Monthly Archives: May 2015

God is Not an Angry God (Clue 2: The Father of the Prodigal)

Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project_300pxThe more I think about the story of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32), the more impressed I am with the father in the story, who represents God. First of all, the prodigal son shows total disrespect for the father by asking the father to give him even before the father dies the inheritance that will be his after the father dies. Instead of getting angry and kicking the son out (as many of us might have been tempted to do), the father gives the son his inheritance, and the son goes far away, and wastes all of the money on sex and booze.

The father knew this is what the prodigal son would do with the inheritance, but he gave it to him anyway. Doesn’t that blow your mind about God and sin?! God facilitated his son’s sin, not because sin is good, or because God doesn’t care about sin, but because he cares about something more than sin, and that is relationship. He knew that this son would never be able to find true relationship with him until the son saw where what he thought he desired led to — which is a life of emptiness.

Hitting rock bottom caused the prodigal son to wake up and realize that his father was a good man — one who was even kind to servants — a much better way than he was being treated herding pigs in a foreign land, penniless and hungry for even pig food. So he decided to go home and beg his father to let him at least be a servant. But as he was nearing home, the father saw him, and rejoiced. He ran to his son and hugged him and welcomed him home, giving him a ring and honor and a feast. Instead of rejecting his son or allowing him to be his servant, the father received him as a son — as if he had been lost and dead and then was found and alive.

The father’s strategy had worked with his son. The money lost — wasted on the son’s sin — was money well-spent, because it allowed the son to see differently, and return as a son who was grateful to have such a father.

The story of the elder brother of the prodigal reflects a different sort of relationship problem. The elder brother is the story of a good kid in terms of outward performance, but one who was in bondage to his false perception of what his father was like and what being a son was supposed to mean. The elder brother thought that being a proper son was about performance and self-sufficiency. He was working for the father to earn approval and perhaps love, rather than doing the things he did from a sense of loving and being loved.

He must have either perceived his father as stingy and hard-hearted, or as the relationship being one-way, in which the son gave but wasn’t allowed to receive. He wouldn’t even think of asking his father for a goat for a small party with his friends. But this was not the father’s heart at all! The father thought about his sons as being one with him — that anything he had was theirs! He loved both sons, regardless of their performance. He wanted them to feel free with him — to feel free to enjoy life as a result of being in relationship with him.

The father — representing God — had plenty of opportunity to get angry with his sons. One, for insulting him and running away to a life of sin. The other for being hard-hearted and overly self-sufficient. But instead of anger, he did his utmost to meet each son in a way that each personality would understand, and lovingly lead them to a place of relationship and freedom as sons.

Note: The picture is titled “The Return of the Prodigal Son” painted sometime around 1661-1669 by Rembrandt van Rijk.

God’s Commitment is to Love You — A Quote by Neil T. Anderson in “Victory Over the Darkness”

“God… says to you, ‘I want you to know something. No matter what you do in life, I’m always going to love you. You can be honest with me and tell me the truth. I may not approve of everything you do, but I’m always going to love you.'”

— Neil T. Anderson, “Victory Over the Darkness”, pg 122

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God is Not an Angry God (Clue 1: What was Jesus Like?)

angry-151332_1280In 1741, Jonathan Edwards delivered what is probably his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” — one that still is popular among some seminarians today. I don’t want to discuss the strengths or weaknesses of that sermon, since it primarily talks about punishment and hell, and that is not at all my purpose for writing. Rather, I want to refute the idea that God is an angry God. That topic seems to be very popular these days, largely because a relatively small number of Christians have promulgated the saying that “God is not mad, he’s glad”, inciting a reaction among other Christians who feel that God really is mad.

I recently got into a discussion with a group of people about this who seemed to range from saying that God is mad at sinners, to others saying that God is mad anytime someone sins, all the way to a smaller group suggesting that God is just about always mad! Underlying a lot of the discussion was a concern that if people didn’t think God was mad at people who sinned, then why would anybody stop sinning? This feeling goes against the wisdom found in Romans 2:4 that reminds us that it is the kindness of God that leads people to repentance. Or, in common parlance, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

We know from many passages of the Bible that God has emotions, including anger. We also know that God sees everything in the universe, and even focusing only on the planet earth, it says that he knows every hair on our heads (and there are around seven billion heads), and also that he cares for the grasses and wildflowers and even each bird in the air. It also tells us that he knows every need we have before we even talk to him about them in prayer (Matthew 6 and Luke 12). These facts tells us that God has an immense capacity for keeping track of the details of the world and especially of each person, and he is able to interact simultaneously with each one. Trying to imagine the emotions of a God who can see so much and interact so much is beyond me. And, of course, to try to say that God has only one emotion — anger — would just be crazy.

