God


God is.

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“I do love God and Jesus. And Jesus is my hope. And I love everything that God made.”

Picture credit: Malcolm Whitman (all rights reserved)

Videographer & Transcript: Daddy (Marc Whitman)

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Jesus tells us that even a little faith in Him can move mountains:

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20 ESV)

This terrifying earthquake has moved an entire island:

The powerful earthquake that unleashed a devastating tsunami Friday appears to have moved the main island of Japan by 8 feet (2.4 meters) and shifted the Earth on its axis.

And Paul reiterates the power of faith in Jesus:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.(1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV)

If moving an island isn’t enough, how about moving the entire planet:

Reports from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy estimated the 8.9-magnitude quake shifted the planet on its axis by nearly 4 inches (10 centimeters).

I’m not suggesting that a group of faithful Christians caused this earthquake or that the people of Japan somehow deserved this terrible force of nature, but I do think it would be wise to tremble at the power of our God and praise Him for His mercy, especially the mercy found in His grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

News report from CNN

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Surely, that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently?

From The Problem of Pain

This affirms that I am loved. I hope it does for you, too.

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Romans 3:1-4 (New International Version):

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?  Much in every way!  First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.  What if some did not have faith?  Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Not at all!  Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

via Romans 3 – Passage Lookup – New International Version – BibleGateway.com.

I suspect that many a sermon has been preached on this passage alone, not to mention the volumes that exist on the book of Romans as an entirety, but because I can, let me add my thoughts.

I’ve been reading through Romans in large part to coincide with the sermon “series” taking place at Grace Congregational United Church of Christ in Rutland, VT.  The UCC is notoriously liberal in its approach to theology so I won’t devote much time there except to point it out to anyone who may not know that Grace Church’s relationship with the UCC (specifically the Vermont Conference) is on solid ground (to my dismay).  Either way, I’m always looking for anything that will help make my bible study more purposeful and this fits the bill.

As I read the the third chapter this morning (that will be this week’s sermon topic) it was the first four verses that struck me.  I finished reading the chapter and came back and meditated on the first few verses.

The first verse is immediately preceded by these verses from the end of chapter 2:

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

I think I am fairly comfortable with the implications of this passage.  It is the heart, or inner man, that matters to God and what matters to God is all that should matter.

In chapter three, Paul asks, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?”  To which he quickly answers, “Much in every way!”  Now for my limited, human-perspective tastes, Paul is a little short on fleshing out what the advantages are, but regardless of what the advantage means among men, God is still God of both the Jew and the Gentile.

The next part is what strikes me the most profoundly:

First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.  What if some did not have faith?  Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Not at all!  Let God be true, and every man a liar.

What if some did not  have faith?  Does that question even need to be asked?  The Old Testament is rife with stories of how the Israelites turned their backs to God and the consequences they faced because of their disobedience.

Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Paul hits a home run here in my humble estimation.  Not at all! Wow!  God’s faithfulness is greater than our lack of faith.  A no brainer, but it still hammers home the amazing grace of God and His worthiness to be praised.  If you have a minute, stop and meditate on those few lines and I hope that you will be led by the Spirit to worship God as I have been moved.

With some degree of reluctance I move away from praising God to making it practical for Christians today (I say reluctantly because any manner of disagreement could enter in at this point and make my assertions seem almost political, but that is not what I intend).  As it applies to more contemporary goings on this is how the passage struck me.  A lot is made of the crusades and how bad they were.  Or how was it possible that men of God allowed slavery to be permitted in the founding of our country.  To me, these verses from Romans could, or should, serve as an answer to those accusations and doubts.  It isn’t the faith of men on which we should focus but rather the faithfulness of God.

Most “self-flagellation” over the misdeeds of our forbears in the faith that takes place in the mainline Christian churches (like the UCC) tend to be too human-centered and not God-centered.  In other words, we must make amends for the sins of the past before we can enjoy the fullness of God’s love (although I would argue that it isn’t really God’s love that people seek when they attempt to repent for sins long past, but rather Man’s love).  God’s grace is almost completely ignored in an effort to assuage our collective guilty conscience.  In fact, a case could be made that such “self-flagellation” is sinful in the eyes of God precisely because it fails to recognize the faithfulness of God and His saving grace through faith in Christ.

