What is Your Image of God?

Earlier this week one of my students shared with me that she learned that a friend committed suicide. She was really hurt and at the same time very angry. She said that her friend had so much potential and now he is gone. She also felt that he didn’t work hard enough to survive and wondered why he did not reach out to her for help. In her heart, she felt God will truly punish the friend because, in her words, ‘he was young, he had a lot of potential and he didn’t fight hard enough to survive.’ I shared with her that God may be disappointed in her friend, but God would not punish the friend. That God, better than us, understood his pain. She seemed relieved and said “I just wished my friend was still with us.”

After that conversation, I began to reflect how each of us has a different perspective on God. What is your image of God? Or very simply, how do you see God?

As a child my God could do everything. He was omnipresent, omnipotent, all knowing, caring and intervened in people’s lives when they called upon him. Nevertheless, he was a God to be feared. He was the hell and damnation God. Although I knew I needed and wanted God, I was afraid of this God and feared too that I would be damned to hell.

Later in life, God became an all loving God; still Omni-everything and still the God who intervenes in the lives of those who seek him out. I don’t know about you, but my image of God is still evolving.

He’s definitely not the God of my youth or the God of my young adulthood; he sometimes seems to be the God of indifference, a God of distance, a God who rarely intervenes in the affairs of humankind. This is a God I cannot accept and I doubt is real. But like you, I’m still wrestling with who God is.

Mark Batterson in his book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day (2006) said that “how you think about God will determine who you become. You aren’t just the byproduct of “nature and nurture.” You are a byproduct of your God-picture. And that internal picture of God determines how you see everything else” (p.28).

Batterson goes on to say that “our biggest problems can be traced back to an inadequate understanding of who God is. Our problems seem really big because our God seems really small. In fact, we reduce God to the size of our biggest problem” (p.28). I don’t know about you, but I need a God that’s bigger than any problems. I need a God who not only can tackle my problems, but the world’s problems. Batterson continues and believes that God has no dimensional units and that our belief or thoughts of God will determine who we will become. Wow!

Wow is right. I need a God who is greater than all this world’s imagination; especially as it relates to who God is and what God can and will do. I need a God that is as big as this world; still has concerns and abiding love for me and not only showed loved for me on a CROSS centuries ago, but a God who daily reminds me of his love and protection.

I need that infinite God; the God of love and mystery and yes, a God that I or no one else can define or put in a box. I need a God that loves “even me.” I need a big God; the same God that told Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’’….”As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). To learn more about God’s awesomeness read Job, chapters 38 through 41. That’s a big God and no, he is not in a box.

How do you see God? How big is your God? My image of God is evolving, but each day I love this God who refuses to be defined. I hope you too will envision a God that is unlimited and therefore undefinable and that my friend will make all the difference in your world.

The Fairytale God

Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, "Merry...
Thomas Nast’s most famous drawing, “Merry Old Santa Claus”, from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus’ current look with an initial illustration in an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, as part of a large illustration titled “A Christmas Furlough” in which Nast set aside his regular news and political coverage to do a Santa Claus drawing. The popularity of that image prompted him to create another illustration in 1881. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where is the fairytale God; the one that was taught to us in Sunday school? The one we depended upon in our childhood, adolescence and young adult lives.

I so wished the fairytale God was real. I so wished I could experience the miracles, found in the Holy Scriptures, that God showered on others and was told could happen to me if I just believed.

But I am older now and I have learned there’s no fairytale God; like I learned there’s no Santa Claus. Such are the cruel fantasies that adults inflict on children to keep them well-behaved and yes, to give hope.

Oh, I still believe in God. I just don’t believe in the Santa Claus God; you know the one that fulfills all my requests and prayers. If I am really honest, Santa did not fulfill all wishes either. Yes, I still believe in God, but not the one that grants my every wish.

