Category Archives: The Character of God

Good Life

Yet another good friend has been told she has just a few months to live. Cancer is such nasty business, even if they can fix it. Doctors use chemo and radiation to blast and kill the disease, killing many healthy cells in the process.

But, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a therapy that would cause the healthy cells to become so robust that the cancerous ones wouldn’t have a chance? I’ve heard the best way to get rid of weeds in a lawn is to get the grass growing very vigorously. I wish they could do that for cancer. Or, for many of the other terrible problems that exist in this world.

When Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come,” He wanted us to ask God to send such life-giving power to the world that it would overpower sin. The goal, He said, is for life on Earth to be in perfect harmony with God’s will, just as it is in Heaven.

Jesus, Himself, is the answer to that urgent prayer. As John wrote, “In Him was life and that life was the light of men.” In the same way that we yell, “Go!,” as a halfback breaks free and heads for the goal line, we are also to join together and cry, “Come!” as God’s perfect Kingdom inevitably approaches.


Bewildered and distressed, standing beside the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus.  But when she did, He spoke these words:

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”   (John 20:17)

I got curious about His wording, the “my Father and your Father and to my God and your God” business.  Why did He say it like that?  Looking back through John’s Gospel, I discovered he never quoted Jesus talking about God in that inclusive way.  Matthew quotes Jesus saying “our Father’ and “your Father,” but, for John, Jesus always said, “my Father” or “the Father.”  That is, until after He had been resurrected.  Then, He said His Father is theirs, too.  His God is oursYours.  Jesus’ work on the cross opened the way for that connection to be established solidly and eternally for all who believe Him and receive it.  As John wrote in his first chapter,

“Yet to all who did receive Him [Jesus], to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God…”   (John 1:12)

By his wording, I think John is aware we cannot truly become children of God until Jesus’ work of atonement for sin was done.  And now, after the resurrection of Jesus, God is able to receive us as His own, as children in His family.

Think about those possessive pronouns.  He is your Father, your God.  Consider how much it means to have the Creator and All-Powerful God of the universe declare Himself to be yours.  Your Father.  Fathers are fathers forever.   Good fathers love, protect, provide, guide and nurture.  Almighty God is the perfect father.

And, if you will receive Him through faith in Jesus, He is yours.

Not Cut

“Coach wants to see you in his office…”  Those words can strike fear in anyone who has been struggling to make the team.  Getting cut can be devastating.  Getting cut from God’s team is worse.  Jesus describes it metaphorically:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,…  (John 15:2a)


“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  (John 15:5-6)

Getting cut from Jesus’ team is what happens if you don’t “bear fruit.”  But, bearing fruit is what happens, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you…”  So then, as a newby to the faith, not wanting to get cut from the team, I looked to see what I had to do to “remain in Him.”  

And read this:

Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  (John 15:9b-10)

“Aha!” I thought, and set about making a list of Jesus’ commands so I could keep them.  I came up with quite a lengthy list, but completely missed the point of what He said.  Jesus said keeping His commands should be done in the same way He kept His Father’s commands.  Jesus never checked off the boxes from a list of commands.  That’s not how He did it.  Instead, He said these things:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  (John 14:10)

The way Jesus kept His Father’s commands was by staying so close to Him He naturally kept in step with what the Father was doing.  He was “in the Father” and the Father was “in Him.”   Now, compare that with Jesus’ teaching in John 15:5, quoted above, where He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  It is in that close, “you in Me and I in you” relationship we are able to keep His commands and bear “His fruit.”

And not get cut.

Looking Up

You know how, when you are watching a good movie or play, you get so absorbed into it, it almost seems as though you forget it’s not real?  For awhile it’s as though you are there, participating.  It’s kind of a shock when the lights go up and you snap back to reality.  I got thinking about that when I read this line from Luke’s gospel:

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.  (Luke 9:16)

Here’s my question: Why did Jesus look up?  Perhaps the most obvious answer is because He was a human.  We humans intuitively know God resides on a higher plane, so looking up to Him or raising our hands to Him as we pray seems natural.  On the other hand, Jesus was (and is) God – mysteriously, simultaneously, fully human and fully God – which makes His posture more puzzling.

I suspect He did looked up for a mixture of reasons.  Partly, for the reason above – it seems natural for humans to do so.  But I believe He also looked up to non-verbally show those around Him earthly life is not all there is to reality.  Reality goes far beyond and includes everything on a heavenly plane.  I think Jesus was breaking the illusion that life here on earth is all there is.

