Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Enigma of God's Character

As we've been studying the doctrines we believe about God each Sunday night, I've found much with which I agree, and lots I'll never understand or comprehend. Most specifically, the goodness, or moral purity of God as reflected in his righteousness. My tiny mind can't comprehend the confluence of a couple of the points brought out:
  • God commands only what is right and will, therefore, have a positive effect upon the believer who obeys.
  • Because of His supreme righteousness and holiness, He must put His own glory first.
I totally agree with both these points individually. When viewed together, however, my narrow perspective on humanity as experienced on this planet (as opposed to some other planet, I guess!) knows full well that sometimes there isn't a win-win situation. In other words, for God to get the glory he is certainly due, I may have to experience some "un-positive" things.

For example, last week, I met a lady who recently lost her 16 year old nephew in an automobile accident. Because of the young man's life and testimony, several of his peers have begun attending her church, expressing interest in spiritual matters. In this situation, God is receiving glory (she said so), but the experience of loss has certainly not been a positive one. And the continued absence of the young man's presence is not likely to have a positive effect on her as a believer for the remainder of her life on earth.

See what I mean?

But, I also know that you can't isolate the characteristics of God from one another, because he is a whole, other, unique Being, and each of those traits must work in conjunction with one another. Although I am made in his image, I am not comprised of all that he is. And, unlike his creation (i.e. me), he can isolate the feelings he has about something from his response to it, if necessary. Nine times out of ten, my actions are prompted by a feeling I have, even if that feeling is merely a sense of responsibility, and not a "like" or "dislike" matter.

I probably look like I'm talking in circles, now.

I think the crux of the problem, though, is that I want each "positive effect" to have my hand-print, or seal of approval, according to my standard definition. If God gets glory, great, but not at my expense. I don't want to be "used," even by God. (I mean that kind of "used" where you get what you want out of people regardless of the effect on them.) But therein is the contradiction, because that type of selfishness is sin that cannot dwell in his presence, so I am therefore (logically speaking) outside the will of God when I purely desire my own will. Furthermore, I am the creation, not the Creator, and he's got a grand play of humanity to stage where I'm not the lead character!

When I was in seminary, taking systematic theology (which is a fancy way of saying the study of God in a systematic, piece-by-piece manner), we had to identify what we believed to be the root character of God from which all his other traits flowed. Although my professor based his theology of God's character around God's love, I wrote a paper centered around God's holiness. I still believe that my theory was a sound one, because only One who is holy can love perfectly and thus orchestrate time and space perfectly in that holy love. But, I think I understand better why my professor centralized the love of God. Only a loving God would desire relationship with his creation, not just their functionality. There's something reassuring in knowing that the One who must put His own glory first is so loving. For in that love he will work all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). I just don't need to expect to understand or approve of it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Prayer is a precious commodity nowdays in my life, and I've been blessed by two Michael Card devotionals on the subject. I thought I'd share a couple of them:

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer discipled a group of young men in a secret underground seminary during World War II. The regimen required students to meditate on a passage of Scripture for two hours a day.

After only a few days, some of the men complained to Bonhoeffer that their minds were wandering. It was unreasonable, they told the amused Bonhoeffer, to require this of them when they had so many worries at home. He told them to stop trying to fight it. “Follow your mind wherever it goes,” he said. “Follow it until it stops and then, wherever it stops, make that person or problem a matter for prayer. The struggling only leads to more noise and inner turmoil.”

I know I'm guilty of their rationale. If my mind wanders in prayer, I assume I am mistakenly negligent toward God. I never considered that God may be directing my wandering mind for the specific purpose and intent of enabling me to commit all my thoughts to him. For every thought to be captive in obedience (2 Corinthians 10:5). I guess that's God's logical antidote for worry. If I'm dwelling on an issue or person, even subconsciously, when I allow that to be brought in full light and attention into his presence, I recognize my need for his intervention and/or my active obedience to whatever his instruction may be.

The other thing of which I'm terribly guilty is doing more talking than listening in my communication with God:

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray,and spent the night praying to God. Luke 6:12

Though Jesus’ divinity possessed the very mind of God, his humanity continually sought out the Father in all-night prayer sessions. In the account of those sessions we hear very few words, so we can assume that there was much listening. But not listening for answers, for information. Prayer, for Jesus, seems to have been a time for simply sharing the presence of his Father, listening to the silence of his breathing. When his cousin John is murdered, he flees to the arms of prayer. When he is confronted with the conflict of wills between his Father and himself, it is precisely his Father he flees to in the garden.

