4 Ways To Think about God

In a thought-provoking article on how to speak to people in today’s culture, Daniel Strange notes that there are 4 ways people respond to God. Randomly pick someone out of a crowd, ask them their view of God, and when you parse out the answer, it will boil down to one of these four approaches:

1. Displacement: Not content with the God who is, many people make another God. They displace the One who sits on the throne, and they put another god of their choosing in that place. And the gods available for choosing are about as numerous as the people choosing them. There’s the obvious ones: Money, Sex, and Power. And there’s the churchy versions of false gods: Legalism, Spiritual Arrogance, Pious Language with a life that doesn’t match it. All of us were made with a thirst for transcendence – with a need for more. And many seek to slake that thirst with any liquid, rather than the One who is Living Water.

2. Distortion: Another way to (mis)understand God is to distort Him. Don’t like that God calls us into a relationship of holy, faithful living? Envision God as a kindly Old Fella who loves us, but doesn’t hold us accountable. Don’t like a God who takes on flesh and is so much a part of us? Picture God as withdrawn, available only when we need Him. Or, maybe you prefer a God who hates the same people you hate? Then you’ll look to a God who plays favorites. Just as we can displace God with many knock-off versions, so we can also distort God to fit our idea of what God should be. But be careful: the God you distort will probably end up looking a lot like you.

3. Denial: This is the version of the un-God that is so popular these days. Denying God is simple, straightforward, and carries with it a sense of chic. Believe in God? Me? Haven’t we moved past our need for a great eye in the sky? Some folks who choose to disbelieve have done their homework: they’ve read the Bible, they’ve attended worship, they’ve wrestled with the issues. But I suspect that such a description fits a minority of atheists. The majority, I would think, disbelieve in God because so many people practice displacement and distortion. In other words, the God many folks choose to reject is the God who is less than the One revealed to us in scripture. As Daniel Strange notes: “These days when people tell me they don’t believe in God, I often say, I bet I don’t believe in that god you don’t believe in either.” Regardless of the reason people decide not to believe in God, those of us who choose the fourth option have a responsibility to make sure they get a chance to see what real love from the real God looks like. Which leads to the fourth way to approach God…

4. Devotion: At its heart, this is a full trust in the God who has made Himself known in Jesus. This is a belief that God has made us, and invites us to be His children. God is a relationship God, which is shown in the fact that God doesn’t simply love, He is love. And God shows this clearly at a time like now, when, at Christmas, we celebrate the unthinkable – that God became one of us.

In a world that displaces, distorts, or denies God, what people need most is to see those devoted to God live that out – every day, in every way. So, of these four ways to respond to God, which one describes you?

What It Means to Get Worship “Right”

In Jeremiah 2.12-13 (NRSV), God addresses the reality that His people have turned away from Him:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
    they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
    and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water.

The Lord says that His people have committed 2 sins: 1) they have turned away from Living Water, 2) choosing, instead, to dig their own well. In other words: they have chosen to worship other gods – and worshiping these pagan deities has led them to forget their call to love each other. This then leads them to, as described in Jeremiah 7.5-6: act unjustly; oppress the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow; and shed innocent blood.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s more. In verses 8-9, God then accuses them of trusting in deceptive words; of stealing, murder, adultery, and swearing falsely. Even so, they still go the Temple of God and do the acts of worship, while not living a life of worship.

So, why does God get so worked up when we worship false gods? Whether they go by the name of Baal, or Success, or Wealth, or Comfort, or Fulfilment, God cares WHO we worship because God cares HOW we live. In other words, worship and life are inseparable. If you worship God rightly, it leads you to LIVE rightly. Wander from worship, and your life wanders.

So, God is not a petty, petulant 2-year-old, demanding we do things His way. God is a jealous God because He is zealous for us to get worship right – which leads us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6.6-8).

Of course, this kind of “right” worship is about more than Sunday. It involves Sunday, yes, but it’s more. It’s about submission, surrender, trust. It’s about coming before God on Sunday, yes; but it’s also about walking before God each day.

