An eccentric professor thought he might poke fun at a boy engrossed in reading some religious material. The professor teasingly taunted, "Boy, tell me where God is and I'll give you an apple."
The boy replied without hesitation, "Sir, I'll give you a whole barrel of apples if you can tell me where He is not!" The young man had an astute awareness of the overpowering and seamless presence of God in his life.
Which of these perspectives do most people reflect? When our eyes are glued on the media's 24-hour news cycle, our spirits can spiral downward with the steady onslaught of bad news about Korea, Iraq, Iran, terrorist attacks in world capitals, tensions on Israel's borders, the latest violence involving innocent schoolchildren, moral sleaze regarding our elected officials and the crime spree right out our front doors.
That's why Jesus gave two instructions to His followers in Luke 21:36 regarding the swirl of events that would come—1) Watch and 2) pray. When we only look with our eyes, failing to also use our hearts in prayer to seek God's perspective, we are left with only the apple rather than the barrels of God's presence.
Jesus asked His followers to pray so as to recognize there's more to life than meets the eye. That's why He directs us to set the "eyes of our heart" with this concluding viewpoint in His model prayer, "For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever" (Matthew 6:13).
With that said, let's tighten our focus. Kingdoms are tangible and power is measurable, but we have to dig deeper to appreciate God's glory. Why is glory so essential to understand in dealing with the onslaught of troubling world events?
Revelation 14:6-7 speaks of "the everlasting gospel," revealing four elements of God's ongoing message that transcends the tangible! They help us understand who God is, His purpose and what emanates from His being in seamless action and reaction: 1) Fear God, 2) give glory, 3) judgment (actions have consequences) and 4) worship.
For this article, we'll concentrate on the second element. How can we give glory to God?
Awakening our minds and hearts
Let's understand that God's gift of glory is ours to embrace, internalize and express—now! Jesus prayed to the Father, "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one" (John 17:22-23). Notice the present tense. We have clearly already been touched with God's glory!
Obviously, we don't yet have glorified bodies, but we have been invited to begin experiencing God's glory in our lives. The tension between the present and future elements of God's gifts runs throughout Scripture. With that said, we come to understand that experiencing God's glory is not a destination, but a way of traveling.
But this is only a concluding thought of what the apostle John reveals throughout his account. The other Gospel writers speak of wonderful events and actions, but John expressly views Christ's life through a singular framework—glory. Why is that? John is writing at the end of the first century, and he is endeavoring to connect with a new and expanding Hellenistic audience.
Let's appreciate, as John did, that the Greeks' worldview consisted of life in two spheres: 1) that which encompassed their physical lives, that which is unreal and a world of shadowy patterns, thus merely a copy of 2) what truly is!
Plato entertained how one gets out of this world of shadows and into the world of solid patterns, into the world of eternal realities. He held to the belief that in the unseen world was the perfect pattern of everything and that all on earth were weak copies. And the great reality, the supreme idea, the pattern of all patterns and the form of all forms, was God. The unresolved dilemma, however, was how to exit this world of cheap imitations and enter the world of reality!
Now Plato's reasoning did not bring him a revealed answer to what he perceived. John answered those ancient minds and his answer opens the door for us to focus on something greater than the troubling headlines of today. He speaks of Jesus as the One who cuts a hole in human history, this world of shadowy copies, thus giving us a peek into the real world of glory.
God inspired John to record the miracles of Jesus as not merely acts caught in time, but a window cut into eternity. To John, Jesus' actions are never isolated events, but they are continuous insights into what the Word and God always are, always were and always do.
In a sense, it is a continuous unfolding mural of God's glory (paraphrasing Barclay's Commentary on the Gospel of John, Volume 1, Revised Edition, pp. 8-10).
John is just like the little boy in the opening story. God's glory is pervasive and everywhere, if only our eyes are open! A man in some ivory tower isolated from world events does not write this. This is the very man whose colleagues had been brutally martyred, who had seen loved saints succumb to religious deception and who would see the rise of the bestial Emperor Domitian.
