Tag Archives: Relationship with God

Why does God even bother?

Philip YanceyAs a journalist, I have had occasion to spend time with famous people who make me feel very small. I have interviewed two presidents of the United States, members of the rock band U2, Nobel laureates, television stars, and Olympic athletes. Although I prepare my questions thoroughly in advance, I rarely sleep well the night before and have to fight a case of nerves. I hardly think of these people as mutual friends.

In prayer I am approaching the Creator of all that is, Someone who makes me feel immeasurably small. How can I do anything but fall silent in such presence? More, how can I believe that whatever I say matters to God? If I step back and look at the big picture, I even wonder why such a magnificent, incomprehensible God would bother with a paltry experiment like planet Earth.

A God unbound by our rules of time has the ability to invest in every person on earth. God has, quite literally, all the time in the world for each one of us. The common question, “How can God listen to millions of prayers at once?” betrays an inability to think outside time. Trapped in time, I cannot conceive of infinity. The distance between God and humanity—a distance that no one can grasp—is, ironically, what allows the intimacy.

Jesus, who accepted the constraints of time while living on this planet, understood better than anyone the vast difference between God and human beings. Obviously, he knew of the Father’s greatness and at times reflected nostalgically on the big picture, “the glory I had with you before the world began.” Yet Jesus did not question the personal concern of God who watches over sparrows and counts the hairs on our heads. More to the point, Jesus valued prayer enough to spend many hours at the task.

If I had to answer the question “Why pray?” in one sentence, it would be, “Because Jesus did.” He bridged the chasm between God and human beings. While on earth he became vulnerable, as we are vulnerable; rejected, as we are rejected; and tested, as we are tested. In every case his response was prayer.
~ Philip Yancy in Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Filed under God, intimacy with the Lord, Jesus, Prayer, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality

How many gods? How many worlds?

Meet the BibleA story is told about Rabbi Joseph Schneerson, a Hasidic leader during the early days of Russian communism. The rabbi spent much time in jail, persecuted for his faith. One morning in 1927, as he prayed in a Leningrad synagogue, secret police rushed in and arrested him. They took him to a police station and worked him over, demanding that he give up his religious activities. He refused. The interrogator brandished a gun in his face and said, “This little toy has made many a man change his mind.” Rabbi Schneerson answered, “This little toy can intimidate only that kind of man who has many gods and but one world. Because I have only one God and two worlds, I am not impressed by this little toy.” ~ Philip Yancey in Meet the Bible

By “two worlds” Rabbi Schneerson is referring to the temporary, physical existence that describes this life up to the grave and the eternal, spiritual existence of our soul which we experience now but which continues beyond the grave.

If our only hope is this present world then the people and possessions of this life will easily become the “many gods” that we cling to at any cost. But if we have a different hope, a better hope that comes from trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord then no circumstance of life will pose a real threat.

None of us can be sure of how we would respond in a situation like the one described here, but we can choose today to be a man or woman with “only one God and two worlds.”

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Christ, Courage, God, Hope, Kingdom of God, Loving God, Philip Yancey, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Trusting God

God can handle anything except…

Philip YanceyGod can handle anger, blame, and even willful disobedience. One thing, however, blocks relationship: indifference.”
~ Philip Yancey

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Trusting God’s Opinion

Philip Yancey“According to Jesus, what other people think of me matters very little. What God thinks matters far more. Pray in a closed room, Jesus said, where no one but your Father can see you, rather than in a public place where you might get credit for being spiritual. In other words, live for God and not other people. I keep clamoring for attention and achievement. Jesus invites me to let go of that competitive struggle, to trust that God’s opinion of me is the only one that counts, ultimately.”