But what is embedded in the idea about God being mad is more of an emotional question than an intellectual question for us. We are really asking, “Is God mad at me?” or possibly, “Is God cranky or emotionally unstable?” or maybe better, “Is God approachable?” And related questions, “How does God feel about someone who is a Christian who sins?” and “How does God feel about a person who does not follow God and who would be called by some ‘a sinner’?” With these questions we have some hope of coming up with reasonable answers based on what Jesus taught and how he lived.

The Bible is clear that Jesus is the exact representation of God (Hebrews 11:3 and Colossians 1:5). So to get some idea what God the Father is like, look at what Jesus is like. Jesus got mad, but not at sin, per se. He hung out with sinners! Sinners loved him! He didn’t come to condemn them (he said they were already condemned), he came to save them. He forgave the woman caught in adultery, forgave the prostitute who anointed his feet, and was adored by those who had demons cast out of them.

Who did Jesus get mad at? It seems to me that it was primarily religious folk who thought that faith was all about who could obey the rules the best, and were, dare I say “hell-bent” on making sure people followed rules. Consider the number of times Jesus healed people on the Sabbath — which was said to be against the Law — and which made religious people furious, even though sick and infirm people were set free from their suffering. And in the stories that Jesus told, the people that were subject to the king’s anger were either those that refused to forgive others or those that were working against the king.

So we have at least a partial answer so far: Jesus did not seem to be angry in general. He did not seem to be angry with “sinners”, either. When he became angry, it was mostly angry at people that ultimately kept others from drawing near to God and finding God’s blessing. But to get a more complete answer, I want to look at two parables that shed even more light on the questions posed. To keep this post at a reasonable length, I will do write about them in follow-on posts. The first parable is what is typically called the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” (in Luke 15:11-32), one of Jesus’ most famous parables. The other is the “Parable of the Wedding Feast” (in Matthew 22:1-14).

Spiritual Rejuvenation: Have a Cup o’ Joe with Jesus

It is amazing to me how much American culture has transformed in the last 20 years as a result of the internet and cell phones. It has changed the nature of our relationships with people and it has changed how we use our time. People seem to fill every moment of the day with activity, much of it including some kind of electronic device, at least in the periphery.

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This shift, unfortunately, has seemed to adversely impact the spiritual life of many of the people who follow Jesus. Our attention spans are shorter than they used to be, and it has become much more difficult to find uninterrupted time with which to focus on talking and listening to God.

Prayer has always been an essential component of the life of faith. Even in a busy world, most of us still manage to shoot up emergency prayers for help for ourselves or others in desperate situations. But fewer of us are making time to actually listen to God speak to us, and the time we devote to listening is shorter than it used to be. This is our loss, because the deeper things — the life-changing things — that God would say to us are often said in these times of purposeful, active listening.

And it grieves God’s heart! He made humans to have fellowship with him. He sent Jesus so that we might be reconciled to him — that the depth of relationship with him might be restored. He want us to share our hearts with him and listen so that he might share his heart with us. It is in this connection that true spiritual formation takes place in our lives in which we are transformed into his likeness. It is through our connection to his heart that we are rejuvenated.

So how do we get reconnected to what we’ve been missing out on? Here is a simple proposition that will get us started: have a cup o’ joe with Jesus every morning. (I don’t get paid by the coffee industry, so feel free to have a tea, hot water, or anything else that will let you pause from the fast pace of life.) Just calm your heart, and talk and listen to Jesus during this time. If it helps, read the Bible a little bit to get you focused, but don’t forsake listening by reading the whole time.

I have my Bible on cell phone now, and fortunately first thing in the morning people don’t text me. But if you use your cell phone as a Bible and people do contact you early, try putting your phone in airplane mode to let you stay focused on God.

Even 10 or 15 minutes with God is better than no minutes. If it works for you, you can do a similar activity in the evening before bed. Imagine getting to have intimate connection with God once or twice a day like this. Imagine what it will do to your spiritual life. And God says to you that it blesses him, too.