I believe in a God that allows me to experience life, with all its pleasure and pain. I believe in a God that cries when I cry. I believe in a God that is hoping and cheering for me as I take every step in this life. I believe in a God that can’t wait to receive me in His arms when I am ready to “come home.” I believe in God, a God who fights along my side to defeat evil, one day at a time.

I believe like the Apostle Paul that we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but in time we will see everything with perfect clarity. “All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Yes, some will say that I still believe in a fairytale God, but that’s okay because this God keeps me going when times get tough. I believe in a God who promises to be with me to the end of my time and that’s all the miracle I need.

…Yet Your Footsteps Were Not Seen

The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed…Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked…yet your footsteps were not seen (Psalms 77:16, 18,19).

Even when I don’t sense your presence, I know I must trust. Trusting gives me hope. Hope keeps me going. All is borne from memories past: the testimonies of others, the sense of your past presence and yes, the little miracles experienced.

My vision may be clouded and my ears plugged, but still I have the assurance that I can trust you. Yes, even when I do not sense your presence; for I remember the promise you made to me many years ago—“I will be with you until the end of your time.”

If I could only quiet the noise in my head and the distress in my heart; maybe then I can remember that promise anew and hear your footsteps once again.

So now I trust and wait and hope as I live out your promise in faith. I remain faithful this Good Friday, with the hope I have in you, as I awake anew on Easter Sunday.

The Beatitude (You Are Blessed, vs. 9)

Blessed Are The Peace Maker (Beatitudes #7)
Blessed Are The Peace Maker (Beatitudes #7) (Photo credit: loswl)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5: 9).

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family (The Message).

It is not important to be the first person at the food table. There’s plenty for everyone. Nor, is it important to “always be right.” It’s good to hear ideas from others. Another person may have a better idea, a more efficient and effective idea to increase life’s bounty and to improve life’s comfort.

Cooperation will ensure that all benefit, not just a few. Cooperation assures that we all benefit from God’s earthly blessings.

Are you a peacemaker, if so, lead the way? We are counting on you.

The Beatitudes (You Are Blessed, vs. 8)

Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God (Matthew 5:8 NIV).

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world” (Matthew 5:8, The Message).

Do you feel blessed?  It is difficult, at times, to say that we are blessed when life circumstances keep us down and when another prayer, the one we prayed 364 days prior, seemed to go unanswered.

Guess what, despite the circumstances of life, despite those who try to control us and to dictate how we should think, feel, live and respond to our world, and despite those days when our “faith is dry and prayer seems useless”* we are blessed.

How is that you say? We are blessed because our Savior Jesus, who understands the unpredictability of this world (see Mark 14:32-41), advocates for us daily. In this season of Lent, we are reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice.  We are reminded that even when our minds and emotions are fragile, frayed  or frustrated; when our faith is weak, when it is hard to believe in a God, much less see God;  the Spirit prays for us (Roman 8:26-27).

It is all right to feel that your mind and emotions are fragile. It is all right not to feel that you have a “pure heart” because Jesus paid the price to help our doubts. I was reminded about the man who said to Jesus, “I do believe help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)!

Jesus knows what it is like to be human; therefore, His grace fills the gaps in our faith. It overrides our shortcomings. God’s grace can’t be undone by an emotional outburst or doubt. So rejoice that God loves us enough to have given us the grace of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray: God, we thank you for loving us in our anger, in our doubts and providing us an avenue, through the Holy Spirit, to speak our needs to you when we cannot. Thanks for reminding us that we are in your care and yes, we will see you.  Amen.

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*Sacred Space, The Prayer Book 2012, p.91)

The Next Step

Do you ever struggle about your future; especially, as it relates to your call? Well, here’s a prayer that may help.  Repeat several times out loud several days a week.

 

I will be optimistic about my future because I know God wants the best for me. I will be an optimist about my future because I choose to be. I have the power to create my future. I can choose how hard to work, where I will live and who will be a part of my future.

I can be assured of what my future holds because I have the gift of memory; the memory of how God blessed me in the past and the assurance that God is with me now and will be with me in the future.

