God’s Will

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Matthew 18:12-14

We learn a couple things from Jesus’s teaching here. First, we learn about the loving heart of the Father. God will pursue people in order to restore them. Secondly, we see one of the paradoxes of the will of God. We learn that the Father “is not willing” that any of these little ones should perish. And yet, we know that not everyone is saved. Some are lost even though it is not God’s will.

Peter put it this way:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:8-9

Here we learn again that God doesn’t want anyone to perish. God wants everyone to come to repentance. Yet, we know not all will come to repentance. This is just a reality of the fallen world we live in.

From both of these passages we see both the loving heart of the Father and the fact that His will is not always done on earth. It’s why Jesus had to teach His disciples to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven“(Matthew 6:10). We wouldn’t be instructed by Jesus to pray this if it was somehow automatic. While God’s will is always done in heaven, His will is not always done on earth. So we must pray for His will to be done on earth, and we must walk in obedience to His will so that it may be done on earth.

The freedom that God gifted His creation with has been used to resist His will, rebel against His will, and thwart His will. The freedom to authentically love God as we experience His love for us has been twisted by sin and is now used for evil. That means that many things that happen in the world and many things that happen to us are not the will of God.

Dallas Willard writes, in his book Hearing God, about the erroneous belief that some Christians adopt that states that everything that comes in life is God’s will:

If you wish to know what God would have you do, it is no help at all to be told that whatever comes is his will. For you are at that moment in the position of deciding what is to come. Does it mean that whatever you do will be God’s will? I certainly hope not. If Moses had accepted this view, there would have been no nation of Israel…

Many things that happen are not the will of God…

God’s world is an arena in which we have an indispensable role to play. The issue is not simply what God wants, but also what we want and will. When we accept whatever comes we are not receiving guidance. The fact that something happens does not indicate that it is God’s will.

Dallas Willard, Hearing God, Chapter 3

God desires an authentic relationship with us. He wants to hear from us and wants us to hear from Him. Our actions and our prayers impact the outcome of the future, as does our obedience or disobedience. It matters if you pray. It matters if you obey. It changes things. We are not just fatalistic robots.

Your life in Christ really does matter!

The Amazing Father

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light… 

…a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Matthew 17:1-2, 5-8

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John and they saw Him talking with Moses and Elijah, they were amazed–full of awe and wonder. But when the Father spoke from heaven, they were terrified. Yet, notice that Jesus, the One who knows His Father the best, says, “Don’t be afraid.”

Because of our dysfunctional relationships with our own dads, we can feel more comfortable interacting with Jesus, even Jesus in a glorified body, than the Father. I have a great relationship with my dad, but I can still remember a time in my life when I did not want to sit and listen in prayer for the Father to speak to me. I was afraid that the Father would only speak words of criticism, judgment and disappointment. For some reason, that same fear wasn’t there with Jesus. Maybe because He is always portrayed as full of mercy, grace and compassion.

Yet, if we’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen the Father. If we know what Jesus is like, we know what the Father is like. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossi, “The Son is the image of the invisible God…“(Colossians 1:15). Jesus had to remind His own disciples of this truth.

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

John 14:8-10

Jesus is just like the Father. If we feel comfortable praying to and interacting with Jesus but not the Father, then we don’t know who the Father really is. The grace, love and compassion of Jesus comes from the heart of the Father.

We need to be reminded that the Father is not like our earthly dad. He’s not removed and distant. He’s not angry or hot-tempered. He’s not disapproving and hard. He’s not an addict. He’s not passive and weak. He’s not irresponsible or flighty. And even for those of us who had amazing dads, the Father is even better than that!

We don’t need to be terrified of the Father. He is slow to anger and abounding in love. He is full of power and yet full of peace. He is majestic and mighty and yet full of kindness. We are free to approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16) knowing He will be present for us in our time of need.

What’s keeping you from spending time with the Father?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…

James 1:17

Rejecting Jesus

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:20-23

John tells us that the reason he writes these sorts of things is because of “those who are trying to lead you astray”(1 John 2:26). And when we read the above passage, we are reminded that there are many theologians and leaders in the church who are still trying to lead people astray with false teaching.

Here’s the reality: it is impossible to read the above passage the leave any room for universalism. Universalism says that people with all different religions and belief systems will ultimately be accepted by God the Father. It says God accepts all belief systems equally and so everyone will make to heaven to spend eternity with God.

