewise, in a similar manner that God formed man from something (the dust from the ground), God formed woman, “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman” (verse 22). Again, in addition to life, there is a lot of intentionality here. There was a need, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (verse 18). And the need was met in a very specific and intentional way. Just as God put man in the garden, he took the woman and “brought her to the man”. She was perfect for him. They were perfect for each other. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (verse 23). God provides for needs in a very specific and perfect way.

It is very interesting to notice the use of the word “good” in Genesis 1 and 2, even before there was any sin.  In chapter 1 God pronounces what He created as being “good”, and “very good”.  Here in chapter 2, notice that God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone”.  We have lost most of what goodness is all about.

In this modern day, we like to try to define everything, to think of things consisting solely of a list of their properties.  We have a whole notion of goodness that is relegated to the category of morality, and we have made it rather impersonal.  Morality is looked at as just a list of do’s and don’ts.  A robot could obey such a thing (in fact better than a human).

Even we Christians have bought into this.  Our “relationship” with God is reduced to God commanding us what to do or not do (mostly not do), and us trying to follow the commands, and failing in it.  Our concept of God, and our concept of goodness, is many times, sadly, essentially limited to His commands (an example is Divine Command Theory).

But look at what God calls “not good” in Genesis 2.  For man to be alone.  For there to be something that is needed for life, and for that need to be unmet.  For there to be a disconnect in the relationships among things, especially with humans made in the image of God.  In fact, that is the larger meaning of death, that there is a separation or disconnect.

In his book Iron John, Robert Bly says, “When a father and son do spend long hours together, which some fathers and sons still do, we could say that a substance almost like food passes from the older boy to the younger.”

This “substance” is love. This is what we see emanating from God in Chapter 2, and being caused to be passed from one part of creation to another.

I’ve seen it debated by Christians, which is more important, truth or love? The conundrum is caused by our buying into the limited, modern, atheistic view of truth. But in reality, truth cannot be relegated to a list of statements. Truth is a Person. God. And that Person is Love. Love relationships consist of more than just commands or statements. It isn’t enough to say to a wife, “I told you when we got married that I love you, and it hasn’t changed.” It isn’t enough to say to a child, “I told you when you were born that I love you, and it hasn’t changed.”

Life can’t be defined by a bunch of statements and rules. Even in the realm of biology, the science of life, one of the foremost biologists, Carl Woese, argued for the need for a biology that is non-reductionist in his seminal paper, “A New Biology for a New Century”.

So we see in Genesis 2 a reality that completely blows apart the box of commands and rules that we try to stuff reality into. This is a reality pulsating with life. A reality that we cannot step outside of and observe as an objective outsider.

Ironically, in trying to step outside of reality, we box ourselves into an overly narrow view of reality. The view of reality without a God of love is a view that ultimately does not have the resources it needs to live. When we stand across the divide and call for God to prove Himself solely in terms of logical statements that we can objectively assess with our intellect alone, we are not talking to the real God.

We receive a father’s love by finally giving in and taking the father’s hand and receiving it, like ingesting food, like the osmosis that happens when a father or mother’s body is actually in contact with the body of a child. We are inextricably connected to the creation around us, and to the Creator, the Father of all. That’s something that can’t happen solely in the intellect.  This reality is something that cannot be assessed by the brain as being a logically true or false statement. It is not a statement. It is love.

The Love of God, Genesis 1

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OK, here we go on our ride through the Bible, searching for God, and finding love…

It’s interesting in Genesis 1 that for each thing God made He said, “Let…”

Up until He made humans, He followed the word Let with some thing that would come into existence or do something. Then when He was going to make humans He changes it. For the first time He follows Let with Himself. “Let US…” In fact, He refers to Himself two times, “Let US make mankind in OUR image.” When it comes to making humans, He makes it personal, in two ways. First, He goes to the trouble of saying that He is personally making man. Not that He didn’t do the other making Himself too, but the previous things He didn’t mention Himself. Second, He says that He is making mankind in His image. So there is something personally connected to God in the making and the being of man.

Then it summarizes what He did as, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” So here’s something else. Notice that God refers to Himself in the plural “Us” when he is deciding to make man. Then when He makes man, he makes mankind in His image, and it specifies that he made us male and female. So there is a plural in God and a plural in man who is made in the image. So not only is there something personal in the making of man, but also there is something plural in the making of man.

