The Pursuit of God . . the Pursuit of us

In 1948 A.W. Tozer wrote The Pursuit of God.  In 1950, he wrote a sequel called The Divine Conquest, now renamed The Pursuit of Man.

The pursuit of God . . the pursuit of man . . both?

Everything since sin has been imbalanced within us, and our perception of our most important relationship, that with God, has, too.  It seems to me that there are two “sides” which Christ followers–I include myself in them–tend to “pull for”, in a grand tug-of-war for rights: the pursuit of God, or the pursuit of man.

While not normally called by A.W. Tozer’s titles, I think they might be the most accurate terms I’ve heard.

Some believers focus on the pursuit of God.  They talk about our willingness to follow Him, our sanctification process, and our part in receiving salvation as a free gift.  They talk more about God’s grief over our sin, and how He longs for us to seek after Him.  If not careful, these believers stray into self-importance, concentrating on works, ‘weakening’ their perception of God’s authority and power, and/or legalism.

Other believers focus on the pursuit of man.  They talk about God’s selection of humanity, our justification process, and God’s election in giving us salvation as a free gift.  They talk more about God’s wrath over our sin, and how we are helpless without Him.  If not careful, these believers stray into self-worthlessness, concentrating on no-works, ‘weakening’ their perception of man’s choice and value to God, and/or determinism.

But why can’t there be two books: The Pursuit of God and The Pursuit of Man?

Here is little me, talking about an intensely debated and highly sensitive topic.  And here’s the reality.  I can’t possibly tackle this subject from an intellectual level that would impress anyone who’s really studied the issue, or philosophically in a way that would win the applause of the scholars.  In fact, I can’t even convince you to keep reading.  You may already have clicked out and I’m talking to myself.  😉

But the gift I do have from God is to be able to think in metaphors.  Earlier the metaphor of romance came to my mind when I was thinking about the pursuit of God and the pursuit of man.

–I love when Ben pursues me.  I want him to come to where I am.  The first time we saw each other after we met in Guatemala was in my hometown.  He drove the 17-plus hours from Pennsylvania to Missouri for a girl who couldn’t even spell Pennsylvania.  He came in my classroom at school after my students had gone, roses in hand, and I hopped in his arms.  He told me he loved me for the first time face-to-face and he gave me a pin that said God is writing my love story.

In our romance, from the point Ben called me on the phone to tell me he wanted to pursue me, he has been in pursuit of me.  From cutting his hair for me . . to giving up most of his free time to talk to me or write me cards or facebook me . . to paying for the expenses of traveling, hotels, meals for both of us, and bouquets . . to letting me eat more than half of the Belgian chocolate powdered sugar waffle . . Ben has been in pursuit of me.  He has been in such intense pursuit of me, in fact, that I have been shocked.  I have never had this effect on men before.  Apparently, he is the one.  😉

Now, all of what I’ve said is true, but it’s not the whole story.  If it was, I guess Ben could be accused of stalking me or at least harassing me.  If Ben had been in pursuit of me, and I was trying to run away from him, it would be no love story.

But, of course, that’s not how it is.  The rest of the story is, I have been pursuing him, too.  Not nearly so hard or so well–I don’t think I am selfless enough to go through the kind of patient pursuit he went through–but I have been pursuing him.  I haven’t bought him flowers, of course, or drove 17 1/2 hours to see him (that could be a disaster), but I have pursued him.

When he opens his arms to me, I wrap my arms around him.  When he reaches for my hand, I take his.  When he puts his arm around my shoulder, I lean into his chest.  When he tells me he loves me, I tell him I love him back.  When he does something kind for me, I often try to think of something kind I could do back for him, not out of dread or duty, but out of outbursts of zeal!

Trying to tell the story of a romance from only one side just doesn’t work.  I wouldn’t want to hear a fairy tale about Cinderella and the prince who didn’t bother to pick up her glass slipper from the stairwell of the royal ballroom.  Or a fairy tale about a prince who kissed Snow White awake from her deep sleep, and when she awoke she refused to go with him to his castle.

God really is in pursuit of us.  He loves us.  He will try the slipper on the foot of anyone willing, and He finds in that person the one who He wants to save.  And He Himself came down to us to wake us from the poisonous apple of death and lead us to His eternal Kingdom.

