Archive for God
I love the story of the prodigal son. I think it describes the incredible love that our heavenly Father lavishes over us. The extent of the patience that he shows prodigals in amazing. Even though there is a marvelous reunion, the story continues.
Luke 15:25-32 introduces another brother to the stage. He was the oldest son of the father. He was the responsible one. He was the one who had been compliant and played by the rules. He was the picture of dutiful living. Compared to his prodigal brother, the oldest son looked great. On the outside, anyway.
When the older brother heard of the celebration given because of his younger sibling’s return, he became indignant. Even though he had done all the right things, love was absent from his heart. He wasn’t looking for his brother to come home. And when he came home, he wasn’t happy about it.
The elder brother didn’t cherish the relationship. It’s interesting that he referred to him as “your son,” not “my brother.” The older brother believed he deserved every blessing he possessed. He didn’t have an economy of grace. To him, everything was done in the economy of earning. Even though he has been around his father all of his years, he really knew nothing about his father. He did the father’s work without possessing the father’s love.
One of the hardest things in the Christian life is that when we as prodigals come home to the father’s love, we don’t turn in to the older brother.
God loves prodigals. He will go to great lengths to bring them home. He doesn’t expect the prodigals to behave like mature older brothers. He’s very patient. Our father loves people…prodigal people. His desire is that we join him in loving prodigals, looking for prodigals, running toward prodigals at the first sighting, and riotously celebrating their presence.
I believe that one reason churches in America have become so anemic is because they are more focused on pleasing the older brother than pursuing the prodigals. God invites us to join him in his work of redeeming, reclaiming, and restoring the prodigals.
This past weekend I completed the God Series with one of Jesus’ most familiar stories — the story of the prodigal son. I think one of the reasons this story is so popular is because we all identify to some extent with the poor decisions and lack of judgment made by the prodigal. But the story of the prodigal son is really not a story about a son. It’s really a story about a Father. Jesus told the story to illustrate the extent of the heavenly father’s love.
Jesus began the story by telling of a father who had two sons. One of them came to him and said, “I’d like my inheritance now, please.” The father doled out his portion of the inheritance. Several days later the son packed up his new convertible and sped away. He was off to see the world. His request revealed his heart and what was of highest priority to him. He would rather have the money than the father. It was as though he wished his father was dead. After all, inheritances usually assume the death of the benefactor.
You know the story…the son left, spent and squandered. But when the party was over he found himself broke and alone. The only employment he could find in a down economy was feeding pigs, which wasn’t particularly appealing to a young Jew. For the first time he experienced need. And no one was there to care or to share.
Why did the father let him go? The father not only let him go, he financed the trip! I don’t think anyone would say that the father was clueless as to what the son would do once he got his hands on the money. So why did he let him go? Wouldn’t a loving father hold him there at home and forbid him to go? Not this father.
The father’s greatest gift was not the inheritance. The greatest gift any father can give his child is his love. The prodigal preferred stuff, but the father let the son go so that he would learn that there is nothing on this earth that compares to the supremacy of the father’s love.
Isn’t that exactly what God does for us? God’s greatest gift to us is himself. His love for us is unconditional and incomparable. But our heavenly father, just like the prodigal’s father, permits us to go to the “far country” so that we may learn that there is nothing worth having in this life without him. God’s desire for you is that you would value and cherish his love above all things and supremely love him in return.
As the story continues, we read that the son came to his senses. When he came to his senses, what made sense? His father! Sometimes we look at the mess that is our lives and evaluate it in the third person. Like the prodigal son, we assess the chaos that is our life and we come to our senses only to discover that what makes sense is God. Like the prodigal, we repent and return to find our heavenly Father watching for us and welcoming us home.
His father saw him a long way off because he was looking for him. And when the father saw him, he abandoned all that he was doing and ran to him and embraced him. The behavior of the prodigal son didn’t deserve this kind of reception. But the nature of the father demanded it. The father unconditionally loved, forgave, and restored his son to the family.
In a very real sense, we’re all prodigals whom the Father has pursued. Maybe we haven’t spent, squandered, and wasted our fortunes in riotous excess, but we’re prodigal nonetheless. Just like the story describes, our Father watched for our return and welcomed us home. Not because we deserve it. It’s just the way God is. His nature demands it.
Yesterday I blogged about what we could confidently affirm from Scripture concerning the Trinity. Today the question amounts to what does it really matter? What’s the purpose of thinking about the Trinity? How does this add value to my Christian experience?
I believe that love is the essence of God. It is the foremost of all the attributes and characteristics of God. From his love springs forth the perfections and attributes of God. Love describes the inner life of God. It is the reciprocal self-dedication of the trinity. Before creation, the Trinity existed in perfect relationship of love. One might say that love describes the community within God.
