Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pray to God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

I was wondering recently about how we should pray to God.  Should we pray to God only or do we pray to Jesus?  What about praying to the Holy Spirit?  Is that okay?  The model prayer we have been given is, “Our Father in heaven…” so can we safely assume that Jesus wants us to pray to God and not him or the Holy Spirit?  The Lord’s Prayer has often been used as a basis for praying to God alone.  “Jesus never said to pray to him or to the Holy Spirit,” proponents of this view declare.  “So we shouldn’t pray to anyone but God.”

But I think we are missing the bigger picture by focusing solely on this issue.  In the first place, John said that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (John 1:1) We know this was Jesus because later he says “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling with us.” (John 1:14) In Hebrews we read that Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being. (Heb. 1:3) And Jesus prayed that we would all be one just as he and the Father were one. (John 17:20-21) Furthermore, in the beginning the Spirit of the Lord was hovering over the waters and God said, “Let us make man in our image.” (Gen. 1:2 and 26) So it’s clear that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all one.  So if we pray to the Father, we are also praying to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  If we pray to Jesus, we are also praying to the Father and the Holy Spirit.  And if we pray to the Holy Spirit, we are also praying to the Father and Jesus.  They are all one so if you interact with one, you interact with all. 

But taking it a step further, focusing on this question misses the level of relationship we can have with God.  Most people take a “I’m just a lowly servant” attitude when it comes to God.  When they talk to God, they revert to, “I come before thee now, just a nobody in thy presence, to humbly ask you for just one thing.”  But Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants.  Instead, I have called you friends.” (John 15:15) Notice Jesus takes the initiative to call us friends; he doesn’t wait for us to call him friend.  By this we can see that Jesus wants us to be friends with him, God and the Holy Spirit. (Since they are all one.) But so many people get up from praying with “thee, thou” language and go to a friend’s house and say, “Hey man!” and give their friends high fives and hugs.  If we are friends with God, why do we not say, “Hey buddy!” to God?

“That’s disrespectful!” 
“This is GOD you are talking to here!”

But wait—if God calls us friends, it would be an insult to him if we treat our own friends better than we treat him.  It would be disrespectful to demote ourselves back down to “servant” after he declared that we are his friends. 

More so, Paul says that we have received a spirit of sonship and we cry out, “Abba, Father.” (Rom. 8:15) Going still further, Paul says the relationship between a husband and wife is a mystery in that it is actually a picture of Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:31-32)

So if we look at marriage, we get a picture of what Christ wants with the church.  In a marriage, both the man and his wife are naked and unashamed. (Gen. 2:25) So we are to be totally vulnerable and exposed to God.  But God is going to be vulnerable and exposed to us as well.  Because both the husband and wife were naked before each other.  God is not ashamed to be naked before us, we should not be ashamed to be naked before him. 

Paul picks up on this imagery even further and says the man and wife will be united and the two will become one flesh. (Eph. 5:31) One of Jesus’ final prayers on this earth was that all of his followers would be one with God just as he was one with the Father.  And he himself said that his words were the Father’s words. (John 14:10) So this is actually God’s (Father, Son and Spirit) prayer: that we would all be one in Him just as Jesus is. During the same prayer, Jesus said, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) 

“But this is not the simple, casual ‘knowing’ of an acquaintance, or even a close friend.  The word  used here for ‘know’ is ginosko, and it means ‘to be involved in an intimate, growing relationship.’  In the Greek version of the Old Tstament, this is the word used in Genesis 4:1, where it says, ‘Adam knew Eve and she bore a son.’ This is the most intimate relationship possible.  Jesus makes the fantastic statement that this is what eternal life is all about!” (How to Hear God’s Voice by Mark and Patti Virkler) Now when it says that Adam knew Eve and she bore a son, clearly this is a reference to a sexual relationship.  And the original thought expressed in Genesis 2:24 (quoted by Paul in Ephesians 5:31) is actually a reference to the sexual union of a husband and wife.  When it says “the two will become one flesh” it is referring to the physical union of a husband and wife in sexual embrace.  And that is a picture of Christ and the church! 

There is an intimacy in marriage like no other relationship.  And that’s what God says he wants with us.  And this isn’t just in the New Testament.  God told Israel that he was their husband. (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:14, 31:32) In Hosea, God refers to himself as a husband and Israel as an unfaithful wife.  This is how God sees the relationship with us—as a husband and wife.  Why do we not see it that we ourselves?  Why do we insist on discouraging the closeness and intimacy that God clearly wants with us?

