In recent reflections, we have considered eight word pictures to give us insight into our relationship with God. While none provides a complete picture, each does offer a glimpse into one facet of who God is.
We looked at:
- God is a Potter and we are clay: He is molding us into his plan for us.
- God is a Vine and we are branches: He is nourishing us, allowing us to grow and bear fruit.
- God is a Hen and we are his baby chicks: He gathers us beneath his wings to protect us and keep us safe from danger.
- God is the Shepherd and we are his sheep: He watches us, protects us, and rescues us when we get into trouble.
- God is our Master and we are servants: He gives us opportunities to serve and honor him.
- God is our Father and we are his children: He loves us, died for us, and will give us an inheritance.
- God is our Friend: He talks to us, walks with us, and we hang out.
- God is our Lover: He desires spiritual intimacy and ecstasy with us.
Putting all of these together, we can begin to get a sense of who God is and our relationship too him.
The final word picture to help us better understand God, is perhaps the most startling and difficult to comprehend, even shocking.
In this word picture, we consider him as the groom (the Bible often uses the word “bridegroom”) and us as his bride. As followers of Jesus, that is, the Christ, we are even called “the bride of Christ.”
With us betrothed to him, we see a relationship filled with spiritual intimacy and ecstasy. In short, we are lovers. This may be a difficult image to comprehend or even consider, but it is the desire and longing of God to be in a close, personal relationship with us.
How awesome is that?
[See Isaiah 62:5, Jeremiah 2:2, Revelation 19:7, 2 Corinthians, and Revelation 22:17]
The sixth word picture is God as our father and we as his children.
Although not everyone had a good biological father — in fact all human fathers make mistakes in raising their children — our spiritual father, God, is without fault, raising us out of perfect love and without error.
With God as our spiritual father, that is our father in heaven, we see him as being wise, loving, disciplining, and patient. Also, as our father there is the hope of us one day receiving an inheritance from him.
For us as God’s children, we are loved, cared for, given generous gifts, and protected. We are also heirs, looking forward to an inheritance that we will one day receive from him — eternal life for all who follow him.
Lastly, just as adult children have the potential for friendship with their earthly parents, we too, are poised to become a friend with our heavenly parent, God.
[See Romans 8:16-17, 1 John 3:1, 2 Corinthians 6:18, 2 Samuel 7:14]
The Ten Commandments are listed in Exodus 20:3-23 (and Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Interestingly, neither of these passages calls this list the “Ten Commandments” (although the phrase is used elsewhere). They are:
1) Do not have any other gods.
2) Do not worship idols (“other gods”)
3) Do not use God’s name wrongly.
4) Keep the Sabbath day holy.
5) Honor your parents (there is a promise of blessing if we do)
6) Do not murder
7) Do not commit adultery
8) Do not steal
9) Do not lie (give false testimony)
10) Do not covet
When Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, he said that we should love God fully; the second greatest is to love others as much as we love ourselves. He concluded by saying that all the laws and commands hinge on these two principles of loving God and loving others.
So, we are to love God and love others. It’s that simple.
The Bible says, “Let no debt remain outstanding.” That is sage advice for any time, but especially in these troubled economic conditions. Debt, in general, and bad debt, specifically, has gotten our economy into trouble, threatening to hold us down for the long term.
However, that’s not really what this verse is talking about. You see, I stopped too soon. Had I continued, I would have read, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”
Wow, that puts things in a different perspective. Do you have a debt of love? That is one debt that can never be repaid. We can — and should — be making regular payments, but paying it off is never truly possible.
We “owe” love to each other. Let’s make sure that paying back that debt — every day.
Have you ever heard the story about Jesus and the fig tree?
Jesus is heading into Jerusalem and is hungry. Seeing a fig tree, he searches its foliage for something to eat. Finding nothing, he seems to get a tad irritated, declaring that it will never again produce fruit. The fig tree withers and his disciples are amazed. Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach them about praying in faith. [Matthew 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-14, 20-26]
I agree with that lesson; it is astonishing, remarkable, and encouraging.
