Christianity 201

April 8, 2019

When God Breaks Out

Today we’re back once again with Kentucky pastor and counselor Josh Ketchum. Click the header below to read at source.

Beware! He Can Burst Out!

Always notice repetitive phrases when reading the Bible. The authors use the same phrase to connect stories and concepts together to make a point. I was reading 1 Chronicles when I noticed an interesting phrase. Three times, once in each chapter between chapters 13-15, the Bible refers to God breaking out. The word used means to “break out or burst forth.”

The idea is that God keeps his wrath or anger contained, but man’s actions can cause him to have enough and He breaks out in anger! In 1 Chronicles 13:11, He breaks out against Uzzah for touching the ark of God when they were inappropriately transporting the ark (Ex. 37:4-5; Num. 4:15). Uzzah is struck dead because of his desecration of the holy ark. In 14:11, God breaks out against the enemies of David. His actions are described like a “bursting flood” upon these wicked enemies. In 15:13, David describes God as breaking out against them in the death of Uzzah because they “did not carry it the first time” and “did not seek him according to the rule.”

The inspired writer uses this repetitive phrase to make a clear point–God will burst forth in anger and judgment upon people. When Uzzah and David sinned by violated God’s law they experienced the breaking out of God. When David obeyed God, then God broke out against his enemies. There seems to be two clear points from this narrative.

First, beware! God is not a puppy dog figure or a tender grandfather in the sky. He is the awesome Creator, King, Judge, and Law-giver. In His great mercy and long-suffering He contains His anger, but there are limits. When we as an individual or as a people go beyond those limits, He will break out against us.

Second, recognize you want to be on God’s side. When David obeyed, God’s anger burst forth against his enemies. When David disobeyed his anger burst forth against him. You don’t want to be on the opposite side of God! His blessings and protection are wonderful, while His wrath is mighty to be feared.

and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28–29 ESV)



What’s that one concept people need?

I also wanted to share another thought from the same author. I was going to simply run the link, but I decided to give you the first part of the article and then let you guess the answer he was hoping for…


There is one super important concept that is necessary in understanding the Bible. Without this concept the Bible is confusing and unable to be properly understood.

Without this concept these topics are misunderstood.

  • Why did God destroy the entire population with a flood?
  • Why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?
  • Why did God require detailed animal sacrifices for forgiveness?
  • Why did God give many commandments, even odd dietary laws?
  • Why did God command Israel to annihilate so many of the Canaanites when they entered the promised land?
  • Why did Jesus get upset at the desecration of the money changers in the temple?
  • Why did the Son of God have to die on a cross?
  • Why is there a promised judgment?
  • Why is heaven promised to the saved, while hell is the punishment for the lost?

You can list most any question the newcomer to Scripture asks. Any odd topic the world misunderstands about the Bible is at least in some part related to this one thing.

What is this one important key to understanding all Scripture?

[Think before you click!]

The One Thing You Must Understand to Get the Bible!

November 12, 2018

The Bridegroom Prepares the Way for the Bride

Today we’re paying a return visit to Dylan Tarpley at the blog One Thing. He’s currently working his way very carefully through Song of Songs, with several blog posts devoted to a single verse. Click the title below to read at source.

Hephzibah | A Bridal Paradigm

Growing up in church, I only remember hearing people talk about God as a righteous, angry judge. While this is certainly a part of who He is, that is the only side of Him that I ever knew. This only produced fear, guilt, and shame in my heart. No matter how often I heard about how God was angry with my sin, it never seemed to help me grow out of the sin patterns that were in my life. I just ended up like Adam who tried to cover his sin and hide from the presence of God.

For others, God is a distant being that is uninterested and not involved in their lives on earth. He spoke the earth into existence and then sat back as it took its course. In this view, God has no interaction with us on earth.

While there are many facets of who God is, I believe that the most paramount way to view God is through the eyes of a bride who is passionately in love with her Bridegroom King. While God may act as a righteous judge who is angry because of sin, He is also a tender Father who longs to walk with us in the cool of the day, just as He did with Adam in the garden.

As a young man, I remember being afraid that my dad would get mad at me. This had a measure of impact on the way that I behaved, but for the most part I just kept doing the same things. I would just try to hide it from him. There came a transition though as I grew in maturity to where I was no longer afraid of him being angry with me. Rather, I actually wanted to please him. I wanted to make him proud of the decisions I made. I assure you that one was much easier than the other, and made for a much better relationship between us. I have found this in marriage as well. Your marriage will always be a struggle if you are constantly afraid that your spouse is going to leave you or be angry with you. However, I have found marriage to be easy as long as you are in love. The same is true in our relationship with Jesus. We must mature to a place where our obedience is no longer only motivated by fear, but instead by love. This is the only way to experience true holiness.

It’s easy for most people to recognize their affection for God. In one sense, it is easy to love God. He’s holy, He’s perfect, He’s beautiful. What is perhaps more difficult is for people to understand God’s affection towards them. We find this in the beginning of the Song when the Shulamite begins to explain to the Beloved, “I am dark!” This type of thinking has caused many people to reject the love of God in their lives because of a false humility and a faulty way of thinking that says they are dark in the eyes of God.

As we watch Jesus prepare for His ministry on earth, there is an interesting transaction that takes place between Him and the Father. In Luke 3, the heavens are opened and the Father declares, “You are my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” Even Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, had to be baptized into beloved identity before operating in the fullness of what was intended for Him. We must begin to ask ourselves, if Jesus needed to receive affirmation from His Father, how badly do we?

