Looking For God
Will the right Jesus please stand up and make Himself known.
There are counterfeit gods galore. The problem is many of them claim loudly that they are the original, that they are in fact Jesus. They use Scripture to support their actions and personality; some claim to work the same miracles that Jesus worked; all claim to promote correct theology, so how is one to know who is the right version? There must be a way to detect deception in clones that are not authentic.
I am not speaking here of antichrists running around in the world. I am referring to the internal versions and beliefs about God that each of us holds; what we imagine the all-powerful God in heaven to be. There are likely more versions of God than there are people, but one thing is certain, we are all born with distorted perceptions of what God is like in our heads that are further twisted for most of us through the examples and abuse of those in authority over us throughout our lives.
I am discovering to my chagrin that I am still praying to a false God and in effect worshiping an internal antichrist, not that this should make me lost or condemned by the true God. In reality this growing awareness for me is actually evidence that the true God and the real Jesus are very persistent in seeking to challenge my life-long assumptions and again examine my own picture of God even more closely to expose yet more distortions I have not yet dealt with and dispensed.
Very recently I have been convicted that the perception of God that dominated me during my youth has not completely been evicted. I now realize that that false god's primary trait was fault-finding and accusing. For many years the only thing I could imagine he wanted in relation to me was to find some hidden sin inside of me to use as an excuse to keep me out of heaven or to punish me.
It is easy for me now to see that this was a terribly distorted concept of the true God that I am now coming to know, at least with my mind. But a new conviction now confronts me that I have never completely divorced my heart from that accusing god of previous years, and residue from those days still haunts me and accuses me whenever I make a mistake or commit a sin.
This may seem like normal behavior for a god by most people and they may even begin to feel concern that I may be losing hold of true Christianity and in danger of being seduced into false ideas. But I think the opposite is actually true – the true God that is exactly like Jesus is pushing me to get even more serious about challenging slanderous versions of Him that still hang around inside my head and still sabotage the transforming work that the real Jesus is working to accomplish in me.
So this morning I began reviewing what the real, authentic Jesus needs to look like inside of me. Yet the only way I can even come to know that is by relying solely on the most authentic descriptions of the true Jesus that are available, the four gospel accounts written about Him and the Holy Spirit that He promised would lead us into all truth – which now I realize is mostly truth about God, for that has been our biggest problem all along.
So, how can I discern the real Jesus as discovered in the gospels and from those who knew Him best?
The real Jesus said that everything He did and taught was an exact reflection of His Father. But since He also said that no one has seen God but the Son who came to reveal Him, I can hardly base my opinions on any pre-knowledge about the Father but must trust that Jesus can show me that truth.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:27-30)
So, the real authentic God, according to Jesus, will bring me rest.
The real God is gentle and humble, and living in close relationship with Him will not make me feel oppressed. Now that is a serious switch from the god of my early years. Imagine the Almighty God of the universe as being completely humble. It has been taking me a long time to condition my mind to accept that paradigm change.
Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all (people) to myself. (John 12:31-32)
I see something very important here about the true God and His methods. God never uses force or intimidation to get His way with our hearts. According to this passage, even in judgment the enemy, the master liar, will be expelled through the gentle drawing of God's attraction, not by forceful resistance.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. (John 3:14-21)
There is a lot here that I can't unpack fully. But I see a God who invites trust and seeks to earn our trust. And as we choose to respond to His drawing, His giving unconditionally, His loving, we do not feel condemned but enter into eternal life with Him. And the very act of choosing how we will respond to God's love becomes the event of judgment for us, not some determination on the part of God outside of my control.
Then someone came to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:16-17)
This is a compelling truth that is often missed. Only God is good. That does not mean I have to try to squeeze into the definition of good every notion I have been taught or fear I have harbored about Him and force all of that into the definition of good. I was taught to do that for many years, but now I realize that was a tragic mistake. I have been coming to see that good is a lot better than I previously thought.