My fellow travelers in the mainline church need to come to terms with what happened in the history of our Christian church, for better or worse, and allow themselves to be covered by the blood of Christ.  That doesn’t mean to ignore past sins, but to keep in mind and celebrate that God’s faithfulness is greater still than the accumulation of all of mankind’s sins.  What is important is that God be true!

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:3-8)

At one time we too were foolish…

Umm…I’m not sure I’ve stopped being foolish. Despite placing my faith in Jesus Christ and knowing with certainty that my life is secured for eternity by His obedience I can’t help but feel like I am still a fool. Every decision that we make will either bring glory to God or not. And even now, I seem to make far too many decisions that fall well short of bringing glory to God. I lose patience with my children, I grumble at work, or I engage in humor that is not edifying. The list could go on, but you get the point. Even some decisions that have no great significance on the surface prove to be foolish just because I made them without care. It is certainly glorious that Jesus did bring glory to God in everything He did because my “balance sheet” would probably not look good.

…disobedient…

Most days it is my intention to be obedient to God in everything: thought, word, and deed. Most days I fail in at least one of those aspects. Disobedience is not the life to which I was called, but it is the life into which I was born. It is a daily struggle to submit my will to His grand purposes, but praise God that I am washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. His sacrifice is my sanctification and He is worthy of praise.

…deceived…

Who hasn’t been deceived by all the world has to offer? Who isn’t still being bombarded with messages that the world can offer you everything you need and desire? I have come to realize that my faith in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit has removed scales from eyes and unstopped my ears so that I might see and hear more clearly the deceptions of the world in which I live. Even now, however, the scales that were at one time removed seem like a cancer that threatens to creep back over my eyes from remission to cloud my vision regarding what is pure and holy. My hearing sometimes feels muffled because of the buildup of polluted talk and the din of worldly pursuits. Daily devotions help to keep my sight free of obstructions and my hearing sharp, but again I thank and praise God as the one who delivers me and reveals those things which are pure.

…enslaved…

Is there a more powerful metaphor for what it means to be living with sin and without the promise of redemption? Our 21st century sensibilities treat slavery as something that is abhorrent, and that is good. Because of our centuries long campaign against the evils of human slavery however, we seem to ignore its more subtle implications in our personal lives. God designed us to be free and yet we willingly (or unwittingly) subject ourselves to countless fashions, fads, and lifestyles that have the effect of enslaving us to our passions or other people (albeit without the actual label of slavery). Your “need” to have the latest technology may be motivated by good intentions, but it can quickly enslave you if that need outpaces your means. I confess, it is hard to know where honest pleasure ends and enslavement to pleasure begins. Praise God for His mercy and grace.

We lived in malice and envy.

Again I ask myself, do I still harbor malice and envy? While both malice and envy may creep into my thought life, they can’t remain there long because I am reborn in Christ and the Holy Spirit serves to convict me of these grievances. What was it like to live in malice without the redemption of Christ’s love? Well, Paul writes that we were “being hated and hating one another.” Malice consumes. If God did not intervene on your behalf working “behind the scenes”, then malice could easily overtake all of your good intentions and replace them with thoughts of pure evil. Likewise even the smallest bit of envy had the power to grow into a forest of weeds that would choke all things noble and pure from you. Our selfish nature reigned supreme and any good that we may have done to advance our interests would ultimately be overshadowed by the accompanying pain and suffering of malice and envy. It is enough that I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ, but it is essential for me to live out my love for Jesus by putting away malice and envy.

Enter God’s kindness, love, and mercy.

