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Stephen McWhirter and Iron Bell

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June Newsletter-More Christ-Like God

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One thing that should have happened when Christ came was that we would be persuaded to see a more Christ-like God.  In some ways that’s a hard thought for our minds to process.  Jesus was God’s direct intervention into the very definition of Who God was and is the mirror image of the face of God.  Jesus was a new wrinkle in the Gospel story, our story.  He was stepping into what had previously been given only to prophet, priest and king.  He spoke uniquely as God spoke, did exactly as God would do. Part of the conversation Jesus had with the world was that He knew the Father better than anyone else- anyone else ever!  Jesus wasn’t the end to this story; he was the bridge to bring us home (to ‘Father’).  Jesus came to reveal God, not just in talk, but in walk.  Jesus told us he only did what he saw the Father doing.  He exposed the heart of God, not just the stone letter of God’s law.  That in turn should have caused us to ‘see’ the nature and characteristics of God more clearly than ever before.

From Adam and Eve forward, we developed a God-view that sometimes misunderstood much of the purpose and function of God.  Adam and Eve developed an eye problem (Gen. 3: 5-7), being persuaded away from their personal relationship with God, moving to an opinion of God that was centered on self-guilt.  They relied on their interpretation of who they thought God was rather than their experience of God.  They moved from a God that walked and talked with them, from a God that encouraged them and made them the focus of the Love of the Creation, an intimate God, to a more suspicious, even angry God.  Simply put, they doubted the goodness of God.  Double-mindedness set in, not simply seeing a God that loves but also a God to be feared.  The truth is they saw a God that was bent on throwing Adam and Eve away as they hid in the Garden, a God of anger, and they failed to see the God that moved toward them with compassion and a plan of reconciliation.  This God stepped further into their world rather than withdrawing or shunning them. They began to see God holding out on them, not being fair to them.  Sometimes, God gets interpreted much the same way today.  While their vision of God was wrong, that vision of God created a suspicion in our minds that resulted in walking away from God’s fellowship and trust.  Their problem was a seeing problem, a perception problem, which resulted in them separating themselves from God and doing that by their own choosing, not His.  Instead of being drawn to the face of God, they (and we) turned away in shame and fear.

Here’s my motivation for this letter.  Jane and I have three adult daughters. If I had the opportunity to share any one thing with them, a significant part of it would be what’s in this letter.  We’re all His children, created to share Life with Him.   We create children for the same reason God did: to share our lives with.  It pleases us to do that, as it pleased Him.  We fill ourselves with hope for our children, we dream about them, pray for them and hopefully we learn to be patient and forgiving as they journey through the life we’ve given them.  Somehow, each of us seems to default to the same vision of God that Adam and Eve so efficiently started.  In effect, we can participate with His Love or go our own way, bite our own apple.

The Bible calls that darkness. Darkness is simply the absence of light.  Oh, Adam and Eve believed in God, they just started believing wrong about Him.  In the believer’s world, it’s that kind of darkness that stands as the hindrance to a clear view of Christ, a clear view of His Father.  It’s similar to the moon blocking the light of the sun, an eclipse occurs in which no light passes through.  It’s not that there is no light, it’s just blocked from our eyes.  And just as the moon gets in the way of the sun, so our earthly cares can block our ‘seeing Him’.  As the moon moves away from the sun, more light is revealed.  The same is true of the Gospel.  As we abandon our interests and replace them with His interests, more revealing takes place of the true nature of God.  It’s to be remembered, darkness isn’t a good or evil problem, it’s a vision problem.  Jesus declared that he is the Light, the Life of the world.  He’s not asking us to agree with that for it to be true, He declares that it’s true whether we agree or not.

Not receiving that Truth sometimes leaves us bargaining to get God to do something for us, negotiating to get our plans endorsed rather than trusting in Him.  Rather than celebrating what He has done for us, we can miss so much of what He hopes to share with us.  The process of knowing His Love makes us free.  It’s not freedom to run away, although we can, but a freedom in Him that makes it possible for us to be healed and restored.  It makes us free to care, share and be fearless to love others.  Discovering the truth of belonging to Him is the first step in experiencing a whole and healthy way of living found simply in the knowledge of God’s Love for you.

Our discussions about what’s good and what is evil are all well and good, and indeed, necessary. But that alone is not sufficient for this generation of young people who are looking for what will lead them into Life, a better Life.  Paul teaches in Galatians that the Spirit must supersede the conversion of the flesh. (Gal. 3-3)  Simple rules alone won’t fly with this next generation.  Theirs is a playground where it all boils down to this: will this Gospel truly enrich (not money but relationships) my life or will it fail to do so?  Is the Gospel really able to deliver something better, or is it no better than the promises and pipe dreams of this world’s system?  They’re not looking for God in just our Sunday version but a God that enters into the brokenness of their every day.