But the only way to hold a universalistic understanding is to completely ignore this passage of scripture (and many others like it). One cannot believe in the Bible and be a universalist. You can pick one or the other but not both because the two are incompatible.

John is clear about what the truth is. The truth is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. To deny Jesus is to reject God. To deny the Son is to deny the Father. There is no equivocation here. John makes no attempt to soften his language or side-step this foundational truth. If you acknowledge Jesus for who He really is, then you have connection and intimacy with the Father. But if you deny that Jesus is who He says He is, then you are simultaneously denying the Father.

John confirms this truth by referencing the anointing of the Holy One, the Holy Spirit. It is the internal witness of the Spirit that confirms the truth of these statements. About the Holy Spirit John goes on to say, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things…”(1 John 2:27). The Holy Spirit is ultimately our teacher and our guide. He confirms the truth of God’s word in us. And the Holy Spirit never contradicts the word of God.

What is interesting to notice is that the same sections of the church that dabble in the falsehood of universalism have also created distance from themselves and the things of the Holy Spirit. When we stop listening to, engaging with, receiving gifts and power from the Holy Spirit, our teaching is sure to become more and more influenced by the corrupt thinking of the world.

By the time many seminarians finish seminary, they’ve been filled with false teachings and emptied of any intimacy with the Spirit. They start doubting the truth that they read in scripture and begin distancing themselves from the authority of the word of God. As someone who went to seminary, I saw this firsthand in my own life and I continue to watch it happen to others. No wonder the churches in American are shrinking and dying. We need to return to the boldness that John writes with, proclaiming the exclusivity of Jesus as the Christ and the only way to the Father!

Forgiving God

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

We forgive because we are forgiven. We don’t wait for the other person to apologize or ask for forgiveness. The other person may have really done something wrong when they hurt us. It’s also possible that they did nothing wrong and it was just a perceived slight that hurt us. Either way, forgiveness is not based on the other person but on our reception of God’s forgiveness in Christ. Forgiveness is the only way to weed out the bitterness, anger and resentment in our heart.

But what if you’re angry or feel distant from God? What if God is the one who you believe harmed you? Can we forgive God?

I had this interesting moment with the Lord the other day in a worship service. We were all singing and the Lord began to speak to me about a friend of mine who was feeling distant from God. I heard God speak to my heart and say, “He needs to forgive me.”

When I heard it, I couldn’t make sense of it initially. Forgive God? But why? “God, you don’t ever do anything wrong. Why would he need to forgive YOU?”

Then the Lord gave me a mental picture of a father kneeling down to his young son. The son was upset with his dad. His dad didn’t do anything wrong, but the dad knew that in order to restore the relationship he would have to be the one to ask the son for forgiveness. It wasn’t about the father doing anything wrong; it was about restoring the relationship and mending the heart of the hurting son.

“But, God, what does he need to forgive You for?”

Then I heard the Lord whisper, “I didn’t meet his expectations. He feels distant from me because I failed to meet his expectations. You need to tell him that I am asking for his forgiveness.”

Sensing that I was still uncomfortable with the idea of doing this, the Lord explained further. In an instant, He gave me a download of understanding. It wasn’t that He explained it all with words. It felt more like a surge of understanding.

What God reminded me of is that this is what God does. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He died a death He didn’t deserve to die. He didn’t do anything wrong. He lived a perfect life. Yet, He took our punishment. This is what God does. Even when He doesn’t do anything wrong, He takes the first step toward us. He’s not concerned with what is “fair” to Himself. He’s concerned with mending relationships and healing hearts. He just wants to be reconnected to His sons and daughters. So He bends down on one knee and asks His son forgiveness for not meeting his expectations (even though those expectations were probably false expectations).

It made more sense now. But before I would go and talk to my friend, I wanted to know where the expectations came from. The Lord told me that his family mistakenly taught him that if he did everything right, everything would turn out okay. This lie was planted early in life. And so he did everything right but things didn’t turn out okay. That’s when the feelings of betrayal, confusion, hurt and resentment entered in. Only by forgiving God would he be able to release the bitterness and hurt that has created a wall between him and the Lord.

The Father loves his son so much that He was willing to interrupt His other son right in the middle of worship to tell him all of this. He loves his son so much that He was willing to take a knee and ask His son for forgiveness! How great the Father’s love for us!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 

1 John 3:1

Some of you reading this may need to do the same. You may need to forgive God. Your mind has prevented you from doing so because you know He doesn’t make mistakes. But that truth in your mind has kept your heart distant from Him. What the Father understands is that your heart needs to forgive Him. Forgive Him for whatever that hurt is. Release the resentment, bitterness and anger you’ve been holding against Him. He’s getting on one knee before you, taking your hands, and He’s asking His child for forgiveness. Will you forgive Him?

