Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ISI 5: A Proper Balance

[This Bible Study starts at the bottom of the May posts, with the “Iron Sharpens Iron Bible Study Intro” post.  And remember that my answers to some of the questions are in [brackets].]
 
Icebreaker Question:
What three things would you love to do before you leave this planet?

Open With Prayer

Read Lesson:
            1 John 4:15-18: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  . . . 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.”
            The truth in this verse never really stood out to me until I took down the walls that were around my heart and let God flood my heart with His love and heal the old wounds.  When the walls were up, I was relating to Him out of fear.  I did love Him and knew in my head that He loved me – because the Bible told me so – but I didn’t live out of His love.  I lived out of fear that I would pray wrong, speak wrong, displease Him, let Him down, fail Him, etc.  I feared His wrath.  I feared being abandoned.  I feared everything because I wasn’t able to really know and rely on His love.  Not until the walls came down. 

            As the passage says, “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  Fear in our hearts shows that we haven’t yet fully grasped His love, that we don’t really trust it and haven’t really let it fully into our hearts.  There are still walls there somewhere, hurts that make us shrink back from God, make us do our best to take care of ourselves, or make us feel worthless, like He really couldn’t love us.  And where there are walls, there is distance. 
            As we just explored last lesson, oftentimes we relate to Him out of the faulty ways we see Him.  And in order for us to truly be able to open our hearts up to Him, we need to understand (as much as humanly possible) who He really is.  And I think that one thing we really need to have is a balanced view of His love and His Holiness/Justness (including His wrath).  An unbalanced view leads to misunderstanding. 
            God’s holiness, His justness, is what demands a payment for our sins.  But God’s love is what paid it.  God’s holiness is what makes us properly fear Him and fall down on our faces at His feet in humility.  But God’s love is what picks us up, draws us close to Him and makes us fall into His arms.


Overemphasizing His Love
            Some of us have the problem of shrinking His Holiness and focusing solely on His love.
            Churches, Christians (just read some of the blogs out there), and unbelievers are doing this a lot nowadays, teaching what people want to hear so that people don’t feel convicted or ashamed.  They say things like, “God is a God of love.  It’s all about the love.  If you are loving others and putting them first, then you are doing what God wants you to do and you are okay.” 
            While this important, of course, my Bible says to love God first and put Him first.  Then love others.  And God is not just a God of love, but a God of holiness and justness and wrath, too.  And forgetting this can be disastrous. 

            If we overemphasize His love . . .
            . . . we will believe that He is a relaxed, permissive God who just wants us to be happy. 
            . . . we won’t properly fear Him and, consequently, we will have a casual attitude toward Him, His Word, sin, prayer, etc. 
            . . . we will be living life for ourselves, and we won’t be that concerned with obedience or seeking righteousness or holy living because we’ll be more focused on what makes us happy and fulfilled. 
            . . . we’ll think too big of ourselves, feeling like God is totally pleased with our efforts to serve Him, with all the good Christian things we are doing.  Isn’t He lucky to have us working for Him? 
            . . . we’ll feel like God is just there to do our bidding (and that He’s happy to do it).
            . . . we will feel like we can sit on the throne of our lives. 
            . . . we won’t keep in mind that God is a Supreme Being that is far above us; He will be a “code to be cracked” and prayer will be a “formula.”  And so if we can just act right and pray right then God has to give us what we want, right? 
            . . . we will live as though it’s all about us.  Isn’t that what He’s here for?  To love us, to overlook our sins and lukewarm-ness, to make us happy and give us what we want?   