However, I also have a secondary thought about this story. The purpose of the fig tree is to produce fruit. When Jesus finds no fruit, he dismisses it and the tree dies; his disciples say that he cursed it. As followers of Jesus, we are also supposed to bear fruit. If we do not bear fruit, will Jesus dismiss us as well?
This is a sobering thought and one that is reinforced when Jesus says that he is a vine, we are his branches, and he cuts off all branches that don’t bear fruit. [John 15:1-8]
If this leaves you a bit flummoxed, balance this concern with the assurance, found in the next verse, that Jesus loves us. [John 15:9]
So, pray in faith, produce fruit, and know that you are loved!
What is Christmas to you?
Does Christmas mean parties, Santa Claus, reindeer, mistletoe, eggnog, buying gifts, holiday sales and discounts, pine trees and decorations, a holiday bonus, TV specials and movie releases, a few days off from work, candy and treats, sending cards, mouthwatering desserts, passing on well wishes to others, bells ringing, year-end giving, snowmen and snow flakes, eating and drinking too much, time with family and friends, carol singing, and happy childhood memories?
Those things are all part of what Christmas has become, but have little to do with what it means.
Two-thousand years ago, Jesus pointed a new way to God; he came out of love and he came to give. So when we give gifts to each other on Christmas, it is really a reminder of Jesus loving us and giving himself to us. In this way, we can keep the true spirit of Christmas alive by following Jesus’ example of loving and giving — and not just at Christmastime, but every day, throughout the year.
[See Luke 2:1-14 for the Christmas story]
Imagine you are going down the side of a 200-foot cliff — with a 100-foot rope. At 99 feet down, you find yourself literally dangling “at the end of your rope.”
What an apt metaphor for a hopeless situation. At this juncture, there are but three options — none of them good: 1) Try to climb back up (which is physically impossible for most people), 2) hang on as long as you can in hopes of an eventual rescue, or 3) give up and let go.
Eugene Peterson uses this powerful “end of the rope” image in his paraphrase of the Bible, which puts ancient thoughts into contemporary terms. Consider the following “end of the rope” references from The Message:
- “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.” [Matthew 5:3]
- “The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘they will respect my son.'” [Matthew 21:35]
- “When someone gets to the end of his rope, I [Paul] feel the desperation in my bones.” [2 Corinthians 11:28]
- “Hurry up and help us; we’re at the end of our rope. You’re famous for helping; God, give us a break.” [Psalm 79:8]
- “Your anger [God] is far and away too much for us; we’re at the end of our rope. You keep track of all our sins; every misdeed since we were children is entered in your books.” [Psalm 90:3]
- “Oh, God, my Lord, step in; work a miracle for me—you can do it! Get me out of here—your love is so great!— I’m at the end of my rope, my life in ruins.” [Psalm 109:21]
- “God takes the side of the helpless; when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me.” [Psalm 116:1]
- “Hurry with your answer, God! I’m nearly at the end of my rope. Don’t turn away; don’t ignore me! That would be certain death.” [Psalm 143:7]
When we are at the end of our rope — and it happens to all of us sooner or later — God is there to rescue us (option 2); so don’t give up.
The phrase “trustworthy saying” occurs five times in the Bible. It likely refers to phrases that were commonly used and accepted by the early church. Paul’s inclusion of these phrases in his letters affirms them as reliable truth. Here are the five “trustworthy sayings” that Paul recorded:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.
Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.
If we die with him, we will also live with him.
If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.
If we deny him, he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.
When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
[from 1 Timothy 1:15, 1 Timothy 3:1, 1 Timothy 4:9, 2 Timothy 2:11, and Titus 3:8]
Most people correctly understand that God is love. They then reason that out of love, he will unquestionably accept them as they are, welcoming them into heaven when they die. This is an oversimplification of his love.
God is also just. His just nature requires that there be a punishment for the wrong things that we do.
If, out of love, God didn’t require punishment for wrongdoing, that would make him unjust. Lacking justice and being unfair is unloving. Therefore, he must punish wrong living. That punishment was taken on by Jesus (if we accept it); otherwise we must face the punishment ourselves.
So God’s just nature requires punishment, but his loving nature covers that punishment through Jesus.