Series: Restoring Vitality – A Little Deeper Grasp of Relationship.

iu-11In this series already we’ve looked at where we get stuck and lose touch with the life of God.  We create strategies that help us cope with our distance from God.  In the last blog, we looked at how we often make our faith about life-management over and above a relationship of intimacy with God himself through Christ.  Jesus came offering the promise of oneness with God.  We trade the hope of relationship with God for cheap religious trinkets in pockets with holes.

I’d like to take some space to consider the question, Why is this relationship-thing so important to God?  If relationship is at the center of what God desires, and it is the whole reason for all that has happened in our universe of time and space, then it is critical that we grasp at least a whisper of it, or be left out of it all together.

As we consider it, would you be open to use a bit of your imagination with me? By the way, there’s nothing wrong with using our imagination. It’s what we do when we put ourselves into a story in Scripture.  All good stories make room for us.  We imagine hearing the serpent hissing out his tempting lies in the garden.  We feel the grit of dusty roads caked on Peter’s feet as Jesus lovingly washes it away. For this little exercise, let’s take a step back a little further.  Let’s take the truths God reveals about himself and imagine what it might have been like in the time before time.

There was a time when all there was, was God.  It wasn’t dark because God was the light. It wasn’t silent because God was the song.  It wasn’t lonely because God was there. God is all God needs.  He is self-sufficient.  He is self-contained and self-fulfilled. This is the wonder of God being Trinity.  He was not some old man getting crankier and lonelier as time marched on.  He didn’t have some sort of holy boredom that moved him to create.  He lived in the perfect Three-in-One.  He lives in eternity-past and eternity-forever as Father, Son and Spirit. In creation He is Elohim; God, the Word and the Spirit who hovered over the waters.  Under the oaks of Mamre, he is the Three who came to covenant with Abraham. At the baptism of Jesus, He is the voice from heaven, the Son in the water and the Dove who testified of the chosen One.  In Revelation He is the Three-in-One that the angels exalt as they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

What core aspect of God’s nature does the truth of Trinity tell us about God? And what does it imply about our own nature and purpose?

The truth of Trinity, God forever being Father, Son and Spirit reveals to us the context for the revelation that God is love.  He is not love by principle, or by good habit. God is love by nature.  The apostle Jesus loved wrote it clearly.  “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 Jn. 4:8)  If love is part of God’s nature, then there was never a time when God didn’t love. Love can only exist when there is one loving, one being loved and love itself.  Augustine wrote that all three were required.  “Well then, when I, who make this inquiry, love anything, there are three things concerned— myself, and that which I love, and love itself.” God being Trinity emphatically declares that God is a God of relationship. It also tells us that he didn’t need someone else to love. The Trinitarian godhead allows love to exist completely in God alone.

Another thing we know of God is that he is immutable, or unchangeable.  The Scriptures remind us “For I the Lord do not change…” (Malachi 3:6).  God is forever the same.  And God is love.  God has been and will forever be in deep communion as Father, Son and Spirit. And that communion is based on his nature of love.  He can be nothing else, ever.

So let’s go back to our imagination and think a bit.  God, before all time, enjoyed a self-sustaining communion of fellowship, unity and love.  Unlike the gods of the Romans and Greeks, he is not fighting.  He is not wielding his power in order to establish his place of superiority.  He is not acting out in petulant anger against some divine competition.  He is sitting at the heavenly table.  He is filled with joy at the glory of his goodness, beauty and power.  Around that table, love flows between Father, Son and Spirit.  If there was a place you would ever want to be, it would be at that table.  Because it is there we find our place, our reason, our mission.

One of the conversations at the table went something like this, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26). In perfect agreement, it happened, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27).

But what does that say about us, our nature and our purpose?

God is love. God lived in relationship.  Out of love, not out of need, God created a being.  This being would be different from all others. This being would be made to share in life around the table of God.  This being would be made with the capacity for love.  This being would be made to share in the sovereign work of God, as vice-kings of creation.  Imagine that. Life at the table.  Living life in God, his love, his fellowship, his oneness and sharing his rule.  Imagine just for a moment the joy, the safety, the perfect serenity of life at that table where all the love of the universe dances from one to another.

This is the relationship the first Adam had and lost. This is the relationship the second Adam (Jesus) came to restore.  When we lose our vitality, we’ve lost our vision!  We’ve lost the dream of being one with the Three-In-One. Can I encourage you to do something to step back into this reality?

