A Weak and Watered Down God Just Won’t Do

As followers of Jesus we are all called to enter the fray of life just like our Lord did. We are told to be ‘in’ the world without being ‘of’ the world. Jesus told his disciples they would be like sheep among wolves. We are to be immersed in the life of this world loving those that are closest to us and seeking to make changes in order that the poor, the widow, the oppressed and marginalized are loved and cared for and invited to live now in the Kingdom of God.

But we cannot approach this life with the weak and watered down version of God that some churches are offering. Our God is Almighty, Powerful, and able to do more than we can even think or imagine.  Some folks don’t even want to call God ‘Father’ anymore. They prefer more inclusive terms. I want a Father who is strong, who can defend me, who knows how to love and protect me. I want the same ‘Father’ whom Jesus called upon. I don’t mind other images of God but don’t take away my Father. The world knows little of the majestic and self giving nature of a good Father. Let us proclaim the Fatherhood of God as the model for all us fathers.

I hear folks uncomfortable with the notion of a crucified Christ, ordained for his cross by his heavenly Father. That seems too abusive they say. They don’t want to think of such cruelty, such weakness. But I want a Lord who was sent by his Father on a mission to rescue humanity, save us, redeem us and willing to give his life for us. Remember when General Eisenhower sent the troops into the hell of D-Day? He sent them fully aware that so many would give up their lives to rescue the world from Hitler.

I don’t was a self-help God preached by many today. This God is just hanging out along side of us showing us how to get back on the right track with just a little more money and personal power and right principles in our own lives. No, my God is righteous and knows that I am broken and demands that I come to Him on his terms through confidence in the blood that was shed for you and me. I want to know the God whose will I want to do, not one who wants to know what I think best. I want to enter through the narrow gate. It might even be a tight squeeze but it’s the right gate. I don’t want any old god who says that it doesn’t matter what you believe or whom you trust. That’s an idol and a devil from hell who would dissuade us from the one true heavenly Father.

I don’t want an accommodating god. I want to accommodate my life to the God in whom I live and breathe and who knows absolutely what is best for me. I want a God whose ethic for life and love challenges me. I do not want comfort unless comfort is found in seeking the will of my Heavenly Father.

We as followers of Jesus have a challenge ahead of us, to preach the Gospel and help others to know God’s love and His Kingdom. To care for the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the widow and orphan. To put an end to killing. And above all to learn the art of forgiveness, probably the greatest challenge and the most narrow gate in the Christian experience.

And to do that and more I want to go with an Almighty, All Loving, Father. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus. I fear it may be a great challenge and any less challenge would require a weaker God.

Listen, when those early Christians faced the lions, the gladiators, the stakes of fire and the crosses what God would they desire to know? They wanted a strong powerful loving Father who though may not rescue them from the fire and the sword would sure bust them out of the grave and bring them into his presence while he continues to create the new heavens and new earth within which they (we) will live forever. That’s my God, and my Lord. I think that was said by doubting Thomas when he met the risen Christ who also was busted out of his grave.

 

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Parkland, Florida. Wednesday February 14, 2018

Remember how Jesus took the little children into his arms and blessed them? I believe that the same eternal Jesus is holding these children whose lives were shattered by gunfire on Wednesday. The question is not as some Christians phrase it, ‘Did they know Jesus?’ The question is ‘Does Jesus know them?’ The resounding answer from the heart of God is ‘Yes’.

And as much as these children are loved by their families, Jesus loves them even more. While God allows more freedom and destructive free will than we can understand, we can know that from the horror and sorrow of Jesus’ own death, he gently and often quietly moves into our horrors and sorrows. And as the one who took in himself our infirmities and sorrows he bears the pain with these children and their families as well as their friends.

And recall how Mary, the mother of God, ached at the death of her own child. Yes, the myriads of heaven’s angels, saints and the Holy Trinity through their prayers and presence are with those now whose grief is unbearable.

The Good Shepherd has found his sheep and none are lost. Because he lives, they too live.

But for now there are mournful tears in heaven.

 

 

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WHAT CAN WE DO?

I lead a men’s Bible Study at our Church in Colorado. The other night we were discussion the 23rd Psalm and how God provides for us as our shepherd. The question arose concerning places in the world where it does not seem that God is providing the same way for them as for us in this first world country.

We wondered aloud why that is, and talked some about human responsibility, one for the other. And then I came across a piece in this month’s Sojourner’s Magazine, a Christian monthly about Christian responsibility with regards to justice issues. Anyway, here’s the quote:

“We live in a country where 250,000 people die from poverty each year. According to the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, more that 45% of black children are poor; 54% of African Americans make less than a living wage. Here we are, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and we have 400 families in this country that make $95,000 an hour while we are locking people up who simply want $15 an hour and a union.” P.19 (Rev. Dr. William Barber II)*

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t make money if they can. I am addressing the concern in our group wondering how it is that we are being good stewards of God’s provisions when there is much poverty in this first world nation of ours.