            But we are not properly seeing ourselves compared to Him.  We are not seeing ourselves in light of His Holiness.  The “self-sufficient, it’s-all-about-me, I’m-so-special, God-needs-me, I-can-do-it-all-and-I’m doing-a-good-job” parts of our personality need to be humbled by, broken by, God’s holiness and glory.  We are too big in our own eyes and God is too small.  And we need to be brought down to the level that God sees us.  And we need to see Him for the huge, glorious, perfectly holy God that He is. 
              Compared to His greatness, we are tiny ants.  We are not in control of our lives like we like to think we are.  We are not all-knowing and all-powerful.  We are not self-sufficient.  We are not all that special compared to others, compared to God.  Life is not all about us and making us happy.  We are tiny, little ants that get freaked out if our ant farm shakes a little too much.  And we really do need and want a big, strong Father to take care of us. 
            And sometimes to get us to the point of learning this, God needs to remove everything we rely on, outside of Him.  He may have to strip us of every sense of control that we have.  We have to get to the point where we realize that He is so, so big and we are so, so little.  We are helpless without Him.  And we need Him desperately!  Daily! 
            Our overinflated views of ourselves need to be shattered, shrunk, and broken before we can see His holiness and glory, before we can experience Him for the magnificent, capable, loving God that He is.  And the trials in our lives do that.  They throw us off of the throne and we land at His feet.  Well, in His arms, really.  And if we haven’t been brought to our knees or our faces before God - if we haven’t become keenly, distressingly aware of our sinful natures and our neediness - then we haven’t been humbled by God’s glory and holiness. 
            As I went through my humbling trials and saw just how magnificent He is and how helpless and needy I was, I became so, so tiny in comparison.  I was trembling at the foot of the mountain with the Israelites as they experienced the immensity, the power, and the mystery of God. 
            And I learned that I needed a God like this in my life.  One who was so much bigger than me and who was strong enough to handle what I couldn’t.  One who – although I tried - could not be figured out like a formula or forced into doing what I wanted Him to do.  I don’t want a God that I can shrink, a God that can be totally figured out or easily manipulated by me.  He is much bigger and more mysterious and holy than that.  And that’s good with me!  I was humbled by - broken by - His holiness!  His glory!
            [Maybe this is part of the reason why God seems so silent, hidden, and unresponsive in the hard trials and long waits - to force us to decide if we will turn our backs on Him, if we will remain half-hearted “what’s-in-it-for-me” Christians, or if we will commit to Him fully, even though He is a mysterious, confusing, and sometimes frustrating God.  And to show us that He cannot be controlled or manipulated by us. 
            And isn’t this exactly what most of us get hung up on in a crisis of faith? 
            But a god that can really be totally understood or slightly controlled by us is not really God at all.  I’m learning that He is supposed to be confusing.  Because His ways are higher than my ways.  His understanding is higher than my understanding.  And it’s okay if I’m confused.  I don’t need to have Him all figured out.  He is God and I am not.  And I need to be okay with that arrangement.  It needs to be enough for me that He knows it all, that He’s in control, that He is good, and that He loves me.  And I think that’s pretty comforting.]

Overemphasizing His justness
            But then there is the other side of the coin.  If we overemphasize His holiness/justness and haven’t really grasped the reality and immensity of His love for us . . .
            . . . we will believe that He is a harsh, demanding God.  We will be terrified of Him and desperately seek to appease Him.  Because we fear what will happen if we don’t. 
            . . . we will always think of Him as the “Old Testament God of wrath,” never able to feel His love or feel close to Him.  And the compassionate, inviting, relational Jesus of the New Testament will always feel far away and seem foreign to us. 
             . . . we will try harder, out of fear, to be the “good Christian,” to earn His love, to pray the “right” way, to have the “right” attitude all the time, to be better or more impressive.  And it will be exhausting and discouraging. 
            . . . we will always be afraid of letting Him down or being a burden to Him or being abandoned by Him. 
            . . . we won’t be able to trust Him with what’s really inside of us.
            . . . we won’t be able to trust Him enough to lean on Him, to really need Him.  So we will try to live self-sufficiently.  That way, we don’t have to risk it.  (Because how could He really love me, just for me?  Warts and all?  How could Anyone really want to care about me?) 

