Getup Get God

Getup Get God (Photo credit: prettywar-stl)

The photographer of this graffiti says he saw it in a window and decided to capture it. I saw the photo and decided to use it (freely shareable) to address a widely held misperception among Christians and non-Christians alike.

Many people see God as predominantly unhappy, ready to smite at the slightest provocation. Yet love and grace don’t flow from an abundance of crankiness, but rather, from such profound joy that it spills over even to enemies.

Heaven and angels and all sorts of beings associated with God are consistently portrayed as rejoicing with Him, usually connected immediately with worship. God is supreme in joy, infinite in love, and unmatched in wise, creative goodness. While He’s clearly displeased with some things at some times, that doesn’t mean He’s an ill-tempered Being.

For example, four successive chapters in the book of Job (38-41) are God’s running commentary of delight over the creatures and systems He created on Earth and in its immediate cosmic surroundings. Consequently, Job decides he was a bit rash (though I don’t think entirely unreasonable) in his rant to God. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3) God evidently didn’t think Job was unreasonable, either, for He wasn’t displeased with Job. Sarcastic with a touch of humor, yes, but not displeased.

At any rate, who knows what God has done in the billions of entire galaxies we’re only now discovering? A decade ago, we didn’t even know they exist let alone what marvels they contain. If you and I can delight over beauty or be greatly moved when gazing upon majestic sights even in this fallen world, think what God gets to see every day throughout His wondrous universe—densely rich things He’s not yet introduced to us.

My point is that we can be happy for God that His pervasive joy pours into His creation, which certainly includes mankind. That delight is meant to be contagious; we should “catch” it from Him because our glad-heartedness, cheer, and happiness delights Him and is a primary form of worship.

Old Testament vs. New Testament

So what are we to make of the “mean” God of the Old Testament? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas. First, I know that if we overlook the joyful OT God, we’ll never make sense of Jesus or his vision of new life for the world that God has always loved.

I also know that while God Himself doesn’t change, He does change His tactics over the centuries when dealing with mankind. Off the top of my head, one example is the woman caught in adultery, whom Jesus protected from being stoned by the Pharisees.

They, of course, considered Jesus a lawbreaker. But he knew that the New Covenant overwrites the Old Covenant, yet doesn’t alter God’s intent that His Law of love—the Ten Commandments—be both the course and reflection of transformed human spirit and character.

It’s important to realize that lesser laws regarding circumcision, sacrifice, oaths, tithing, stoning, etc., aren’t the Law. The Pharisees had forgotten this, which is precisely what Paul, like Jesus and the original disciples, consistently pointed out.

Common Link

I think a major problem today is the idea that God gave the Law only to show how miserably mankind fails to measure up. God’s Law does do that, but its larger purpose is to restore to us His vision of who we can be. It shows direction and possibility rather than impossibility; and it’s precisely what Jesus embodies and teaches so we can see and pursue that vision.

We might also consider that the twelve original disciples were to Jesus what the twelve original tribes of Israel were to God—an ever-expanding inner circle of collaborators in His plan for the entire world. Although it started with Israel, it was always intended to include everyone—Jews and Gentiles, males and females, young and old, rich and poor, sinners and saints. (Coincidentally, this week I read an interesting article here about the Twelve. Since it fits with my post, you might like it, too.)

It’s wise to remember that Jesus never abolished the Law. What he abolished was Death. When Scripture says that Christ is the end of the Law, it means completion and fulfillment, not cessation or termination. Today’s widespread teaching that Jesus rendered the Law irrelevant is a serious flaw that blinds our faith and paralyzes blessedness.

As the writer of Hebrews said, we fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). But by ignoring or minimizing the Law, it is we who render Jesus and all his work irrelevant. In his own words, he boiled the Big Ten down to two simple commands: Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself.

This is the common link I see between the OT and NT; and it doesn’t flow from perpetually miserable cranks. It’s the action of people who can cheerfully obey because they increasingly see what God sees as they prepare for bigger, grander, even more delightful things to come.

Therefore, when we trash-talk what God has made, and worse, ascribe that disdain to Him, we easily conclude that He’s either out to get us or has now taken refuge somewhere far away. It’s tough to love and admire a cosmic Sourpuss, yet that’s what we try to do. Then we say that relationship with God is difficult. That distorted view robs us of the desire to collaborate with Him in furthering His good in what He’s already created and, even now, is happily making new again.

 

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English: Compass

English: Compass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faith that needs repeated revival or recommitment should probably be examined to find out why it’s so short-lived. (I’m assuming the reason for rededication is a relationship with God that’s flagging in some way; so there may be other reasons that don’t apply here.)

When I worked as a geospatial analyst, the engineering department had a saying for solving design problems: “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re getting. If you want different results, you need a different system.”

