“God’s will is wider than we imagine…and even though we may fall short God’s call on our life, in God’s infinite knowledge of all that can be known God is able to weave a tapestry of God’s will around the decisions that we, as humans, freely make. Any person earnestly seeking to live for God cannot leave the will of God without a conscious rejection of God. Instead, in and through the interweaving of God’s sovereignty and human free-will, the choices we make—influenced as they are by the wooing work of the Holy Spirit—become the visible squares of a quilt sewn together by the nearly invisible threads of God.”

[I found this note in the margins of notes I took sixteen years ago in a seminary course on the history of Christian thought and practice. Don’t ask me why I was reading seminary notes from sixteen years ago!]

You are perfect in love and in all your plans and purposes”

Post 7 of 28

[Originally posted September 28, 2020]

Yesterday I woke up to the news that someone I knew—a loving and dedicated wife, mother, friend, and disciple of Christ—died very tragically and unexpectedly while on a mission trip in Africa. I thought about this all day long, pondering the reality that none of us is guaranteed a minimum number of days. My heart broke for her husband, her two sons, and the many, many whose lives were touched by her life of love.

This morning I woke early, preparing for a trip later today, and decided to spend a few moments on this blog entry — You are perfect in love and in all your plans and purposes. Hmmmm….

Many people, in responding to our friend’s unexpected death made comments such as:

  • “I don’t understand God’s plan…”
  • “There doesn’t seem to be any purpose in this…”
  • “God needed her in heaven…”

These are the kinds of things people say, particularly when life ends unexpectedly or when tragedy comes without warning. Did God plan this car accident in Malawi? Was it by God’s purpose that this loving wife and mother was in the car? Or is God weeping alongside her husband and sons at the loss of such a meaningful soul who was touching the lives of so many? Did God not hear the prayers of many for safety and traveling mercies of this ministry team? Or did God ignore the prayers? Does God really need her in heaven more than she was being used in Malawi…and Oregon…and in her home?

These are the kinds of questions we ask at times like this.

These are the kinds of questions that we have so much difficulty trying to answer.

In the context of the Old Testament and its surrounding Ancient Near East culture, everything that happened on earth was attributed to the hand of God—God (or gods) planned it, God (or gods) purposed it, and God (or gods) carried it out. Today, we tend to look to other sources for much of what happens in our world —

  • weather patterns and cycles
  • natural laws of physics
  • cultural assumptions and expectations
  • human sin and disobedience

On a day-to-day level, at least, most of us do not probably attribute every moment as being planned, purposed, and carried out specifically by the hands of God. But when big things happen—those things that have significant and far-reaching consequences, either positive or negative—we still have a tendency to look to the heavens for answers. In such times there are a few common reactionss that tend to emerge. Each has some Biblical and theological foundation; none represent the one and only view expressed in Scripture or throughout Church History.

God caused this to happen —

  • God causes all things from the beginning until now.
  • Everything that has, is, and will happen in human history is by God plan, purpose, and power — this would include human actions, natural events, etc.
  • The “Problem of Evil” — how can we reconcile a God whose name is “Love” with the unspeakable evil, unfairness, and injustice that has been, is being, and will be perpetuated by human beings?
  • There may be comfort in knowing that God is in complete control — “God’s got this” — even when we cannot understand.

God allowed this to happen —

  • God knows everything that will happen throughout the course of human history, but knowing what will happen is not the same as causing them to happen.
  • God does not actively cause things to happen, but God does allow them to happen. This means what happens is still by God plan, purpose, and power because even though God could intervene, God does not.
  • God does sometimes intervene and change circumstances so that certain events do not occur. At other times, though, God seems to do nothing.
  • The “Problem of Evil” is muted, perhaps, but still not eliminated as a God who allows evil to occur is not much different than a God who causes evil to occur.
  • We cannot fully understand why God allows certain things to happen, so we must find peace knowing that we cannot understand.

God knew this could happen —

  • God lives in time with humanity which means, while God knows everything that could possibly happen, God neither causes nor knows the actions human beings, living in time, will make before they make them.
  • God’s nature is love. As such, God always works for the good of those who love God, though that “good” may come about in many forms, including unexpected loss and events that we might not immediately see as “good.”
  • God always works for what is good and best, but God cannot force human beings to do anything; God cannot override their free-will because that is not love. God can, and does, woo, encourage, and lead people to do things that will lead to good and loving results, cannot for such actions.
  • Some reject any concept of a God that is not absolutely and overwhelmingly Sovereign (in control and powerful to do anything). Others find comfort in the this view of God as absolutely and overwhelming Loving, working for good in all things.