            And all the time, we won’t be relating to Him out of love - His love for us and our love for Him.  We’ll be relating to Him out of fear, fear about what He would do to us if we failed Him.  
            For me, I used to live in fear of His holiness, but not in a healthy kind of fear.  A balanced view of His holiness and His love will create a healthy fear; but I was just plain scared that He would never be pleased with me and that I didn’t deserve His love.  I couldn’t just accept love; I had to earn it.  This kept me busy, but never able to feel His unconditional love.  Because to me, it was all based on my performance.  So I exhausted myself trying to say the right words, think holy thoughts, follow the Bible just right, look like the “good child.”  And I would get hard on myself if I didn’t follow “the formula” just right.
            Let me say, though, that I didn’t exhaust myself or know that my view was off for over twenty years of being a Christian.  It was going through the furnace and struggling with my humanity and with humility that brought me to that point of beautiful, painful, necessary exhaustion.   
            As I took my trip through the furnace (those humbling trials), I realized that I had never really lived in His love.  And I tried to figure out why.  What was preventing me from trusting that He loved me?  
            Following this train of thought helped to uncover the unhealthy ways that I saw myself and God, and it also revealed to me that I didn’t really trust in His goodness.  Oh, of course, I knew about His goodness and His love in my head.  Because the Bible tells me so.  I just didn’t let it deep into my heart.  (You can’t let that kind of stuff in when you live behind self-protective walls.) 
            In my life, I didn’t have a complete trust of anyone.  I didn’t trust anyone else to care for me or care about me.  And God couldn’t me that good, could He?  Good enough to really want the best for me, to care that much for and about me, to always be there, and to love me unconditionally?  I mean, seriously, no one really does that . . . right?
            I had been living under my own misconceptions of who God is.  I had been seeing Him the way I saw my father - or lack of father.  (No offense to him; he’s a really nice guy.  He just . . . wasn’t there.)  And the only way for me to get out from under these misconceptions was to accept God’s Truth about who He is and to accept His love as the free, unearnable gift that it is.  And I had to learn to really find Him in the pages of the Bible - His holiness and His love - in equal balance. 
            When I used to read the Bible, all I would zero in on was His wrath and reasons to be afraid of Him.  Obviously, because of my own walls and fears.  But as He helped heal those, the other side of Him came alive for me, too.  I started to really meet God in the pages, and not just His rules and restrictions.  And I began to see such mercy and love. 
            Now, I don’t just notice how He wiped out a city; I see how in His mercy and love He reached down to save one righteous man and his family before He unleashed His wrath.  I see how when He fought on behalf of His people, He did so completely, oftentimes losing none of His people while totally obliterating the enemy.  And He would relent from destroying a whole city because of one righteous person. 
            “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares.  If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.”  (Jeremiah 5:1)  God cares enough about us as individuals to notice one righteous person out of so many people, and to act out of His love for one righteous person, instead of out of His justness for a whole city full of unrighteous people. 
            Because of my overemphasis on His wrath, I had always missed out on what it means to believe that “God is love.”  God loves us because that’s who He is.  He doesn’t love us because of what we do for Him or because of how well we do it or because of who we are or because we deserve it.  He loves us because He is love.  He loves us because we are His.  It’s not about us - about our attempts to earn it or to pull His love out of Him.  It’s about Him - about accepting the fact that He loves us unconditionally already, because of who He is. 
            Our attempts to earn His love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, or blessings will not work.  (That is “religion.”)  And the reason it won’t work is because that stuff is already freely available to us, if only we will reach out and grab it.  But as long as Satan keeps us blind to who God really is and what’s already available to us, he can keep us busy trying to earn something that we could never earn. 
            We can never earn it . . . but we can accept it.    

            I think putting us in the furnace is one of the most loving and merciful things God could do.  Because this causes us (if we are conscientious about it) to face our fears, walls, sins, doubts, pride, expectations, and misconceptions.  And as we do that, we begin to open our hearts a little more to the Holy Spirit, to allow in God’s truth and healing and love, and to see ourselves for who we really are and Him for who He really is.  (That is, unless we choose to run from the work of the Holy Spirit.  Which I think many people do.) 
            I wonder if the difficult circumstances of life and the inner struggles we go through are God’s way of asking us this one question . . . “What do you really think about Me and about yourself?” 

            Yes, there was a part of me that needed to be broken by God’s holiness/His justness, so that I could begin to see Him for who He really is, to properly fear Him.  But there was a deeper, more elusive part of me that needed to be broken in a completely different way.  It wasn’t the part of me that was too big in my own eyes.  It was the part that believed that I was too small in God’s eyes. 
            For me, hidden deep down behind my fortified walls was an insignificant, lonely girl who felt too low, too unworthy to ever really be loved by my heavenly Father.  This was the part of me that didn’t need to know how small I was compared to God’s glory and holiness, how much I deserved His wrath.  (I already knew that!)  It’s the part that needed to know and accept how much God loves me, despite who I am.  The part that needed to be brought up off the worm-infested ground to the level that God sees me.  I am a completely loved child.  Not some orphan or step-child or reject who should be standing on the outside, looking in.  This is the part of me that needed to be broken by - healed by - His unconditional love. 
            He made us knowing that we would sin, and He loved us enough to find a way to remove our sins from His sight.  Out of enormous love for us (in spite of our sins and because of them), Jesus came here to take the punishment for us so that we would not be eternally separated from our heavenly Father.  God loved us so much that He made a way for us to have a genuine relationship with Him. 
            And this is the theme of the whole Bible.  This is the heart of the matter!  God’s love made a way!  God loves us, not based on what we deserve, but because of who He is.  He is love.  And His love is a gift.  An unearnable gift, available to all of us.  He loves us just because we are His.  Unconditionally!  And, I don’t know, but I wonder if the greatest act of humility is this: believing and accepting that He loves us! 

