Apostles’ Creed: I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth

What comes to mind when you read that Jesus followers believe in a God who is Almighty, who is so powerful that He created the universe?

Do you think, “What about all the evil in the world?” J.I.Packer writes, “[D]oes not the existence of evil-moral badness, useless pain, and waste of good-suggest that God the Father is not almgihty after all – for surely he would remove these things if he could?” (Packer, I Want to be a Christian Tydale 1981, 38)

The first part of the answer is that God created humans with the ability to choose.

And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’ (Genesis 2:16).

With the freedom to choose came the consequences of those choices. Life is not a video game, where all harm happens on the screen to virtual characters. The choices we make impact others. We have the capacity to hurt others. Can you think of times when you did that? Was it God’s fault that the choices you made hurt someone else, or were you responsible?

There’s a remarkable story in Luke about self-inflicted harm.

As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days wll come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They wll dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you (Luke 19:41-44).

Had the people made Jesus their leader, they could have avoided the devastation that would come upon the city in the Roman assault of 70 A.D. Jesus wept as He looked into the future and saw the carnage, but He left them to the consequences of their choice to rebel against Rome rather than follow Jesus, who reached out to both Jewish people and Romans in love.

The second part of the answer is Packer’s own answer to his question about God and evil above; namely, wouldn’t an Almgihty God remove evil if He could?

Yes, he would, and he is doing so! Through Christ, bad folk like you and me are already being made good:…[Romans 8:18; cf. 19-23]. If Godmoves more slowly than we wish in clearing evil out of his world and introducing the new order that, we may be sure, is in order to widen his gracious purpose and include in it more victims of the world’s evil than otherwise he could have done. (Study 2 Peter 3:3-10, especially verse 8ff.) (Packer 38-39)

In other words, God is active in removing evil from the world by changing Jesus followers from the inside, through the power of the Holy Spirit. As they change, they relate with God’s love to hurting people around them.

In the passage Packer cites, Peter writes,

The Lord is not slow in keepng his promise, as some understand slowness.Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God is not shutting down the world, broken as it is, because He is being patient with those who hurt others – and that, according to Peter, means that Jesus followers have an assignment. They are called to relate also to those who are hurting others, because God loves those people too. He wants to transform them into Jesus followers and to love other people through them, thus pushing back against a wave of hurt and hate with a wave of Jesus’ healing and love.

In a world where people are free to ignore God’s commands and hurt others, God doesn’t stop people from hurting one another, but He calls Jesus followers to be agents of healing and love. Where you live, can you see some of that in action? Are there hospitals that were started by Jesus followers? How about services for the homeless? How about internatinal relief organizations operated by churches?

Whether or not Francis of Assisi wrote the prayer attributed to him, that prayer says it well.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_of_Saint_Francis

Jesus followers believe in an Almighty God. He uses love to overpower hatred and evil, one person at a time. One person at a time, transformed from the inside out by the power of God’s own Spirit.

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Apostles’ Creed – I believe in God the Father

Why should Jesus followers affirm belief in a God who is called Father?

First of all, because Jesus told us to. He introduced the Lord’s Prayer as follows: This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…’ (Matthew 6:9).

Does that mean God is male? No! The Genesis creation story says:

So God created humankind in his own image,

In the image of God he created them;

Male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-7, New Revised Standard Version).

Both male and female are created in God’s image. God is beyond gender (Doerksen, “The Twelve Gretest Words Ever Put on Paper” The Messenger Jan. 2016, 8). Both the Old and New Testament have both maternal and paternal word pictures for God. Nonetheless, Jesus instructed His followers to call God “Father.”

For Jesus, the term was an expression of God’s caring.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11. See also 6:25-34).

