Monday, August 20, 2012

You are What you Think 3 - God's in charge

As children, we believe that God has 'the whole world in his hands' and we trust God loves us and will take care of us. We believe this because we are taught it by people we trust. As grown-ups, we tend to not be so sure of these same premises. Yet when we have our own children, we go ahead and teach them that God has the whole world in his hands even if we don't quite believe it ourselves.

Our grown up way of thinking complicates things. If something good happens, we either don't give God credit for it or assume we did something to deserve it. When something bad happens, however, God is the first person who's door we knock on to complain. As grown ups, we aren't very consistent or very theological about the way we think of events in our lives and in the world.

Scripture is very clear that God is in charge and that God will do what he will do. He is not capricious nor is he vindictive. God is GOOD and knows the outcome of everything before it happens. What God ordains might not seem 'good' to us, but we have to trust that He knows what he is doing. Just as the disciples couldn't fathom how Jesus dying on a cross was a good thing, we know in retrospect that it was the greatest gift God gave to us.

We also have to admit that God isn't responsible for every bad thing happening to us. We are humans who are fallen, along with creation, and have a propensity to choose evil over good. Sometimes God intervenes and saves us from the consequences of our sinfulness and sometimes He doesn't. Sometimes He chooses to walk with us through the pain that this life often brings. God has already saved us once and for all time with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, to step in every time we sin and either prevent us from sinning or prevent the consequences of that sin, would not be good for two reasons: 1) To prevent us from sinning would be to take away the free will that God gifted humanity with 2) to step in and protect us from the consequences of our sins every time we decide against God, would not be good parenting - at some point we have to learn from the consequences of our behavior and take responsibility for our actions.

Knowing that in our heads is one thing. Trusting it in our hearts is another.

Most of you are probably at least somewhat familiar with the traditional hymn "It is well with my soul." For most of my life I loved this hymn and then I found out the story behind it and I disliked it intensely for quite a while.

Horatio Spafford wrote the words to "It is well with my soul" on his way to bring his wife home after she survived a shipwreck which left their four daughters drowned in the sea. At the time I thought it unbelievably callous that this man could write a song that no matter what happened to him he trusted God and would praise Him in any circumstance. It seemed to me that he was ignoring the fact that his four daughters had all just died in very tragic, and most likely terrifying, way.

Praising God in all circumstances is directed by scripture (Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), but I knew that if I had been in Horatio's shoes, I would not have been thinking such praiseworthy thoughts. 

While scripture also gives room for us to be angry with God, we always have to keep in mind that no matter what happens in this life and world, God is in charge and God knows what he is doing. Our human emotions will go up and down regarding that Truth, but the Truth remains the same.

In the years that have passed since I first discovered the history of Horatio's hymn, I have grown to love it again. I now recognize Horatio's words as those of someone with great faith in the goodness and omnipotence of God, not someone who didn't care about his daughters.

Our emotions are wonderful things, but they can also lead us away from the truth that God is in charge of his whole creation and that no matter what events take place, God is aware of them, has allowed them or caused them, and will work them out for the good of those who love him.

Whether we feel it or not in the moment, the bible tells us (and the Bible is always true) that God does, indeed, have the whole world in his hands.

Chesney Szaniszlo

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. - Romans 8:28


Monday, August 13, 2012

You are what you think #2 - God as a human

Have you ever taken the time to think about the wierdness and mystery involved in the Christian belief that God became human (or incarnated if you want to use the theological term)? And that while God was walking around in the human form of Jesus, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit were also present and fully accounted for at the same time (the Trinity)?

If I think about either of these ideas too much, I start to feel like my head is going to explode. When I was a child my father explained the Trinity to me with the example of a pot of boiling into which you threw some ice cubes. It had three forms of water (liquid, solid, gas) all at the same time. It was not perfect but it was pretty good comparison for a 13 year old. Later, I had more sophisticated questions - similar to the ones the leaders of the early church wrestled with as the first creeds of the Church were written and agreed upon as truth and correct doctrine. Questions such as "how was Jesus God"? Was Jesus really just God in a human skin suit (sort of like when your kids dress up at Halloween)? Or was Jesus simply a human who God chose to work through in very powerful ways?

