Sunday, July 7, 2013

God is Love

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God.  Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God.  The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.  This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him.  This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.  My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other.  No one has seen God, ever.  But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!  This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us:  He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit.  Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world.  Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God.  We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.  God is love.  When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.       1 John 4:7 - 16 (TMSG)
I am told the human brain thinks in pictures.  Like a computer, the brain associates pictures with our feelings and memories for quick access.  So, if that’s true, what’s Your picture of God?
Two third-graders are standing outside the church.  An older church leader with a really sour look on his face passes the two and hardly mutters a grunt.  One kid says to the other, “if that’s what 30 years of being a Christian does for ya, I want out NOW!
Another cartoon I once saw looks over God’s shoulder as he’s sitting at his computer watching two teens on earth.  God has a wicked grin and his hand is paused to slam down on the computer keyboard.  The target key is labeled “SMITE”.

A different picture of god

I have a different picture of what God looks like.  In my mind’s picture-bank, God
is distinctively Norwegian; he has blonde, wavy hair, a cleft chin, and can hit a softball a country mile.  He is wise, fun-loving and even has a name besides “I Am” – it’s P.A.K.O., which stands for Pastor A. Kenneth Olsen. 
PAKO was the pastor of the church my family belonged to when I was very young.  When I was twelve PAKO and two other men from the church took about a dozen young boys on a camping and canoeing trip in the Catskill Mountains.  We would paddle all day, camp in the woods at river's edge by night.  This was long before "Survivor"!
At the beginning of the week we adolescent boys were given instructions on canoe safety (at times we even listened).  One of the iron-clad rules was that the adults were to be kept informed where we were at all times.  We did pretty good with that for the first few days.  But, having gotten quite familiar with handling the canoes and the rough waters of wind-swept mountain lakes, three of us decided to push the rules just a bit.
Paul Edwards, Eddie Williams and I thought it would be a great idea to use one of our camping tents and a canoe paddle to rig a sail on one of the canoes.  There was a good bit of wind that whipped across the lake in the late afternoon, so we thought we could get going really fast and have some fun; we thought!
We paddled out about a half-mile from shore and put up our “tent-sail”.  It worked!  And we virtually flew across the choppy water.  The problem came when one of the three boys (forever herewith unnamed) figured that since sitting in the canoe at this speed was fun, standing should be a blast.  He figured!
The reality of canoe dynamics is, when you change the center of gravity from below, to way-above the water line, that canoe will roll like a log in a river.  And rolling canoes dump their contents!  The contents of our canoe found ourselves in the lake with tsunami-like wave whipping over our heads.  At one point the canoe paddle, our mast, conked me on the head and I went under.  I struggled to get up where there was precious air for my lungs, but found myself under the overturned canoe.  I began to realize the serious nature of our situation when Eddie tried to get Paul and me to help turn the canoe right-side up.  We had zero maritime skills between us; things were not working out!  The canoe wouldn’t turn; we began to get frantic.
As our alternatives dwindled, fear set in and we started to pray!  We confessed every known and unknown sin.  We promised God if we ever got out of all this we’d be good, never lie or steal again, and never again peek at those “bad” magazines in the general store.
We were cold and frightened.  We’d been in the water for what seemed like days (actually about an hour).  It was just beginning to get dark when we heard the outboard motor.  As the Forest Ranger’s boat approached I experienced one of those “good news/bad news” moments of ambivalence.  The good news was that we were not going to drown; the bad news was that Pastor A. Kenneth Olsen was sitting in the bow of that boat, and we were certainly going to perish for our sins.
We were hauled into the rescue boat, covered with blankets and ferried back to our shore-line campsite, where God only knew what gruesome inquisition and terrible punishment waited for us.
Now, we were certain there would be at least three good sized lynching ropes slung over hanging tree branches somewhere near the campsite.  However, instead of a quick trial and execution we got dry clothes, warm fire and a hot meal.
That night we joined the other boys and men around the campfire and, as we sipped hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows, PAKO read Scripture, prayed and led us in songs and stories of serving Jesus.
We didn’t die!
To this day PAKO has never said a word to any of the three miscreants about our transgressions.
This is my picture of God – when you’ve messed it up bad enough he comes for you…
·        not to step on you and squash you like a bug.
·        not to hit the “smite” button
·        not to take all your fun and give you a sour expression to show how you can suffer for Jesus the rest of your life…
He comes to save you; he comes to put his loving arm around you and draw you close, dry you up, fill you up and sing songs of joy and give you the strength to carry on.  This is the essence of what the Apostle John said about loving each other. 
I don’t find it at all ironic that all three canoe-transgressors followed in PAKO’s footsteps – preachers!  PAKO knew how to love three trouble-making preteens who knew nothing about love.  And by his love, we learned how to love and be loved. 

That’s my picture of God!

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