David modeled this in his life as the man after God’s heart. After living in a compromised state for some time in Ziklag, God delivers David from harm and David’s response is profound. He says in Psalm 18:19, “He delivered me because He delighted in me.” If we are honest, none of us would respond this way. We would put ourselves in some sort of Spiritual time out where we would make ourselves suffer for awhile, beating ourselves up because of our mistakes. Not David though. He was so rooted in beloved identity that even in a season of compromise, He was confident that God delighted in Him.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is found in Isaiah 62:4-5

You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,
And your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.

What a promise! There are two words that I want you to focus on: Hephzibah and Beulah. Hephzibah means, “My delight is in her.” Beulah means, “married.” Many of us are content with the idea that He no longer calls us forsaken or desolate. We’re simply happy with the idea that He has forgiven us. Jesus longs for much more though. He does not simply want to bring you out of your desolation, He wants to give you a new name called “Delightful” and “Married.”

The entire story line of the Bible was built around a Bridegroom preparing a way for His bride. What if I told you that there was more to this journey than only going to heaven, but that Jesus died so that He could marry you here and now? It sounds too good to be true, huh? I agree, and that’s the best part. Dr. Brian Simmons has an interesting commentary on Jesus’ declaration on the cross, “It is finished!” Did you know that it was possible that Jesus actually says, “It is finished, my bride!” Jesus declared that it was the joy set before Him that empowered Him to endure the cross. You were that joy. As He was beaten and tortured, He was filled with the joy of one day being married to you.

I am praying this prayer tonight, “Jesus, sing your song of love over my life. Baptize me in beloved identity. I want to know how You feel about me.” I encourage you to begin to meditate on this idea that Jesus died, not only so that you go to heaven when you die, but that He could be married to you, today. You are always on His mind. I want you to get alone with Him and allow His love to wash over you as you begin to feel His affection for you as His bride. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

November 8, 2018

Was the Flood of Genesis a Hate Crime?

by Clarke Dixon

Was the flood in the days of Noah a hate crime?

Imagine you are alive sometime between Noah and Moses but you are not part of the Hebrew people of Moses. There are stories of a great flood being passed down from generation to generation. How do you suppose people accounted for the reason behind this flood? You might think of a god or several gods hating people.

Indeed there were stories of a flood being passed down in those days which were quite similar to the Biblical account. One such story is called the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. According to it, the people of the earth were so noisy that they were disturbing the peace of the gods. Extermination would fix that! These are the kinds of things people came up with as they tried to make sense of life’s experiences in a prescience and very superstitious time and place. However, the Bible was coming into existence. The Biblical account of the flood, though being very similar to other flood accounts in some ways, is very different in others. It sets the record straight.

In setting the record straight, the reason for the flood is given:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Genesis 6:11-13 (emphasis added)

The evil of humankind was the reason for the flood, and a very specific kind of evil; violence. Indeed, upon leaving the ark, violence is addressed as being of first importance:

For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.
Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
for in his own image
God made humankind. Genesis 9:5-6

The very first ethic given to Noah and his family for dwelling on the earth is an ethic of flourishing in a world of non-violence. The flood was to be a new beginning for humanity, a new beginning without the violence of the past.

The Biblical flood account of the flood continues to set the record straight in our day. Did God flood the earth because He hates people? Was this a hate crime?

What God hated was the violence people committed against one another. Had he hated people we would just be talking about the flood, and not Noah’s ark. Of course we would not be talking at all for humanity would have ceased then and there! God would have acted in complete justice to end all life at that flood.

. . . the wages of sin is death. Romans 6:23

But instead there was a new beginning, and a promise of mercy. This is not a story of God hating people, but of God heading down the road of loving and loyal relationship.

Most translations have “bow” where we expect “rainbow”. This is on purpose for the Hebrew word behind “bow” literally is the kind of bow used to fire arrows. The bow is a weapon. Some Bible teachers have pointed out that when God puts the bow in the sky, it is symbolic of how He is hanging up his weapon. God is refusing to use a weapon to bring about justice. He is giving mercy rather than letting His perfect justice roll.

A rainbow is a very fitting symbol for God’s love and mercy. To have a rainbow you need just the right amount of light and moisture. To have the existence of life itself requires just the right amounts of light and moisture. God commits to keep providing both. Jesus speaks of light and moisture when He teaches about love:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Matthew 5:43-45

God has been keeping His promise. He has been holding back the immediate execution of His justice. He has been merciful to every generation.

As Bible teachers have pointed out, if mercy is not being treated as we deserve, then grace is being treated as we do not deserve. The Biblical account of the flood is a prelude to grace. God hung up His bow, His weapon, and called for humanity to do the same. But then God came to us in Jesus and we hung Him up on our weapon of choice for violent execution. God Himself was the One to suffer human violence in Jesus. If ever a worldwide flood was appropriate it was as Jesus hung on a cross. But instead of letting justice roll, God let forgiveness flow:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

If the flood account in Genesis is setting the record straight as to what God is like, how much more is Jesus Christ setting the record straight as to what God is like.

