Monday, July 14, 2014

Jesus' Ability to Lead: A Source of Peace

I've become aware over recent years that we Christians generally seem to be pretty uptight people. There seems to be an underlying anxiety about most things in our life: worries about whether or not I'm praying or fasting enough, or whether my prayers are fervent or faith-filled enough, whether I'm doing enough for others, whether I'm in the will of God, or whether I'm giving enough, whether I'll miss "God's best", etc., etc.

I've spent my life in the holiness and missions world and like many in that world, the emphasis on "finding the will of God" for many years left me with a nagging fear that I might miss God's "highest" and end up living as a "second class citizen" of God's kingdom. I believe these kinds of fears have their roots in religious ideas that set up spiritual hierarchies and that put the weight of our salvation and sanctification on us, rather than on God.

When I look at the characteristics of sheep (see here), I'm very impressed with the shepherd's love and care for the sheep and His ability to lead them (see here). My conclusion is that getting the sheep to a certain destination is much more about the shepherd's leadership than it is about what good followers the sheep are.

This is a source of joy and peace/relief to me when I start to go down the path of introspection, getting uptight and afraid that I'm not sufficient enough in this or that and worried that I've missed God's best or that I'm not going to make it in the end, etc, etc.  I can pause and look at the good Shepherd and how well He leads and how He is able to get us where He is taking us.

Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon yoke is easy, my burden is light..." I do my small bit of agreeing to be with Him in the "yoke", and the weight of getting me (along with all His people) to where we are going falls on Him. This should make us the most joy-filled and peace-filled people on earth!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Doubt or Devotion...or Both??

An observation I have been making in recent years is that one of the easiest things to happen to a Christian is to stagnate; we like to feel secure, and staying within the inherited theological boundaries that have provided a sense of certainty (see "Sense of Security") is natural to us. We unwittingly end up placing our trust in our certainty rather than in the Person of God in Christ who is infinitely larger than our systems of belief. Western Christianity of the past few hundred years contributes to this tendency to stagnate, because we've accepted the idea that being a Christian primarily means to adhere to a determined set of beliefs concerning God and that those beliefs should never change. (See recent post here.)  It's acceptable if we change within the boundaries of that prescribed belief system, but to venture outside of those boundaries in search for more truth is at best discouraged and at times punished.

I think there are two main ingredients needed for ongoing change and growth in God: 1) Sincere questions about Jesus and scripture, sorting through what really is needed and disposing of whatever is hindering the true knowledge/experience of God in Christ;
2) Sincere devotion to Jesus, always keeping focused on what the "sorting through" is all about and not getting lost in the sorting. Without the sincere questioning, we easily get stuck in what we have been taught and there is always more to learn (and unlearn) of Jesus; without sincere devotion to Jesus, we can easily make the "sorting through" the goal.

With this in mind, I recommend some books below, two for the "questioning" ingredient and two for the "devotion" ingredient; I recommend the wonderful (and at times frightening) adventure of finding a trusted follower(s) of Jesus with whom you can safely discuss anything and everything while keeping clearly in view the ultimate and ongoing goal of encountering Jesus in truth and consequently becoming like Him. Depending on the lens you are looking through, some of this material will stretch your thinking; the wonderful thing is that you don't have to agree with everything an author writes in order to receive truth from him/her.

Books to help with the questioning ingredient:
A New Kind of Christianity
The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

Books to help with the devotion ingredient:
God's Favorite Place on Earth
The Only Necessary Thing

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

What God Chose to Make Me...

 “I would rather be what God chose to make me 
than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for 
to have been thought about, 
born in God's thought, 
and then made by God, 
is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”  
 - George MacDonald -

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What if God's Way Really IS NOT by Might and Power?

I have always enjoyed good health and strength, but I fell and broke my right knee cap a year and a half ago and have been on a lengthy journey, struggling to regain the use of my leg. There have been complications and setbacks and most recently another fall has further hampered my ability to walk. Discouragement has been close at hand over and over again. It's been very hard to embrace the loss of strength in it all. This recent fall is causing me to ask the Lord more about how His kingdom works.

Theoretically, I have accepted that weakness is God's way of working as seen in Jesus' lifestyle and death; but internally I haven't accepted it. I don't know how to live this way because I am a product of a culture that highly values independence and self-sufficiency and practically despises weakness and neediness. I told someone who has been caring for me this week that one of the harder parts of this affliction is having to ask others for help for the smallest things.2530sam_frodo_mt_doom_hl1[1]

This week I received an offer for a young teenage girl who was born with physical disabilities and doesn't walk well to bring me something that has helped her with pain. I was deeply touched by this and have been thinking that this is a picture of how God's kingdom works - the weak caring for the weak. We are all desperately weak in one way or the other. But rather than concentrate on how to use our weaknesses to give life to others, we focus on covering up our weaknesses and promoting our strengths to serve God.

