Schoolhouse Rock, Godwinks & Faith

At StarGift we often suggest seeking God as a first step to growing faith.  From time to time someone asks “How do I start seeking God?”  And so we make suggestions for getting started, many different suggestions, because we are all different and what is right for one, what enables one to open their heart may be different from what inspires another to do so.

We are not theologians. We are no experts. We are people who have sought God and found great joy in doing so. That is our only credential!

In this article, we’d like to share a new guide to seeking God.

How many of you remember “Schoolhouse Rock!” 

Image of big block words “School House Rock” adjacent to the superhero cartoon character from the ABC television series of the 1970s.

Yes, it was that educational series on ABC television in the 1970s. You can learn more about SchoolHouse Rock at this slideshow. Or you can check out the wikipedia article cited below:

Schoolhouse Rock! is an American interstitial programming series of animated musical educational short films (and later, videos) that aired during the Saturday morning children’s programming block on the U.S. television network ABC. The topics covered included grammarscienceeconomicshistorymathematics, and civics. The series’ original run lasted from 1973 to 1985; it was later revived with both old and new episodes airing from 1993 to 1999. Additional episodes were produced in 2002 and 2009 for direct-to-video release.”

Wickipedia

The man that brought us Schoolhouse Rock, the television executive “who led Good Morning America to first place for the first time,” is Squire Rushnell.  Today, Rushnell is an author and inspirational speaker.  Read about him at this Wikipedia article.

Rushnell also created the expression ‘Godwink’ to explain well, the otherwise unexplainable.  He has written several books, some on the New York Times bestseller list. 

In this article we’d like to share some thoughts about and from “Divine Alignment: How GodWink Moments Guide Your Journey,” by Squire Rushnell.

One of the ideas we find interesting and helpful for the novice beginning to seek God is the comparison of God, whom Rushnell calls “The Navigator,” to a GPS Navigation system.  This navigation system supports Divine Alignment: “the arrangement of coincidences into a pattern of alignment so astonishing they could have come only from a higher source.” It is the communication with this navigator that enables us to tap into Divine Alignment, and recognize the guidance to make decisions that advance our lives according to the divine plan for our lives. It will teach you how to talk with God, how to get to know Him, how to engage in relationship with Him.

“Each of us is born with a built-in GPS.  God’s Positioning System.”

“Right from birth, we come equipped with a highly sophisticated navigational package that—through an internal voice of intuition and godwinks—divinely aligns us with people, as well as events, who assist us in reaching our destiny and keep us from losing our way.”

Digest that for a moment.  Think about your life experiences.  Do you have an inner voice that makes suggestions?  Do you recognize moments when you experience ‘intuition?’  It’s kind of like magic isn’t it?  Have you ever had an experience that was so coincidental as to make you wonder how it could be?  Do you have a conscience that keeps you from doing things that you ‘know’ intuitively are wrong?  Do you have a conscience that makes you uncomfortable with any choice to ignore?   Do you have a conscience that encourages you to put someone else before your own needs or desires? 

If so, you can confirm this idea of an internal navigation system based on your own experience.  I know I can.

There are many books and movies out today that show a theme of inter-connectedness.  One of the first that really grabbed my attention was “Where the Heart Is” a novel by Billie Letts published in 1995.  What a magical story of real people encountering one another, sharing something unexpected, helping one another, changing lives even as their own life was changed.  As I read it, I thought, this author has captured the mystery of the universe.  And that led me to read her subsequent books, all magical in their own right.

And it made me realize that I was not alone in feeling, being aware of, this inter-connectedness between people and events. 

Have you noticed this in your own life?  Have you noticed that some people come into your life, sometimes for very short times, and you have the opportunity to gladly help them?  Have you noticed afterwards that you came away changed to the better for the experience?  Perhaps you learned something new, maybe about yourself, maybe about people in general.  Have you noticed that when you are worried or frustrated or in a dark place, how often someone encounters you and shares something that is helpful to you?  Do you realize in the aftermath that they also got something from you?  Have you noticed?

Well, Rushnell, in talking about Divine Alignment is talking about such experiences; those which seem so serendipitous; those that are life-changing.  His point is, that is the navigator guiding you through your GPS.  He is quick to point out that you are not just a passenger. “Your hands are on the steering wheel most of the way.  And one of the gifts you are given, factory installed, is free will.”

“You’re free to go too fast or too slow.  To be reckless or responsible.  Or even free to drive off the highway altogether, if that’s what you choose.”

Once he has developed this metaphor for guidance from God, Bushnell turns to how one can communicate with the navigator.

OK, stop and think about that.  How do you imagine people communicate with God?  That’s right; through prayer!  Have you ever prayed?  Are you put off by the idea?  Do you feel you can’t because you don’t really know how?

