Monday, October 3, 2011

YGITS: Heavenly Bosom

                There is a charge made that those who believe in God do so only as a crutch to escape the harsh realities of this world. Instead of being able to take life’s challenges head-on, they create a parental figure to believe in, call it God, and go about their merry way. For most people, this is ridiculous on its face. History is replete with examples of thousands facing very real, very visceral, very painful challenges even to the point of death in the name of God without trying to escape it at all. These people stand on the foundation that God has placed them on. 

Think of man able to weather all sorts of storms in life while his family is there to support him. Should his family crumble, however, the core of his life give way, it will not take much to bring him into destruction. In the case of God, it is not escapism, but a foundation to build our lives on. It is precisely because God is such an immutable being, such a Rock, that a man can build his life on Him, and return to Him for stability, strength, and refreshment. In this sense there is an “escape,” but it is one that prepares him for engagement with the world and its difficulties instead of simply hiding him from such things.

There are, however, those who do think of God as a place to hide from the tempests and trials of life, and even encourage others to do so. They may even write nice sounding songs about “Jesus,” but it is not a reflection of the real Jesus that we read of in the Bible. Do not misunderstand; I am not saying that Jesus is not able or willing to comfort us in times of need. We see Him time and again giving sympathy to those who need it or who need a brief respite in His presence. What I am saying is that the same Jesus who said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” (Matt. 11:28) is the same Jesus who expected all (yes, all) of His followers to go into the world and make disciples of all men. Jesus did not come to enable us to escape life. He came to give us life more abundantly (Jn. 10:10).

To maintain this view of God, and to perpetuate it, can bring a great deal of harm to many people even outside the one that holds it:
1. They see Jesus saying only “Come unto Me,” instead of, “Go out in My Name.” They do not become powerful, independent agents of Christ, but weak, unfocused, and fearful spiritual babes.
2. They encourage others with a tendency towards this mentality to stay where they are instead of growing into that which God intends them to be.
3. They provide critics with ammunition for this meme, and make Jesus look unattractive to those who desire maturity over blind sentimentality.
4. They do not fight on when things get hard, preventing the Christian message from people in a world desperately in need of His love and strength.

So there you have it. If you find yourself seeking only asylum instead of growth, realize that God’s plans for you are much bigger than that. Christianity is not to enable those who wish to stay immature and hidden away from the world to do so. You are God’s tool to help bring this world to Him. He will not be pleased with those who take the gifts and skills and abilities He has blessed them with and hide them away. He calls us to more. To put on spiritual muscle we need to put ourselves out there. It can be scary, but He has told us that He will always be there with us and for us. He will not let us down. 


So get out there. He has given you the victory.

Monday, September 5, 2011

YGITS: Absolute Perfection

                The “god of 100%” is one that is a danger to the spiritual lives of many Christians. What makes talking about this particular destructive view of God difficult is that it seems plausible. Since God is perfection, and since He asks for our complete loyalty, then we can best serve Him by setting up standards of perfection and seeing to it that we obey them. This brings about two main problems. This first is that it causes those who do not have the imagination or experience to imagine what a true 100% looks like be satisfied before they should be. These see 100% as being “doing the best I know how.”  The problem lies in the fact that “doing the best I can,” and true 100% obedience are two very different things. The second problem occurs when this group imposes the 100% philosophy on those who do have the imagination and experience to imagine what a true 100% looks like.

                It is a terrifying experience to have 100% imposed on this second group and believe it. To believe that we must be perfect before God will have any dealings with us goes against exactly what the Bible teaches over and over; that God deals with imperfect people with love and patience, guiding them and helping them and forgiving them even in the middle of their mistakes. Christ commanded “learn of Me," (Matt. 11:29). Learning necessarily involves making mistakes and correcting them. It is a process. Even Paul stated, after so many years of being a powerful apostle of Jesus:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me,” (Php. 3:10-12).

                It is certainly our goal to be God’s more fully and conformed to the image of Christ. But it is a process, a journey. We don’t come out of the waters of baptism and never make a mistake again. If 100% perfection were what we were measured against, then Christ and He alone would have made it. Thankfully, He gave Himself for us that we might be continually cleansed in His blood, causing God to see us as perfect even when we are not.

                So don’t fear the fact that you don’t measure up to 100%! We have been washed in the blood. We are called to give our best for God because Jesus has saved us, not so He will. The hard part has already been done for us, it is now our turn to give back all we can to Him.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

YGITS: Meek-and-Mild

                Charles Wesley once wrote a poem now considered a classic for children. The first line states, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon this little child.” Cecil F. Alexander wrote in Once in Royal David’s City, “Christian children all must be, mild, obedient, good as He.” I find it both sad and offensive that the only word they could come up with to rhyme with the word “child” was “mild”. I find it patently offensive that they chose to apply this term “mild,” to Christ Himself! This situation isn’t helped by the often flowery, soft images that portray Christ. Even in images of the crucifixion, reality is often sanitized to the point where it becomes impossible for one to see it truthfully in their mind’s eye.