This is in remarkable contrast to the stories ofother gods of that time. William Barclay paints two pictures for us. The first is a picture of animosity toward humans:

Sometimes the Greeks thought of God or the gods as being grudging andgrasping. The gods, as they saw it, were determined that men should possess as little as possbile; they grudged and resented every upward step that man was able to take. The typical Greek myth is the story of Prometheus, one of the gods. In his time men did not possess the gift of fire, and life without fire must have been a comfortless existence. In his sympathy for men Prometheus stole fire from heaven and gave it to men. Zeus, the father of gods and men, was violently angry. He took Prometheus and chained him to a rock in the middle of the ocean, and he arranged for a vulture to tear out Prometheus’ liver, which ever grew again, only to be torn out again. Here, the gods and men are at variance and the aim of the gods is at all costs to keep men in their place and to refuse them any betterment of life Barclay, The Apostles’ Creed Westminster John Knox 1998, 30.

The second picture Barclay paints is one of the gods as esentially withdrawn, detached and indfferent. The Stoics declared that the first and essential attribute and characteristic of God was… an existence devoid of any feeling or any emotion. The Greek argument was that if God can feel sorrow or joy, approval or disapproval, pleasure or grief, it means that the action of man can bring God joy or sorrow. That is to say, the action of man can have an influence upon God….God…must be totally insulated against all emotion, so that he can remain for ever serene and tranquil, calm, unmoved and detached. Barclay 30

The picture Jesus painted above is of a caring, loving parent – very different from the Stoic picture of indifference or the nasty picture we get of Zeus in the story of Prometheus.

There’s an even stronger picture of God the Father’s loving care. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus prayed minutes before His arrest, Mark records the following:

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’ (Mark 14:35-36).

Barclay writes, The intimacy of the relation of the Christian to God is seen best of all in the name which Paul says that the Chrsitians too may use, the name Abba (Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). Abba is the name by which a little child addressed his father in the home circle in the time of Jesus….In any secular context it would be translated simply as Daddy….Here is no God transcendent in infinite might and majesty, unapproachable…; here is no God who is an abstraction or a philosophic idea, or a grudging or a passionless diety. Here is a God who is as near to us as a father is to a little child (Barclay 31).

If your dad wasn’t perfect – and no father is – can you allow these pictures Jesus painted to bring some healing and correction of your image of what a father is like?

Jesus told us to call God “Father” and said that our heavenly Father knew and cared about our needs. That’s the kind of God that Jesus followers call Father.

The Apostles’ Creed: I believe in God

Can you imagine a gathering of two or more people without an agreement on the purpose of the gathering? For example, what if two people gather, one with the intention of playing tennis and the other wanting to discuss the writings of Plato, and each with no interest in the other’s interest?

Similarly, an association of people must agree on the purpose of their association. Are they a gardening club, an asssociation of real estate agents, or do they wish to organize a soccer team?

In the same way, Jesus followers have, from the beginning, had a common understanding of the heart of what it means to be a Jesus follower. William Barclay writes,

[A]lmost as far back as can be traced, the Church at Rome had a baptismal creed in which candidates for full membership of the Church were instructed, and to which they had to profess allegiance…[I]t bears the closest possible resemblance to the Apostles’ Creed.

It seems likely, therefore, that these words had, not long after AD 100, become the basic statement of the Church’s faith, the statement in which those entering the Church were instructed, and the affirmation of faith which they had to make before they were baptized… Barclay, The Apostles’ Creed Westminster John Knox 1998, p. 3-4.

Let’s spend a few sessions looking at parts of this document that has helped Jesus followers define who they are for many centuries.

The Apostles’ Creed begins as follows:

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

What does it mean to believe? Barclay writes that this belief is one where “a man’s whole life and every action are dominated by that which he believes” (Barclay, 10-11). This kind of belief is the conviction upon which you build your life.

I Believe in God…maker of heaven and earth.

Jesus followers believe that we are not biological accidents. Genesis 1 and 2 describe a Creator God

a) who is pleased with His creation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:1, 31

b) who communicates with the humans He created, telling them His expectations of them. Both

i) positively, providing for their needs, giving them meaningful work

So God created mankind in his own image,…male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it….I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food Genesis 1:27-29

ii) and negatively, warning them of the consequences of disobedience

You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die Genesis 2:16-17.

In other words, it’s a friendly universe. God made humans in His own image, provided food for them, gave them meaningful work, and told them what was safe to do and what was not safe to do.