This provides something very basic for understanding God and also for understanding mankind. (And doesn’t it make sense that there would be very foundational truths being revealed during the beginning of things?) God is a personal being. In fact, since He is God, He is THE personal being upon which our basic being as mankind is based. This is so profound that the manifestation of this is seen wherever we look in life, and it will be found and expanded on throughout the rest of the Bible.
But just to stick to this passage for now, how does your heart respond when someone you love says in a loving way, “Let us…”? For me, my heart wells up with love toward that person. There is just something truly life-giving for someone to offer themselves to do something with someone else, and to truly want to do it. God did that in making us, and since we are made in His image we likewise have a heart for doing things with others.

In fact, God gives us life, and He wants to do things with and through us. He told mankind to multiply, being like Him in making even a larger plural! He told mankind to subdue, which means to “rule with fierce mastery”. We each have our own part of the earth that we are to rule with fierce mastery. Since we are made in His image, we have good DNA for ruling! We are empowered! You are empowered to go forth and multiply God’s love in the domain God has given you!

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This is the introduction to a series of posts following the story of God’s love through the Bible.  It will be based on the series of Bible passages in the Discovering God study guide developed by David Watson.  If you want to follow along this series of threads, you can get the list of passages, and in fact a field test version of the whole study guide as a free (copyrighted) pdf download at this link:

http://www.movements.net/…/…/02/2008-Discovering-God-2.0.pdf

As an introduction, I think it would be totally appropriate to talk a little about the preeminent importance of God’s love.

The Bible says that God is love, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) This is not a static truth proposition. It is something that you can only know through accepting God’s love as a person, not only for the first time, but as you grow in knowing God’s love as a process of your relationship with Him. In fact, if you haven’t taken that step of accepting God’s love for the first time, and you would like to, either now or at any time, just send a message to me and I’ll be happy to guide you in that. To receive and give love is what we are made for, and it all comes from God. God is the infinite source of love. We so often come to the end of our limited supply of love for a million reasons. We run out of energy, or will, to give to someone else. We give in to selfish desires. We are bombarded by unloving actions from others. It is especially then that we can realize that love actually comes from God, and tap into God’s unconditional love which never fails, so that we can continue to love Him and love one another. God’s love is eternal. Even before God created the heavens and the earth, there was God, and He was love. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were there from eternity.

By the way, the love of God is the center of a good argument for the existence of God. In fact, it is a form of the Moral Argument, which was C.S. Lewis’ favorite argument for the existence of God. I think this version of the Moral Argument which invokes the fact that God is love is even stronger than the generic Moral Argument. Being a mathematician, when it comes to God I tend to favor thinking about things like how the infinite can possibly relate to the finite, and how any of that relates to us as humans, rather than contingent facts of history (except for Jesus coming to earth and taking on our sins, which is exactly talking about the infinite and finite, and spanning the separation between the two!). As an engineer, there are lots of times in physical reality where the jittery noise of things happening makes things look like they are not following the math like they are supposed to. Just like in our lives, and in seeing things happening around us and reading accounts of things in the past. At those times, I have to go back to the math, the unchanging truths. In the same way, “God is love” is one of those facts which underlies the goodness of God and His original created reality, no matter how noisy and confusing things get. This journey through the Bible will be a bumpy and exciting ride, so let’s hold onto God’s love for dear life, together.

The flip side of shortcomings

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Every one of us had a father and mother who were not perfect, and if they are still alive they are still not perfect.  It has now become almost a cliché in Christian circles to say that this is OK because we have a Father in heaven who meets the standard of perfection.  While this is true, this sounds too trivial for such a fundamental aspect of our human existence as fathers and mothers.

I mean, is that all there is to it?  Is it as simple as dads and moms just not measuring up when it comes to doing all the things that need to be done to love their kids perfectly?  Isn’t there something more profound to our shortcomings as parents, other than simply not being God, or at least being born after sin entered the world?

Yes, it’s true that we can take comfort in God being our perfect heavenly Father.  He works in our hearts to grow forgiveness and fill in the gaps left by our imperfect parents.  And we can pray that our kids will find the same comfort to make up for our failings as parents.

However, I think God has given an inherently redeeming quality in fathers and mothers, and other relationships, that is deeper than the forgiveness of their and our deficiencies.  And in fact, our deficiencies produce an even brighter spotlight on this quality.  In a word it is this: presence.

In the 1992 movie, This Is My Life, the mother of the story, Dottie, is told that kids are happy if their mother is happy.  Dottie answers, “No, they’re not. Everybody says that but it’s not true. Kids are happy if you’re there. You give kids a choice, your mother in the next room on the verge of suicide versus your mother in Hawaii in ecstasy and they choose suicide in the next room.”

