Give Yourself to Others …

Posts Tagged ‘God

When you have the time, you should do a little research on the history of the doctrine of the Trinity.  I’m not going to review the whole history in this post, but it’s useful history to be aware of.

The short version goes back to the First Council of Nicaea, in 325.  There were a lot of theological disputes back in those days, so Emperor Constantine pressured the leading bishops of the day to gather and resolve these.  One of the issues centered around the nature of Jesus Christ.  Ultimately related to that question was which of the writings in circulation at the time, should be considered “sacred.”

As part of the discussion, one guy promulgated what we know call “The Trinity”, God in three persons, but one God.

I don’t have any huge objection to the use of this “paradigm”, but I think we should recognize it is an attempt to explain something about God, which we cannot understand.  So, it’s more a statement about our capacity to grasp God, than it is a statement about God.

As you may know, one of the significant objections Muslims have to the way Christians talk about God, is that we have three gods (Father, Son, Spirit), while Muslims have but one God.

I think the Muslims have phrased it more properly.

God has presented himself to us in three different ways.  But that has to do with our intellectual capabilities, not the limits of God.

He presented himself as Jesus, to give us a living example of what it means to be the person he wants us to be.

He presents himself as the Spirit, because of his continuing presence and influence in our life, if we are persistent in seeking him.

But God is God.  He is sovereign.

We should acknowledge him and him alone, and admit we can’t comprehend everything there is to know about God.

Humility is a good thing.

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In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote,

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Over the years, this quote has been very popular … I think for obvious reasons.

But I also think there is another purpose for the “space”.  Probably more than one.

In that space is the opportunity for us to submit our will to God.  To subjugate our selfishness to the loving will of God.  To say, rather than respond the way I want to respond, I will respond the way God wants me to respond.

One of the struggles in using this space for this purpose is the time, effort and discipline it takes to consider how God would prefer we respond.  It’s unlikely to be an automatic response.  It’s much more likely to require thoughtful consideration.

On a side note … our ability to use this space is also what separates us from being just another form of life.  It is evidence of our unique ability to think and act against our human nature, sometimes act against our own self interest.

I’m prone to asking questions that sometimes make others a little uncomfortable.  Which this post may do:

Why does God teach us to pray?  Want us to pray?

After all, if we acknowledge that he knows everything already, what is it that we can say that he doesn’t already know about?

And then again, the Text tells us that what we pray for can be messed up, so Jesus, in a sense, re-interprets our prayers before they are presented to God.

I know many people expect the miraculous intervention by God into the lives and, often, health of those we pray for.  I’ve certainly prayed for that … but am bewildered why he would seem to intervene sometimes and not others.  Is his intervention a commentary on the faithfulness of those doing the praying?  Or, on the life of the person being prayed for?  We certainly cannot know the answer to that!

So, why pray?

This is my answer … it may or may not resonate with you, but it makes sense to me and seems consistent with everything I read in the Text about prayer.

Prayer is an act of submission.  It is evidence of our willingness to prostrate ourselves before the Lord and conform our will to His.  It is a sign of our willingness to follow the Lord in the face of any event in our lives.

If we are sick … submit to the Lord.

If we are well … submit to the Lord.

If we fail … submit to the Lord

If we succeed … submit to the Lord.

Prayer is also an act of awareness.  It is an acknowledgement by us that the Spirit of God is always present in our lives.  He is with us.  Every day … every hour … every moment.

Here is how Max Lucado put it:

Change your definition of prayer. Think of it less as an activity for God and more as an awareness of God.  Acknowledge His presence everywhere you go.

That’s why it is so valuable … important … beneficial to pray incessantly.  Not because it’s a “command” but because it reminds us that God is with us.

 

This past week I learned about a thoughtful little book written in the late 1600’s by a French monk, named Brother Nicholas. You can download a copy of the book here.

It’s only 20 pages or so, and includes a little bit Brother Nicholas’ history.

But the power of the book is the story, from a series of conversations with, and letters from, Brother Nicholas.

How do you live with God?

Let Brother Nicolas give some examples …

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This is a touchy subject, in my opinion.  I say that because I hear so many believing people saying things that suggest God has changed circumstances around them for their benefit.  Does this ring a bell with you?

Does God control all circumstances?  (not could he control, but does he actually control).

Does nothing happen in the world without God’s authority and approval?

How do I know if God wants me to do this or that?

Does God want me to take the new job?

Does God want me to buy a new car?

Does God want me to buy a new house?  A new suit?  A new blouse?  A new cell phone?

God, please send me a new roommate?  God, please send me the right person to be my wife?  … my husband?

How do we know what God’s will is for our lives?