 
A Balanced View
            I think one of Satan’s greatest tools for tripping up non-Christians and Christians alike is to get us to focus on His wrath or His love too much. 
            And if I had to explain in one sentence how to live out a balanced view of His Love and His Holiness, I would say this: 
            It’s knowing that we don’t deserve His love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, or blessings, but it’s humbly grabbing ahold of them anyway as the free gifts they are and then living out our thankfulness and love throughout the rest of our lives, seeking to honor and glorify Him above all because of all that He has done for us. 

            We have to begin seeing Him for who He is if we are ever going to learn to live in His love and to have a healthy fear of Him.  And we have to begin seeing ourselves the way He does, as sinners that He loves anyway and that He wants to love, forgive, and spend eternity with. 
            If we don’t have a healthy fear of Him then we aren’t really loving Him for who He is; we are loving Him for who we want Him to be.  But if we don’t have a healthy view of His love then we will be afraid of Him and will miss out on the relationship He wants to have with us. 
            Being afraid of Him is not the same thing as fearing Him.  Totally different results.  One leads to never really enjoying the love that He already has for us, never enjoying His presence and blessings and getting to know Him.  But the other involves a healthy respect for Him – being in awe of Him, silenced by His majesty.  And this leads us to fall down at His feet in trust and say, “You are God and I am not.”  It leads us to seek Him more, to put His plans over ours, to want to know Him better, and to put our life in His hands. 
            We have to understand His love as well as His justness.  They have to go to together in order to have the kind of relationship with Him that we were made for. 