Today’s widely-taught faith system, presented as something God “does” to us, is a big reason it often flags. The believer is subsequently told that he/she isn’t dedicated enough, or hasn’t prayed enough, doesn’t believe enough, has failed God again, and must once and for all swear commitment to the Lord. I’ve heard it a million times, as do multitudes of diligent, sincere Christians who recommit over and over only to get the same disappointing results.

Some even give up on faith and God altogether.

It’s caused by a simple lack of vision, a solid purpose and plan, a means to carry it out, and therefore, a lack of correctly aimed intention. Who can follow through on something they’re unaware of? So when we’re spiritually starved like this, we can pretend to be filled for only so long before the reality becomes evident: faith that limps along or crashes in the sand.

Yet it’s easily remedied if we read and listen carefully to the words of Jesus, his original disciples, and the earliest “people of the Way.” An entire book is needed to adequately address the manifold wisdom of his kind of faith, but we can review the foundational components.

In A Nutshell

The correct vision: Jesus’ rich view and model of new life in God’s kingdom through partnership with Him—God with man. Without this preliminary vision shift, people can’t pursue abundant strength, peace of mind, and love. To use biblical terms, they can’t “enter” into the world Jesus presents or put confidence in him for everyday living. They remain “blind,” stumbling, or conflicted, having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing.

This is why Jesus’ gospel message is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” God’s kingdom around us stands ready to guide, enable, heal, and support.

A solid purpose: learn to love ourselves and others the way Jesus loves us. The idea is to become united in spirit and purpose with him and with one another. To live this new life is the assembling of the great Body, or, the marriage of Jews and Gentiles who become the bride wedded to the Bridegroom to rule and serve with him. God planned this objective even before He created the world.

The plan and means: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For example, willfully indulged anger is the first faith-killer he tackles. Turning away from it enables us to increasingly implement (obey) the remaining parts of his plan—get rid of spiritual adultery/divorce, sworn behavior, score-keeping, outer appearance/image, and hypocrisy, in that order. (More info in my series 6 Steps to Un-sabotage Yourself in Every Relationship.)

When we follow his prescribed instructions, the unavoidable result is transformation and spiritual formation in Christ. The best part is that God hasn’t given commands and left us with no ability, or way, to do what He says. Neither will He do it for us since that would rob us of our roles with Him. God is gracious enough to give us some responsibility and to let us participate!

That’s something we can sink our teeth into, put long-term confidence in, and not be stuck with flagging faith that needs frequent re-starts.

 

St. Augustine arguing with donatists.

St. Augustine arguing with donatists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do Christian leaders and laypeople alike suffer moral collapses that rival the rest of the world? Why do we often remain powerless, confused, belligerent, stressed out, or discouraged? Why are we so quick to shrug and say, “Well, we do live in a fallen world” as if God left us with no means or responsibility to change?

The reasons are numerous and complex, but we can simplify one of them: We’ve overlooked Jesus’ warning about the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

Academic, political, military, or religious debate and conflict nearly always begin in the higher institutions of learning or upper echelons of society. By the time it filters down to ordinary folk, we’re confused and torn in different directions. Far from anything new, it was this way in Old and New Testament times, and in every time period since.

Tangled

A fairly recent example is from the early part of last century. In a backlash against the emerging Modernist school of thought, a large segment of the Protestant leadership in America declared Five Fundamentals to be essential to Christian faith. Accordingly, to be a Christian and thus saved, a person must check off all five items on a mental checklist, i.e., “believe”:

1.) The inerrancy of Scripture. 2.) The virgin birth of Jesus. 3.) Jesus’ death as atonement. 4.) Jesus’ bodily resurrection. 5.) The historical fact of his miracles. Prestigious seminaries debated this for years, so it was hardly a unified view, and still isn’t; but proponents came to be known as Fundamentalists.

Oddly, nothing of morality, conformation, Christ-likeness, or the at-hand kingdom of heaven made the list of essentials for well-being and eternal new life. Neither did the two fundamentals that Christ himself gave: Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. (more…)

Stone ruins on the property of the Stone Barn,...

Stone ruins on the property of the Stone Barn, Stone City, Iowa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many people, including me, have equated the gospel with the doctrine of justification. We’ve been taught that to be justified (forgiven) is God’s entire redemptive plan.

But I’ve learned that using “justified” interchangeably with “saved” is much like using “page” interchangeably with “book.”

So, what makes a person right with God?

Two Human Views

Is it justification? In this view, God simply declares us right, provided we confess various doctrines of sin and atonement. Redemption is thus about future eligibility to reside in heaven  rather than where we live now; and it leaves the soul still fragmented, conflicted within itself and at odds with God’s character and nature. It saves some vague piece of the person, leaving the “real” person stuck in ruin.

It also bypasses judgment as if forgiven people are exempt. The danger is that when we all stand before God on Judgment Day, He won’t merely check our minds for agreement with certain doctrines. He’ll look at the whole person—the inner and outer self—because He’ll look at the soul. (more…)