Whichever view you lean on, one thing is certain:

“Perfect love casts out fear. It is risky, reckless, selfless, hard, deep, abiding.”

Catherine L. Morgan

The perfect love of God — the same kind of love that God pours into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—is not a safe, soft, temporary, or tame kind of love. It does not call us into safe places away from messiness and mud of this world in which we live. It does not call us to a manicured life of comfort and ease, free of hangnails and callouses. No, the perfect love of God—the same kind of love that Christ poured out during his time on earth—calls us to be uncomfortable and muddy, to get blisters on our feet and scrapes on our knees, to go where others dare not tread, to see what others will not see, hear what others refuse to hear, and touch the lives of those that other dare not touch.

That kind of life is risky and reckless…and sometimes “time and chance” (Ecc 9:11) catch up to those who live that way. And when it does we weep…we mourn…and I believe God weeps and mourns with us.

That kind of life is selfless and hard. In a world that clamors for heroes, worships celebrities, and is fixated on big & shiny personalities…the anonymous life of a servant is an intentional choice…a hard choice. But it’s a choice that brings us close enough to look into the eyes, hold the hands, and wash the feet of those that no one else sees.

That kind of life is deep and abiding. In a world where the grass withers and the flowers quickly fall (1 Pet 1:24), where nothing is permanent and nothing we gain can be taken with us…the slow, personal, meaningful connections between one human being and another become the tools of transformation that last beyond ourselves, beyond our time, and beyond our small corner of the world.

This is God’s perfect plan and purpose—that we would live our lives being perfected in love and reflecting to the world around us the perfect love of Christ that is within us.

My friend who ended her time on this earth in a place far away from her home on the Oregon Coast, lived a life of this kind of love. But this love was not limited only to Africa. Reading through the posts of those who have felt the pain of her loss I saw the pain of…

  • a husband losing a wife,
  • children losing a mother,
  • a church family loving a valued and loved sister,
  • colleagues and friends recalling her dedication as a teacher,
  • former students remembering how, as a teacher, she had made them feel,
  • an atheist who called her “my dearest friend”,
  • African brothers and sisters in Christ,
  • many, many more…

Each of them, in their own way, expressed what C.S. Lewis wrote about the death of his wife in A Grief Observed:

“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”

 

“Your name is holy and worthy to be praised above all others.”

Post 6 of 28

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

—Leviticus 19:1-2

Old Testament “holy” — קָדוֹשׂ (qādôš) — sacred, divine, separate

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

—1 Peter 1:13-22

Coffee and hello
Hello, my name is holy.

New Testament “holy” — ἅγιος (hagios) — sacred, belonging to God

“Your name is holy” points us back to who God is—God is sacred, divine, and separate from everything else. The very word itself—holy—finds its meaning in God. That which is holy is that which is sacred and divine, like God. In the Old Testament, with its laws and emphasis on sacrifices and offerings, the emphasis of holiness leans heavily on separation, purification, and clearly outlining the difference between the secular and the sacred.

In the New Testament, the sacrificial system as it had been long practiced begins to fade. Holiness becomes more about the Church—the body of Christ in this world—becoming holy. Apparently, our name is also to be holy, too. No longer is holiness defined by specific times and places; rather, “holy” is determined by what we (the Church, these words were not written primarily for individuals) in the places where we exist and with the time that we are given.

In other words, the way we “live” (our words, actions, attitudes, etc) are not determined by the place where we stand (i.e. holy ground or sacred ground), but rather the holiness of the place where we stand is largely determined by the way in which we live as the body of Christ wherever we may be. The same goes for time—a particular time is not “holy” simply because it falls between 12 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. in any given time zone on a day labeled as “Sunday” on the calendar.

I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies…

—Psalms 18:3

Old Testament “worthy” — הָלַל hâlal — Psalm 18:3 could more literally be translated “I call on Jehovah, who is halal. Most of us have at least heard the world halal in connection with Muslim eating habits. Halal food is food with is worthy, appropriate, or not forbidden to be eaten. Just as my Muslim friends are forbidden to eat non-halal food, so we ought not to praise any one any thing above the LORD, who is halal — most worthy, most appropriate, and in no circumstance is ever forbidden to be praised.