Everything about the gospel and Jesus' teachings and example tell us that weakness and insufficiency is how the kingdom of God works. Most my life I've pictured God as having power reserves from which to draw in case He needs to use them. But what if God's weakness is His strength...period?! What if the cross and Jesus' way of non-retaliation to enemies is the only way of God?? What if God doesn't have power reserves for some future date by which He will make all things right?? What if He will accomplish it all through weakness and loss?? What if that is God's modus operandi now and in the age to come??

Last year I was struck by this article: When Frodo and Jesus Fail at Mount Doom. It touches eloquently on the weakness of God.

What if all the weaknesses we try to hide about ourselves are really what God uses to give life to others?? I wonder what it would look like for God's people to live in this way? I really don't know, but I pray for this for myself and all of us who are Jesus followers..

Friday, May 16, 2014

Geo MacDonald: What the Apostle Paul Meant by 'Adoption'

In a sermon on Romans 8:15, George MacDonald says the following about what he believes the apostle Paul intended to say when he speaks of adoption:

"The hardest, gladdest thing in all the world is to cry Father! from a full heart. I would help whom I may to call thus upon the Father.

"There are many things in all forms of the systematic teachings of Christianity to block such an outgoing of the heart as this most elemental human cry...(one) such cold wind is the so-called doctrine of adoption."

MacDonald proceeds to explain that the word "adoption" is a poor translation of what Paul is saying about God and His relationship to His children. It is a good word for human transactions, but the problem in using it with God is that it suggests that God is not our original parent or that He was our father, then repudiated us as children and then took us again. MacDonald contends that this kind of view of God's fatherhood gets in the way of our being able to cry "Father!" from a full heart.

So he goes on to say he doesn't believe that the word "adoption" was what Paul had in mind when using the Greek word huiothesia"...the word used by St. Paul does not imply that God adopts children that are not his own, but rather that a second time he fathers his own...He will make himself tenfold, yea, infinitely their father...He will have them one with himself..."

"(Paul) means the raising of a father's own child from the condition of tutelage and subjection to others to the position and rights of a son...The idea is that of a spiritual coming of age. Only when a child is a man is he really and fully a son...To be a child is not necessarily to be a son or daughter. The childship is the lower condition of the upward process toward the sonship. It is the soil out of which the true sonship shall grow.

"No more than an earthly parent, God cannot be content to have only children. He must have sons and daughters...His children are not his real, true sons and daughters until they think like him, feel with him, judge as he judges, until they are at home with him and without fear before him because he and they mean the same thing, love the same things, seek the same ends.

"For this we are created. It is the one end of our being and includes all other ends whatever."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Geo MacDonald: The Teacher's Job

In his book, Discovering the Character of God, MacDonald says:
"No teacher should strive to make others think as he thinks, but to lead them to the living Truth, to the Master himself, of whom alone they can learn anything, and who will make them in themselves know what is true by the very seeing of it. The inspiration of the Almighty alone gives understanding. To be the disciple of Christ is the end of being, and to persuade others to be his disciples is the aim of all teaching."
In MacDonald's novel, The Fisherman's Lady, Mr. Graham is a school teacher. In describing him, MacDonald says: 
"He would never contradict anything but would oppose error only by teaching truth. He presented truth and set it face to face with error in the minds of his students, leaving the two sides and the growing intellect, heart, and conscience to fight the matter out. To him the business of the teacher was to rouse and urge this battle by leading fresh forces of truth onto the field."

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Geo MacDonald: Light Is More Important than Knowledge and Opinions

The following is taken from some of MacDonald's sermons and essays:

"The man who holds his opinions the most honestly ought to see the most plainly that his opinion must change...If we held opinions aright, we should know that nothing in them that is good can ever be lost...It is only as they help us toward God that our opinions are worth a straw. And every necessary change in them must be to more truth, to greater uplifting power...My opinions, just as my life, as my love, I leave in the hands of him from whom all came.

"Why then is there such dislike to the very idea of change of our ideas...? It may be objected that no man will hold his opinions with the needed earnestness who can entertain the idea of having to change them. But the very objection speaks powerfully against such an overvaluing of opinion...

"Let us...beware lest our opinions come between us and our God, between us and our neighbor, between us and our better selves...The one security is to walk according to the truth which they contain. And if men seem to be unreasonable, opposers of that which to us is plainly true, let us remember that we are not here to convince men, but to let our light shine.

