Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Seen and Unseen

What's more real -- the things you can see, or the things you can't see? Most people think, well, for sure, it's what you can see. And feel, and taste, and smell and hear. But the vast majority of the light spectrum is not visible to humans, neither is the range of sound waves. I wonder about touch and taste and smell?

Paul writes a lot in Second Corinthians about what's real and what's not. He writes in terms of what is eternal versus what is only physical and temporary. He tells us that what is most real is what we don't (yet) see, because it will be revealed one day, and that it is eternal. For instance, in 1:9, telling about the way they were persecuted for the Gospel, he says " In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead." If Paul felt that physical life was the only life that mattered, he would have certainly despaired. But knowing that God had something more for him, he could hold on to hope even though physical life might be ending.

What's he basing that on? An absolute certainty of the promises of God. In chapter 1:3, "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort." Through the story of their suffering in chapter 1, to the comparison between physical life and eternity (4:7 to 5:10) Paul is confident that all will be well because God will see us into the future safely no matter what we face today. Even while suffering some sort of 'thorn in the flesh,' he received the message that God's grace to him was more powerful than any other issue: "Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' "

Today I have all sorts of needs: physical, emotional, financial, time pressure, and others. It's easy to look around and think the list of factors against me is impossible ever to overcome. But Paul's words keep coming back to help me. God's overwhelming power, and his grace -- his focus on delivering what is best for us no matter what troubles we think will defeat us -- will win in the end. Paul could call his troubles, which were far greater than mine, "momentary light affliction" in chapter 4. Maybe I should too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Children ask a lot of "why" questions. Why does the sun come up in the morning? Why do birds eat worms? And so forth. Isn't it a shame we tend to lose our curiosity as we get older? Maybe we should get it back. It's a very useful trait.

I've spent a lot of time this last year studying the #1 question of all time: who God is. I think there are, roughly, three ways you could understand God and what he wants from us. They range from great strictness to complete looseness. Here are the first two:

If God is primarily concerned with whether people are doing wrong and then punishing them for it, you have a God of judgment and the primary job of his messengers is to tell people not to sin. If God is primarily concerned with accepting people, then he will overlook or excuse their sins and evil ideas, and the primary job of his messengers is telling people that he loves them and has decided not to care about their imperfections. Those are the two extremes.

There's a third option that addresses both of these: If God is primarily concerned with bringing people into a loving relationship with him, then he has found a way to deal with peoples' imperfections, weaknesses, sins and evil. The primary job of his messengers is telling people that God is passionately interested in a deep relationship with them, and that he has already handled the problem of evil in them and in the world.

This last one is the comprehensive message found in the Bible. It includes God's judgment against sin (overall, our rebelling against his love and instructions in an attempt to do it our own way) as well as his limitless love for us and desire to have relationship with us.

Here's the grand unifying theory, in two passages from the New Testament: "When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God." (Romans 5:6-11)

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

God's judgment against our sins, and his love for us, come together and are dealt with perfectly and completely in Jesus Christ, who was the perfect union of humanity with God. That means the Gospel is, truly, good news --
the best news you could ever hope for. And that message is what his messengers live for.

Why are you here?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


The picture many of us have of God is often one of a stern, harsh ruler, ready to 'take us out' at our next infraction. Some see the OT God as some sort of angry authority figure, balanced out by his really nice and loving son Jesus. The angry God sent the Son, the idea goes, to be punished because of us -- sort of like the vicarious 'whipping boy' employed by royalty when the prince messes up.

But we need to remember that God is one (Deut. 6:4, etc). So there is no difference between the God of the Hebrew scriptures and the God of the Greek New Testament. Whether we think of the Father or the Son, or the Holy Spirit, the passions and love and desires of God are the same.

Jesus referred to God as his Father. To do so in a personal sense was unheard of in Israel's thinking. Observant Jews of his day would not have dared claim God as a Father. But Jesus did!

He told us to pray to "Our Father" in a personal way (Matt. 6:9). So he was opening up that relationship of love and acceptance, tenderness and grace, on a personal level, for the first time.

The Father wants us to experience that relationship with him, not just learn about it in some sort of classroom way. Paul uses some OT verses to construct a new thought in 2 Cor 6:18: "And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." The Father is serious about being our Father, and he wants us to accept our status as his children. He thinks of us as his children, and he wants us to think of him as Father.

Those of us who are fathers know how much we want to be Daddy to our kids. We desire to be close to our children emotionally, to have a deep relationship with them. That's just what the Father says to us also. His love for us was so strong that, before the universe existed, he knew he would have to sacrifice his own self, through the Son, to bring us into intimacy with him: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life"(John 3:16).

God has already made that move. We already belong to him as his children and he yearns for us to have that same intimacy with him. That relationship already exists, whether we see it or not. But the experience of it is up to us. How about it? Will you run into his arms and call him Daddy? It will change your life forever.