God Isn’t Mad

When you think about what God looks like, what comes to mind? Is He sitting on a throne with a big, white beard cascading down from a stern chin? What is the expression on His face? This last question may be more important than anything else. When God looks at you, what does His expression tell you?

I’ve heard many people talk about how they’ve disappointed God. I once heard a preacher say “the best way to keep from getting disillusioned is to not be illusioned in the first place.” Now, I don’t know how emotionally healthy that is, but it got me thinking about disappointment.

The root of disappointment is unmet expectations. I become disappointed when I have an expectation that isn’t met. For example, I expected a job promotion that didn’t happen; therefore I am disappointed. Or I expected someone to do something and they didn’t do it, or I expected that they wouldn’t do something and they did. Because of that, I become disappointed.

So can God ever become disappointed with us?

Think about it for a minute. We believe God is all-knowing. He knows everything past, present, and future. He knows every detail of your life before you are born. You cannot surprise Him. No matter how bad of a choice you make, He already knew that you would be right where you are. He knew your successes and your failures.

Can you surprise God? No. He already knows.

Then can you disappoint Him? What expectation of you does He have that you won’t already fulfill? He may have ideals and principles we are called to in Scripture, but He isn’t surprised when we don’t fulfill them — He already knew we wouldn’t. It’s not that God doesn’t want better for us than our foolish choices; the question is whether or not we can disappoint Him. There will never be a time in our lives when God has an expectation of us that we won’t fulfill to the letter. That is the power of being all-knowing.

I had a young lady in my youth ministry years ago. She was new to walking with Jesus and was doing well. Then she went on a senior trip that changed her life forever. It was the classic party scene and she indulged it to its extreme. And then she had all the shame that comes with such a choice.

She didn’t return for a few weeks after that. When I saw her again, I asked where she had been and she reluctantly began to unfold for me what had transpired. There was so much shame in her voice because in her words, she had disappointed God so badly.

It was one of those moments when I felt the Holy Spirit take over. I am not smart enough for this kind of thinking. I asked her if she believed God knew everything. She said yes. And did God know she would do some good things and some bad things even before time began? She said yes.

If that is true, then He knew everything that had happened on that senior trip — in all of its shame making nuances. At the very same moment, He said, “I love you, without condition.”

Maybe today it is good for us to know God loves us — every piece, even the broken ones — more than we could ever imagine. That cannot change when we mess up. Even when we mess up really bad, we don’t disappoint God. He is 100% loving to us.

The trick for us is to love what God loves about us, as mush as He loves it. May you find your true, eternal worth.

When I Said “I Do” — I Didn’t Know What I Did

Twenty-four years of wedded bliss. This is the story of my marriage. At least, one version of it.

My wife is amazing. We both came to our marriage with wide-eyed idealism and lots of expectations about what marriage was and how it was going to play out. That isn’t all that uncommon, but the problem was while we both had our list of expectations, we didn’t really take the time to compare those lists or even accurately identify each of our expectations for ourselves. That became a major issue as we found where those expectations didn’t line up. We discovered we had way more places where our expectations weren’t just different, but WAY different, and we had very few places where we were on the same page.

I believed then and still believe today that God brought us together. The question I have asked Him a million times is, “What were You thinking?”

Opposites attract. That is a truism of life and especially in relationships. What I have discovered in my own marriage and through the years of marriage counseling I have done is that people fall in love with the parts of a person that are different than they are. If we are not careful, the very things we fell in love with can become the things we start to resent.

I thought when I said “I do,” I was in for a life of someone dropping their agenda on a dime to run to me and meet my needs with deep and abiding love, coming away with the joy and satisfaction that comes from knowing they helped me become everything I wanted. Somehow, even at 20 years old, I was stunned to learn that she had ideas and dreams and hopes and expectations, as well. Often what I wanted was not just different than her, but even in direct contradiction.

So, now what?

When I said “I do,” I meant “You do,” and therein lies a major problem.

When I said “I do,” I should have meant that I will dedicate my life to understanding who you are and how I can serve you and help you become a better version of your truest self.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7, ESV)

What was God thinking? Not that I presume to know the mind of God, but this might give me a perspective to help me stay the course: I think God always intended for the person we marry to be the opposite of us. I think perhaps the reason is because it forces us to lay our own agenda down in order to keep the relationship together.

Who would want to do that? Well, Jesus.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, didn’t consider equality with God something to be clung to. But He made Himself nothing, taking on the very form of a servant. (Philippians 2:5–7)

He was God, and laid down His own comfort to become nothing important, so I could see how much I matter.

Husbands, love your wives the way Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

Maybe her being opposite of me allows a better version of Jesus living in me. And maybe that is what marriage was designed for from the beginning. Being willing to lay my own life down for her is a particularly strong statement to her and to the world about who my God is. That is what my life is all about — telling the world who my God is.