“I could summarize my entire spiritual pilgrimage as an effort to move the operating center from myself to God. I ask myself how my life would differ if I truly played to an audience of One, if I continually asked not “What do I want to do?” or “What would bring me approval from others?” but “What would God have me do?” Certainly my sense of ego and rivalry would fade because I would no longer need to worry about proving myself to other people. I could concentrate instead on pleasing God, by living in such a way that would attract people to Jesus’ style of life.” ~ Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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A Helpful Image of God

Philip YanceyA doctor is probably the most helpful image for me to keep in mind while thinking about God and sin. Why should I seek out God’s view on how to live my life? For the same reason I seek my doctor’s opinion. I defer to my doctor, trusting that we share the same goal, my physical health, but that he brings to the process greater wisdom and expertise. And I am learning to view sins as spiritual dangers—much like carcinogens, bacteria, viruses, and injuries—that must be avoided. I am learning to trust that God wants the best life for me in this world, not some diminished, repressed life.” ~ Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Christianity is all about…

larry-crabb-photo“Life in Christ is all about relationships, with God, others, and ourselves.  When we reduce Christianity to a series of steps for handling life better or a set of truths to believe or a list of things to do, we miss the whole point of the gospel. God created us (and then re-created us) to enjoy His kindness and loving generosity and, in the strength of that enjoyment, to reflect His character by giving ourselves unselfishly to each other.”

~ Larry Crabb Jr., Understanding Who You Are

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

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Soul Rest… by John Ortberg

John OrtbergIn my early 50s I was given a sabbatical: seven weeks with nothing to do. The elders at our church invited me to take it. Actually, they insisted that I take it. I needed it because I was becoming increasingly frustrated and impatient and preoccupied. I felt as if I had too much to do and not enough time or ability to do it. I was obsessed with the external things that needed to be done around me. I was operating on the unspoken assumption that my inner world would be filled with life, peace and joy once my external world was perfect. That’s a great recipe for a healthy soul, as long as you live in a perfect world.

During my sabbatical, it was easy to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life,” as my friend and mentor Dallas Willard had so wisely counseled. I found myself thinking that I’m a better person when I’m on sabbatical than I am when I’m working for God at a church, and I knew that was just plan wrong. I began to form a new goal: I want to be as relaxed as I am on vacation while being as productive as I am at work.

There was only one place to learn about that. So I drove to Box Canyon. I had a whole day to spend with Dallas. I told him that I felt frustrated because the people at the church I served were not changing more. I asked him what I needed to do to help our church experience greater levels of spiritual growth.

Long pause… “You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”

Huh?

“No,” I corrected him. “I wasn’t asking about me. I was asking about other people. I was wondering what I need to make the church do. I was thinking about a book everyone should read, or a program everyone should go through or a prayer system everyone should commit to.”

“Yes, brother John,” he said with great patience and care. “I know you were thinking of those things. But that’s not what they need most. The main thing you will give your congregation – just like the main thing you will give to God – is the person you become. If your soul is unhealthy, you can’t help anybody. You don’t send a doctor with pneumonia to care for patients with immune disorders. You, and nobody else, are responsible for the well-being of your own soul.”

“I’m trying,” I said. “I learned long ago about the importance of having a quiet time when I read the Bible and do daily devotions; I do my best to start each day that way.”

“I didn’t say anything about having a quiet time,” he gently corrected again. “People in church – including pastors – have been crushed with guilt over their failure at having a regular quiet time or daily devotions. And then, even when they do, they find it does not actually lead to a healthy soul. Your problem is not the first 15 minutes of the day. It’s the next 23 hours and 45 minutes. You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”

“But how can I have total contentment, joy and confidence?” I responded. “My work isn’t going nearly well enough. Lots of people are not happy with me. I am inadequate as a pastor, husband and father. Every week I carry the burden of delivering a sermon and knowing I’ll have to feel the pain if it doesn’t go well.

“I didn’t say you should experience total contentment, joy and confidence in the remarkable adequacy of your competence or the amazingly successful circumstances of your life. It’s total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday experience of God. This alone is what makes a soul healthy. This is not your wife’s job. It’s not your elder’s job. It’s not your children’s job. It’s not your friend’s job. It’s your job.”
~ Excerpt from Soul Keeping by John Ortberg

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Filed under God, Health & Wellness, intimacy with the Lord, John Ortberg, Priorities, Relationship with God, Rest, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth

Defining Grace

God exists outside of time, the theologians tell us. God created time as an artist chooses a medium to work with, and is unbound by it. God sees the future and the past in a kind of eternal present. If right about this property of God, the theologians have helped explain Philip Yanceyhow God can possibly call “beloved” a person as inconstant, fickle, and temperamental as I am. When God looks upon my life graph, he sees not jagged swerves toward good and bad but rather a steady line of good: the goodness of God’s Son captured in a moment of time and applied for all eternity.

