Thursday, October 30, 2008

God's presence (part 1)

Have you ever considered if there are different ways to which we can experience God's presence? I want to begin a 4-part series on the ways in which we can experience His presence. To help us understand the different ways, I want to refer to a philosophy professor and author at USC by the name of Dallas Willard. In his book, Hearing God, he outlines four different ways[1] a person can experience the presence of God. The following is a diagram I put together to give you a visual picture of the four ways we can experience God with us. For this first week, we will discuss blind faith.

1. Blind Faith
The first way mentioned by Dallas is what he calls “blind” faith. I find this to be the essence of Hebrews 11:1,

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for
and certain of what we do not see.

This faith is about believing despite not seeing or feeling God’s presence. We just have this confidence and trust in God’s presence.

Example of Blind Faith
There is a great example of this in the book of Daniel. Daniel chapter 3 tells the story of the three brothers (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) who exemplified this way of experiencing God’s presence on their way to the fiery furnace. They were on their way to being martyred for not bowing down to an idol. They believed in God even if they didn’t feel or sense His presence. They believed in God even if He didn’t step in and save them. This is the essence of verses 17-18,

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace,
the God we serve is able to save us from it,
and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.
But even if he does not, we want you to know,
O king, that we will not serve your gods or
worship the image of gold you have set up.

This is a legitimate way to experience God’s presence, but I believe our hearts will be restless if we stop here. If you really believe we are made for a relationship with God, then there has to be more to the relationship than just an intellectual belief that God is with us. I believe my wife loves me, but if that was all I had to go on, if she never said anything or showed her love for me, or if I didn’t feel her love for me, or talk with her regularly, I think I would start to get the impression that I was getting short-handed in our relationship. Is it any different with God?

Why we need more than just blind faith
The relationships we long for are a direct result of being made in His image and likeness. We serve a God who is three Persons, but at the same time one God. There is something in each individual Person of the Trinity that cannot be found in the other. There is something in the Son that is not in the Father or Spirit. There is something in the Spirit that is not in the Father or Son. There is something in the Father that is not in the Spirit or Son. God’s completeness is in the fact that all three Persons live in relationship with each other. We serve a God who finds His completion in relationship with others. He had made us in His image (Gen 1:26,27).

I find it interesting that Jesus, when forced to go on blind faith alone because He couldn’t feel or sense God’s presence while hanging on the cross, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For Jesus, blind faith was not enough. His relationship with God needed more. This leads us to the next way we can experience God’s presence in which we will talk about in 2 weeks. I'm taking next week off for a pastor's retreat.

[1] Dallas Willard, Hearing God, (Downers Grove, IL. IVP), pp. 46-52.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Good God

Remember the classic chorus God is So Good?

God is so good,
God is so good,
God is so good,
He’s so good to me!

Why sing it?
This song helps us understand some of the dynamics of life within God’s kingdom. In order to have a kingdom you obviously have to have a king. Our King, the One in charge and ruling over us, is that good King we sing about in God is So Good. I love the response of Mr. Beaver in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when the children ask him if the Lion (Aslan, which represents Christ) is safe. Mr. Beaver tells the children, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” How do we know He is good? Because He has revealed it to us through revelation. We have general revelation (e.g., the order of nature) which points toward a Creator and we also have special revelation (e.g., the Word and Jesus).

Through revelation we come to know Him. Through revelation the psalmist of Psalm 139 came to know God. How do we know that? You can tell there is a personal relationship between the two by the vocabulary used in this Psalm (e.g., You have searched me and you know me (v.1), always there for me (vv.7-12), intimately involved in my life (vv.13-18), I’m loyal toYou (19-24), and I offer myself up to You (vv.23-24)). The fruit of this relationship is that the psalmist’s eyes are open to the kingdom of God. His eyes are open to the unseen world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Change I can believe in!

No, this isn’t a post about Obama’s campaign slogan. You hear and see enough of that these days that you’ll probably think something is wrong when the yard signs and TV ads come to an end in November. No, this is a post about facing change and believing in it. I don’t normally like to write too much in regards to personal matters, but I decided to face a fear and do something a little different. Anyways, getting a story out in the open can be therapeutic, you know?

My wife and I found out recently that our daughter is far-sighted (means she can’t see things up close). She is one and half years old and now has to wear glasses. Initially, I was bothered by the whole thing. I was irritated, even a little angry at God, over this. I was asking under my breath, “Why should a kid so young have to wear glasses?”, or “There’s no way she’ll keep those things on!”

It was change. Change I didn’t like. Change I didn’t want to like.