The country is so big that I am not sure churches can by themselves make the appropriate assistance. So maybe it’s our responsibility as Christian citizens to elect people who can do more for the ‘least of these’. Just sayin’.

How do the little hungry children say the 23rd Psalm in the evening? I am not even answering the question I am posing. (Is that a rhetorical device?) I am just asking, ‘What can we do as God’s people?’ What can I do?

And, I am still waiting, as of this writing, for Nebuchadnezzar to say something of sympathy for women who are sexually abused. That’s just me, a Christian citizen, speaking for myself.

 

*Dr. Barber is President of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: a National Call for Moral Revival.

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WE WON’T BOW

In the Book of Acts the religious leaders are persecuting Jesus’ disciples. In Acts 4:29 they are praying they call out to God, “Please take note of the leaders’ threats against us’. They are praying with the implicit request that God punish these leaders. And they also ask for a boldness to continue to speak the truth about Jesus.

And so this is what I am doing, writing and praying right now. I believe that our ‘leader’ is threatening so many who want to live in faithfulness to God as revealed in God’s Word. I believe the character of God is not remotely being understood and lived out by our leader and his political allies.

The Bible speaks of humility, compassion, repentance, and care for the ‘least of these.’ Instead all I hear is boasting, arrogance, pride, self-serving political maneuvering and the making of an idol called ‘Make America Great Again.”

Greatness in the eyes of God is only achieved by compassion and faithfulness to the one and only God. Faithfulness is expressed by a desire to follow Christ and to love our neighbor. Here’s what God desires, according to God’s word: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) And I am so weary of our leader’s rhetoric, which has little or nothing to do with the above.

I know that Paul says Christians are to be submissive to the governing authorities. But Paul is discouraging open armed rebellion against Caesar. He is not saying we are to obey when the leaders are doing wrong to the good folks. (See Romans 13) Some Christians have wrongly interpreted this to mean that whatever the ‘mis-leader’ says, goes. Jesus said that we are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. He might have been referring to tax money but if I am not mistaken our money says that ‘in God we trust.’ Not the leader or any of his idols. Christian people say that better employment rates, more money and power is the way of the faithful American. And being pro-life. How about all life? Not just those precious lives in the womb but the ones who are trying to live on any side of the border.

There is an insidious evil to what I see going on and while I do not wish to return evil for evil I want to take my stand in the face of an idolatrous leader and say like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, ‘We won’t bow to your idols.’ And I pray to find ways to express my protest against leadership that would spend millions on parades, armaments, and walls while people in this world are starving to death wondering why.

I do not hear Jesus saying at the end of time, ‘Well done good and faithful servants. You were the most powerful, richest, and safest people on the face of the earth.’ That’s not in the Bible that I read.

I pray that God will take note of the threats of this leadership towards the poor, the abused, as well as decency and morality. I heard just today that the leader expressed sympathy and well wishes for the man who was fired or resigned for his alleged (some proven true) abuse of former spouses. May God take note of this as well.

So instead of Romans 13 about submission to authorities let’s take a look at Psalm 109, a particular favorite of mine. It is usually attributed to David and in verses 7-8 has the following: (the parenthetical is mine).

“When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days (in office) be few and may another take his place of leadership.”

Now you may think me judgmental or even hypocritical since I deal with my own sins but I choose to lay my words before God and let God be my judge in these matters. But I cannot and will not bow to the idol of ‘make America great again.’ And I cannot follow a leader who proclaims that all human rights are given by the Creator alone (see prayer breakfast speech of Feb. 8th) when his regard for those human rights are minimal at best.

Two weeks ago I was in Haiti. Our leader called it a ‘shithole’. I had to stand before a congregation of Haitian believers, human beings who deserve respect and dignity, and apologize for the leader.

And where are the cahoneys of other leadership in our government who won’t stand and say no to the ‘leader’? Political power is an idol to which they bow.

In a time when Israel worshiped God and practiced idolatry they looked for “the day of the Lord” when God’s rule would defeat their enemies and bring peace and prosperity to the nation. But God told the idolatrous people that they had wronged God by treating the poor unjustly even as the nation’s leaders shouted their loud praises to God. And so Amos the prophet brings God’s message to the people: (from Amos 5:21-24)

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

 

No. Lord God, please take note of this mess and my complicity in it. And let your people speak with boldness about the cause and compassion of Christ. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE BICYCLE LESSON. LOVE AND GRACE. A DISTINCTION.