 
            Here are some practical ideas for getting a better balance, for getting in touch with His love and for gaining a proper fear of Him, a respectful awareness of His majesty:
            1.  Ask God to go back into your past with you, to explore old wounds, and to heal the times that broke your heart and spirit.
            2.  Explore how you really feel about yourself, why you feel this way, and what in your past caused you to see yourself this way.  (We did this last lesson.)  And ask God to help you see yourself honestly, the way He does.  (This may include studying the Bible to find out how God sees mankind, in general.)
            3.  Read the Bible not just to read the Bible, but to meet God in the pages and to see what He wants to say to you personally.  Write down the verses that speak to you and what they say to you.  Or do a topical study, looking up the verses that relate to “God’s love” or “God’s forgiveness” or such.
            4.  Get a balanced view of God’s wrath and God’s love from the Bible, noticing not just the ways He punishes people but His incredible mercy.  Such as Gen. 18 where God tells Abraham that He will spare the ungodly, wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if just ten righteous people can be found.  Out of love for ten righteous people, God would spare two wicked cities.  That is some amazing love! 
            5.  Ask God to search your heart for anything that is blocking His love, truth, or healing.  Ask if there is any pride and self-centeredness that has taken root in your heart.  Any place in your life where you are sitting on His throne.  And take the time to listen to His answer.  (And be prepared for it to hurt.)
            6.  Start being honest with yourself and with Him in prayer.  Be honest about your shortcomings, your neediness, and about your sins, doubts, fears, thoughts, and feelings (even the ones relating to Him), no matter how “displeasing” they may sound.  You cannot have a genuine relationship with Him if you are not genuine.  And you cannot let His love into your heart fully if you will not fully open up your heart to Him. 
            (If you don’t know where to start with this, try writing a letter to God, expressing all the things you never could say to Him, and then pray it out loud to Him and ask Him to help you see things the way He sees them.  Or write down all of your fears and doubts about Him, pray them over to Him, and ask Him to help you see the truth.)
            7.  Spend some quiet time with Him regularly, with the goal of meditating on Him and finding Him in the here-and-now.  Take daily walks alone to notice God’s creativity and blessings: the flowers, animals, clouds, rain.  Spend some time watching the birds at the bird-feeder, dwelling on how He cares for something as “insignificant” as a sparrow. 
            8.  Talk to others about what you are feeling.  Sometimes, we just need to vent it out in order to see things clearly.  And someone may have some godly insight that could be really helpful.  Don’t feel that you have to struggle through the pain on your own.  Lean on the friends that God gave you. 
            9.  Start a garden.  I think gardening is a huge way to learn so many spiritual lessons and truths, through the quiet time you spend out there, being immersed in His creation and natural gifts . . . through the monotonous tasks like weeding and the effort it takes to keep it healthy and growing . . . through the struggles and setbacks you encounter . . . through the waiting and going through the various seasons . . . and through the reward of seeing what God made with your efforts.  It is deeply satisfying to the soul and it represents life in so many ways.
            10.  Listen to only Christian music for a time and refuse to watch movies and shows that dishonor God.  We open ourselves up to demonic attacks and suggestions when we fill our minds with ungodly things.
            11.  Place reminders of God’s goodness, love, and care where you can see them, whether it’s a picture that inspires you, a quote or Bible verse that touches your heart, or an interesting rock that reminds you that there is beauty in the ordinary, that His magnificent fingerprints are on everything.
            12.  Ban negative self-talk.  And every time you want to say something degrading about yourself, try to replace it with one of God’s truths, such as “Jesus loved me enough to die for me,” and “Even if I have a hard time forgiving myself, God has forgiven me.”  In fact, it may help to write down all of the negative things you say to yourself so that you can figure out why you say these things to yourself.  And then proceed to deliberately dismantle each one, with God’s help. 
            13.  Create something or explore a new hobby.  Sometimes, we can get in touch more with God’s goodness and love and we feel more in awe of Him when we are doing things that make us feel more alive, more blessed, and more joyful. 
            14.  Clean up your house and get rid of excess.  Clutter and mess make us feel uneasy all the time and like a failure.  Our thoughts and feelings will begin to reflect the way our surroundings look.  Or maybe it’s that our surroundings are reflecting the way we feel inside.  Either way, sometimes a good place to start when you can’t tackle what’s inside your heart yet is to tackle your surroundings.  Get those in order first so that you can rest and feel at peace and focus on exploring and cleaning up the messes in your heart and mind. 
            15.  Start eating healthy or taking care of yourself better or treating yourself better.  (Or explore the reasons why you don’t.)  When we treat ourselves badly, we being to feel like we should be treated badly.  Or we are treating ourselves badly because we feel like that’s all we deserve, and it becomes a cycle.  And we are not free to feel God’s pleasure and love.  Sometimes, it helps to begin by taking care of yourself before you can believe that Someone else cares about you too.  You are worth it!  Treat yourself like you are, and you may just begin to believe that you are valuable to God and that He cares for you and about you, too. 
            16.  Learn to quiet your heart before God, giving Him time to speak. 
            [If you want to try something specific, go to my “250 Questions to Ask God” post (at myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com) where I wrote questions that you can ask God and then wait on Him to answer.  While He doesn’t always answer, I did get answers to a couple of them that really, deeply affected my heart and spirit.  And I only asked several of them so far.  I also wrote a “Don’t Be Such a Chicken” challenge which gives you something new to try or pray or ask God each day for a year.  That may be something worth looking into.] 
            17.  With God’s help, through prayer and the Word and possibly with a godly friend or counselor, explore why you feel you don’t deserve love or forgiveness.  Or maybe it’s that you feel overly important and special, and you need to figure out why you have such an inflated sense of self.
            18.  Stand outside in the rain or when the snow or leaves are falling.  Roll your window down when you drive and put your hand out the window.  Turn off the radio and do the dishes in silence.  Turn off or ignore all the technological gadgets for a time each day so that you can have some protected time for you and God.  Put boundaries around your time and commitments and schedules.  (And get away from toxic people as much as you can.)  Sometimes, we need to do all this in order to clear the clutter out of our lives.  Being too busy keeps us running.  And running keeps us from noticing God in the here-and-now.  But taking the time to soak in the moment gets us more in touch with God, with His goodness and majesty.
            19.  Keep a running list – a journal – of all the blessings that you receive or notice every day, whether it’s the first tomato you pick off the vine, the first snowfall of the year, the wonderful visit you had with a friend, the answer to a prayer, or the way God used pain from your past to grow you spiritually.  There are far too many things to discourage us and make us feel like God doesn’t care or isn’t listening.  We forget so easily, and we need to be deliberate about writing down the blessings and gifts. 

            All of these are suggestions to help you begin to open yourself up to God’s love and to help you see God for the great, big, wonderful Father that He is.

