Beside the Master

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? (John 21:15)

I can feel it. There are words that cannot be said, but it is in everyone’s minds as we sit here by the lake with our Master.

Outwardly everything looks the same. Last time we even went fishing together. And now that the Lord has appeared to us we are sitting here like before. We eat and hold on to his every word as he speaks to us words of comfort and wisdom—words from God’s own mouth.

But it’s no use. Something has changed, at least with respect to me. For days past I’ve noticed the unexpressed thought that they all have. The doubt. The distance.

There he goes again. I’ve just caught James looking at me. He looks away whenever I catch him, but eventually he glances at me, looks me over, and then looks at the Master by whose side I sit. I know what he is thinking—I am unworthy to be counted among them. I’ve forfeited my right to sit by the Master’s side and break bread together like before. I’ve cut myself off from the intimate fellowship I was once part of.

You see, I denied the Master. I who said I would die for him and with him if necessary invoked curses and oaths a few hours later and denied my beloved Master. Praise God He is alive . . . but things aren’t the same. Nothing can ever be the same. The other ten distrust me. I am no better than Judas who betrayed him.

And then the Master suddenly changes the direction of the conversation. Right in front of them he turns to me and asks.

Do you love me—more than these?

The others sit still. When was the last time I flushed with embarrassment? When was the last time I was at a loss for words? I’ve never experienced this before. I dare no longer express so violent and boastful an affection.

He asks me this three times. At last, my heart shatters when I see the significance of the number—for the number of times I denied him. Can it be too late? Too late to make my Master and my Lord believe that I love him?

And yet . . . I have nothing to offer but the humble love of one who no longer dares to boast and strut around in self assurance. I have nothing to make him believe the depth of my affection, my gratitude, and unshaken belief that he is, indeed, the son of God.

That old bloke is gone, my Lord, and in its stead is just me, Simon whom you called Peter, looking beyond myself to become the man you wanted me to become. And I’m so desperately hoping you will believe me. You know everything.

And that is enough. You take me back, and by your grace I am restored into close communion with you and my fellow brothers, my new family. Yes, I failed. Not once, but many times. But you, oh Lord, make all things new.

Restored to you, called once more to your service, and entrusted with a mission.

Yes, Lord. I will follow you. Use me to feed your lambs and tend to your sheep.

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Beside the Well

“Then the woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village . . .” John 4:28

 * * *

 People call me opportunistic. Immoral. Shameless.

I know words can’t hurt me. They shouldn’t. But they still do. I can’t stand their hard looks, their scathing words.

I especially avoid the women. They are vicious. I still remember their gossip by the well. As we filled our jars early in the morning by our father Jacob’s well. This was before my first husband. I was young, and I would stupidly titter at what they said, never imagining that one day those same women would tear me to shreds.

They accuse me of horrible things—but it wasn’t just my fault. And…I’m not that bad, am I? Very well. I am. I know it. But it’s too late to do anything about it.

I can live quite well; if not happy, then content, I suppose.

I don’t need to suffer my neighbors. It’s come to a point that they leave me alone. I don’t exist except as an outsider. The women will simply cross the street in order to avoid walking by me or going past me. “Respectable” men won’t look at me. The others leer and look at me suggestively. I ignore them.

When the sun is high, most people retire indoors. That is when I venture outside. Happily, no one goes to the well at noon.

Wrong. There is someone sitting beside the well. A man. Must be a traveler. I press toward the well anyway, and proceed to fill my jug of water. I pretend to be absorbed in my task while I study him out of the corner of my eye.

He is not from these parts. He is a Jew. No matter. Custom ensures that he will not bother me. Jews consider themselves too important to look or even speak to a Samaritan—let alone a Samaritan woman.

And yet I feel his gaze upon me.

What is he looking at? Is it so plain to see? Is my past branded in my face? It is insufferable. I complete my task and am about to raise my jug go my shoulder when he breaks the silence, asking me for a drink of water.

 * * *

 And so began the conversation that changed my life. I completely forgot about customs, I completely forgot about my water jug, and engaged in open conversation with a complete stranger. When he said he had water better than Jacob’s well, my first impulse was that of incredulity—this travel-stained stranger higher than my ancestors? But when he explained the nature of what he offered, I wanted to receive it. I wanted that water. I wanted to quench my thirst and never, ever be thirsty again. I wanted to never again feel the shame I daily felt whenever I set foot out of the house. I wanted . . . .