Nahum Sarna writes, “[T]he Hebrew Genesis account asserts that God is outside the realm of nature, which is wholly subservient to Him….[T]here are no stories about any events in His life. Magic plays no part in the worship of Him. The story also tells us something about the nature of man, a God-like creature, uniquely endowed with dignity, honor and infinite worth, into whose hands God has entrusted mastery over His creation. Finally, this narrative tells us something about the biblical concept of reality. It proclaims the essential goodness of life and assumes a universal moral order governing human society” (Sarna, Understanding Genesis Schocken 1966, 3.

Jesus followers believe in a God who lovingly created them, who communicates with them, who provides for them, who gave them dignity, who gives them the ground rules. From the human point of view, we’re accountable to a power greater than ourselves, and we can know the basis upon which we’re held accountable. We don’t need to exert power over others in order to find significance, because God gave us dignity. It’s a safe universe.

Winning with the hand you’re dealt, Part 5

Life is not fair.

There. We’ve said it.

The question is: How do I live life with all the things that have happened to me that are not fair? To reframe the question into Rick Warren’s words, how do I win with the hand I’ve been dealt? Rick Warren talked about that publicly two years after his 27-year-old son lost his battle with depression by suicide (“Winning with the Hand You’re Dealt” (Hope for Mental Health Saddleback Resources 2015).

Warren says that each human has been dealt five cards. We win by how we play those cards.

1.The first, My Chemistry, is my genes and hormones. Whatever your makeup, says Warren, you can become healthier.

2. My Connections; that is, my relationships, all of which are imperfect. Warren suggests that we can deepen relationships and become more loving.

3. My Circumstances; that is, the things that life did to me. Warren suggests that we need to ‘trust God no matter what happens’ (Winning, 15). We’ve discussed each of the first 3 in earlier episodes.

4. My Consciousness; that is, how I talk to myself about myself. All that pain is in your memory, says Warren, but you can choose to think more positive thoughts. We talked about that in detail last time.

5. The fifth card, says Warren, is My Choices. “This fifth card…controls all the other cards…You have a free moral choice…That’s because you’re made in God’s image…The freedom of choice is your greatest blessing. It is also your greatest curse. Because we make stupid choices all the time….But here’s the good news about this card….It’s the wild card. This card can change the suit and the number of any of the other cards you’re dealt” (Winning, 10).

Warren explains: “I didn’t choose my chemistry but I can choose what I do with my body and how I make the most with what I’ve got…

“I didn’t choose all of my relationships but I can choose how I respond to them. And I can choose new relationships. And I can choose to learn relational skills….

“I didn’t choose my circumstances but I certainly can choose how I respond to them….

“I didn’t control what people said to me….But I can choose to stop believing them. And I can choose to think differently” (Winning, 10-11).

But Warren isn’t giving a self-help lecture. There’s one choice that is more important than any other. “I can choose Jesus as my Savior….I’m not just talking about saving you out of hell into heaven. I’m not just talking about saving you from your sins and forgiving you. You ought to do that. If you haven’t done that you need to settle that one today….

“I’m talking about letting Jesus be your Savior every day. This changes everything. Because when I choose Jesus as my Savior every day, I get the power to follow through on these choices. I can make these choices but I’m not going to stick with them on willpower. I’ve got to make choices and then depend on Jesus to give me the power to do these things” (Winning, 18).

Warren goes on to quote Paul of Tarsus: When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He’s not the same anymore. A new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17, The Living Bible).

In case you think, “I’ve let card number 1, 2, 3 or 4 mess me up for so many years, or decades, there’s no hope for me,” Warren ends by saying, “And it is never too late to start over” (Winning, 19). Jesus is the God of new beginnings. If you are breathing and conscious, He can help you set the new direction for your life. Remember that He loves you so much that He died to rescue you. Here are the words that come after the quote above about new life:

All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors and God is using us to speak to you, pleading with you. ‘Be reconciled to God!’ For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, New Living Translation 1996).

God loves you very much. Let Him empower you in setting new directions for your life.