I encourage you to read the following words, reflect and renew your commitment to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Then ask him for a new hope of sitting at the table again in Christ.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

NOTE:  If you were studying this series, what questions would you want answered?  Please put them in the comment section!  I want to hear from you.

Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing.  I pray you find new depth as you consider the very nature of God and the relationship for which He created you and redeemed you.

Series: Restoring Vitality – What are you Hoping for?

dinner

In the last blog, we looked at how we sometimes hide from God by trading his ultimate desires, for something we can feel good about.  We tend to trade the richness of intimacy with God for a substitute we can understand and manage.  We do this as congregations too. We hide in our traditions, our doctrinal correctness, and our ministry accomplishments.  And as our effectiveness starts to wane we double down on the substitutes.  We try to dress up the corpse, so we can believe she is only sleeping.  When deep down we know Life has left the building.

The Lord wants us alive, he came to give us his life.  We need to be honest.  We must have the courage to see how we’ve been hiding.  And then we need to ask God to replace our vision of a well-managed life, or ministry for the thing Christ wants most for us – honest and deep fellowship with him.

As you read the following, I hope you’ll let God give you a vision of his desires.

Let’s consider the Apostle John’s thoughts.  John was the one who probably had the most familiar and intimate relationship with Jesus.  In his gospel, John referred to himself as the “disciple Jesus loved.”  He was part of Jesus’ inner circle.  John was the only disciple at the crucifixion.  On the cross, Jesus gave John care of his mother, Mary.  John was the only disciple who wasn’t martyred for his faith.  He lived a long life, growing in deep oneness with Jesus through the ongoing ministry of the his Spirit.  It fits that John wrote a lot about Jesus, his nature and his invitation to a relationship for all who would trust in him.

Jesus spoke of this relationship as “abiding.” “Abide in me, and I in you.” John 15:4

Jesus saw that his followers would be united with Jesus and the Father.  “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one…” John 17:23

Jesus knew his people would be familiar with him.  “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. …the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” John 10:3,4

John described a deep connection with God as the point of it all. “and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3

John used the phrase “in him” as a state of being in a relationship of oneness with Jesus. “so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 5:20

John isn’t the only one who records a God who is interested in a relationship with people.  In fact, the Bible reveals many instances which underscore this reality.  Let me rehearse a few generalities and then we’ll get to a few specifics.

God does relationship things.  First, God is a communicator.  He has spoken and its recorded for us in Scripture.  He reveals his thoughts, his desires and his disappointments. He gives us way more information than we would need, if all he wanted was for us to do the right thing. Second, God is a giver.  God provides and sustains. He provided a creation where we could live and thrive. And his giving is not based on the performance of man.  His rain falls on the just and the unjust. Third, God is an initiator. He approaches humanity rather than waiting for us to find him. Like a pursuing lover, he comes again and again to ignite a love for him within us. Fourth, God is a forgiver. We know forgiveness is part of every relationship because we fail.  God has chosen to bear that burden again and again.  He is a relationship God that’s why he does relationship things.

John wasn’t the only one who had intimacy with God.  Throughout Scripture others had close, meaningful interactions with him.  One of those is way back in Genesis 18:1-8.  Read this:  “And the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the oaks of Mamre as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring  a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on – since you have come to  your servant.’  So they said, ‘Do as you have said,’  And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.’ And Abraham ran to the herd and took a  calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young mean whop prepared it quickly.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared and set it before them.  And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

This little vignette has relationship written all over it.  God showed up and had a meal with one of his creatures!  This God who spoke it all into being, one day showed up, sat down, washed  his feet and rested in the shade, while enjoying a feast prepared for him by one of his children.  He is a relationship God.

You may say, yes, but not today!  God is different.  God is distant.  No, he hasn’t changed.  He still wants a relationship with the creature he made in his image – that’s us.  This is so much a part of who he is that there was another covenant meal offered by God in Jesus. Though he did it a bit differently this time.  Jesus, who is God in the flesh met with his disciples around the table.   He washed their feet.  They didn’t stand by and watch him eat, they ate with him.  In Jesus, we see that God is even more interested in a relationship than we thought.  We still sit at that table today.

Can you grasp the thought of an intimate relationship with the God of the universe?  It’s a holy and mysterious thought.  Just let me encourage you with this – don’t accept a substitute.  Don’t hide from the hope of living into this mystery.  The revitalization of our faith depends on us having the right goal for our life with God in Christ.  Be satisfied with nothing but being one with him.

