A Savior

One of the challenges which I see in the church, especially among leaders, is confusion over who is the savior. The problem is not that these leaders, and some members, struggle to come up with a description of Jesus Christ. Many of them do a great job of telling the life story of Jesus, talking about his earthly ministry, and giving a theological explanation regarding his death and resurrection. The issue is that in their zeal for fulfilling the Great Commandment, they begin to think that they are responsible for ensuring the salvation of others. This could not be farther from the truth.

Jesus came with a purpose, some may even say a call. Jesus’ purpose was to destroy all the barriers between humanity and God. God’s desire is that all may experience the fullness of God’s love in a lasting relationship with God. The difficulty in the achievement of this is humans have chosen often to take paths which lead them away from God. These paths make us vulnerable to committing unloving actions and to experience the impact of those actions taken by others. They also can give us a distorted understanding of love. Jesus’ ministry was focused on correcting this distortion and showing how these paths lead us away from God.

Jesus broke down social barriers which humanity created amongst themselves. Jesus presented a definition of love that was unconditional and with a focus toward others and not self. He reminded everyone what it meant to be in relationship with God. Actions which he took supported his words and showed us how we are to demonstrate God’s love to one another. All this culminated in his loving action taken on a cross where he gave his life to remove any remaining barriers we might have between us and God.

That final action by Jesus which led to his death and resurrection is sufficient for all people. Through this action, Jesus saved us from the paths we take which lead us away from the love of God. Jesus does not need us to recreate or to add to this action. Instead, Jesus told us to go out into the world and to tell all the people of his breaking of all barriers. More importantly, Jesus desires us to demonstrate this work in our own actions and words.

There is not one of us who is the Savior. That position has been filled by Jesus Christ. We do not have it within our abilities to break down the ultimate barrier between God and humanity. What we do have is the ability to introduce the Savior to others by our lives. Our expressing of the love of God and attributing that love for the choices we make in life will open doors for individuals to first experience and then begin to understand what God’s love is truly about.

YOU ARE NOT THE SAVIOR! Instead, spend your time introducing the Savior to others through your life and the sharing of God’s love.

The Unexpected

I have become a fan of the reality show Big Brother over the past few years. Not really sure how I began watching it. I may have decided to watch it when my youngest son started and would talk about it. This show is one that most people either love or hate. This is also one of a limited number of reality television shows that I ever care to watch. I share this information because the motto on Big Brother is, “expect the unexpected.” A variety of twists and turns take place throughout the show and little changes to the rules as the show progresses seem to happen each season.

The motto from Big Brother seems to be very appropriate to me when I think about the Lord. Over the years, I have come to realize that God operates more often in the realm of the unexpected than in the predictable. Pleasant surprises are frequent in the life the Lord creates. Occasionally I am alert enough to fully experience these unexpected blessings as they happen. As a rule, I become aware of them only when I look back upon my life.

My life has been filled with God’s unexpected blessings. Sometimes these blessings are brought when a new person enters my life. At times these blessings occur when I choose to get out of my comfort zone. Still, other times they arrive through reading another person’s writing, or hearing a new song, or watching a movie. As unexpected as the Lord can be, the mode in which God gives blessings can vary in multiple degrees.

I like that God chooses to do the unexpected. This has taken me places in life that I would not have ventured on my own. Moving at the end of last year was one of those exact situations. After living most of my life in the same geographical area, I really never thought I would live anywhere else. However, my husband received an exciting job offer to start a brand-new program at a university, and so we were off on a brand-new adventure. Since moving, I have had one unexpected surprise after another. My life has been filled with new experiences. I discovered a love for writing which I had never explored. Some amazing people have entered into my life. A whole new perspective has unfolded before me.

Let me issue a warning to all of you. When you think you have the Lord figured out and you are sure you know what blessings the Lord has planned for you… expect the unexpected.

Finding God

It might be while taking a walk along the beach. Maybe it is when you are walking along a trail through a wooded area. After entering the sanctuary of a great cathedral might be one of those moments. While you listen to some beautiful music you may sense it. These and other experiences can be specific moments and experiences when a person senses they may find God. But what if you do not experience one of these moments? What if you feel like you are on an endless search and never have been able to find God? Does God not want to be found by you? Are you not worthy enough to find God?

