What is your God like?

Godfather of Reno Casinos or Father God?

Sometimes a phrase I read or something that someone says jumps out at me, I expect it’s just the same for you. I had one of those moments a few weeks ago. I was reading something posted on the web by an internationally-known Bible teacher and could not believe my eyes.

As with a lot of my recent thinking I asked the question, “what does that say about the character of God?”

What did I read that caused me to be so shocked? It was the following: Every throw of the dice in Reno1 is governed by God (Proverbs 16:33). How much more the details of his children’s life.”

In case of doubt, apart from the italic type, I have copied and pasted the phrase as it was posted. The NIV translates the verse (Proverbs 16:33) as: The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

What the writer of the proverb was referring to was a specific way of seeking the Lord’s will. The Bible records several examples of “lots being cast”. The Urim and Thummim were God’s way of providing judgement and decisions for Israel, to move the meaning of Proverbs16:33 from this to throwing dice in Reno is misuse of the text in the extreme.

Before anyone suggests otherwise, I want to assert that I believe in a God who is intensely concerned about the lives of His children, who does intervene in the world and has done so supremely in the person of Jesus Christ. And actually that is the point. Hebrews 1v2 & says “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” (NIV)

If I want to know what God is like, I go to Jesus as seen in the Gospels. In Him I have a clear picture of how God behaves towards the sick, the bereaved, cheats, prostitutes, worried parents, the hungry and so the list could go on.

So what am I to conclude from the post I mentioned? The picture is of God presiding over a gambling table watching to see who has placed which bets and deciding who wins and who loses, which lost souls are so depressed at the result of what they have done they commit suicide! He decides which marriages are wrecked because of the results of gambling addiction etc. etc. that (and much more) is the clear implication of the first part of the post.

Where is the God we see in Jesus, with love, healing and encouragement to take personal responsibility for our actions?

The good news of the Gospel is that because of Jesus, God can and will forgive those that call out to Him and every one of us needs to do that. He will also give us His Holy Spirit so that we can live life in his world his way. Without his strength we can’t do it

God is good and wants to be a loving Father if we will draw near. He is not a self-interested, self-seeking godfather of a casino.

1 (note for those outside the USA) Reno is a an American city in Nevada famous for its Casinos 

This blog was orginally posted in May 2011 and is reposted as part of rebuilding the TMW blog archive.

Throw the bath water but please don’t lose the baby

The title of this blog is particularly relevant for me today because my youngest granddaughter is coming to stay and next week my wife and I will be helping to look after our oldest son’s children. But it’s not literal babies that I have in mind as I write.

I am concerned about the figurative baby at the centre of my faith. The “baby” that is – my understanding of who God is and what He is like.

I recently went to the funeral of a young Christian worker who had died in his mid thirties. After the service someone in the row in front, a key member of the church to which the worker had belonged, turned round and started talking to the people sitting to my left who had worked with the person who had died. The grief of the person beside me was evident.

I was stunned by what was said, the thrust of it was “It was all in ‘the plan’, it must be for the best.” I could not believe what I was hearing but said nothing until the person speaking had finished and moved on. I then turned to the person sitting on my left and said “I don’t believe that. Do you?

I don’t see from the Bible God being so arbitrary or uncaring as to take a young man’s life as though he were a pawn in a chess game, but if you look at the words of some hymns or worship songs you could be forgiven for thinking that was the case. Take for example ‘All is Well’ from Robin Mark’s album The Year of Grace, it says

 

He makes us rich and poor
That we might trust Him more
Whatever is His way all is well

All my changes come from Him He who never changes
I’m held firm in the grasp of the Rock of all the ages

All is well with my soul
He is God in control
I know not all His plans
But I know I’m in His hands

He clothes us now then strips us
Yet with His Word equips us
Whatever is His way all is well

And though our seasons change
We still exalt His name
Whatever is His way all is well

The implication is that whatever happens in my life is what God planned for me. It seems to me that this is also the underlying theme of many Christian books that suggest that I am exactly as God wanted (planned) me to be. So in this view God planned one girl to have anorexia, and another to have leukaemia and so on.

So what does the Bible have to say about such a view of God?

This was originally posted in 2011 and is part of reconstructing my blog archive

Who’s looking at you?

Spiritual beings in a spiritual world?

Have you watched “The Listener” or “The Ghost Whisperer”?

What’s your concept of the spiritual?

What’s behind the seemingly unreasonable anger that we see all around us almost every day?

The book of Job, in the Bible, begins with the curtain being pulled back and a little bit of the spiritual world being exposed. God is presiding over his council meeting and Satan walks in. The question God asks him is a simple one: “Where have you come from?” The answer comes back quickly, “From roaming through the earth and going to and fro in it”.

The implication is clear; there are spiritual beings wandering around the earth looking at what’s going on, whether we see them or not. The story of Job then continues with a description of the impact that Satan has on Job.

This is not the only point in the Bible where the impact of spiritual beings on human beings is described. In fact, the interaction between the physical and spiritual is the backdrop for “the whole story” from Genesis to Revelation. In some places it is specifically described; in other places it’s simply implied. The spiritual breaks through with angelic visits, visions, spiritual battles, witches and even a talking donkey.

How I, as a human being, respond to the spiritual world around me is the biggest challenge I will face in my life. Does that surprise you? You might argue that you neither see nor hear the spiritual world, but it is nonetheless real and has an impact for good or bad on your life and mine.

God intended men and women to rule over the world in which they had been placed. They were not intended to be ruled by it or the circumstances in which they found themselves. They were not intended to “live in fear” but in hope and love. But fear is the result of a world out of sync with the way in which it was intended to function and one in which people are dislocated from their creator.

Human beings are spiritual beings as well as physical ones, and the problem is that I’m often in danger of living as though I am only a physical being. The result of that is that the spiritual world is then free to have a negative impact on me and I then have a negative impact on people around me. Fear, lies, manipulation, selfishness and anger are all fruit of the impact of a spiritual world determined to destroy the world God intended.

Some people may want to reject this idea but we can’t be neutral. The spiritual world will either have an impact on us or we can have an impact on it. We are either controlled (whether we realise it or not) by the powers around us for evil or we stand with Christ praying, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

Stephen Maxted http://www.the-message-works.org.uk

(originally posted in March 2011)

Dog lovers may not understand!

Imagine sitting with two friends by the side of the river. It’s Saturday lunchtime and you are enjoying the sunshine. Suddenly one of your friends says “it’s taken my sandwich”.

The friend had been laying on his side on the blanket, holding the sandwich in his right hand and because you had all been talking, his hand had been loosely by his side. Looking across to your friend you see a small Jack Russell terrier behind him. The dog had stolen your friend’s sandwich. This four-legged thief was not on the lead and his owner was nowhere to be seen. When the owner did appear a few seconds later he did give a rather half-hearted apology.

The picnic continues only to be interrupted a minute or two later by another hound bounding up; again not on a lead and the owner some distance away. This time the apology seems to be a little more sincere but nonetheless the animal concerned was clearly not under control and very enthusiastic in its attempts to share your picnic. The most natural thing in the world is to suggest to the owner that perhaps it would be better if in a public place if his canine friend was on a lead.

Now imagine a similar scenario happening another four times in the next 20 minutes. Each time your frustration grows and your remonstration with the owner of the offending beast becomes a little more forthright. Chasing away uninvited visitors becomes a must, at least in your mind. It is something that means you stand up, and as the owner appears you vigorously suggest that they should pay more attention to how they control their dog and actually they have a responsibility to ensure that it is not a nuisance.

There’s been a clear progression in your approach to the owners. What started out as a gentle word has been fuelled by the increasing frustration of the repeated visits and the nuisance perpetuated by the uninvited, four legged gatecrashers of your picnic.

By the time you talk to owner number six your words are more than forthright and energetic. You’re feeling the pressure of the repeated interruptions, the nuisance of theft of food, challenges to the hygiene of the whole exercise of your picnic and the loss of your ability to enjoy the peaceful riverside in the way that you expected.

The problem of course is that owner number six has not met you before, not had any interaction with you until this encounter, and while not entirely innocent, is certainly not deserving of being in receipt of your accumulated frustration.

To put it simply you’ve been trapped, one incident after the other has added to the chains of frustration and anger. By the time dog and owner number six come along, you’re out of room to manoeuvre, thoughts and words are now clearly funnelled. The poor owner of this example of “man’s best friend” becomes the victim of your accumulated emotional pressure.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking and praying about what God wants, through His Spirit, to do with the words we speak. I’ve been reading and meditating on Genesis chapter 1 and the first chapter of John’s Gospel. In both passages God is speaking. In Genesis chapter 1 He speaks to bring the world into being, to provide a place is beautiful, good and where life can be enjoyed. In John’s Gospel He speaks from his very heart and Jesus, God’s ultimate word, comes to bring life.

I want to suggest, that as followers of Jesus, God wants our words to have an impact for good on the environment and the people we meet. He want our words to reveal His character to bring healing. I believe God is challenging us to let our words, with his help, produce:

  • Light not darkness
  • Truth not lies
  • Revelation not deception
  • Life not death
  • Freedom not bondage
  • Hope not depression

How did I manage to get so trapped that Saturday lunchtime?

This blog was first posted in March 2011