My prayer for you is that God gives you a hunger for closeness with him.

Thanks again for reading, commenting, and sharing!  If you have questions they may be the ones the propel us into greater truth.  So, go ahead and share them!

In the next blog, I plan to begin to examine a theological approach that might help us get to this relationship hope.

 

Series: Restoring Vitality – How we hide from God

TOY STORY 3This is the third in a series of exploring our own spiritual growth and health.  I’m calling it “Restoring Vitality” because there are many of us who feel like life is missing from our own spiritual journey.  We may feel stuck or oppressed. Overall, it just doesn’t seem like I should be where I am.  The question is, how do we experience the life God designed for us?

The first blog described the problem of being stuck in spiritual infancy.  There is a problem of not moving forward in our faith toward greater intimacy with Christ. The second blog identified some of the important questions we can ask which will help us honestly assess where we are.  In this blog, I’d like to explore our own strategies for producing a sense of movement when in fact they may be doing the opposite.

If you remember, the first question I thought we should ask was the same question God asked Adam in the garden.  “Where are you?”  It’s a question I don’t particularly like.  It is easier for me to move on with my plans, march through the days and years of my life, hoping and wishing and hiding.  Let’s consider some ways we hide from the intimacy God desires for us.  These are in no particular order.

We trade Jesus for moral rules.  Moral rules make us feel good.  When we obey them, we compare ourselves with those who don’t and then we can feel a little better about hiding in the bushes.  Rules soothe our consciences.  I once knew of two fundamentalist churches who wanted to have a combined church picnic.  But they got stuck on whether the women would be allowed to wear pants! One church felt good about their stricter rules because more rules equals more holiness. The other church felt good about their freedom!  Needless to say, no picnic happened.  I imagine Jesus sitting at the park with unbelievers wishing his kids were there with him.

We trade Jesus for conquests.  Maybe you’re not a rule person.  But what drives you is getting things done for God. Just like rules, we can hide from God in mission statements and in the efforts to accomplish great things for God. Planting a new church, growing a ministry, mission trips, fighting for justice can all make us feel better about being distant from God.  Even if God doesn’t seem especially close, I speculate he will surely like what I do for him.  That is a wrong thought.  Do you remember the condemnation of Matthew 7:22-23? Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many might works in your name?  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”  God needs nothing we can do for him. Doing something for God without God must be abhorrent to the One who wants to be known.

We trade Jesus for our theology.  I love theology and theological discussions.  From the earliest days of the church, leaders and learners have been trying to summarize, contextualize and categorize what the Scriptures say about God.  It has a real benefit to the church.  But it can become like researching and writing a historical biography.  It’s great to know about Abraham Lincoln.  But I have no way of knowing him.  We rehearse traits, movements and mission of God, while missing the living God.  We easily speak of him out there, or back there, but we hide from him right here. Instead of humbly seeking him, we find significance in our own knowledge and understanding of the truth.  We become more sure while God remains distant.

We trade Jesus for religious practices.  All our religious activities can easily become a Jesus substitute.  I have been in church services where Christ was never mentioned.  And I’ve been to some that didn’t even include a real prayerful conversation with him – as if He wasn’t there.  Church becomes about church.  We judge our activity by how we felt about it, rather than if we actually interacted with the God who was in the room.  We fast at Lent, give our tithes and offerings, hold prayer meetings, teach the Word, all without Jesus being involved.  These things can lull us into a false sense of spiritual vitality all while missing the One who gives life.

Let me stop here and reassure you, there is nothing wrong with these things in principle.  Just like there was nothing wrong with the bushes in the garden.  Adam and Eve misused them to keep God at a comfortable distance.  And that’s what we can do. Morality, mission, theology and even religion can add depth, guidance, comfort and strength to our relationship with God in Christ.  Our temptation is that we forget they are means to an end.  Even our own spiritual maturity is a means to an end.  And that end is intimacy with the God who created us for oneness with him. He created us and redeemed us to live face to face with him.  Any replacement of that hope keeps us hiding from the One who faithfully pursues us.

I hope the Spirit of Christ is nudging you to think that there might be more for you.  There is. It is LIFE in and with HIM.  Hiding from him robs us of the life he gives.  Consider what stepping out from behind your bush might look like.

In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the kind of relationship God actually wants for us and with us.

As always, comments, likes and shares are welcome and appreciated.  Also, if you will subscribe to the blog, you’ll be sure to get the next installments.