In 1978, I was living in Houston, Texas, and I was offered a job in Washington, DC.  It was a good job and I ultimately accepted the new position and moved.  However, when the offer was made, I asked for a couple of weeks to consider it.  I was 28, and the question on my mind was:  Does God want me to take this new job?

I pretty much agonized over the decision.  I spoke with people at the church where I worshipped.  I talked with my wife.  I spoke with people in the industry.  But it was not clear to me if God wanted me to take the job.  I was praying every day.  But I wasn’t getting an answer that was clear to me.  And my two weeks was running out.

I wish I could completely recall exactly how I reached my conclusion/decision.  I don’t.  But I do recall my conclusion.

In general terms, God doesn’t care what job I have.  What he cares about is whether I can be God’s man in my job?  And clearly, there are jobs where it would be harder to be God’s man than in other jobs.  But the job is not the issue.  I am.

In my circumstances, no matter what they are or how they change, am I being the person God wants me to be?

I don’t believe God changes the circumstances to benefit me.  He changes me to cope with the circumstances.

God will not cause someone to do something against their own will in order to suit you or me.  He seeks people who want to conform their will to His.

In John 13, towards the end of the chapter, Jesus is talking to the 12 about his impending death and says, “Where I am going you can’t come, but you will follow later.”  Peter responds, “Why can’t I follow you now?  I would lay down my life for you!”

And Jesus asks, “Peter, would you really lay down your life for me?”

In any and every circumstance, that is the question:  Will you really lay down your life for God?

So, I started looking for the single premise from which everything else comes.  That may not seem like the right question for you, but it seemed right to me — and in fact, still does.

Eventually, I settled — likely to no one’s surprise on the following passage from Matthew 22:34-40 (quoted here from The Message)

The Most Important Command

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

After all, we’ve got Jesus saying everything in God’s Law comes from these two commands.  It seems pretty clear.

One of my personal guidelines is that the simplest answer is generally the best answer.  Answers cannot always be simple, but those are still the best ones.  And this passage seems to fit that requirement.  Although I confess, I’m continually a little amazed how many believers seem to refute that these are the most important commands.  They both seem to, and often admit to, placing other, more detailed commands ahead of these.  But ultimately, each of us is accountable for what we individually believe — so, to each his, or her, own.

After finally settling on these, I began contemplating what they really mean.  They are such fundamental principles that they may be simple to quote, but they are very difficult to fully apply to life.

My contemplations resulted in two dilemmas, which I could not easily resolve:

  • What does it really mean to love God?

Now, I get it that my love for God should be all consuming — at least that’s how I understand the implications of the heart, soul, strength and mind references.  But what can I really do for God.  Sure, I can worship him, as I should.  But I also have no illusion that God does not need my love in order to be God.  God is not changed by my love for him.  Much more likely is that I am changed by my love for God.  So, I didn’t know exactly the implications of loving God so completely.

  • What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?

Some folks get preoccupied with the “who is my neighbor? question, but the story of the Samaritan, to me, pretty much clarified that, at the very least, my neighbor is anyone with whom I come into contact, anyone, anytime.

But the other question is what does it mean to love someone the way I love myself?  I mean, I know some people who really treat themselves poorly.  And what would this verse mean about how they treat others.  Surely, it’s not a basis to treat other poorly, just because I have a bad attitude about myself, or whatever.

So, I struggled with what the standard is for loving.

And a related question is the question of what is even means to love.  There are six different Greek words for love, but us English speakers are stuck with just one.  Got to find a better word for love, too.

Here’s a pretty familiar passage from Matthew 22:

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

There’s one questions that rose out of this passage that pre-occupied my thinking for sometime. Here’s the question: What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul and mind?

Loving your neighbor as yourself seems to be more understandable. We may not get it right all the time, but, almost intuitively, you and I have some idea of what that command means.

Let’s get real. Do we really think God needs us to pray to him? Does God need us to worship him? Does God need us to contemplate or meditate on him?

Although you may disagree — I don’t think we do those things for God, we do them because it is good for us to pray, worship, contemplate and meditate.

So, if I’m correct, how do we actually love God. One quick answer is to repeat the remainder of the verse which says to “love God and keep his commands”. But that verse is about how to remain in God’s love.

As I contemplated this question, I finally ran across 1 John 4.

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Later in the passage is a passage that repeats this same point in slightly different way, by pointing out that if we don’t love our brother, whom we can see; how can we love God, whom we cannot see?

So, I reached this conclusion — to demonstrate my love for God, I must demonstrate my love for you and for all the other folks I interact with each day of my life.

So, I got to John 13:34, where Jesus makes the only point which he described as a command: Love one another, as I have loved you.

That’s what it means to love God.

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