who God is
When I was growing up, I learned at an early age that God had rules for everything. He decided what I could eat and what I could not eat, when I could eat certain foods and when I couldn’t. He decided what I should wear and what I shouldn’t wear, and when certain things should be worn and when they shouldn’t. In fact, it seemed as though God was making sure I did everything exactly right so he could bless me and I could be happy, or punish me if I went astray.
I suppose, looking back, there was something helpful about having some order to my existence. But I realized early on I had an inner resistance to this constant dictation as to what I had to do or not do. There was a rebellion deep within me to being controlled in this manner. And of course, this was seen as being sinful and evil. I did a lot of repenting and I worked really hard at “being good.”
The irony in all of this was I wasn’t made any better or any worse by all this effort. If anything, I was so busy putting on my appearance of having my life in order, I was missing out on real life—real relationship with God and with others. It was only in those relationships where I dropped the façade—with my high school buddies, for example—and where I was genuine and transparent I actually experienced true communion with others. The rest was just pretense.
When God finally got through to me with the reality of his grace and Who he actually was for me, with me and in me, I realized I was one of those people Jesus quite adamantly criticized when he was here on earth. I was a Pharisee—a white-washed tomb—a viper in the woodpile.
To come to the realization that you have all the glitz but none of the reality is a painful, difficult process. It takes experiencing the loss of all the things you cherish and coming to the end of all the things you count on to carry you through and to make you “good enough.” It means discarding all your previous notions about Who God is and who you are as his creature. And this is a tough road to travel, because our humanity and the culture we live in encourage us to stay where we are—in the façade.
One of the things I had to learn about God was he is truly free—free to be Who he is, apart from my expectations of him or preconceived notions about him. He is free to do whatever he wants in this world—which is often the exact opposite of how I was taught and believed he would act in certain situations. God is free to be Who he is, not Who I think he is. The Lord of the universe is truly that—Lord—and I am not (shockingly enough!).
But that freedom God has is always tempered by his boundless, deep love, which surpasses our comprehension. The God I grew up with was punitive and angry. And it was not helpful my personal experience of a father reinforced this belief in many ways. But when God revealed himself to me in Christ by the Spirit, I came to see this wasn’t Who God really was. The God of grace and love has always loved me and you and meant for us to be included in his divine life. This is amazing!
The other amazing thing is God gives each of us freedom—freedom to choose, to embrace or reject him, to live in harmony and unity with him and others, or to live in opposition to everything which is good and honorable and to experience the consequences of living in that way. It is hard to image God doing that, but he did and he does. Freedom to live in loving communion with him and each other, or not—it’s as simple as that.
One of the topics which kept coming up last night at a social gathering I attended was the way each of us has a unique history or genesis, but we are all intertwined and interrelated in some way. Indeed, it seems a person cannot assume someone they do not like is not at all connected with them because we have, as the centuries have passed, intermingled our DNA with one another. We are all bound together in a common humanity.
The joys of fellowship and community are a consistent thread throughout human existence. And this is what we seem to cherish most about our family and community celebrations such as Christmas. At the core of our being, we are drawn to one another in ways we don’t even realize—we are created for community and so we are drawn to it as a part of our very being.
This type of loving community, this interweaving of lives with one another in harmony and grace and peace, cannot be built by making rules and enforcing them. This is a work of the Spirit which takes place in the heart. God does not control us or force us into relationship with him and others, but invites us, draws us close, and compels us by his deep, perfect, and gracious love.
I pray you will each experience the blessing of true spiritual community this Christmas in many ways in your lives. I pray your families will experience healing and comfort and encouragement in the midst of all which pulls us apart and divides us. And I pray you will have a blessed and wonderful Advent season, through Jesus, our Lord, and by his Spirit. Amen.
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1–3 NASB
by Linda Rex
The other night in our weekly discussion group, we talked about why God allows bad things to happen to innocent children and to “good” people. I put “good” in quotes because in reality, the goodness any of us do have is merely a reflection of and participation in God’s goodness. So why does God allow people to harm others, especially the innocent and those who are defenseless?
This can be a difficult question to answer sometimes, because not everyone is open to the possibility of owning responsibility for the way we as humans live our lives and the many ways we hurt and abuse one another. It is as if we want to hold God responsible for our faults and shortcomings.
It’s God’s fault, we say, that so-and-so abused his neighbor’s child, and so he grew up to be an abuser of children. It’s God’s fault that priest or pastor was unfaithful to his wife and destroyed his marriage. Sounds whacky, doesn’t it? Is it really God’s fault we make stupid choices and hurt each other?