Ah, well, you are not alone.  But prayer is not complicated and does not need to be poetic, and it certainly doesn’t need to be in an Aramaic language or Latin or Greek.  It doesn’t even have to be out loud. 

The point is, prayer is just having a chat with God.  Imagine that God is your best friend, or your dearly loved parent and you want to share with them and get their advice.  Just talk with God.  Inside your head if that is more comfortable for you.  That is where you start when you seek to know God, just as you would with anyone with whom you hope to grow a relationship.

Rushnell not only provides metaphors that may help you make a connection in your own mind to the presence of God in your life but his books are also filled with accounts of other people, some famous, that testify to the godwinks in their lives.  And that helps you to feel that this is real.  It’s not just you. For one example he tells of a scientist, an aetheist who was challenged whether scientists made decisions without first examining all of the data.  That led to a transformation in his belief.

I don’t want to replicate those stories, so instead, I’d like to share just one story of godwinks in my life.

I was raised Presbyterian because my father was Presbyterian, the grandson of a Presbyterian minister.  My brothers and I attended Sunday school, and as teens were active in our Jr. and then Sr. youth groups.  My mother had been raised Russian Orthodox but she told me she was agnostic.  She just didn’t know about God. 

By my late teens I was allowing doubt to grow in my mind.  I mean that quite literally.  We all have doubt from time to time but we can focus on those things that have brought us to faith. . .rather than let the doubt grow.  But I was willfully letting it grow, unchecked.

I went off to college where I was exposed to so many different philosophies. . .and one of these I will call ‘Intelligence Philosophy.’  The idea here is that people of intelligence do not believe in God, only the naïve do; those who can’t reason out the whys and wherefore of everything.  There is no ‘science’ to support the notion of God. Intelligent people are too smart to succumb to such silliness!  I thought I was intelligent, at least reasonably so.  I was interested in philosophy and bought into the line of thinking.  Hmmmmm.  I was letting doubt grow unchecked because I thought I was ‘smart;’ smarter than those who so foolishly believed in what they could not see.

Even so, there was always a little nagging voice. . .questioning my doubt.  So here I have doubt questioning faith, and a little voice questioning doubt.  But, I did not listen to that little voice.  Instead I began to reason that Jesus was a fictional character in a book much like Aesop’s Fables with lots of stories that supposedly provide a moral lesson. . .or something like that.  With that thinking, any truth of the Bible was just some wisdom expressed by some people who wrote these stories.  Not that they didn’t have moral import but. . .they are not the word of God.  Well, that’s what I chose to believe. . .at the time.

As my life progressed, I married and had children all of which was wonderful, and had a career as an educator [think about that!] But I also experienced problems. There were certainly downs with the ups as is the case with all of us!  There was tension and anger in my home and I had a couple of adolescent children who ran out of control periodically. They were flirting with danger and acting out, although I did not see it clearly at the time. Where did my beautiful loving children go? No matter how hard I tried to figure out how to help ground them, I failed. 

I left their Dad and eventually there was a divorce.  I was fortunate to change careers and I spent most of my time working, trying to keep work away from home and home away from work, and trying to glue our lives back together and get my children on track and in a good place. As smart as I evidently thought I was, I continuously failed. Hold that thought for a moment. I’ll get back to it.

Now, I love to read.  And I love even more walking through library shelves and books stores, looking at titles, reading first pages, and finally selecting a book to bring home. . .or not.  So one day I was walking through a bookstore in a local mall.  I picked up several books, one at a time, looked them over. . .and put them back on the shelf.  Choosing the book you really want to read can be challenging!  Sometimes you bring home a book and it holds you riveted every second of the reading.  At other times, the book falls far short of being ‘the right book.’ 

As I wondered through the store I sspotted a book titled: Archaeology and the Bible [or something close to that].  “What!” I thought.  “I love archaeology!  But what on earth can they mean by Archaeology and the Bible? The Bible is fiction!”  I picked up the book and looked it over.  No doubt I read some of the statements about the book.  I likely opened to the first page and started to read.  And then I slid that book back into it’s place on the shelf, and continued on down the aisle; maybe 4 or 5 steps.  Then I backed up and pulled the book from the shelf again.  Could this be the book for me today?  I went through the process again, of looking it over. . .and then put it back on the shelf.  I’m sure I was thinking about spending the $8.00 or so it must have cost and wondering if I would be pleased with the purchase.  I again continued down the aisle.  I made it a little further and felt, I’ve got to get that book.  So back I went, and again looked it over.  And again I put it back. 

I’ll bet I went through that cycle about 6 times.  Finally, I thought to myself, ”this is getting ridiculous.  Apparently I am supposed to get this book”. . .or maybe it was “apparently this book wants to go home with me!” So, I did buy that book

I loved it.  It was fascinating and it opened my eyes to the ‘history’ of the Bible. You see it was about archaeological finds that demonstrate the historical truth of many events documented in the Bible.  That was kind of earth shattering for someone who had convinced themselves that the Bible was a work of fiction.  The Bible is a historical account.  And if that is true, what of the ‘characters’ in the Bible?  Was Jesus really a man who lived and not just a fictional character?  My perspective shifted.