True quality of existence
Consider that when John mentioned the miracle of Jesus turning the water into wine at Cana (John 2), he was showing how Christ "manifested His glory" (John 2:11) to open portals to a world of incredible abundance and endless quality. When Christ miraculously fed the 5,000 people (John 6), it was merely a prelude to introducing Himself as the "true bread from heaven" (John 6:32), not a copy or pattern, but the real thing about whom the Greek intellectuals could only guess.
This event is not simply captured in time on a knoll in Galilee for one particular crowd, but is what the glorious Kingdom of God is always about. It fills people with answers and solutions (John 6:35).
Again, the miracle surrounding the blind man of John 9 is not isolated from God's glory and workings (John 9:4), but is the pivot point to Christ declaring, "I am the light of the world" (John 9:5). It is He who is real, true and always. It is He who brings the vision of a Kingdom, power and glory that is only used for good. Again, when Christ resurrected His friend, Lazarus, this miracle was not fossilized in the footprints of a dusty road in Bethany. "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25) is a hope-filled message for always and for everybody.
As humans, we tend to think of eternity as if it's simply extra innings of what we're already experiencing, instead of realizing the glorious quality of the life to come. Living in a broken world can dull our senses to what God has in store for us: Relationships that are forever positive, a spectrum of sights infinitely beyond what human eyes can see, dynamic activity serving in God's Kingdom, all and forever toward one end—cooperation, peace and unity.
The simple truth of the matter is that God's glory is the composite of His nature and all His attributes raised to the nth degree that attest to one grand conclusion: He wants to fill our lives with a personal relationship with Him, which is direct, deep and lasting.
You see, God created people to have a relationship with Him. But to say "relationship" almost sounds like an end in itself. The "relationship" is the funnel by which we can come to experience and enjoy His love.
That's why Christ taught His followers to pray, "Your kingdom come." By doing so, we are acknowledging before our Maker that we do understand the real world that He invites us to experience and, in turn, we ask Christ to return and illuminate this world of shadows and cheap imitations. We literally give glory to Him as we resonate with our prayers, praise and life's actions the words of Revelation 22:17: "And the Spirit and bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!'"
Which way are we running?
Today, right now, some of you reading this column are running away from something rather than running toward the fullness of God's eternal glory! Some are paralyzed over world events and discouraging headlines that seemingly have no end.
Others of us are seeing negative headlines in our own lives because we don't think anyone cares. And, because we are still focused on what we are running away from, we haven't fully received what God wants to give us—Himself, and that is everywhere and also in any place. God wants to give us barrels of, not just single, apples!
But glory doesn't come cheaply. I would like to tell you about a friend of mine. His name is Merlen. For the present, his "classroom for glory" comprises an 8- by 12-foot cell. Oh, yes, he has some heavy-duty homework. But he's no longer running from something, or running over others, but running toward glory. Sometimes we ask ourselves, "Why me, why now?" Allow Merlen to answer that query from a recent letter he sent me.
"I know that you have concerns because of the circumstances I have placed myself in, but please be assured that I am safe, at peace and have never been so free in my life. Had the Lord chosen another time to call me, for instance, if I were out there; I fear that I would be too busy to learn all that He has assigned me to learn.
"We must not forget, I have 30-odd years of rough edges, which I have to file down. And with His help, I am happy to say that there is a marked difference. But I only boast the Lord and His work, not my own feeble efforts. For I have come to know that outside of His guidance and the Spirit leading, I am truly lost."
Glory knows no bounds
I love what God is doing with my friend Merlen, and I hope you do as well. God's glory knows no bounds. It cannot be kept out of a cell and cannot be contained in prison. Additionally, it cannot be snatched from your heart, unless you let it go!
It's apparent that Merlen is already a practitioner of the everlasting gospel as he gives the glory to God for his current homework assignment and place of learning. I don't believe for a moment that he is going to settle for "an apple," but is going for the barrel, because he knows he is not alone. His existence may be isolated from the mainstream of humanity, but can never be isolated from the seamless work of God.
Perhaps the notion of "This is the way, walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21) is best rendered in the simple words of one man who proclaims, "I have never been so free in my life," because he not only sees beyond the bars, but he sees the barrel of apples as well.
If he can do that, how about us getting beyond the headlines of today? If you do, you can join Merlen because, after all, what you see is what you will receive!