Advent | Born a King

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6 KJV

When I think about this prophetic word I imagine a son being born into a royal family. Yet being raised in the house of a carpenter, Jesus did not have the trappings of royalty. He was worshiped as a baby by the shepherds and the magi but I suspect that this worship ceased as he matured. In this respect he was similar to his ancestor King David who was anointed king years before he ascended to the throne. On this Christmas Day it is good to remember that he who was born a king also had to wait many years before he would ascend his throne. It teaches us about patience.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Prince of Peace

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6 KJV

In this world of war, hatred and discord, is there a more nobler title than Prince of Peace? How many of us long and pray for world peace yet find it so hard to be at peace with other and sometimes with ourselves. The apostle Paul writes and tells us that there is a peace that passes understanding - an inner peace that brings a stillness when the storms are raging outside. This is the Messianic peace that only that baby in Bethlehem can bring. It is an inner stillness that only comes when we know that He is God. It is a peace that spills from our hearts and brings reconciliation to other hearts.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Divine Son

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6 KJV

This prophetic word gives us a picture of what ancient Jews were expecting a Messiah to look like. This morning I want to ponder with you a portion of this prophecy. Isaiah tells us that the Messiah would first be a son - a descendant of Israel. In this same word he calls that son "The Mighty God". When these two messianic qualities are combined, it makes sense that the Messiah would be both human and divine. In this light Christ's virgin birth interprets Isaiah's prophecy.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Response

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” -Luke 1:18,38 NIV

The angel Gabriel made two visits that year. One was to a religious leader and one to a teenage girl. These had very different responses to the angel. The older, "wiser", one had unbelief while the younger, "naive" one, had faith. It seems to me that the older responded from his mind and the younger from her heart. It speaks to me of how faith is a matter of the heart. It tells me that angelic messages, the good news, must be heard with the heart and not the head.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Magi

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” ... When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. -Matthew 2:1-2,10-11 NIV

Jesus was born. Angels came to Shepherds. Shepherds came to the manger to see Jesus. Jesus was circumcised in Jerusalem eight days later. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were now living in Bethlehem. They were beginning to settle in to married life. And then there was a knock on the door. Mary was alone with her son when strangers came bearing gifts. These men had been directed by a star to her son. They worshiped when they beheld his face. Soon all would change and this young family would be running for their lives. And the Magi, these mysterious men, brought gifts that would help them on their journey. And on Christmas Day we remember God's provision for this young family when we give gifts.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Anna

There was also a prophet, Anna ... She was very old ... was a widow ... she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. -Luke 2:36-38 NIV

Simeon had just spoken prophetic words over the baby Jesus. Anna most probably heard his words and took them to heart as she told others about the one who was born to redeem humanity. In that sense, she seems to have been the very first evangelist. I can imagine her speaking of the Christ Child to all who came to the temple. I love that such a one, one committed to fasting and prayer for so many years, was one of the first to see the baby Jesus. Perhaps Anna is a witness to us also concerning what happens when we are faithful to worship with fasting and prayer?

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Simeon's Prophecy

Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” -Luke 2:34-35 NIV

It was a special day for two new parents. It was the day of Jesus' circumcision. But Mary and Joseph did not know how special the day would be. They didn't know that prophetic words would be spoken over their baby. What amazing things to be said about the baby Jesus. How Mary must have looked back at these words when her son ministered and revealed the thoughts of hearts. And how her soul was pierced through when soldiers nailed her son to the cross.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Simeon

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. -Luke 2:25-27 NIV

It was in the temple courts that Simeon would meet Mary and Joseph. It was here that young parents would be encouraged by a prophetic word from a righteous and devout man. I love how this passage speaks of Simeon as a man who had a relationship with God. The Holy Spirit revealed things to him and led him. It is only fitting that God should use such a man to encourage Mary and Joseph. I pray that I would be such a man who hears God's voice and is led by His Spirit. And is used by the Lord to speak His words and to encourage strangers.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Shepherds

There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. -Luke 2:8-9 NIV

I once heard that shepherds were a part of the lower class in ancient Israel. These were simple people who had no political influence or earthly power. It was to these who the angels first announced the birth of the Messiah. It was these humble workers who first heard the heavenly host proclaim the baby in a manager. I love this image of God visiting people such as these. It seemed to be such a prophetic look into the life of the Messiah - the one who hung out with the lowest of the low. It reminds me that God is not impressed by our wealth or stature. He comes to the humble.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Bethlehem

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. ... And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. -Luke 2:1,3-5 NIV

Centuries before Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, the prophet Micah foretold that out of that town would come one who's origins were from ancient times - one that would be ruler over Israel. These words had to confuse ones looking for the Messiah. They understood the place of his birth but had no way of understanding how this one would originate from ancient times. Little did these know that a Roman emperor would help in the fulfilling of this prophetic word. Who could have imagined that this little town of Bethlehem would be the place where God took on human form?

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | God Speaks to Us

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things,
and through whom also he made the universe. -Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV

In the first chapter of John's gospel we learn that Jesus is the Word that became flesh. This Word was expressed in the birth, life, teaching, ministry and resurrection of Jesus. When that baby was born in Bethlehem, God spoke the word "humility" to us. In his teaching Jesus spoke the word "wisdom". His ministry spoke "compassion" and his resurrection shouted "eternal life" to us. But most of all, the life of Jesus the Messiah spoke the love of God in a magnificent way.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Humility of Christ

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. -Philippians 2:5-8 NRSV

I once heard that Christ's coming was like a human being deciding to give up their life as a human to become an ant and live the life of an ant. I am not sure that adequately describes what Jesus did but it does paint a picture of what it might be to empty ones self. This emptying act speaks deeply to me of what it means to be humble. It tells me that humility involves emptying all we are for the sake of another. It points me to the ultimate humility of that baby in Bethlehem.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Humility of Mary

Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. -Luke 1:46-48 ESV

Mary is an unwed mother. It is unclear whether Joseph has accepted her condition at this point in time. She takes off for an extended visit with her older cousin Elizabeth. Times are very difficult for this amazing young girl. Yet listen to what she says as she speaks of magnifying and rejoicing in God. It speaks deeply to me of the humility of this precious saint. Mary paints an image for all time of what humility actually looks like. Would that we might all respond to the voice of God with such humility. I pray that my heart would be open to the workings of God. I ask to be humble like the Virgin Mary.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Immanuel

