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From the Front Porch: The Ever-Present, Obscure God

October 17, 2011 1 comment

100th day of birth of Martin Buber (1878—1965)

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I wonder why we like to think of God as obscure, hidden from view. Perhaps it’s our finite minds that make it difficult for us to grasp the mystery of God’s presence in the universe.

But what if we could think differently? Indeed, what if we could actually wrap our minds around the idea that in every relationship, we reflect our relationship with God? What that means, of course, is that the very presence of God — His eternal essence — is in us.

Thre great philosopher and Bible scholar, Martin Buber put it this way in his famous book, “I and Thou“:

“in every sphere in its own way, through each process of becoming that is present to us, we look out toward the fringe of the eternal Thou; in each we are aware of an eternal breath from the eternal Thou; in each we address the eternal Thou” (26).

What this means is that in every relationship, our words and actions reflect the presence of God in us, reaching out to others through us and touching, healing and transforming us in the process. How close is that!

From the Front Porch: When Misfortune Strikes!

September 1, 2011 6 comments

Job seen arguing with his friends concerning t...

Image via Wikipedia: Job arguing with his friends.

Summary:  Sometimes, bad things happen to us that are beyond our control. How we respond to these things is a sign of our character and faith in God to make sure we have the grace we need to take us through times of trial.

Poor Job. One can only look at him and feel empathy, even sympathy for his plight. He was a great guy who had a wonderful relationship with God, a relationship where God blessed him abundantly in his life. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, misfortune struck. His herds targeted by thieves, thugs kidnapped his servants,  and his family died in a raid on their home. To top it off, Job suffered a painful skin disorder.

His friends came to console him in mourning over his losses. And, well-meaning as they were, they offered a variety of reasons why Job suffered such misfortune. Let me list them for you:

-Eliphaz suggested that Job’s misfortunes were due to his human imperfection and, although Job couldn’t think of anything he had done to cause divine displeasure, he must now accept divine discipline.

-Bildad suggested that perhaps Job’s children had offended God and that was the reason Job was experiencing such great misfortune.

-Zophar indicated that God doesn’t just punish people for no good reason and that Job, as innocent as he claimed to be, was actually guilty of something or he wouldn’t be experiencing the magnitude of misfortune that he was experiencing.

Eventually, Job’s responses to his friends leave them angry and they leave. Then Job begins his “pity party”.  And, while he’s wallowing in his sorrows, he he blamed God for his misfortune.

Isn’t that what happens when misfortune strikes us?  We can’t wrap our brains around it or imagine what we did to deserve it. But we have to go through the pain of the darkness and uncertainly that casts a pall over our lives. Certainly someone or something has to be the cause of our pain or misfortune. And when we can’t figure it all out, the only person in the universe left to blame, is God.

Often, even though we struggle to understand why things happen to us, we can’t accept a simple answer — the answer that God, in effect, gives Job:  we are imperfect creatures who live an imperfect life. As human beings, we experience great moments of joy and some moments of pain, sorrow and loss. It all comes with being human.  Job’s story teaches us two very important lessons about human nature and one important lesson about God.

First, we can learn from Job that bad things happen to good people because live in an imperfect world.  Sometimes, bad things happen to us that are beyond our control to avoid. Although we don’t deserve these moments of trial, we cannot avoid them. They are simply part and parcel of what it means to be a human being.

Second, Job’s friends teach us to watch who we call in time of crisis or need. Sometimes, “friends'” will overlay their troubles on our situation and, when they do, their problems wrongly become a critique of our life!

Finally, we can learn that God is with us in our darkest, as well as our brightest and best, moments. Although he is not responsible for our misfortunes, he is always with us to provide grace to get through even the most difficult storms of our lives.  He was with Israel in the darkest cloud as well as the brightest fire; with Elijah in the earthquake, wind and fire; and with King David through great moments of bad choices and horrendous mistakes.  He will be with us too!

From the Front Porch: A God of my own Choosing

August 28, 2011 3 comments

Apostle Paul. Byzantine mosaic at the cathedra...

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Surrendering our will to God’s sovereignty is perhaps, the hardest thing to do for people of faith. Indeed, there are times when I want to do my thing, reach for the stars, “go for the gusto” or “just do it”, as our society encourages, unhindered by my faith in God. And there are times when I wish that God would look beyond my skewed perceptions and behaviors simply because he loves me as his child and expects that I am fully human”. That’s rationalistic enough, isn’t it?

This morning, I reflected on a book written long ago by J. B. Phillips titled, Your God is Too Small. Phillips had keen insight into the human condition and wrote that we put God in a box of our own perceptions and ideas as though we could control Him as well as the outcomes we have chosen for our lives. Times have changed perhaps, but the one constant is that our human nature and condition do not change. We still want our God in a box. We still want a God of our own choosing.