I was a Big Brother to a teenager who attempted suicide twice before his mother reached out to Big Brothers.  In the training for Big Brothers, and other similar good organizations such as The Mentoring Project, the first and foremost principle they teach for being a Big Brother or Big Sister to these kids is: Show Up. Be There.  It doesn’t matter that you’re not their actual mother or father.  What these kids desperately need is to have someone be there for them.  All children need that, whether we are 5 or 95.

Presence.  There is something divine about presence, about being with one another.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Notice the word “with”.  Skye Jethani, in his book With, says, “If we peeled back the physical and metaphysical layers of time and space and peered into the very core of the universe, we would not discover divine will, natural law, personal desire, or global mission.  Instead we would find God existing in eternal relationship with himself.”

And God wants to be with us.  He loves us.  He sent His Son to be with us.  Emmanuel, God with us.  He came into our manger, our mess.  And when Jesus went to be with the Father, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, to be in us.  We are God’s dwelling place.  And where two or three of us are gathered together in His name, even in the mess of our lives needing forgiveness from Him and from one another, He is there with us (Matthew 18:15-20).

It doesn’t take perfection to be with someone.  As I was driving to work and pouring out my failings and my heart to God this week, and aching for the places in need of redemption around me, I sensed He was saying that He and I were fellowshipping with each other, that I was feeling what He has felt so often for His children.  It brought new meaning to the phrase “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).  And in my lack I was being filled.

In a mysterious way, the preciousness of presence is magnified when there is a limitation.  The prodigal son, upon having nothing left, realized that he wanted to be with his father, even if he didn’t consciously realize it, that’s really what he wanted down deep.  The faults of our parents or whoever else in our lives, their failure to live up to certain expectations, is the darkness from which we can more plainly see the light of the fact that they were there, providing if nothing else their presence.  Even if they were not there for us, either physically or emotionally, that lack points all the more strongly to those people who were and are there present in our lives.  Because you see, presence is something that we cannot get away from, because God is there.  He who knit us in our mother’s womb, is there wherever we go, with us (Psalm 139).  So whenever our mother or father or anyone provided even a moment of their genuine presence with us, they gave us the most precious thing there is.  A touch of God.

Freedom IS Free

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First of all, I really appreciate the saying, “Freedom Isn’t Free”, first coined by retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, Walter Hitchcock, and engraved on the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  It speaks to the high cost of those who gave and continue to give their very lives in defense of our country and its freedoms.  Indeed, freedom is not free in the sense that in order to get it, as our forefathers knew well on this day 237 years ago, you have to be willing to pay a high price.

So when I say, “Freedom IS Free”, I’m talking about something else.  I’m talking about the nature of freedom when you have it.

As I was driving back from running an Independence Day 5K this morning, I heard on the radio about some of the restrictions on the holiday festivities today.  It’s one of the sad realities of life in this world today that in order to have a certain amount of security and safety against those who would cause us harm, there need to be limitations to some of our liberties that we would otherwise enjoy.

However, later in the report when a reporter asked some bystanders about the restrictions, one person said, “Well, like they say, Freedom isn’t free.”

I can understand that response, as it sort of relates back to the cost of maintaining freedom.  But I think there is a danger of letting the “Freedom isn’t free” concept cross over into what freedom actually is, and what it’s like to be free.  A line has to be drawn between paying for freedom and having freedom.  If we are talking about the nature of freedom itself, then freedom IS free, darn it!!!  After all, FREE is the root of the word FREEdom!

Now my purpose here is not, like some, to talk about having and maintaining and protecting freedoms to do certain things in our country without being thrown in jail, etc., although I am grateful for those efforts.  The thing about freedoms to do things without it being against the law, is that they are defined by the law.  This kind of freedom is defined by whatever is not outlawed, or somehow forbidden by other means.  Since these restrictions are set up by humans, the associated freedoms are defined by humans, and therefore can be dismantled by humans. Thus there is a need to maintain and protect these freedoms with vigilance.

But what I am talking about here is something deeper than that.  It is a freedom that cannot be taken away.  It is a freedom that many Christians since Jesus have known even as they were in jail.  We as Christians know a freedom that was purchased with the ultimate price by Jesus Christ.  So in the same way as our freedoms to human rights protected in the Constitution, it wasn’t free to obtain this deeper freedom.  Jesus paid the price.