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall call his name Immanuel. -Isaiah 7:14 ESV

The name Immanuel means God is with us. Many who argue about the deity of Jesus Christ sometimes overlook the simple meaning of Immanuel. It is understandable. The idea that God would choose to be with us in the form of a helpless baby is very difficult to comprehend. Yet the gospel records are clear that he did. And the world has never been the same. And today God is still with us. God the Spirit lives in us. He is called the Comforter and the Counselor. And like Immanuel the coming of the Spirit requires a birth, a new birth. When we are born of the Spirit we experience Immanual.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Rejection

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. -John 1:11 ESV

I wonder when the Lord Jesus first sensed rejection. Was he rejected by his siblings like Joseph was as he was growing up? Or was it much later when he confronted the religious leaders. It had to break his heart to not be received by the ones to whom he was sent. In this he was so much like many of the rejected prophets. And in Christ we have an example of how we should respond to the hate and rejection of others. In him we are taught how to live and forgive.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Timing

When the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. -Galatians 4:4 NLT

Ever wonder why the Messiah Jesus was born in that time and place? Ever wonder what it would have been like if he came to us today instead of back then? Some feel that the time of his coming was good in the sense that the culture, both religious and political, were ripe for him. The evidence seems to indicate that it was as his message is as powerful today as it ever has been. It fills me with awe and causes me to wonder if we too were born at just the right time.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Nothing is Impossible

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. ...
For nothing is impossible with God.” -Luke 1:35,37

The word impossible is one that so describes the coming of the Messiah. It seemed impossible for a virgin to be with child. It seemed impossible for the betrothed of such a girl to accept her as his wife. The life of the this Messiah was filled with the impossible. This pregnant virgin would one day see people healed by the hands of the baby that she was carrying. She would one day see her son resurrected and would know for certain that nothing is impossible with God.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Power of God

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” -Luke 1:35

Ever wonder what it was like for Mary when the Holy Spirit came upon her? Did she sense the power of God when it happened? Was there a moment in time when she knew that she was with child before her body told her that she was with child? It reminds me that God is often working in our lives, preparing us, before we sense His presence. And like Mary, the power of the Most High sometimes overshadows us long before we understand what has been birthed in us.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Dreams

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. -Matthew 2:13-15 NIV

I simply love the way that Joseph believed in these angelic dreams. He first embraced Mary's pregnancy as the result of a dream like this. Joseph seemed to be such a man of faith who was sensitive to the ways that God spoke to him in dreams. It reminds me that the prophet Joel was spoke of a time where the Holy Spirit would be poured out and divine dreams would be dreamed. My hope is that God would continue to appear to us in dreams. Such is my prayer today.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Joseph

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. -Matthew 1:20 NIV

Last month was National Adoption Month here in America. I am the father of two adopted children. Joseph adopted and raised the baby Jesus as his very own son. From my own experience I can tell you that the love that Joseph had for Jesus did not fall short in any way. I so appreciate that he responded so well to this heavenly dream and chose to embrace the human disgrace of Mary's pregnancy. In hindsight we can understand why such a man was chosen to raise Jesus.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Son of God

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. -Luke 1:32 NIV

The idea that God has a son is such a radical idea. I mean really, God has a son? In ancient times stories abounded about angelic visitations. If I were God maybe I would have sent an angel or possibly anointed a human baby. Yet the scriptures tell us that God so loves us that He did not withhold anything but gave us the one he held most dear. When I think of that baby born in Bethlehem so many years ago I think about how much God loves me.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | The Forerunner

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert." -Isaiah 40:3 NKJV

I love the similarities between the stories of John the Baptist and Jesus. Both came with angelic announcements of their births. Both ministered almost exclusively to poor and disenfranchised Jews. Each received sinners rejected by the religious establishment. Both opposed and were rejected by religious leaders. Each died unjust deaths. Yet John understood that Jesus was greater. John baptized with water. Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit. John pointed to Jesus. We point to him too. With John we say that Christ must increase and we must decrease.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Virgin Birth

The Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. -Isaiah 7:14 NIV

The Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary. Christians have always understood that the Messiah was more than a great teacher or prophet. Yet even Isaiah could not have imagined that God would become a man in fulfillment of his prophecy. It is simply outrageous to imagine that one day God would really be Immanuel ["God is with us"]. Almost as outrageous to imagine that God did not love the world enough to give us his Son. Even more outrageous, and arrogant, to think that Jesus was simply just one of us.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Advent | Community

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. -Micah 5:2 NLT

I love that the Messiah was born in a small village. When I think about him being raised in Nazareth I think of the importance of family and community. God could have come as man but came as a baby who could grow experiencing interactions with both children and adults. Not all was good for Jesus though - because folks in his community knew him so well they were blinded to the idea that his origins were greater than their town. Because of this many could not see him as a messianic ruler. This familiarity is also a challenge to those who grow up in religious community.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing Advent series.

Thankful for the Simplicity of Faith

“God always takes the simplest way." -Albert Einstein

This morning I drank a large cup of coffee as I read the whole book of Romans. The word faith popped out at me so manytimes as I read. Faith is such a simple, albeit deep, idea. Kids can have it. The smallest seed of it, planted in our heart, can change everything - in 1976 it rocked my world! I give thanks to God, for the faith planted in me and so many others, on this last day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Courage

"They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.
But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town." -Acts 19:19-20

I read these verses Wednesday and was amazed how Paul went back to such a dangerous environment. The bible is filled with stories like this of how godly people risked all, and sometimes died, as they courageously spoke God's message. I give thanks to God, for the courage of those who served then and serve today in such a manner, on this twenty-ninth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Communion

“Eating, and hospitality in general, is a communion, and any meal worth attending by yourself is improved by the multiples of those with whom it is shared.” -Jesse Browner

Today people all across America will sit down and share a meal together. Some will say a prayer of thanks before they eat. I love this image of family and friends communing together. It reminds me of that last supper that Jesus shared with his friends. I give thanks to God, for a day that is dedicated to the breaking of bread and the giving of thanks, on this twenty-eighth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Transformation