“God is love” 1 John 4:16

Far too many people think they are rejecting God when they are rejecting an image of God created in their own minds or in the minds of others. Let God speak for Himself. Let Scripture set the record straight. Let Jesus set the record straight. Let us not create an image of God according to our own way of thinking, but look to God to set the record straight on His Justice, His mercy, and His grace. The Biblical account of the flood sets the record straight on these things, Jesus Christ does even more so.

Was the flood a hate crime? It was the justice of God rolled out upon a hate filled world. The fact that humanity is still around speaks of God’s mercy. The offer of eternal life in Jesus speaks of God’s amazing grace.


For more, be sure to visit Clarke’s blog at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

September 15, 2018

Looking into God’s Word; Looking into Ourselves

James 1:23 For anyone who hears the word but does not carry it out is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, 24 and after observing himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom, and continues to do so—not being a forgetful hearer, but an effective doer—he will be blessed in what he does… (Berean Study Bible)

This is our first time featuring the blog, Seeking God, which we discovered this week. All we know about the writer is his first name, Robert. Click the title below to read this devotional at source. Also, be prepared to click the different links to the many scriptures passages mentioned below, which will take you to Bible Hub.

God’s Word a Mirror, Not a Sword

God’s Word is a mirror that lets us see ourselves as compared to Him. God’s Word is to convict us as He speaks to us. It is not for us to condemn others by, for we are not God.

Know Thyself

How little many of us know our own faces: they’re something we can see if we look in a mirror, but they’re also something so common to us that we don’t even know all the details of how we look (make-up people excluded). We have a general image, but if blessed with exceptional artistic ability and asked to draw our faces, would we be able to make an accurate portrait? It is doubtful. Every pore is a world of its own, yet even the big things are thought of incorrectly (if I gave you a sheet of nose shapes, would you be able to pick out your nose– something you may even be able to see if you go cock-eyed enough–?)

A Mirror Unto Our Lives

Prayerfully reading the Bible and talking to God (with thoughtful consideration and openness to conviction of our own failures) is like a mirror showing ourselves since we are made in His Image (Genesis 1:27). If we don’t look into His truths, we will never know what we really look like compared to His Image as portrayed in Scripture. And if we only look into God’s truth and never apply it, we are like a man who looks into the mirror, leaves it, and immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24).

We Are Not Other’s Mirrors

It’s almost funny: we better know what others look like without knowing how ourselves really look. You know your best friend’s face anywhere. You can pick your lover out from a crowd. You can identify your parents in a photo taken twenty years ago (well, some people can). You’re the last person to know you have food in your teeth yet the first person to point it out in others (metaphorically speaking, even if it’s committed only in the heart (Matthew 5:28)). This is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-2 (ESV), “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

We’re often blind to the truth about ourselves, yet we’re quick to make a big deal of some perceived thing in others. Jesus continues on in the aforementioned passage: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Indeed, how true: and so is the idiom, “Practice what you preach”, though we hear it so often that its depth of impact is lost upon us: it falls upon deaf ears that have tuned it out. Revenge and judgement: they are for God (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). We have not the right, for we have not the sight that God has: nor the heart, nor the understanding. It is not just outward appearances that God judges: it is not just actions. God judges the heart– the motives and reasons (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 16:2).

Conclusion

Do we really know what we look like as compared to God? God remakes His true disciples day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16; Romans 12:2). Can we see ourselves as united to God: with Him being our God, and with us being His true people (Ezekiel 37:27)? Do we see the fullness of ourselves, and the fullness of God in us? Do we see every detail that brings beauty or ugliness in our faces? Do we really know what we look like– everything laid bare: no foundation, no make-up: just the truth of ourselves as God would have us know? Most likely, the answer is no. And neither do we know the truth behind the face others put up: many embellish their faces. Many hides flaws. Many things that we perceive as imperfections are not– beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you hold not as you are only held. And much of what we think a haggard imperfection may not be so haggard as our own.

 

September 12, 2018

God Affirms, Fulfills and Activates His Promises

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is our fourth time with Steven C. Mills at the website, Steve’s Bible Meditations. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s YES Man – 2 Corinthians 1:19-22

“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—did not become ‘Yes and no’; on the contrary, a final ‘Yes’ has come in Him. For every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’ in Him. Therefore, the ‘Amen’ is also spoken through Him by us for God’s glory. Now it is God who strengthens us, with you, in Christ and has anointed us. He has also sealed us and given us the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1:19-22, HCSB).

Do you ever get down and depressed because you feel like you’ve got so much to handle and you just can’t do it all? And then you get all locked up inside and you don’t do anything. I call it “gridlock of the soul.” Why even try, you wonder.

It seems like life is saying “No!” to you, “No you can’t. No you can’t. No, no, no!”

When life keeps telling you “No,” there is something you can do to escape soul gridlock.

Open your Bible to 2 Corinthians 1:19-22 and read, re-read, and read these verses again until you realize that when life seems to be telling you “No,” God is telling you “Yes!”

And not just “Yes,” but an emphatic “Yes,” God’s big “YES!”

God’s “Yes” is a Big “YES!” because God doesn’t just acknowledge His promises, He affirms His promises!  God doesn’t just make promises! God fulfills His promises! And then God activates His promises in your life!

All God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s “Yes” Man!

God speaks His promises into existence and then applies them to our lives through the redemptive power of the cross of Christ and the sustaining power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In other words, God’s affirmation is not a “Yes” that just says it’s okay or gives permission or indicates agreement. Rather, God’s “Yes” is a substantive “Yes!” It affirms and confirms the truth of His promises! And it enables and empowers us to live God’s truth!