Free to Dance and Free to Fail — A Quote by Stasi Eldredge in “Becoming Myself”

“How can we be free to dance like no one is watching? Unless you are home alone with the curtains drawn, people are probably watching. How do we live in freedom? We live in freedom when we come to believe, know, receive, and embrace the boundless love of God for us — when we are captured by his goodness, his faithfulness, his honor, his sacrifice, his heart that yearns for us. Then we can dance for an audience of One. Because we are so completely loved. We are safe and secure in the love of God. Every moment of our lives.”

“This brings us another startling freedom: we are free to fail. Let me say that again. We are free to fail. Because of Jesus, we can be free from the cages of other people’s expectations, demands, yokes, and judgments — even our own. This isn’t about getting it perfect, dear one. We are loved, forgiven, embraced; we live under grace, not under judgment. It sets us free from perfectionism, which is a terrible prison. It sets us free even to fail.”

— Stasi Eldredge, “Becoming Myself”, Kindle locations 2285-2286

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Even One Encounter with God Changes Us — A Quote by Mike Bickle in “Loving God”

“No one can come face-to-face with what God is like and ever be the same. Seeing the truth about His personality touches the depths of our emotions, which leads us to spiritual wholeness and maturity. Lord, there is nothing I want more than to experience a growing, ever more intimate relationship with You.”

— Mike Bickle, “Loving God”, Kindle location 13

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Sin’s Power over You is Broken — A Quote by Neil T. Anderson in “Victory Over the Darkness”

“When you received Christ the power of sin was not broken, but its power to dominate you was broken through your death, resurrection and righteousness in Christ (Rom. 6:7; 8:10)… Sin still strongly appeals to your flesh to continue to act independent of God. But you are no longer bound to participate as you were before receiving Christ. It is your responsibility not to let ‘sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts’ (Rom. 6:12).”

— Neil T. Anderson, “Victory Over the Darkness”, p. 82

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Be Who You Are, Like Who You Are — A Quote by Stasi Eldredge in “Becoming Myself”

“You are the only you there has ever been or ever will be. God made you you on purpose. Now. For a reason. The world does not need yet another woman who despises the lovely creation that she is. God does not long for another woman who rejects herself and, by extension, him. The world needs a woman who is thankful for how God has made her, trusts that he is transforming her, and actually enjoys who she is.”

“It’s a good thing to like who you are. God likes you! We get to like ourselves too! When you like yourself, you are free to enjoy others, and in your presence people experience an invitation to become and enjoy who they truly are as well. Life begets life. Joy begets joy. Becoming begets becoming.”

— Stasi Eldredge, “Becoming Myself”, Kindle locations 3085-3088

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Don’t Just Receive God’s Love, Respond

When I’m not at work, I’m frequently sporting a t-shirt or hoodie that says “God is incredibly in love with you!” I think this is the main truth about God that people need to hear — mostly because it is the main truth about God! It’s certainly what is on my heart to tell people. But what puzzles me is this: many people seem to believe and receive this message warmly, but for a fairly high percentage of that group, that’s as far as it goes.

Team Harvest RVR 5k 2014 Tim hoodieMost of us have had crushes on someone at some point in our lives in which the other person did not reciprocate those feelings, or at least didn’t respond in a way that would indicate a mutual affection. If that happened to you, how did that make you feel? I think I was hurt, sad, depressed — all stemming from feeling rejected. And of course, the relationship that might have developed did not.

How do you think God feels when he pours out his love, and yet is rejected? Whether it is a nice rejection (choosing not to respond with your heart and with your life) or an outright rejection or denial, rejection is still rejection. I think God is sad about it, just as most of us were when we experienced rejection. I think he is sad because he really desires to have an intimate relationship with each person — because he values the unique way each person is made and how each expresses himself or herself — and he values the interactions that he could have with them and they with him.

I also think God is sad because he knows that the ultimate destiny of those who reject him is eternity apart from him, and eternity apart from him is hell: figuratively and literally. God hates it when people choose that destiny for themselves. He hates it so much that he came up with a plan to keep people from that destiny. He sent his only son Jesus into the world to die so that he would be able to provide a way for us to be reconciled to God so that we could have the kind of intimacy with God we were made for, and so those who receive Jesus will escape.
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