We were created in God's image; designed to reflect our Creator. Yet many "christians" today look nothing like Christ. Why is that? The problem isn't with our Creator, but with our perception of Him. Do we see God as a harsh, punitive, strict, judge with a watchful eye just waiting for us to break a rule so He can throw you into hell? Do we live our lives in fear of Him, trying to appease Him. "I'll be good, I promise, I'll go to church every Sunday, read my bible, say my prayers, share my faith, give my tithe, just please don't throw me into hell!" Can we really love that which we fear? Can love and fear co-exist? Is it scary just to read these words? "How dare you wrestle out loud with understanding God's true nature! Just agree that God is Love, and then do what you're told so He won't destroy you!"
Through the ages man has misunderstood God. We've given Him the personality of all the other gods of religion. The ones that require child sacrifice. We have even distorted the gospel by making God the destroyer in the story and Jesus the rescuer who takes our punishment for us. We see Jesus as the hero that steps in and saves us from and angry God who needs appeasing. We've made God the bad guy and Jesus the good guy.
Even though it doesn't make sense to us, we're afraid to question it. What are we so afraid of? Is God so easily offended? Does He get scared and defensive when we ask questions and wrestle with scripture, or does it honor Him that we want to really know Him. To question something we've always believed can be scary, like pulling a card out of a house of cards. The whole tower may crumble. But what if we find a card that doesn't belong there? Maybe it came from the wrong deck. Should we leave it and ignore it, or yank it out quickly and toss it aside? Maybe neither. Maybe we just slip the card out and examine it; hold it in tension for a while. It takes a lot of guts to examine something we've always believed, we might find out we're wrong. What if discovering one card that doesn't belong, leads to the discovery that several cards don't belong? Gosh, what if we find out the whole house of cards was built on a faulty foundation? What would the ripple affects of that be?
God gives us His spirit to teach us and guide us into all truth. Unless we already know it all, we have some things to learn. If God's spirit wants to bring to light something that we've misunderstood, how would He go about doing that? Would it be a gentle whisper? Maybe a gnawing sense that something just doesn't quite fit. How would we respond? Would we cling to the safe, comfortable place that is familiar, or risk letting go and trusting God to make Himself known. Growth isn't always just about learning new things, sometimes its about being willing to let go of what we think we know?
Not only are we afraid to question God, but we're afraid not to fear Him because we think fear is necessary to keep our sin in check. If we don't fear God's wrath, what will keep us from sinning? Isn't that how a lot of us parent our kids? We parent that way because we perceive that our Father parents us that way, therefore it must be right. We live in a fear based world, but fear is only the beginning of wisdom. God says, perfect love drives out fear. When we understand love, we don't need fear. Love motivates us to do what fear never could and is so much more powerful than fear. We live in a quick fix society; we like shortcuts and immediate gratification. We choose the fear route because it gets quick results. Unfortunately, fear and threats can only keep behavior in check temporarily. It's like treating cancer with a band-aide instead of chemotherapy. We're only dealing with the surface and covering up the problem instead getting to the root of it where true healing can occur. It's deceiving because it appears to be working at first, but it never lasts because it never deals with the heart of the matter, the real issue that is driving the behavior. Instead, the real issue gets shoved down and buried alive. When something is buried alive, it will continue to claw it's way to the surface again and again. Only love can heal and transform the heart because it provides a safe place for us to bring the truth into the light where it can be healed. Once the heart begins to heal, the behavior will follow.
The bible says God is Love. He is described in 1 Cor 13:4, Love is patient, kind, does not envy or boast. It's not proud, rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs, doesn't delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails. As we take the time to get to know the true God, we'll discover that His love for us is unconditional and we are safe in His presence. Only then will we trust Him enough to bring our mess to Him so He can walk us out of it and heal us. His desire was never to control us through fear and condemnation, but that we would know Him, so we would trust Him and follow Him as He leads us into a full life. Isn't that what we want with our own children. We don't want them to fear us, but to trust us, so we can protect them and guide them.
For far too long, I've feared God. I lived with the exhausting task of trying to stay on His good side and keep Him from being disappointed with me. Though I acknowledged that He loved me with my head, my heart kept it's distance because I didn't trust I was safe with Him unless I met His expectations. How I viewed the cross had a lot to do with my fear of Him. I've personally struggled with reconciling how a loving God could sacrifice his own Son. The cross, if I dared to be honest, always felt like a story about an angry God who demanded a sacrifice. It went something like this: God demanded payment for sin. The payment He demanded was death. We each owed a debt and He was going to collect. His son stepped in and said, "I'll pay the price Father". The Father allowed His son to pay the price, but because the Father was too holy to look upon sin, He turned His back on His son as he took on our sin.