"Transformation in the world happens when people are healed and start investing in other people." -Michael W. Smith

Today would have been the 63rd birthday of my first wife Ellen. The quote above reminds me of her. She was healed of blindness in 1975 and was so totally transformed by the Lord. Her love and passion for Jesus rocked my world and changed my life forever. So on this her birthday I give thanks to God, for His transforming power, on this twenty-seventh day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for the Bible

"A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education." -Theodore Roosevelt

In a few weeks I will finish the Bible in 90 Days challenge. I am so thankful for the things that I have learned these past few months - for the examples of how God stooped down to work with people, their limited understandings and the influences of their cultures. I give thanks to God, for the ones who diligently shared both the human and the divine, on this twenty-fourth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for America

"I look forward to a great future for America - a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose." -John F. Kennedy

Some folks no longer see America in a positive light. A friend recently asked me why I think that America is still a great country. I pointed to our commitment to entrepreneurship, freedom, caring for the poor and loving the immigrant. I so give thanks to God, for a country that was founded on a love for liberty and the proposition that all men are equal, on this twenty-fifth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Forgiveness

"Some of the worst mistakes of my life have been haircuts." -Jim Morrison

We all can relate to this quote. Mistakes happen. Even worse, people have purposely done bad things to us and we have sinned against others too. When we forgive them (even for a bad haircut) we are released from all sorts of bitterness and anger. I give thanks to God, for the One who on the cross gave us an example of what it is like to forgive, on this twenty-fourth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Godly Examples

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes it is hard to know how to love others and to treat them in a way that honors God. In times like these we so need people around us who embody the heart of the Lord Jesus. People like these have shown me by their example what it is like to live for God. So I give thanks to God, for people who show us God's love by the ways that they live, on this twenty-third day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Open Doors

"I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid,
and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be." - Joseph Campbell

The old adage is that when God closes a door He opens a window. I love this view of life. So often I have prematurely mourned the closing of a door. In hindsight I can see God's providential hand in the closing of doors and in new opportunities. I give thanks to God, for the doors that have closed and the windows that have opened, on this twenty second day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Wings to Fly

"Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?" -Frida Kahlo

Isaiah 40:31 is one of my favorite verses. It speaks of those who wait on the Lord as ones who will mount up with wings of eagles and soar. I love this because it speaks to me of the way that the Holy Spirit causes us to rise above our circumstances and be so much more than we think that we can be. So I give thanks to God, for this the gift of the Holy Spirit, on this twenty first day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Dreams

"We have to go for what we think we're fully capable of, not limit ourselves by what we've been in the past." -Vivek Paul

The bible is filled with promises of future hope and realized dreams. When I am down and discouraged I find hope and encouragement in the God authored dreams he has given me. There is so much waiting for we who love the Lord. I give thanks to God, for helping me come to peace with my past and for giving me dreams of a better tomorrow, on this twentieth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for 64

"Old age is the most unexpected of things that can happen to a man." -Leon Trotsky

Yes, I am rapidly approaching the age of Medicare and Social Security. I am so thankful for being here to experience the joys and sorrows of life. I continue to find God and life in both the highs and the lows. I am so glad to be a part of the lives of my wife, my family and my friends. So I give thanks to God, for the the gift of longevity and the wonder of life, on this eighteenth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Grandchildren

I love music of all kinds,
but there's no greater music than the sound of my grandchildren laughing; my kids, too. -Sylvia Earle

My grandson will be twelve in March and my granddaughter turned ten a few months ago. These two give me so much joy when I am around them. Last month I talked about my sister dying and my granddaughter spontaneously came and gave me a hug. I give thanks to God, for the caring hearts and beautiful smiles of these precious two, on this seventeenth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for a new Heart

"Self-respect is the fruit of discipline:
the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself." -Abraham Heschel

The innermost being is sometimes called the heart - the place of the new birth ... the place where the Holy Spirit lives in His people. When we live from the heart we are able to say no to things that are not good for us. When our heart is strong, through nourishment and exercise, we live disciplined lives. So I give thanks to God, for the the gift of a new heart, on this sixteenth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Second Chances

This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. -Lamentations 3:22-23

Life sometimes seems to be a case study of second chances. We regularly fail and fall. Sometimes we experience failure and discouragement that seems to be so final and so hopeless. Yet the dawn of each day seems to bring with it the hope of a second chance. I give thanks to God, for all of the new mercies that I have experienced in my life, on this fifteenth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Listeners

"The greatest motivational act one person can do for another is to listen." -Roy E Moody

My wife is a great listener - I want to be more like her. In this world of talking heads and preaching teachers it is easy to forget that we have two ears and one mouth. And it can be hard to accept the idea that we can learn more by listening and not speaking. So I give thanks to God, for the people who listen to me and those who hear more than they speak, on this fourteenth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Patience

When I think about patience I am reminded that it is not a gift that anyone else (even God) can give to us. Like contentment, this quality is something that that we are able to learn when we persevere through trials, disappointments and pain. I give thanks to God for sending the Holy Spirit, the one who helps develop patience, on this thirteenth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Freedom

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." -Nelson Mandela

The price of freedom often involves the courage and sacrifice of people who lay it all on the line. It is hard to think of such freedom and not remember, with thanksgiving, the lives of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr and those brave soldiers who fought to make and keep us free. I give thanks to God for these and for the freedom that I experience in Christ on this twelfth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Veterans

Back in 1968 I had no idea that I would one day look back with thanksgiving for my three years in the US Army. I am thankful for the way that military life caused me to mature. And I am so grateful for those like my son who risked everything to serve our country in Iraq and other war torn places. I give thanks for soldiers who serve and have served on this eleventh day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Big Foot

Hard to believe that I am thankful for something that was so hard for me to accept. Big Foot (see picture here) came into our lives almost six years ago and has been so helpful in getting Ann and me where we need to go. I give thanks to God for Big Foot on this tenth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Home

Been a rough week. The past few days I have been using a wheelchair to keep the pressure off my left ankle. I have a MRI next Thursday to see what the problem is with it - might be a stress fracture. In times like these I so appreciate our loft (picture here). So I am giving thanks to God, for the blessing of a wheelchair accessible place to live, on this ninth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Children