That was just the first godwink.  There have been many more. . .but that is the one that started me thinking about the philosophy of ‘intelligence’ and how flawed it may be.  It started me thinking about how I had pushed Jesus out of the way.  It made me curious about Him.  And that led eventually to the quite accidental discovery of another book, from what I thought was an unlikely source, a very thin book, called “The Life and Times of Jesus” I think.  But, that’s another godwink story.

Now getting back to the issues with my children and how to bring them safely back on track: I will tell you that the godwinks eventually led me to trust in God and turn to Him for guidance for myself and for my children; I prayed that He would open their eyes. And that made all the difference! If you muster the spark of faith that reside within you, and turn to God, your faith will be rewarded; and it will grow.

If you are serious about wanting to get to know God, perhaps because you have an inner voice nagging at you, or because you know what it means and want to have that relationship, we’d like to encourage you to pick up a copy of “Divine Alignment: How GodWink Moments Guide Your Journey,” by Squire Rushnell and learn more about getting started. Or pick up any book by Squire Rushnell that references godwinks.

Oh, buying books is not in your budget?  Well, stop by a public library and get a card. They are free and renting books is free if you return them on time.  The library may even have books on tape if you’d rather listen than read yourself. 

Don’t be intimidated. Go for it.  God will welcome you. He, the navigator, is waiting for your question.

Hahn

Where is the “Peace on Earth?”

According to the bible, a prophet is one chosen by God to speak His words. Long before the birth of Jesus, the Jewish Prophet Isaiah prophesied the coming of God to walk among us on earth.  He prophesied many details consistent with the birth of Jesus.  And he referred to him by many names, one of which is “Prince of Peace.”

“For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:1

In the New Testament Luke also tells us that at the birth of Christ, the angels bring a message of joy and peace:

10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a [d]manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill
[e] toward men!”

Luke 2:10-14

As we look around us today, it is difficult to see where this “Peace on Earth” can be found.  It seems that everywhere around the world, there is anger, fear, war, fighting, abuse, and suffering of all kinds.  So then, where is the peace promised with the birth of Jesus?

Do we not understand the peace that is promised? How many of us think of peace as a state of everything being right in the world, or in our personal world?  I mean, Peace on Earth; that’s what it sounds like, right? Go ahead, nod to yourself, or raise your hand if this is how you understand peace. If we believe peace on earth means no wars, no anger, no disasters, no crises then maybe we are being short sighted.  Perhaps we are missing something.  Maybe we need to look at this peace differently.

The peace of Jesus is an internal peace.  It is a profound peace within ones heart.  As Wyatt Graham states in his article called What is the Peace That Jesus Gives Us?

“His peace is utterly unlike any peace on earth. It’s of an entirely different order. He gives heavenly peace, not earthy—spiritual peace not fleshly peace.”

I think any Christian, who works at a relationship with Jesus, will attest to how that relationship brings a calmness and peace to the heart, enabling us to thrive even when all around us may seem to be crumbling.  I personally can attest to this peace in one’s heart. I can tell you that I have had an experience in which Jesus was with me. . .and I felt a peace so profound, there are no words to describe it.  That experience changed my understanding of peace. And that is the experience I personally bring to this discussion. It gives me great confidence in the clarifications offered by many bible scholars.

Wyatt Graham describes this peace as follows:

“The Spirit’s peace makes us content whether in war or in peace, whether in need or in abundance. Peace comes despite circumstances. It comes no matter what happens on earth because the God’s peace comes to us by something other-worldly. It comes down from heaven to us.”

Peace of knowing Christ comes no matter what your personal circumstances are.  It comes regardless of what chaos might be going on in the world.  But to experience this peace of heart, we must seek Jesus.  We must welcome him into our hearts.

Many bible scholars have written on the meaning of the Peace of Jesus Christ.  You can google to find lots of articles.  John Piper created this lengthy article called My Peace I Give to You.

In it he references the Gospel of John and his account of Jesus’s concerns as he faced his death on the cross.  His concerns. . .were for us.  Take a moment to absorb that.  He is facing a horrendous death and knows it.  And yet His thoughts turn to caring for us; to sharing His peace with us.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27

Piper leads us step-by-step, through John 14:25-31.  He makes three key points in particular about verse 27. 

  • “He has in view your heart, and the peace of your heart, and the fearlessness of your heart, and the untroubled waters of your heart. He wants his people now, to be free from anxiety.”  In other words, His peace, which He gives to us is not of this world and it will relieve your heart from trouble and fear.
  • “But Jesus says (middle of verse 27), “Not as the world gives do I give to you.” which means that his peace is not based on good circumstances. It is given, and it holds sway, in spite of bad circumstances.

