What’s God’s Will? [Theological Thursday]

You know, we throw the phrase, “If it’s God’s will,” around a whole bunch. My favorite is when teenagers use it as an excuse to start dating or break up. “You see, I was praying, and I feel like it’s God’s will that we break up and I start dating Lucy.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the sentence in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Referencing Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy he proposes a definition that the kingdom is God’s effective will on earth. Rather than a “later” kingdom, the kingdom is “at hand,” as Jesus would say, and is currently here, breaking through into our daily reality. In other words, “Your kingdom come” is an act of surrendering ourselves to God’s will in order to effectively work toward spreading the kingship of Jesus. (Yes, Jesus is already King, but we also realize that there are those human beings who refuse to recognize that fact and act according to their own wills and desires.”

To ask God’s will is to, in some ways, ask “What do you want, God?” So what does God want? How do we know? He’s given us a large letter with several specifics on what he wants.

“And God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth.'” Genesis 1.28 (JPS)

From the very beginning God has tasked his people with responsibility for the world. We are to be His agents caring for and working the land. We are to master and responsibly tend to the life around us in animals, plants, and nature. God said that all of this is good. If God said it is good, then God must have a plan for the physical world around us. And if we believe this, we will take care of the world God has tasked us with ruling.

“‘He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God.'” Micah 6.8 (JPS)

The Prophets (known more for their repeated calls for repentance than predictions) acted as God’s messengers to remind God’s people of their covenant and of God’s love, mercy, and appeals. If we look at the Bible as a whole, the message of “Come back to Me” seems to be the main theme. But as important are God’s repeated appeals for His people to be examples of justice and goodness, mercy, and love. Consider that Christians are called to be people who follow everything that Jesus taught – and he apparently thought it doable, since it was the last thing he told his disciples. God’s desire here is that we fight against oppression and slavery, that we share and give of our excess in order to bless those around us. God’s desire is for our hearts to be open and welcoming of the stranger and willing to share with those who ask. We are, in essence, to love our neighbor as ourselves and be willing to do (actively) to them what we would want them to do to us.

We’ll cover two more parts of what God desires next week. Keep in mind though, that these broad desires for His people can easily be applied to many different situations. Responsibility and Christ-like kindness are something God truly desires from His people.

 

“Oh yeah? Bless you too!”

In the beginning God created… and he spoke… and it was. And he said it was good. (Or in the case of one of our adorable little ones at church, “It was dood.”)

We all have a sense of the power of words, but sometimes I think our modern minds have tried to over rationalize things. “Sticks and stones” and similar sayings play down the effect words can have. The individualization of America has taught us that we shouldn’t care what other people think… but we still do. (Which is why people say that phrase to begin with, to create a persona of aloof courage, all the while painfully nursing the wound. Much like me getting hurt doing something I wasn’t supposed to when I was younger: “I’m ok. It doesn’t hurt at all. Oh, sure, my leg always looked like that.”)

Ancient magicians in Egypt and Greece had a healthy respect for words. They believed words themselves held power, creative power given to humanity by the gods. We often associate words with magic with spells, incantations, hexes, curses, etc. All of these are words – words that are believed to have the ability to actually impact the physical world. And, albeit in a strange way, they latched onto a truth about the world.

Words do have power. They have the power to heal, hurt, encourage, depress, inspire, or manipulate. Tones have the ability to change the meaning of entire phrases, and can undermine even the kindest of words.

James, the brother of Jesus, took some time out of his day to write a book of wisdom, of practical religion. You know what he spends nearly a whole chapter on? Words. James 3 is a whole treatise on the use of our words. Paul talks about it. Proverbs has many verses on words and how to use them. Our own experience shows us that words can have powerful effects on the people around us. And in all of human experiences there are two opposite ends of the spectrum.

Negative first, since I like ending on a positive note. The curse has been for most of human history feared and taken as the utmost offense. And back in the olden days, they really knew how to curse. Nowadays most cursing involves a simple 4-letter Saxon word and a pronoun (you.) Curses could be long, calling down poor crops, poverty, sickness, pain, and many other undesirable effects. And here is where James says is the problem with Jesus disciples using this. How, he says, are you seriously going to let such an awful thing come out of your mouth? Your mouth is supposed to be a life-giving spring connected to the life-giver Himself, and you’d allow such hateful sewage be sprayed onto another human being, who is also created in the image of God?