If you don’t know what to say, try something like this:

Father, I was hurt by this ______________. And now I have felt distant from you. I hear You today asking for my forgiveness, wanting to mend our relationship, wanting to heal my heart. So right now, God, I forgive you. I choose today to forgive you. I release the anger, bitterness and resentment. I put aside any feelings of rejection. I take your hands. I want to be close to you again. Thank You for bending down on one knee and asking for my forgiveness. It feels funny to say I forgive you, but I know it is what my heart has needed. Thank you for understanding what my heart needed in order to come close to You again. You are a loving Father. Thank you for loving me through this. Heal my heart. Mend my wounds. May I experience Your love flow into my heart again through your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’s name. Amen.

As Children

Every parent will eventually experience that moment. It is always meant as a complement, but it doesn’t always land that way. It’s the moment someone says of your child, “They are just like you!” In a split second, both a flood of pride and a flood of concern hits your soul. This could be a great thing! This could be a terrible thing!

Children don’t wake up in the morning striving to imitate their parents. They don’t put it on their calendar or on their to-do list. They don’t enroll in a program helping them to imitate their parents. It happens naturally. Children pick up the language, mannerisms, voice inflection, moods, and morality of their parents.

It happens without anyone noticing or trying. It happens because of proximity and love. The things and people we love and to which we are in close proximity, we will begin to naturally imitate. This is especially true of children.

This is why Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Follow God’s example (literally: imitate God), therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”(Ephesians 5:1-2).

One might counter this command with, “How can we possibly imitate God? Isn’t that impossible?”

Apparently not!

Scripture wouldn’t have commanded it if it was impossible. We have the Holy Spirit in us, empowering us to live as Jesus lived. When we write off this command as impossible, we belittle the full potential of “Christ in you, the hope of glory”(Colossians 1:27).

The key here is what Paul writes immediately after the command to “imitate God.” He suggests we do it “as dearly loved children.” This is about being secure in our identity as sons and daughters of the King of kings and Lord of lords. It’s not about striving. It’s less about effort and more about intimacy. Remember, children imitate their parents not because they make a strategic plan but because of proximity and love. This is an invitation to experience proximity to the Father. It’s an invitation to experience the love of the Father.

Consider the possibility that the ONLY way to imitate God is “as dearly loved children.” With faith like a child, drawing nearer and nearer to the Father, as we spend time with Him, we will naturally become like Him. We will find our capacity to love increase. Sacrifice will start to feel like a joy. We will see in others what we couldn’t see before…before we began to see through the eyes of the Father. Our lives will become a fragrant offering.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Throughout the New Testament there are passages that involve the persons of the Trinity⏤The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many passages connect the Father and the Son (John 1:14; 10:30), or the Son and the Spirit (Luke 1:35; 2 Corinthians 13:17), or even the Father and the Spirit (Romans 8:14-16). There are a few, however, that express all three in one passage.

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'”(Matthew 3:16-17).

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”(Matthew 28:19).

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”(2 Corinthians 13:14).

“God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father'”(Galatians 4:6).

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come”(2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

Paul writes one of these passages in his letter to the Ephesians as he attempts to unite Jews and Gentiles within the church. And this one gives a glimpse of how the Trinity works together as One. Speaking of Jesus, he writes, “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit”(Ephesians 2:18). Through Jesus, the Son, we have access to the Father by the Spirit.

To make sense of this, imagine standing on the coast of France looking over at England on a clear day. The white cliffs of Dover are in the distance on the other side of the English Channel, but there is no way to get across. Your new life and new future await you in England, but you are stuck in France.

Then someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I have good news! Someone has made a way. For through the tunnel we have access to England by train. That is what Paul is saying here.

The Father is our destination. He is the one we now have access to who was previously unreachable by our own efforts. He made a way for us to now have access to Him despite our sin. Yet, to access the Father we must go through Jesus. Jesus is a tunnel, not a bridge, because we must be in Him to gain access to the Father. And the gift given to us to utilize this tunnel is the Holy Spirit. Just as one would travel through the tunnel by train, we go through Jesus by the Spirit.

All three persons of the Trinity operate together to get us to the Father so that we are no longer distant and disconnected from Him. As Scripture attests, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them”(2 Corinthians 5:19).