Because of God’s perfect self love, he is free to love his creation. Love is the motive for redemption. We experience God’s love through Christ, and are empowered to love him in return. Not only are we able to receive and respond to God’s love, we are able to receive and respond to one another’s love.
So when Jesus gave the second commandment that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, he was not just laying down a suggestion for ethical behavior. He was inviting us to experience the kind of perfect love that the Trinity shares in the midst of itself. God models for us the very practice he intends for us to implement in our daily living.
I think the Trinity is not so much about eggs and water as much as it is understanding something about God’s love within himself and beyond himself. To apply the doctrine of the trinity is to go back to those two commands Jesus offered: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s part of the take away from studying the Trinity.
Last weekend I spoke on the Trinity. I’ve been amazed at the rising level of interest on this doctrine, particularly among younger adults. This fascination has escalated with the publication of The Shack by William Young. Many within our congregation have asked for an opinion on the book. I confess I enjoyed The Shack, and personally admired the attempt Young made at describing the interworkings of the Trinity. He probably gets a lot of it right. And then again, he probably gets a lot of it wrong, too.
As with all mysteries of God, our limited vantage point keeps us from understanding this doctrine in its totality. Even though the word “trinity” does not appear anywhere in the Bible, it is implied throughout. We read evidences of the Trinity in the creation accounts of Genesis (1:1-2; 1:26). Stronger evidence is found in the New Testament, and is expressed in the incarnation (Luke 1:26-38), Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Paul often uses a trinitarian formula in his epistles. Like many of God’s mysteries, the Bible affirms this truth yet does not bother to explain it. Our attempts to develop analogies to describe the Trinity are inadequate. Whether we use eggs, water, or clover leafs, the doctrine cannot be accurately illustrated. Bottom line: it’s a mystery…something that God has concealed that only he can reveal.
So what can we confidently say? I believe the first step in understanding the Trinity is to affirm that God is One. All the way back to the inception of the nation Israel, the people of God have been staunch monotheists. “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is One!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). We are monotheists, not tri-theists. So whatever we make of the Trinity must be rooted in the unity of God as One.
Scripture further proclaims that God is revealed as three persons. Or, as Three In One. Three-ness is the essence of God and the way God essentially exists in his being. Part of our challenge with comprehending the Trinity is that we attempt to describe the Trinity as the external expression of God. But the focus of the Trinity is more on the internal relationship within God and how he exists within himself. The three share the same substance and co-equally exist as God. One might think of the Trinity as One God that can be encountered in three ways. As Father, God is revealed as the creator of life, ruler of the universe, and judge of all living. As Jesus the Son, God is expressed as love, salvation, and forgiveness. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to the work of the Father and Son, convincing and convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come.
In the 2nd century, Tertullian described the Trinity as the persona of God. A persona is the role an actor takes in a play. The Trinity functions as if there are three roles in the grand drama of redemption played by one God. Each role may reveal God in a different way, but it’s the same God in every case.
So why is this important? What difference does this make in the 21st century? Check back tomorrow for part 2.
Today is the conclusion to a three part post titled “When God Doesn’t Make Sense,” from Isaiah 55:8-13. To hear the podcast of the sermon visit www.ashworthroad.com.
While his purposes may remain a mystery to us, God’s purposes are designed to bring growth into our lives (Isaiah 55:12). In verse 12, Isaiah points out joy, peace, and praise, as three internal qualities God’s purposes bring to the forefront of our character, even when we cannot comprehend our circumstances. A friend of mine in Texas likes to say, “You will be transformed into the image of Christ. You may embrace it, or you may go kicking and screaming, but you will be transformed into the image of Christ!”
God’s thoughts and ways are often incomprehensible. We must come to the point in life that admits we’re not in control. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions of God. But if the answers don’t lead you to God, you’re on the wrong path. God’s purposes begin to make sense when we align ourselves with him, not vice-versa. His ways bring growth in our character so that we may reflect his likeness to the world. God is more concerned about our character transformation than our personal comfort.
Finally, God’s thoughts and purposes are about his relentless pursuit of his own glory (Isaiah 55:13). God determines the value of what his purposes accomplish. The reason that God sometimes doesn’t make sense is because not everything is about us. It’s about him. Because of this truth we can be free from bargaining with God and trying to manipulate him with promises and behavior.
There are three stories that illustrate this point. The first is the man born blind in John 9:1-3. The second concerns Jesus’ delay in going to Bethany to see his sick friend Lazarus in John 11:1-7. The final vignette is the response God gave to Ananias in Acts 9:15-16 concerning Saul of Tarsus. One had suffered, one was suffering, and one would suffer in the future. In each instance the suffering was for the purpose of bringing glory to God. It wasn’t about their sins, attitudes, or behaviors. It was about the glory of God.