There’s so many old stories in our tradition. As a child I grew listening to them in great rapture. I never tired of hearing about Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel. Their love stories began at beside the well. The meeting at that place marked a change—a new beginning.

For the first time I felt that I could reach out in hope and not be disillusioned, not be hurt. That there was something of meaning even for me– and I did not need to look to men (other than this messenger from God) to find it in my life!

I wanted everyone to know about it.

I had met the Messiah.

God the Father and the Character of God — Sabbath School Discussion Notes

Young Adult Sabbath School

Seventh Day Adventist Fundamental Beliefs Series — #3: God the Father

For: December 14, 2013

Duration: ~40 Minutes

MINGLE QUESTION

How did you see God manifest himself in your life this week?

PRAYER

INTRO – The Statement from the 28 Fundamental Beliefs:

God the Father is the source of all love and life. He sent His Son to save us from our sin and ourselves, and to show us what He is like.

God the eternal Father is the Creator, Source, Sustainer and Sovereign of all creation. He is just and holy, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The qualities and powers exhibited in the Son and the Holy Spirit are also revelations of the Father.

Q1 Oftentimes however we view our father is how we also tend to view God the father. What are some common ways people tend to do this? How has your view of your father affected your view of God?

 Q2 The concept people have of God generally changes as they grow. How is the view of God you have now different from the one you had as a child or as an adolescent?

POINT 1 – OUR EXPERIENCE ESTABLISHED BY OUR VIEW

One of this section’s particular concern is to establish the character of God. Now, there is much—much written and said out there on the topic—I looked up some books and things online and found some statements of famous writers and thinkers.

Let’s do a quick exercise. Break into groups of three, and the quote I will pass out. With your group discuss: do you agree/disagree, why? And any other thoughts on this.

“God is a metaphor. He is a dream, a hope, . . . a father, a city, a mother, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you—even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all. . . ” ― Neil Gaiman

“When I saw my Father lying dead in a pool of his own blood, I knew then that I hadn’t stopped believing in God. I’d just stopped believing God cared. There might be a God, and there might not, but I don’t think it matters. Either way we’re on our own.” ― Cassandra Clare, City of Bones

 “A father has to be a provider, a teacher, a role model, but most importantly, a distant authority figure who can never be pleased. Otherwise, how will children ever understand the concept of God?” ― Stephen Colbert, I am America

 “I always wondered why God was supposed to be a father,” she whispers. “Fathers always want you to measure up to something. Mothers are the ones who love you unconditionally, don’t you think?”― Jodi Picoult

 “Blessed be God’s name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because he kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end up in the furnaces?“ ― Elie Wiesel, Night

 “We want not so much a Father but a grandfather in heaven, a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?” ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

 I am persuaded that God has more the quality of a “presence” than of a nonpersonal “energy” or “force”…God has more the quality of a “you” than of an “it,” I see this sense of God as a presence, as a “you,” as grounded in experience

Like flies to us are we to the gods. The kill us for their sport

Never accept a view of the Fatherhood of God if it blots out the Atonement. The revelation of God is that He cannot forgive sin. Cannot stand it. Cannot tolerate it. He would contradict his nature if He did. The only way we can be forgiven is by being brought back to God by the Atonement. God’s forgiveness is only natural in the supernatural domain. Forgiveness is the divine miracle of grace.—Oswald Chambers

[After groups have shared]

As we can  see, there is such a wide opinion of God, his role in our universe, and his character. Even we tend to have such different opinions.

Think. Is your God (or your idea of God)

Primarily concerned about personal virtue?

Primarily a lawgiver and judge, somebody you need to measure up to?

A God of requirements and rewards?

Mostly “nice”?

Mostly indifferent?

A God of compassion?

A God of social justice?

Q3 Why do you think it is necessary for us to understand the true nature, and character of God? / Will our experience with God be any different if we hold this or that view of him? / e.g. Will believing that God is mostly “nice” produce a different result or experience from believing that God is a “wrathful” God?

Q4 What do we stand to lose if we have the incorrect view of God? / What do we gain when we glimpse the true nature? / What is at stake in this question?

POINT 1 – What’s at stake in the question of God’s character is our image of the Christian life.

Is Christianity about requirements?  Here’s what you must do. Check off the list.

Is Christianity about relationship and transformation? Here’s the path: Jesus. Follow him.

 

POINT 2 – Bible’s OT and NT are united and present a consistent view of God—in particularly God the Father

Q5 What are some of the ways we can get to know God? How can we know not only about God, but know God?