The search for God has been a quest which people have undertaken over the centuries. Some quests have gone by different names. At times individuals have not even been able to name what they were in search. Yet there seems to be something within each of us that drives us to seek out God, even if we use a different name for that which we seek. We appear to have a hunger to find someone or something which is bigger than we are or even our collective selves.

My experience is that it is a journey, definitely a quest. Like all spiritual journeys there are times of great confidence. There are also times of great doubt. I can name specific moments when I have felt connected to God in indescribable ways. As easily, I can name times when I thought I had totally disconnected from God. Moments of great surprise have occurred when God seemed to show up even though I was not looking. All these experiences are pieces of my journey with God, a journey that shows no sign of ending.

From my experiences, let me address the questions which I posed at the start of this post.

What if you do not experience one of these moments?

This question followed lists of potential ways in which people find God in their midst. The truth is that not every person is attuned to the spiritual aspect of an experience. Some may feel like there is something different but cannot articulate what. Every person is created differently and experiences life a little differently. There are people who do not think in terms of “feeling” an experience. Just because a person does not experience one of those listed above, does not mean the person is incapable of finding God. If you are one of these individuals, give yourself a break and do not worry if you cannot name such an experience.

What if you feel like you are on an endless search and never have been able to find God?

A question such as this one can be associated with what was said in the previous response. The question might also arise during those times of doubt which I mentioned from my own journey. I usually have this feeling when I am in one of those “radio silence” times. These times can be brought about by life situations where I do not feel God is “doing” what I want done. Sometimes it can feel like an endless search when I expect to arrive at a specific destination instead of understanding that I am walking down a long path. In all of these circumstances it comes down to me making the quest about me instead of about God.

Does God not want to be found by you? Are you not worthy enough to find God?

I am going to deal with both of these questions together because I think they have the same root issue. Both of these questions imply the idea that God does not want everyone to be in close connection with God. This cannot be any farther from the truth. God seeks us out long before we even begin our search for God. In fact, it is God who prompts us to even begin the search. The answer about worthiness is that according to human standards, we are far from worthy enough to find God. But from God’s perspective, we have been created to be beloved children of God. Created as beloved children gives us worthiness beyond compare to any earthly standard. God desires to be so closely connected to us that Jesus speaks of God being in us. Do not ever fear that you are not worthy enough and therefore God will not allow you to find God. Instead, know that God walks with you on this quest and will reveal God’s self to you at varied points along the journey. Just open your spiritual eyes. God is right there.

Your quest is yours only, yet you are not on this quest alone. Every person on this earth is on the same quest even when they cannot name it. God is walking beside you on this quest as well. Let us sojourn together and together we will find God.

Going To Hell

One of the most important realizations which I came to after spending some years studying the Bible is that the Bible is written with a lot of imagery. This is understandable for various reasons. First, the accounts which we find in the Bible today came to us from an oral tradition. Second, the telling of these experiences and stories happened when there was no such thing as a printing press, motion pictures, televisions, or computers. Third, as humans, we try to relate events, experiences, and complex thoughts to something which helps us to make sense of whatever we are discussing. Together, these lend themselves to the use of imagery. The speakers and eventually, the authors of the Bible relied heavily on imagery. This is an important fact when people of the 21st century attempt to interpret Scripture. (For more thoughts about interpreting Scripture, see my post Word by Word.) It is also important when dealing with this post’s subject matter.

Last week I wrote a post regarding my understanding of heaven. (See Is This Heaven.) I thought that it made sense to follow up that post with one on my understanding of hell. Much of what I communicated in last week’s post applies to hell as well. I do not believe hell is a physical location. Hell is not the place of eternal punishment. There is no being in a red suit with a forked tail holding a trident or pitchfork. There are no boiling pots of hot lava with stone walkways running through them. There are no endless torments designed specifically for the person who is supposed to be sent to hell. All these are images which have been created over time based on someone’s interpretation of Scripture (often the book of Revelation) or through horror stories passed down through generations.