When God says “Yes,” He does something about it. He acts on it. He not only gives His promise but He equips us to receive His promises and accomplish His will.

Now I’m not suggesting that in your life there won’t be times of trouble or that you won’t have times when you feel down and defeated. But, I am sure that if you are feeling down and defeated, the source of your depression is not God but Satan, the evil one.

So, you can be God’s “Yes” Man or “Yes” Woman! When you live your life according to God’s “Yes” not Satan’s “No.”

Don’t prolong disappointment and despondency with Satan’s deceitful and deceptive “No.”

Confront despair with God’s Big “Yes!”

God affirms all His promises to us through the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, once and for all, which is reinforced to us by the indwelling Holy Spirit, enabling us to accomplish God’s will in our daily lives.

I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13, NLT)

August 4, 2018

The God Who Pursues

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I wanted to spend one more day on a subject introduced yesterday, the idea of God seeking us out; searching us out…

This is our first time at a blog with a whimsical title, Through the Bible in who knows how many days. Although this article is 6 years old, the blog is still being updated. Click the title below to read at source.

Hosea 1-3 — The God who pursues us

This is definitely one of the more bizarre stories we see in scripture, God telling Hosea, one of his prophets to get married to a woman that would be unfaithful to him.

As this story takes place, Jeroboam II is still on the throne in Israel, as is Uzziah in Judah.  Hosea was primarily a prophet to Israel, but he had his words for Judah as well.

And in this time of material prosperity, there was definitely a spiritual problem.  The people were being unfaithful to God, following other idols, namely Baal.  And thus, the object lesson of Hosea to the nation.

Hosea marries this woman Gomer, and she soon bears him a son that God says to call Jezreel.  God told him to do so because of the massacre at Jezreel where Jehu went far beyond the words of God in committing bloodshed.  And so God was saying that judgment was coming upon the house of Jehu and upon Israel.

Gomer then gets pregnant twice more, but the Bible never says they were Hosea’s children.  The implication being that they were children born out of Gomer’s unfaithfulness to Hosea.  The first is named “Lo-Ruhamah, meaning “not loved.”  The second is named “Lo-Ammi” meaning, “not my people.”

The picture couldn’t be clearer.  Hosea must have had a tough time loving these children that was not his, and could not call either child his own.

In the same way, because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, God could not call them his loved ones or his children.  Instead, he would reject them and cause them to fall as a kingdom.

And yet even in the midst of this, God makes clear that this punishment would not last forever.  That the day would come when he would call them his people and his sons once again, and would restore them.

But in chapter 2, he rebukes Israel for its unfaithfulness.  The people didn’t realize that all their blessings came not from the gods they were following, but from God.  And so God said the day was coming when he would cut off their blessings, and that he would strip them naked of every good thing.  Though they would pursue pleasure and happiness, they would not be able to find them.  The only thing they’d be able to find was shame.  And eventually, the time would come when they would be so desperate that they would have no choice but to return to God.

The amazing part of it all, is that through all of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, he would continue to pursue them.  It says,

“Therefore, I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert, and tenderly speak to her…
I will make the valley of trouble (Achor) a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’…

“I will betroth you to me forever.
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will acknowledge the Lord…

I will show my love to the one I called, ‘Not my loved one’.
I will say to those called, ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people.’” (Hosea 2:14-16, 19-20, 23)

And to firmly imprint all of this in the minds of Israel, he told Hosea in chapter 3, to show his love to his wife once more, to buy her back from the one she was enslaved to, and to restore her to her position as his wife once again.

What does this mean for us?  No matter how far away we fall away from him,  God still loves us and pursues us.  He may discipline us.  He may allow bad things to happen to us as a consequence for our sin.  But his main goal is to restore us.  And all he does is out of his love and faithfulness towards us.

So as Hosea told his wife, let us not prostitute ourselves any longer to the world or the things in the world.  Rather let us return to him and be faithful to the God who is faithful to us, and who loved us enough to redeem us by Christ’s death on the cross.

June 2, 2018

God As a Thriving Artist

We’re returning today to another excerpt from the 2010 Zondervan book, A Certain Risk: Living Your Faith at the Edge, by Paul Richardson. Paul is the son of missionary Don Richardson. To learn more, check out a story we did at Thinking Out Loud on Mustard Seed International.


God reveals that he is surprisingly nuanced. Story by story, the One who said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” beckons us into his depth. Reading through the Bible is a bit like finding out that a Herculean offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers writes poetry and bakes rhubarb pie. Just like any individual person, God has personality traits. He relates to others through his heart. He loves, he feels sadness, anger, jealousy and, despite our well-planned, perfectly logical predictions of what he should  be, he even feels regret. God experiences the full possibilities of passion and creates us to know his passionate heart. God cries out in celebration. He listens and he talks.

We are intrigued by statements such as “God said to the woman,” “The LORD said to Cain,” “God said to Noah,” “God said to Abraham,” and “God said to Jacob.” God sits down with Abraham in his tent, and he chats with Moses as you and I would speak to our closest friends. He whispers to a child named Samuel in his room. He spends time with a boy named David in the shade of a tree and breathes music through his harp.