                Please don’t get me wrong. I am not charging Mr. Wesley or Mr. Alexander with purposefully insulting Jesus by calling Him “mild,” but I do believe it is wholly incorrect and harmful to our thinking that they chose that word for Him. Mild, the Man who flipped tables in the temple not once, but twice! Mild, the Man who challenged and exposed the hypocrisy of the powerful religious forces of the day, who knowingly walked resolutely to His death despite His closest friends begging Him not to do it! Mild, the Man whose personality, 2000 years later, has not been extinguished or slowed down despite every effort being made to do so!

                Is it a wonder that as children grow up they begin to find their heroes (spiritual or otherwise), in others besides Christ? Growing up with a view of a soft, sentimental Jesus who is so sickly-sweet as to become inhuman, a wallflower who occasionally says some words on a page, gives nothing to hold onto. What is worse is that if Jesus is an accurate depiction of God in human form, then it makes God out to be this overly-soft, pushover-sentimental being as well. It makes a caricature out of Him, exaggerating His sentimental care for us at the expense of all His other qualities. How well can a mature adult follow and worship a God who is seen as less emotionally developed as his own? Furthermore, since God is love, how can we have an accurate picture of love if this is our foundation for it?

                Love is more than always saying kind words and soft phrases. It is more than hugs and kisses and rainbow lollipops. It is an area of truth, sometimes hard and sometimes not. It is a place of helping and guiding, which can involve pain and a firm hand. Love is both a blade and a bandage, both a safe-house and a revealing mirror. If we withhold the hard aspects of love from those we claim to love the most, we are hurting them far more than the loving truth would.

                This view of Jesus as being “mild,” also poses a grave threat to our Christian walk if we are not careful. Because if we are to be “like Christ,” (2nd Cor. 3:18), and we see Christ as being a “mild,” person, then we will become the same way. Strange, that a Christian would consider being “mild,” when we are told in Scripture to fight the good fight, put on armor, and wield a sword. This world wants to devour us, and it will go after the weakest of us first. We must be truth and light in this world. We must love this world and those in it enough to go out and speak the same truth that Christ spoke. At times this means being a painful blade, at times this means being a pillow to be cried on. But it requires the full spectrum of love, and it requires the full spectrum of Christ’s truth. It is not something we can be mild and do. We must be powerful, strong, and resolute. Just as He always has, and always will be.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

YGITS: Grand Old Man

“It was as though they were revering the memory of a Grand Old Man, who was a great power in His day, but who could not possibly be expected to keep pace with modern progress!”
                                                                                                                                -JB Phillips

                There is a poison today which holds many back from seeing God as He truly is. It is not necessarily a deadly poison, but it is a potentially dangerous one, and should be considered with great care. It is the view that God is but a Grand Old Man who doesn’t really understand the complicated lives we live today.

                It begins naturally enough. As children we almost must see God as an “Old Man” simply due to the fact that since all of our superiors are older than us, then God, being the most superior of all, must be that much more ancient. This is natural and acceptable, but it cannot be where the journey ends. Unfortunately this perception is often one that is allowed to follow us throughout our lives, and indeed tries to lead how we think, feel, understand, and worship God. In reading the Bible we sometimes get caught up in the language it is in, rather than what it says. At times prayers can become so formalized that they lose the intent behind them. How many worship services have we attended where our speech becomes technical jargon and we sing about the “Night with Ebon Pinion?” God is not just the God of the past and ancient terms and old paths. He is a living, breathing, present God who knows just as well how to handle modern terms as ancient ones, and who calls us to Himself either way.

                This is not to say that there is no place for it, and this article is not to say that there is no beauty or truth to be found in it. This article is to say that if we allow ourselves to get caught up in the “right” way of doing/saying/singing things, simply because since God is “old” He must like the “old” way of doing things, we miss the point. There are without doubt certain ways that God has made clear He wants things done, but whether or not it is done in a modern tone or an ancient one is not, what I believe, matters to God. What matters to Him is whether we are fully embracing Him and working to follow His will in a way that allows Him to strengthen us.

                Worship is to God, but it is for us. Worship and communication to God is what He has blessed us with so that we can be in tune with Him and His will. If every human on the planet decided to quit worshiping or believing in God, He would not be any less God. In the same way if we speak to God in our normal manner of speech, and we worship Him in our normal manner of life, without coating it with an extra layer of “ye olde English,” it will not make any our worship any less acceptable to Him.