 
Bible Verse and Questions:
1 John 4:15-18: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  . . . 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.  Does this topic trigger any thoughts or questions you want to share?  Any other Bible verses?

2.  What do you think about the above verse?  What does it mean to be “made perfect in love”?  And how does fear get in the way of that?  Can you relate to this verse at all?

3.  How does the world define and show love?  How does the God?

4.  What do you think I mean by this:
            Churches, Christians (just read some of the blogs out there), and unbelievers are doing this a lot nowadays, teaching what people want to hear so that people don’t feel convicted or ashamed.  They say things like, ‘God is a God of love.  It’s all about the love.  If you are loving others and putting them first, then you are doing what God wants you to do and you are okay.’”
            What kinds of things do we try to excuse under the “God is love and it’s all about the love” reasoning?  Where does this reasoning go wrong?  And how could we respond to it? 

5.  What is “holiness”?  And how does it relate to God’s justness?

6.  If we overemphasize His love and underemphasize His justness, what are some other ways we might live, things we might do, or ways we might treat God and others?  How about if we overemphasize His justness and underemphasize His love? 

7.  How does an unbalanced view of His love and holiness/justness hurt us and our faith, hurt our relationship with Him and with others, and hurt our witness to others? 

8.  How might trials and hard times affect us and our faith if we overemphasize His justness/wrath?  If we overemphasize His love? 

9.  Do you have a tendency to overemphasize one or the other?  When and why did this unbalance happen?  How has this affected you, your life, and your faith?

10.  How about our country and Christians in general?  Do you think we have a balanced view?  What are churches teaching nowadays?  How is this affecting people’s understanding of God and affecting our lives?
             [My answer:  I think there are groups that fall on both sides – emphasizing His love or His holiness/justness too much.  There are those who keep their church members in line by threatening them with damnation or God’s wrath.  They portray God as a mean teacher who stands over you with a ruler, just waiting for you to make a mistake so He can whack you on the knuckles with it.  And they place all sorts of ritualistic or unreasonable burdens on people so that they can “purify” themselves, be acceptable to God, and gain forgiveness. 
            And then there’s mainstream America who seems to totally over-emphasis His love.  Many people don’t want to believe that God is just, too, and that He punishes sin, allows trials or problems, or that He allows people go to hell.  They want a warm, fuzzy God who is soft and mushy - one who they can believe in with no responsibility to change their lives in any way and one that they can control or manipulate.  And they use “God is a God of love” to excuse all sorts of immoral behavior.  Because a God who loves them just wants them to be happy and to love others, right?  And as long as they are doing that then they are doing just fine.
            They don’t want the God of the Bible, the One who sends plagues, kills people, calls people “sinners,” demands payment for sin, tells us to humble ourselves, takes away our “freedom” to live as we want, and who created a hell in the first place.  Theirs is a “God of love,” they say. 
            But what I say is that theirs is a god of their own imagination.  And a god of our own imaginations is no god at all.  Because if we do not know God the way He reveals Himself in the Word, then we have our own made-up version of God.  The real God is far above our ability to create Him and mold Him into what we want Him to be.  And if we have our own made-up version of Him then we also have an incorrect view of our relationship to Him and salvation and heaven and hell, etc. 
            It’s scary how many people are going to be surprised when they meet God and find out He is nothing like what they thought He was, what they wanted Him to be so that they could keep living the way they wanted to.  And it makes me sad to think how many people who thought they knew God are going to hear, “Away from me; I never knew you.”]    

11.  What do our spiritual disciplines – our Bible reading, prayer life, and righteousness-seeking - tell us about our view of His justness and His love?  How about if we are lazy in them or casual about them?  How about if we have become slaves to intense, ritualistic Bible reading, prayer, and righteousness-seeking?  How might a more balanced view of God’s justness and love shape our spiritual disciplines?