Why?

Because God is holy.

———————–

See the prayer from which this post was taken here.

 

God in three persons

“Almighty, Triune God”

Post 5 of 28

United Methodist Church “Articles of Religion

And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Church of the Nazarene “Articles of Faith”

The God who is holy love and light is Triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Southern Baptist Convention “Basic Beliefs”

The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.   

Fellowship of Evangelical Churches Articles of Faith

The one triune God exists and reveals himself as three persons, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

My Muslim friends are okay with the Old Testament. To them the stories and names are familiar—Adam, Abraham, Jonah, David—and clearly tells of the One, true God opposing the polytheists and those who dare have any other god but the Almighty Creator. To the casual reader there is no hint of Trinitarian thought that my faithful Muslim friends readily equate with polytheism.

It is the New Testament that offends. The Almighty Creator is God. Jesus Christ is God. This nebulous thing called the Holy Spirit is also God. They are, in Christian thought, wholly God…all the time…in all places…in all ways. “You worship three gods!” they tell me.

“No we don’t”, I quickly reply.

“Of course you do,” they continue, “your belief doesn’t even agree with your own Old Testament where is clearly states that ‘the LORD, your God is one’!”

“Yeah…but….” I don’t know what else to say. Neither do most Christians at this point. Some try out a hopelessly limited analogy of:

  • an egg (one egg made up of three parts—shell, white and yolk)
  • or a woman (one person with three roles—a daughter, a wife, and a mother)
  • or water (one substance with three states—solid, liquid, and gas)
  • or, my personal favorite, a “Three in One” coffee sachet! Surely the 3-in-1 coffee packet is a God-ordained gift to the church, right? The Newsboys even sing about it—”Our God is Three in One!”).

Unfortunately, each of these falls short. None of these things exist as all three parts at all times and in all ways.

“But what?” my friend pushes.

“It’s hard to explain,” are the only words I can convince to pass my lips.

“Yeah, sure is.”

Nabeel Qureshi, in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells of his journey to Christ and the nearly insurmountable mountain questions such as these became for him. It was impossible for a man to be God, yet that is exactly what Christians taught… and with great enthusiasm! The idea of the separate entities all existing as one person was simply impossible—it was a “ridiculous doctrine that merited divine retribution,” Qureshi told himself.

Then, one day while sitting while sitting in a undergraduate chemistry class staring at a diagram of a nitrate, the professor ended her lesson by saying:

These drawings are just the best way to represent resonance structures on paper, but it’s actually much more complicated. Technically, a molecule with resonance is every one of its structures at every point in time, yet no single one of its structures at any point in time…it’s all the structures all the time, never just one of them.

—Nabeel Qureshi, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”

Before that moment the very idea of a Trinitarian God—three persons simultaneously existing as one God—was ridiculous. But now, having realized that such a things exists in nature—in the very building blocks of creation—suddenly made the whole notion of a simultaneous 3-in-1 a possibility. It would take a long time for Qureshi to move from “possible” to “probable” to “I believe it to be true.”

The key was in understanding the difference between a BEING and a PERSON. God is ONE being with THREE persons—just as one molecule exists in all of its resonance structures simultaneously. WHAT is God? God is One (and only one). Who is God? God is Father. God is Son. God is Holy Spirit. Each person exists simultaneously along with each of the others as one holy, eternal, almighty, loving Being.

The picture of an atom in my daughter’s chemistry textbook are simple representations of something much more complex, but they are the best we can do. I mean, who can really comprehend the fact that the chair I’m sitting in as I write this is mostly empty space? In the same way, the triune designations of Father, Son, and Spirit represent a reality far more complex than we can really fully comprehend or explain.

It’s good to have people like Qureshi to think about such things as this. In the end, however, I’m not sure how much our One God expects or demands that we fully comprehend. If a cognitive, intellectual understanding of the Triune teaching of the church–that God is Triune in essential being–is necessary for salvation, Church membership, or a seat at the table of Jesus, we all might be in jeopardy.

