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A More Christlike God

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"With theological integrity and open-hearted compassion, Brad Jersak creates a beautiful space for Jesus to challenge our views of God. A breath of clean and clarifying air."—William Paul Young, Author of The Shack

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"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by Bert Gary: It was a number one hit by the Irish rock band, U2. It is a song of spiritual yearning with a distinct gospel flavor—a hymn of hope, a psalm of lament and a profession of faith that speaks to a universal human feeling of discontent and longing.

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Regret—The Silent Killer: by Brad Jersak: How do we move beyond the bitterness of poor choices and stolen dreams? Here, the Apostle Paul was 2000 years ahead of us.

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In the Winter edition of Plain Truth magazine...

When Did God Become a Christian? by Greg Albrecht: Jesus teaches non-violence, avoiding retaliation, and loving and praying for our enemies (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-44). Why would Jesus say such a thing and insist on such a thing if he, Creator of all things, actually directed and commanded the nation of Israel to massacre men, women, children and animals?

Front Page Article

How Big is God?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
   The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
   The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
   (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, "This is the one I spoke about when I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'") Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. —John 1:1-18

Many Christians seem to believe that Jesus came to this earth as a kind of Plan B. They've been taught that Jesus came to this earth to save us because Adam "fell"—and further, they've been told that when Adam "fell" God had to, in effect, scurry around and come up with Plan B.

This reasoning is of course, unbiblical—and beyond that, it doesn't make sense. Why would Christmas, the incarnation of God, be Plan B? Why wouldn't Christmas have been on the drawing boards from the very get-go? Why wouldn't Jesus have been planning to come anyway?

Years ago I read a little book by J.B. Phillips titled Your God is Too Small. J.B. Phillips wanted the reader to understand that we, the created, limit our Creator—we shrink him down to our size, into our dimensions. Our keynote passage in John 1:1-18 teaches us that our God is far bigger than we could ever imagine.

The longer we know God, by his grace, and the longer we walk with him as his transformed and spiritually reborn children, the more we wrestle with trying to get our brains around the infinite. Of course, given our human limitations, we will never, in this flesh, fully get our brains and our hearts around the limitless, infinite God.

When I was a young boy my mother and I used to sit on my grandmother's front porch, on North 8th Street in Herington, Kansas, looking into the summer sky. I never knew my father, since he was killed when I was only 15 months old, so my mother would often tell me that my father was one of the stars twinkling up in the sky. So because my mother, the ultimate authority in my world at that time, told me so, I thought that my father was "up there" with God.

As I grew older I realized that my father was not a twinkling star up in the heavens, any more than Santa Claus delivers presents to all the children of the world on Christmas Eve, or that the Easter bunny lays chocolate eggs. But the idea that God was "up there" stayed with me—and I suspect that you probably had some idea about God being "up there" as well.

Maybe you still do—if you do, you're certainly not alone. The vast majority of people who believe in God believe that he is in a singular, precise heavenly location. God is way too small for most people. Most people—including many, if not most Christians, believe that God is somewhere, in a space-time location (like we humans are) at the expense of not being somewhere else in a space-time location.

For most people, God is confined to heaven—sitting on his throne, with angels constantly coming up giving him reports. Some people picture God as leaning over peering down at this earth, and at them in particular, and just shaking his head in disappointment. Their God is a disappointed God—a God who is distant and removed and ashamed of them and their conduct. Their God is too small.

Our passage in the first chapter of the Gospel of John challenges our thinking by telling us, among other things, that God has come down here to planet earth. First of all, it tells us that the one we know as Jesus was and is God—he is the Word. Verse 3 tells us, Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Verse 1 tells us the Word was in the beginning—that is, he is uncreated. He is without beginning or without ending. He didn't have a beginning—he was already there at the beginning.

So Jesus was and is God—he was and is divine. He was up there, but he also came down here. How big is God? Big enough to do that. The story of the incarnation—that is, when God came to be with us by becoming one of us—taking a human body— is the story of how planet earth became a visited planet. We have been visited by God in the flesh.

But hadn't God "been here" all along? Stories in the Old Testament tell us that God talked with Adam and Eve, Abraham, and Moses, and so many others. But those accounts were theophanies (appearances of God). He did not actually take a human body and become the God-man until the birth of Jesus.

The birth of Jesus helps us understand that the triune God—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—isn't somewhere, like heaven, while he is absent from some other place or location. God is omni-present. God is omni-temporal. As hard as it may be for us to fathom, God is everywhere and present at all times.

How big is God? Big enough to stagger our minds, so that we cannot, given the limitations of our brains, completely comprehend all that there is to know about him. Our keynote passage in the first chapter of the Gospel of John is telling us that though he inhabits eternity, God in Jesus willingly came into our time and space.

God is not just "out there" somewhere—he came to be one of us, to be with us, and for that matter, he's still here with us. Of course, he's also "out there"—but not at the exclusion of being right here with you and me, right now. By virtue of being God, he is everywhere at once.

How Big Is God? Big enough to hear every prayer that is said. Big enough to be in every hospital room and on every battlefield. He's in every ghetto and slum where children cry and mothers despair.