In the Bible the words love and grace are perhaps used interchangeably as in 2Cor. 13:14 ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ Here we get the sense of the all-encompassing presence of God.

BUT in Biblical Theology grace and love are different. Here’s an example. I love my children very much and want the good for them in their lives. When they were little they wanted to learn how to ride their bikes without the training wheels. Now, I could express my love by saying to them, ‘Oh, I want very much for you to be able to ride your bike. And here, here is your new bike. I wish you well. Go for it.’ That’s love. On the other hand my best move would be to assist them in this training exercise. And so I did. I got them on their bikes, and held the bike for them and went even further by running along side of them as they got the hang of it. And there were times when I let them go that they fell. I was right there to pick them up, dry a couple of tears, maybe apply a band aid and sent them on their way again until they said to me, ‘You can go, dad.’ That is the meaning of grace; love in action, the influence of love, the direction and empowering of love.

In Biblical Theology the grace of God is God’s action. The trinity of God doesn’t need to express grace among themselves. Grace is for those who have fallen from God and who don’t have the ability to get up and get back to God. Grace is God’s moving in their lives to give them that ability.

In the example of the bike lesson my children, by their very connection to me, somehow merited my helping them. But with God, humanity was dead to God until God, by God’s own love, decided to do something to help the creation and us. See, the Bible tells us that while we were sinners and helpless Christ died for us to fulfill the covenant promise of God to bless the whole creation.

I hope this helps to distinguish between love and grace because for a long time I have misused the terms and thus loss much of the meaning of how God in God’s loving character relates to God’s world.

Finally, take a look at this verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (good to read the whole chapter for the best context).

Chapter 2:

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (NRSV)-Bold and underlines are mine.

 

 

 

 

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MY FRIEND GARY

My friend, Gary, died this past week. His body was ravaged by cancer for almost a year. Gary was 66, not quite making it to retirement.

A faithful Christian, husband, father, grandfather and brother, his body finally succumbed to the groanings and travails of this earth. So many prayed for his healing and strength. They prayed by touch, by distance and most assuredly in the name of Jesus.

Gary kept saying to doctors and friends alike that his problem was a ‘win, win’ situation. He quoted scripture that to live is Christ and to die is even greater gain. And yet a great earthly sorrow darkened his last days until the comfort of hospice and his loving family along with some special doses of morphine allowed him to pass from this earthly life into eternity.

Some friends and I were talking about how that should have been us if this illness had anything to do with living a less than good moral and faithful life, which Gary lived. And I question the notion of ‘faith healing’ that was so desired by and for Gary. This world is frail and broken by all kinds of things and I just can’t fathom why Gary had to die. Death seems to be no respecter of persons. It is called in the Bible ‘the enemy’.

And yet when I look to the Christ on the cross I see a God who suffers with us while God works to restore and reconcile God’s creation. And in that suffering I do not know how my good and loving God is bringing about God’s purposes but I trust this Christ whom I know, the same Christ who in his own agony said to his Father, “Thy will be done.”

The earliest Christians were always facing one hardship or another. Everything from illness to persecution and martyrdom was their lot and we read in Hebrews 11:16 that they looked for a better home. This one breaks down after a while.

Sometimes people report marvelous miracles. Other times I believe God is quietly transforming death into life. And through it all I trust God. So do many of you.

Now this part may wonderfully disturb you but I believe that Gary, being with Christ, is praying for me even as I write. I believe that Gary is as much alive now as he was 10 days ago, and even more so. And why wouldn’t he pray for others and me in the presence of Christ.

Thank you Gary. God bless his family and friends and may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus be praised for Gary’s life and witness. I miss you, my friend.

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HAITI

I was in Haiti last week when I heard that derogatory comments were made about the country and thus the people there. I love Haiti and the people and our church has had a relationship with folks there for the last almost 35 years, working mostly on the island of LaGonave.

The President of our country once told the Haitian people that he would stand up for the Haitian people here and those on the Island of Haiti. And now I hear that he allegedly said some mean spirited things and so did some congress people afterward.

That’s all very hurtful to the Haitian people and the thousands upon thousands of people who have given much of themselves to help the Haitian people find better lives. These loving and faithful brothers and sisters of ours do not deserve such treatment from our government.

I recall when a popular evangelical preacher blamed the earthquake in 2010 on the voodoo practices of the Haitian people. Such comments from supposedly Christian people are deplorable.

And as far as immigration is concerned, take a look:

Leviticus 19  “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

This and many other passages in the Bible tell us about love, concern, and welcome. Not about denigrating and ousting the people who need to be here as much as my great grandparents and my wife’s great grandparents.