If you were watching a play, completely caught up in it, absorbed and transfixed, when one of the actors suddenly forgot his line and looked down for the prompter’s help, it would break the spell.  You would suddenly snap back to a fuller perception of reality, knowing you were watching a performance.  Jesus came, He said, to “bear witness to the truth.”  In truth, what happens here on earth in not all there is.  Not even close.  Perhaps He looked up to help us snap out of the illusion it is.

The Psalm about Jesus

Have you wandered too far from God to be rescued?  Are your troubles too difficult for Him?  Psalm 107 reflects on the many different times and ways Israel turned away from God, got themselves in deep trouble and how, by His enduring love, He brought them back.  In a curious way, it also foreshadows how the rescue of Jesus meets us in our particular circumstances, no matter how we have wandered away.  The psalm is too long to be quoted here, but read it for yourself to see all the similarities.

For example, Psalm 107 says:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:4-6)

If you have wandered and found yourself hungry and thirsty for God, craving inner peace and nourishment, Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35)

Psalm 107 says:

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
and broke away their chains. (Psalm 107:10-14)

Jesus said:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

See what I mean?  You’ll see many parallels.  Jesus told a parable about the shepherd who searches far and wide for the lost sheep.  If we are willing, He’ll find us and rescue us, no matter what.  God’s enduring love comes to us through Jesus.  Take some time to ponder how each of the scenarios in Psalm 107 may have been (or may currently be) symbolic of your life circumstances.  Then, note how, in each one, there is repeated something like this:

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:6)

God is not unaware of our troubles.  He does not force help upon us but waits for us to ask.  Jesus refers to those who “come to Me” and those who “follow Me” for the same reason.  If you need His help, cry out for it, turn to Him.

The Psalm also repeats this important reminder:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love  (Psalm 107:8)



Maybe Closer?

My brother is named Dave, so we call him Pete.  Don’t ask.  He has a  great sense of humor and a deep passion for the Lord.  I’ve learned a lot from him.  Last time, in a post called Not Even Close, I reflected on how, as I get to know Jesus better, I sense I hardly know Him.  He’s so much more than I can wrap my mind around.  Here is Pete’s response, somewhat tongue in cheek:

I appreciated your blog, Not Even Close, about the impossibility of figuring out Jesus.   Well, I did some research and, thanks to Paul’s letters in the New Testament, I think Jesus can be understood easily.   You see, Paul uses words like “love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).  And in Romans 11:33 he says the depth of His wisdom and knowledge are unsearchable and His ways unfathomable.  So, if you want to truly know Jesus, all you have to do is get out a stronger telescope or a longer ruler.

I like dwelling on the words of Eph. 3:20 –  that He is able to do not just what we may ask or think, and not just more than we ask or think, and not just beyond that, but “exceeding abundantly beyond”.  Or, immeasurably , or, another translation, super excessively.

And, now, if your brain doesn’t hurt from thinking about that, look at Eph. 1:19  “and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength”, and the rest of the chapter boils over with his power and might.

And if you get that figured out you’ll know Jesus.

You know what?  I’m going to stop trying to explain it.  It’s too great, too overpowering, too wonderful, it’s immeasurable and unfathomable.  And I can’t see the keyboard when I’m on my face.

Thanks, Pete…

Not Even Close

Now what?  Within a few days, most retirees ask themselves that question.  I also asked God and was startled by His specific answer.  No, I don’t hear Him audibly but am occasionally sure Who is speaking.  His answer?  “Spend time getting to know Jesus.”  What???  I had spent the last 25 years doing just that, I thought, in seminary and serving as a pastor.  I felt a bit offended, felt like saying, “Hey, God, I’m a professional…”  He didn’t budge.

I can’t say I embarked on an orderly, intense process of study; it’s not in my wiring.  But, over the last several years, His assignment has been on my front burner.  Here’s what I have learned: I don’t have even the slightest sliver of a clue of Who Jesus really is.  Not even close.  The magnitude of Jesus is beyond my capacity to understand.  Like, as Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

Speaking about worship, Annie Dillard asked, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we blithely invoke?” and suggested, if we did, we’d wear crash helmets and life preservers in church.  I’m beginning to see how right she is.  John spent the better part of three years in daily contact with Jesus.  And yet, when he encountered a vision of Jesus on the island of Patmos, he could hardly comprehend what he was seeing and cowered in fear.

Here’s how Paul tried to express the magnitude of Jesus.  Take time to ponder the full impact of each phrase:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.   (Colossians 1:15-20)