It’s no wonder so many people only see God as being One. When God sits far away on the heavenly throne so far from the messiness of our human lives, all that can be seen from such a distance is a vague silhouette of oneness. But when God is Emmanuel—with us, connected, personal, unafraid to get his hands a feet dirty by walking with us in the scruffiness of our lives—we can begin to see more of God’s true identity as:

  • not only Father, but Shepherd (Psalm 23:1) and Daddy (Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6);
  • not only as Son, but Brother (Mat 12:48-50; Rom 8:29) and Friend (John 15:15; Mat26:17-30);
  • not only Holy Spirit, but Bringer of New Life (John 3:8, Ez 37:1-14), Companion and Guide (John 16:13), Power-giver (Acts 1:4), and Fruit-bearer (Gal 5:16-26)

If you liked reading about how God is triune in essential being, please see the prayer from which this post was taken here.

 

The Fruit of the Spirit

Post 4 of 28

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” — Romans 5:5

Paul in his letter to the Romans points to a key identity and role of the Holy Spirit in our lives; and it’s not merely the emotional “good vibrations” that come during times of public worship. Although people will often say things like “the Spirit was present” during such times, it is also relatively easy to elicit similar emotional reactions through a variety of carefully orchestrated “emotive buttons.” When we base the work and presence of the Holy Spirit on an emotional reaction or some other pre-determined set of actions and reactions, we can be can probably assume that what is being observed in not the Spirit at work.

The presence and work of the Holy Spirit is something very different. We should not deny that the Spirit can and does work in the midst of energetic, emotionally charged, and so-called “spirit-filled” times of worship…but we also cannot deny that it is just as likely that ordinary, seemingly mundane, moments are also regularly filled with the Spirit’s presence and work.

The work of the Spirt in the life of the believer is to encourage, strengthen, and empower one to carry out the purpose and mission for which one has been called, both collectively (as part of the Church) and individually (the specific plan that God has for individuals). For Paul, the key to that purpose began with God love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit works in our lives as a conduit of God’s love to us as well as being the One who emboldens, empowers, and encourages us to shower the world around us cooling mist of Christlike love.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

Love-Joy-Peace-the Fruit of the Spirit

The Spirit is living and active in the life of the Church as Comforter, Helper, and Guide as well as the One who convicts and converts. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture in ages past, inspired its compilation, editing, and canonization, and inspires all who read and meditate on it through all time andin all places. But it is love—the same love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—that is the natural, spontaneous, uncontrived, not-manipulated, holy fruit of the Spirit that flows naturally from the authentic follower of Jesus Christ. The same love is the beginning of point of every other fruit that Paul gives—joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Where is the Holy Spirit living and active? Follow the trail of fruit.  The fruit of the Spirit.

———————–

See the prayer from which this post was taken here.

 

Where does my help come from?

Most High, Most Holy, and Most Loving

Post 2 of 28

Jesus modeled to his disciples a prayer that began with “Our Father in heaven” which, at the time, was likely considered a near-blasphemous statement, if not outright heresy. God was flesh and blood human and to associate God in anyway with a human identity was not appropriate. Interestingly, our Muslim friends today hold similar ideas about God — the greatest of sins is to lift up any human being to God-status or to lower God down to the human level. This is a great obstacle in thinking about the identity of Jesus, the Messiah, for Christian faith does both of these things.

Love is the very nature of God

Nonetheless, I think that in calling God “Father,” Jesus is attempting to teach us something about God. Rather than being an impersonal, capricious, disinterested Deity, God is personal, loving, and involved in the daily affairs of God’s creation. God is a Father, not in the biological sense but rather in God’s authority, responsibility, and loving care of all that God has created. We can address God as Father, knowing that God is paying attention, has our best interests in mind, and is always working for the good of those who love God.

Even so, we cannot lose sight of the fact that God is the Most High — the greatest, most-powerful, highest authority, the One that stand above all. Even the greatest of humans barely registers on the height chart of God’s heavenly door frame. He is the Most High, worthy of all worship, adoration, and praise.

The child asks of the Father whom he knows. Thus, the essence of Christian prayer is not general adoration, but definite, concrete petition. The right way to approach God is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

God is Most Holy — completely “other” from humanity and all that has been created, yet unafraid to mingle with humanity, calling us and raising us out of the mess of our messed-up lives. God is perfect in God’s plans and purposes — in God’s holiness, God is perfectly just, perfectly compassionate, and perfectly loving.

Finally, God is the Most Loving — the perfect model of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. There is no greater love than the love of God, and in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that love (grace, mercy, and forgiveness) is on full display in all of its perfection.

We praise you, Lord, because you are most high, most holy, and most loving.

 See the prayer from which this post was taken here.