May you live with your spouse in an understanding way. May you find the joy of a mutually sacrificial relationship. May you find a better and better version of Jesus living in you. And may you understand that true fulfillment comes from serving, not being served.

Truth vs. Truth

I have an idea that I have been kicking around in my head. I thought I might throw it out for people to help me process it better.

What if there are two kinds of truth within each person? What would that mean?

Here is my idea: I think we have head truth and heart truth. What I mean is, there are the academic truths/realities that we each accept as true and rational, but then there are these other truths that are much more powerful in our lives. They are the truths that actually dictate our beliefs. These are found in our “heart,” which is technically the limbic system of the brain.

In the book Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start by Steve Levinson, Ph.D., and Pete Greider, M.Ed., the key to being motivated enough to accomplish something is to move it out of our rational brain, or the prefrontal cortex, and into the more emotional part of the brain, which actually determines our decisions. For example, we all know that eating right and working out is a good idea rationally, but we struggle to find the motivation to follow through. So we must find a good reason to move the decision into the limbic system in order to find a driving motivation to accomplish the task. A heart attack, or diabetes, or someone we love dying suddenly moves this from a good idea to a determined must.

I think this idea has some really powerful implications for us spiritually. How many of us (or the people we know) can mentally ascend to the truth that God sees us as worthy and valuable, but we live and make decisions as if we are not? This kind of dichotomy in a person causes all kinds of issues, and if we’re not careful it can stunt our spiritual development in profound and painful ways.

Whatever the Christian journey is, it must encompass a way to deal with both head truth and heart truth so we can become the spiritually mature person God calls us to become.

Romans 12:2 says we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind. How do we do that?

Ephesians 5: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So, within the marriage context we see that we have the truth of the word being learned, but applied in the loving, selfless, uplifting context of community. And I don’t think this truth is relegated just to marriage.

Maybe the way we become capable of applying the truth of what we learn from Scripture is in the context of community. Maybe the merger of the two sources of truth (head and heart) isn’t in my ability to will it, but in my desire and determination to engage relationships with other likeminded people. Perhaps developing an understanding of God is critical to my success as a Christian, but added to that, it is also critical to engage deeply in relationships that help me bridge the gap between my head and my heart.

Maybe Jesus knew what He was saying: “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might. And the second is like it — love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If that is true, then the only way to live in one truth (a complete merger of head and heart) is to engage Christian community with my whole self. Spiritual maturity comes with the integration of the two sources of truth in my own life. And no matter what I learn, I can only truly apply and walk out that truth if I am fully engaged in community.

Maybe “love God and love people” really is that important.

May you be fully engaged in learning more and more about God. And may you find the integration of those new truths rooted in living in the context of God’s people.

The Future Is Bright

There is an increasing awareness in leadership circles about the power of understanding the strengths of people in relation to job performance. Plenty of conversation already exists about that, but I want to throw out an idea that bears more conversation in the Church world.

I believe that whatever the next evolution of the Church looks like, it will be driven by unleashing the potential of people in new and profound ways — rooted in their strengths, or what I would call God-given design. When you develop people and create spaces for their design to match up with their passions, it is course altering for them and for the Kingdom of God.

For example, when you take a person who is designed for creating and developing project infrastructure; and they are passionate about abuse or poverty or child sex trafficking or any of the myriad other causes in this world that merit more of the Church’s attention; and you empower and release them to make a difference — you will find a ministry with powerful results. And yet, it may or may not be able to sustain long-term success. This person can perhaps get things off the ground, but they need people around them to help maximize the functionality of the system itself to more effectively accomplish the heart of what is being done in the first place.

So I want to give a few talking points for the Church to consider moving forward that I believe will be critical if the Church is going to continue to be relevant in our society. I believe these talking points are starting places for the right conversations, not finish lines. But let me be clear, churches that choose to stick their head in the sand and keep doing the same things they are doing today will become increasingly meaningless in our culture at large.