As Elohim reveals his many other names, he delicately invades our understanding. For those who care to know him, Elohim becomes El Echad, the One. He is El Hanne’eman, the Faithful One. He is El Emet, the Truth; El Shaddai, the All Sufficient; El Gibbor, the Champion and Warrior. He is El Roi, the God who sees me; El Chaiyai, the God of my life; El Sali, the God of my strength; El Rachum, the God of compassion. By the time we reach Isaiah, Elohim is no longer far away. He is Immanuel, God with us. From beginning to end, God becomes less distant and more alive. In the matrix of human faith, God reveals himself to the mundane, moving from mystery to increased clarity. God not only approaches in proximity. He approaches in time, advancing from the distant past into this very moment. The God who spoke to Noah, Abraham and Moses becomes my God now.

Throughout his story, Elohim reveals a stunning and invigorating motif. He is a thriving Artist, present in real time, pervasively engaged and continuously interacting with his creation. The psalmist wrote,

“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:30)

All through the Scriptures, God reveals himself as a craftsman, a carpenter, a composer, a designer, a gardener, a potter and an author. These creative terms don’t refer only to his activities during the original six days of creation, but to his ongoing work in history. Jesus said,

“My Father is always at his work to this very day.”  (John 5:17)

God is the Creator — “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) The Potter’s hands are still covered with clay. The touch of the Potter’s hands is sometimes painful, but the finished vessel is a beautiful work of art.

Consider God’s creative response to a stretch of desolate wasteland. He shouts exultantly through Isaiah (Isaiah 41;18-20),

I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set pines in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

May 20, 2018

As We Address Different Aspects of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV Ps 61:1 Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.

2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3 For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

4 I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
5 For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

6 Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
7 May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

8 Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.

Today we’re introducing another writer for the first time. The site is titled Two Years of Psalms. Click the title below to get you onto the page and then navigate from there to other articles.

Ps 61: 4 Praising Hats

Many people have come across the writing of Edward de Bono on the notion of “Six Thinking Hats.” The idea, which is presented within many other paradigms as well (e.g. Myers-Briggs), is that we put ourselves in particular points of reference to consider various aspects of a question, decision, or topic, in order to ensure that we’ve addressed relevant factors which might lay outside of our normal patterns of thinking.

In Psalm 61, we get a model of “4 Praising Hats”—as the psalmist takes us through several aspects of the character of God, in order to ensure that our faith and our praise is equally well-rounded and our approach to God is comprehensive.

In v.2, there is a cry to the HEAVENLY CREATOR, the one who hears us even from the ends of the earth, and who exists above us all.

• In v.3, we address the MIGHTY WARRIOR, the ultimate protector and defender who is the very definition of strength.

• In v.4, we appeal to the GRACIOUS RULER, the one who opens the borders of His Kingdom and offers sanctuary to the refugee who would choose to flee to Him.

• In v.5, we acknowledge the INTIMATE PARENT, who, like a mother hen, spreads open His wings to permit us hatchlings to gather near to Him, sheltered, nourished, and loved.

This is the Lord to whom prayers are offered (v.1), who listens (v.5) and acts (v.6-7).

If we are to join the psalmist in making “music to your name for ever” (v.8), we can do so only if our view of God is as fully-orbed as possible.

Of course, there are many other names and images of God (shepherd, husband, deliverer, lion, lamb, etc.) and it can only benefit our faith and our praise to explore each of these facets of His nature and character deeply, regularly as we seek to live lives that bring Him and honor and glory, and as we turn to Him in repentance, faith, and worship.

 

May 6, 2018

We Love in Return

This was one of those ‘how-did-we-not-know-about-this-before?’ types of discovery. Melody has been writing devotions at In Pleasant Places since January, 2013. Her blog started somewhat organically from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explains in her story. To read this at her blog, click the title below.

Worshipping Our Uncontained God

You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar,
and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it,
for I am the LORD your God.”

Leviticus 26:1

This command obviously has application to us not worshipping a different god. But there is also application to our worship of the true God. To worship Him, not an image made to “represent” Him.

I think we often like to have things in front of us that we can see. Things we can visibly draw near to. But with this command, I wonder if perhaps God intentionally did not want to appear bound by our perceptions or defined by our understanding.

When we look at how these other (false) gods are portrayed in Scripture, they are encapsulated and defined within those man-made images. Our God, the true and living one, vibrant with life and energy, mighty in power, actively and creatively at work in all things – He is not like these. He will not be brought down to a man-made definition, created by our hands alongside items of common purpose.

He is holy. Sovereign. He is Creator. Even the most brilliant elements known to man cannot convey His glory.

God instructed His people to build not an image of Him, but an Ark to hold the stone tablets on which He carved His covenant. An ark containing tangible elements of His faithfulness and the holiness of His law, covered with the mercy seat upon which His presence would rest when He came to meet with them.

It was a meeting place.

But our God of the universe was not contained there. He is greater than that. An image cannot hold the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power and calls out each star by name, ensuring not one is lost.

So while we might look upon paintings and other artwork depicting various accounts in Scripture, our Christ at different points in His life and death, and while God might use these to stir our hearts to greater understanding of Him, we do not worship those things. And let us not assume any visual depiction can capture His fullness. The universe declares the glory of our God. The skies proclaim His majesty. That is His handiwork, spoken into existence in all its magnificent wonder – and our God surpasses it all.