Piper then references how Jesus says much the same thing as recroded in the gospel of John.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart in that tribulation; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

  • Finally, Piper tells us that this peace is the peace of God; of Jesus.  Piper notes that Paul says:

“the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”

Philippians 4:7

Piper questions what there is about this peace that human understanding cannot even grasp it.  And he goes on to answer the question he has posed:

“It is God’s peace. The peace between Jesus and his Father. Verse 27a: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.’ My peace. I am not creating your peace. I am sharing with you my peace. I am bringing you into my peace.”

Finally, Piper raises a profound question by asking essentially:  What kind of peace is this when you are going to be killed!  What kind of peace do you have?  It will be a violent, excruciating death.  

Imagine for a moment that you are having a conversation with Jesus.  Can you see him standing there before you?  Ask what kind of peace he is talking about.  And listen.

Piper supposes that His response is:  “Perfect peace — with my Father. Tomorrow I will go to the cross, and there I will open the door for my sheep to enter my peace with my Father. I will satisfy his justice, and I will purchase your forgiveness, and I will provide your righteousness. And I will bring you into the very peace that I enjoy with my Father.”

And thus, Piper clarifies Jesus’s words.

“My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Therefore, let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”

John 14:27

The peace that Jesus brings to you, when you come to know Him and choose to follow Him, is a peace unlike any other. It will not matter what is happening in the world.  It will not matter what troubles you are personally facing.  It is the peace of God.  And it will free you. 

If we want to have earthly peace on the earth, well can you imagine what would happen if everyone on earth received the Peace of Jesus?

Hahn

Who Is Jesus?

Image of christlike figure, seen from the back, walking through an entrance into bright light.

Recently, I saw a ‘man-in-the-streets’ type interview in which the ‘reporter’ asked people he met on the street:  “Who is Jesus?”

I was stunned by the responses, most of which were non-responses.  One example was a young lady who looked quite confident when she opened her mouth, but no words came out.  Viewers watched her eyes roam, apparently searching for words to describe Jesus.  There were other similar reactions to this question.

There is no doubt in my mind those people knew of Jesus.  But either they did not know exactly why He is known or they could not put it into words.

Watching this led to me to think about how our country, the United States, has changed over my 70-year lifetime.  It has grown more secular, meaning people increasingly pay more attention to worldly affairs than to spiritual affairs. And I wondered if those persons who were unable to answer the question were uncomfortable sharing their hearts with a world that had grown so secular.  Perhaps they feared it would not be politically correct to declare Him, God.

Many today, who describe themselves as Jewish or Christian believers, choose to not attend temple or church and do not bring their children to Hebrew or Sunday school.  It appears that this may have led to both believers and non-believers who do not know much of what they actually believe in, or do not believe in.

  • How can one believe if one does not take the time to learn about the very thing they profess to believe?
  • How can one not believe if one does not take the time to learn about the very thing they profess to not believe?
  • How will the next generations know, if we do not teach?

So I, with no theology degree, and no special credentials on this topic, am choosing to try to answer the question posed by the reporter, in simple terms.

So then, “Who is Jesus?”

Jesus Was a Man:  Jesus was a man who lived on earth approximately 2000 years ago.  His influence on spiritual culture has been so great that the Gregorian calendar, the calendar most widely used in the world today, is based on His birth and His death.

Jesus is recognized by scholars as a historical figure.  And historians agree that the Synoptic Gospels [the first three books of the New Testament] of Matthew, Mark and Luke are the best source of historical documentation of his life. I want to make this point, that Jesus is indeed a real man from history, clear, because there came a time in my life when I began to think of Jesus as a mythological figure, rather than a real person.  And I imagine others have fallen into this trap as well. 2

To strengthen our understanding of Jesus as a historical figure, there are historical sources outside of the Bible that reference Him. For example, in A. D. 64,  [64 years after His death] Roman historian Tacitus references the Christian movement and notes that it was named for Christus [which means the Christ].  Christus is also noted by Pliny the younger, Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, in a letter dated around A. D. 112. It is not my intent to make a complete case here but if you are interested, other historical references exist as well. 3

Painting of Jesus teaching many followersOne thing is certain; In His lifetime Jesus amassed a large number of followers, people who believed Him to be the Son of God and who told His story which, along with their personal testimony of its truth, grew Christianity into the largest religion in the world.

There are many stories in the New Testament of the life of Jesus as recounted by His followers.  Below are just a few that represent key points about His life that help us to understand who He is.