Entering into life includes living in harmony with God's commands. This intimidated me most of my life as all I could perceive in the word 'commands' was a threat of punishment or retaliation if I broke even one of them. But in recent years I have come to see that God's commands are simply descriptions of natural principles, and it simply makes sense that to live in peace and health and joy, any person must learn the principles of reality and then choose to live in harmony with them. I cannot expect to go unharmed if I violate the laws of physics for instance. And the same it true for any of God's principles/laws for they are all foundational to living life to the fullest, especially the law of love.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:11-17)
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
Love and joy were for many years little more than disjointed, abstract words in my mind that I had little clue as to their content or meaning. Not until my opinions about God began to radically shift did I start to feel new stirrings deep in my heart that I began to recognize as love and joy. And over recent years I have come to see that the only way I can continue to be restored more and more into life is to continue to challenge and upgrade and purify my opinions about what God is like, especially my heart's opinions which are often not at all like what my head is coming to embrace.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
This passage has been pivotal for me in recent years. I am now forced to challenge every assertion about God that has any shadow of darkness or evil that has been a part of my perceptions of Him. I have come to realize that the reason it is so hard to love God or serve Him is because of the many lies we still believe about Him involving assumptions or teachings making Him out to be less that pure love and pure light. I am also discovering that as I challenge and expel any beliefs that I have in a violent, angry, vengeful and even petty God from my heart, I feel new capacity to enter into His light and love and freedom. This results in new perceptions and even greater ability to appreciate more fully the wonderful symmetry and beauty and harmony of all truths that before I had to force together to try to make sense of them. With a new appreciation of the real truth about God I now find Scripture much clearer and reinforcing this central truth instead of denying or subverting it.
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11)
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. (1 John 3:21-24)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11-12)
Love – the kind of love as demonstrated by Jesus that reveals exactly what the Father is like, is the answer to the demand to keep God's commandments. For centuries people tried to obey rules with varying degrees of apparent success. But unless love is the first and primary motivation it is impossible to live in harmony with the principles of reality as God designed them which is the true meaning of keeping the commandments. But love itself cannot become my motivation until I first can grasp the real truth that God is not the one I need to be afraid of but that in fact He is my best ally. Only as I see the real truth that God is love and that He is no different than Jesus can my heart start to feel safe enough to really open up to Him, become honest and vulnerable with Him and allow His love to heal and transform me from the inside out.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3)
Another major shift that must transform my thinking about God is related to the issue of authority. I have seen and experienced so much abuse of authority in my life that this concept too must be restored. True authority never exploits anyone, which is almost a strange idea in our world today. Exploitation is the very essence of evil and because there is no evil in God, neither is there ever any exploitation. I see in this verse that the purpose for which Jesus has authority is to give life, eternal life, to everyone God has given to Jesus. And God has given over the entire human race to Jesus. This has powerful implications in the long run that I don't have time to unpack here. But what I do see is a God who never uses His power to exploit anyone – ever.
Jesus promises to give me soul rest, not condemnation. Jesus is love, for He is God and God is love. That means that if I ever feel condemned I can be certain that it is not God doing that to me.
"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."
So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away--and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:1-5, 7-15)
If I am out of harmony with the principles of love that defines both God's heart and His design of all creation, I will experience suffering, pain, sadness, fear and all the other dissonance naturally produced by sin. If I am feeling condemned, accused, shamed or threatened by God, then I can be sure this is not the same God as Jesus came to show me. That condemnation, shame, pain and any other debilitating emotion or effect that my malfunction produces is never being imposed on me by God but is rather a natural effect of some cause that is not in His will for me.
I can see more clearly that some of the inner reactions that I have always assumed to be God's voice to me after I make a mistake or sinned does not line up with these revelations of God by Jesus. I need to agressively challenge them, expose their fraudulent nature and expel them from my thinking and from my heart with the light of the truth about the real God as displayed in Jesus.
I also need to enter into the experience of reconciliation with God. Paul talks about this and says we all need to participate in this ministry.
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
Become the righteousness of God. Now that is nothing short of amazing.