Have you ever felt like the God that many preach from the pulpit often does not connect with your personal experience with God? Many of you know I have just completed a four month sabbatical. During this time I spent a great deal of time seeking the Lord about many areas in my life. I read over 30 books during my sabbatical time and spent many hours alone with God. There was one theme I pondered and studied a lot. That theme dealt with the nature of God and His ways with His creation. There are 8 conclusions I have come to as a result of my time that I wish to share with you in hopes you will have a better understanding of the nature of God and how He often relates to us as His creation. I have written a great deal more on these subjects that I will share in the coming days.
1. God is not a vending machine. In American culture I fear we have reduced God to a spiritual vending machine-if we perform certain Christian duties such as prayer, evangelism, giving our tithe, etc-then we will earn God's favor and avoid any crises in our life. That simply isn't true. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more or less. Adversity is a part of any serious relationship with God and should not be feared. The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing (Zeph 3:17).
2. Success is often different from God's viewpoint. I believe God desires to bless His people. However, I believe His greater desire is to make us more like Christ and to fulfill His destiny for our lives. This cannot happen in a life without challenges. The Bible says that Joseph was being prospered by God. He was a slave when those words were said. The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian (Gen 39:2-3).
3. God's view of evil is the same as ours. Many think that because God allows evil to exist in the world He condones evil and is evidence of a lack of love from God. When God gave man freewill evil was allowed to operate in a fallen world. Jesus died on the cross to prove God's love for His creation. This is certainly one of the major universal hurdles when it comes to believing God is love and we are loved by Him. In his book, Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner sums up God's speech to Job when Job questions Him about his calamities: "God doesn't explain. He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway. He says that to try to explain the kind of things Job wants explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a little-neck clam.God doesn't reveal His grand design. He reveals himself."
4. God's method of training is very different than ours. How did God train David to be the greatest king of Israel? By letting him flee Saul's sword and live in a cave. Moses? By putting him in the desert for 40 years. Joseph? By allowing him to live as slave and a prisoner for 13 years. Yes, God's training ground is not for the faint of heart. God turns life's messes into messages and messengers. David said, Blessed be the Lord my Rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle (Ps 144:1).
5. Following Christ is costly. A true follower of Christ will not have an easier life, but a harder life. It will be more meaningful and purposeful, but it will have more adversity because the cross is an assignment for every believer. We are called to death of our old nature for Christ to live in and through us. Many lost their earthly lives for following Christ; John the Baptist and the disciples to name a few. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20-21).
6. God's tolerance of sin is different than ours. When Moses began his journey on his assignment to free the people of Israel, God almost killed him for not circumcising his child. God can be very picky about sin. Our gifts and calling may be irrevocable, but eventually God calls sin to account. We live in a day of anything goes as long as it does not harm others, thinking God will no longer judge sin. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).
7. God's view of pain and hardship is very different than ours. Pain and hardship can come for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it can be a result of sin. Sometimes it is a result of childhood wounds. Sometimes it is a result of our "Joseph" calling. Sometimes we are being pruned for greater ministry. God only prunes healthy trees to get more fruit. If our purpose in life is to avoid pain then God only becomes a means to an end and an object to be used. Jesus learned obedience from the things He suffered (Heb 5:8).Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy (1 Peter 4:12-14).
Men and women seek to elude the path of pain that is actually the doorway to this secret place of intimacy with God. They each do it in different ways. Larry Crabb has summarized these two unique strategies that men and women do to avoid deep pain.
"All of us are trapped by addiction to a desire for something less than God. For many women, that something less is relational control. 'I will not be hurt again and I will not let people I love be hurt. I'll see to it that what I fear never happens again.' They therefore live in terror of vulnerably presenting themselves to anyone and instead become determined managers of people. Their true femininity remains safely tucked away behind the walls of relational control.
More common in men is an addiction to non-relational control. 'I will experience deep and consuming satisfaction without ever having to relate meaningfully with anyone.' They keep things shallow and safe with family and friends and feel driven to experience a joy they never feel, a joy that only deep relating can provide. Their commitment is twofold: to never risk revealing inadequacy by drawing close to people and, without breaking that commitment, to feel powerful and alive. Power in business and illicit sex are favorite strategies for reaching that goal."
8. God's unconditional love is rarely comprehended and rarely appreciated.
For many of us we believe we are simply unlovable. The wounds we have received early in life have dictated what we perceive and believe about ourselves and God. When we received these wounds it often resulted in shame and performance in an effort to gain love from either our activities or performance for those around us to be acceptable. However, until we are healed we will sabotage relationships subconsciously to prove what we perceive about ourselves (we are unlovable). It takes others who are close to us to recognize this root issue in our lives and for them to be willing to love us unconditionally. When you become vulnerable to love, you become changed. And when you love unconditionally, you are freed from the arrows your received from others.
 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, Harper & Row, San Francisco, CA 1973
 Larry Crabb, Shattered Dreams, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO 2001, p.95
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Experiencing the Father's Love
by Os Hillman
This book will help you gain insight into what it means to experience the love of the Father and the many reasons so many of us never sense God's love for us. Group study guide and leader's guide also available.