His Conception:  Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem to a young woman who was descended from King David of the Jews.  She was of humble means, but a faithful Jew.  The New Testament tells us that His mother, Mary, was a virgin and that Jesus was immaculately conceived of God, that He is the son of God.  The story told in the Bible is that an angel came to Mary and told her she would bear a child, a son.  Mary didn’t understand at first how this could be since she was engaged and yet a virgin.  While this seems unusual today in our secular culture, it was the law of the time that the woman remain a virgin until marriage.  And this law was punishable by death. 4

When Joseph, Mary’s betrothed [fiancé] learned that Mary was with child [pregnant], his first inclination was to send her away, although being a man of good heart he wanted to do this quietly and without requiring the lawful penalty.  But then, Joseph too was visited by an angel. The angel of the Lord told him that Mary’s child was of the Holy Spirit, that He would be a boy, and to name Him Jesus, in Hebrew Yeshua.  Yeshua translates as “rescue; deliver” and which is further understood as “Yeshua saves” or “is saving” etc. 5

Jesus was Jewish.  In the Old Testament of the Bible, the books which guide Jewish followers have many prophecies about the Messiah or savior who would come one day. 6 & 7  For example, the idea that the Messiah will be born to a virgin is prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 which states: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel is a Hebrew word meaning “God with us.”  This is written long before Jesus was born.

The New Testament tells stories of the life of Jesus which appear to reflect the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Jesus Is Protected:  Shortly after He was born, Jesus was recognized by some scholars to be a great ‘King.’  Although in time He would himself explain that His Kingdom is heaven, not on earth, even an infant who is called a King was viewed as a threat by the Roman King of the time, Herod.  This infant Jesus was seen as so threatening, a plot to kill the child was created by Herod.  Not knowing who the child was, but knowing of his birth location and approximate timing of His birth, Herod ordered his army to slay  all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders of Bethlehem, ages 2 years and under. – Matthew 2:16

But Herod’s plans were thwarted when again an angel came to Joseph and told him to take his family and flee into Egypt, because Herod sought the death of the child.  Joseph took his family and fled.  After Herod’s death, the angel told Joseph it was time to return to Israel and the family returned to Israel to live in the town of Nazareth.

A Brilliant Jewish Scholar:  Little is known about the childhood of Jesus.  The New Testament does have a story that explains how at age 12, he had already become a great scholar of the Jewish history and law.  He came to Jerusalem in that year with his family, to celebrate Passover at the temple.  When time came to leave and go home, Jesus could not be found.  After three days of searching, Mary and Joseph finally found him in the temple discussing religious issues and law with the great rabbis and lawyers of the temple. According to the gospel of Luke 2:47

47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

Imagine a 12 year old boy who could hold his own in discussions with great scholars!

Jesus Announced by God:  Jesus began His ministry at around age 30.  Before doing so, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist who also was foretold in the Old Testament.  The gospel of Luke tells that during his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven spoke: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:20-22.  The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell of this event.

Jesus’s Message:  The Jewish Law consists of many rules guiding the way one is to live including even small details of what to eat, how to clean and so forth. 8  Jesus found fault with the temple leaders [known as Pharisees and Sadducees] and chastised them as hypocrites.  When challenged by scribes and Pharisees on why His followers failed to follow the tradition of washing hands before eating bread, Jesus told them that they hold people accountable to man’s traditions and do not themselves obey the commandments of God. He referenced prophecy from the Old Testament, [Isaiah 29:13 and Ezekial 33:31] saying:

“This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me. 9But in vain do they worship me, Teaching [as their] doctrines the precepts of men.”  [Matthew 15:1-9]

Jesus’s ministry was creating a revolution of religious understanding that challenged the temple leaders.  He was therefore himself often challenged by the Pharisees and Sadducees as they attempted to show him to be in error and therefore not the great teacher His followers thought Him to be, but rather a heretic.  But they were never able to trap Him into saying anything they could use to diminish Him.  His knowledge and brilliance were greater than theirs at every challenge.

Matthew 22: 34-40 tells a story of a time Jesus was addressed by a Pharisee who was a lawyer:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

So Jesus brings us a message of Love.  First Love God.  And then love your neighbors as yourself.   And He has simplified our understanding of all the laws as they fit into this responsibility of spreading love.

Over His short ministry of about 3 years, Jesus amassed a huge number of followers.  He championed those on the fringes of society, the poor and downtrodden and that, no doubt, drew many.  But over time, His ministry grew into the largest religion in the world which seems surprising considering He only ministered for a short time.  It is likely that this overwhelming response to Him is due to the miracles He performed and the eyewitness testimony of His miracles by followers.  His miracles set him apart from other men.

His Miracles:  There are numerous accounts in the New Testament of miracles He performed which were witnessed by many.

He walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee in front of all of His disciples and even engaged one disciple in walking on water for a few moments.  When the disciple began to sink after taking a few steps on the water, Jesus told Him to have faith.  He taught that it is through faith in God that miracles take place.