My understanding of hell and any Scripture which may lend itself to the concept of hell is that this is truly a human construct. The details of hell and evil lie within the human spiritual and psychological components. Let me try to unpack that a little for you. For me, hell is living without God. The only way that this reality could ever be (if it truly could ever be) is because a person has totally rejected the existence of a supreme spiritual being. God is the English name given to the supreme spiritual being which Christians, Jews, and Muslims acknowledge but is not the sole name humans give to this being. Therefore, I am not saying that using a different name for the supreme spiritual being other than God is the qualifier here but instead that a person rejects that there even is such a being.

It is also important to note here that I do not believe that God (which is the name I will use throughout this post since I am a Christian) EVER rejects ANY human. Why this is important is because it means the action is taken by a human and not God. This also means that God never leaves the person but that the person lives as if God does not exist. For me, living as if God never exists would be hell.

I think it is also important to deal with the misconception that God created a location labeled hell as a place for eternal punishment. Again, imagery used in the Bible has led to this interpretation. But when you truly study the passages containing such imagery (example: Matthew 13), you see that the issue being addressed is a person or persons who have chosen to reject God. The imagery is to help people understand what the life experience would be like if a person chooses to deny God’s existence and design for life.

In summary, my understanding of hell is that it is not a place but more a description of a person’s possible spiritual and psychological state. A state which we have been fully released from by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection if we will accept the new status which God has given freely to each of us.

Glory

In the United States, and other countries, we tend to place famous people on pedestals. Star athletes, actors, actresses, social activists, and even some religious folk gain our admiration and words of praise. We try to copy their hair styles, dress like them, eat like them, and flock to see them whenever possible. They receive accolades from political leaders and industry giants. All this is true until it comes time to bring them off of their pedestal, either by their own doing or because someone has decided their time is up. Then with unbounded ruthlessness, we tear them down in any way possible, including cruel and unforgiving ways. So much for receiving glory.

Glory — an interesting word which conjures up a variety of responses.

According to dictionary.com, the definitions for this word include:

  • very great praise, honor, or distinction bestowed by common consent; renown
  • something that is a source of honor, fame, or admiration; a distinguished ornament or an object of pride
  • adoring praise or worshipful thanksgiving

These definitions all seem to fit our treatment of famous individuals as I described above. The last of which brings me to the focus of today’s post since glory is a word that is used within the church circles.

Recently this word came up in a discussion with my husband regarding a passage from John 13:31-35. In this passage Jesus speaks about glory. The issue which came up in our discussion centered around the definition of glory. I think most people would assume that this word is to be understood in the church using one of the definitions found above. The problem which arises when we use one of these definitions is that it leads the hearer to the conclusion that we are putting God on pedestal. We are then led to the conclusion that either God is arrogant, as the famous people seem to be when placed on a pedestal, or that God is going to one day be torn down from the pedestal. Both of these conclusions would be absolutely wrong.

Instead, let us look at the theological definition of the word glory as first seen in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word often translated as “glory” is “kavod” which means glory, respect, honor, or majesty. The Greek word found in the Christian New Testament is “doxa” which means judgment, opinion, good reputation, or honor. As I understand the word glory in reference to God, I understand it to mean that we are giving respect and honor to God. This to me is much different from placing God on a pedestal.

How do we then show glory to God?

What I am asking here is, how do we show respect and honor to God?

First, I need to ask myself why I should give respect and honor to God. Yes, in Scripture we are admonished to give glory to God but there are many commands and guidance in Scripture which I do not follow closely. (as in, “Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.'” [Leviticus 24:13-16].) The answer for me is I give respect and honor to God because of the great love which God has given to me daily and in the work of Jesus, the Christ.

Now that I have a reason for giving God respect and honor, how do I go about it. The obvious answer is by attending a worship service with fellow believers where I thank and praise God. Unfortunately, this is often where people stop. Somehow we have become content with attending a worship service, giving an hour of our time, and calling that sufficient in respecting and honoring God. I believe that I fall short if this is my only show of respect and honor.

Here is my possible list for respecting and honoring God:

  • Respecting and honoring all who God has created
  • Taking care of the land and animals which God has entrusted to my care
  • Showing love through not just words but also action to those whom God has placed in my life
  • Setting aside time throughout my day to reflect upon God
  • Striving to understand Jesus’ teachings as given to us through the recording of his words and actions in Scripture
  • Making the attempt to apply the teachings of Jesus in my own actions, words, and decisions
  • Acknowledging that everything which I have and who I am are gifts from God

These are ways in which I strive to honor and respect God, to give God glory. How are you showing glory to God? What additional ways do you show God respect and glory?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Listen

“Can you hear me now?”