Each time we look at our station in life with confusion, we can be assured of two things. First, God is at work. We may not see it or comprehend it, but he is at work accomplishing his purposes and ways. Second, we can trust him. We trust God on the basis of his character, not his blessings (or perceived lack thereof). We trust God because he is trustworthy. Each thing that is introduced to us in life is an invitation to come to him.
Yesterday I began sharing some insights from Isaiah 55 that came from last weekend’s message. I’ll do two more today.
Observation three is that God’s purposes are not immediately known or easily perceived (Isaiah 55:10). I’ve read this verse many times, but only recently noticed that the verse contains three interdependent and interrelated cycles. The first cycle is the water cycle. “The rain and the snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth.” Condensation, precipitation, and evaporation would seem a fitting description for this phrase. The rain and snow come to earth. Some evaporates, but some “waters the earth.”
Next is the plant cycle. “They (water) cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.” The water causes the plants to produce seed and grain. The seed is returned to the ground for the next crop, completing the cycle.
Finally we see the energy cycle. “They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.” So the farmer harvests the grain. Some is used as seed, and some is used for baking bread to feed the hungry. Who is hungry? Certainly the farmer who plants and harvests is included in that group. The farmer uses the fruit of his labor to restore energy that has been expended in planting and harvesting.
Now I know you’re thinking that this is nothing new. Basic, elementary science that is available to any one age 10 or above. What I want to point out is that when it rains or snows there’s more to it than what is immediately perceived. The same is true of God’s purposes and ways. We can discern the initial impact of life’s challenges. Rain produces standing water and snow will sometimes drift. It takes time and patience to discern the bigger purposes at work.
The next insight is found that God’s purposes are accomplished regardless of our understanding (Isaiah 55:11). As God sends forth the snow and rain, God sends forth his divine word. His divine word does not return empty. It always accomplishes his intended purposes. His purposes are not contingent upon our comprehension or understanding. So whether we get it or not, God’s divine word is going forth and his purposes are being accomplished. Period.
Tomorrow I’ll finish up the remaining two observations from Isaiah 55.
In my experience there are two kinds of people who ask the question “why?” The first is the learner. No one illustrates this better than a child. When our children were small I sometimes thought they were going to wear me out with their incessant inquisitions. Students who excel are not satisfied to know the answer to their question, they also want to know the logic and rationale behind the answer. They do so by asking “why?”
But there’s another kind of person who asks the question “why?” That would be the person who is suffering tragedy or injustice. They look at their circumstances with shock and ask the exact same question. They not only ask the same question as the learner, they seek the same thing as the learner: the logic and rationale behind the event.
The question “why?” is on the lips of those who are confronted by tragic and untimely death of a friend or loved one, by those who receive positive test results, by those who experience layoffs and unemployment, and by those families who wrestle with crumbling marriages and troubled kids. I don’t think its incidental that both the learner and the sufferer seek the same thing. Maybe there’s a connection. Isaiah 55:8-13 gives some insight for those who ask the question “why?”
The first observation from Isaiah is that God is completely different from humans in how he thinks and how he acts (Isaiah 55:8). This difference is not due to distance, so don’t let the word heavens convey that God is somehow disenfranchised. The word higher here is used as in “immeasurable.” God wants his children to know that he is not like us. When we can’t understand the will and ways of God, it sometimes comes down to the simple fact that we don’t have the capacity to know. God’s thoughts and actions belong to another realm not bound by or limited to time and space. His purposes belong to time and eternity. Because eternity encompasses the future our understanding is incomplete. We can comprehend the present but are not equipped to see the future.
My second observation is that God thinks his own thoughts and pursues his own purposes (Isaiah 55:9). God’s thoughts and purposes belong to him. There are some things God has chosen to reveal to his children. However, there are some things God has chosen not to disclose. Those things that God has chosen to remain veiled are mysteries to us. Those mysteries become the fertile soil of our faith. Our growth in faith depends on becoming comfortable with the mystery. We learn to trust God because he is trustworthy, not because he can be completely comprehended.
Check back tomorrow when I’ll post my third and fourth observations from Isaiah.
In yesterday’s post regarding the changelessness of God, I did not include some of the thoughts I offered in the weekend messages concerning biblical texts which indicate that at certain points God changed his mind or “repented” of a decision. Here’s the gist of what I said…
Wait a minute? I thought I remembered reading that God changed his mind over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? That God told Noah that he was sorry he made people? That God told Samuel that he was sorry he picked Saul king? Didn’t God add years to Hezekiah’s life after he turned his face to the wall in tears? That should be understood as God’s present attitude or intention with respect to the situation as it existed in time. Whatever changeless means, it doesn’t rule out a God who is responsive and who is willing to react to our problems and requests. God doesn’t change. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t move, act, or respond to his creation.
