Thinking Out Loud

November 18, 2017

The Relational Quality of a Personal Relationship

Often I think that those of us who comprise “the Church” suffer greatly because language is often inadequate to describe some of the most elementary principles of faith. Much ink (or in the case of the internet, electrons) is used up trying to describe atonement, salvation, the indwelling presence of Christ, or even the subject which returns on a regular cycle much like certain comets: “What is the Gospel?”

Entering into “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” or “asking Jesus into your heart” or “accepting Jesus as your personal savior” probably means something to most readers here, but we forget how quickly we’re losing our audience if we’re speaking to seekers, skeptics, atheists or agnostics. The quality of “relationship” probably reminds them more of something likely to be encountered on a dating website. (“If you think Jesus would be a good match, swipe right.”)

I believe the idea of relationship serves us better if we think about it visually. Since we can only share with others what we’ve experienced ourselves, let’s aside evangelistic efforts and make this personal. For example…
Relationship between us and God

I am at the front of the room speaking and I invite my wife to come and stand about six feet from me. “What does it mean,” I ask everyone, “to say I am in relationship to Ruth?”

Some of the answers are:

  • “You love each other.”
  • “You have shared history and experiences, that the rest of us don’t know about.”
  • “You are intimate with each other.”

But then I ask her to sit down and invite Mike to come up to the front. Mike and I are not close, I had to ask his permission before this point because we only know each other superficially. I position him in the same spot.

“So again,” I ask, “Where am I in relationship to Mike?”

After a bit of laughter, some dare to come up with something:

  • “You are standing to his right and he is on your left.”

“Let’s go with that,” I respond, “What does that entail?”

  • “He can see you and hear you and knows what you’re doing.”

I start to deliberately creep back from him. “What about now?”

  • “The distance between you can change.”

The first set of answers all have to do with what we normally think of with the word relationship.

The second set of answers could easily involve other words or phrases: Where I am with respect to Mike; Where I am according to Mike.

When we think about our relationship with God, we might want to consider it in terms of love, intimacy and shared history. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own…

Today I’m proposing we look for ways to expand that and consider the possibilities that:

  • We need to be aware of God’s position in our lives; that he does stand next to us, and our posture should be that of standing next to him. One counselor I know would say we need to visualize this. The example of me standing next to Ruth or Mike can provide the imagery we need to do this.
  • He sees us; he is watching us (“the eyes of the Lord run to and fro”) and this is also true for everyone on earth; whether they acknowledge him as Lord or not, he sees them. But this works both ways; I think we could also include in this an awareness of seeing Him in the everyday routine.
  • We ought to keep close to him; not let ourselves drift away from the awareness of His presence, either on a momentary basis or over a period of time. (For example, I could continue speaking and forget that Mike is still standing there until he asks if he can sit down now!)

In other words, asking the question “Where I am in relationship to God?” is only partly about the nature or quality of the relationship itself, but also about where God is in my life, and where I stand with respect to Him. The focus shifts from the tie that bind us to how I act and live my life according to Him.

The issue is one of proximity or closeness.

God is omnipresent but that sterile piece theological information means, by definition, that He is also present… 

…Only when have this relationship solidly mapped out in our own understanding can we begin to share the dynamics of it with others. If we think in terms of it in terms of physical proximity (as with the example of Mike) we’re on the right track. But hopefully we move on to something that involves more intimacy (as with the example of Ruth.)  

Out of the overflow of that type of relationship is something we will be excited to share with others.

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November 9, 2015

In Relationship With God

Filed under: Christianity, God, relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:26 am

Relationship between us and God

I am at the front of the room speaking and I invite my wife to come and stand about six feet from me. “What does it mean,” I ask everyone, “to say I am in relationship to Ruth?”

Some of the answers are:

  • “You love each other.”
  • “You have shared history and experiences, that the rest of us don’t know about.”
  • “You are intimate with each other.”

But then I ask her to sit down and invite Mike to come up to the front. Mike and I are not close, I had to ask his permission before this point because we only know each other superficially. I position him in the same spot.

“So again,” I ask, “Where am I in relationship to Mike?”

After a bit of laughter, some dare to come up with something:

  • “You are standing to his right and he is on your left.”

“Let’s go with that,” I respond, “What does that entail?”

  • “He can see you and hear you and knows what you’re doing.”

I start to deliberately creep back from him. “What about now?”

  • “The distance between you can change.”

The first set of answers all have to do with what we normally think of with the word relationship.

The second set of answers could easily involve other words or phrases: Where I am with respect to Mike; Where I am according to Mike.