I read this letter from Calvin College: (from MLK Jr. Birthday)

Calvin College

January 13 at 10:20am ·

“As members of the Calvin community, it is our Christian duty and responsibility to separate ourselves from racist and hateful remarks and sentiments. The world cannot be confused about what we believe.”

We feel it important to share their complete message here:

Dear Calvin Students, Faculty, and Staff,

We wish you all a Happy New Year this January and pray daily for our students, faculty, and staff who are travelling and learning around the world and here in Grand Rapids. Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, higher education institutions founded by immigrants, are composed of students, faculty, and staff from more than 60 nations. While 600 of us may claim citizenship in another country, we are all prime citizens of the Kingdom of God and share in a brotherhood and sisterhood that transcends all borders. It is for this reason, this love for our brothers and sisters that we are deeply troubled and offended by the disparaging comments attributed to the President of the United States in recent days about people who come from Africa, Haiti, and Latin America. These comments sow fear and hatred in our country, and they are wrong. More than 150 members of our community come from these countries, and they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This response is in no way political. It is in every way biblical. As members of the Calvin community, it is our Christian duty and responsibility to separate ourselves from racist and hateful remarks and sentiments. The world cannot be confused about what we believe. As Christians, we are called to support and promote the well-being of every member of our community and our society regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. We protect and defend the inviolable dignity of all people. It is our joy to ensure that every person who lives, learns, or works at Calvin knows that they are full participants in our respective missions. When we live according to these responsibilities and duties with “gentleness born of wisdom from above,” (James 3:13) we bear witness to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

On Monday, we celebrate the life of a follower of Jesus who lived out this call to confront racism and injustice with the strength to love. The vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., articulated in James 3:18, was a “harvest of righteousness sown in peace for those who make peace.” As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, we remember the contributions of a citizen of the United States who understood his prime citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Dr. King stood against evil and racism because he was a follower of Jesus.

We have the privilege of doing the same.

Following Jesus together,

Michael Le Roy Jul Medenblik
President President
Calvin College Calvin Theological Seminary

 

I suppose that I can’t say the comments about what Trump said are true. But sure as I am writing this I believe the reports because it’s what kind of President we have.

I told the Haitian people at two public meetings that the President of the United States does not speak for me nor for so many Christians I know.

And if anyone thinks what he allegedly said is true then step up to the plate as a Christian and make a difference. Because as we have done it for the ‘least of these our brothers and sisters’ we have done it for Jesus. He said that and I suspect he meant it.

Please read more about the history of Haiti and the causes of impoverishment there. Please pray for Haiti. Please find a reputable church or organization that is doing a good work there and support them. Please don’t make denigrating remarks. Please gently correct those who look down on our Haitian neighbors. This country of ours, the USA has been involved a long time in Haiti and not often in the best way. Let’s change that.

For the sake of Jesus who died for them and for the Glory of God who loves them and calls us all together to change the world. Amen

 

 

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GRACE MISUNDERSTOOD

If Grace is God’s unconditional, no strings attached, freely given favor without any expectation of return, then how is it that God’s grace as explained most frequently in evangelical circles carries the expectation of faith and obedience?

Grace brought creation into existence and placed us here with all of God’s favor. Adam and Eve weren’t even offered the idea of faith. They just lived in union with their creator. The tree represented their desire to break away on their own, as is the case with all free will. And it had to be there if there was to be any kind of choice. And so God warns them advisedly not to choose the tree but as we all know they do.

And so begins the LAW with many expectations made most manifest in the 10 commandments. And then comes in Christ the fullness of grace. No expectations or caveats which makes it hard to understand why evangelicals say things like ‘you have to believe’ or ‘you have to be obedient’.

See God’s grace has expectancy of all the good rather than expectation of the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’. I read this great ‘knots prayer’ online, the author of which is unknown. Pretty awesome.

 

Dear God:
Please untie the knots
that are in my mind,
my heart and my life.
Remove the have nots,
the can nots and the do nots
that I have in my mind.

Erase the will nots,
may nots,
might nots that may find
a home in my heart.

Release me from the could nots,
would nots and
should nots that obstruct my life.

And most of all,
Dear God,
I ask that you remove from my mind,
my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots’
that I have allowed to hold me back,
especially the thought
that I ‘am not’ good enough.
AMEN

The realization of the true meaning of grace will bring us all to a place where God is just incredibly in love with us because that’s his nature. And joyfully we may come to appreciate this grace and make our response out of gratitude.

God doesn’t need us as a lover might need another. God is free within himself with the Trinity to love and extend grace.

So we have no chains attached to us. If we want to be servants of God then fine. If we want to obey and be trained by God then great. But those are all free choices we make out of our own love with and for God.

Grace has no conditions or expectations although humanity being loved will most likely respond with gratitude and obedience.

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