But what if it happened more like this... God doesn't punish us for sinning, sin itself is it's own punishment and will lead to our death unless someone intervenes on our behalf and rescues us from it. Sin demands the sacrifice, not God. Knowing sin would destroy us, God and Jesus together took the penalty (that sin dished out) for us. When Jesus hung on the cross bearing our sin for us, God was in Him, reconciling Himself to us. And when Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?", God didn't really forsake him, Jesus was speaking from His humanity (his flesh), not from His spirit (the spirit of truth). He was speaking from His human perception of what was true. The bible says that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Maybe as Jesus took on our sin, he saw through the lens that we look through when we sin. When we live our of our flesh (our sinful nature), our perception of reality is skewed. We may feel alienated, but that is not reality. The truth is, God is always with us; He will never leave us. Sin just takes away our ability to feel His presence and see what is true. God isn't too holy to be with us in our sin, as though sin could destroy Him. God is the only One who can withstand sin, and destroy sin and death.
God is not the destroyer in the story, but the rescuer. The real destroyer is sin. God doesn't destroy us if we sin, God destroys sin and rescues us. God's wrath isn't God against us, but God against sin (against that which destroys the object of His love, us). God is always for us. I love the way "The Shack" illustrates this... In the story, a little boy is playing where he's not supposed to and accidentally disturbs a bee's nest. The bees begin to attack him. The mom, who is severely allergic to bee's, sees her son in danger and doesn't even give it a second thought before she dives into the bees to rescue her son. The son sees the fierce look on his mother's face and wrongly assumes that she's angry with him. He screams, "Mommy, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" He misunderstands her wrath because of his own guilt. He ends up fearing the very one who's willing to give her life to save him.
We are created to reflect the image of our Maker, if we perceive Him as the angry, strict, punitive judge with a watchful eye, waiting for us to mess up so He can strike us with His rod, we will reflect that image toward ourselves and others. If we see Him as He really is, the merciful, compassionate, gracious, loving Father who, like a shepherd, uses His rod not to strike the sheep, but to steer them away from what hurts them and toward the green pastures, and clear water... all that is good for them, we will reflect that toward the world. Since we mirror our perception of our Father, it's important to see Him as He really is... Do we see Him as a God who wants to control us through fear and is only concerned about our behavior, or as a Father who loves His children unconditionally and will stop at nothing to rescue them. A Father who is safe and relentlessly invites His children to come to Him so He can heal them with His love?
Sunday, October 23, 2011
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011
I just listened to the sermon you sent me. It was really good! Thanks for sharing! I don't know that I think it's so much about us figuring out what "to do" to let our light shine as much as it is about really getting to know God more intimately and then it just kind of flows out... Kind of like all my close friends feel like they "know" my family because of how close we are and how much a part of my life you are. It's hard to have a conversation without bringing you guys up. And when I say family, of coarse I mean husband, kids, sisters, parents. I used to think it was up to me to help people know God. Oh the pressure! I no longer think it's all up to me. I believe God is always speaking to each of us in whatever way we can individually hear him best, because he wants a relationship with us... He wants to be known! That's the whole reason he created us, to share a loving relationship with him. I think I've always wanted to know him more deeply (he sets that in all the hearts of men), but religion taught me to be afraid of him. It's hard to love someone you're afraid of. About 7 years ago I began to discover I had misunderstood God's heart. I began to realize how deeply I'm loved no matter what. His love is not conditional upon my behavior. The most freeing thing was to realize that he's never ashamed or disappointed by what I do or don't do, but only wants to steer me toward what will lead me to the fullest life and away from anything that will hurt me. As I continue to discover how safe he is, it enables me trust him enough to bring everything to him without fear, so he can heal all the hurt and broken pieces in me. As I learn how much he loves me, in spite of all my flaws, it frees me to love other people the same way. I begin to see their beauty through their brokenness. The same way my father sees me. It leaves no place for judging people, only loving and therefore healing them into wholeness (who they were created to be). When we work from the outside in, we may change behavior temporarily, but we never transform and heal the heart. It never gets to the root, it's just a band aid. Knowing how deeply we're loved (no matter what) is the only thing that transforms us! I think when we love like he loves, people are drawn to him because that is really all we want anyway... to be truly loved.
I Love You,