When we believe in Him, we are really in pursuit of Him, too.  Our pursuit certainly doesn’t match His.  We can’t compare the entire sum total of our devotion to even just one of the infinite addends of His devotion.  He has all the perfect gifts to give; we stand naked before Him with nothing but our sin to bring.  Yet He takes our sin away, and He clothes us in His perfection and lays gifts in our hands, that we may have something to give back to Him.

Pursuit of man?  He made the first move.  He gave us the privilege of full pursuit when He sent His Son to redeem us and bring us back to Him.

Pursuit of God?  Yes, that too.  He does not romance us by domination or violence.  He gave us the privilege of pursuing us, and with that pursuit comes choice on both sides.  He’s made His choice; now it’s only our choice that separates us from friendship with God.

God took the costliest risk of all time for us.  He offers us His forgiveness, righteousness, and love, but He does not force it upon us.  We can answer back with refusal, which He will not overrule, or we can answer back with our pursuit of Him.

He gives us presents of mercy, kindness, loyalty, patience, forgiveness, and so on, more than we could ever need, so that we can worship Him and hand some of the gift on to others.  Our worship of Him and our handing the gifts He gives us to others is what He receives from us as ‘gifts’.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:6, NLT)

. . let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:19, b, ESV)

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The goodness and righteousness of God is the lens through which to ask all questions.

Suppose I told you that a famous murderer just murdered another person.  Would you believe it?  Probably.  You’d have no reason not to.

But what I told you that a person you dearly love just murdered someone?  Would you believe it?  Certainly not.  You’d have every reason not to.  You would go straight to that person for the facts and ignore me.

In the same way, when we have a right relationship with God–when we know that He is good and when we have received Christ’s payment for our sins so we can live in His goodness–we will not be so easily mislead and thrown down by Satan’s “best arguments”.

“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.” (2 Samuel 22:31, NIV)

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9, NLT)

Jesus warns us there are three things Satan wishes to do:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy

(John 10:10a, NIV)

Destroy is the last one.  If Satan can destroy someone’s faith by slandering God, he’ll do it.  Any questions that doubt God’s character are from Satan.

Do we doubt that the sun will rise tomorrow?  Yet how much more faithful is God, who, from eternity past and to eternity future, always acts justly, in truth, and from a righteous heart?

There might be times when we read a Bible passage, and think we would have acted differently than God.  This doesn’t, however, point to a lack of goodness in God, but a lack of goodness in us.

One time when I was a kid, I busted my head open.  The pediatrician I knew and trusted was not in, and my mom allowed a doctor (who was on call) to stitch up my head.  I was very unapproving of this.  First off, I didn’t understand why there were scissors in front of my face and what looked like wax paper of my head.  I had no idea he was stitching up my head; I didn’t really see the needle through the paper.  I mistrusted the doctor because I didn’t know him and I decided I didn’t like him.

He sewed up my head beautifully.  I can’t even see the scar.  Had I trusted him, I could have laid still while he mended me instead of screaming my head off.  I never even thanked him.  I was suspicious of him to the end.  I didn’t know what a good surgeon he was.

This is a picture of what we do to God.  Can you imagine dying from a head wound that could be easily treated?  Yet we do far worse when we run from God’s goodness back to our sin.  God wants to help us; He knows how to help us, and He has chosen to help us–the question is, will we believe Him?

When we read something about God, and we’re not sure we understand it, we need to realize that He never contradicts His nature of light, truth, righteousness, justice, and merciful love.  He is the God who would rather Himself be tormented for our sin than us!

If we think we’ve come to something that “proves” God is unfair, mean-hearted, or cruel . . we need to look again.  As a six-year-old, I disliked the doctor who saved my life because I didn’t understand what was really going on, and I made irrational judgments about him.  In the same way, when we don’t recognize who God is–our Creator, our Judge, and, if we receive His sacrifice, our Redeemer–we miss that He is the only one who can heal us.

He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9b, NIV)

Was Judas forced to betray Jesus?

“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

“What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. (John 13:27-30, NIV)

Some people think that Jesus fated Judas to betray him, and that Jesus deliberately sets the event up so he won’t be protected.

I think sometimes we’re afraid to ask the really hard questions of God, afraid we’ll find out He is tricking us.  But when I began to walk with God, hearing His heartbeat–when I committed my life to Him–I began to see the distortions in my thinking, like one coming to sight.

The twisted way of looking at this event is that Judas was helpless, Jesus was conniving, and Jesus had a sort of sickness that caused Him to want to die.  None of this could be further from the truth, which is exactly why Satan pours his resources into supporting it.