I think there is no role more difficult and yet so much more rewarding than raising children. My son and my daughter are more precious to me than life itself. They have blessed and inspired me so much. I give thanks to God for bringing them into my life on this eighth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Friends

I have such a diverse varirty of friends - people that I have met at work, at church and in the neighborhood. Many have inspired and helped me so much in times of need and trial. I give thanks to God for the blessing of their encouraging presence in my life on this seventh day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Grace

I have been in bad shape these days. Very painful left ankle that had me in a wheelchair and kept me up until 2:30 this morning. Sore lower back since yesterday. Root canal today. Even so, I give thanks for the grace that I find to miss a day of giving thanks on the blog and the grace that causes me to overcome every trial that comes my way on this sixth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Technology

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been a geeky nerd all of my life. I started programming computers in the 70s. I give thanks to God for the ways that he has allowed me to enjoy all-things-technical (both professionally and recreationally) on this fourth day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for the Gospels

As I read through the Old Testament I am reminded about how unique the ministry of Jesus Christ was and how he helped us see an accurate image of God. I give thanks for the image of a compassionate and loving God that we see in the gospel accounts on this third day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Doctors, Nurses, Therapists and Healthcare

I am reminded this week of how blessed I am to have the support of healthcare professionals. Apart from advances in medicine I would be in a lot of daily pain and, apart from an early diagnosis of Hereditary Hemochromatosis, I would probably not be here writing this. For everyone that works in healthcare I give thanks to God on this second day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

Thankful for Ann

My wife Ann is the most amazing person that I know. She possesses an inner (and outer) beauty and strength that I greatly admire. She continues to persevere in faith in the most difficult of times. I love her and give thanks to God for her on this first day of November - the month of Thanksgiving!

The OT Tradition of Tithing

These past days I have been having a wonderful conversation with my blogging friend Mike about giving and whether Christians are commanded to tithe. Here is my latest comment:

My issue with the tithe is really much more than the percentage. In the Old Testament it was established as a way to feed the priests and Levites enabling them to minister at the temple. The tithe was never monetary but given in the form of grain and animals. When it is taught this baggage comes with it:
  1. The clergy are now the NT priests and Levites;
  2. Money is substituted for food;
  3. The storehouse is now a church instead of the temple.
In my view this is simply not the way to challenge people to be generous but a way to keep the clergy employed and church buildings maintained.

Why not simply teach people to be generous and then trust the Lord to meet the needs of the clergy? Why revert to Old Testament methodology to feed them?

The other aspect is how clergy is often very poor stewards of the tithe. Pastors ask people to give sacrificially to support their own salaries then treat this giving as if there was no sacrifice involved at all.

Instead, why not tell people to support the poor? As we are all priests, why not call pastors to be bi-vocational and reduce the need for tithes that support Levitical/Clerical salaries. Why embrace an Old Testament style of worship when there is a New Testament model (of fishermen and tentmakers) that we can follow? Why follow the traditions of Judaism or Catholicism when we do not have to?

Loving God

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT)

I have heard it said that the Ten Commandments can be summed up in one word - love. Jesus seems to echo that sentiment here when he tells us that the whole of the Old Testament is about loving God and the people who he has made. In a sense the Lord is giving us a measuring stick to evaluate everything that Moses, the law giver, and the prophets spoke in ancient times. He knew that even these great men were not perfect in all they said.

These words of Christ cause me to think about the religious things that often divert our attention away from these most important commandments - sometimes we really miss it when we our motive is not love. Even so, I think that love can be our guiding precept in all things religious and secular. If a word that we hear in church, on TV or at work lines up with love then it may be a sign that God is speaking to us - even when it is communicated by an imperfect vessel.

All that said, I think that we all have a tendency to discount love as just one of the ways that God works in us and our culture. Sometimes when read the scriptures we can imagine God as wrathful and not loving. I think that we err when we do. In my view, Jesus tells us in these verses that we are most like God when we love with everything we have. God is manifest when love overflows from us to those around us. When we are loving God everything is different.

Knowing God

I think that the topic of a personal relationship with God is fairly misunderstood because it is very different than earthly ones. In my view this relationship begins when one is introduced to Him by being born of the Spirit of God - it is all about having God living in us. Yet the idea that God "talks to us" in this relationship (as we talk to our friends) is one that can be confusing because it means so many things to so many people.

In the scriptures we see this relational communication in many ways. It is sometimes described as a still small voice or simply a sense in our innermost being of what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us. I have sensed God's voice both in prayer and not in prayer. I have heard Him speak to my innermost being with questions that have changed the course of my life. That said, I think that it is unique with each of us because we are all so different.

All that considered I think that the word 'personal' is a dangerous one when used in this context. A relationship with God is never personal in the sense that loving God always involves loving people. One really cannot love God in isolation. Reading through the bible one can readily see how this divine relationship can affect others.

Not sure that I am making sense here - guess it is difficult to tell someone else 'how' to have a relationship with God as words like love, faith and trust (things essential to relationship) mean something different to each of us. Yet those words do help us to understand what it means to know God. Perhaps I will write a bit more about this?

Courage of the Heart

Courage is a quality that is so admired and I think so misunderstood. We all easily understand the word when we hear of soldiers risking and giving theirs live for others. Consider these verses from the book of Psalms:
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (27:14)

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! (31:24)
I guess in a sense all courage emanates from the heart.. courage comes when a person's heart is stronger than their flesh. I think that it is interesting how these verses speak to the idea of waiting for the Lord.. courage of the heart is definitely needed when life is hard and God seems absent.. and we find ourselves waiting for Him to help us. In times when life seems darkest and God does not seem present we are faced with the need to take courage. In dark times I am often reminded of these verses from the book of Hebrews:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (4:14-16)

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (10:35-39)
Here is what I glean from those verses about our need for courage:
  • God is compassionate.. He is not the cause of our weaknesses and sufferings;
  • Prayer is the response of a courageous heart.. it takes courage to say "not my will but yours be done";
  • Faith is an exercise in courage.. faith and courage are both characteristics of a strong heart;
  • Courage is needed to persevere.. it is needed to do God's will;
  • Like a pleasing aroma, so is courage in the nostrils of God.
I wonder how many times courage and faith are intermixed.. in a sense faith is always needed for courage to manifest in our lives. We are on the front lines of a great spiritual battle and, like soldiers in battle, courage of the heart is so needed.