                This Grand Old Man concept is important to me. Personally I like using a little bit older language and thought process. God is the Great King and Creator who is worthy of every ounce of respect we can muster and more. But He is not an Old Man who cannot understand cell phones, cars, and daily life in the modern world, and there are too many today (especially among younger people), who get stuck on this point. Yes, God was and is the God of the ancient world, but He is also the God of today, and is just as active and powerful as He ever has been. He is a personal God, and He is a modern God, who is here, and who understands everything (even better than you do).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

YGITS: Parental Hangover

One thing God is not is our parents. This does not mean that our parents cannot show us God in truth by their actions, but they are not God. They are human, mistake-ridden people like the rest of us. Now God is called our “Heavenly Father,” but unlike our parents here on earth He is perfect, all-loving, and truly all-knowing. Furthermore, He is fully in control of what happens in this universe, and that control cannot be wrested away from Him by anyone or anything.

                The fact is that our view of our earthly parents (especially fathers), has a huge impact on our initial view of God Himself. If God is our Father, then He must obviously be somewhat like our parental father, any child would reasonably conclude.  This can be a beneficial thing if the child’s father is a moral man doing his best to walk the Christian life, and it can also be something that warps the child’s view of God if the father is someone who the child fears or feels continually guilty in front of. It can also be any myriad of views in between. This is not to be used as an excuse for viewing God one way or another, but it does provide a point of entry to be able to say “my earthly father was A or B, but my Heavenly Father is not like that.” In any case as we grow and mature our view of God must grow and mature as well. God is much too big to be confined to human terms and analogies, and we must accept that if we are to chase after a fuller view of God.

                It is true that Jesus used the image of God as our Heavenly Father, and we should accept that analogy, for it describes the relationship that He wants with us. But God does not want us to view Him as we view our earthly fathers, good or bad, for our entire lives. He is much, much more than that, and gives us much, much more love, attention, and devotion than even the best of fathers could manage. When we take away the limiters that restrain our view of God in human terms, we approach a view of God that is closer to how the Bible describes the Almighty King and Creator of All Things, and the love that causes Him to come down to our level and aid us and love us in our everyday lives. As Phillips puts it, “we must leave behind ‘parental hangover’ if we are to find a ‘big enough’ God.”

Sunday, July 31, 2011

YGITS: Resident Policeman

One destructive view of God is that of the “Resident Policeman,” aka – our conscience. Our conscience, that little voice of Jiminy Cricket or what have you, is not God. While it may certainly be true that our conscience can indeed give an idea as to right and wrong, it is also extremely susceptible to outside influences and culture. One person’s conscience may say eating meat is wrong, another may say no. Certain training can create a conscience that says taking a life is ok, while another creates one that abhors it no matter what. The point is, if we believe God when He says “I do not change,” (Mal. 3:6), and Jesus when He says “I am the Way…no one comes to the Father except through Me,” (Jn. 14:6), then we must understand the fact that God is not some little voice in our heads. The danger in making our conscience into God is that our conscience is not infallible, nor is it a firm foundation. Indeed, it is often fickle, weak, and easily shut-up when we really want to go against it. If our support is built on ourselves, that Jiminy Cricket conscience will get squashed all too quickly. If, however, we choose to accept God on His terms and place our decisions and thoughts on His foundation, we will have the ability to last through anything, come life, death, demons, powers, ages, wars, heights, depths, or anything else in creation that is thrown at us.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Your God is Too Small - Introduction

There are those in life who have difficulty in bringing about a right view of God. Whether it be lack of knowledge, improper training, or simple circumstance is not the issue. The fact is that there exists in many a view of God which limits Him to a small corner or box, from which the person sees and feels only a partial and distorted view of the One Creator.

This small god, if allowed to remain, can come to occupy the place in our hearts and minds where only the True God should be. This is not to say that the person in question is conducting in false worship, or is evil or anything of the sort. At some point all people will have a view of God that is makes Him out to be much smaller than He is. This can leave us with a crisis on our hands if left uncorrected, as the small god is hard to reconcile with the whole of life.

It is when we recognize our weakness that we can move to correct it, and so we will be looking at some of these small views of God that are prevalent in today’s society. The challenge is to ourselves. Are we being held back by a view of God that limits our acceptance of His control over our lives (and, indeed, the world)? If so, are we willing to realign our view of the world and that of God in order to put Him in the place of power that He truly occupies?

This is not a simple thing to look into, but it is vital to our spiritual well-being. Join me as we discover the bigness and fullness of the Creator God of the Universe and relinquish the limiters and blinders on our view of Him, whatever they may be.