So even though I am now weary, filled with tears, I know that in the morning I will sing the pilgrim song of joy (Psalm 126:4-6, The Message) as God brings rain to my drought-stricken life… to a future life filled with laughter and armloads of blessing.

Amen.

The Beatitudes (You Are Blessed, vs 7)

The Sermon of the Beatitudes (1886-96) by Jame...
Image via Wikipedia

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7, NIV).

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for (Matthew 5:7, The Message)

The message is so simple that it can be easily overlooked. Special blessings always come when we care for others. If we help others we may get a respite from our own struggles. In fact, we often find out how blessed we are.

There’s something intrinsic about caring for others and giving back. It often comes with special warmth in our heart and soul. When we care for others, we are cared for; respite for now, but possible greater rewards await. The idea of paying it forward comes to mind.

Jesus denied self to save humankind. Let us deny a little of our pain, joylessness and busyness to relieve the pains of others. When we do so we go a long way in bringing peace to someone in this world and isn’t this what it is all about—being there for others.

The value of sharing oneself is the ultimate modeling of Christian living. Let us pledge to do more of this in 2012.

The Beatitudes (You Are Blessed, vs 6)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6, NIV).

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat (Matthew 5:6, The Message).

As a child, I was coaxed to eat my spinach and other green vegetables to grow and be strong like Popeye the Sailor Man. As an adult, I know it is critical to eat my green vegetables to be strong and to stay healthy. In fact, today I have an appetite for green vegetables and it’s the same appetite that I now have for God. We need to eat our vegetables and God is like that vegetable. He is our nourishment; nourishing our soul, our spirit, in such a way, that we hunger for more.

I think we hunger more for God when things don’t go as planned. We hunger for God, when one day of missed blessings, turns into weeks and then to months. I hunger for His love, His comfort, for His wisdom and just to know who this God is. I am so hungry for God that I am salivating.

It is ironic but, for me, this Beatitude verse closely aligns with Psalm 111:10a, which reads “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (NIV). The Message Bible says that the “the good life begins in the fear of God”.  Fear in this case, means our reverence to our God. It means that we accept His awesomeness. When I think of God’s awesomeness, I think of an all powerful being that cannot be manipulated or controlled; a being that I desire to know in a more intimate way.

To get there I must have wisdom and that wisdom attainment begins when I seek, when I hunger for that relationship with God. A relationship that may require us to “wrestle with God, play with God, weep with God, argue with God, laugh with God, love God—and (yes) fear God…(Richard Schmidt, 2005, p. 273)*.

When we get to a place and realize that God is greater than our image of Him. That heaven is more than that pie in the sky; we then hunger to know more of God; sometime weeping, sometime in anger, but always in reverence and awe and always with an appetite for more.

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*Schmidt, Richard H. (2005). Praises, Prayers, & Curses: Conversations with the Psalms. Cincinnati,Ohio: Forward Movement.

The Beatitudes (You Are Blessed, vs 5)

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5, NIV).

 You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought (Matthew 5:5, The Message).

“Why can’t I look like that, talk like that, sing like that, be smart like that”?

We always discount who we are.  If we are not content with our own gifts—the ones that God has anointed us with–we cannot and will not be used by God to impact our world.

What are you good at? What are your strengths? What do you hear others say about you? What do you like to do; love to do? What doesn’t seem like a chore for you? Think for a moment; no, really reflect? What are you good at?

Those are your talents; the gifts God anointed you with. Cultivate them; try to find ways you can use them and yes, maybe make a little money as well.

We need not covet another person’s gifts, talents or looks; we just need to cultivate and appreciate the ones that God has given us. Don’t doubt yourself, you are unique; your talents are your gifts to the world.

So don’t forget, God has blessed you and God wants you to use your unique talents to bless the world. In other words, like Oscar Wilde said, ‘be yourself, everyone else is already taken”.