 A change occurred in the garden.  What was not distinguishable by Adam and Eve before the fall, their nakedness, their natural fellowship and trust with the Father and their confidence, all disappeared.  Two people who earlier had experienced intimately walking and talking with God suddenly saw the world and God with new eyes.  They saw everything a different way.  Their eye correction prescription became the wrong prescription and prevented them from seeing with original eyes.  This new vision had a sting in it.  At the very moment of their disobedience, their new thinking about God became a self-imposed lie.  In some ways we’re stung by that same bite, influenced by the same lie today.  That’s a default in our birth package; you got that suspicious attitude at the hospital, took it home with you.  The curse of the Tree of Good and Evil caused us to change our minds about how see Him.  And now, just simply by being born, every person has an Adam and Eve moment to overcome.  That’s the original and historical Sin of man, the separation from God of our own making.  The remedy for that is the Light of Christ that comes and dispels that darkness.  We need a renewal of our minds to the understanding of the mind of Christ.  We need a vision to see ‘peace on earth, good will toward men’.  Instead of seeing separation, we need to perceive the God of adoption.

From the human perspective, the cross looked like a place where God was not present. It looked hopeless and a lonely place to those gathered there.  When Jesus cried out ‘where art thou’, in reality, he was not alone at the moment.  [To confirm that simply go to Psalm 22 (prophecy of the crucifixion) and read the next Psalm (23) Jesus is proclaiming.]  In reality it wasn’t a cross of abandonment, but a cross of trust.  Our Gospel encourages us to pick up that cross of Trust and follow Him.  In our worst moments, under the surest pressure, with the faintest of heartbeats, we’re not to doubt or be persuaded away from the Truth of God and His presence.  We’re not to repeat the failure of Adam and Eve but be captured by the vision of Jesus Christ.  We are to know He’s trustworthy, He’s exactly the same God that’s walked and talked to us our whole spiritual lives.  God ran toward them rather than turning away!  Adam and Eve were moved away from what they knew about Him to what they thought.  They saw the wrong picture of Him in their minds and created a wrong picture in the eye of their heart.  It was a mistake then, it’s a mistake now.

Jesus handed us Eternal life.  That Life is both about our everlasting (the next) life and the quality of this one.  The next generation must find Hope in the Gospel and confirm its value for their every life.  With the re-establishment of the Tree of Life (Jesus Christ), this time into the Garden of Gethsemane, and His new Creation through His resurrection, God again walks and talks with us each day, meets us each morning just as He did in that first Garden.  That’s the redemption, the new Life of Christ.  The Garden has been re-opened for ministry and relationship between God and people.  We were all born as blind men.  We need new eyes.  With Jesus, blind men saw instantly. That’s still happening today.   I’m reminded of what C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘Joy is the serious business of Heaven.’  The business of Heaven, the reason for Christ, was to deliver the Joy of a new day, possible by simply opening our eyes to our adoption, through Christ.

May Newsletter: Happiness

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Joy not happiness!

I saw an interesting sign the other day, it said: Money can’t make you happy.  But, money can buy you a cow, a cow can give milk, you can make ice cream with milk.  Ice Cream can make you happy!

Just like everyone else’s, Jane’s and my life can be full of all kinds of stress and pressure that has to be dealt with.   I’m unaware of anyone’s life that’s completely isolated from trouble of some kind.   However, because of the Gospel of Christ, many of my newsletters seem to have a positive bent.  It’s just such Good News.  I can’t find anything to be sad or discouraged about when thinking about Him.  I hope this letter might explain our Gospel optimism a bit further.

Jane often makes the following expression when talking about the rehab after her paralysis a few years ago: ‘I’ll be happy just to get out of this wheelchair and use a walker.  I’ll be happy if I could just use a cane instead of this walker.  I would be happy if I could just hold on to the wall and walk down the hall and lay this cane down.’  Happy kept moving on her.  Actually, happy, it seems, is always out in front, just out of our reach.  It wasn’t until she began to walk again, drive again, that it dawned on her that happiness could be so fleeting.  Subsequently, she’s now much more comfortable contrasting happiness with Joy.  They’re not the same. There are times we’re happy, but three days later we’re yearning for something to make us happy again.  (I’m kind of like that after getting an Amazon package.)  However, there’re times we can be very unhappy and yet full of Joy at that very same time.  Joy is created by His Spirit and completely separate from what might make us happy.  We often confuse happiness with pleasure, but pleasure is at best an illusion, a shadow of God’s Joy, but not the real thing.  A person can live his whole life seeking after pleasure and never find satisfaction.  Jane and I have discovered you can’t find Joy in a momentary emotion.  People are the kind of creatures that, by our very nature, even being happy for a moment, would still find some excuse to be unhappy almost immediately.  I think the reason for that is we all have a deep (God given) yearning for His true Happiness, something that our little collection of ‘happy things’ can’t give.

People that are full of Joy, in some sense of that word, are happy everywhere; owning a beautiful home or simply renting a little flat.  They can be satisfied with a big bank account and not so big bank accounts; some whether they’re as healthy as a horse and some that might be sick as a dog.  The difference is that people full of Joy have discovered a fountain of happiness which is situated in their own heart.   As long as we haven’t found that fountain, what Jesus called a river of living water, nothing will give us a long-lasting happiness.  The Greek word Joy is closely associated with gladness, or to be pleased.  It’s not a gladness that celebrates any particular moment or event; it’s a gladness that simply stays in thanksgiving no matter the moment.  Scripture tells us to be full of thanks in all things (1Thes. 5:18, Eph. 5:20).   We can’t do that by our own design and effort.  That kind of Joy comes from knowing who you are in Christ and Who He is in you.  Fact: the Spirit of God truly has been established deep inside our hearts.  Fact: if recognized, our inner person shouldn’t always be responding to what’s going on outside our heart.  Because of Christ living in us, our inside is strong, stable, convinced and not moved away from truths of the Gospel.  This Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit and is part of the package delivered by the presence of God in us. (Gal. 5:22)

There’s a mystery the New Testament writers referred to quite often.  The secret for gladness is hidden behind a veil– that veil, the discovery of spiritual knowledge.  Spiritual knowledge is nothing but this:  a constant longing in the heart of man to have and know something of his beginning, his purpose.  It’s an inner longing to experience something of what it was like, what was true of Adam and Eve, before the fall.  That fall messed up our peace, it disturbed our understanding of our relationship with a God that prefers to be called Father.  It’s possible that kind of Joy can elude us all our lives.  We can wander aimlessly from ‘happy’ to ‘happy’, all the while being ignorant of the thing that matters most: acceptance and adoption into God’s Life.   That’s the true source of Joy. God already knows who we are and why we’re here.  Our struggle is not with Him, but that we haven’t discovered it for ourselves.

Recently, my 13 year old grandson said something Jane and I had to pause and think about.  It was something he could not have been taught by our family because none of us are wise enough to have suggested it to him.  The subject strangely was the sadness of people that separate themselves from God and choose to be eternally separated.  His comment was:  (I paraphrase) how sad it was that those people would live their lives, make that choice, and because of choosing that separation, ‘they’ll never know who they were supposed to be’.   That exactly describes the Joy of this letter.  To always be looking for something then dying without ever finding it is very, very sad for sure.  But that’s the whole of the Gospel.   Jesus came to give us a path to Joy.  He made it possible to find Joy in this life and in the Life hereafter.

Once the spiritual knowledge of the Love of God comes, people can see there’s something that will make them really happy and give them their heart’s desire. I have a note tucked away in one of my books and I don’t remember where it came from but it goes like this:  ‘Though there are many things in life which I need for the moment, and for which I shall certainly work, yet there is only that one thing, around which life centers, one thing that will satisfy me:  … the attainment of God.   Such a one has found the key to all happiness, and has found that all the things he needs will be reached because he has the key to all.’

The Kingdom of God is righteousness (from God), Peace (from God) and Joy (from God).  All are found in His manifestation on earth: the Holy Spirit of God. (Rom. 14:17)   Jesus endured the cross for the Joy set before him. (Heb. 12:2)  I might paraphrase that scripture like this:  Look at Christ, look at Him intently, perceive and understand that He carried our pain, misfortune, hardship, our afflictions, and though despising the anger of mankind and its injustice, yet He endured that because of the Joy set before Him, because of the salvation of believers made possible by the world’s punishment placed on the Son of God.

Is it realistic to think that we can be full of Joy in harsh, tough situations?  I believe we can.  Jane and I have experienced that and have seen that in others.   Peace is the spiritual blessing of knowing the Father’s character and nature and incorporating that into our hearts.  It’s not what we think with our logical brains or even what others have said about Him, but knowing Him because of an encounter with Him.  That personal knowing Him pushes away fear, discouragement, and anger.  In difficult times we’re not challenged to guess the whys because we know Who.  Why did we ever need the Gospel of John to tell us about a Comforter if we would never need one? (John 16:7)   And why a Comforter unless in the heart of God it was intended for us to be Comforted?  Sometimes I overhear Jane’s phone calls.  The essence of what I usually hear her saying is: In this world you will run smack dab into trouble, that’s guaranteed for all of us, but be of good cheer.  That cheer is best described from a Greek word that means to be of good courage.  That courage is based on His courage and having been that victorious for us.  For Jesus has overcome the world, and in Him, so have we.

Yes, ice cream can make us happy, but for how long?  Things can do that momentarily, but day-in day-out we’ll need more than that to become stable and be ‘the same in little and in much’.  The Good News of this Gospel is just that– Good News.  It’s not necessary to balance God’s Good News statement with a ‘but’ following it.  It’s always good news and it’s Good News in all situations.   Truly, the Good News applies in all our situations.  Jesus has sent His Spirit to encourage us that no matter what we find ourselves having to face, take courage and let the Comforter comfort.  He sent the Spirit to be a Helper to us, to rescue us when we need rescued and to ‘in-Joy’ the Life available in Christ.  He did this so that, right now, in the middle of the calamity and the world’s pressure, we can still be full of Gladness.  Not just the emoji type but the deep in our heart type.