On the positive side, think about that image of a spring of water. A spring refreshes, heals, cleanses, and cools. That’s the goal of the blessing. The blessing is a prayer for goodness, health, wealth, gifts, and many good things directed at another human being. There are some wonderful blessings in the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible. We even see God blessing humanity with fertility, authority, and responsibility. Paul includes a blessing or two in each of his letters to the churches.

If you’ve never considered what the blessing could do, I’m recommending a book. This book is titled The “B” Word. Catchy title, huh? It’s written by Robert Strand, a pastor and writer. In it, he uses Scripture to highlight the benefits and the ins and outs of blessing someone, especially children. See, he has a tradition in his family of blessing every grandchild when they reach the age of 13. The entire family gathers together and each member prays a blessing over the child. The effects of these blessings has been a wonderful thing to watch unfold over the years as these children live into and experience the fullness of the blessings they may not have understood at the time.

So, what’s the point? Well, consider changing your language. Instead of, “[insert word of choice here] you!” Maybe try praying blessings over others. “But, that’s ridiculous,” you say, “that sounds like weakness and extremism!” Maybe, but the man I follow, Jesus, did that very thing while soldiers were beating him and while the crowds jeered and mocked him. Saying a blessing over someone who cuts you off in traffic instead of cursing them seems like a small step in the light of Jesus’ example.

How does your language reflect your walk with Jesus? Do your kids hear blessings from you, or only criticism and curses? Do your children hear you bless others or curse them? What’s one situation this week where you can intentionally make an effort to control your words and use them in Jesus’ name.

Pity the Fool

So I have been reading again…

The book in question is titled The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. And before your pull out your tinfoil hats, it’s not that kind of conspiracy. In fact, the book is more about the Sermon on the Mount than anything. Now before you replace your hat with a neck pillow, Jesus’ talks are often much more interesting than what passes for a sermon in your mind.

Willard also talks about prayer -especially the Lord’s Prayer. And one particular phrase has jumped out at me the past week. The phrase, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Willard makes the case that a more modern translation might say something along the lines of, “Have pity on me, as I have pity on others.”

At first, much like your reaction now, my thought was, “Pity? What need have I of pity?” (And yes, read that in your best English accent.) We certainly like the idea of mercy better. the word mercy, as Willard continues, often has a connotation in modern times of, “I just need a break. I’m no so bad.” However, in ye olden days, mercy was a plea of someone in the direst of straights, nearly at death, begging and sobbing for just a few more moments to bargain. So, nowadays, pity seems to be a better word.

But doesn’t it just grate against your mind? It did mine. It bothered me for a week… that is, until I put some thought into it and realized, “Oh, I am being a rather stubborn, prideful, pitiable creature right now, aren’t I?” And that’s when it hit me. It’s hard to forgive others when we don’t really feel like we need all that much forgiveness. When we’re of the mindset of, “Oh, God, just cut me a break here, I’m not all that bad,” everyone else’s failures and impositions on us suddenly look like egregious mortal sins of the highest caliber… even if they just happened to forget their blinker on I-75.

But things change when I put myself in a mindset of being pitiable. When I am receiving pity and forgiveness from God, I understand the magnitude of my own failures and mistakes. I realize the things I’m not forgiving myself for are because of my pride wanting to erase my own mistake without admitting it to anyone.

The story of the unmerciful servant springs to mind. (Matthew 18:23-35) For some reason, the first servant, despite his massive debt, felt himself entitled to that forgiveness, and was unable to show that same forgiveness because he may not have realized the sheer magnitude of pity shown on him. We look at that man and say, “How undignified and cruel!” Meanwhile, we often fail to notice that same behavior in our own lives.

Living in a state of pity allows us to stand in the love of God, aware of our state, but also acutely aware of the great, mighty, unquenchable fire of a love that God sustains us with. With that knowledge in hand, we can then begin to forgive others. We can admit our mistakes to others, to our kids, knowing that we are pitiable, but loved.

I have had to admit mistakes this week in regards to how I handled some situations. In doing so, I had to remember that God loves me regardless, and that he extends pity that extinguishes pride. I had to let go, admit my mistake, and begin working with others in order to create a better environment. Before, I wanted to blame others and get angry, but I realized that if things were going to heal, I would have to let go of all of that and accept things as they were and work to set them right.

Have you ever had to admit a mistake to a child, or even your own child? How did that feel? How did it affect your relationship? How could your family begin to create an environment where mistakes are shared, forgiven, and healed?

Your Child’s Digital Footprint

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably both amazed and perturbed at the ability of companies to target you with advertisements on Facebook, Google, or Amazon. In some ways, it has proved remarkably helpful, especially when I have to search for odd items occasionally for Children’s Ministry lessons. (So, I’m gonna need haggis, build-your-own gummies, and flash paper. Target doesn’t have those? Huh?)