What is this freedom that Jesus won for us?  First of all it is a freedom from certain things.  Whole books have been written about each of these.  There is freedom from sin, which we find spoken of for instance in Romans 6:7, “…because anyone who has died [with Christ] has been freed from sin.”  In Christ we have freedom from slavery to sin and slavery to fear (see Romans 8:15).  There is freedom from darkness (see Colossians 1:13).  These things are all intertwined, and I think the deepest freedom is the freedom from death.  In Romans 6:9-11 it says (with my emphasis in italics), “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.  The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  This ties together the freedom from death with the freedom from slavery to sin.  I think the freedom from fear is tied to these freedoms by passages such as 1 Corinthians 16:55-57, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The freedom from death does not mean that we will not die physically.  But, since Jesus went before us and literally conquered death, one of the many ways that we are now like him is this: Death no longer has mastery over us.

Look at this wonder.  In Christ, death no longer has mastery over you.  It is sort of the reverse of YOLO, You Only Live Once, you know the saying going around nowadays, to encourage people to live it up, for tomorrow we die.  In a way, that can be a form of denial which, in the name of being fearless, can just propel people into a life even more driven by the frenzy of the fear of death.  Acting from our fear of death brings sin, even more death/separation.  In fact it is the base of all sin.  It all started in the Garden, when Adam and Even first acted out from their fear that God was holding out on them, and thus they took things into their own hands, and as a result received the very thing they feared, but up until that point did not understand.  I’d rather have a lack of my own understanding and control.

But in Christ, the second Adam, death no longer has mastery over me.  If Jesus does not return before then, I will die.  But that fact does not have mastery over me.  I don’t have to be caught into the frenzy and slavery of getting while the getting’s good because I’m going to die.  Yes, I can act like I do.  But the truth is, the truth that we can stand in, is this, “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)  Should we sin that grace may abound?  May it never be!  (Romans 6:1-2) Later in Galatians 5:13 it reminds us, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love.”  After all, indulging in the sinful nature is not freedom!  It is putting ourselves under the slavery of sin and being our own king over our small self-manufactured world because of the fear of death.

So there is the freedom from.  What about the freedom to?  I love how verse 13 ends, “…rather serve one another in love.”  It all comes back to love.  That’s where our freedom comes from, from the love of God (John 3:16, John 15:9-13). A life rooted from God’s love will flow forth in fruits of love.  Because of God’s love for us through Jesus, we have life and can live a life of love.  And free from fear!  1 John 4:16-19 says, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in Him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.”

That’s the only freedom that we can truly stand fast in, no matter what.  The freedom that we have in Jesus.  Don’t crucify Christ again by putting/keeping yourself under the lie that you have to keep on paying for this true freedom.  Time is short.  Live already free.  Don’t let the distractions and restrictions of the world around you take your eyes off of that freedom you have in Jesus.  It is a matter of true life.

A nerd’s view of God, Part 2

OK, so what is this about “being amazed by God”, really? I believe there’s more to the amazement than just the relative size of numbers. We being generally between 5 and 6 feet tall, and things we observe ranging from particles 10 billionths of a trillionth of a trillionth of an inch in size, all the way up to galaxies 10 billion trillion trillion miles away.

The way I see it, there are two godless responses to such incredibleness. One approach I’ll call Godless Option A, or GOA for short. Basically the idea is to just keep trying. With this idea we say, “If only I spend more time and energy looking at what I can see with my own eyes and comprehend with my own brain, then I think I will find the Answer, or maybe I’ll even find the Question.” We do that a lot in Western civilization. We do it with bigger telescopes and particle colliders, faster more efficient computers, bigger church to-do lists, and more efficient mission statements. It’s the god that can be reached by more quantity of the same. More good things. Just keep counting, adding, figuring, trying to get it right, or whatever, and eventually you’ll get there.

Godless Option B (GOB) goes like this, “There is no Answer because there is no Question.” A lot of the non-Western world has for a long time resigned themselves to that. It’s catching on here too, maybe as a response to being burned out on GOA. It’s just that GOB doesn’t gibe with that eternity set in our hearts. We all know there is a Question. It’s just that we can’t put our finger on it in any one instant. It’s as though even the Question is out of this world.

Out of this world. Maybe there’s something there. Another way to say “out of this world” is “heavenly” or “in heaven”. Maybe that’s why Jesus, after starting his illustrative prayer with “Our Father”, went on to say, “who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Contrary to GOA, the Answer is totally other, out of this world, separate from what has been made, unattainable by ever increasing quantities of what has been made. For all of us inveterate “GOA and Getters” I have good news that at first sounds like bad news: You can’t get there from here.