Think about it. Say, you are a parent and you have three children, and you send them to play outside. You tell them to behave themselves and to not get into trouble. You want them to get along and have fun while they are out there.
In about an hour, you begin to hear screaming and crying, so you go out to investigate. One child is on the ground, with a big bump on her arm, obviously in great pain. Another child is yelling at the oldest child, tell him what an idiot he is. The oldest child is holding a large stick, with which he quite obviously hit his sister. Now I ask you—how could it possibly be your fault that your daughter got injured and all your children are quarreling?
Well, we could say it is your fault, because you sent them outside to play by themselves. You didn’t go with them. We could say it is your fault because you didn’t watch them every minute they were out there, telling them what to do and what not to do as they were playing. We could say it is your fault this happened because you allowed your children to play with sticks. There’s a lot of ways in which we could place the blame on you—but would you really be at fault?
Placing blame nearly always happens when we are not willing to be responsible for what is ours. If you want your children to grow up into healthy adults, they need opportunities to learn how to play nicely with others. Part of that learning process is having minimally supervised playtime where they have to apply what they have learned about getting along with other children. As they negotiate the rocky road of relationship building, they will make mistakes, and injuries will happen. As parents, we just try to minimalize the hurts while maximizing the learning.
God didn’t just send all humanity out to play though, and then ignore them. That’s the difference. What he did was to take on a human body in Jesus Christ, and join us in our humanity. He experienced, just as we do, the ups and downs of human life, including the unjust and degrading imprisonment, torture and crucifixion at the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities. He allowed us as human beings to dump our worst on him so he could redeem it and turn it into his best.
Because, in Christ, the worst we as humans have done has been turned into our transformation. We have a new humanity which Jesus forged in the midst of all he lived and suffered while he played with us here on earth. We don’t have to stay in the brokenness which is ours, but can embrace the gift of a new way of thinking and being, and Christ’s way of living together. He illustrated for us and formed in us the unity amid diversity in equality the Father, Son and Spirit live in, and sent his Holy Spirit so we can live in this way with one another.
But we as human beings have always insisted on doing things our way. Just like stubborn, rebellious children, we believe we know what is best, and that our way is the only way that matters. And we are reaping the results of this way of believing and behaving. And God is not at fault in this—we are.
It’s okay to accept the reality we are messed up human beings. We hurt each other. We hurt ourselves. We do not live the way we are meant to live. And that’s why Jesus came—so we could share in the truth of real loving relationship with God and one another.
God doesn’t prevent all the bad things from happening to us, but rather takes them and uses them as a means to heal and restore relationships with him and with others. These bad things, if we are willing to place them where they belong—at the feet of Jesus, become our stepping stones to a greater maturity and a deeper walk with the God who created us.
Assuming responsibility for what is ours is key. We need to own the truth when we mess up our lives. As human beings, we need to accept the reality we are broken and flawed people. This is not God’s fault, other than he allowed us the freedom to choose, so he would not have robots or animals, but persons who could live in loving relationship with the divine Persons.
God has given us personhood. And this personhood means there are things which are ours and things which are God’s—and the line really doesn’t become blurred, except in Jesus. He, as the perfect God/man, is the one who takes what is ours and transforms it, healing it, and restoring it to the place where God meant for it to be in the first place. Jesus made and makes for us the decisions we ought to have made but didn’t—and then by the Spirit—he gives them to us.
But we are always responsible for what is ours—God doesn’t do for us what is ours to do. We receive what Jesus has done and begin to live in the truth of who we are in him. We no longer live as bratty children who stubbornly want our own way. We begin to play nice, and to get along with our siblings the way we should so we can have a happy family.
We take the bumps and bruises, the encounters with hurtful people, and allow God to transform them into compassion, understanding, and a willingness to help and heal others. We comfort others who are suffering with the comfort we receive from Christ in the midst of our own suffering. And stronger, healthier relationships of love and acceptance result.
In Christ, all these negative, hurtful experiences can become the means by which God binds us to himself and to one another—if we are willing. When we stop blaming God and put the blame where it really belongs and receive the grace given to us in Jesus Christ, we find ourselves beginning to heal and to have a heart to help others who are in need of healing and restoration. May God give us compassionate, understanding hearts as he works to heal and restore all we have broken and wounded.
Heavenly Father, thank you for forgiving us all the times we do not get along with one another, and when we hurt and abuse one another and ourselves. Grant us the grace to bring our wounds and broken selves to you, to allow you to transform and heal us with the life you have given us in your Son Jesus. May we become more and more like you each day, learning to live in the truth of who we are as your beloved, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3–7 NASB
by Linda Rex
I had a dream last night. And no, it wasn’t anything like Martin Luther King’s great inspirational vision. It was just an ordinary dream in which I was standing on a hill next to a building. Below me to the left was another building and a group of people who I was helping and was in some way responsible for.