First, Judas was not helpless.  The Bible tells us that Satan entered him–a terrifying thought.  And Judas was overpowered by Satan.  But this is not something that just suddenly happened one day to a devoted follower of Christ.  Judas was a faker.  He probably didn’t know it at first, but Jesus knew it, and no one else did.  I think as Judas spent more time with the Son of God, the Light of the World, he could see his own darkness more clearly.  Instead of coming to terms with who he was, or that he needed to be rescued, Judas made the decision to turn on Christ.  If Christ was taken out of the ministry, Judas wouldn’t have to face the truth about his own identity anymore.

In the part of what he was doing that he admitted to himself, I don’t think Judas meant for Jesus to be killed.  But he did want the Light to be put out, and the only way could be by Jesus’ death.  So Judas had gotten his heart ready for Satan to enter.  When I have a moment in my life where I feel like I lose control, or things happened I didn’t mean to happen by my selfish decision, I still have to realize I am responsible.  Judas was responsible for killing Christ because his betrayal opened the door to the path of suffering Christ would take.

When Jesus tells Judas,

“What you are about to do, do quickly”

He is not giving Judas permission to sin.  There are three really important keys in what Jesus says I’ll bring up here, though much more could be said.

The first is that Jesus never says what it is Judas will be doing.  Only a corrupt and evil heart would know that Jesus meant Judas’ choice to betray Him.  If Judas’ heart had been pure, if he had been loyal to Jesus, he would have had no idea what Jesus was talking about.  (He did not know about the communication between John and Jesus regarding who the betrayer was; that was a secret conversation.)

Second, Jesus knew Judas’ heart was set on betraying Him.  Could Jesus have stopped him?  Yes, and Jesus could have stopped Pilate, the soldiers, and temple guards, and so on.  But He didn’t, much the same way that He doesn’t always stop the bad that happens to us.  There was a reason Jesus allowed Himself to be betrayed.  He was identifying Himself with the suffering of mankind, and He was working even within the evil of the world for an opportunity to lay down His life to pay for that very evil–something Satan could never have predicted.

God could have chosen to sacrifice His life without anyone inflicting suffering directly on Him (though indirectly, through sin, all of us brought His suffering).  Because Jesus is God, He could have laid down His life without any other persons involved.  He did not need anyone to betray Him or hurt Him.  In the foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice in the sacrifice Abraham is willing to make of Isaac, there is no betrayer, and no one eager to cause Isaac suffering.  Jesus could have chosen to give His life in the same kind of way.

But because Jesus was living among humanity, He was naturally going to be hated.  The very sin nature He was fighting to destroy was at its greatest strength in the history of the world.  Satan was using all his power and force to fight against Jesus.  Jesus chose to let Satan’s forces of evil do their worst to Him to show the world that Satan’s power is nothing compared to the power of God.

Third, I think we forget sometimes the humanity of Jesus.  If you could know somebody was going to do something bad to you that you would not stop, would you want to delay it or speed it up?  I’d rather get it over with.  I remember learning about the power (and cruelty) of delayed punishment.  It is a waiting room of fear and despair and can end up in suicide.

Jesus was not going to commit suicide, or fall in despair, but the Bible reveals to us He was in anguish so acute He was to the point of death.  I think He wanted the suffering to come quickly because, in faith, He knew there would be an ending to it, however impossibly far away that ending must have seemed.

In summary, Jesus did not will or fate or trick Judas into betraying Him.  The opposite was true.  Jesus did not want Judas to betray Him.  We know this because God says that He does not delight or partake in evil.

Looking at good and evil from the plane of finiteness we live in, we can get all skewed about the nature of God.  God does not dabble in evil.  He doesn’t use evil acts like pawns on a chessboard to accomplish His will.  But He does choose to work even during evil.  What is so ridiculous is, God gets blamed for working even during evil!  We don’t (or I don’t, anyway) usually think about the flip-side.  What if God didn’t work even during evil times?  Well, He would be checked out of this world for sure.

But this, for sure, is not the case.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:9-12, NLT)

What does the Bible say about predestination, election, and free will?

Here is a beginner’s list (a.k.a., my list) of passages.  But, just as we must read an entire book and not a few chapters to most deeply understand the author’s purpose and the storyline, so we must read the entire Bible to most deeply understand this difficult concept–all the while praying for wisdom, humility, and grace!