It sounds like bad news of course because it means that all of this effort we’ve been putting into “building our house” is in vain. But then there’s at least the comfort of the relief that we can just stop working so hard. So… then… after we’ve rested up a bit then the restlessness comes back, the Question from beyond the world. In some cases we respond to the restlessness by telling ourselves that there is no Question. Of course that’s the path of GOB. Or we try to play down the Question, or redefine it into something we can understand and answer ourselves. If the Question isn’t out of this world, then the Answer doesn’t have to be either! We’ve figured God out and put him all into words. Hardly hallowing.

So we end up with a mutant straddling between GOA and GOB, not able to really settle on which one is the right one. A lot of us end up finding some kind of balance that works by doing GOA on Sundays and GOB pretty much the rest of the week. The false picture of God that this paints is something like this. God is so far out there that there is no way that we can really relate to him. He did give us a few words about certain things he wants us to do and certain ways he wants us to act. If we are successful at that then we can have some kind of limited satisfaction which is at least better than the alternative. Along those lines is the sentiment I read on an invitation to a prayer gathering, “Prayer is the least we can do.”

But what if the bad news is really good news? What if God’s heavenliness, his being more than stuffness, quantity-ness, is good news? How could that be? Maybe if God is not just in heaven, but he is also our Father. And maybe God is our Father not just in the sense of being the Producer of everything including us, leaving us lost in a sea of stuff. What if God is our Father in the sense of being our Provider in a very deep way, as deep as the Question feels?

My daughter is amazed by me not simply because I use numbers in the millions to do my work. (Not dollars. I wish.) Like the fact that the radius of the earth is 6,378,137 meters. Or that I earn so many pennies a year, much more than the 25 pennies she gets from the tooth fairy. Her amazement doesn’t come from a simple inability to comprehend. That could more accurately be labelled bewilderment, or even “lostness”. These facts alone would only separate us.

On the contrary, my daughter’s amazement brings her joy.

Why? Because of the special connection between me and her. I provide for her. I love her. I am her father.

Now here again there is a constant drip of diminishment of these things that I just said. “Yeah, he’s her father because he begat her. Yeah, he obviously loves her because of all he does for her, I mean that’s what love is. Yeah, obviously he provides for her, but it’s just a matter of a transfer of resources.” Commonplace. Mundane.

Such diminishment of the Question and Answer is really no cause for joy or celebration. So what is this amazement then? Why then does it bring her joy?

It is because I am her father in a deeper sense. I am not just a provider of quantitative things, but also of qualitative things, at a very deep level. Who she is, and who she is growing up to be, to a large extent, comes from me, and my wife as her mother.

When my daughter sees good things in me, good fruit from my life, even things she does not yet totally understand, in fact the more blown away she is the better, she knows, “But I can take encouragement and joy in that. Because that’s going to be me. That’s the essence from which I was made and which is being infused into me through his care and training, and the seed from which I will grow and bloom. My being, my spirit, my identity, has a good source, with good intentions, and ultimately through God it’s deep and inexhaustible.”

Now there’s the beginning of a glimpse of the Question and Answer! There is a picture of a reality at an even deeper level, at the very deepest level, that God is our Father in the same way.

A nerd’s view of God, Part 1

Who is God?  As I look at Scripture, one of the main things I find is that He is “Our Father”.  Yes, in one sense He is our Father because He is the Source of all things.  He spoke all things into existence.  God is the Word.  All things sprang from Him.  Everything that was made.

Now that covers a lot of things.  It’s too big for us to comprehend or imagine.

When I try to think of God on that scale, I imagine it might be sort of like my daughter trying to imagine all that I do.  If you press her she might be able to tell you that I build navigation systems.  That’s only one thing I do, but even that’s not the whole picture of that one thing.  I don’t build navigation systems in exactly the way my daughter might think of it.  I design and test them.  But that’s not quite it either.  I create simulations of navigation system designs and simulations of testing them.  I use a lot of math to do it.  Not 2+3=5, although that could be part of it, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.  It’s really interesting stuff, good stuff that does amazing things.  The result in my daughter’s heart?  I would guess it reinforces her belief that I’m amazing and good.

I suppose you could say I’m the father of all this good stuff.  And it would be a small picture of the fact that God is the Father of all the good stuff there is.  Things that are really interesting, good things that do amazing things.