Seeing her in glasses for the first time was challenging. They changed her whole appearance. She wasn’t the same looking little girl I was used to looking at. Feelings of unfairness and frustration boiled to the top. This was such an injustice. To top it off, we had to hold our daughter down, and force the glasses onto her tiny head; all the while she screamed and cried. It was just too much. Before I knew it, I was praying Psalm 143,

O LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
(Psalm 143:1 NIV)

If only God would touch her and heal her so she wouldn’t have to wear glasses anymore. That was my idea of how God could hear my prayer and come to my relief. Somehow God was able to help me see the bigger picture. This was about helping my daughter live a better life. God is not going to heal her, not that He can’t or won’t, but that is not the change He is bringing about in all of this. Actually, now that I think about it, in a way God did heal her by giving her glasses. She can see now. Apparently she can see pretty well too with them on, because she is now to the point where she lets us put the glasses on her. She has also been looking in between her toes for toe jam. I guess she can see that now and wants to take care of it herself. The glasses are working and I believe in them. The glasses did change her appearance, but for the better. She’s a cutie!

The glasses also changed me. They unmasked selfishness in my prayers and behavior, which led to the discovery of selfishness in my heart. This led to me praying verse 2 of Psalm 143,

Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
(Psalm 143:2 NIV)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

For young men only

Attention guys! Your guidebook to the thinking of the opposite sex is here. For Young Men Only by Jeff Feldhahn & Eric Rice is a book explaining what girls really think about men. This book is geared towards teenagers, but older men would benefit from reading it too. The book tackles the question of what women think about relationships and guys. More than 1,000 young women were surveyed for this book. The answers will certainly surprise you young men out there.

Here are several things guys think about girl’s thinking and how girls actually think.

Section 1: Abercrombie Boy vs. Our Hero, Average Joe
- Guy’s thinking: The best girls always go for guys who are rich and ripped.
- Girl’s thinking: A girl is most attracted to a guy’s hidden qualities.

Section 2: Why Good Girls Like Bad Boys
- Guy’s thinking: Girls have this weird attraction to “bad guys” who come on strong, then usually treat them like junk.
- Girl’s thinking: A girl is secretly afraid she’s not special or attractive, so she’ll be drawn to a guy who affirms her by pursuing her.

Section 3: When Girls Stop Making Sense
- Guy’s thinking: When girls get emotional and irrational, guys are out of luck. There’s nothing a guy can do but run.
- Girl’s thinking: When a girl gets emotional, she’s probably not irrational – and there’s a lot a guy can do.

Section 4: Breaking Up, Breaking You
- Guy’s thinking: Girlfriends are heartless. When they want to break up, they send confusing messages, then dump the guy with no warning.
- Girl’s thinking: Some girlfriends are heartless, sure, but mostly guys are clueless. Once you learn to read the signs, you can protect your heart – and maybe even win her back.

What do you think guys? Girls? Is this accurate in describing how guys think and how far it is from the truth?

Guys, I recommend getting a copy of For Young Men Only and sitting down and preparing for a shocker! This book has potential to save you from a lot of future hurt and embarrassment if you read it. The book is certainly easy to read and short (about 160 pages). There is even a conversational guide in the back you could use with a small group of guys for discussion. You could even ask your youth pastor to do some lessons on it for the rest of your buddies. This could get a good conversation going about dating and relationships. I see this book only helping anyone who reads it.
If you want to learn more about this book here is the website:

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What is the church? (part 2)

The book was very tightly organized and flowed well from thought to thought. Jim did an excellent job of keeping the information (there was a lot) organized and rooted to his thesis (God’s people are in the world to bear witness to Christ by living among and serving unbelievers. This ministry depends upon every believer using whatever God has gifted them with to serve Him by serving others). Jim attempts to show the ways in which the church has veered off track from its original mission. He points to the Early Church Fathers as the starting point for the downward spiral. He blames them for the separation between clergy and laity and describes it as unbiblical. He did a good job of following and showing the paradigm shift from the New Testament Church to the Catholic Church. What he revealed was eye opening to my thinking about the church and its purpose.

I’m not sure I agree totally with his idea (maybe I misinterpreted what he was trying to say) that it was the Church Father who created the separation between clergy and laity. In the Old Testament priests were established by God to teach the people and offer sacrifices on their behalf before God. God even selected priests to minister in the tent of meeting. So, isn’t there already a separation created between laity and clergy? This was not a job everyone could do. How does Jim reconcile this to what he is trying to say? Maybe he was talking more about the transfer of responsibility (from everyone participating to just the priest) instead of the actual office of a priest, elder, or deacon. I was a bit unsure of where exactly he was going with his idea. What would our churches look like today if that were implemented? I connected some of what he was saying to what he said about traditionalism in the Jewish culture. He addressed the Gentile Christians coming to faith in Christ in Acts and how they Early Church handled that by dropping some of their traditions to not make things harder for the Gentile believers. They had to exclude some of their Jewish traditions (e.g., circumcision) to welcome the Gentiles into the family of God.

Another issue I felt could have been more elaborated on was discipleship (the church building up believers and turning them into disciples of Jesus). He talked about going to unbelievers and if necessary making living rooms, offices, and homes our church, but how would discipleship take place in that context and what would it look like? Was this intended to be included in reaching out to the lost? I thought he could have been a little more specific in what discipleship in that context would look like (maybe that’s another book of his?). To me, the New Testament is clear about hierarchal structure in the church (elders and deacons). What would that look like in a church without walls? Is it even possible?