"Knowledge is not necessarily light. And it is light, not knowledge, that we have to spread. The best thing we can do that men may receive truth, is to be ourselves true...

"Above all, let us be humble before the God of truth, faithfully desiring of him that truth in the inward parts which alone can enable us to walk according to that which we have attained..."

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Geo MacDonald: The Bible Isn't about the Bible but about the Living God

Speaking in one of his characters in his novel, A Daughter's Devotion, George MacDonald says the following about the Bible:

"...she (did not have) the opportunity of making acquaintance with any who believed and lived like her father in any of the churches in her town. But she had her Bible, and when that troubled her, as it did sometimes, she had God himself to cry to for such wisdom as she could receive. And one of the things she learned was that nowhere in the Bible was she called on to believe in the Bible but in the living God in whom is no darkness, and who alone can give light to understand his own intent. All her troubles she carried to him..."

And in a letter to an unidentified woman who accused MacDonald of not have any of the "old faith left", he wrote the following about scripture:
"...Do not suppose that I believe in Jesus because it is said so-and-so in a book. I believe in him because he is himself. The vision of him in that book and his own living power in me have enabled me to understand him, to look him in the face, as it were, and accept him as my Master and Saviour... The Bible is to me the most precious thing in the world, because it tells me his story and what good men thought about him who knew him and accepted him. But the common theory of the inspiration of the words, instead of the breathing of God's truth into the hearts and souls of those who wrote it, and who then did their best with it, is degrading and evil; and they who hold it are in danger of worshipping the letter instead of living in the Spirit, of being idolaters of the Bible instead of disciples of Jesus...It is Jesus who is the Revelation of God, not the Bible; that is but a means to a mighty eternal end. The book is indeed sent us by God, but it nowhere claims to be his very word...Jesus alone is the Word of God.
"...all my hope, all my joy, all my strength are in the Lord Christ and his Father; all my theories of life and growth are rooted in him; his truth is gradually clearing up the mysteries of this world...To him I belong heart and soul and body, and he may do with me as he will - nay, nay - I pray him to do with me as he wills: for that is my only well-being and freedom."

MacDonald understood God's intended purpose in scripture to be a means to Jesus, not to be an end in itself and so was able to appreciate it more fully.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Geo MacDonald: Jesus and Women

From his novel, The Curate's Awakening, MacDonald speaks through the mouth of the young curate Wingfold as he was talking with another person about the women that Jesus had spoken to and how it was easy to see how much Jesus loved women by the way he talked to them. Wingfold ended the conversation by saying:

Free Bible illustrations at Free Bible images of a Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman at Sychar who comes to draw water from the well. (John 4:1-42): Slide 6"How any woman can help casting herself heart and soul at the feet of such a man, I cannot imagine. You do not once read of a woman being against him - except his own mother when she thought he was going astray and forgetting his high mission. The divine love in him toward his Father in heaven and his brethren was ever melting down his conscious individuality in sweetest showers upon individual hearts. He came down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water he earth. No woman, no man surely ever saw him as he was and did not worship him."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Geo MacDonald: God Is Not Angry with You

In one of his novels, George MacDonald has young Robert saying the following to his grandmother (who had been raised with a view of God as an angry God requiring punishment to turn away His wrath toward humans):

"It's more for our sakes than His own that God cares about his glory. I don't believe that he thinks about his glory except for the sake of truth and men's hearts dying for lack of it...

"God's not like a proud man to take offense, Grannie. There's nothing that please him like the truth, and there's nothing that displeases him like lying, particularly when it's pretended say some things about him sometimes that sound fearsome to me...
Like when you speak of him as if he was a poor proud man, full of his own importance and ready to be down on anybody that didn't call him by the name of his office - always thinking about his own glory, instead of the quiet mighty grand self-forgetting, all-creating being that he is. Think of the face of that man of sorrows that never said a hard word to a sinful woman or a despised publican. Was he thinking about his own glory, do you think? And whatever isn't like Christ isn't like God."
"But laddie, Christ came to satisfy God's justice by suffering the punishment due to our sins, to turn aside his wrath and curse. So Jesus couldn't be altogether God."

"Oh but he is, Grannie. He came to satisfy God's justice by giving him back his children, by making them see that God was just, by sending them back home to fall at his feet...And there isn't a word of reconciling God to us in the New Testament, for there was no need of that; it was us that needed to be reconciled to him...It wasn't his own sins or God's wrath that caused him suffering, but our own sins. And he took them away. He took our sins upon him, for he came into the middle of them and took them up - by no sleight of hand, by no quibbling of the preachers about imputing his righteousness to us and such like. But he took them and took them away and here am I, Grannie, growing out of my sins in consequence..."