IS YOUR GOD TOO SMALL?

MY GOD IS an awesome God, full of majesty, power and might, grace, mercy, kindness and care. I haven’t always known him like that. For many years he was frightening, somebody to be feared and shunned, a judge who sat upon a lofty throne glaring down at us mere mortals who, no matter how hard we tried, could never attain his standard of  perfection or righteousness. Though I was fascinated by him and wanted to know more about him, my childish comprehension kept me from ever getting to know him. I am not alone in what was my faulty, fictional understanding of who God is.

J.B. Phillips, in his book Your God is Too Small described the different perceptions God on throne 2people have about God. Many still hold the view of him that they had in Sunday School, a benevolent old man in the sky meting out blessings to those who were good and punishing those who were bad. Others see him as a “resident policeman” making sure they obey the myriad rules placed upon them, while others understand God as the “managing director” of their lives making decisions for them and taking away any responsibility for what they determine to be “God’s will”. Many others have placed God in a box that has been created by their brand of Christianity, Protestant or Catholic, or by their individual life story. None of those concepts, Phillips states, is adequate when one experiences the challenges of today’s society—and he was writing more than sixty years ago!

My understanding of God leapt out at me many years ago when I was speaking with a pastor about some persistent concerns that had nagged me since childhood. He suggested that I visualise myself as a little girl running towards God in his throne room and experiencing his loving acceptance of his daughter. I guess the pastor thought it would be rather like how JFK Junior would rush into the White House to be with his father. He had unprecedented access to the most powerful man on earth, the President of the United States of America. But for me, I was terrified and blurted out, “He says he won’t!” And my God remained even more distant than I had already known him to be. I have come a long way since then.

Where do I begin to explain who God is? So awesome, magnificent, majestic and mighty, ruler of the universe, our sovereign Deity, bursting with glory and wonder, power and might; all knowing, ever present and in supreme control of this world we live in. And yet this breathtaking Being who holds the world in his enormous hands, is so cognisant of the pinnacle of his creation, humankind. The Psalmist of old captures the dilemma we have:

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:1-4)

How can we make sense of our majestic God’s desire to have a relationship with us mere mortals, particularly when for many of us our comprehension of him comes from distorted teachings flowing from the pulpit that have failed to represent the reality of our loving God?

God is love. The whole message of his creation is that of love. Despite mankind’s disobedience and rebellion, God’s message remains that of love. Throughout the ages, as he interacted with the Israelites—his chosen people—his message was that of love. And his plan of salvation, the sending into our sin-sick world of his only, dearly beloved Son to demonstrate in tangible ways the reality of God’s love for all peoples, was an unarguable message of extreme, extravagant love. The suffering and brutal crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ on that wretched cross at Calvary was the ultimate message of love for humanity and God’s creation. The resurrection brought with it the triumph of that message of love, culminating in the awesomeness of his ascension followed by the promised empowerment of the Holy Spirit upon those who chose to receive him.

God is love. And his message for all people everywhere, regardless of colour or creed, gender, race or religion, social standing or marital status, is that of love.

Jesus and lambThe message of salvation begins and ends with God. God is love. God loves me with an unconditional, welcoming love that accepts me just as I am—just as I was when I first met him and began to understand something of who he was and is. Just as I was in the mire of my life when chaos ruled, when my faith in him was as fragile as that of a lost lamb who had wandered far from her Shepherd’s care, when my anger at what others had done to me through their atrocious abuse, betrayals, lies and the distortion of God’s truth raged. God loves me. And because God loves me with that pure, unadulterated love—unconditionally and with no holds barred—I want to love him back, and love others in that same exquisitely perfect way.  I have much to learn.

Reference:  J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small, London: Epworth Press, 1952

I STAND AMAZED

I SOMETIMES BECOME overwhelmed with the grandeur of my God, his awesomeness, majesty, might and power, and how, though Creator King, Maker of the Universe, he still has time for us mere mortals.

Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks in America, I began my morning community radio program with two songs: Bette Midler’s From a Distance, and The Bachelors’ I Believe. The first describes how God watches over us from a distance, the second that in the storms of life he hears our smallest prayers.

Psalm 8’s anthem of adoration to Almighty God captures the paradox that, while launching the sun, moon and stars into space, his thoughts were upon his people, making them a little lower than angels and crowning them with glory and honour (Psalm 8:5)

So many people have such a limited view of God, created according to their church’s creeds, their brand of biblical exegesis, according to their status in life or because of the unacceptable behaviour of those who claim to know him, but who fail miserably to demonstrate his reality. These restrictive images, the idols we make, leave little room for us to know God in all his glory or to experience the life and liberty he has for us.