Jesus, the God-man, Immanuel, the One who was and is God with us, is identified as the Word. When John was inspired by God to write his epistle he chose the Greek word "Logos" to speak about Jesus, the incarnate God, God in the flesh.

It's a big word—which means more than just our English word "word." Logos means reason, intelligence—and it means the basic, core principle—how something works. Logos gets to the heart of how big God really is.

How big is God—how big is the Word become flesh? Huge!
• Big enough to come into our world and to turn it, and its religions, upside down.
• Big enough to overpower a world of sin, hatred and corruption by his love.
• Big enough to offer a relationship of love to all humankind, without exception.
• Big enough to love every human being who was then alive, who had ever lived, or ever would live, in spite of their behavior, not because of it.

God in the person of Jesus came not simply because of a reaction to our sin—he came, far more than that, to love us—to be with us—to offer us spiritual transformation from the limited world in which we live. He came to invite us to transcend the corruptible world—the temporary world—the world which has its way with us—he came to invite us out of the kingdom of this world into the eternity of the kingdom of heaven.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. (John 1:10-13)

The power to be a child of God—to be spiritually transformed—does not come from any human source. God alone makes human beings his children. That's how big God is. He's big enough to create us to begin with, and then spiritually transform us, from the inside out.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Greek word which is translated "made his dwelling" means "pitched his tent" or "tabernacled." This word picture is taken directly from the Old Testament when the Israelites had a tabernacle, which they folded up and took with them, the place where their priesthood related to God.

Now, John says, God himself came and camped out with us. He didn't just live in a tent or a building, like the temple that followed the tabernacle—he lived in a body of flesh. He became one of us. He chose to come as close as he possibly could to us, meeting us precisely where we are— it's as if he moved in next door to us, becoming our neighbor. And as our neighbor he loved us.

• How Big Is God? Big enough to become and remain your neighbor, and mine.
• How Big Is God? Bigger by far than any religious attempt to confine him in a grandiose church, cathedral or chapel—bigger than any religious attempt to fence him in within denominational boundaries—bigger than any creed that limits him to any collection of never-to-be-questioned dogmas.

The BIG GOD, the God of unlimited grace, the God of unconditional love cannot be tamed by theologians or religious authority.

Several years ago author and publisher Wayne Jacobsen asked me to read and endorse a manuscript he was thinking of publishing— the first book ever written by this author. I remember reading the manuscript on a plane, flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and I was impressed. However, when I re-read it the second and third time I became even more impressed. The name of the manuscript was The Shack, by William P. (Paul) Young—and as you probably know it became a runaway best-seller.

The Shack is a novel, a fictitious account of how God reveals himself to Mack—a man who is grieving a loss. In a popular and accessible way, The Shack explains how the one true God is three divine, co-existent, co-eternal Persons —while also addressing the topic of the grief and suffering we experience in our lives.

One of my favorite parts of the book describes Mack's invitation to a remote house by a lake, and how God cooks him breakfast. God the Father appears to Mack as an African-American woman, whipping up a delicious breakfast in the kitchen. I was delighted with this characterization, which directly challenges the religious idea of God as an angry, outraged old man around whom we must tiptoe, and whisper, and forever appease, so that he doesn't lose his cool and zap us with a thunderbolt.

I was happy to endorse The Shack—and gave it a glowing recommendation, which was eventually printed with other commendations in the opening pages. But you know, not everyone was happy with The Shack—and for matter, my recommendation and endorsement of it. The response to The Shack from some quarters of Christendom reminded me of the response given to Jesus—he came to his own, but his own didn't receive him (John 1:12).

Many within Christendom felt that The Shack was irreverent. They were upset and some even outraged with its depiction of God. Their real problem, I believe, was that their strict, narrow, time-honored, pious and, at least by their definition, "holy" ideas about who God is and what he is like were violated by The Shack. God the Father being depicted as a woman?! For some of these uptight folks it was almost as bad as God making his entrance into our world as a baby born of a teenage mother in a filthy, smelly stable.

That's one of the reasons I endorsed The Shack. Religious ideas about who God is, set in concrete denominational dogma and doctrine, need spiritual earthquakes to challenge and uproot them. That's what Jesus—the Word— the Logos—was, and is. Jesus is a spiritual earthquake who turns the apple cart of established religion upside down.

You and I need a big God. A really, really big God—not a small god who religion attempts to shrink down so we can relate to him. We need a God who can encompass this whole planet—for that matter, this entire universe. We need a God whose relentless love is big enough for all of us—for everyone who has ever lived or ever will live. We need a God for all people, all languages, all cultures, all colors and all religions.

• Thank God that he is not at all like what so much of religion within Christendom has explained him to be—confining and limiting him to a small "g" god that serves their needs.
• Thank God that God is God, and we are not.

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What is God like? A punishing judge? A doting grandfather? A deadbeat dad? A vengeful warrior? How do such 'good cop/bad cop' distortions of the divine arise and come to dominate churches and cultures? Whether our notions of 'god' are personal projections or inherited traditions, author and theologian Brad Jersak proposes a radical reassessment, arguing for "A More Christlike God: a More Beautiful Gospel."

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