The other night I watched a video of the great physicist Richard Feynman (back in the 70’s from his attire and age, google “Feynman jiggling atoms”).  He was sitting in his living room talking about what happens when a ball bounces, when you pump up a tire, when you heat your cup of coffee, when a tree grows.  At one point he says “Nothing’s as it seems!”  So true of the larger picture of both heaven and earth!  What impressed me was he was totally captivated by these everyday things, his hands going 90 miles an hour, frequently laughing uncontrollably, and sometimes reluctantly pausing for a split second to breathe.  The quintessential nerd.  He’s the one who showed in a Congressional hearing the cause of the Challenger disaster, by putting an O-ring into a cup of ice water.  We need people like him to help us appreciate just how amazing and key-to-life are even the most mundane things in the universe.  He helped us see that every subatomic particle that we’ve discovered so far is somehow teeming with life-potential coming into being.  It’s more than mind boggling.

It seems that it’s a natural thing to be amazed by God.  The more and more we look at the things God has made and does, the more we see just how complex and beautifully intertwined everything is, and the more it continues to dawn on us that the complexity and interconnectivity and beauty goes far beyond our seeing.  And God is the Source of all of it!  As Gomer Pyle would say, “Gooooollly!”

So… there’s more than meets the eye.  And there’s more to this “Father” picture, too.  I am more than just the father of lots of relatively incomprehensible formulas and simulations.  I am the father of my daughter.  And God is not just the Father of all things, but He is our Father, my Father.  Now here is where we as Christians many times don’t appreciate (that is spelled L-i-v-e O-u-t) the life-giving, incomprehensibly good news of this seemingly mundane fact.  We are not another line item on the list of things He has made.  My daughter is not another thing that I made.  Although that’s how some fathers view being a father.

You may think that you already appreciate this enough.  But may I ask you to indulge me, and let me show you a little spiritual nerdiness?  Maybe I can attempt, in a small way, to do a “Feynman” in the spirit realm.  This is what I find myself doing a lot.  My wife is used to this.  The other night I said to her out of the blue, “Isn’t it weird that we exist?”  Her response was, “Yes.”

Well as my wife found out, it doesn’t take much to encourage a nerd, so next post I’ll wear my polyester, if I can find some.

Peace on Earth

During Advent we remember the anticipation of the arrival of Jesus on earth when He was born in Bethlehem.  Jesus came the first time to save us from our sins, to make peace between God and man, and to give us life.  That is worth remembering!

Also during Advent, we anticipate the coming of Jesus again, His personal return in power and glory.  Billy Graham, in his book Storm Warning  (updated in 2010 when he was 90 years old!), correlates many of the types of things we see in our day to what is described in Revelation with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and warns that we can hear their approaching hoofbeats as we stay vigilant of Christ’s return.  He speaks of both of the comings of Jesus on page 209:

When the angels announced the birth of Jesus, they proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14 NKJV).  Christ came in the form of a baby to save humanity from self-destruction.  He promised peace on earth, and someday when He splits the sky open, He will return, reclaim His territory, judge those who rejected Him, and bring lasting peace to all those who heeded the terrifying sound of hoofbeats.  Peace with God and the peace of  God are possible if we repent of our sins, believe in Him, and follow Him by obeying His commands.

Following our Prince of Peace, we who are followers of Jesus set the tone of peace on earth.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9)  We have been given the authority to bring peace to the lives of those around us (Luke 10:1-6), and we are urged to pray for peaceful lives for all people, for God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:1-4)

It turns out that being a peacemaker is a pretty big deal in God’s plan!  As we pour out our hearts to God, His peace guards our hearts (Phil. 4:4-9) which are a wellspring of life  (Prov. 4:23).  And peace, or the lack of it, is contagious.  Billy Graham writes about the silence before the storm of the Apocalypse on page 267:

Can we do anything to halt this sequence of events?  We may, like Elijah, be used to slow their approach.  We should pray for such a time of silence so that others [including our family!] may hear the warning that speaks of God’s judgment, but it also speaks of His tender mercies… May we not be found with our lamps dimmed.  May we be found waiting, watching, and working for His glory.

During this Advent season, I’d encourage you to take some time to soak in the peace that Jesus came to bring.  “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3 can be used as a guide), and may His mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you (Jude 2) and your family!

