Aug 4 2010

My First Bible Memory Verse

I recall rehearsing for my first Christmas pageant, though I don’t recall the pageant itself.  I don’t have any idea how old I was, but I was possibly three or four. All of us in my Sunday school class had speaking parts; that is, one line Bible verses. We simply were to take turns walking up to the microphone, saying our line, and walking back to our seats. I was naturally quite nervous, and I can recall sitting on my bed while my parents helped me to rehearse my line, over and over:

“God loved us and sent His son. First John, four ten.”

Obviously my practicing worked, as I still remember it.  The full version is this:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (NIV)

This verse, coincidentally, makes a point that I made previously: It is not our emotions concerning God that is important so much as knowing the truth that God – not just Jesus, but God the Father – loves us. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not inappropriate to display or vocalize our emotions. However, our emotions are capricious; they change quicker than the weather in Oregon and are, therefore, a notoriously bad gauge of truth. The fact that we feel love for God tells us absolutely nothing – the fact that God loves us tells us everything.

Many people have the mistaken belief that Jesus is the “good God” who loves us and the Father is the stern, hard to please God who is just one sin away from zapping us. In truth, while knowing the Father and the Son are separate persons within the Trinity (more on this later), the purposes and emotions of Jesus and the Father cannot be separated. As Jesus so aptly put it, “The Father and I are one. (John 10:30)” Jesus also said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)” We know what the Father is like by knowing Jesus. When we see Jesus reaching out to children, the poor, the sick, and the sinners, we see the true heart of the Father.

This means that the God of the Old Testament – the one who obliterated Sodom – is the same God who is revealed to us in Jesus. How can this be? The writer of Hebrews put it like this:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Heb. 1:1-3a)

In the Old Testament, God was revealed through men. In the New, we finally see the “exact representation” of the God of the Old Testament. As the New Century Version puts it, Jesus “shows exactly what God is like.” If we know God’s love as expressed in Jesus, we can then begin to see that same God in the Old Testament. Really.

Putting it another way,  reading the Old Testament is like looking at God through a dirty, distorted piece of old glass. Seeing Jesus in the Gospels provided an unobstructed view of God as he really is, a God motivated by love, compassion and grace. If we are shown two photographs of the same person – one faded, dirty, and blurry, and the other in high resolution color – which one would best tell us what the person looks like? There may be some details in the faded photo that are missing in the good one, but first we’d see what the good photo shows us and then look for that person in the old photo. We should start with what is clear, and then use that to understand what is unclear.

What is clear about God is, as my first Bible memory verse said, “God loved us, and sent His son.”

Questions:

  1. What is the first Bible verse that you memorized? At what age?
  2. What has been your image of God, as expressed in the Old Testament?


Jul 20 2010

This I Know

As I write in my introductory post My Childhood God,  I have discovered that I still believe in the same God I believed in as a child. That is, I believe much of the same things about God that I did as a child. While I have grown in experience and knowledge and my beliefs have been refined, I find that what I learned about God still holds true today.

I should also point out here that my understanding of God’s character and how He acts appears to be in conflict with the beliefs held by many people (hereafter referred to as OPB, or Other People’s Beliefs).  Some of these OPB were held by me at some point in my journey, others I have always rejected. My point is not that I haven’t changed what I believe; to the contrary, I have been in constant change. On at least two occasions I have gutted my library of books that I no longer agreed with. However, I am aware that I had a knowledge of God as a child that has remained. I also have discovered that I had a pretty decent theological education as a child.

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

My absolute core belief about God is that He loves me unconditionally. While various people over the years have tried to convince me that I have to jump through certain hoops in order to earn that love, I don’t recall any point in my life where I was not convinced that God loved me unconditionally. I know that this is not common, and it’s something for which I am quite grateful. I know far too many people who were raised believing that God was a stern master, more like the “angry God” of a Jonathan Edwards sermon.

My childhood memories are for the most part fragmented and random, filled with more emotion than fact. When I was three, I was given a small record player (some of you will remember records).  The case was red and white plastic, with a cover that lifted back to reveal a small turntable, just large enough to play 45 RPM records, and a tone arm so heavy I’m surprised it didn’t actually cut through the plastic disks. I had an assortment of 78’s and 45’s (we’re talking lat 1950’s, folks) which included an assortment of children’s songs, including the standard Jesus Loves Me (although my favorite was a 45 my dad had of Chopin’s Les Sylphides – go figure).

Jesus Loves Me is still a favorite of mine, the lyrics presenting a simple truth:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak, but He is strong

Truth like this is hard to beat; and, unfortunately, it often seems hard to find in many contemporary worship choruses which tend to focus on our emotions about God rather than truth about God’s emotions toward us. If your church sings a lot of contemporary choruses, chances are many of them focus on “I” – “I will follow you” or “I love you.” We have this idea that worship depends upon our action towards God, as if we’re initiating the relationship.

The reality is that God really does love us unconditionally. When I hear “Jesus loves me,” I cannot help but respond; it’s how we were designed.  Unfortunately, there are many who have been so damaged by bad teaching about God or who have made emotional connections between the Heavenly Father and bad earthly fathers that they simply cannot receive such truth. Personally, I believe that we all need to hear “God loves you” over and over again. Like dripping water slowly boring through solid rock, eventually the truth that God loves us will break through.