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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!

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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: “The Still, Small Voice”

August 8, 2011 2 comments

A statue in the Cave of Elijah. The cave is lo...

The Cave of Elijah on Mount Carmel (Author: Joe Freeman). Permission granted for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike v2.5.

There are times when I feel alone, abandoned by my friends and wondering where God is in the struggles of my life.  Perhaps you can identify with this feeling of isolation. It is a dreadful emptiness inside, an ache in the gut, a feeling that we are left to figure things out for ourselves. It is at those times when I would like to see a visible demonstration of God’s power just to assure me that He still cares for me and that I’m not walking alone. “C’mon God, you see how things are for me!  Do something! Show me your power in a visible way!”

The prophet Elijah must have had similar feelings. When we join up with him in 1 Kings 19, he is running for his life from the evil Queen Jezebel, who vowed to kill him. Eventually, he took refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb, his enemies in hot pursuit. When God asked Elijah what he was doing in the cave, Elijah voiced his complaint: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10, NRSV, italics mine).  In this stark verse, we can almost feel the emptiness — the feeling of abandonment and isolation — that Elijah must have felt at that critical juncture of his life.  In effect, isn’t Elijah voicing a similar complaint that we voice during moments of crisis and struggle? “O God, you see what’s happening. Why don’t you do something? I feel so alone in this!”

God then told Elijah to stand near the entrance to the cave and he would speak to him. There, God treated Elijah to feats of nature–a brutal wind and an earthquake followed by fire. Remarkably, Elijah could not find God in any of these natural phenomena. But after everything settled down, there was ” a sound of sheer silence”, easily identifiable to Elijah as the “still, small voice” of God. (1 Kings 19:11-12, NRSV).

There were two messages that Elijah heard in God’s silence.  First, God assured Elijah that  he was not alone in the darkness of his struggle to reform Israel, but was very present in the “still, small voice” within him.

Second, from what follows in the reading, God assured Elijah that his will would be fulfilled, not in visible demonstrations of raw power but in the quietness of peoples’ hearts as they listened to the voice of God move within them (1 Kings 19:15-16).

In the midst of our struggles, when we feel alone, there are times when we would like to see a visible demonstration of God’s power wiping out our problems and setting things in the world right. Instead, God comes to us in the stillness and quietness of our hearts, assuring us of His Presence in the midst of our troubles by the “still, small voice” bringing us to a faithful, loving and trusting relationship in Him.

What’s the “still, small voice” of God saying to you today?

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: Peacemakers

July 31, 2011 1 comment

We live in a world of constant strife and upheaval. Strife is not something limited to  fighting in foreign countries or Congressional leaders fighting with each other over our national debt crisis. Strife also occurs with colleagues and supervisors in our jobs, social circles and even in our most important, significant relationships. So, in a world steeped in strife, what does it take to find true, lasting peace these days?

We  can find genuine, lasting peace when we are other-person oriented, take time to listen to each other and make personal sacrifices that seek the others’ best interests and not our  own.  For example, I’m a classroom teacher at both high school and university levels.  Even though these two groups of people are vastly different, there is one thing they have in common — the need to learn. One of the defining principles in education is that teachers become other-person oriented, sacrificing self-interest for the best interests of each student.  This is also an excellent principle to apply to all of our interpersonal communication.

Listen, ask clarifying questions, seek to understand the other person’s point of view before expressing your own, respond appropriately, and look for win-win solutions. These are the things that make for peace.  Today, be a peacemaker. Do the things that make for peace.

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.

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