Who is not My Neighbor?

This image reminds me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told the story in response to a Jewish lawyer's question concerning who was the neighbor that he should love as himself. Jesus sensed the duplicity of the question and confronted the man, and many in his audience, with the idea that the Jews did not love their neighboring Samaritans.

In the parable the religious Jews are showed as uncaring and the Samaritan is shown as the one filled with mercy. Martin Luther King, Jr framed the bottom line issue this way:

The first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

I wonder who Jesus would use today as an example to us of people we call neighbors but do not love or show mercy to. Perhaps this list might be a place to start? Maybe loving our neighbor is really not all that easy? Perchance we need a few more Samaritans in our lives?

The Insanity of Prayer

A recent article, titled “The definition of insanity” is the most overused cliché of all time, begins by saying:
"It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
I can relate to that! I recently told a few friends that my prayer life often resembles this definition of insanity. I keep praying the same things and expecting a different result - or maybe just any result. One of my friends replied asking me why I even pray. I responded by saying that praying is like breathing for me.

When I speak of prayer as spiritual breathing I am reminded of how, in my twenties, I never prayed even though my wife Ellen was blind for 3 of those years. Then she was healed and I became aware of God. Eventually I prayed my first real prayer and it has become like breathing in the sense of I do it without thinking to do it. It comes naturally just like breathing. Yet some of the prayers are versions of insanity as I ask for the same things over and over and do not see answers. Even so, I find peace in knowing that God has heard me - and perhaps that it a good enough "answer".

Real life example of my insane prayer life: As many of you know my wife Ann has been disabled for six years now and I watch her struggle every day to do basic things as she gets in and out of her wheelchair. I pray all of the time for her and I sometimes express my frustrations to the Lord. I sometimes feel a bit insane as I pray and do not see improvements in Ann's health. So I wonder if the real challenge is to be content (through prayer) with the challenges and pain that she and I experience. Being content with pain? Now that sounds insane!! What do you think?

What is prayer?

Recently had a conversation where the topic and nature of prayer came up. Looking at the Lord's prayer I thought that I might take a shot at answering the question posed in the title. I think that prayer is:
  • relationship - "Our father who art in heaven" speaks to me of the nature of the one to whom we pray. We do not speak to a Zeus like being sitting on a mountain but a parent who cares for us and wants the best for us.
  • worship - "hallowed be thy name" tells me that there is a difference between God and my earthly father. When I speak to God I do so with reverence acknowledging that He is not only greater than I am but that He is different and worthy of my praise and obedience.
  • desire - "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" reveals the heart of every believer. Things can be difficult in our lives. Yet in the midst of the pain there is something that cries out from our very souls that God would come to earth - that His will would be done and His kingdom be manifested.
  • need - "gives us this day our daily bread" acknowledges that God is our source and, whether we understand it or not, He is the one who provides for the most basic of our needs.
  • forgiveness - "forgive us our trespasses" is a phrase that should break us and ruin us. It is both an acknowledgement of the problem and a confession of the answer. When prayed from the heart it is a transformative sentence and one that can bring healing to us.
  • responsibility - "as we forgive" engages our hearts in a way that brings peace to our hearts and reconciliation to our relationships. Apart from this prayer simply becomes the airing of grievances and a petition of wishes.
  • discipleship - "lead us" identifies us as followers of God longing for His direction. It reminds us not only that He is with us always but wants to be our counselor teaching us the way to live.
  • protection - "deliver us from evil" is both an acknowledgment of the sinister and a proclamation of divine saving power. Sometimes our need so obvious and in other times it is more subtle. Yet in all cases our need for protection is so much greater than we can imagine.
  • humility - "thine is the kingdom ... the power ... the glory" reminds us that He is God and we are not. In the end life is all about the kingdom of God. When all is said and done the power of God sustains us. It is why we must seek to glorify Him in everything that we do.
  • hope - "forever" is one of the most powerful words in the English language. It is a word that compels me to believe that there is more to this life than what we experience on earth. It challenges me to live in such a way that embraces eternity in my heart.
These ten words challenge me and remind me that prayer is so much more than petitioning a Santa Clause in heaven with the things that I think that I need. These ten thoughts instruct me concerning what Christ taught about prayer. 

Responding to a Young Physicist

This weekend I responded on my friend Les' blog to a commenter who once attended a conservative Christian college where she went to chapel everyday, did Bible studies and the like. She is currently an atmospheric physicist and an environmental engineer. She had questions and comments like ...
  • I just can’t believe that the ONLY way to God is through Jesus. Oh, I understand my sinful status and that I need a Savior and that IS Jesus. But, it makes absolutely no sense that God condemned billions and billions of people to hell because they never heard of Jesus.
  • Then, there’s the problem of “Where is God?” when people call on him. Don’t give me that crap “In His time.” The Bible says straight away, pray and the prayers will be answered. And, it doesn’t say, “Oh, that answer may be, ‘No.’” I still pray, just asking for his peace, and all I have is anxiety.
  • I don’t want SIMPLE faith. I want faith based on reason, not simplicity.
These are good questions. Thought you might like to read my response ...

I love your comment! I too spent a lot of time in ultra-conservative churches that seemed to see everything in black and white terms. Life got better for me when I began to see the bible, and life in general, in grayer ways.

Your thoughts about Jesus being the only way and how billions of people will suffer torment eternally reminds me that Jesus is a lot bigger than our narrow understandings of what it means to believe in Him. For sure many embrace a formulaic approach to salvation – makes sense to people living in a black and white hallucinogenic state. But please know that there other views (like the one Billy Graham has) that deals with those billions of peoples.

Concerning your issues with what the bible says about prayers being answered straight away – I think that it is good to remember that a lot of things are written in hyperbolic language. In other words, all things are not really possible, literal mountains are not meant to be moved, not everything that we ask in prayer is answered. Many of the things written are over-emphasized simply to make a point.