1 Corinthians 13 describes love as something that doesn’t use knowledge to get arrogant or smart-alleck.  As I read the Bible to seek answers for questions, I need to ask myself,

Am I reading to prove myself right, or am I reading to find out about God? 

Am I reading to become knowledgeable so I can show off or so I can walk in closer fellowship with God and help those who are struggling?

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, NASB)

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11, NIV)

But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved, for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape, just as the LORD has said. These will be among the survivors whom the LORD has called. (Joel 2:32, NLT)

as the Scripture says, “Anyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13, NCV)

But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22, NIV)

God never changes his mind about the people he calls and the things he gives them. (Romans 11:29, NCV)

God has placed all people into the prison of their own disobedience so that he could be merciful to all people. (Romans 11:32, GW)

These also are sayings of the wise. Partiality in judging is not good. (Proverbs 24:23, ESV)

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.  We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.  And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous.  He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.  For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.  This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time.  God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, NLT)

So what should we say about this?  Is God unfair?  In no way.  God said to Moses, “I will show kindness to anyone to whom I want to show kindness, and I will show mercy to anyone to whom I want to show mercy.”So God will choose the one to whom he decides to show mercy; his choice does not depend on what people want or try to do.  The Scripture says to the king of Egypt: “I made you king for this reason: to show my power in you so that my name will be talked about in all the earth.”  So God shows mercy where he wants to show mercy, and he makes stubborn the people he wants to make stubborn.

So one of you will ask me: “Then why does God blame us for our sins?  Who can fight his will?”  You are only human, and human beings have no right to question God.  An object should not ask the person who made it, “Why did you make me like this?”  The potter can make anything he wants to make.  He can use the same clay to make one thing for special use and another thing for daily use.

It is the same way with God.  He wanted to show his anger and to let people see his power.  But he patiently stayed with those people he was angry with—people who were made ready to be destroyed.  He waited with patience so that he could make known his rich glory to the people who receive his mercy.  He has prepared these people to have his glory. (Romans 9:14-23, NCV)

Then Peter began to speak: “Now I understand that God shows no partiality.  Indeed, whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him in any nation.
He has sent his word to the descendants of Israel and brought them the good news of peace through Jesus the Messiah. This man is the Lord of everyone.” (Acts 10:34-36, ISV)

“For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:17, NASB)

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Does God “make” some people evil?

For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You. (Psalm 5:4, NASB)

“The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psalm 92:15b, NIV)

 Now I am certain that God treats all people alike. (Acts 10:34b, CEV)

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. (Psalm 25:8, NIV)

“The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He. (Deuteronomy 32:4, NASB)

The LORD says:

   Don’t brag about your wisdom

   or strength or wealth.

    If you feel you must brag,

   then have enough sense

   to brag about worshiping me,

   the LORD.

   What I like best

   is showing kindness,

   justice, and mercy

   to everyone on earth. (Jeremiah 9:23-24, CEV)

“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.” (2 Samuel 22:31, NIV)

“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (Proverbs 30:5, NIV)

Who is a God like you?  You forgive sin and overlook the rebellion of your faithful people. You will not be angry forever, because you would rather show mercy. (Micah 7:18, GWT)

“for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” (2nd Chronicles 19:7c, NIV)

“For the LORD your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed.” (Deuteronomy 10:17, NLT)

God told us to announce clearly to the people that Jesus is the one he has chosen to judge the living and the dead.  Every one of the prophets has said that all who have faith in Jesus will have their sins forgiven in his name. (Acts 10:42-43, CEV)

When we were unable to help ourselves, at the right time, Christ died for us, although we were living against God.  Very few people will die to save the life of someone else.  Although perhaps for a good person someone might possibly die.  But God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners.

 So through Christ we will surely be saved from God’s anger, because we have been made right with God by the blood of Christ’s death.  While we were God’s enemies, he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Surely, now that we are his friends, he will save us through his Son’s life.  And not only that, but now we are also very happy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we are now God’s friends again. (Romans 5:6-11, NCV)

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Does God want everyone to be saved?

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:1-6, ESV)

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. (2 Peter 3:15, NIV)

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his [God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4, NIV)

“Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins.  Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God–something the law of Moses could never do.  (Acts 13:39, NLT)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9, NIV)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, ESV)

Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise.  In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.  He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.  And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous.  And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit.  It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. (Romans 4:20-25, NLT)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NASB)

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Alone

I am so struck by the Truth that I am not alone.

