Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Difference Between God As He Is & God How We Want Him To Be: Part 2

[Continued from Part 1.]

I've been listening through Exodus-Deuteronomy lately, and I've found that the Old Testament is a great place to start on discovering who God is. This portion of the Bible is full of revelations about the character and nature of God. It also contains the early interactions between God and humans, cluing us into how the Creator relates to and views the created.

I feel like sometimes there's a lack of focus on the study of the OT; that a lot of people prefer to focus on New Testament passages. These are obviously essential, but it is equally important to not leave out the Old when looking into the nature of who God is.

Granted, we are not under the laws that governed the Israelites in the OT (we are under the New Covenant because of Jesus' death and resurrection), but there is much that can be learned about God from the OT. So in short, it's important not to ignore this portion of the Bible and to include it when studying.

I've found Exodus-Deuteronomy very revealing because they contain the laws and practices for God's chosen people. These books also include a lot of instances of when God spoke to people (namely Moses).

If you've read these books, I'm sure you've noticed the sometimes seemingly bizarre laws that were in place. While we're not going to go into the why's and reasons, I do think these laws can give us good insight into the person of God.

Without going through everything--because it would take way too long and turn into a book instead of a blog post--I do want to point out a few important things. These especially relate to attitudes surrounding the conflict I mentioned in part 1 (God's attribute of love coupled with the fact that people can go to hell).

First, I want to start by citing a few passages that speak to the fact that God has always existed, and in that, He is always the same. These help us remember that God is unchanging, so God whom we worship today is the same God whom the Israelites worshiped in the wilderness.

In Malachi 3:6, God says, "I the LORD do not change." In Psalm 90:2, the psalmist declares, "...from everlasting to everlasting, you are God." What this tells us is that God--His nature and attributes--have always been and will always be exactly the same.

This brings us to the revealing passages of the OT that clue us into truths about who God is. Many of these truths can be uncovered in the laws God put into place. These laws were set in place to govern the people in their relationship with God, to make them right with Him.

Along with the laws, you will find that punishments for breaking the law are listed. In fact, death was a primary punishment for disobedience in many instances (often by stoning). This can be seen in passages like Ex. 21:16, Ex. 31:14, Lev. 20:27, Lev. 24:14, Num. 35:17, Deut. 17:2-6, Deut. 21:20-22, and Deut. 22:23-25.

These laws indicate what was important to God. Not only did He expect certain behaviors, but He expected obedience. Disobedience was not overlooked or ignored. Sins were punished. A lack of obedience led to death, or in other instances animal sacrifice. In either case, blood had to be shed as a way of atoning for the sin that was committed.

Also, a theme you will see often throughout the laws listed in Deuteronomy is a purging of evil. God gave instructions to the Israelites for the proper response to sins committed. Repeatedly after instructions were given, God would state, "You must purge the evil from among you." (See a verse list here.) God didn't tolerate evil among His people--He wanted it extracted before it had a chance to spread.

All this indicates the fact that God is just. He will have justice and will enforce consequences. And since He is the same yesterday, today and forever, He will continue to be just. Those who live in rebellion, whose sins have not been atoned for, will not escape His wrath.

Today, we are no longer under the law because of the death of Jesus. OT sacrifice and bloodshed points to the sacrifice of Jesus, which atoned not only for all sins previously committed, but all sins that would ever be committed. God's justice was poured out on Christ when He was crucified on the cross. Therefore, if we chose to believe in Jesus--that His sacrifice atones for our sin and that He is the only way to God--we are free from the wrath of God and the punishment of hell. (There is much more that can be said on the death and resurrection of Jesus, but for this point I will be keeping it short.)

This means that if we reject Jesus, God will not have mercy on us. John 3:36 states, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them." This verse stands in strong opposition to those who state that all people will go to heaven, and indicates otherwise. (The book of Romans also speaks multiple times of the wrath of God.) God will not ultimately save all people from hell, for this would go against his nature. Those people who do not believe in Jesus will not have eternal life.

This truth seems to be a hard one for people like Rob Bell to understand and buy into. They question how a loving God could allow people to go to hell, and why He wouldn't keep them from it. They think that God being loving means that He would ensure that all people spend eternity in heaven after they die, and that no one suffers in hell. But they leave out God's justice, and the reality of free will.

The truth is, all people have the freedom to make their own decisions. This goes back to the Garden of Eden and Genesis 1-3, where we see that since the beginning of the existence of humanity, we have been given the freedom to obey God or disobey God. God has never forced anyone to obey Him--if He did, we would still be perfect today.