It is hard for a one-time programmer like me to wrap my head around that though – I want gray things to be black or white. Yet the bible is not really about black and white. Genesis is about a bigger story than the nuts and bolts of creation. The scriptures weave an amazing story about God and His creation. We do not have to accept that everything written in it is God’s literal dictation to and through man – that really just cheapens the story and drags us through pointless arguments.

Better that we try to embrace a heart (i.e. grayer) view of biblical stories. I find that when I do I learn so much more about the ways that God interacts with humanity and humanity with Him. I think that the Book is all about the big stories and really not all that much about doctrinal stuff. The Jesus story, for me anyway, is unrivaled in all of history when we see it as a story of God visiting the planet instead of some heady doctrinal dissertation of some sort of dogma.

Regarding questions of why God does not give relief from fear or why people in need are not helped – perhaps humanity owns more of the answer than we want to own up to? Perhaps the love of God is resident in other people who can help us if we simply humble ourselves and ask them?

I am glad that you are not looking for simple faith. I have found that faith that does not struggle is not really faith but a superstitious and useless believer-ism that fails when times get tough. Watching my first wife die seemed to strip away a lot of that silliness from my life.

In closing I want to thank you for the genuineness of your comment and the reality expressed in it.

The Ordinary Presence of God

Much is made these days in some circles of the manifest presence of God. Some would discount the ordinary presence of Jesus preferring a more mystical version of it. In one of his last words on earth Jesus comforted us with these words:

        "surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age"

He also assured us that the Holy Spirit would be in our lives to lead us, comfort us and be with us always. These assurances from the Lord helps me to better understand the words of Isaiah in the image on the left. And Isaiah's words provide context to what God's presence looks like in our lives. Knowing that God is with me frees me from fear. When I am tempted to be dismayed I find strength when I lean into His presence. In some of my darkest days I have felt his presence upholding me. His righteous right hand picks me up when I fall and causes me to stand. So while I have experienced the mystical (and almost tangible) presence of God in my life, I am so thankful that God is with me when I least sense Him. I am so thankful for the ordinary presence of God.

Inerrancy vs Scriptural Trustworthiness

Another blast from the past - almost 5 years ago! The good stuff is in the comments!

My wife Ann is reading (and I am reading excerpts from) the post-evangelical by Dave Tomlinson. To the left is a page that I found to be an interesting one. You can read the next page here.

I am interested in your thoughts on this and would like to have a dialog around scriptural inerrancy. So feel free to leave me a comment or perhaps pose a question for discussion. The more interaction the better :)

The Timeless Kingdom

Another blast from the past. This one from November of 2008 ...

Ever wonder about this whole idea of time? The longer I live the more I realize how much of my life is preoccupied with this idea of time. I became impatient a few hours ago because my wife was running a bit slow and didn't seem to be "on time". I wonder what time looks like when God's kingdom comes? Ever think about this whole idea of "eternity"?
It says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
I found it interesting how this verse blends elements of time and eternity. Ever think about how time is a part of creation? Ever wonder what existence will look like after we die? Ever think of living in a timeless world? Hard to get your head around isn't it? Could it be that Heaven is a place where time does not exist?

I think that one of the keys to time is understanding that our view of time is different than God's perspective. We get a glimpse of it when Peter writes:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2Peter3:8)
Peter is not giving us a heaven-earth time conversion table.. he is saying that God's view of time is different than ours. I think that time is an earthly concept.. God exists outside of time.. it is why the writer of Hebrews says:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
It speaks to the agelessness of heaven.. Jesus doesn't age.. He is the same.. He doesn't get smarter.. He is all wise.. interesting isn't it?

So.. you might ask.. who cares about time.. how can understanding this help me? I think that we can develop patience in our lives when we live understanding that His kingdom is a timeless one. Whether He chooses to act today or tomorrow is somewhat irrelevant when we live in a timeless kingdom. I think that a preoccupation with time and timing is evidence that we are living in the visible kingdom and not His invisible kingdom.

The Apostle Paul writes one of the most amazing verses about time:
So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Again we see that God is mindful of time but not bound by it. In His sovereignty He sent Jesus at the perfect time. Interesting that Paul says "the fullness of the time".. as if God was peering into this time-bounded dimension where He saw the past and the future and determined the right time for Jesus to be born.. mind boggling isn't it?

When we live a kingdom oriented life we live a life filled with patience.. a life unoccupied and obsessed with time. We understand that God operates outside of time and brings things to pass in the fullness of time.

Faith and Fatalism

Another blast from the past. Some thoughts that I shared in January 2005 ...

My pastor recently mentioned fatalism in a Sunday morning message. It caused me to look the word up:
Fatalism: Acceptance of the belief that all events are predetermined and inevitable.
This definition really challenges me because it too closely tracks with something I have often called faith. In this definition my 'que sera, sera' attitude is revealed as a fatalistic view of life and my heart is laid bare having not really exercised faith in God but having given in to this dark thinking. One way that fatalism reveals itself in my heart is when I don't pray thinking that if God wants it to be He will make it happen and I really don't have a part.

I think that some of this thinking began 11 years ago when my first wife died. I prayed for her healing for four years and, in the end, she died - and ultimately my prayers were seemingly unanswered. This event brought a sickness into my heart ... part of me gave up the fight ... life became difficult and my prayer life became more about the sovereignty of God (my spin on fatalism) and the power of God. I found myself talking to God in terms where there was no risk.

In 1999 I was diagnosed with an arthritic condition that caused me to be somewhat disabled activity-wise ... my heart died a little more. A few years later my new wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis - my heart once again sank and this fatalistic 'Sovereignty of God' view gained more control of me.

So what exactly is the difference between true faith in God's sovereignty and a fatalistic view. I think that we can find the answer in the outcome of each. In essence faith causes us to press in, seek, and overcome - fatalism causes us to give up. Faith inspires hope in tomorrow while fatalism offers only fear. Faith affirms God's love for us ... fatalism embraces the worst of our fears.

Fatalism is very subtle because it can mask itself in very religious ways. We can mistake a sort of spiritual paralysis as "waiting on the Lord". We can be immobilized by fear and think that we are living in dependence on God ... all the while not taking risks ... not stepping out in faith ... thinking that God will move when even when our hearts are dark with fatalism. You know, when our faith is focused on the whole of God - His sovereignty, His Power and His Love - we can have a healthy faith. When we focus on one aspect of God, like His sovereignty, we develop an unhealthy faith. Our challenge today is to pray ... pray that our hearts would be free of fatalism and filled with faith.