Now how does a husband address his wife?  Does he use formal language, addressing her as “m’am” and “Mrs. Smith?” (Or whatever their last name is.) Does the wife approach her husband with, “I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but wouldst thou be willing to help me with this one task?  I promise I’ll never ask you for anything ever again.”  No!  They are very casual with each other.  They address each other as, “Honey” and “Dear” and “Babe.”  They don’t use formal address to talk to each other.  That would be ridiculous considering the type of relationship they have.  If they were meeting someone for the first time, especially someone important (like the president of a company, e.g.) then they would use that language with him.  But if upon meeting the president of a company and saying, “Hello, Mr. Johnson.  How are you sir?” and the president said, “Call me George,” then they have a different frame of reference.  If they continue to call him, “Mr. Johnson” it would be an insult to his gesture of intimacy.  We understand this with this example, yet this is what people do all the time with God.  He has said, “I no longer call you servants, but friends” and he clearly expresses he wants the type of relationship a husband and wife have, yet we continue to address him as, “Thee, thou, Most Holy God, etc.”  We forget that it is God who wants intimacy with us.  Not the other way around.  He made the first move and the first gesture of intimacy.  And he says that what husbands and wives have, he wants with us.

Even to the point that he has pet names for us.  Husbands and wives often address each other with pet names.  Sometimes they are general like, “Honey” as I mentioned before.  But sometimes they are specific to their relationship and the names mean something only to them.  For instance, I call my wife “My Cheeseburger.”  Now that doesn’t sound very romantic or special to outsiders.  But it means something to us.  The first weekend we spent together, we watched a video of Veggie Tales.  One of the songs they played was a song called, “My Cheeseburger.”  It is played as a romantic song between a cucumber and his cheeseburger.  So ever since then we have said to each other, “You are my cheeseburger.”  Well, God says that when we get to Heaven, he will give us a white stone with a new name known only to God and the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17) This is a special “pet name” just between each individual and God.  Much like each husband and wife have special names reserved only for each other, we will have that with God.  So why are we so afraid of this kind of intimacy with God?  Now do I call my wife, “Honey” “Babe” “Dear” “Cheeseburger” or “Kristy?” 


All of those are her name to me.  But notice it is only her formal name that others use to address her.  I have a special relationship with her as her husband so I have special names that I use that nobody else uses.  Ever.  (At least they better not!) For an outsider, those terms would be offensive to her.  But from me, they are terms of endearment and intimacy. 

We are not outsiders to God!  We are his friends and we are his bride!  We don’t have to be afraid of calling him a name that is too comfortable.  Coming from someone who isn’t in relationship with him, “Hey God” would be offensive and disrespectful to him.  But coming from his bride, it is the sign of intimacy.  It is his lover calling to him.  And lovers don’t worry about getting too personal with each other.

Now I know the concern is that we will get “too” comfortable with God.  Well, on one hand—what’s wrong with that?  If God clearly desires intimacy with us, let’s give him what he desires.  On the other hand, in a healthy marriage, there is mutual respect even within the intimacy.  So being intimate with God doesn’t mean we lose respect.  In fact, I believe it can enhance the respect more than the person who continues to see himself as a “lowly servant” before God.

“But isn’t the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom/knowledge?” (from Proverbs 1:7; 9:10)

Yes, but it is only the beginning. 

John writes, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) And Paul adds to this, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Rom. 8:15) God  has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love. (see 2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV)

Yes, fear is the beginning of wisdom—but love is the end.  And there is no fear in love. (Much of these thoughts concerning fear and love were developed from reading, “He Loves Me” by Wayne Jacobsen.)

I think we go through stages in our relationship with God.  (At least, this has been the case with me.) We obviously start out as enemies. (Romans 5:10) When we accept Christ we, of course, instantly become the Bride.  But our understanding of this is developed through continuing to grow in our walk with him.  First we develop a parent/child relationship with him.  This is the stage where we are concerned with obeying him and doing what he says.  Next we realize that he calls us friends and we focus more on the relationship with him rather than the rules he establishes.  Then we grow into sonship and learn that we have the rights of a son in his family, just as Jesus does.  The last stage—and the true goal for ever believer—is to become one with him—to become his bride. 

And no bride worries about how to address her husband.  There is so much intimacy and closeness, she simply talks freely with him.  May we know God in this same way and experience the true eternal life that comes from oneness with him.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Where is God?

A while back I was thinking about all the times we ask, “Where is God?” 

“Where is God…when bad things happen?”
“Where is God…when illness lingers?”
“Where is God…when relationships break down?”

