He, She, It, What Is God Anyway?

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We are about halfway between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. (An interesting bit of trivia about Mother’s or Father’s Day.) The Illinois Bell Telephone Co. reports that the volume of long-distance calls made on Father’s day is growing faster than the number on Mother’s Day. The company apologized for the delay in compiling the statistics, but explained that the extra billing of calls to fathers slowed things down. Most of them were collect.

A child is not likely to find a father in God unless that child finds something of God in his/her father. Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?

In seminary a student is required to take Clinical Pastoral Education. I had to do 700 hours at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. Three hospitals cooperated in this C.P.E. program. About 80% of the students in my group were from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In the orientation, the speaker started his prayer with the words, “Heavenly Mother….” There was shock across the room.

What is God anyway? To understand things that are beyond our understanding we put them in human terms. The whole reason that we have the Trinity (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) is to understand God. So it is not unexpected that the Bible uses human terms to explain God. The Hebrew and Greek languages like most languages are very gender oriented. Almost every word has a gender assigned to it and most are male.

In the scheme of creation, the establishment of a gender and the giving of sex was for the purpose of procreation. However, when we turn to Heaven, procreation appears to have no place. Jesus said, At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Paul writes to the Church at Galatia, There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In the Bible the Father is an exalted position. The social structure described in the Old Testament is known as a “patriarchal” society. The word patriarchy means “the rule of the father.” The father commanded a high position in the family of Old Testament times; his word was law. The fifth commandment carries this idea of the importance one step further when it states, “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12). The word honor refers to one’s response to God. In other words, this commandment suggests that the parents should receive a recognition similar to that given to God.

Along with the honor of the position as head of the family, the father was expected to assume certain responsibilities: spiritual, social, and economic. The New Testament brings the fact of the Fatherhood of God into greater prominence and distinctness then in the Old Testament. In the NT God is more than just the creator and judge, he is our Father. The term thus used refers to the natural relationship between God and His creatures. Christ taught His disciples to address God in prayer as “our Father,” He did not use that form Himself. He spoke of God as “My Father” and “your Father,” but at the same time He made plain that He distinguished between the relation in which they stood to God and that in which He Himself stood. The first words of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” are first of all a recognition of this deep truth of Holy Scriptures.

To be brought into God’s family, the believer must be “born from above” or “born again” (John 3:3,5). Because a person has God as his Father, he must realize that other believers are his “fathers,” “mothers,” “brothers,” and “sisters” (1 Tim 5:1-2). The body of believers known as the church are also referred to as the “household of God” (Eph 2:19) and the “household of faith” (Gal 6:10). Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44).

Therefore, we call God “Father” not because God is of the male sex, but because of a relationship. God transcends all gender classifications. Whether we use terms such as “Father, Son or Holy Spirit,” God is more about a relationship with us, than can be defined in human terms.

The Decline Of The Church

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There was a very enlightening article in USA Today (May 13, 2015) about the number of Christians diminishing in America. We call ourselves a Christian nation, but the number of people who identify themselves as Christians is on the decline. The Pew Research Center found that while 70% of Americans still identify themselves as Christians, it marks an 8 point decline in the last decade.

Much to Christianity’s disappointment, the number of individuals that identify themselves as atheists or agnostics has doubled in that period. What appears to be on the rise all across the country is a steep rise in “indifference.” The Pew Research found that only Black Congregations have escaped this steep decline. Even Southern Baptists (known for rapid growth) marked a significant decline in membership and attendance.

The greatest shift for the Church has been the generation known as the “Nones.” The Nones are those who are under the age of 35. This generation doesn’t appear to be interested in any faith. It is not that they are just not interested, they don’t want to be associated with the Church. If Pew Research is correct, there are more than four former Christians for every convert to Christianity. In other words, more are leaving the faith than are coming into the faith.

The “Nones” are to be a powerful force in American politics and faith. Their influence spans all racial and ethnic groups and will be a major influence in the market place. They will be the first group in American history where it is more comfortable to not be identified with a Church. All of these things makes it more challenging for the Church to reach this generation, but it also makes it more imperative.

God’s Time Not Our Time

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Our days flow by without much change or newness. We live our lives with one thing after another, and what does it all mean? By grace, God in Christ enters our time and makes the times of our lives into God’s good time. Ecclesiastes is one of the Bible’s strangest books. It is one of the few places in the Bible where ideas of Greek philosophy seem to seep in. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” begins Ecclesiastes (3:1). Life on earth consists of predictable, sequential seasons. There is a time for this and a time for that. The time of our lives works through a cycle. As you know, the Hebrews had a more linear view of time. Time begins with the creation of the world and one day God shall bring things to a conclusion.

Ecclesiastes is often appreciated as beautiful poetry, but when we read it critically, it can sound like rather meaningless and bleak poetry. What does it all amount to? It is not only a rather dismal view of life but also a view of time that is at odds with much of the rest of the scripture. Therefore this is a rather depressing reading. Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes decides that there is nothing better than for us to try to be happy, eating and drinking and trying to take some pleasure in our work.

The book of Revelation (21:1-6) contains a much more typically Jewish view of time. Time will be brought to a grand consummation by the creator of the world. The one who created the heavens and the earth will create a new heaven and earth. The vast, dark, and chaotic sea will be “no more” (21:1). The grand holy city, the new Jerusalem, shall come down out of heaven. There will be no more crying and weeping. The great distance between God and humanity will be overcome and God will dwell with humanity (21:3-4).

As time-bound, time-dominated finite creatures, the theologian Karl Barth said that humanity “has no beyond” (Church Dogmatics, III, 2, p. 632). We are dust, even now, we are rapidly returning to dust. All we have is the moment and we have no beyond. Humanity is momentary. Only God has a beyond. And that means that only God can do something about our human problem with time. When the Word was made flesh in the Incarnation, eternity took time and defeated time’s futility.

We are not redeemed away from time but as Paul says in Galatians, God moves into time, adopts our time, redeems us from time’s ravages, and generates “the fullness of time.” That’s the main reason why the church attempts to help us take time in the name of Jesus by demanding that we follow the church year. From Jews, Christians got the notion that time begins and ends in God’s own good time.

I keep learning about God’s timing (it is His, not mine). I did a funeral once for a man that couldn’t afford a funeral. They had called and asked if I would do the funeral. I have buried many a poor person, so that was never an issue. What ran through my mind was the fact they never attended Hillside, but attended three other churches in Wichita. It is way too small of a community not to know these things. Why Hillside and not one of the other three? I don’t understand God’s timing or reasoning, but I remain faithful.

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard was among the first to note that the Jewish and Christian views of time are very different from the pagan. In Christianity the believer seeks not to rise above time or to escape time, but rather to hear the command of God in time, like Abraham heard God calling him on a starry night. Thus the Gospels depict Jesus as an intrusion into time. Time flows along normally until Jesus sets foot on the scene.

The Greeks marveled that time was full of pattern, recurrence, and the eternal return. The first historian, Thucydides, said that the task of the historian was to cut through the flux of time and place and the confusing, odd particularities of human events and find universally recurring patterns. Armed with knowledge of these patterns, the historian could rise above the seemingly senselessness of contemporary events and, because one had uncovered the eternally recurring patterns of history, one could get a grip on history, one could change the course of history. Jews and Christians believe that history tends to plod along in its accustomed ruts – until God shows up. And that intervention of God changes everything.

God doesn’t play very much of a role in the book of Ecclesiastes. Here God is mentioned as the one who gives us our days, and it is said here that God has been busy from the beginning of time, but we can’t figure out just what God does among us. God is the one who has “put past and future” into our minds. God has created us as people who know the passage of time, and yet God has also created us as people with limits: “They cannot know what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

Maybe we need to trust God to order each of our days!