It is not whatsoever frightening, because I know who I am with, and I know He loves me.

I want you to understand, it is not that I deserve this privilege.   I don’t.  And from human rationality, it can’t make sense to me why it’s true.  I don’t deserve to be in the presence of love.  I know this.  And yet I am not alone.  And I am loved.

What is the one thing that I wish the world could hear?  What is the one thing I would say, if I could say just one thing and nothing more?

It would be John 3:16.  Not because it is a well-quoted verse or because it sounds good in Sunday School, but . because . it . is . real.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NASB)

I love the Lord.

I love Him so much.

But it wasn’t my idea.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  (1 John 3:16, NIV)

It was His.

And I am not alone.

I am not alone.

And I am in good company.  I am in the best of company.  I am a friend of God.

How do you say, “I am a friend of God”?  How can my tiny little human mind process such a statement?  I am a friend of God?  Me?  With my flaws, my failures, my ruin?  I am a friend of God?

Yes I am a friend of God.

But how?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NASB)

But why?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  (1 John 3:16, NIV)

Jesus Christ did this for me?  For love?

What is love, then?  Can I even say I understand it?  Love is to take a sinner and make a saint?  How is it possible that God can be inclined to feel pity for a sinner?  How is it that the pity God feels can be so great it leads Him to die?  How is it that when I feel sorry for someone, I am at most merely inclined to help, but when God feels pity, He gives up His throne and suffers all the horrors of the world and dies?

Why would He care that I am alone?

How could He care that I am alone?  He is infinite in being, free from space or time, and yet He concerns Himself with me, a person who lives on a globe that is not even a speck in the galaxy[1], a galaxy that is one of what we think are billions?

Or is it that I have it all wrong?  Is it that this little not-even-a-speck-in-the-galaxy is the reason the stars surround us?  Is God showing us how vast and incomprehensible His love like a master artist, leading us from painting to painting, each telling us a little more of His love for us?

How?  How can this be?  That the stars were created around us and not us from the stars?  That we alone in all the universe are made in the image of God, that He should lavish such love upon us?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NASB)

Not perish.

Not perish.

Not perish.

That whoever believes in Him should not perish.

No clauses.

No amendments.

No disclaimers.

Whoever.

That means me, too.

It’s hard for me to believe sometimes that such a thing so good to be possible for so bad a race as the human race, for so bad a person as me.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, ESV)

There wasn’t any hope.

But then there was.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NASB)

Are you alone?

If you are, why?

There is a Savior.  A Savior who is exactly who we need.  A Savior who gives us His Word He will love us eternally if we live in Him.

This Savior, He is a friend.  He is a friend as I have never had one.  He is a friend as you have never had.

There is nothing in this world, in this universe, in Heaven, or anywhere at all that can compel me to love as I love my Savior, His Father, His Spirit.

I pray you will love Him, too.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  (1 John 3:16, NIV)

[1] “How Many Galaxies Are In The Universe?” by Fraser Cain, May 4, 2009, http://www.universetoday.com/30305/how-many-galaxies-in-the-universe/

Photograph by David Woo, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/mckln/

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Choice

I remember being about eleven or twelve and hanging around some teenage friends of mine, who thought snow-cones were all the rage.  Up until that point in my life, I had liked just regular ordinary ice cream cones, but those were kiddie now.  Snow cones were the cool thing, and the price sure reflected it: they were very expensive at something like $4.00 a piece (compared to a .59 or at most .99 cent ice cream cone)!  I didn’t have that kind of money, and so when my teenage friends got their snow-cones, I just watched wistfully.  Of course they didn’t share!

One Friday night my dad wanted to take me out for MacDonald’s ice cream cones.  I didn’t tell him until we were in the car, however, (away from other influencing adults) that I really wanted a snow cone.  He could not believe I wanted dyed ice, and he kept telling me he thought I wouldn’t like it and it was way too expensive.

Oh, but I was sure I would like it!  My life would be transformed by this snow cone, in fact!  Dad wasn’t happy, but I begged and begged and pleaded and pleaded and nagged and nagged until at last he caved in and said he would get me a snow cone.

So we went to the special snow cone stand with the fancy flavors and I ordered a cotton candy snow cone.  My dad grudgingly paid the man.  I took one sip of the sickeningly sweet dyed ice before I realized something.  You know what?  I did not like snow cones after all.