He calmed the winds and seas during a storm.  He healed the sick, the lame, and the blind.  He commanded demons to come out of those who appeared to be in the grip of possession [today we might consider these people to be mentally ill] and healed their lives.  He raised a few people from the dead.  The miracles He performed are exciting to read about!   For a list and links to details of the miracles of Jesus:  http://www.jesus.org/life-of-jesus/miracles/what-miracles-did-jesus-perform.html

These miracles, gave credence to His words, His teachings.  His ministry became not only a threat to political leaders of the time, but to the spiritual leaders of the Jews, the temple leaders, Pharisees and Sadducees as well.  The comfortable lives that they had built on the political systems of the times were threatened by His message.

Jesus did not claim credit for the miracles He performed.  He told us that God was performing those miracles through Him, that He was calling upon God through faith.

The Miracle of The Cross:  The great miracle of the Cross is the element which binds Christians together and separates Christian beliefs from Jews, Muslims and all other religions.  It is a matter of whether one believes this man died on the cross and was resurrected three days later to live again, or not.  Although He lived as a man on earth, is He also “God with us?”

Jews believe He died on the cross but they do not believe He was resurrected.  They view Him as a great prophet.  Muslims believe He did not die on the cross.  They too view Jesus as a great prophet and sometimes call Him a friend of God.

But Christians are “believers”. 

We believe that Jesus was born to a virgin; we believe He performed all of the miracles documented in the New Testament; and we believe that He was put to death by the Romans at the urging of the Jewish temple leaders.

Image of a cross with these words from the Bible John 11: 24-25 "We believe His death was a sacrifice to atone for all the sins of man, past, present and future.  He is called the sacrificial Lamb.  We believe that on the third day He arose again, defeating death and that He promised everlasting life to those who believe in Him.

We believe after His resurrection He spent time with his followers and proved that He lived again, even allowing the disciple Thomas to put after his own hand into the hole in Jesus’s side, a hole created while He was on the cross, by the spear of a Roman soldier.

We believe Jesus prepared His disciples for the mission of growing His church by spreading His story, which was called “The Good News.”

We believe that He spent 40 days after His resurrection preparing His disciples and giving them instructions.  And finally He told them He would be leaving them and that He would go to prepare a place for them in Heaven and He would be seated at the right hand of God.  And He told them that once He was gone, they should wait together in Jerusalem, that there would soon be a day when the Holy Spirit would descend upon them.  And then they were to go out to share His story, His message, and that with their faith, God would also perform miracles through them.

We believe that once He had commissioned His disciples, He was taken up, into the sky, and received by a cloud, taken out of their sight.  This is called the ascension.

And in the years after He left, His disciples were graced by the Holy Spirit as He had promised and went out to spread the Good News.  It is amazing that in a time when there were no telephones, no media, no communication other than word of mouth, His story spread and was accepted to grow into the largest religion.  And if you have doubts of the impact of His life, it may help to know that He was crucified at about age 33.  His ministry was only three years of His life.

His Church:  Jesus did not describe His church as buildings, or committees, or the hierarchy of administration.  His church is people; believers who try to follow His teachings, who come together in community and fellowship and in doing so seek to minister to our neighbors, treating them with love, grace, respect and honor.  And in the process of following His teachings, followers also seek to share His story with others and share their own testimony of how He has changed their lives, once they came to faith.  Of course His followers are human and flawed.  We try to live as He has asked us to, but we often fall short.  When we recognize our failings, we seek forgiveness.

So Who is Jesus?  Christians believe He is God.  He is the only God.  He is God who loves us.  He is God who chose to live among us as a human being, a man, and teach us why He created us and how He wants us to live.  He is God who is represented in three bodies:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Image of Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patti seated under a tree. Patti says "Tell me what love is, Chuck" and Charlie Brown Responds "A man named Jesus"

The greatest of His commandments is:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”

And the second is:

“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

 

It may be difficult to come to believe in God when you cannot see Him. Nevertheless, you will come to know Him, if you seek Him.

My own personal testimony is that in seeking Him, I found faith and it has changed my life!  You may enjoy this little video which makes an analogy that might help you to consider growing in faith.

https://www.facebook.com/imsoblesseddaily/videos/550691035095025/?theater

I hope this article has given you some food for thought.  I hope you are curious to learn more about Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit.  I hope you will seek out more information and that you will raise discussion about Him with your friends.  Most of all, I hope you choose to seek Him. I hope you have the courage to do so in spite of the words of those who do not believe.

Hahn


1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anno_Domini

2  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus

3 http://www.bethinking.org/jesus/ancient-evidence-for-jesus-from-non-christian-sources

4 http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0020_0_20440.html

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_(name)

6 http://www.100prophecies.org/page2.htm

7 http://www1.cbn.com/biblestudy/biblical-prophecies-fulfilled-by-jesus

8 http://www.jewfaq.org/halakhah.htm

A love bigger than life itself

loveandlight

God doesn’t exist!  Or does He?  What has He ever done for me?  I don’t need Him!  Or do I?