For nine years, starting in 2002, this was a question we heard on our televisions multiple times a day. The question was part of a commercial for one of the nation’s larger cellular service providers. A man would be on his phone in a variety of locations and would ask this question to whoever was on the other end. The point of the commercial was to state how wonderful the signal reception which this company provided was, even at the most remote locations.

Imagine if this question was not being asked as part of a television commercial but instead was a question which Jesus may be asking of you.

Last week, my husband and I were engaged in a discussion about words found in John 10:27. Here Jesus is talking with a group of Jews who are demanding a straightforward answer to their question of his status as Messiah. He is indicating to them that he has already answered that question for them, but they failed to listen and believe. The question of which arises for readers today is, “Am I listening for his voice?”

It is one thing when someone is physically present, or connected via technology. There may still be some challenges in listening for a person’s voice such as external noises or a signal problem, but barring these and similar challenges the ability to hear someone is a simple task. However, Jesus is now not physically alive on the earth as he was when these words were shared with the Jews. We may have a good argument in regard to the struggle with listening for his voice. Or do we?

One of the problems which seemed to be present during the dialogue with the Jews is the ability to hear versus the willingness to listen. The Jews did not state that they were not hearing what Jesus was sharing. Jesus did not say that he thought the Jews were not hearing. Yet, having the ability to hear does not mean that a person has chosen to listen. Listening requires the person to go beyond the sounds and make an effort toward understanding. It requires us to put effort into taking the sounds we hear and making sense of them. First, by shaping sounds into words and then by finding meaning in those words. Next, we have to take into account a whole list of elements such as context, nonverbal cues, and purpose. Our own assumptions and expectations also impact our listening. We tend to reject anything that causes conflict in our own understandings.

What about us then?

As mentioned above, we do not have the physical presence of Jesus which can create challenges in our listening. We hear what Jesus said as recorded by writers of Scripture. We hear the interpretations which Bible scholars, pastors, Sunday School teachers, and others have given concerning Jesus’ words. But are we listening?

Listening requires us first to put down our own assumptions and expectations. The Jews were getting hung up on the fact that Jesus was not fitting their assumptions and expectations of what the Messiah would be. Each of us have formed our opinions of the nature of Jesus (and God) so when we hear what Jesus may be saying, we want those ideas, thoughts, and words to fit into our already formed view of Jesus.

Listening requires taking the time and making the effort to locate Jesus’ voice. Each of us will do this differently. For some, this will require us to find a quiet space in our lives to listen for Jesus. For others, the need to surround ourselves with trusted spiritual advisers will open us to Jesus’ voice. Developing a trust will be necessary for others, trust that Jesus is still speaking in ways that do not require physical sounds or presence. This trust is closely linked to faith.

If Jesus were to ask you the question, “Can you hear me now?” Would he find you listening?  

Defining God

First of all, let me be clear that this post will not give an all-encompassing definition of the one who has been referred to by different names. Volumes of books have been published trying to offer that definition. Thousands of theologians, scholars, and religious leaders have spent centuries trying to verbalize a definition. All attempts have fallen short of defining God. Part of the reason is that God does not fit into our human words or images which I addressed in an earlier post (go here to read it if you have not). This being the case, I would like to present to you my current working definition of God.

GOD IS LOVE

I realize that this may be oversimplifying a definition of the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all life. As simple as this definition is on the surface, it is much more complex than it seems. The complexity comes from the challenge of defining the word “love.” Let me take a bit of your time explaining how I came to this definition and then adding an attempt at defining love.

My starting point is located in 1 John 4:8… “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (NIV translation). The author of this letter states two important realities for me. First, the author connects knowing God with the act of loving. In order to define God, one must know God. Here we see that this ability is centered in love. It reminds me of the scene in the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” During the scene, Indy is trying to make his way into the inner chamber of a temple where the Holy Grail is thought to be located. To get into the inner chamber, Indy must successfully maneuver through three booby traps intended to guard the Grail. Each trap required the person to be able to know something regarding God and/or Jesus. I will not give away the plot if you do not know it already. The key here is that senseof knowing. Instead of having three different pieces of knowledge, the author of 1 John states that the ability to love is the requirement to know God.