But with freedom comes consequences. It's a cause-effect relationship. We do what we want, and thus suffer the outcome. We can choose to ignore the laws of society, but we'll end up in jail. We can choose to reject and ignore God, but we'll suffer the consequences.

The bottom line is, God cannot go against His nature. This is something we have to understand as we seek to know who He is. He is not like us in our fickleness. We have changes of heart, act different ways, go against our word. God in His perfectness is bound to who He is and what He says. He can never and will never go against His word or His nature.

Ultimately, this gives us comfort as we remember Malachi 3:6, "I the LORD do not change." What is left then is for us to pursue God with our entire being and to discover who He is.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Difference Between God As He Is & God How We Want Him To Be: Part 1

There is a massive dichotomy in religious circles when it comes to the understanding of God. I say dichotomy, because it can simply be boiled down two two views: the way we want/think/presume/expect God to be, and the way that He is.

Granted, with all the diversity present in religious groups, our views of who we think God is are vastly different. But, they're all views and understandings created by humanity. Our view of God is shaped by what we are taught, what we experience, what we think and reason, and ultimately, our view is flawed by our imperfections and lack of total understanding and comprehension.

And then there is truth and reality about who God really is. This can be found in the Bible, though we shouldn't expect to know and understand absolutely everything about God from reading the Bible. I say this because He is so far above us and works beyond our finite (limited) understanding, that all truth about him could not possibly be contained or explained in the Bible. (If you doubt that God is beyond or above us, then you are welcome to demonstrate your skills versus His.) Therefore, understand that you will inevitably have questions that will not be answered.

However, there is a great deal about God, His nature, His acts, His expectations of humanity, that can be discovered from reading the Bible. What is contained in the Bible is exactly what God wanted each person to know about Him, nothing more and nothing less. So we can trust that what is important, essential and relevant when it comes to the truth of who God is, is completely contained within the Scriptures.

This knowledge is important because it in turn helps us understand that any additional, non-biblical (not found in the Bible) information about God produced by man falls into the first camp of understanding. (Again, this understanding is the way we want/think/presume/expect God to be.) It is therefore unreliable and should not be taken as complete and total truth about God.

The best way to determine if what is being said/taught about God is true is to compare it to the Bible. Does the Bible back it up? Is what is being taught consistent with what you find in the Bible? If not, it should be dismissed and thrown out. We should never take a theologian, philosopher or church leader's word over the Bible.

And why is this? Because if we blindly follow the teachings of any person (well intending or ill), we can very quickly be led away from the truth.

The Apostle Paul writes of this exact problem in Galatians 1:6-24 (particularly verses 6-9 and 11-12, though the entire passage contains his argument). He warns the believers of the early church to not follow other teachings of men that are not in line with the truth presented in what is now the Bible. (Paul does not say "the Bible," but "gospel other than the one we preached to you." To find out what Paul preached, you can begin with Paul's conversion in Acts 9, continue reading the remainder of the book, and then read each of the books of the Bible written by Paul--Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.)

That being said, it is nothing new that humans are misleading and being mislead when it comes to the Bible and to who God is. This has been going on for centuries. The sad part is, even though most people now have the Bible in their own language (particularly here in America where anyone that doesn't own a Bible can get one often times for free), we are still being mislead and allowing ourselves to be mislead.

This brings me momentarily to the current debate being stirred up by a pastor by the name of Rob Bell. In his most recent book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, he attempts to work out the conflicting facts that God is loving, but people still can go to hell.

These conflicting facts are nothing new, and have bothered people for centuries. Most cannot understand this, to them it is an irreconcilable conflict, just as it is to Bell. And just as Bell has done, people in their finite understanding will attempt to reconcile the conflict. They will twist, distort and mutilate the truth of who God is so that they feel better about Him. They want to make a new reality about God that is comfortable for them.

But, if we look at who God is biblically, we will see that this is not an irreconcilable conflict, it is the truth of who God is. Of course, people will not want to accept it. They will still choose to reject it, and argue that the truth is impossible. But you, you have the ability to know and believe the truth. The question is, will you?

[To be continued in Part 2.]

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What If...

I'm definitely not one of those people that you will hear say things like, "We're in the end times!" Or "Jesus is coming back on this day!" and proceed to list an exact month, day and year.

In fact, I would have to say that I tend to go exactly opposite of those attitudes. Just like the Bible says that no one knows the day or hour, not even Jesus himself, I don't pretend to think I would know.

I'm perfectly fine accepting the fact that I don't know when the world is going to end, or when Jesus is coming back. I really don't need to know.