I grew up with the image of a mathematical God who weighed my good and bad deeds on a set of scales and always found me wanting. Somehow I missed the God of the Gospels, a God of mercy and generosity who keeps finding ways to shatter the relentless laws of ungrace. God tears up the mathematical tables and introduces the new math of grace, the most surprising, twisting, unexpected-ending word in the English language.

Grace makes its appearance in so many forms that I have trouble defining it. I am ready, though, to attempt something like a definition of grace in relation to God. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.

Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.”
~ Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace?, p. 69-70

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Satan’s Masterpiece

Satan’s masterpiece is not the crack addict. Satan’s masterpiece is not the prostitute. Satan’s masterpiece is the person who is satisfied with this world. Satan’s masterpiece is the person who is untroubled by all that is in his Larry Crabb Captureor her interior world that’s opposed to God. He’s content with all the resources that he has to make his life work, and he’s enjoying respect and recognition and affection, and he’s never broken before God to the point where he lives for no one but God. That’s Satan’s masterpiece.

The Spirit’s masterpiece is someone who doesn’t look very mature sometimes. The Spirit’s masterpiece can be someone who is deeply troubled, someone who struggles a lot, someone who is aware of his or her own interior world and doesn’t like what’s there, someone who’s troubled by the world in which they live, someone who therefore cries out to God, “Reveal Yourself to me. You’re all that I want. There’s nothing in my perception that can satisfy me except You. I know it’s You.” That’s not foolishness. That’s wisdom, and the person who’s crying out to God for satisfaction may look very unstable, may not have a good job, may not have very much money. They may not be chipper and happy all the time, but if that person is in fact the Spirit’s masterpiece, all that may be going on… there’s still going to be a pattern of kindness, a pattern of movement toward other people, and a pattern of abiding trust in God through struggles along the way.
~ Dr. Larry Crabb in SoulCare 201, Lesson 7

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Brokenness, Christianity, Holy Spirit, intimacy with the Lord, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Satan, Trusting God

What if God doesn’t want us to do life for Him?

Back on Mother’s Day my daughter Mykaela and I were discussing different aspects of a relationship with God when she made a familiar statement.

“I want to do life for God in a way that pleases Him.”

Life with GodI’ve made that same statement countless times and was delighted to hear her express such a God-honoring sentiment. But this time it triggered a peculiar thought.

Doing life for someone typically happens when that person is absent or bed-ridden with illness or even dead. You know, like “Win one for the Gipper.” But since God isn’t absent or sick or dead, maybe there’s an even better option.

Maybe God would prefer that we do life with  Him rather than for Him.

Just before His departure and return to the Father Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Jesus was speaking of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which He describes in John 14:15-23. And Paul said, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

I used Mother’s Day as an example and explained that instead of planning the meals and special activities for Susan, I planned them with Susan. I got her input on what she would most enjoy.

It’s not a bad thing to take 10 minutes at the start of a day to talk with God and commit to living for Him. But how might our days go differently if we went into them with the awareness of God’s presence; of doing life with Him?

Even our most God-honoring plans for any given day will have twists and turns thrown into the mix. If I’m doing life for God with a set agenda then these twists and turns will likely aggravate me as unwanted intrusions. (Quite often they do!)

But if I approach each day with God then perhaps He’ll give me grace for the unexpected or even use them to redirect me toward a divine encounter I hadn’t planned on.

Prayer keeps us connected to God so that we can do life with Him at any given moment. And He delights in doing life with His children!

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Children of God, Divine presence, God the Father, God's Will, Holy Spirit, intimacy with the Lord, Prayer, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality