Out of my own hypocrisy

“So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:3-4)? God’s kindness is rich. God’s forbearance is rich. God’s patience is rich. Do we embrace this richness or treat it with contempt? Passing judgment on others while doing the same thing means showing contempt for these riches. Allowing God’s kindness to lead us to a change in heart and behavior is embracing these riches. In those moments when I seem to be stuck in sin, perhaps what I really need to do is spend time considering the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience. Same goes for the times when I am railing about sin in someone else’s life. A large dose of the riches of God can go a long way toward leading me out of my own hypocrisy.

One God

“Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too…” (Romans 3:29). Try to imagine how these words sounded to Jewish first readers. Think they were difficult to hear? What kind of emotions do you think they evoked? Try to imagine how these words sounded to Gentile first readers. What kind of emotions do you think they evoked? If there is one God and he is God of the Jews and the Gentiles, what kind of behavior does that encourage? Listen to hear the word of the Lord!

A God Who Listens

Have you ever been in a distressing situation in which it seemed you had nowhere to turn? Have you ever been overwhelmed by difficulties and felt like there was no one to talk to about your problems? Have you ever felt like there was no one who understood the discouraging trials you were dealing with? Psalm 142 is a good reminder that when there is no one else to turn to, you can turn to God. When you turn to God in times of difficulty, you can tell God whatever is on your mind. God will listen. God will understand.

Seeing God

Jesus showed how God intended humans to live. Jesus was “God in the flesh.” We look at Jesus and see God. We learn how God talks to people. We learn how God relates to people. We learn how God responds to sinners. We learn how God responds to people who use religion to take advantage of people. Jesus shows us how God intends for us to live. Let’s join Jesus in kingdom living.

What is God Like?

What is God like? God is revealed in many ways in scripture, but the final word on what God is like is seen in Jesus. What is God like? God is like Jesus. Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory.” So, if you are wondering what God is like and find yourself confused by different pictures of God in scripture, let Jesus settle your understanding. Jesus is the final word. Check out Hebrews 1:1-3.

God and Gender

Have you ever heard God referred to as “the big guy upstairs” or “the old man in the sky?”  These statements may reveal something about people’s perception of God. Throughout my ministry I have been surprised (shocked may not be too strong a word) at the times when people have told me they think God is actually “male.”

I mistakenly had thought everyone understood God is not a human and so not male or female. God is a spirit. God is, well, God. Jesus was a male, but the great mystery of the incarnation is not just that God has taken on a male body, but that God has taken on any human body at all (Philippians 2:1-11). God…in a human body? Wow! 

Without question, scripture uses male metaphors to present God to us in language we can understand. The best known example of a male metaphor being used to reveal God would probably be God as our “father”.  While there are few references to God as father in the Old Testament, this imagery is frequently used by Jesus and elsewhere in the New Testament. While we are familiar with male metaphors and imagery used to reveal God to humans, for some reason we are not as familiar with female metaphors and imagery used in scripture to reveal God. For that reason, I ask you to consider these few examples:

  • Numbers 11:12  Moses asks, “Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms as a nurse carries an infant…?” The obvious answer is, “no.” Moses did not, but he is making the point that God did. God conceived them. God gave them birth. God carried them.
  • Deuteronomy 32:18  In this passage God is pictured as both father and mother; and, I suppose it is worth noting, God also is pictured as a “rock.”
  • Job 38:8, 29  The Lord uses feminine birth imagery to describe God’s creating the universe.
  • Psalm 131:2  David describes putting his hope in the Lord as being like a weaned child cuddling with its mother. A weaned child does not seek its mother to demand food. A weaned child wants its mother for comfort and assurance.
  • Luke 15:8-10  In Luke 15 Jesus tells three stories to teach about the nature of God. While two of the stories use male imagery, the second of the stories uses female imagery to reveal God.
  • Matthew 23:37  Jesus describes God’s desire to protect Israel being like that of a hen wanting to protect her chicks.
  • John 1:13; John 3:5; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1, 4, 18  John uses feminine “born of God” images several times.
  • Isaiah 42:14, Isaiah 46:3-4, Isaiah 49:14-15, Isaiah 66:13 These are but a few of many more examples which could be listed. 

Don’t miss the point here, I am not trying to pitch that God is female. Far from it. I am saying while God is God and not human (male or female), scripture uses numerous images and metaphors — both male and female — to reveal the nature of God.

Theology and Reading Scripture

Theology affects my Bible reading. When I remember God loves me, I can take even words of correction as loving. When I forget God’s love, I find it hard to accept God’s correction.