May our view of Him remain expansive. Mindful that He is far beyond anything we have seen or known. Seeing Him as He reveals Himself in Scripture, seeing Him as He is perhaps conveyed through artists’ eyes (though we must be careful here – they could portray Him wrongly), and seeing Him as displayed in creation around us. Worshipping always this God who is greater and bigger than our eyes can currently behold and our minds can currently conceive. Our everlasting light, salvation, and glory.

“There is none like you, O LORD;
you are great, and your name is great in might…
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
and gold from Uphaz.
They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith;
their clothing is violet and purple;
they are all the work of skilled men.
But the LORD is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
and the nations cannot endure his indignation…
It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses…
Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
the LORD of hosts is his name.”
Jeremiah 10:6,9-16

 


Deciding on a devotional from In Pleasant Places wasn’t easy. I think we’ll return to this one again soon. For more, check out this one, To Love Him.

 

February 26, 2018

What We Think About When We Think About God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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This is a much-condensed sample of the full text of chapter one from one of my favorite books recently available, God Has a Name by John Mark Comer (Zondervan). (My review of the book is at this link.) To read the full chapter instead — which I strongly recommend — click the title below.

The God on top of the mountain

by John Mark Comer

The twentieth-century writer A. W. Tozer made a stunning claim: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Really?

The most important thing?

More than our gender or sexuality or ethnicity or family of origin or the town we grew up in or where we went to college or our tax bracket or whether our sport is American football or futbol football?

Absolutely.

Here’s a truth that cuts across the whole of the universe: we become like what we worship.

Tozer went on to write,

“We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God . . . Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes to mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man.”

Put another way, what you think about God will shape your destiny in life…

…Often what we believe about God says more about us than it does about God. Our theology is like a mirror to the soul. It shows us what’s deep inside.

Maybe the truth is that we want a God who is controllable because we want to be God. We want to be the authority on who God is or isn’t and what’s right or wrong, but we want the mask of religion or spirituality to cover up the I-wanna-be-God reality.

The most ancient, primal temptation, going all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden, is to decide for ourselves what God is like, and whether we should live into his vision of human flourishing or come up with our own. All so we “will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

This is why theology is so incredibly important.

The word theology comes from two Greek words—theo, meaning “God,” and logos, meaning “word.” Simply put, theology is a word about God. It’s what comes to mind when we think about God.

It’s not like some of us are into theology and others aren’t. We all have a theology. We all have thoughts and opinions and convictions about God. Good, bad, right, wrong, brilliant, dangerous—we all theologize.

But the problem is that much of what we think about God is simply wrong…

…For Jesus and all the writers of Scripture, the starting point for all theology is the realization that:

we don’t know what God is like, but we can learn.

But to learn, we have to go to the source.

And that means we need revelation. Otherwise we end up with all sorts of erroneous and goofy and untrue and maybe even toxic ideas about God.

By “revelation,” I don’t mean the last book of the Bible or foldout charts from the 1970s about the end of the world. I mean, God himself has to reveal to us what he’s like. He has to pull back the curtain of the universe and let you and me look inside. But here’s the thing: revelation, by definition, is usually a surprise. A twist in the story. A break from the status quo. So when God reveals himself, it’s almost always different from what we expect.

All of which leads us to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai…

…[T]here are climactic moments when the door swings open and we get a brand-new, compelling, and at times terrifying vision of who God is.

Often these moments take place on a mountain.

If you’ve ever read the Bible, you know that the second book is called Exodus. The setting for the book is Israel in the desert, en route from slavery in Egypt to freedom in a new land. But it’s a bumpy ride, to say the least.

At the head of the people of God is the prophet Moses, who has a totally unique relationship with the Creator. We read that God “would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

In Exodus 33, we get to eavesdrop on a conversation between Moses and God. Moses is asking for God to go with the Israelites every step of the way, and at one point he asks, “Now show me your glory.”

In ancient Hebrew literature like Exodus, to speak of God’s glory was to speak of his presence and beauty. Moses is asking to see God for who he really is. To see God in person.

For Moses, head knowledge isn’t enough. He wants to experience God.

God graciously tells Moses that he can’t see his face or he will die, “for no one may see me and live.” But he’ll do him one better. God tells him, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord [Yahweh], in your presence.”

So God
has a name.

The next morning, Moses gets up early and climbs to the top of Mount Sinai. Then we read one of the most staggering paragraphs in the entire Bible.

“The Lord [Yahweh] came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord [Yahweh]. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord [Yahweh], the Lord [Yahweh], the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’”

This is one of those watershed moments when everything changes. It’s one of the few places in the entire Bible where God describes himself. Where he essentially says, “This is what I’m like.” Think of it as God’s self-disclosure statement, his press release to the world.

Because of that, it’s quite possibly the most quoted passage in the Bible, by the Bible.

The writers of the Bible circle back to this passage over and over and over again. Dozens of times. Moses and David and Jeremiah and Jonah—they quote it and allude to it and pray it and sing it and claim it and complain about it, but above all, they believe it.

This is ground zero for a theology of God.

But what’s striking to me is how very different this passage is from what you would expect.

For those of us who live in the West, we tend to think of God in the categories of philosophy. Pick up a book about God, and it’ll often start with the omnis . . .

  • God is omnipotent (he’s all-powerful).
  • God is omniscient (he’s all-knowing).
  • God is omnipresent (he’s everywhere at once).

And all of that is true. I believe it. But here’s my hang-up: when God describes himself, he doesn’t start with how powerful he is or how he knows everything there is to know or how he’s been around since before time and space and there’s no one else like him in the universe.