12.  Why is it important to have a just God?  Should we fear His justness?  How should it make us live? 
            [If God wasn’t just or holy, we would have no reason to trust Him and to believe that He will make all things right in the end.  When a judge is just, we can trust him to do what is right.  We can trust his judgment.  But we do not trust a crooked judge.  And if the world were full of crooked judges, we would have no faith in the government to look out for us, to make good decisions for society, to seek justice for crimes, or to make things better instead of worse.  The world would be a mess.  (Not that it isn’t right now.)  But where there is justness, there is faith and trust and hope.  And because God is just, we have the ultimate hope that all things will be made right again.  And we can trust God when He says that.  We can trust what we find in His Word, because He is a just and holy God.
            A humble child of God who has chosen to follow Him and to put their faith in Jesus has no reason to fear His justness.  Because we have been forgiven.  We will not face His eternal wrath.  And our life is a life of drawing closer to Him, of becoming more like Him, of letting go of our fears and growing more and more in His love.  And because we know that He is a just God and that He does indeed allow people to choose hell, we need to be deliberate about helping others find their way out from under His wrath.  And we need to be deliberate about purifying our own hearts and minds, about becoming more and more like Jesus.   
            God’s holiness should greatly sober us.  It should guide our spiritual growth because we are to be holy as He is holy.  (1 Peter 1:16)  And because people who die without Him will die under His wrath.  It should sober us.  But as believers who are seeking His Kingdom and righteousness, it shouldn’t scare us.]

13.  Is there a Bible story about His justness or wrath that troubles you?  Discuss why it troubles you and what it might be teaching you about God, about who He is, and about how He relates to us.

14.  But if we don’t have a healthy view of His love then we will be afraid of Him.  Being afraid of Him is not the same thing as fearing Him.  Totally different results.” 
            Discuss this idea.  What is the difference between a healthy fear of God and an unhealthy fear of God?  How do they affect our lives?

15.  What does fear in general make us do and how does it make us live?  Can we talk ourselves out of fear?  If not, how can we get past it?
             [Fear can paralyze us and make us afraid to come near to God or let Him near to us.  It can make us afraid to trust and obey.  It can keep us from opening up parts of our hearts and lives to Him that He wants to purify and heal.  It can cause us to never feel good enough and to always try harder to perform well for Him, serving more or praying “right” or following the Bible like it’s a set of legalistic rules.  And while we focus on performing better so that we can be pleasing to Him, we never really let His love and forgiveness and healing past our defenses and into our hearts fully. 
            This is not an easy thing to get over because it can’t be solved by adding one more discipline or spiritual act.  We can’t fake wholeness and healing.  If we are full of fear, we have to take the time to deliberately search our hearts and our pasts to find out why.  This can be done with a good Christian counselor, with your pastor, with a godly friend, or even on your own, with your Bible and the Lord.  (Or check out the “Through the Furnace” posts at sweetlybrokengirl.blogspot.com or myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com to give you a good starting place.)  But it only happens when you are willing to become honest and transparent with yourself and with God, when you let God’s Truth replace the lies you believe (knowing God’s Word is crucial), and when you let Him into the parts of your heart that you have kept sealed shut. 
            It is a long, painful process sometimes, but the Healing and Love that awaits you is so worth the time and effort and pain it took to get there.  If you are full of paralyzing fears, start with asking God what He wants you to do about it and what the fears are and what started them.  That’s a good place to begin the journey.]

16.  How might our pursuit of happiness affect and get in the way of truly understanding His justness?  Do people use God’s love to excuse their sin?

17.  What do you think I meant when I said “It was going through the furnace and struggling with my humanity and humility that brought me to that point of beautiful, painful, necessary exhaustion.”?

18.  “And we really do need and want a big, strong Father to take care of us.  And sometimes to get us to the point of learning this, God needs to remove everything we rely on, outside of Him.  He may have to strip us of every sense of control that we have.  We have to get to the point where we realize that He is so, so big and we are so, so little.  We are helpless without Him.  And we need Him desperately!  Daily! . . .  And if we haven’t been brought to our knees or our faces before God - if we haven’t become keenly, distressingly aware of our sinful natures and neediness - then we haven’t been humbled by God’s glory and holiness.”
            What is your view of this?  Have you ever found yourself “stripped”?  Brought to your knees?  How did it affect you and your relationship with God?

19.  Why does God love us?  Can His love be earned or does it just have to be accepted?  How do Christians sometimes get this wrong and what effect does it have?  And do you have a favorite Bible passage that relates to His love? 

20.  How do we try to earn His love?  Why do we have such a hard time accepting it as a gift?  How about for you personally?

21.  What other things might prevent us from letting our walls down and letting His love in? 

22.  What are some of the consequences of rejecting God’s love or keeping it from fully entering our hearts?
            [A Christian who doesn’t allow God’s love to fully enter their hearts and heal old wounds will be stunted in their growth, they will always be afraid they are doing something wrong, and they will exhaust themselves trying to please God while never really feeling His love that they work so hard for. 
            And an unbeliever who rejects God’s love and forgiveness will get exactly what they chose in the end – a life apart from God.]     