I’ve lived much of my life viewing God as if He were an estranged father.  And I’ve been a Christian for most of my life.  Right now I’m not going to go into all the scripture passages that say the exact opposite, that God is actually our loving Father, that we are His dearly loved children.  But that is the healing and life-giving truth of God’s relationship to us through Jesus.  God loved us first, and still loves us.  So then why is it that many of us find ourselves struggling to really return that love?  I’d like to suggest that it’s due to something that could be described as the theology of the estranged father.

By “theology” I just mean the way we view God in our everyday lives.  We probably don’t even consciously think about it much, but our view of God is something that underlies everything we think, feel and do.  Maybe the word “estranged” seems too harsh, being as perhaps we do have conversations with God.  By “estranged” I just mean to say that there are elements of estrangement that seem to obstruct our relationship with God.  They probably aren’t in our doctrinal statements, although they could be.  The bits of God-estrangement more often just come up as we go about our dealings with one another as Christians, and it sort of gets passed around.  It’s contagious.

Here is an example.  Have you ever heard a pronouncement that goes something like this?  “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.”  Or sometimes a similar admonishment is administered to someone who is having a hard time walking the straight path or persevering in good works.  “You just have to believe God loves you.”  And many times in this situation “believe” simply means a mental assent or the force of the will.  Such a stoic act could be performed as easily by a child of the devil.

It’s as if God is a deadbeat dad who after years away gets a call from his daughter wondering what he thinks of her.  And he replies, “Look, I brought you into this world.  I gave you your life.  What do you want from me?  Stop bothering me!” Then Mom solves everything by telling her, “Look, the important thing is that the truth is you do have a father, and he did tell you that he loved you when you were a baby.  He even gave up his son for you, so he must love you.  So you just have to believe that!”  And so the daughter plods on day by day, year after year, trying to live off of those few little factoids given to her by someone else from a past so distant she doesn’t remember.

I think that the core of many of our problems as Christians is not lack of true propositions in our personal list of beliefs.  The core of many of our problems as Christians is a lack of real daily relationship.  It’s not so much that we’re practical atheists, but more that we’re practical orphans.

We aren’t really abandoned unloved orphans, but we live like we are.

So if what we need is relationship with our Father who loves us, and yet the answer isn’t to just believe that He loves us, then what are we missing?

The answer at this point many times is the word “obedience”.  Here we have to be careful that this seemingly more noble way doesn’t also get infected with that contagious estrangement theology and we end up worse than the prodigal son back in the pig pen wondering if the father will ever take him back.  Instead, we end up as the older dutiful son, never able even to come to the point that the prodigal son eventually does, realizing his father’s love for him.  And especially when the going gets rough, an empty obedience is really doing the same thing as the stoic proposition believer.

To try to express my perspective on what we need, maybe I’ll go through the back door of this estrangement theology.  Here’s the way the idea has developed for me.  I started by seeing in my heart the remnant of a picture of God as the ideal Father.

We all have this picture in our hearts, even if we haven’t experienced it in full.  God has created us with it there.  Yes, it might have been suppressed by mitigating circumstances and has faded some over the years, and we’ve gotten used to a life with less.  But it’s there nonetheless.

I read an interesting story in a book by Herb Montgomery, Finding the Father.  He was asked to speak on the topic “God” at a secular university’s series of seminars on religions.  He prepared a long talk on the attributes of God, supported by Scripture.  Hearing the students’ conversations on the way in, he knew that by-and-large they weren’t ready for a talk with a bunch of proof texts.  So he simply asked the students for one-word descriptions of what they thought God should be like, filling up a white-board after 30 minutes.  Then for the next hour he brought up scripture after scripture that presented God as, lo and behold, actually having many of the attributes that the students had named.

I bet that many of those attributes were what could also be considered characteristics of the ideal father.  A father who does not abandon his children, who is there consistently for them, who walks through life with them, who knows the details about their lives, and in knowing them he tells them he believes in them, that they have what it takes, that they have the makings of a great warrior and king (if they are a son), that they are beautiful and have the makings of a captivating and life-giving woman (if they are a daughter), a father who gives gifts to his children, gifts from the heart that express that he cherishes them and they are the apple of his eye, a father who daily provides and protects them, and a father that disciplines them with consistent and intimate knowledge of them, to help them on their way.

So with what I had left of this picture in my heart, I started to take this ideal picture and compare it against the way I’ve been living.  Have I been living like I have the ideal Dad?  Now that is a whole lot different than asking if I’ve been living as if God loved me once upon a time, or God loves me third hand, or God loves me up in heaven.