Winning with the hand you’re dealt, Part 4

What do I do about the hand that life has dealt me? That’s the question Rick Warren asked two years after his 27-year-old son lost a battle with depression through suicide. He gave his answer to the question in a sermon entitled “Winning with the Hand You’re Dealt” (Hope for Mental Health Saddleback Resources 2015). If you like, you can watch him at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyCs81Nzrso

Warren says that each human has been dealt five cards. We win by how we play those five cards.

1.The first, he says, is My Chemistry; that is, my genes and hormones. Whatever your makeup, Warren suggests, you can become healthier. We talked about this May 9.

2. My Connections; that is, my relationships – all of which are imperfect. Warren points out that we can deepen relationships and become more loving. We talked about this last time.

3. My Circumstances; the things that life does to me. Rick Warren, a grieving dad, says we need to “trust God no matter what happens” (Winning, 15). Also, I don’t need to be a prisoner of my past.

4. “My Consciousness…How I talk to myself. How you think about you…Your habitual thoughts are your identity. What you think about you. That’s your identity….

Here’s the amazing thing: When you think a thought it doesn’t have to be true to hurt you. You just have to believe it. So if somebody says, you’re never going to amount to anything, and you believe it, guess what? You’re never going to amount to anything. If you tell yourself, this marriage isn’t going to last, it isn’t going to last…Be careful what you think because your thoughts run your life. And if you think a thought long enough you become it. And if you believe it about yourself, you act it out” (Winning, 8-9).

What to do about this card? Warren writes, “I can choose what I continue to allow in my mind….Your…bad memories, the painful memories, the memories of shame, the memories of guilt, the memories of anger, the memories of embarrassment are all up there….Those…memories are never going away, but you can overwrite them….I can choose what I think about…You can change your brain. It is elastic…your brain…can be rewired regardless of what’s happened in your past” (Winning 16-17).

Warren cites Romans 12:2: Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is (New Living Translation 1996).

Rick Warren continues, “”Change your brain, change your life. How do you do that? You must feed your brain with truth…You feed your mind on the Word of God. You read it, you memorize it, you meditate on it…Philippians 4:8 (NLT) ‘…Dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts [that means intentional. Intentional focus] on what is true, and honorable, and right. [You need to fill your mind with the truth, not lies. You need to fill your mind with what’s honorable – the right thing, not the wrong thing.] Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ That means you get the garbage out of your life. You don’t watch junk TV. There are some movies you don’t go to. There are a lot of books you just don’t read, because you think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Winning 17-18).

As a positive suggestion, Warren says, “Surround yourself visually and orally with things that create good memories, that tell you who you are and tell you whose you are. So you see it all the time. Put the Word of God on your walls. Put promises [from the Bible] on the walls. Put beautiful sunsets on the walls. Put whatever inspires you” (Winning, 18).

What do you think about this advice from a grieving dad?

winning with the hand you’re dealt* (Part 3)

Do you ever feel that life has treated you unfairly? Do you wish you’d received a different set of life circumstances? That’s the feeling that Rick Warren talks about in a sermon entitled, “Winning with the Hand You’re Dealt.”*

Last time we saw that God judges us only for the oppoturnities and abilities He gave us. He doesn’t hold us to account for chances we never had.

Then we began a study of the five cards that, according to Rick Warren, we’ve been dealt.

1.The first, which we looked at last time, is My Chemistry; that is, my genes and hormones. Whatever your makeup, Warren suggests, you can become healthier.

2. “My Connections… My connections are my relationships in life…you are a product of your relationships,” writes Warren. He continues that “there are three problems with that. One…is we’re all imperfect. And since we’re all imperfect…we hurt each other….

“Second, sin disconnects us…from God…[a]nd…from each other….[H]ere’s the third problem with this card. The more disconnected I am, the more fearful I become….And if you grew up feeling disconnected, you have a hard time trusting other people….We crave intimacy. But we fear vulnerability which is the only way you get intimacy. We want one without the other….We crave acceptance, but we fear rejection. And that forms your identity” (Hope for Mental Health Saddlebadk Resources 2015, 6-8).