So, are you truly worshiping the One True God? One simple way to tell: How are you living each day?

What Elections Can’t Change

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that next Tuesday is Election Day. You’d have to be living off the grid, out in the wilderness somewhere, not to know that. Even then, if you were in a swing state, some political operative would probably still find you.

For many of us, it’s been a long election season. I would guess that most of us are ready for it to be over with – even if we’re not sure we’re ready for what comes next. This was especially true for Mary Anne Noland, who passed away in May. Her death may have been expected, but her obituary was not. It began:

Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016….

I expect that Ms. Noland’s family was trying to be funny; but they clearly were also trying to make a serious point. This is especially true, I think, for those of us who wear the name of Jesus. When I look at the presidential race, hoping to see plans that would reflect God’s heart for justice and compassion; integrity and principled leadership; real freedom and a respect for ALL life – I don’t see it.

So, for me, Election Day will not solve many of our biggest problems. While this should concern us, it can also serve as a reminder of what is bigger than politics. That as important as a presidential election is, there is much that it does not determine or change.

Here’s the deal: I will wake up on November 9 hopeful, no matter who wins. And I will do so, because:

  1. God is still God. He has been so from before Time began, and He will be so for all Eternity.
  2. Jesus still saves. He’s been doing so for nearly 2000 years.
  3. The Church gets to be the Church. Though we are flawed and cracked vessels, the Spirit of God will continue to use us to show the Grace & Truth of God. No law or limits stop that.
  4. Love is still love. No matter how ostracized or overlooked we might feel, love will always be the language we speak – and the language that others understand. Love will simply never go out of style – and, we’re told, it is the greatest of what remains.

So, as followers of Jesus, let’s not worry or rage, point fingers or withdraw in fear. Instead, let’s continue to follow the Lord of love, as we live in love – remembering that, when it’s darkest out, the light shines brightest.

SheepCam 360

Say you live on an island nobody’s ever heard of. Say you share the island with people, but not very many – around 50,000. But say there are 70,000 other neighbors you have – neighbors of the woolly, short-tailed variety. Sheep. And let’s say that these four-legged fellow-islanders have no natural predators, so they roam freely. How would you like to live there?

Well, you don’t have to imagine. It’s a real place, called The Faroe Islands – located just north of Great Britain, between Iceland and Norway. And you don’t have to hop a plane or a boat to get a glimpse of Faroe. Durita, who works with Faroese tourism, has come up with the idea of … get this: SheepCam 360. SheepCam is where you put a camera on a sheep, and watch where it goes.

As Durita points out, the word Faroe literally means “sheep” – and the Faroe Islands are one of the few places on earth where sheep can roam freely. Here’s Durita explaining the idea of SheepCam:

Here’s the first attempt at Sheepcam:

And here’s the latest episode:

So, why do I care about some sheep, a camera, and a faraway island? Well, because in a manner, we’re all sheep. We all tend to roam. We all need a Shepherd.

Some of the most-loved passages in the Bible remind us that we are sheep in need of a shepherd. Famously, Psalm 23 tells us this. As does Luke 15.1-7, where the shepherd leaves the 99 to go in search of the one lost sheep. There’s Psalm 100.3 (“We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture”); the majestic promise of Isaiah 53.6 (“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”); and the wonderful description in Ezekiel 34 of God Himself searching for His sheep. It’s truly an amazing passage. Trust me. Go read it. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Didn’t I tell you Ezekiel 34 was good? Of course, there are also some powerful passages in the New Testament that describe our “sheep-ness.” There’s Matthew 9.36 (“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”), and John 10. Like Ezekiel, you should probably pause and go read that passage, too.

In other words, of all the animals on God’s green earth, you and are most like … sheep. You don’t need to go to Faroe Islands to find them, just look in the mirror. You don’t need a SheepCam to watch them roam, just chart your day, and you’ll likely find out why the Bible tells us we are sheep. Sheep who roam, sheep you wander – sheep who desperately need a Shepherd.