That’s all true, but apparently, to God, it’s not the most important thing.

When God describes himself, he starts with his name. Then he talks about what we call character. He’s compassionate and gracious; he’s slow to anger; he’s abounding in love and faithfulness, and on down the list.

Which makes sense. Starting with the omnis is kind of like somebody asking about my wife, and me saying she’s thirty-three years old, five foot one, 120 pounds, black hair, brown eyes, Latin American ancestry . . .

That’s all true, but if you sat there as I was spouting off all these facts about my wife, my guess is that at some point, you would interrupt me and ask, “Yes, but what is she like? Tell me about her. What’s her personality? Is she laid-back or type A? Social or shy? What is she passionate about? What made you fall in love with her? What makes her, her?”

Most of the time, this is how we talk about God—we rattle off a bunch of stuff about God that is true; it’s just not the stuff that makes him, him.

That’s why this passage in Exodus is such a breath of fresh air. It turns out that God is better than any of us could imagine…

 

February 18, 2018

Sunday Worship

This is the third in a series which was posted last spring at Whole Life Worship. I’ve added links to the other two parts. In their original order, the three deal with the breadth of God’s character, the depth of His Love and the height of his greatness.  Dr. Douglas M. Lee is a worship pastor, conference speaker, and seminary professor. He is currently on staff as the Associate Pastor of Worship Arts at Community Baptist Church of Rancho Cucamonga (California) and serves as an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University Graduate School of Theology

God-in-a-Box

Worship is a response to the goodness and greatness of God. The problem is that most of the time we are unaware of how good and great God is. The way we overcome this is by improving our “view” of God. I touched on expanding our perception of God in the breadth of His character and the depth of His love. Today, I want to talk about the dimension of “height.” We need to grasp how “high” God is, how He is so far beyond what we can think or even imagine.

It’s easy to put God into a “box.” In fact, it’s so easy we do it without thinking. Whenever we get a little too familiar or cozy with God, we are doing it. Whenever we think we know how God operates or what He’s going to do, we’ve already done it. Whenever our worship of Him becomes routine or stale, it’s likely that we’ve contained “God” (meaning: our concept of God) in a box.

The second of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:4) was to not to create an idol or an image of anything in heaven (including God). There are multiple reasons for this commandment, but I think one of the main reasons was to keep us from worshiping something less than Him. Making an image of Him or His context is like putting “God in a box.” Something in a box or fashioned in a man-made image can be measured, calculated, manipulated and controlled. And it is in our sinful human nature to do that to God.

Good thing for us, God is so much bigger than anything any box we try put Him in! (And He’s really good at shattering these boxes.) But it’s important to know how we tend to put God in a box. I see two main boxes God gets shoved into:

  1. Theology – theology is a big word that basically means “what we think about God.” So don’t let the word scare you: everyone who thinks about God has a theology. Usually, our theology is based on what we interpret from the Bible. However, there are a lot of other factors (more than we care to admit) that influence our theology, such as: our cultural values, our political ideals, socio-economic biases, personality, etc. Sometimes our theology puts God in a box: like “God doesn’t do this or that,” or “God always does something in a certain way,” or that God is limited or “bound” by certain things.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love theology. And, to a certain extent, we need theology. It helps us organize our thoughts and understandings about God. BUT, it’s important to know that all theology is limited. It is a “box” that puts labels and qualities on God. It is not God and I’ve seen God blow away my theology many a time. However, way too many Christians hold onto their theology too tightly, and their rigidity blinds them to the fact that God is “beyond comprehension.” More importantly, rigid theology keeps people from seeing the amazing greatness of God, and therefore, from true worship.

  1. Expectations – we have many expectations of how God responds to us. For example, if we become unemployed, we pray for God to provide for our needs. Now God may use many different ways to meet our needs, but we all have expectations on how this will happen. We may expect God to give us a job that pays more, that has better hours, that is located a mile from our house, that will be rewarding and fun, and that will pop up in less than a week’s time. Our expectations are usually nice, linear paths, with no bumps or hassles. But God might have a different idea of what your journey to provision will be. Like our theology, if we hold onto our expectations too tightly we may miss the opportunities God gives that will – not only meet our needs – but transform our character and the world around us.

Seeing the “height” of God’s ways comes only when we have a light hold on our theology and expectations. As the LORD says in Isaiah 55:9:

As high as the heavens are higher the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

Thank God that He is so much bigger than the boxes we put him in! Sometimes we need to let Him blow our mind and give us a larger vision of who He really is.

It was the vision of the “height” of God’s surpassing greatness that caused the Apostle Paul to pen these words:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

How big is your God? The bigger your God, the greater your Whole Life Worship.


From the same author:

One of the blockages to worship of God is being unaware of who God really is and what He has really done. When we can actually view the mercies of God through the eyes of our heart and soul, the response to worship Him flows freely and powerfully – leading to amazing transformation of our surrendered lives (Romans 12:2).

Check out God’s 3-D Mercies.

December 30, 2017

The Things God Hates

We wrapped up the year in 2015 with a visit to the blog, Pilgrim’s Rock by Craig Biehl. We decided to return there as we’re a day away from 2017 ending. Craig holds a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary, and PhD in Systematic Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary…

Most of you know about a rather infamous church which got national headlines for their picketing of the type of events people shouldn’t picket. Their signs boldly proclaimed that God hates a certain type of people. As a reaction to that, many of us responded with the theologically correct assertion that God is love and he doesn’t hate people. But make no mistake, he does hate sin.

