Bob Woods: Who is God, and what does going to church do for us?

— A church is not a place where one goes to pretend for an hour or two that everything is just fine with you, with your family, and with the world. It is a place where you can tell the truth about how it really is and know that it's okay.

A Gallup Poll a while back discovered that American Christians worship not one, but four quite distinct gods: the most popular backed by 31 percent is an "authoritarian" father figure who takes a very hands-on approach: rewarding the faithful, and smiting the sinful with tsunamis, terrorist attacks and disease.

Another 23 percent see God as a "loving spirit" providing help and guidance when asked. For 16 percent, God "presides" like a mean-spirited judge, tallying up sins and virtues and rendering a verdict when you die.

Finally, 24 percent see God as this kind of mysterious "Prime Mover," who engineered the Big Bang and evolution, wrote E=MC² and all those other nifty cosmic laws, then backed off to watch how it would all come out.

Four different gods.

A mother of eight children was once asked if she had any favorites. "Favorites?" she replied. "Yes, I have favorites : I favor the one who is sick until he is well again. I favor the one who is in trouble until he is safe again. And I favor the one who is farthest away until he comes home."

Jesus said, "That's what God is like: a God whose love never stops, whose love will never give up : you may stop loving God, but the amazing thing is that God can never stop loving you. You may run away from God, but God will never run away from you."

A little boy asked his pastor where God was.

"Everywhere, Johnny! God is everywhere."

Johnny went home and told his mother: "God is everywhere!"

"Yes, I know," his mother said.

"You mean even in the closet?" he asked.

"Yes," said his Mother.

"In the refrigerator, even when we close the door and the light goes out?" he asked.

"Uhhuh:"

"Even in the sugar bowl?" as he took the lid off.

"Yes, honey, even in the sugar bowl." The boy slammed down the lid and said, "Now I've got him :"

So often that's how some Christians act, isn't it, like they've "captured" God?

That they know exactly what God is like : but, you can't capture God in a sugar bowl.

The only thing we can know about God for sure is what God chooses to reveal to us, and the way He chooses to reveal him/herself to us most clearly is through the man: Jesus of Nazareth.

And what Christ tells us about God is something quite extraordinary: This is a God who has "washed our robes in the Blood of the Lamb : a God who promises that 'never again will we hunger; never again will we thirst, that the sun will not beat upon us, nor any scorching heat.'"

Why? Because of all the wonderful things we've done? No way.

Only because "the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd; he will lead us to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from our eye.

This is the God Jesus showed us: a God who offers comfort for the grieving, healing for the bruised and battered, hope for the despairing; a God who is aware of our heartaches, our frustrations, our fears.

This is no simple faith we're expressing here. It doesn't say that we will avoid tears. Far from it. What it says is that there is One who enables us to stand and hold on.

Someone to stand beside us. Someone to hold our hand. Someone to wipe our tears. Someone who has given his very self to be our "Good Shepherd."

Church is a place where we go to get reminded that life is more than getting up and going to work, dealing with problems, and worrying about everything under the sun. Amen.

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