Jesus’ life of prayer teaches us that we do not merely listen for words; we must learn to listen to the silence.

Silence is golden, unless we're waiting to hear from the Lord isn't it? I've always known that the most genuine friendships in my life are those in which, from time-to-time, we can be silent together in assured peace and contentment. Where neither is expecting the other to accomplish something, entertain, or even interact verbally. Why would I expect anything different from my heavenly father? Isn't he my closest friend and confidant? Can't he just "be" with me without having expectations imposed upon him, demands made of him and constant noise from my mouth interrupting our time together?

Help me hear the "silence of [your] breathing" Lord.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You Just Never Know

A month ago I attended the nuptials of a precious young woman from my past. Emily was a vibrant, intelligent sixth grade girl when I last had the pleasure of being around her. I was her Children's Minister at the time, and I loved her immensely! Since then, she's graduated with her master's degree and is now married to a godly man she met through her church. Their wedding was truly an experience of worship of the God who brought them to one another, not just a ceremony connecting two lives.

What was the greatest blessing for me personally was the hand-written note she included in her wedding invitation to me. I wept as I read about the impact she felt I'd had in her life and journey with Christ. Even now, I can't believe God was so gracious as to use me so influentially. And it amazes me to think that a new solid Christian home has been established in this crazy, mixed-up world, in part, because of someone I loved and invested in a decade ago. You just never know.

There's also a serendipitous part to this story. The minister performing the ceremony was a guy who worked with my Dad's ministry in another part of the state about the same time I knew Emily! Then, while seeking a table at which to sit at the reception, I prayed my standard prayer whenever I walk into a new environment alone, "Lord, please show me where you want me." I found an empty spot next to a couple about the age of my own parents. Sure enough, it was God-ordained. They were the parents of a friend of Darin's - Ross King - from youth ministry days gone by! Not only that, but they shared with me about the journey of adoption Staci and Ross have walked and offered encouragement as Darin and I seek whatever the Lord has in store for us someday. (Plus they gave me Ross and Staci's blogspot address which I've added to my favorites!)

What a wonderful day! You just never know what the Lord has in store!

Illusive Rest and Blessed Peace

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

These verses have been rambling around in my head for a couple of weeks, whether through devotionals I've read, or simply waking up to the thought of them. And in meditating on them, seeking to be obedient to the words of this passage seemed absolutely impossible. When can I find the time or opportunity to rest, Lord? The mere idea of rest is illusive at this point. When one thing is settled, two others have need of my attention. Immediately.

So, I decided that if God were going to ask this of me, to "come to" him, he would provide the means by which to be obedient to his own request. And he has. Twice this week, I've had the blessed un-interruption of nearly three afternoon hours to be at peace in my heart, mind and soul. And you know what I've learned? That sometimes, the rest God promises is not only a spiritual serenity ("Serenity Now!" for all fellow Seinfeld fans), but also an actual, physical, corporeal rest. Case in point: I got a nap one day. Oh blessed slumber.

Then, Saturday afternoon, God used Darin to give me the greatest gift I've received since Christmas: an afternoon off-the-clock. I didn't have to do anything. He cooked, cared for the house and all other responsibilities. All I literally did between 2 PM and 7 PM was sit on the couch watching the Olympics, fall asleep in his arms, and spend time reading my Bible and writing a new devotional. (It is to be published on the internet during Advent through the North American Baptist Fellowship, and I was an invited contributor! That must mean I didn't screw up the Sunday School lesson I wrote for BaptistWay Press! Yipee!)

Finally, I'm actually writing on this blog today - more blessed time to be at peace with my Lord and think and write about him.

Anyway, I've memorized this passage from Matthew now. If for no other reason than in my recitation to hear the voice of God calling to me, personally: Come to Me, Julie. I know you are weary and heavy-laden; I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. No matter what burdens others may place on my shoulders, Jesus' expectations, his yoke, is the simplest - follow me. That means I don't have to forge the trail. He's clearing the path ahead with each step. What a blessed peace.