The Satisfaction Theory

Tuesday I presented the Christus Victor view of the cross. The following view is sometimes called Penal Substitution.
St. Anselm of Canterbury first articulated the satisfaction view in his Cur Deus Homo?, as a modification to the ransom theory that was postulated at the time. The then-current ransom view of the atonement held that Jesus' death paid a ransom to Satan, allowing God to rescue those under Satan's bondage. For Anselm, this solution was inadequate. Why should the Son of God have to become a human to pay a ransom? Why should God owe anything at all to Satan?

Instead, Anselm suggested that we (sinful humans) owe God a debt of honor: "This is the debt which man and angel owe to God, and no one who pays this debt commits sin; but every one who does not pay it sins. This is justice, or uprightness of will, which makes a being just or upright in heart, that is, in will; and this is the sole and complete debt of honor which we owe to God, and which God requires of us." This debt creates essentially an imbalance in the moral universe; it could not be satisfied by God's simply ignoring it. In Anselm's view, the only possible way of repaying the debt was for a being of infinite greatness, acting as a man on behalf of men, to repay the debt of honor owed to God. Therefore, when Jesus died, he did not pay a debt to Satan but to God, His Father. In light of this view, the "ransom" that Jesus referred to, in the Gospels, would be a sacrifice and a debt paid only to God the Father, in behalf of "many".

Anselm did not state specifically whether Jesus' payment of debt was for all of mankind as a group or for individual people, but his language leans in the former direction. Thomas Aquinas' later developments specifically attribute the scope of the atonement to be universal in nature.
Following are a few counterpoints that Derek Flood presents on his blog:
  • When we strip the human experience of the language of passion, then we are left with a soulless theology. Love cannot be dissected into a formula without trivializing it. It can only be articulated in the language of the poet.
  • Satisfaction-Doctrine takes the love out of the cross, and turns it into a calculated legal transaction.
  • There is no conflict between God's justice and mercy. Justice is about mercy. Justice comes through mercy and always has.
  • Satisfaction-Doctrine, although it prides itself on facing the gravity of sin, in fact treats sin superficially without dealing with the roots.
  • Love from God is not based on who we are but on who God is. We are justified by God's love, not by law. Likewise sanctification comes through living in God's love.
As I said before, I am drawn more to the Christus Victor view of the cross.

Which view attracts you more? What aspects of that theory appeal the most?

Christus Victor

I quoted this Wikipedia excerpt yesterday in a comment on this blog:
"The term Christus Victor refers to a Christian understanding of the atonement which views Christ's death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under their dominion, were defeated. It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers, and it, or the related ransom theory, was the dominant theory of the atonement for a thousand years, until it was removed in the West by the eleventh-century Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm, and replaced with his "satisfaction" model."
I first learned about Christus Victor on Derek Flood's blog where he contrasts Christus Victor with Penal Substitution. Since then he has published a book. Here is the Amazon description of it:
Why did Jesus have to die? Was it to appease a wrathful God's demand for punishment? Does that mean Jesus died to save us from God? How could someone ever truly love or trust a God like that? How can that ever be called ''Good News''? It's questions like these that make so many people want to have nothing to do with Christianity. Healing the Gospel challenges the assumption that the Christian understanding of justice is rooted in a demand for violent punishment, and instead offers a radically different understanding of the gospel based on God's restorative justice.
I suggest that you take a look at Derek's comparison of these two views of what happened on the cross. You can read his thoughts here. You may not change your view but it will definitely give you something to think about.

made in our image

Today I am thinking about how we tend to make God in our own image. This photo shows how religious people sometimes portray an image of an angry God to the world.. even to children.

I must confess that I certainly have an image of God. Generally speaking my theology.. weird as it is.. has become one where I try to filter views, religious and otherwise, through the life and teachings of the Jesus we find in the gospels.. not always neat and tidy though it may be. And I guess the cornerstone (not sure that word is even accurate to describe it) of my thinking is encapsulated in the third chapter of John's gospel where Jesus says:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Now I understand that the bible and the gospel is more than just these three sentences spoken by Jesus so many years ago. Yet I believe that they help to condense my thinking down to the idea that God loves us so we should in return love Him and love the ones that he loves. In a sense these sentences solidify for me the image of God in my mind as a loving Father who has created children in His image with the ability to simply return His love to Him and to others.

So I thought that I might takes a few minutes and briefly comment on the image of God that some people and a few religions embrace:
Angry God: I think that this is the deity that many people, like my friend Brian, were taught in their childhood. In some strange theistic dichotomy God is presented as one who loves you so much that you need to be afraid of him.. especially if you "sin". Hell, sin and the wrath of God are front and center when this image is presented.

Holy God: This image is a bit different than the previous one. God is still sometimes presented as angry but more of an "angry at sin" rather than "angry at you". The issue here is still the preoccupation with sin and judgment.

Exclusive God: This image is found in different forms in the religious world. Some theologies ascribe to the idea that God created some to be exclusively predestined to heaven and some to hell and torment. Some believe that if you are not one of us then your destiny is one filled with fire and brimstone. In these scenarios both God and His followers are exclusive entities.

Enabling God: This is the image that basically says that God is too nice to allow anyone to suffer.. of course this thinking always adds "after they die".. obviously most people are allowed to suffer before they die. This view presents God as a weak Father who in the end will do anything to ensure that His children do not suffer. The view of man in this scenario is one of the saddest. I have opined a bit on this previously in a post titled Divine Pets.

Absent God: This image is the closest thing to atheism or agnosticism that I can think of. It is the idea that God once created the world then took off into the vast regions of the universe and is no where to be found. Don't pray to this entity because He won't answer and is not interested in us.

The Man Upstairs: If ever there was a God made in our image it is this one. Basically this view says that God is one of us.. He thinks like us.. He judges like us.. His view of fairness is similar to mine.. or yours. This is the image that placates folks who rarely think about God and live lives devoid of anything spiritual.