I remember my father sitting in the car, staring straight ahead, the look on his face something between aggravation, told-you-so, and pity.  I took about three or four sips and said, very meekly, “I really can’t drink this.”

Dad nodded, somewhat gloomily, and said something like, “Hand it over.”  He proceeded to drink the $4.00 snow cone that he hated.

I remember saying in a small voice something like, “I’m sorry.”  And, “let’s not tell anybody about this, ok?”

“Ok,” he said.  When we got home, he threw the snow cone cup away in an outside trash can so nobody would know.

When I think about our choices with God, it seems a little bit the same way.  God could have put a wall around the tree Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat from.  He could have put barbed wire on it, to further discourage them and, if that didn’t work, an electric fence.  Or He could have taken the tree off the earth altogether and placed it on another planet.

But God didn’t want to eliminate Adam and Eve’s choice.  He wanted them to choose His way.  He wanted them to love Him.  He didn’t program me so I would be forced to love Him—what would that even be, anyway?  Not love.  The love God recognizes as love is based on choice, not on puppetry or robot mechanics (see 1 Corinthians 13)

The problems we have in this world: disease, pain, suffering, disaster, death . . . these did not come about by the choice of God.  God’s choice was for us to live in the Garden of Eden forever.

We chose not to—all of us.  None of Adam’s kin have been perfect or even gotten close.  (Really, there is no way to get close to perfect, just like there is no way to get close to being able to make something vanish.  You either do it or you don’t.)

But who is it who suffers the most severe consequences for our actions?

God does!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Try as we might, we can’t redeem ourselves from this mess we’re in.  We can’t drink all the consequences we’ve earned, and we can never go backwards to make the right choice.  God knows this.  God knew this.

And while He waited patiently for humanity to realize what a horrible choice we had made and what a miserable predicament we had gotten ourselves into, He knew all along what He was going to do about it.  He was going to give us His Son for our wretched mistakes.

But would Jesus do it?  We find the answer the night Jesus was betrayed and about to be arrested by evil men.  One of His followers, Peter, started to fight against the wicked troop.  But Jesus knew His arrest was so the plan He and His Father has made could take effect.  He asked Peter,

“Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?” (John 18:11, NLT)

Jesus chose to drink.  He drank the consequences of anyone who will give their sins to Him!  And He has the power to throw away all the evidence Satan would use to accuse us.

But I can’t miss this: I must cry out to Him!  I must confess I have been wrong and that I cannot make it right.  I must throw myself on His mercy and ask Him to do what I cannot: take away the problem.

God isn’t going to set people free who aren’t sorry for what they did.  That just doesn’t any sense.  If someone isn’t sorry, (s)he will want to go right back to what (s)he was doing before.  And God isn’t going to live with us in our wickedness.  He will bring us up to His righteousness if we cry out to Jesus, but He will not come down and sin with us.  That won’t be happening.

And God isn’t going to set people free who don’t want His help, either.  This goes back to wanting to be free from consequences without a relationship with God.  It doesn’t work that way.  Our relationship with Jesus is our freedom from eternal punishment.  Without Him, He cannot pay for our sin.  We have to drink it to the dregs all by ourselves.

John’s prophesy warns us what will happen in the end to those who do not call on Jesus:

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” (Revelation 16:1, NASB)

What a true horror for Jesus to have drank the cup of suffering for anyone who would choose Him, and yet have so many people choose for God’s punishment to be poured out on them, too!  These seven bowls are described in such terrifying and painful ways in Revelation as a warning to us!  We can’t go back and undo our sin, but we can choose to give our sin to the Savior who has already paid for any sin we give Him!

The message Peter gives after he’s experienced Jesus’ awesome forgiveness for himself, witnessing his Savior’s miraculous resurrection and ascension into Heaven, is as relevant today as it was then:

So turn away from your sins.  Turn to God.  Then your sins will be wiped away.  The time will come when the Lord will make everything new. (Acts 3:19, NIRV)

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Claw Machine

It all started with a purple whale.

I was about five or so, and my dad tried to win me a purple whale.

He didn’t.

Now, that whale was probably worth about 50 cents.  If that.

But do you know how many times I have thought about that purple whale?

Years later, I was in a mall with an arcade, and was wooed by a machine full of very cute panda bears.

I wanted one of those panda bears!