Parenting: God’s Plan

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A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all. A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple man keeps going and suffer for it. Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life. In the path of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them. Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Danny protested vehemently when his mother told him to take his younger sister with him when he was going fishing, but mother insisted so Danny obeyed. They returned only a few minutes later, and Danny’s mother said, “That certainly didn’t take very long. I hope your sister didn’t make too much noise.” Danny replied, “Oh, it wasn’t the noise. There just wasn’t much use staying after she ate all the bait!”

King David writes (Psalm 127:3) “…children a reward from him.” There is always great excitement about having a baby and yet no matter how much preparation we have had, we are ill prepared. A person was having difficulty with their children and came asking for help. They said, “I am an introverted codependent dysfunctional mother, what should I do?” The first thing is to quit reading all those books. A lot of parenting is by the seat of the pants! It is common sense. Jesus said, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Parenting is a learning process, that we learn as we parent.

The Sheriff’s Office in a Texas city once distributed a list of rules entitled “How to Raise a Juvenile Delinquent in Your Own Family.” Begin with infancy to give the child everything he wants. This will ensure his believing that the world owes him a living. Pick up everything he leaves lying around. This will teach him he can always throw off responsibility on others. Take his part against neighbors, teachers, policemen. They are all prejudiced against your child. He is a “free spirit” and never wrong. Finally, prepare yourself for a life of grief.

The greatest need for children today, is that they need their parents. We want to be their best friend. They don’t need another best friend. They need a mom and a dad. Parents feel that they have to have the approval of their child. Parents tolerate things their children do so that they get their child’s approval. Discipline is a serious problem because we don’t like having our child upset with us. My kids have many times said, “It’s a power thing.” Or, “everyone is doing it.” I don’t try to be their best friend or win their approval. My role, and what is in their best interest, is to be their Dad.

There are three Biblical teachings about parenthood. As one would suppose, love is the key factor. It is important for that love to be verbalized; they need to hear it. But even more importantly, that love must be present in time, discipline and training.

Time: Time is the single most important gift that you can give to your child. Remember how important it was to spend time with your spouse in order to marry them? You wouldn’t dream of marring someone you didn’t know. Neither should you parent a child that you don’t know. You have to know something about that child’s uniqueness, what makes she or he, who they are. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….” God entered our world! You have to get into that child’s world. It is a busy world with lots of activities. Some families have a Family Night. We have our evening meal together.

Discipline: (Hebrews 12:5-6) “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” There is a difference between discipline and punishment. You can punish anyone that is smaller than you. You can only discipline those that you “know.” In rearing Brooks and Jonathan, Vickie and I used a wide range of options of which spanking was one. We would talk to them, have time outs, take away privileges, reward, etc. But there are some things that children decide is worth the punishment. The last recourse of spanking. Prov 13:24 “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Children must learn boundaries. The art of holding on and letting go. Discipline has less to do with fairness than it does with trust. The issue is not fairness but trust! You cannot be fair to a child. Ever watch a child share a cookie? They divide even the crumbs. Sure you listen to them and hear their side of the story. But you must discipline based on what is in the best interest of the child.

Training: Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Brooks had a flat tire as a teen, and I went to where she was located. But I made her change the tire. Why? She needed to learn. As parents, part of our job is to help this child find his/her identity. I am not talking about preparing for a job. I am talking about morals, character and personality. My children can grow up to be brilliant scientist but if I haven’t instilled a strong sense of value and a love for Christ, I have failed. I want them to grow up being a human being not a human doing. Training comes in role playing. They learn by watching you. They have to see our limits and our short comings. They learn when they find we make mistakes and admit our mistakes. Training is only effective when it is accompanied with time and discipline.

You never know when you’re making a memory. When little Jimmy returned home from summer camp, his parents asked him if he had been homesick. He replied, “Not me, but some of the kids were who had dogs.” It is all about relationships Mom and Dad!

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I455 (2)We are all saddened by the death of Sally Black who died late Monday, May 4, 2015.  Sally’s service is pending and may not be held until after the wedding of her only granddaughter at the end of this month.