Another conversation related to this specific point concerns the present popular notion of Open Theism. Open Theism, also known as Process Theology, basically believes that God is in process of growing and developing alongside his creation. In other words, if all of creation is growing and evolving, God must be changing as well. This is, in some respect, an attempt to reconcile the immutable God with how he relates to circumstances and people within the created order. Process Theologians assume that an unchanging God is an uninvolved God. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth and made the heavens with your hands. They will perish, but you remain forever; they will wear out like old clothing. You will change them like a garment and discard them. But you are always the same; you will live forever.”
– Psalm 102:25-27 (NLT)
The Bible is a unique experience. The God of the Bible is clearly seen in time and space in human history. God clearly belonged to that world. What about this world? What about God in the here and now? Those stories of the Bible seem remote and foreign to our present experience. However, the Bible affirms that we worship the same God. The exact same God. God does not change.
What does it mean to say that God doesn’t change?
1) God’s life does not change (Psalm 93:2; 1 Tim 6:16; Psalm 90:2)
God was not made for he has always been. He exists forever, and is always the same. His life does not ebb and flow. He does not gain or lose. He does not mature or develop. He does not grow. You can improve any person or product, but God does not need to improve.
2) God’s character does not change (Exodus 3:14)
When Moses asked God for some tangible form of authority before presenting himself to the Egyptian monarchy, God told him “I AM that I AM.” He wanted Egyptians and Hebrews alike to recognize that the God who had sent Moses was the same covenant God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. God’s moral character is changeless. He doesn’t mellow. He doesn’t become cynical.
His commands, his words, his covenants, his promises are all based on his changeless character.
3) God’s way of dealing with people does not change.
How God deals with people is consistent and just. God offers no preferential treatment. He does not play favorites.
4) God’s purposes of grace and redemption do not change (1 Samuel 15:29; Numbers 23:19)
His purposes of grace and salvation do not evolve or change. His love extended to us through grace has not changed nor will it change. God initiates his acts of grace, and we respond to that grace with faith.
5) God’s expectations of his people do not change (Micah 6:8)
What God wanted then is what God wants now. He’s not interested in our offerings or our dutiful service. He’s most interested in our love and worship.
God doesn’t change. His changelessness, or “faithful consistency,” is the basis of our trust and response. We can trust God because we can count on God.
So if God doesn’t change, why does he seem so different today? In the Bible we read of his tangible presence, his working of miracles, his displays of power, and his clear communication with his people. Why don’t we see God work in those ways in our contemporary setting? Could it be that we are overstuffed, overfed, over stimulated and over compensated that we don’t need that God anymore? Sometimes people don’t even look for God until a doctor, an attorney, or a banker look at them and say those fatal six words: “We’ve done all we can do.” God has become our last resort instead of our first response!
Where is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob? Of Moses and Joshua?
Where is the God of Elijah and Elisha? Of David and Daniel?
Where is the God of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Of Peter and Paul?
God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But somehow, like Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, we’ve just grown up. Paul warns Timothy about the dangers of having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. Every explanation we give for the difference is basically reduced to our own genius and self sufficiency. What would happen if you began to live as though the God of the Bible is the God of today? How would your prayers change? How would your life change?
I had never really esteemed Grover to be a theologian, but this classic sketch from Sesame Street reminds me of how we perceive the presence of God. Sometimes he is near and sometimes he is far. Truth be known, the average Christ follower would consider God to be far more often than near. Our struggle in identifying the presence of God is compounded by the way we use language. For example, we talk about God on his throne, being filled with the Spirit, and Jesus living in our hearts.
There are no adequate illustrations for God and his attributes. But we can benefit from helpful analogies. For instance, I went to my daughter’s soccer game on Saturday. It was sunny and windy. As I watched the game, I was constantly aware of the presence of air through the wind. Generally I don’t spend a lot of time contemplating air. I know it’s continually there, but unless the air is moving I don’t think much about it. Just because I don’t feel the presence of air doesn’t mean it isn’t present at all times. We cannot go where God is not. God is totally above us, presiding. God is totally beneath us, sustaining. God is totally within us, filling. God is always present with all he is. He cannot be contained or confined.
David marveled at the infinite presence of God in the world. Even more, he was amazed at God’s presence in his life. David expressed his thoughts through poetry in Psalm 139:7-12. In that paragraph David affirmed the presence of God in the midst of three of our most fearful moments: death, distance, and darkness. Those three things in some way relate to the fears that grip our lives. In each of those moments, God is near.
Consider the following listing of Scriptures that affirm God’s presence in our lives. Whether it be a time of crisis or a time of discouragement, God is near. When we suffer, when we’re tempted, or when we wrestle with uncertainty and insecurity, God is near. The Bible affirms that God is present. He is near whether we recognize his presence or not.