23.  “If we don’t have a healthy fear of Him then we aren’t really loving Him for who He is; we are loving Him for who we want Him to be.”  Discuss this idea.

24.  Discuss this idea.  Have you experienced this?
            “I think putting us in the furnace (of trials) is one of the most loving and merciful things God could do.  Because this causes us (if we are conscientious about it) to face our fears, walls, sins, doubts, pride, expectations, and misconceptions.  And as we do that, we begin to open our hearts a little more to the Holy Spirit, to allow in God’s truth and healing and love, and to see ourselves for who we really are and Him for who He really is.  (That is, unless we choose to run from the work of the Holy Spirit.  Which I think many people do.)  I wonder if the difficult circumstances of life and the inner struggles we go through are God’s way of asking us this one question . . . ‘What do you really think about Me and about yourself?’”

25.  “And I learned that I needed a God like this in my life.  One who was so much bigger than me and who was strong enough to handle what I couldn’t.  One who - although I tried - could not be figured out like a formula or forced into doing what I wanted Him to do.  I don’t want a God that I can shrink, a God that can be totally figured out or easily manipulated by me.  He is much bigger and more mysterious and holy than that. . . . Maybe this is part of the reason why God seems so silent, hidden, and unresponsive in the hard trials and long waits - to force us to decide if we will turn our backs on Him, if we will remain half-hearted “what’s-in-it-for-me” Christians, or if we will commit to Him fully, even though He is a mysterious, confusing, and sometimes frustrating God.  And to show us that He cannot be controlled or manipulated by us.  And isn’t this exactly what most of us get hung up on in a crisis of faith?  But a god that can really be totally understood or slightly controlled by us is not really God at all.”
            What are your thoughts on this?

26.  I said “I think one of Satan’s greatest tools for tripping up non-Christians and Christians alike is to get us to focus on His wrath or His love too much.”  What are some of Satan’s other tools for tripping us up?  How do they trip us up?  And how can we effectively protect ourselves from them or fight against them?

27.  What would our lives look like if we lived in proper fear of His justness but also fully embraced and lived in His love for us?
            [We would be humble, seeking God every day because we want to be immersed in that love.  We would seek daily to make sure nothing blocks our relationship with Him.  We would hunger for spending time in His presence, through the Word and prayer and meditating on Him.  Our pasts and old wounds will have been healed so that we can live in the present more fully and more productively (although we will still feel pain at times because we are human and we are living in a fallen world, eagerly awaiting the day that Jesus comes back and makes it all right again).
             We would find more peace and contentment and joy because we would always be aware of His love and goodness, even when the hard times come.  We would care less about the opinions of men and about earning their praise, and we would care more about honoring God and being a “living sacrifice” for Him.  And seeking His kingdom and righteousness would be top priorities because we would want our lives to glorify Him as much as possible and we would want to make sure others know about His amazing love and forgiveness. 
            Fear paralyzes and stunts and hinders.  Love and Truth and Forgiveness heal and set us free.  Which one are you holding onto?] 

28.  What are some ways that you experience God’s love or times that you felt it most?

29.  I love storms.  Always have.  And part of it is because I feel God’s power and “wildness” through them.  He reminds me that He can’t be tamed or smooshed up into my little boxes or tucked in a back corner somewhere.  And this is why I suggested standing outside in the rain (if there’s no lightning!) or the snow.  What kinds of things make you more aware of God’s magnificence and glory?  His justness?  Any time in particular when your eyes were opened in a fresh awe of Him?

30.  What do you think of my ideas to get a more balanced view of God’s love and God’s justness?  Can you think of other ideas?  Have you ever tried any?

31.  I talked briefly about how technology and busyness and clutter and our own self-talk can get in the way of a relationship with Him.  How do they do this?  And what other things interfere with our relationship with God?  How about for you personally?  What can be done about it?

32.  What do you feel God is telling you about this topic?  What might be the next step for you when it comes to His love and His holiness?

33.  Are there any other thoughts or questions you want to add? 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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A place for you to share your thoughts and to encourage each other. But please understand that as a busy homeschooling mom who is seldomly on-line, I may not be able to reply to most comments. But I will be reading them as I can and praying for you. Thank you for your comments! Please keep them godly and uplifting, as I will delete any that are mean or ungodly. I intend for this to be a safe place where people feel encouraged and respected.