  • Religious tradition will always pull us toward limiting the potential of people, not releasing it. Religion is absolutely necessary. It gives expression to our faith. However, we must be keenly aware of tradition’s tendency to pull us into a dichotomy. Traditions over time become the thing we serve rather than traditions serving people in how they can effectively express their faith in God or to God. We must hold our traditions with an open hand. They may very well become the knives that stabs us if we hold them too tightly.
  • The Church must become exponentially better at empowering and releasing women for ministry. I know this is a touchy subject, but in the realm of abuse or the adult film industry, to name just a couple of examples, the Church does an abysmal job of meeting the needs of the broken. At the core of the problem is that while men are well intentioned, they are painfully inadequate and the Church is woefully under trained to deal these issues. A man is absolutely the worst candidate for counseling and journeying with a battered or sexually abused woman. Asking this woman to trust another man is foolish and naïve. There are many issues facing the Church’s desire to bring wholeness and peace to the brokenness of this world that should only be addressed by women. We are going to have to come to terms with that reality.
  • We are going to have to find a way to marry effective biblical teaching with the “social gospel.” The Church has fallen too far on both sides of this topic.
  • Authenticity is going to be the currency of the Church in our culture. If the Church is going to stay relevant at any level, we are going to have to become much more real and honest in all our relationships with each other and in our communities.
  • Teaching must become less about resolution and more about accepting the truth of both sides of a topic, even on things like global warming and gun control. Regardless of what side you land on, validating humans before topics will be critical for the Church moving forward. Being right is not the goal. Putting God on display well is.
  • Decentralization will be key to new structures. Gone are the days when the paid clergy was the answer man and the final word for any subject, and this isn’t a bad thing. Pastors should absolutely weigh in on issues and topics, but in reality we are only one small voice in a much larger conversation. We must accept this position with humility if we want to continue to be a voice at all.
  • Our truth will not be the most important thing we present. How we walk that truth out matters more. When we talk about doctrine in a way that forgets the critical marriage of loving God and loving people, we appear as hypocrites.
  • The Church is going to have to become experts at understanding how people are designed and creating new opportunities to empower and release those people to accomplish their passions within the context of their design. The good news is that this will lead to whole new worlds of opportunity to impact the redemption of all things. And by all things, I mean all things. There should be no place in our world where the Church isn’t leading the way in inviting people toward a more wholehearted life.

I believe with all my heart that the greatest days of the Church are ahead of us, not behind us, and that ought to affect how we move forward and make decisions.

I am sure there are many more points of discussion. What would you add to the list?

The Eastern Mind #4 — The Nature of God

If I asked you, “What is God like?” — as a westerner you might answer something like this: God is love, God is all knowing, God is all powerful, etc. These truths we espouse about the nature of God are certainly true, and I pray you believe them to your core. But they all have one very important connection that needs to be pulled apart — they are all abstract, conceptual, and philosophical.

They are ideas, and this is how we describe God. That doesn’t make these ideas wrong at all. They are all quite right. However, this does present a potential issue. Once we make a philosophical assumption about God, we must then enter into real life, and we must make real life fit into our philosophical assumption. This leaves us with all kinds of questions.

For example, if God is all knowing and all powerful, then why do people starve? Why are people taken advantage of or abused by others? We must defend a conceptual idea or a thought that becomes muddy and even more abstract. This prepositional way of interacting with God forces us to defend ideas and concepts even when experience clearly seems to contradict the idea (at least on the surface). And yes, it is our task to mine deeper truths out of this experience about how an all-knowing and all-powerful God interacts with the world. But what if we didn’t even need to have that conversation?

If we asked an easterner the same opening question, we would hear very different answers. They might say something like, “God is a rock,” or “God is living water,” or “God is an eagle’s wings.” While this sounds like it isn’t all that different on the surface, it can make a huge difference in how we engage the God conversation in our culture.

Anchoring God to a concrete picture gives life permission to disagree, and yet we can still hold to how we see God. When difficult circumstances rear their ugly head, God can still be a rock, even though I wonder if He really knows or understands what is going on. In fact, my conviction that God is a rock may very well be the thing I need to get through the challenging circumstance.

I am not saying this changes the prepositional truths we hold to so tightly. All I am saying is that the eastern mind doesn’t need to prove a preposition, because from the beginning the way they talk about who God is rests in concrete word pictures, not abstract ideas that must be proven. And these pictures are rooted in experience. I know God is a rock because I have experienced Him as a solid place in my life that never changes. And I have heard the testimony of my friends and family, as well as the stories of those who have gone before us. I have felt the reality of the world blowing up around me, and having a solid rock to anchor my life to made all the difference in my weathering that storm well.

You can never take that experience away from me. I know God as a rock even when we wrestle with these hard questions of why things happen the way they do and how we are supposed to respond. We should wrestle with these things because the goal of our journey with God is not resolution, but tension. This is foundational to our understanding (and discussed in a previous post).

The thing to keep in mind is that because the Bible is eastern, it is not written to defend prepositional ideas about God. While we can point to passages that allude to these truths we deduce about God, we will not find many passages that directly state the character traits we believe about Him. And that is okay.

Those word pictures used to describe God may be far more useful and profound than we might have initially thought.

May we experience God as the rock in our storms, the living water in our deserts, and the eagle’s wings that carry us. May we be shade in the deserts of others as we see these word pictures take root in our own lives. And may we tell a powerful story of who God is, because future generations will need those stories.