I decided I would spend $2.50, I think it was.  The game cost $.50 per try.  On my second or third or fourth try—I don’t really remember because those tries don’t matter so much to me—the claw reached down and wrapped around the head of a panda.  I was in shock.  The mechanical arm pulled up, and there was my panda, being carried by the head!  I stared at the panda and claw, mesmerized.  Could it really be true?  Could I really have won?

And then—the final test!  The claw released, and down, down, down fell my panda—right into the slot!

I shoved my hand through the tray, still not sure there would be a panda there!  Yet—there it was!  Real!  I picked it up and carried it out of the arcade.

A lot of people seem to have an innate drive towards claw machines.  There is something about being able to see something you cannot yet touch, and find a way to bring that prize towards yourself.  It’s a rescue!  It’s a triumph!  It’s a claiming of something that couldn’t belong to you before, but now does!

I think the claw machine reveals a tiny bit about the personality of our God.  Though we were meant to live in relationship with God, our sin placed us in a cage of impenetrable glass: Satan’s observation tank where he holds us until we have spent all our days and are ready to be shipped to Hell.

Just as stuffed animals in a claw machine are helpless to move themselves towards the escape slot, we are helpless to move ourselves towards the escape that righteousness provides.  Although many people tried to keep the Law to be made right with God, everyone finds it is impossible.  We are immobile in our sin, unable to take even a single step towards God.

God knew very well what a quandary we were in.  And, though He could have made brand new creatures for a brand new world and left us in our hopeless trap, He walked over to our tank, and He looked in on us.  And though He saw defective, ruined people: stitches loose, stuffing hanging out everywhere, eyes and noses falling off, stains on the fabric . . . He laid His hand on the glass, and He planned our rescue.

God is love.  (1 John 4:16b, NIV)

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

We cost God so much more than pocket change.  We cost God His one and only Son.  God paid our price.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

And, one by one, God began fishing us out of the tank.

Some people are packed too tightly in their selfish desires, worldly temptations, bitterness, anger, hatred, or sadness.  And those people . . . they stay in the machine.  The greatest gift in history is useless to them—they act as if Christ never died for us, or as if it doesn’t matter!  And by treating their one and only salvation with contempt, they stay locked inside Satan’s cage, expecting a rescue that will never occur.  Only when Satan comes to haul them off to Hell will they realize what an eternally dreadful mistake they have made.

If you try to be made right with God through the law, your life with Christ is over — you have left God’s grace. (Galatians 5:4, NCV)

Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14, NIV)

So one choice is to stay packed inside our sin for all eternity.  The other choice, however, is not to unpack ourselves from our selfish desires, our worldly temptations, our bitterness, anger, hatred, sadness—no sinner can do that!  We are as helpless as stuffed animals in a machine!  The choice we have is very much simpler: we can look up for God’s salvation, coming down to save us.

What does God’s salvation look like?  Search-and-rescue through Jesus Christ!  Jesus, Son of God, promises us that, if we look Him, He will save us!

For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” (Romans 10:11, NASB)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7, ESV)

I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4 KJV)

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You. (Psalm 9:10, NASB)

What if God doesn’t want me, though?  What if I am not the one He wants to rescue from the machine?  What if I am too ugly or too broken?

What if He has a list of people He plans to save, and I am not on it?

Is this how God works?

These questions are fears that needn’t be your fears at all.  Predestination is something God understands far, far better than us.  The Bible tells us God chooses people to be His own (e.g, see Luke 18:7, Thessalonians 1:4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:1-2), but the Bible also teaches God’s own people rejecting Him at times (e.g., see Psalm 118:22, 1 Peter 2:7-9; the Old and New Testament show throughout that God’s people, Israel, rejected Him).  At all times, we must keep in mind that God shows no partiality among us, that He receives anyone who believes in His Son (e.g., see Luke 2:10, John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 1:21, Titus 2:11), and that He does not want anyone to die without knowing Him (e.g., see Isaiah 30:18, Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32, Ezekiel 33:11, Romans 2:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, 2 Peter 3:9, 2 Peter 3:15).

On God’s list, the only names missing are those who refuse His salvation.  God does not choose to refuse people on the basis of partiality.  God chooses to help all of the human race through His Son, though not all will receive that help.

My prayer is that you won’t for a second think that God will reject you if you ask for Jesus to rescue you.  Whichever way you look at predestination, however you interpret it, this holds unshakably true:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)

God never lies.  He never breaks His promises.  And His Word lasts forever.

Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it.  And without any question that oath is binding.  God also bound Himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that He would never change His mind.  So God has given both His promise and His oath.  These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie.  Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.  This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.  It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.  Jesus has already gone in there for us. (Hebrews 6:16-20a, NLT)

“Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.” (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 24:35, ISV)

If there is thrill and happiness when we pull a little stuffed toy out of a machine, just think of how much more exhilaration and joy there is for God and humans when He rescues us from the hands of Satan!

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him [Jesus].  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if He has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:1-10, ESV)

And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. (2 Corinthians 4:15b, NLT)

God’s arm is reaching out.

Will you say, “Here I am, Jesus!  Oh, pull me out!”?

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.” (Jesus, quoted in John 10:27-30, NIV)

Photo by /~helmar, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/helmar/

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Animatronophobia

Animatronophobia is a fear of wax figures, mannequins, and robotic creatures.  I can handle wax figures.  I wouldn’t really want to put my arm around them, but they don’t bother me much.  And I’m ok with mannequins.  No problem.  Unless, like, I was locked in a room with a mannequin at night.  That would be creepy.

But robotic animals really, really bother me.

The first time I confronted this fear as a kid in a video store in 1980-something.  I walked back through the children’s room, browsing the movies, and, the way I remember it, I had completely missed, or not paid much mind, to what I had just walked past.  It was a 3-D cardboard cut-out of a dragon, advertising the movie Dragonworld.  It was made with a different cut-out for the head and a different cut-out for the eyes, and it was “prowling” with its head to the side, appearing as if to strike.

I was filled with terror of the 3-D image of the “animatron”[1].  I froze at the entrance of the kid’s room and wouldn’t leave until my mom literally pulled me out.  The dragon look like it was going to sneak up on me from behind, and in its eyes I saw deception and wickedness.  Its frozen smile, meant to be friendly, only made it more frightening to me.

After this, from time to time, I would be somewhere that would have animatrons.  Fortunately, there are not too many around.  One of the worst experiences I had was at an F.A.O. Schwartz.  Here, in this benign toy store, I heard this noise and coming from the ceiling was a brontosauruses’ head and neck.  What made this all the worse for me was knowing it had no body and the head and neck sticking out was all of it there was.

I never did understand why in the world I was so extremely afraid of animatronics.  In my head, I could tell you they were fake, but . . . if you asked me whether I would be in the water with a real shark or the Jaws animatronic shark at Universal Studios, I would pick the animatronic shark because my mind would tell me this was the better choice . . . but my body would protest mightily.

I tried to research a fear of animatrons but never came across much until the other day.  I found a brief comment that suddenly made the horror make so much sense to me, describing it as a fear of “near-living things that have no emotional capacity at all” [2].

A living shark has emotions.  It is possible—however highly improbable, that you could meet a shark who happened to like people.  But a robot shark cannot like or not like people.  Its course of action cannot be changed by anything other than unplugging the machine.  A real shark could become discouraged by being attacked by its victim.  An automatron could never become discouraged.

An automatron could never choose to have pity, change its mind, or change its behavior.  Locked into one path of movement, frozen with one expression on its face, and possessing metal and wires where there should be heartbeat, an automatron is truly a terrifying idea.

Only one thing stands in between humanity and automatronicity: choice.

We are not forced into any course of action.  We are not made to spend our lives following one habit over and over.  We are not designed to behave without intention.

But that is exactly what sin will do to us.

God is life, but sin is death.  With God, we make free choices to experience His love, joy, mercy, forgiveness, righteousness, friendship, and so on.  But with sin, we lose our choices as we experience hate, cruelty, grudge, wickedness, animosity, and so on.

I don’t know the exact quote or where I first heard it, but it goes something like this: “sin is the last free choice you make.”  If you choose to live in sin, you choose to lose more and more of yourself . . little by little, you become emotionally bankrupt, mentally locked-down, and spiritually empty.

To be human is to be created in the image of God.  As we give away the reflection of God in our lives . . . we lose our humanity.

Then we truly become automatrons: robots in Satan’s theme park, able only to sin.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NIV)


[1] Technically, the dragon was portrayed with different mediums in the actual movie, though I never saw it.  At one point, he was like a big puppet head.   The photo I saw was not of a true animatronic, that is, a robot that moves on its own, but rather a “model” of a dragon.  You could call it a statue, I guess.

[2] Kevin C, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090223222216AAKxdNi

 

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