Q6How does the Bible describe God the Father to us? What are some Bible passages or stories that are helpful in describing God the Father?

What do you think about the view some people have of the Bible seeming to contradict itself in how it describes God in the Old Testament and the New Testament?

Someone once told me that Christians themselves are to blame for the confusion of the “Two Gods” in the Bible. Many Christians—myself included at one point—seem to differentiate between the God of the OT and of the NT, and have placed an incorrect emphasis on one and the other.

There are other characteristics of God the Father all over the Bible. It is very important to keep in mind that OT alludes to the 3 personas of the trinity—but doesn’t clearly differentiate between them. The NT makes clear the roles they take. –Marcus Borg

That is why in this discussion, it is important to establish the one defining characteristic of God: LOVE.

The OT and NT are full of accounts of God’s love for us

1 John 4:7-8 7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Hosea 2:19-20 19 I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. 20 I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord.

Isaiah 43:4 Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.
With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.

The prophets in the bible use the language of love to speak of God’s relation to Israel. God is the lover, Israel is the beloved, ALSO note that Song of Songs has been understood as an allegory of the God-human relationship, or the Christ-church relationship.

 Why do you think it is so important to nail down and to get this down right?

[If no one answers, continue:]

How many of You are married? Engaged?

As we said before, being in a deep and lasting relationship with God can be rightly compared to being married. Wouldn’t you agree that it is important to know your future spouses character before tying the knot? What happens to the relationship if there is no real knowledge of who you are marrying? 

POINT 3: JUSTICE/WRATH—GOD AS A MORAL BEING

I’m going to pass out some quotes. Form groups again, read, share, discuss

Never build your preaching of forgiveness on the fact that God is our Father and he will forgive us because he loves us. It is untrue to Christ’s revelation of God, making the Cross absolutely unnecessary…anything that belittles or obliterates the holiness of God by a false view of the love of God, is untrue to the revelation of God given by Jesus Christ. Never allow the thought that Jesus stands with us against God (against himself!) out of pity and compassion; that he became a curse for us out of sympathy with us.—Oswald Chambers

 This is one way to look at it: God’s Love makes him willing to forgive, sinners, but his holiness requires him to punish sin; the atonement provides a way to meet the demands of both attributes. The problem with this way of looking at it, is that this equates wrath with vengeance and love with indulgence. A better way to interpret their relationship is to see God’s wrath as the expression, not the antithesis, of his love. –Rice

God’s wrath is his loving response to sin. He finds it repulsive, disgusting. It distresses him to see the ones he loves destroying themselves –Rice

Whosoever comes to me I will never cast out, for I have come down from heaven…that everyone who looks on to the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:37,40)

 They are very deep passages. What is one thought that it produces. Do you agree? Disagree? What strikes you more?

GOD OF JUSTICE, GOD OF LOVE

The God of love isn’t just a “nice God.” Author Marcus J. Borg states that The God of love is also the God of justice. The two are related, for in the Bible justice is the social form of love. Love that has an edge—and a passion for justice. God loves everybody and everything, and we need to take seriously that side of love—prolonged injustice has consequences.

What happens to human beings is the outcome of their own choices. They bear responsibility for their destiny. (rice)

As a moral being, God is more concerned with the way his followers treat other people than he is with the forms of worship they employ…Rituals are worthless, offensive, in God’s eyes if people abuse the weak and ignore the needs of the poor. (R. Rice)

YANCEY: What good is God? Why doesn’t God do something about wicked people? Why doesn’t God take a more active role in human history?

According to the OT, God did take an active and foreceful role in the past yet it failed to produce lasting faith among the Israelintes. And, as eartly powers have learned, force and freedom make uneasy partners and an emphasis on one always diminishes the other; God consistently tilts towards human freedom. In the end, though, we have to sure answer and only fleeting glimpses of God’s ultimate plan.—Phillip Yancey, What Good Is God?

CONCLUSION

Briefly refer to Conclusion of: –MY STORY IN ALMOST CRASHING THE CAR– and what I learned about love. 

CALL TO ACTION

Your life and my life is to vindicate the name of God. Wherever you go, or in your social media, or blog, or wherever your walk of life takes us, we are called on to represent the truth of the God we serve. God the Father, is love.

PRAYER

Ask so that this week, as we draw near to God and seek him in scripture, we may have a clearer revelation of his character.