Philip Yancey put it best in the title of his book, “Where is God when it hurts?” 

That’s what we often want to know, isn’t it?  It doesn’t matter what “it” is.  The only thing that matters is that “it” hurts.  And we want to know where God is.

Then it occurred to me: Why do we only ask “Where is God” when things go wrong?  Why do we only seek his presence in the painful moments?  Why do we not also ask, “Where is God?” during the good times?  Why do we not look for God in good times?  Why do we only look for God in the painful, difficult, stressful times of life? 

It makes me realize just how incredibly selfish we really are. 

Think about it: Don’t we ignore God most of the time, erroneously thinking we have things under control?  And as long as we have food on the table and money in the bank we are comfortable with putting God on the waiting list while we attend to more “important” matters? 

But when things go wrong and our life is out of sorts and we realize that we aren’t in control, we immediately start asking, “Where is God?  What kind of God would allow this?”  We ignore God when things are going well, then put all the blame on him when things go bad.

And then we have a day once a year where we say, “Let’s give thanks to God for all he has blessed us with in the last year?” 

How incredibly selfish of us.

What if we start asking, “Where is God?” when things are going well?  What if we started looking for God in the good times and not just the bad?  Instead of wondering, “What kind of God would allow this?” when things go wrong, what if we asked, “What kind of God would bless us in spite of ourselves?”

Jesus said God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt. 5:45)
Paul said God loved us and saved us even while we were still sinners. (Rom. 5:8)

What kind of God would do this?  A God who is filled with compassion and grace, who is slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. (Ex. 34:6)

This Thanksgiving, let’s make the decision to start looking for God every day and in every situation.  Not just when things go wrong in our lives.  Let’s stop using God as our backup plan when our plans fail.  Let’s start looking for God and the ways he is working in our lives in the good times and not just pointing the finger at him in the bad times.

Instead of it being a question of defeat, loss and failure, let’s turn the question, “Where is God?” into a positive question filled with anticipation and joy.  Let’s look for God in the daily things like the sunshine and rain, as Jesus pointed out.  Let’s look for the ways God is blessing us every day, instead of only thinking of him when things go wrong.

You just might find that he is more involved in your life than you realize.  And when things do go wrong, you will know that he is near because you have spent time seeing him in all areas of your life. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

No Rules

In the movie, “The Matrix,” the lead character Neo is faced with a choice.  He is told that he can choose to take the blue pill and he will wake up in his bed and can believe whatever he wants.  Or he can take the red pill and he can stay in “Wonderland” and find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Sometimes I feel a little like Neo.  I feel as if I have taken the “red pill” because the longer I have been a Christian, the more I find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Specifically the more I study the Cross, the more I find out just how much was accomplished at Calvary.  Commonly it is taught that our sins were crucified on the cross.  And while this is true, that is not all that was accomplished.  Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5, NIV) From this passage alone we see that God had more than just our sins in mind when Jesus was on the cross.  Yes, he was pierced for our transgressions—another word for sins.  But he was also crushed for our iniquities.  Iniquities is a term the Bible uses to cover those sins that continually entice us.  We might think of this in terms of addictions.  If you’ve ever seen a family where the grandfather, father and son were all alcoholics, you were looking at iniquities.  Jesus was crushed so we could be set free from these as well as from our sins.  Then Isaiah says his punishment brought us peace.  So again we have more than forgiveness of sins.  We have peace—with God, with others, with ourselves.  And it is by his wounds we are healed.  So healing was also purchased for us with the blood of Christ. 

So we see that simply saying, “Christ died for our sins,” is actually not a complete statement.  And to limit the cross of Christ to this alone is to do an injustice to the blood of Christ.  This “rabbit hole” goes much deeper than we even realize.  Perhaps this is why Paul said, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (Eph. 3:17b-18, NIV)

And there is still more to this.  Paul says in Colossians, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Col. 2:13-14, NIV)

Notice what he says is nailed to the cross.  Paul says God canceled the “written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”  So now we’ve added something else that was crucified on the cross.  In addition to our sins, the entire Law itself was crucified.  That system of “Do this/Don’t do that” was taken away.  Removed.  Cancelled.  It no longer exists.  God did this because the law was opposed to us.  The Law stirs up sin within us. (see Romans 7) Paul says that it is because the law said, “Do not covet” that sin rose up and produced in him every covetous desire.  And because of this, Paul says the law brings wrath. (Rom. 4:15) So what happens if you take away that law?  Sin has nothing to build on to produce sinful desires.  So we don’t have a desire to sin because there is no law.  If there is no law, there is no transgression of law.  So there is no sin.  This is how our sin was removed from us. 