So, you aren’t interested in church or religion.  I get it!  I do.  Been there.  But are you ever curious about why people seek God in their lives?  Do you think people only turn to God when they are suffering?  Are you curious about prayer and whether anyone is listening?  Or do you wonder sometimes why God doesn’t prevent bad things?  And even as you feel uncomfortable about ‘religion,’ do you ever feel a desire to let God in?

I am not a theologian.  I am a sinner.  Not that I ever intended to be such. Nevertheless, I am a sinner who has turned to God and found everything I have ever needed.  With just that meager credential, I think I can recommend a delicious starting place to learn enough to decide if you might want to seek God as well.

“Redeeming Love” is the title of a book by Francine Rivers.  It is an enlightening work of fiction which has its roots in a book of the Old Testament, Hosea.  Both books illustrate the greatness of God’s love for us.  Hosea seems difficult, at first, but “Redeeming Love” is an easy read, a story that flies by, and one which helps us to understand the story of Hosea.

Before I say more, let me tell you how I came to learn of the Rivers book and to read it.  It was another of many seeming magical moments in my life when I feel guided to new understanding.

[note: text in red represent the words that Jesus spoke]

Not long ago, I was reading the Bible.  I was specifically reading the first of the gospels of the New Testament, Matthew. . .as I am inclined to do from time to time, trying to understand exactly what Jesus had to say to us.  I am trying to gain understanding fully in context. . .and in a personal manner.  I seek understanding of both heart and mind.

My reading came to an abrupt halt when I read these words which Jesus spoke:

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”  – Matthew 12:7

I thought to myself. . .I just read this!  Am I reading the same sentence over? So I went back through pages I had read earlier and found this:

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” – Matthew 9:13

As you can imagine I began to think about the significance that Jesus gave this message twice. . .on two different occasions.  So I began to study the context of each.

In the first instance, the Pharisees question His disciples asking “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus overhears their question and responds by telling them:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick .” – Matthew 9:12

And then He tells them they should learn the meaning of I desire mercy and not sacrifice.

[Who exactly are the Pharisees?  According to dictionary.com  they were “members of a Jewish sect that flourished during the 1st centry b.c. and 1st century a.d. and that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and tradition, and belief in an afterlife and the coming of a Messiah.”(1) Jesus called them hypocrites.  They impose punishment on those who break God’s law, as they see it, and hold themselves above these lawbreakers, while in their own way they are in violation of God’s teachings.  Of course, they do not see in themselves, what Jesus sees in them.]

I returned to the second instance of this message.  In this case the Pharisees were once again calling out Jesus because His disciples were doing what was not lawful. . .eating the grain from fields on the Sabbath! Jesus says:

“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?  Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.  But if you had known what this means, ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

So I began to ponder the meaning of these words. . .”I want mercy and not sacrifice”. . .and as I studied them I realized that each time this phrase appears in my bible, there is a reference number next to it.  The reference is:

Hosea 6:6

Like a good mystery, that grabbed my attention and perked my interest in understanding the book of Hosea.  It is a book in the Old Testament, written by the Prophet Hosea whom God used in a most surprising way.

I found that the book of Hosea is not an easy read!  It is more poetry than prose and as I struggled to understand it, my head started reeling.

What I gleaned from my first reading what that God asks a man, Hosea, to take a wife of character which you would expect Hosea to disdain. God says to him:

“Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry
And children of harlotry,
For the land has committed great harlotry
By departing from the Lord.”

 

What?  Why?  Why would you God, ask your follower to take on a sinner as a spouse.  I’m sure in his faithfulness to you he imagined that you would reward him with a woman of equal faith.  I can’t imagine that Hosea didn’t have questions about this.  Perhaps he wondered at his own sanity.  Had he really heard God speaking to him?  But he was a man of faith. . .of deep and abiding faith. . .and he did what God asked of him.

As I read further, I gleaned that God was quite angry.  There is paragraph after paragraph of God calling out the children of Israel on their betrayal and their sins; their faithlessness. I finally gave up, at least for the moment, trying to understand what in the world this book of Hosea is about.  It seems so contrary to the idea that God wants us to refrain from sin.  It was rather confusing.

But God often puts words in front of me.  . .that I cannot ignore.  It is how He guides me.

And so it was that a couple of days later I came across a facebook posting from my friend Gretchen.  She posted that she is participating in a book study.  I had seen this information before and had thought then, perhaps I should join Gretchen. . .but time passed and I did not take action.  However, this time her post went on:  Gretchen noted that she had purchased the book and opened it the night before. . .and could not put it down.  That alone got my attention because I love a book I can’t put down.  And then she made the point in her post that the book is supposed to be based on the book of Hosea in the bible.

Oh my!  Was this a gentle nudge. . .or a firm rap on the knuckles for giving up too easily?  Hmmmmm.