Santa Clause God: This is the image embraced by many narcissistic leaning folks who believe that God exists to answer their prayers and to lavish them with good things. This thinking believes strongly in the promises of God when it is to their benefit to do so. I once wrote about this phenomenon with regard to healing here.
Well I think that I have covered enough to make someone mad at me. Of course these ideas are faulted.. like me they are not perfect.. these images are, in a sense, the images that I have about those images.

Prayer Answers: Yes, No, Wait?

Another blast from the past ... first posted in December 2009 ...

I had an interesting dialog on Facebook over the weekend about my post titled When Prayers Are Not Answered. I asked for thoughts on unanswered prayers.. here are a few of the responses:
  • I don't believe prayer is ever "unanswered." Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, but God ALWAYS listens and answers - He just doesn't always give us the answer we want. If we don't get what we want, then we must trust that what He DOES give us will be used to for His glory and our good. Not easy to do, but it's what we are called to.
  • Here are my thought on that Bob, I went through a very difficult time not so long ago...I wanted it over with in a flash and I got down on my knees and begged. I had heard in sermons that there were people that had their prayers answered in a moment...and I asked I not as loved as they are? And after I fought my way through with Him by my side I found out that it was because I wouldn't have learned the lesson that I was supposed to learn. Many I have learned in the past four years. Thank you Lord for teaching me.
  • Absolutely agree with all of the above! I guess it's purely the word "unanswered" that I struggle with. I know that it's just a word, but I hate to leave that impression of God out there at all. That's all I'm saying. :-)
  • As always, I love your writing. I think for me, I've always looked at "unanswered prayer" as the answer. I don't know...I'm not sure think of it so much as an unanswered prayer. I think sometimes no answer is the answer. Maybe it's our own lack of not being able to see it as an answer. And sometimes it's a matter of timing. The answer comes not when we want it, but maybe when we need will need it the most. After all, He sees what's ahead.
  • Timing is what it is all about.... When the student is ready...the teacher will appear!!!
So.. in light of this.. when do we know that we have an answer? It seems that the Apostle Paul got an answer concerning his thorn in the flesh when God replied and gave him a "no" to his request to have the thorn removed. But so many folks (myself included) that I know struggle with hearing that "no" answer and hang on to these words of Jesus:
Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. -Matthew 7:7 (AMP)
This passage speaks to me of the persistence that we so need when we pray.. often we see this persistence on display in the scriptures.. certainly the seeking and knocking prayers are not just a one time events.

I do think that the Holy Spirit can speak to us and tell us "no" as He did with Paul.. but until He does isn't it a good idea to keep praying and understanding that the answer may be "wait"? And really.. isn't a "wait" answer just another way to describe an unanswered prayer? I would love to hear what you think.

Confessions of a Grieving Control Freak

My friend Les asked me to write something about my grieving journey for his blog ...

In March of 1990 my life fell apart.

Ellen, my wife of 19 years, had a heart attack and kidney failure.

In the following four years my whole life’s focus was caring for her.

Everything else I was doing, ministry-wise, was stopped.

I slowly died on the inside.

It was during this time that I began to be confronted by the control issues that surrounded me and lived deep within me.

As I continually prayed for my wife she got weaker and weaker.

And my frustration got stronger and stronger.

I had no control over what was happening.

My children began having problems in school.

They too were dealing with a deepening grief about their mom’s health.

All the while I was being forced to change – I hated it.

All of the things in life that I thought I had figured out were unraveling before my eyes.

Everything that was important to me was falling apart.

I was dying on the inside and in May of 1994 my dear wife of 23 years died.

The past years had taken a toll on our family. My 14 year old son, my 10 year old daughter and me.

We were all devastated at my wife’s death.

We all expected her to get well.

That is what we prayed for.

I believed in healing and miracles.

Standing by her side I even prayed for a resurrection when my wife breathed her last.

The aftermath of her death found my son and my daughter struggling with diverse issues and me dealing with a broken theology.

I increasingly became aware of how much I had been led by principles and precepts.

Subconsciously I had developed a complex internal system of rules and logic concerning life.

These ‘of course’ were all based in scripture and encompassed words like ‘authority’ and ‘submission’.

Unclear to me was the real issue – living by rules put me in control.

For years I lived the life of a ‘led by the Spirit’ Christian when in truth I was more like a rules following control freak.

Sadly, my legalistic approach to life and Christianity bred an arrogant attitude towards people who didn’t see the scriptures the same way I did.

When my wife was sick the arrogant attitude began to give way to glimpses of humility.

I was humbled when meals came into my home from friends at church for 10 weeks.

Coping with hospitalizations, doctor’s bills (from 40+ doctors), hemodialysis, and a boatload of medical problems brought me to a place of breaking.

I was losing control.

I didn’t want to let go of my legalistic ideas and practices but had no option.

I could no longer maintain and feed the on stuff that once brought my ego such satisfaction.

The years after my wife’s passing brought many changes in my life.

That major theme of losing control seemed to subtly resurface as my children began to outwardly grieve the loss of their mom.

‘Control’ is a major battlefield for one trapped in black and white thinking.

It is all about ‘control’.

That brings me to the end of 2002.

I had remarried and Ann, my new wife, was going through an intense health crisis that involved paralysis.

I was beside myself once again when the Holy Spirit began to speak to me.

He spoke to me about life and living.

About letting go and flowing in life instead of controlling.

He said that life isn’t something to be managed like a project but something to be lived.

God was beginning to slay my desire to be in control.

Little did I know how much this would be tested over the coming years.

In the summer of 2007 my wife had another relapse of this nasty neurological disease called Neuromyelitis Optica.

This time she did not bounce back like the many times before.

This time she could not walk.

This time she would need to use a wheelchair to get around.

And she does to this day.

In January 2008 I read this quote from G. K. Chesterton:
“Why be something to everybody when you can be everything to somebody?”
It got me crying.

And over the following months I became convinced that God was leading me to leave my job as a pastor.

That summer I retired to minister full time at home.

I still find it difficult to let go and not control but I am making progress.

I try to see issues in the color gray rather than in black and white.

I do things these days that have clear boundaries.

I listen more to the advice of friends and family.

I honor the choices of my adult children even when I don’t agree with them.

And in all things I remember that God loves me and wants me to trust Him.

Not that I always do.

After all, trust is an issue of letting go and giving up control. :)