When we think about our relationship with God, we might want to consider it in terms of love, intimacy and shared history. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own…”

Today I’m proposing we look for ways to expand that and consider the possibilities that:

  • We need to be aware of God’s position in our lives; that he does stand next to us, and our posture should be that of standing next to him. One counselor I know would say we need to visualize this. The example of me standing next to Ruth or Mike can provide the imagery we need to do this.
  • He sees us; he is watching us (“the eyes of the Lord run to and fro”) and this is also true for everyone on earth; whether they acknowledge him as Lord or not, he sees them. But this works both ways; I think we could also include in this an awareness of seeing Him in the everyday routine.
  • We ought to keep close to him; not let ourselves drift away from the awareness of His presence, either on a momentary basis or over a period of time. (For example, I could continue speaking and forget that Mike is still standing there until he asks if he can sit down now!)

In other words, asking the question “Where I am in relationship to God?” is only partly about the nature or quality of the relationship itself, but also about where God is in my life, and where I stand with respect to Him. The focus shifts from the tie that bind us to how I act and live my life according to Him.

The issue is one of proximity or closeness. 

God is omnipresent but that sterile piece theological information means, by definition, that He is also present.

 

December 17, 2009

What If God Was One of Us: Which He Was, Briefly

If selling the idea of the virgin birth to unbelievers has been tough over the centuries, it’s an especially hard sell in an age of greater sexual abandon.   It’s just too easy for the skeptic to wink and go, “…Yeah…right…”

I get into discussions with people on atheist and general religion discussions sites about this.   (If you’re a Christ-follower, and you want to have a real ministry online, consider spending your time apart from Christian blogs.   But you need to be creative and allow God’s Spirit to lead you at each step.   The rest of the world has heard all our formulaic answers already.)

Sometimes I’ll engage in a rather risky game of speculative theology.  “What if?”   I ask, “What if there is a God, and for whatever reason — because if there is a God, He can do whatever He darn well pleases — He wants to fully enter into the human condition?”   Except that recognizing who I’m dealing with, I don’t always capitalize “he” and sometimes I don’t hedge with a word like “darn.”

What options does He have at that point?

  1. Vulcan mind meld — While part of Him is still running things at Heaven Central, another part totally enters into the thoughts, feelings and emotions of a randomly selected victim.   It’s not bad, but it’s a bit subjective to that individual to whose mind He is joined at that point.
  2. One to beam down — Yes, that’s right.   Two consecutive Star Trek images.   As Captain Kirk often did in the original series, God could simply borrow a period costume from the wardrobe department and simply show up in [insert name of your local community] and walk over to [insert name of your local community hangout] and begin a conversation about [insert name of your local community’s losing sports team] and then move on to a discussion of higher things.   It’s better than #1, but He would have no history with those people and that would prevent the conversation from going in certain directions.    Then again, Jesus had history with the people of Nazareth which made it hard for them to do the stretch when He suggested He might actually be Someone Else.
  3. Take the entire journey — When you get right down to it, entering into the human experience from conception to birth to adolescence to manhood does start to make a lot of sense.   The “how” of conception must by definition be consigned to the realm of mystery, though.  But compared to other options, it satisfies the need to empathize fully (“…tempted in all points as we, yet without sin…”) with greater disruption to the natural order of things here (i.e.  people don’t usually ‘beam down’ on a regular basis.)

So ultimately we haven’t made the kind of progress the skeptical mind would like to see.  We still begin with two propositions; (1) that God exists and, (2) that He desires the full IMAX experience of what it is to be one of His created.   Then, on top of the two propositions, we have to relegate the full “how” to mystery.

But this is indeed the premise on which our faith as Christians is based.   And this is the faith that has survived all manner of attempts to shut it down.   Throughout history, from the time Christianity began to as recent — I’m sure — as last week, people have been willing to die for belief in a creator God who enters fully into the experience of HIs creations.

But he doesn’t just show up.    He comes “in the fullness of time.”  Timing is everything.   The prophets give the heads-up that it’s going to happen, though no individual prophet has all the puzzle pieces.   While here, He plays by most of our rules — which are actually His rules, His design — but offers a glimpse into greater power.

A party trick with some washing water that becomes wine starts things off rather innocently.    But there is a wisdom in this rabbi’s teaching that transcends anything the people have heard before.    Then there are the healings.   Reports of the raising of the dead begin innocently, too; you can think Jarius’ daughter was only sleeping, but then what do you do with Lazarus, dead four days?   But then He, Himself beats death itself.

In the end, His identity can’t be hidden any longer.    From age 0 – 30 he did his best to ‘blend,’ but then for three years, His identity becomes less and less veiled.   And finally…

Finally…the God who didn’t just ‘beam down,’ does, in fact, ‘beam up.’

To be continued…

More on this tomorrow, but with a twist… you’ll be directed to click to another blog to continue this topic…

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