As I was standing there interacting with the people down the hill, I realized the weather had suddenly changed and there was a storm approaching. For whatever reason—it’s hard to know how or why—after all, it is a dream—I rose on tip-toe to look over the house next to me. That’s when I saw just over a small river next to the house, there was a tornado headed our way.
At that moment I realized I needed to make a decision. I felt it was important to go back into the house and grab my bag, with the computer and my personal ID, and to run down the hill to join the others. And yet, I also felt it was equally important to get everyone to safety. I knew they could do it themselves, but I felt it was essential I help. There I stood, torn between the two urgent things which needed done in those final moments before we were overtaken by the funnel cloud.
Of course, I woke up right at this place, so now I have no idea what I would have decided had I kept on dreaming. But it got me to thinking about the way we are faced with difficult decisions in which we are inwardly torn about which direction to go, and how we find ourselves struggling to come to some clarity about them.
The two options may each be important things to do, but with different priorities or different outcomes. They may affect our relationships, our career, or our reputation. Usually they are things which need to be done immediately or in the near future, but may have a lasting impact which will affect us and everyone else in our lives for some time to come. We want desperately to do the right thing and to make a decision which will be wise and discerning, but we find ourselves of two minds.
So we struggle. We may pray and ask God’s direction. We may seek counsel and draw from other people’s wisdom. We may research and investigate and consider. These are all excellent and necessary things to do. But at some point, at this critical juncture—we need to make a decision, from which there is no turning back.
When the rubber meets the road—in other words, when things come to the place where a decision absolutely needs to be made—then what?
It’s easy to get caught up in the process and to focus on the ramifications of each decision. But I believe too often we miss out on the real purpose for such situations in our lives. Such situations provide ample opportunity for us to grow in our relationship with God and to become more intimately connected with and to grow in trust with Abba, Jesus and the Spirit.
I am grateful God leads us and guides us in our decisions, and by his Spirit he prompts us, encourages us, and even closes doors in our lives so we can see more clearly which direction to go. But I don’t always see God making decisions for us. Often he puts us in a place where we need to turn to him and to walk with him in faith through the decision-making process.
One of the things I have struggled with in the past is the fear of making a wrong decision, thereby creating complete havoc and destruction in my life and the lives of my loved ones. I was so afraid of making the wrong decision I found myself immobilized by this fear, and unable to—or unwilling to—make any decision at all, at least not with any confidence.
Such fear grew out of broken relationships in which my decisions were questioned, ridiculed and diminished. So then, it is hard to confidently make decisions when you are constantly second-guessing yourself. And this is made much worse when you believe God expects you to get it right on the first try. This is a lose-lose position in which to find oneself, believe me!
It has taken me many years to come to the place where I can allow myself permission to take the risk of making a mistake in my decision-making process. This has come about, not because I’m better at taking risks or making decisions, but rather because I have grown in my understanding of who God is, and how he views the decision-making process in his adopted children.
The face of the God watching me make decisions is no longer the stern, critical parent, and is now the compassionate, understanding parent who wants to see me step out and try new things and to grow into all he meant for me to be. And he realizes and accepts I cannot do that apart from taking risks and making mistakes along the way.
And he also knows we’re going to face storms and difficult life events, and to have to make painful, hard decisions as we go. He’s got us in his grip of grace and will not let us go as we make these decisions, even though in the heat of the moment, we may make some bad choices. The Creator Who made and sustains all things is also our Redeemer, Who is working to make all things new. There is nothing he cannot turn to good in the end.
It is important to walk the path of the decision-making process with our hand in the hand of Jesus, swept along by the Spirit’s impetus, in the presence of our Abba, who delights in watching us grow up in Christ. As we pray, do our research, seek good counsel, and walk in faith, we do it all in the context of spiritual community—in relationship with God and one another. And we grow in our knowledge of God, others and even ourselves in the process—and isn’t that what Jesus said eternal life was all about?
Abba, thank you that through Jesus and by your Spirit, we are not alone in our decision-making process. Indeed, by your Son and your Spirit, you have placed us in community and empowered us with wisdom, and given us the assurance of your presence, your love and acceptance, no matter how our decisions turn out. It is such a blessing to know and be able to trust that in your Son who made all the right decisions in our place, we have all we need to be good decision-makers. In your Name, we praise and thank you for this precious gift. Amen.
“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NASB