The writer goes on to explain to us why we must love if we wish to know God. In the second clause of the sentence, the reason given is “because God is love.” Here is my second reality which feeds my working definition. I challenged a group of teenagers who I was leading in a discussion to take a part of Scripture and every time they found the word love, replace it with God. If you want to try this exercise, go to 1 Corinthians 13 and read that chapter following the instructions which I gave the teens.

As I have read and studied the Bible, it becomes clear to me that over and over, God acts out of love. This love is for humans and for all creation. Even when it seems that God is disciplining people, God clearly is doing so as a loving parent would do with a child. God’s love is most evident in the teachings and actions of Jesus. The author of the Gospel of John gives us those well-known words:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17, NIV

If it is in love that we know God, and if God is love, then how do we define love. As difficult as defining God is, it is almost as difficult to define love. The number of individuals who have made an effort at this definition is close in comparison to the number who have attempted the definition of God. I offer to you my working definition, love is the giving of one’s self for the benefit of others and finding pleasure and joy in the act of doing so.

As a believer in God, I turn once again to recorded words of Jesus as my basis for my definition. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death and resurrection when he tells them, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV). I do not think that Jesus is stating we must die to show love. Instead, I view Jesus’ statement “to lay down one’s life” to refer to the giving of self. This giving may be manifested in offering of time, a listening ear, a helping hand. Giving can also include placing another’s need ahead of our own wants. The placing of ourselves in another person’s shoes may be an act of giving. This list can be added to by each of you. The point is that in this giving, is love.

God is love because…

  • God chose to become human so that we could understand our relationship with God since in Jesus, God walks in our shoes
  • God offers all that God has created to us instead of keeping it all to God’s self
  • God accepts ALL without limit or requirement
  • God never abandons us
  • God forgives EVERYONE without exception

What is your definition of God? What is your definition of love?


The Fit

Have you ever had to pack for an extended trip? The challenge always seems to be having enough room in the suitcase for everything you think you need to take along. Most of us have seen the cartoons or sitcom episodes which make us laugh as we watch a character sit on their suitcase to try to close it. The challenge of trying to get everything in while remaining under the weight limitations is real.

This probably arises differently for many Christians regarding God. Often we have an image of God that has been created from our reading of Scripture, our Christian education experiences, listening to sermons, and being guided by other believers. All these sources are excellent in their own way but all lend themselves to the potential of creating inaccurate images. Whether we start with a correct image or not, there also is the problem of trying to make God fit the image created in our minds.

The issue at hand is one of reversal. In the creation story found in Genesis, we hear of how God created humanity…

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

Clearly we are to understand that humanity was created in the image of God. Unfortunately, people often want God to be created in their image. We often attribute to God characteristics which we experience in ourselves and others. Characteristics such as anger, hatred, discrimination, favoritism and vengeance. To be fair, Scripture allows God to be viewed with these characteristics at times. However, I would remind you of two important truths: Humans wrote Scripture, and humans interpret Scripture. Another challenging aspect is that in Jesus we do see God as a human, the whole incarnation thing. Jesus did display some of these human characteristics. Some human characteristics Jesus did not display.

Another challenge which confronts us when we try to have God fit into the image we have created is that if God does fit that image then we have a God with limitations. Why this is a problem is that if God is limited, then can God truly be considered a god? The image that I may be able to create in my mind is generated by my own experiences. As a person, I have limited experiences and capabilities. Yet I confess a belief in God who transcends the limits of time, space, cultures, and religions. This means that my image of God, no matter how informed, could never accurately incorporate the scope of God who I confess.

My final concern with the idea that any human, or group of humans, could ever fully say what God looks like or how God would act in a given situation is that this would remove power from God. If God fits the predicted expectations of humans, then God is not all powerful. Removing any power of God lessens God, and yet I declare that God is the source of all power.

As a Christian, I confess God to be the creator, giver, and sustainer of all. I confess God to be beyond human understanding and limitations. My confession includes my understanding that God loves all which God has created and that love extends to every person, animal, and aspect of the universe, known and unknown. You see, God is too big for me or anyone else to fit in a human-made image. My challenge is trying to live into the image in which God has created me.