What to do about it? Warren suggests, “I can choose to deepen my relationships. I can learn some communication skills. I can build some new, healthy relationships and replace some bad, unhealthy relationships. I can…risk connecting.” (Winning, 12).

Specifically, Warren points to 1 John 4:18. 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. Warren continues, ‘Love has no fear because it’s not about me….Self-centredness walks in the room saying how do I look to everybody else? Love walks in the room going, who here needs my help? Who needs a word of encouragement?…Who…looks like they’re a little on the outside and uncomfortable and I could put themat ease?” (Winning, 13)

3. “My Circumstances…These are the things that happen to you…You are a product of the traumas and the troubles in your life…the suffering and the shame and the shock and the stress. Pain shapes your life” (Winning, 8).

What to do about it? It’s important to remember, as we think about the pain we’ve experienced in life, that Rick and Kay Warren are not ivory tower academics. They lost their young adult son to mental illness through suicide in 2013.

Warren suggests, “I can choose to trust God no matter what happens” (Winning, 15) and points to Romans 8:28. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. He continues, “It’s not all good but it can be worked into something good” (Winning, 15). God can take all the ugliness and pain of my life and build something beautiful out of it. A carpenter needs good construction materials in order to build a quality home. God, in contrast, can take the garbage of our lives and make something positive out of it.

He goes on. “I’m a product of my past. But I am not a prisoner of it. And I can be different” (Winning, 16).

More next time.

winning with the hand you’re dealt (Part 2)

What do I do with the circumstances life has given me? That’s the question Rick Warren set out to answer in a sermon entitled “Winning with the Hand You’re Dealt.”

Last time we saw that Psalm 139 tells us it’s a friendly universe. Our Creator God knows all about us, wants to help us with the circumstances we face, made us the complex individuals we are, and thinks about us all the time.

Warren moves next to a story Jesus told about a master who gave an investment assignment to three servants. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. Matthew 25:15

Upon the master’s return, he met with his servants. The servants who had been entrusted with five bags and with two bags had each doubled the amount. The master’s words to each of these two were identical. Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness! (Matthew 25:21, 23). In other words, the master evauated each on what he had given that servant, and was equally pleased with each of them.

Warren writes, ‘You’re not…responsible for talents you weren’t given.You’re not going to be judged by God for opportunities you didn’t have. But God is going to judge you one day and evaluate yourlife on what you did with what you were given. The point of the parable of the talents [bags of gold] is we don’t get the same thing. We don’t have the same talents. We don’t have the same background. We don’t have the same pains. W don’t have the same problems. We don’t have the same potential. We don’t have the same anything except we’re all loved by God. We are all unique. We are all different” (“Winning with the Hand You’re Dealt”, Hope for Mental Health, Saddleback Resources 2015, p. 1).

And not only that. There are no perfect cards. It’s a broken world. Warren continues, ‘In many ways…life is like a hand of poker – that you ‘ve got to play the hand you’re dealt…[E]ach of these cards…is flawed. Every one of these cards is marred by sin” (Winning, p. 2-3).

And how does one do that?

Warren suggests that we’ve been dealt five cards, and gives an idea for how to win with each of them. “If you want to understand who you really are, you have to understand the five factors that make you you. I’m using this metaphor, these five cards to represent this” (Winning, p. 3).

1.Warren continues, ”My Chemistry…It’s your genes. It’s your hormones…Every one of us have structural and chemical weaknesses in our bodies…Mental illness is no more to be ashamed of than cancer.” (Winning, 3-5)

What to do about it? Warren writes, “I can choose to get healthier. I don’t care what handicap you have in your life. You can be healthier than you are right now….Psalm 119:73 (TLB) says this, You made my body, Lord; now give me sense to heed your laws.

“There are certain things you can learn. Maybe you need to go get a checkup. Maybe you need to go get some blood work. Maybe you need to go see a dentist. Maybe you need to get a supplement or get on some kind of hormone replacement. Whatever. I don’t know. But the fact is, there are some steps you can do – medicine, exercise, controllable things…What do I need to do physically?” (Winning, 11-12.)

For starters, is that helpful? More next time.