On one of the many occasions when my life had fallen apart, I realised that the image I had of God, formed by restrictive church teachings, was far too small for the enormity of what I was going through. At my lowest point I decided to go back to the Gospels and learn for myself who Jesus is and what he really taught. It was a revelation like no other. Through him I experienced the reality of his love, grace and mercy and came to know his Father as my own. The words of an old hymn came to mind:Jesus

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how he could love me 
A sinner condemned, unclean
How marvellous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvellous! How wonderful!
Is my Saviour’s love for me.

 

 

IN HIS STEPS

AS I HAVE continued to mull over what authentic Christian living means, my thoughts turned to the words of the apostle Peter:

  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21, New International Version).

Those words reminded me of the Christian classic, In His Steps, written by Charles Sheldon in the late nineteenth century. In it he relates the story of Reverend Henry Maxwell who challenges his upper middle class congregants to live as Jesus would live, asking themselves before they did anything, “What would Jesus do?”

Over the following twelve months the impact upon those who accepted the call, upon the church and community was outstandingly revolutionary. The impact of such a challenge illustrated vividly what authentic Christian living really means. There would be a similar response today if all church people accepted such a call.

Several issues struck me about this story. Individuals were encouraged to respond to this call for themselves in their unique situations without basing their decisions on what others thought and without judging others for how they may or may not have responded.   Christians were challenged to consider Jesus in every aspect of their lives: their work ethic, relationships, finances, community and church involvement. The issue delved deep into the core of one’s faith, just as it would for us today.

It is no secret that I struggle with today’s institutionalised church. So much of what I have experienced has been detrimental to my mental, emotional and spiritual well being—it is impossible to share the full extent of what all but destroyed me, so disturbing was its enormity. And yet, despite all I have been through, my faith in God has remained strong. I value significant interaction with fellow believers; I crave meaningful Christian conversation, and I thrive on solid godly teaching.

Since picking up In His Steps, and as I seek to live each day for him, I have begun to ask myself the question—“What would Jesus do?”  This is just the beginning of a fresh phase in my life; one I trust will become life enriching for myself and for those around me.

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.footprints

Burned out on religion?

MANY YEARS AGO I came across a print of Jesus, a painting by Twentieth Century artist, Richard Hook. What captured my attention was how the eyes of Jesus followed me around the room, gazing upon me regardless of where I sat. I saw in that image the love of God, the gentleness of Jesus and his invitation for us to “Come, follow me.”

Somebody once told me my faith in God is too simplistic, that there is more to him than simply accepting Jesus as Saviour and seeking to live for him. In a sense that is very true, but in another way it is not.

I am deeply concerned at how the Church makes it so difficult for the average person to understand anything about God. While some churches preach the simple gospel message, others add a mish-mash of rules and regulations that people must obey in order to become members of a particular congregation. That is not God.

As much as I try, I cannot escape the simple – yet profound – message of our Saviour. Once we grasp his invitation and begin to learn about him and the life he led here on earth, a whole new world opens up – we begin to experience a profound peace and freedom and can enjoy life to the full, as God intends:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life” (Matthew 11:28, The Message).

 

Jesus

 

 

 

To be like Jesus

One of the attributes that attracted me to Jesus was his love of people on the edge of society, those who others regarded as untouchable and unlovable. He willingly reached out and touched the leper, the woman who had been haemorrhaging for years and who was considered unclean by Jewish law, the lame, the blind and those possessed by evil spirits. He embraced everyone in their uniqueness, regardless of their situation, with compassion, kindness and care.

Many years ago when my life disintegrated into utter chaos, I believed myself to be something akin to a leper. So great was the devastation of my soul that I regarded myself as nothing but excreta fit only to be flushed down life’s sewers.

At the time the church I attended was opening its grand new premises on the outskirts of Brisbane. Such was my despair that I pictured myself as a leper dressed in filthy rags squatting outside the gates of that magnificent complex crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!”

Nobody in that place knew what I was going through.  I have come a long way since then.  However, I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a leper.

It is time for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus—whether we go to church or not—to reach out to those around us who feel vulnerable, alone and lonely.

We are all called to be like Jesus and to follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).

footprints