Anyway, the reason they’re so good at pointing me in the right direction is my digital footprint. In my travels across the far reaches of the internet I have left a digital trail, whether I meant to or not. Phone companies, internet providers, and many websites have data that tracks what I look at and when. If this sounds creepy, it is. But, it’s the world we live in and the world we’ve allowed to be build around us. The amount of effort it would take to change it is greater than we realize, too. (There’s a ton of lobbying money in meta data tracking.) But the key here is that my conscious choices have created this digital crumb trail for me.

But what about your child? Hear me out. I’m not saying that posting pictures of your child is wrong, morally or otherwise. I’m not advocating for less or more of anything, per se, except thought. Consider the idea, if you will, that your child may already have a digital presence without their knowledge. As that child ages, that data will continue to accumulate until when they emerge onto the internet scene, suddenly they realize an environment exists just for them that they had no hand in creating. Advertisements are targeted toward them in an oddly specific way that gives them an uncanny sense that they’ve been here before.

Sounds even creepier than the scenario where they’re tracking you, right? Considering what and how you post pictures and details of your children does impact them later in life. Remember, many, if not most, companies look at social media now as a way to determine whether or not a candidate gets hired. Some children (I’m not saying yours) have had Facebook profiles created for them. That account’s data is now part of the internet. It’s there, and searchable, forever. Remember when we could just completely erase something from history with a shredder or a match? Not so much anymore. Data exists in this massive cloud-web-shared-mind-thingy and erasure isn’t so easy anymore.

TL;DR

Don’t be scared of the internet. Do be aware of what and how you post. Check privacy settings and who can view your account. Be aware of using names and other specific data when posting to social media. This is stuff you’ve heard before, just put into the context of considering your child’s digital presence as well as your own.

Isn’t that God’s job?

Ok, by now you know this is opinion blog, so this’ll be the last time for a while I make one of these hedging statements. This is opinion and thoughts that have been bouncing around in my own head and may or may not be helpful.

Ok, so one question asked by people who doubt has bothered me for quite a while: “Why doesn’t God just do something about _________ if He’s so powerful?” And, really, for a long time, I had no idea how to answer that. Up until recently, I would usually turn with that person, look to God in prayer and say, “Yeah… that guy does have a point. What are you gonna do about that?” Maybe not the most respectful, but I recently heard Os Guinness – a Christian and social philosopher and activist – who pointed back to Genesis.

Genesis 1.26, 28 (JPS):

“And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on the earth.’ […] God blessed [the humans] and said to them, ‘Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth.”

I don’t know about you, but I often see this passage tossed about in sermons about marriage and its purpose, but I rarely hear anyone go any farther. That whole bit about “master the earth” and “rule the animals” seems to get swept under the rug. In other words, God created the world and then, in His love and wisdom, created humans (us) and gave us the charge to take care of the whole lot. Bit of a task…

It goes without saying (or maybe not) that God can and does directly interact with His creation even today, performing miracles of healing and provision. He also continues to charge us with the task of performing that healing and performing acts of provision for others. So often we like to take a all-or-nothing approach to what we should do. Some Christians feel like God is distant and expecting us to create heaven on earth on our own, while others feel like God is directly interacting and we need to stand back and let him work. And I agree with parts of both sides. I see that God is near and interacting and also expects us to do what we can.

When we seek first the Kingdom, the service, love, and actions that spread the message of Jesus the King, everything else will be added. The parable of the soils shows that receptive soil produces a harvest a hundred times what was sown. Consider your own efforts – if God is working in them your efforts will produce results beyond anything you could imagine.

I also have issues with people who use what they see as God’s inaction as a weapon. I see these people have incredible faith in science and the progress of human development. But, really, the issues and problems they see in the world could have been solved if humanity would have been taking its role of caretakers and rulers seriously instead of investing so much time into creating better ways to kill or injure one another. Just consider how much farther along medical science would be if we pumped as much into that as into weapon development over the past 2000 years or more.

TL;DR

We have to strike a balance between trusting God to handle and multiply our own efforts, as large or small as they may be, and striking out boldly against things like poverty, oppression, violence, hatred, and the like. God has charged us as his children, as inheritors of a mighty kingdom, to take responsibility for ourselves, and the world around us.

Questions:

How does your family handle responsibility? Do your children have chores or activities that are their responsibility? How do you handle when people fail to take care of their responsibilities?