In other words, if I believe God loves me, I can accept God’s word as loving, even when it seems unpleasant. If I believe God is out to get me, even words of love can be twisted into something like a personal attack.

My theology (do I view God as loving or adversarial?) makes a big difference in being able to hear God.

Appreciating God for God

My wife recently shared this prayer with me.

Enjoy!

“Lord, you’re the most unpredictable person I know.  Just when I think I’ve finally begun to figure you  out, you do something so fantastic, so completely, wildly unexpected that I’m knocked for a loop.

I think I know where to find you and then I suddenly find you in the most unlikely places; at the oddest moments; in the strangest people.

I think I know your voice; and then I hear you in a child’s crooning lullaby; in an old man’s chuckles; in a lover’s sigh.

I think I know your face; and then I see you in a psychiatric ward; in a jam-packed tenement; in the streets, wandering aimlessly.

I think I know you well; and then I discover I know you not at all.

I think I know your love; and then I discover I haven’t begun to know it.

Thank you, Lord, for being unpredictable.  Thank you for startling me out of my comfortable rut.  Continue teaching me that you’re a God of infinite surprises.”

–Sue Garmon

Holding Carson

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1 a

Last December when Keith and Mindy told us they were expecting their first child, I began wondering what holding Carson would be like. After months of waiting, Carson Robert Clark made his entry into the world. Lourene, Laura, and I were in the family waiting room along with Mindy’s family when we heard the wonderful news.

We made our way to their room and experienced that holy moment of seeing Carson for the first time, cradled in his mother’s arms. There was a mixture of tears and quiet laughter as we all tried to get a glimpse of his sweet face. Soon we made our way out of the room to give Keith, Mindy, and Carson some time together before Carson had to go to the nursery.

In the months waiting for Carson’s arrival friends tried to prepare me. Most of their comments about being a grandfather ended with, “It’s an amazing experience.” After a few moments in Carson’s presence and little more than a few glimpses of his face, I knew they were right — amazing! I love that little boy so much. The love for my grandson was as instant as my love for his father and aunt when they were born.

We stayed in town for the two days Mindy and Carson were in the hospital. I can tell you that I got to hold Carson in my arms four times for a total of about 35 minutes. I know this because I cherished every single minute.

When it was time to hand him over to the one waiting to hold him, I began thinking about the next time I would hold him. Truth is, the minute I passed him to his grandmother or aunt I was looking at the clock to figure out when would be my next turn.

Holding Carson was all I wanted to do!

As I reflect on holding Carson I imagine God wanting to hold me. I love being a grandfather. Being a grandfather reminds me how wonderful it is to be a child of God. Holding Carson reminds me of the love God has lavished on me.

Sorry if I seem a little distracted these days. Chances are, I am daydreaming about the next time I am holding Carson.

What Kind of God is This?

People from all around the small community in Washington gathered to search for Cody, the eleven year old boy who had been missing for several weeks. Alarmed neighbors. Frightened classmates. Concerned friends. Helpful strangers. They all gathered, listened closely to the instructions on where and how to search, and then scattered to cover as much territory as possible.

One person was obviously missing from the search, the boy’s father.  He “lawyered-up,” refused to talk to anyone about his missing son, and skipped the search. The father and his girlfriend even refused to attend the candlelight vigil. The community rallied to find the boy. The boy’s father refused to search.

Can you believe it — Dad skipping the search for his missing son?

Maybe now is a good time to remember what kind of Father we have. Take a moment to read through Luke chapter 15 and reflect on three pictures of God.

God is like a shepherd who searches for that one lost sheep until he has it safely in his arms (verses 1-7). When he finds it, He rejoices with his friends and neighbors.

God is like a woman who searches for the valued silver coin she has lost until she has it back in her hands. (verses 8-10). When she finds it, she joyfully celebrates with her friends and neighbors.

God is like a father who patiently and persistently watches and waits for his son to come to his senses and return from the far country of sin (verses 11-32). He won’t stop until his son is back in his arms. Little does the son know that while he is traveling down the road toward home rehearsing his plea for forgiveness, his father has been looking down the road to the far country while going over plans for the welcome home party. Talk about a blow-out celebration — the best robe, the ring, the sandals, and the fattened calf.

What endearing pictures of God! I don’t think I will ever understand a father skipping the search for his missing son. How can a father’s heart be so apathetic? But more and more I am grasping the Father God who loves us so much that He never stops seeking, searching, waiting, and watching for us. More and more I am understanding our God initiates and leads the joyful celebrations of heaven. The more I know Him, the more I want to joyfully celebrate right here and right now.

After all, when you know the Heavenly Father who would never skip a search, why would you wait until heaven to celebrate with Him?