In any event, it moved me to action.  I went to my local library and found that indeed they do have the book “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers. . .so I checked it out.  The cover. . .what can I say about the cover?  It looks like a Harlequin Romance novel;  Definitely not my thing.  And Francine Rivers, as it turns out is indeed a romance novelist.  Am I sure I want to do this? The cover of the book I got from the library is shown. It has a beautiful woman on the front, a highly romanticized painting. But because it is supposed to be connected to Hosea. . .and because I felt a familiar compulsion, I opened it and began reading.

I could not put it down either!

I finished the book the very next day.

It is not a romance story in the classic sense.  No, it is so much better.  It is so much more enlightening.  It is the story of God’s unrelenting love for us, His children as told through the fictional account of characters with whom I could rather easily relate.

I am overwhelmed by this story.

On the surface, it is just a good read.

It is set in the California Gold Rush.  From the back cover we can learn, it is the story of Angel who “expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child, she survives by keeping her hatred alive.  And what she hates most are the men who user her, leaving her empty and dead inside.”

And it is the story of “Michael Hosea who seeks his Father’s heart in everything.  Michael Hosea obeys God’s call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally.”  I can tell you that as the story unfolds, Michael learns that he has his work cut out for him. . .and he begins to question his own relationship with God, while Angel resists any relationship with God.

And yet, it is God who heals the frozen heart of Angel and woos her with His love.

I know God loves us.  But through this story I grasped the bigness of His love which is infinite. . .like the universe, ever increasing.  I thought, we throw the expression unconditional love around far too easily.  This is so much bigger.

The word unrelenting did not occur to me. . .but as a new member of the study group I received a guide to the book of Hosea in the bible.  I opened the first page and saw: “Hosea: God’s Unrelenting Love.”

I know that is the right word.

Unrelenting.  You can run away. . .but you will be drawn back.  God will give you the freedom to turn away from Him. . .but He will not let you go.

He has given you free will.  He will not force you back.  He will allow you to experience the consequences, whatever they may be, of your decisions. You may find yourself in circumstances that bring unhappiness that you did not expect.  And perhaps you blame Him for not rescuing you. But all along He will woo you in ways you cannot imagine.

He will woo you until it is His voice you hear in your heart and mind. . .not the voices that wish to entice you away from Him with one trick and deceitful lie or another.

Perhaps a final statement on the back cover puts it best: “A powerful retelling of the book of Hosea, Redeeming Love is a life-changing story of God’s unconditional, redemptive, all-consuming love.”

This is a romance that I feel every adult should read, male and female.  It provides context and guidance for every loving relationship with God and between spouses, parents and children, siblings, friends. . .and even strangers.

And now armed with the creative story of Michael Hosea and Sarah/Angel/Amanda. . .I have the framework to grasp the beauty of how God leads His prophet Hosea to emulate Gods own love for his people, the children of Israel, who repeatedly go astray. . .in sin; How He guides their experiences to provide discipline in a way that ultimately will bring them back to Him. . .while He waits with infinite patience, gentle encouragement, and unbounded love.

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6

Our God is merciful!  His love and affection remain steadfast regardless of the depth of our sin.  And His love is so great that He allows us to suffer the misery our sin brings.  Yes, He allows us to reap the consequences of our choices.  He knows that it is this misery and the desperation it drives that begins our turning back to Him. His love will not be subdued.

The most important thing to understand about God is:  No matter how much or how we have sinned, how filthy we feel we have become with sin, He will make us clean. He will do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves.  He will make us holy. He redeems us.  He will love us, period.

It is not a question of how can I redeem myself so that God will accept me.  He loves us as we are.  We need only turn to Him seeking redemption. . .and through His grace we are purified, clean and holy.

Once, I had an experience that gave me a new understanding of what the word ‘peace’ really means.  It was a profound change in my heart and mind and the word now means something much greater than it once did for me.  There are not even words to describe it. The best I can do is share that peace is golden. . .and warm. . .with no worries. . .no concerns.  None.  Buzzing with happiness.  Pure bliss.

Now again I am experiencing  a profound change in my understanding of His love. . .how great it is. . .great beyond my ability to imagine. . .it is indeed unrelenting.

That is the great message of “Redeeming Love.”  But you will learn more too. Perhaps you have not known a healthy God loving relationship in your life.  This story shares something of Gods plans for a loving relationship in a marriage, in family, in fellowship with others. . .and even with strangers.

You will see the best dynamics of each. . .and in some cases the shortcomings we, in our humanity, display as we struggle in our lives. Image of two opposing cliffs bridged by the word "grace" Thank you Francine Rivers for taking the time to understand the book of Hosea. . .and for bringing your gifts to build a bridge to understanding the greatness that is our Father in Heaven.

I hope some of you are intrigued. . .and interested in learning how to seek Him!  I hope that others may become so intrigued by reading “Redeeming Love.”