Here’s a practical example of this:  On my drive to work every day I go through a section of road that has a school zone.  There is a law stating I can only go 20 miles per hour during times when the light is flashing.  If I go more than 20 mph when the light is flashing, I break the law.  But a few months ago, there was a change made in the road.  In the process they removed the school zone completely.  So now there is no school zone.  So it is now impossible for me to violate the school zone speed limit because it no longer exists.  This is what Paul means when he says the written code (The Law) with its regulations, was taken away, nailed to the cross.  The Law has been removed so now there is no law to break, hence there is no sin on our account.

The message is: There are no rules.  There is no system of rules and law to govern our behavior.  God found fault with that system so he took it away and in its place gave us a better covenant, founded on better promises. (see Heb. 8:6-8)

This is essentially the message of the book of Galatians.  Paul is saying to them, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, NIV) What is it to be burdened by a yoke of slavery?  It is to be bound to keeping the Law.  For as he goes on to say that if you keep one part of the law, you are obligated to obey the whole law. (see Gal. 5:3) And if you are seeking to be justified by keeping the law, you have been alienated from Christ and have fallen away from grace. (Gal. 5:4) Read all of Galatians with this in mind and you will see this is the message of the book.

The obvious question at this point is, “So with no law, does that mean we can just do whatever we want?”  Paul addresses this in Romans.  He asks, “What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1-2, NIV) He goes on to say that since we died with Christ, the body of sin has been done away with.  So we should count ourselves dead to sin, but alive to Christ. (read all of Romans 6 to get the full message) As Paul says in Galatians, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use you freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” (Gal. 5:13, NIV)

Now, instead of following a system of rules, Paul urges us to live by the Spirit.  In doing so we won’t gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Gal. 5:16) And he says that if we are led by the Spirit, we are not under law, thus we are not under wrath, because the law brings wrath. (Gal. 5:18; Rom. 4:15) This is the better covenant built on better promises.  Instead of following law that brings wrath, we are to be led by the Spirit.  This is better because “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14, NIV) And this is ultimately the goal of Christianity—to become a son of God with Jesus as the firstborn among many brothers. (see Rom. 8:29)  Because when we follow after the Spirit of God, we don’t have to be concerned with unrighteousness because the Spirit desires what is contrary to the sinful nature. (Gal. 5:17) And the fruit of following the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And Paul says that “against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23)

There are no rules.  The only thing we need to be concerned with is, “Follow the leading of the Spirit.”  Obviously the Spirit would never lead us to lie, steal, commit adultery, etc. so we don’t have to worry about any of that.  We don’t have to come up with rules to govern our behavior.  There are no rules anyway.  Remember, the rules have been nailed to the cross. 

Just simply follow the Spirit as a son of God.  In this way you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature and the fruit of following the Spirit will be evidenced in your life.  And you will live in the full freedom that Christ’s death purchased for you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I finally have a blog!  This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while but never got around to doing.  But now I am taking the plunge into the world of blogging.  It’s exciting and intimidating all at the same time.  I love to write and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts and receiving feedback.

I decided to call my blog “Explorations in Freedom.”  The scripture says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Gal. 5:1) Since Christ died to give us freedom, shouldn’t freedom be a major theme in our lives?  Shouldn’t we explore the implications of that freedom as it applies to our relationships, our decisions and our own hearts? 

So often, Christians become lethargic with their faith.  They fall prey to the mindset, “I accepted Christ so when I die I will go to Heaven.”  While that is true, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  There is so much more to it than simply avoiding Hell. 

There’s a scene in the 1971 film, “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” that illustrates this point.  At the end of the journey through the factory, Charlie and his grandfather are in Wonka’s office.  After returning the “everlasting gobstopper,” Wonka informs Charlie that he wins the prize.  Charlie thinks he has won a lifetime supply of chocolate.  When he asks about this, Wonka says, “Yes, yes the chocolate.  But that’s just the beginning!”  And as you know, Charlie inherited the entire factory and Wonka Empire—eventually inheriting the mantle of Willie Wonka himself.

So often we think we’ve inherited a “get out of Hell free” card.  But that’s just the beginning!  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!  There is so much more to Christ’s sacrifice for us.  And we do ourselves no favors by ignoring the freedom Christ’s blood secured for us.  Let’s explore this freedom.  Let’s examine what this means for our lives.  Let’s go on an exploration. 

An exploration of freedom.