The Corinthian Church dealt with similar issues. They knew who God was by their cultural standards and so made broad allowances for their behavior.  The problem, writes the Apostle Paul, was that they could drum up all the philosophical reasons about God without really knowing God at all (1 Cor 15).  The same applies to us.

If we imagine that God thinks the way we do and that he tolerates us because he knows we are earthly and therefore, fallible and human, we can excuse a multitude of even inappropriate behaviors. But this is a cultural conception of God, not the God of the Bible. For there, we do not read about a god of our own choosing that we can take for granted, but a God who chose us to become more like His Son, Jesus. That is the glory of the resurrection — that we would become like Him. The more we know God with our hearts, the more we become like Jesus, who is the “fullness” or “mirror image” of God

Without this heart-knowledge of God — without knowing that with every step we take, we are always walking in God’s sight — all we could hope for is to live as happily as possible until we die. There would be no hope beyond the confines of this world. If this is the case,would there really be any point for faith in God at all? The Apostle Paul put it this way: “If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

The more I think about it, the more I realize that believing in a God who I create in my mind is absolutely nothing compared to believing in a God who chose me to become more like him. I don’t want a God who merely tolerates me for my ineptitude in living out the Christian faith or excuses my sinfulness because I’m “merely human”, but a God who loves me even when I fail to live the life of faith perfectly. I’ll stick with the God of the Bible.

From the Front Porch: Strength in Weakness

August 5, 2011 4 comments

Raphael's "School of Athens"

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Our culture places much emphasis on strength and power. The powerful and the strong control society. Those who have power command authority, respect and admiration from others.

Those of us who don’t have this type of power seek to be self-sufficient, which is another form of power that is highly regarded in an individualistic society. But what happens when troubles come and we feel that we have no strength or power to meet the challenge? What do we tell others who are experiencing periods of unemployment or underemployment in a troubled economy or difficulties in their most significant relationships?

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, stated that “I came to you in weaknesss…with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that our faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Co 2:4-5).

Now Paul was no dummy.  Steeped in Hebrew and Greek philosophy, Paul could argue with the best philosophers of his day. That was no small thing for a people like the Corinthians who prided themselves on the wisdom of the ancient Greek philosophers. Instead, he chose to show them the power of God’s love.

Now the power of God’s love makes absolutely no sense to philosophers. Who in the world would die to save others?  A truly powerful god wouldn’t need to do that. He would simply exert power over others. That’s what the Greeks thought. But, Paul argued, that is not how God rules over His Kingdom. Indeed, God is powerful in us when we are at our weakest point — when we give up our ability to make sense of things and trust in Him to lead us.

It is often at those moments in our lives that represent crossroads — when we are struggling to make sense of things — when God’s power is revealed most clearly in our lives.  Those moments of struggle and confusion are God’s opportunity to make us strong in Him and give us the perseverance and insight into our difficulties that will see us through to their resolution. Trusting in a greater power – the power of  God in us – is so much better than trying to break through the uncertainty on our own.

Surely, there is much to be said for human power and self-sufficiency, especially in a culture that lauds them both.  But in God’s economy, there is far more power in us when we are ready to rely on Him as our strength. Tap into that power in your life today.

From the Front Porch: Loving the Unlovely

July 30, 2011 2 comments

The Apostle Paul summed up all the commandments in one rule:  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9, NIV).  Of course, Paul is quoting the words of Jesus who put it this way: “do to others what you would  have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12, NIV). This means that we are to treat others with the same amount of respect and dignity that we want others to give us. That’s tough to do  with the road-raging maniac on the highway; the churlish boss who bullies us around the office; the person at the gym who hogs the weight machine, taking long breaks between sets while we wait;  the impertinent, rude sales clerk, and many others. Loving people who are unlovely is, at best, a difficult thing to do. But loving them as we love ourselves is nearly impossible.

However,  as we understand the strength and presence of God‘s love in us, loving others — even the unlovely — becomes possible. Loving others, even as difficult as they are, requires acknowledging that at times, we too are unlovely. Yet God loves us so much that He was willing to lay down his life for us. With this changed perspective, now is a good time to love — even the unlovely.

Arrogance and Kindness

July 28, 2011 2 comments

Almost all of us have, at one time or another, met someone who couldn’t communicate honestly because they were arrogant. The Oxford American Dictionary defines an arrogant person as, among other things, presumptuous, (self) assertive, egotistical, overbearing, opinionated, and snobbish. Nobody likes a social snob or someone who values themselves as superior to others. Today, in your communication behaviors, conquer arrogance by showing a spirit of cooperation, mercy and kindness toward others in all that you say and do. Arrogance is self-defeating but mercy and kindness ensure success in interpersonal communication.

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