But the truth is, eventually the "end times" will start. Jesus will return. Just because we don't know when, doesn't mean we can't live in expectation.

I suppose current events are calling me to this attitude, as they are similar to events mentioned in connection with the beginning of the end times.

"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places." Jesus said this and it's quoted in Matthew 24:6-7.

He also says that these mark the beginning of birth pains, birth pains that begin the end times.

I'm sure most Christians are wondering if the events occurring today are the beginning of the birth pains. And I'm sure some say that they are. But honestly, I don't think that's the important thing.

What's important is what you're going to do if they are. Whether they are or not, there's nothing we can do about that. We can't change what's going to happen, we can't stop it or make it start. Humans have never had control over that, nor will they ever. The only thing I have control over is myself; the only thing you have control over is you.

Thinking about end times events got me questioning what I would do if I knew the end was near. And for all I know, it is. It may or may not be the end of the world, but you never know when your life will end. Or anyone else's for that matter.

So keeping that in mind, the fragility of life, the quickness with which it can be gone, how will that cause me to live? What would I do differently if I knew that tomorrow I would wake up to a disaster outside my door? Or if I knew that I wouldn't wake up at all?

For one thing, I would pay a lot more attention to how I treated people. I've always tried to follow what most people call the "Golden Rule," but is that really enough? Because some people don't even treat themselves very highly.

No, I think it goes beyond treating people in the way you want to be treated. It's treating them as better than yourself, looking for ways to love and build up, looking for opportunities to give of yourself and promote God's kingdom. It's about seeing a need and meeting it, giving up what you want for the needs of someone else, treating people like they matter.

Selfless living is one of the great battles of our time, and something our society is terrible at. All we care about is self-promotion, self-preservation, self-improvement. Self, self, self. I challenge you, whether we'll live 10 days, 10 years or until we're 95, live your life for others and forget yourself.

What else would I do if I knew that the end was near? Forget wasting my time spending all my money or doing something I'd always wanted to do (like skydiving or deep sea fishing). I'd want to dig in where I was needed most, do some real good and enjoy life in that way. And I suppose this goes back to being selfless too...

I think I'd find the most pleasure in living life to the fullest in the way that Jesus calls us to live. And where to begin on that, there's a whole book about it. But what mostly comes to mind are the fruit of the Spirit,
"love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

And along with that, using my gifts, talents and abilities for the service of the King. He really has blessed all of us with so much, and to hold on to that, keep it for ourselves, is such a waste. But to give and to share, to participate, that should be our constant goal.

There are so many other things my selfish side would want to do. It tries to argue, "You still have so much to do, you'll live a long time!" But that attitude would cause me to put off what I know I should be doing. And at the end of all days, do I want to look at myself and realize the best thing I was at my core was lazy and selfish?

No matter when the end will come, I want to live in such a way that is worthy of that which I have been called to.

"To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ just as I have received authority from my Father." Revelation 2:26-27

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Life as a Royal

Tonight as I was watching the film The Young Victoria I was thinking about royalty.

Most of us will never live in a palace or wear a crown, but as children of the King, we bear the title of royalty.

This title, child of the King, is one I've heard for many years growing up. Heard, used, but not always understood. Sometimes I've felt it cliche, how can one feel royal, be royal, when one is not?

I think the problem for me is I get caught up in the literal and tangible, and forget about what being royal means for me. It doesn't mean brandishing a scepter or bidding royal subjects, it means behaving as one who is royal. No, I wasn't born into royalty, but I was adopted in by the King.

This then begs the question, how does royalty behave? And not just any royalty, children of the King.

I made a few observations from the movie, and obviously from Scripture, about the nature of being royal. It has helped me grasp this concept of being a child of the King.

Royalty ought to carry with it an understanding of example. Those who are royal are an example in life and deed to those whom they come in contact with, which includes other royals as well as non-royals. This then includes using discretion in all that a royal does, behaviorally, verbally, emotionally, Spiritually.

This is the mark of a true leader. Often times we don't feel fit to lead, as I'm sure all great leaders feel at some point in their lives. But, knowing the example that should be set and presenting it is essential.

Royalty also should bear the characteristics of love and charity, compassion for those they meet. While royalty by very nature seems proud, it should be anything but, knowing that it is not pride but responsibility that overshadows their position.

Royalty inevitably has a charisma or magnetism about them. We are drawn to princes and kings, fascinated by their lives. And similarly, as children of the King who have Jesus within our hearts, we should find people drawn to us. There should be something different, yet appealing about our lives. It's an invisible draw, a pull that all those who profess to follow Christ should possess.