I’ve already alluded to this phrase, but we should never come away from scripture without pausing to reflect how great our God is. How glorious is it to be redeemed by God so that our lives can be made pure and holy? All the facets of my sinful nature are washed by “rebirth and renewal” and I have become an “heir with the hope of eternal life.” The list of sinful deeds and thoughts at the beginning of these verses is what we would inherit if not reborn in Christ. It is not a tribute to me that I am renewed in Christ, but rather more significantly it is a tribute to the Almighty God who has saved my soul from such a destiny. Do I live a life that demonstrates God’s greatness? That is my goal, but I confess to falling short on a regular basis. But thank God I do not have the task of saving souls because too many would be lost by my ineptness at living out God’s promises. I pray that God will direct my paths so that I might be used by Him for His purposes. I have only to follow by devoting myself to what is good. God’s word is good and trustworthy. God is good.

My eyes are still sore from all of the tears I shed last night while reading Jeanne Damoff’s account of her son Jacob’s near-drowning in Parting the Waters.  If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to give a quick background of how I even became aware of such a book about a blessed family from Texas.

*

Back when I had just begun blogging I was looking to make comments on other people’s blogs in order to generate a little bit of interest in my blog.  I stumbled across (Re)Publican written by Aaron in Kentucky (I am trying to convince Meredith that he’s okay in spite of being in Kentucky).  I liked what he was writing, both as it pertained to current events and God-related matters, so I made some comments on his blog.  He replied to my comments on his blog and read a bit of mine.  And now we have each other’s blogs listed on our blogrolls (I prefer my blogrolls warm with butter).

I go back occasionally to see what Aaron is writing about and one time he had reviewed a book called, Parting the Waters. I made a comment on his blog about his review and looked into the book. He replied to my comment and encouraged me to get a copy to read knowing what my family is going through. I checked it out and thought it looked interesting, but I dragged my feet because I already have probably 100 books in the hopper waiting to be read and not nearly enough time to read them all.

A week or more went by and I get a comment on my blog from Tina Howard who asked me if I would be interested in receiving a free copy of the book so that I could comment on it while she prepared the book for a book tour. Not being one to pass up an opportunity for a free book, I accepted and agreed to move the book to the top of my queue so that it would get read in time for the book tour.

About a week ago I received a (signed, thank you!) copy of Parting the Waters. I carried it with me back and forth to school in the hopes that I would find a few minutes here and there in order to read it. I really wanted to honor Tina and Jeanne for the free copy with my speedy read and review. Well, I never got further than the back cover and the acknowledgments for several days. Finally, I read the first chapter. I wasn’t sure I would be able to read more.

*

My wife, Meredith, was discovered to have a mass in her brain on February 20th last year. Later we would discover that this mass was a cancerous tumor called a pineal blastoma. What ensued after the initial discovery defies summary in this post, but we are almost a year later with my wife’s life (and mine) having been forever altered. Jeanne Damoff’s book touched me on every page. There was rarely a chapter that didn’t reduce me to tears that needed time to subside in order to continue reading. Before I began the book I acknowledged that Jeanne had taken an incredible risk in publishing her account of her son’s near-drowning. It wasn’t until afterward that I realized it was not a risk at all but a fulfillment of an instruction from Paul:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV)

It was as though Jeanne, and her husband George, had invited me into their home and tenderly told me about their turbulent life while putting their own arms around me to comfort me during my own tumultuous life. Even after two surgeries and six weeks of radiation, Meredith still has the tumor (albeit smaller and possibly shrinking) and we live from MRI to MRI not knowing what the scan will show us. In addition, the surgeries damaged the right side of her brain so that she has to contend with significant loss of mobility on her left side. One or the other would be discouraging enough on their own, but the fear of imminent death and the dramatic change of physical limitations have been difficult to bear.

The account of what Jacob went through after nearly drowning is nearly identical to what Meredith has experienced. (So identical that even some of the therapists have the same name!) It has been over ten years for the Damoff family and I know that they still face difficulties with Jacob’s recovery, but their perseverance has given me strength to keep going even as life’s difficulties threaten to engulf me. I would ask for God’s blessing on Jacob and his family, but is evident to me that He already has in countless, unimaginable ways. Instead, I’ll praise God for a work that, even though it defies human logic, is truly beautiful.

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