Having the ideal Dad means I get to not only talk to him every day, but I get to have Him talk to me every day.  And that isn’t just by reading the Bible.  Here again is the process I would go through:  Imagine a dad who communicated to you only through a book he wrote.  That brings up pictures of some strange “old man” who probably lost his wits to booze years ago.  Not the ideal father.  X that one out. No, with a real father you get to really talk to him and he gets to really talk to you, one on one, every day, for real.  Check it with what the Bible says: Check.

And so I found I started doing new little things, as if I really had a real ideal father every day.  I started calling God “Daddy” or “Dad” sometimes.  That felt weird.  But then that brought on new feelings and realizations.  I started feeling like He really is interested in me.  And those old feelings that He’d rather be doing something else until I got my act together, those feelings didn’t really jive with the rest of what I was feeling.  And I started believing that He cared about how I feel, and that every little thought and action of mine is growing into something great.  And that I have good DNA.

We all do, who are His children.  That’s why I have also realized that discipleship isn’t about a once-a-week meeting where we hear the facts second hand.  I mean if this bad “theology” is actually in the way we live every day, then the “good theology” will have to be administered to one another in the way we live every day.  It’s about walking through life with each other, helping one another bit-by-bit grow in our seeing (not with our eyes, but with our hearts), and in our realization of (not in our heads, but with our whole lives) the life-sustaining connection with our good Father, and our royal blood and our inheritance of something abundantly huge.

Love Osmosis

I’ve come to realize that “How do I love?” can very often be the wrong question. 

But isn’t Jesus our example? Didn’t he say to love as he has loved us? 

Yes, but the word “example” is often miscontrued. Love is transferred through osmosis. 

For love we have to start with God. Not a teaching about God. Not a “how do I be a certain way in order to be loved by” God. An actual, implicitly dynamic, love relationship with God. Which was started by God alone, sourced by God alone. And continues only through love relationship with Him. Not through us finding what to do or how to do it. But through holding onto God with all of our being because we truly believe we can’t live without Him.

The fact that we can’t live without Him is underrated a lot. And when we do that, shortchange or forget or bypass the reality that God, who is love, is our All, our Source for all, then we tend to rephrase love as a thing to try to find a way to do.

As crazy as it sounds, love does not spring from what we do.

1 Corinthians 13:3 says, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” So that begs the question, “Well then what in the world is love?!”

God does not leave us alone with that question! Paul immediately follows with his famous description of love in the following verses.

But there’s a crucial difference between description and prescription. We Americans in the modern era have equated the two. It’s the industrial formula. If you can describe something, then you can duplicate it. But when it comes to love, and the whole realm of the spirit, leaning on this formula has meant the death of us.

Yes, there is what love looks like, the many different things we do and say and ways we treat each other when we love. But the problem of lack of love is not in not knowing what to do. The problem seems to be motivation. If we could just feel the motivation, the passion, then the how question would be easy in comparison.

Love doesn’t need a list of ideas of things to do. Lists and prescriptions of how to do things are the domain of the mind.

Love springs from the heart.

But where does the heart get it? Magically out of nothing?

The answer is found in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”

Now if this verse is consigned to the domain of the mind, words only, then this becomes a matter of sheer will power, another item on the how-do-I-love instructions, “First remember why we love. Then…”

But what is really revealed here in this verse is a flow of love. Love flowed from God to us, and it still does. Then love flows from us to others. And above and pervading all of that the love flows to God.

There is nothing in between. No list, no prescription, no description interpreted as a prescription, no “reason why” that you have to memorize and remember first. Nothing we have to do to make it happen.

Nothing in between. It’s like osmosis.

It’s just our Father and us.

It has been said that there’s a sort of spiritual food that flows from a father to a son when they are doing something together. Yes, the father is teaching the son or daughter how to do something, the hows of life. But the hows are almost beside the point. What’s really going on is the food is flowing.

Jesus had that with his Father. “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)

And we can have it to. We were meant to have it. We were created to have it. “Our Father…”

Yes, the enforcers of the “how” approach to Christianity quote the verses about being “imitators”. But all of these passages are in the context of a father-child love relationship.

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6)

“I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.(1 Corinthians 4:14-16)

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

God is love. And He is our Father. And children just automatically imitate their father through the father’s being with them.

Love is “caught, not taught”.

The love flows from the Father to the Son and to us, and then to others. We live God’s love out to others.

Love osmosis.

When it’s happening to you, you forget that you were worrying about the how.

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