The early Church, using the Scriptures and the teachings of the Apostles agreed that the only way Jesus could have been truly God and yet still a human was to be fully both - the outcome of the incar
inational mystery that we cannot really understand yet believe because of Faith.

(Remember last week I stated that if you don't believe the Scriptures are truly the word of God and a real witness to His work in our world, then you can't believe any of the other Christian beliefs because they all rest on the belief that the Bible is truth.)

Breaking down the doctrine of the incarnation and the Trinity won't really get you anywhere except back to the understanding that you have to take them on faith. What looking at these two ideas will do for the Christ follower is show him/her how much God truly loves those He has created. Except for God loving us with a love that is wider, longer, higher and deeper than we can ever understand, there is no reason for Him to have become incarnated only to die on a cross that we might have salvation and forgiveness. Except for God being three - in - one, there is no way for us to have understood His sacrficial love through the life and death of Jesus or to be guided by his Holy Spirit on a daily basis.

The Christian faith is not simple because it doesn't come from our human minds. It is not a religion that we make up as we go along. We do not worship a god that we created from clay or gold and can control by making 'deals' with it. We worship a God who is far beyond our understanding and our control - and yet we worship a God who has made it very clear to us that He loves us beyond anything we can understand or reason out.

We might not be able to rationally make sense of the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation or the Trinity - but God has made sure (through his scriptures, the life of Jesus Christ, and the movement of the Holy Spirit) that we can understand that he loves us. This love is the knowledge that we need to come away with from these two ideas.

Chesney Szaniszlo

 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  - Ephesians 3 16-19


Monday, August 6, 2012

You are What You Think - 1

The topic of what it means when we say the Bible is the word of God sounds really boring and irrelevant. But it’s not. It’s actually the most important tenant of Christianity. If you don’t believe the Bible is in fact a real and valid witness to God and his action in the world, then any other Christian ‘belief’ falls by the wayside because the Bible is the primary witness to God’s love and work in the world on our behalf. If you do not believe it to be true, how can you believe any other part of Christianity?

The belief that the Bible is true should influence everything that a believer says and does. Believing that we are under the authority of Scripture (meaning that it is the guide that directs our lives once we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior) sets us apart from non-believers. When, as Christians, we begin to pick and choose the parts of scripture that are easy for us to follow and reject those parts that cause us to be conscious of our sin, the differences that set believers apart from non-believers begin to blur. 

As Christians we are to be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)  These, as you will probably notice, are not things that the world is filled with. We don’t just start exhibiting these traits once we become Christians. It takes discipline and hard work to cultivate these characteristics. (Every time I recite that list I always leave out at least one – usually the one(s) I am currently struggling with the most. Today, for your information, it was gentleness!)

One of the main ways we do the hard work of cultivating the fruit of the Spirit is by immersing ourselves in the word of God – the Scriptures that we agree to be under the authority of when we become Christians.

I know that I am not always a daily reader of Scripture so I know that for most people, it is probably also difficult. We are so busy with everything else that needs to get done on our ‘to do’ list that God often gets shoved to the back burner because we know he will always be there waiting for us.

We need to read Scripture though. We need to read Scripture alone and with our spouse, our families, with our kids even after they outgrow the Rhyme Bible and move on to the latest offerings of pop-culture because it reminds us who we are in Christ. It reminds us that once we accept Jesus we are people who are in the world but not of it, “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:8-9)

We need to read Scripture because it is the story of God’s love for us and how he has worked in his creation to redeem us even though we reject(ed) him. We need to read Scripture because we have agreed to live according to its dictates and if we don’t read it, it is easy to forget that we are ambassadors for the one we call “Lord”.

Chesney Szaniszlo

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  - Timothy 3:16-17