There are so many more characteristics--authority, wisdom, grace, generosity, courage, calm, thoughtfulness, assertion--that should be possessed. However, one that seems to become muddled so often by children of the King is that of the carrying out and following of the law.

Within this duty of a royal, there are often two paths: that which we would call legalism, where one must follow the letter of the law, and that in which the law is rejected and ignored. Finding the balance is forever the duty of the royal.

Jesus gave us an example in his earthly ministry--he lived perfectly, and yet appalled the teachers of the law. He broke the "laws" they had put into place, yet committed no crime, teaching that love of God and fellow man reigned supreme, above empty actions and meaningless rituals. And he enacted a new covenant between the King and his children, whereby we are now free to approach God, and spend an eternity as a royal with him.

Our battle comes in this earthly life, where we must choose whom we will serve. Will it be ourselves, a deceptive path in which we please our desires and ignore the King's commands? Or will we swear allegiance to the King, forsaking ourselves and adhering to his perfect will?

The latter should be our choice and govern our existence and example as royals. Within this guidance we will find the strength and direction to carry out our duties in daily life and be the royals we were chosen to be.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Of Priorities & Purpose

Life can sometimes be confusing, complicated, and not at all what we feel it should be. Actually, this is how life is most of the time. But within that confusion and complication, there is purpose and direction.

I'm a firm believer in the truth that God teaches us lessons through our seasons in life. Therefore, I've gotten used to looking for opportunities to learn and grow, even in the most "unlikely" seasons. And this current season is one of those times.

Honestly, it's difficult to not struggle with feelings of inadequacy right now. Each time someone asks me if I've found a job yet, I feel a twinge of failure when I have to say no. I'm working at finding a job, but so far God hasn't opened that door.

Then, while working on my Bible lesson for the Ladies' Bible Study (during which time, I usually learn A LOT), God showed me I'm coming at life, and work, from entirely the wrong angle. And in the process, he shut up my pride factor which was calling me a failure for being jobless.

This week's lesson was on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, which talks about the parts of the body and how each has its own God-appointed function. Of course I got a lot out of the material in the book, but the biggest concept I came away with was that of priorities.

Yes, this season in life I'm learning a HUGE lesson in priorities. And where to begin?

I think the biggest realization hit when I was thinking about my place in the body of Christ. Each of us as believers have a unique role, or gift, that God has specifically given to us. This is our contribution to the body, and without it, the body would not function as it should. Every part is not merely important, but is needed.

For the past two years almost, I hadn't been contributing to the body. My life revolved primarily around work--my job was quite time consuming and emotionally draining--and pleasure--finding "exciting" things to fill my time with, like hiking and going out with friends. I went to church on Sundays, but that was just about the extent of it.

Then, as most of you know, life was rapidly turned on its head as I lost friends and my job to circumstances beyond my circle of influence. Suddenly, I was looking at a world that was not seemingly defined by my successes, but by my failures. And since then, I have inadvertently been viewing it this way.

Each time I think about my life, I feel like I should have a job right now, this minute. I also feel that not having a job means I don't really have a life, or at least don't deserve to have one. That somehow, I am less important, less meaningful because I don't have a job.

Then, God hit me with this question. Is having a job the absolute most important thing in my life? And will it always be the biggest priority, the most important thing?

In a society so focused on success, careers, and climbing the corporate ladder, the answer is clearly yes. But as a Christ follower, my answer is no. At least, not that kind of job. Not the job that is all about me, all about money, all about my personal success.

As a Christ follower, a member of the body, the most important thing in my life will always be my job in that role. That job looks like, loving God supremely, loving others unconditionally, using my gifts wholeheartedly, and proclaiming Christ unceasingly. That will always be the biggest priority, the most important thing.

I forgot that. I forgot that my life wasn't about jobs and paychecks. I lost sight of the meaning and value I have, the gift God specifically gave me to contribute. Thankfully, God's been reminding me in some very obvious ways.

Honestly, I love this season of life. I'm getting to contribute to things beyond myself. I'm getting to love on and pour into people in ways I haven't been in a long time. I'm learning to glorify God with my life, and spend large amounts of time meditating on him. I know it won't last forever, but I am so thankful that for now, I have that time.

I want to carry this priority with me forever, so that when I finally get a job, it won't be the most important thing. I want to remember that, as life progresses and time changes things, that this, this is the most important thing.

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 1 Cor. 12:18

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Eph. 4:15-16
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