That’s the subject of today’s thoughts…

God Is Love and He Hates Things

Several years ago, a nearby township designated itself a “No Hate” zone. More recently, “Hate Has No Home Here” signs have been popping up throughout the area. While the intent behind the messages may or may not be well-meaning, it seems a difficult thing to require and enforce. But beyond these difficulties, hate remains a necessary part of a healthy view of a life and world full of evil. And in a bit of irony, many bent on eliminating hate display a fair amount towards anyone who would question their viewpoint or appeal to Scripture as the ultimate authority concerning right and wrong. Campaigns against hate often disguise opposition to the Gospel (but I digress).

Objects of God’s Enmity
I was recently told that hate cannot exist in a God of love, that the idea of God hating anything was repulsive. When I pointed out that Scripture says God hates many things, he replied that the Old Testament God of hate cannot be the New Testament God. Of course, the God of the Old and New Testament are one and the same. God’s strict standards of justice revealed in the Old Testament, including the need for a mediator, sacrifice, and substitute for sinners, were fulfilled by Christ on our behalf and explained in the New (but I digress again). What about God, then, does He hate?

In short, God hates many things. For instance, He hates idolatry and the murder of innocents as sacrifices to false Gods: “You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31). “Neither shall you set up for yourself a sacred pillar which the LORD your God hates” (Deuteronomy 16:22). In speaking of the wicked who prosper at the expense of the righteous, “Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form” (Psalm 73:20). God also hates the denial of the obvious display of His power in what He has created: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18-19).

Moreover, God will repay His enemies and the enemies of His children: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). God hates those who spurn Christ: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27). God is the source and standard of good; He fights all that oppose it.

God Is Love
At the same time, God is perfect love, most clearly displayed in Christ dying for His despisers. “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). Indeed, “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). Believers in Christ are the greatest beneficiaries of that love: “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). “And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).

Love Hates
Love and hate exist in God in perfect harmony. Why? A God of perfect holiness must hate evil, its enemy. A God of infinite love must hate that which destroys the object of His love. Here lies the simple explanation of why God pronounces such a harsh curse on all who would pervert the Gospel: “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). A false Gospel dishonors the person and work of Christ, the supreme object of God’s love, the supreme display of His infinite goodness, and the One who accomplishes God’s ultimate purpose to display His glory. A false Gospel leads people away from Christ and the Gospel by which they may be saved and enjoy forgiveness of sin, new life, and eternal happiness with God. God’s love for people hates that which leads them astray and destroys them. Thus, God hates sin. In addition to its ugliness and opposition to the beauty of His holiness, sin ruins people. True love hates that which hurts the object of God’s love.

No Hate Without Absolutes
The idea that love and hate are incompatible in God appears related to a worldview that denies absolute standards of good and evil. But, the love of good implies the hatred of evil, its opposite. Who would deny that we should abhor the wickedness of genocide? Who would claim that hating the cancer killing your dearest friend is incompatible with love? Indeed, to not detest some things contradicts true love. But, if nothing is morally wrong or sinful, nothing deserves our hate. Of course, even the most hardened relativists that deny an absolute moral authority affirm a boatload of moral standards for themselves and others, even while they hate a good many things. People often invoke pure relativism to justify a particular sin or lifestyle, but it is bankrupt as a philosophy of life. In fact, one must contradict it to affirm it when claiming absolutely no absolutes. No one lives according to pure moral relativism. Everyone hates something.

Infinite Love
Therefore, because God loves and hates, so will we as we grow in our love and knowledge of Him through Christ. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate” (Proverbs 8:13). For those alienated from God’s love by unbelief and the love of sin, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And though many are the objects of God’s wrath, “‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die…?’” (Ezekiel 33:11). Yes, God hates things, but only because He is a God of infinite and perfect love.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995. Used by permission.

November 28, 2017

Spiritual Triage: Following God’s Example

In preparing yesterday’s devotional and looking at the “The God Who Runs,” I discovered this 2015 teaching at Patheos. The author is Reed Metcalf who works at Fuller Seminary. Click the link below to read at source.

The God Who Pursues Us Relentlessly

I will never forget discovering that a dear friend of mine had walked away from the faith. Granted, there was still an intellectual assent to the claims of Christianity as true, a willingness to defend the Bible, Christ, and Church as weighty, relevant, and authoritative, but it was all just lip service. No more church attendance, no prayer life, no Bible study, no commitment to any sort of Christian ethic or activism. All the vital signs of a healthy connection to the Triune God vanished.

My heart breaks even now.

Did not—does not—Jesus say, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers?” [1]

I am so scared, so sad.

But what are we supposed to do? How do you approach that fine line of calling a brother or sister back when you know one poorly chosen word could break the last vestiges of faith? I am haunted even yet by mistakes made when I was a youth leader at my church in Orange, and I still struggle to love others back into their commitments to Christ and neighbor. We all know that pain when a friend, a sibling, a hero leaves the church: it’s like a sucker punch to the gut, like a wound that opens inside us. We have tasted and seen, and we know they leave behind the One who is the source of life itself.

And so we do what anyone does with a massive wound: triage. We try something to stop the bleeding in our hearts, and, when we are not careful, we turn to our own methods instead of God’s. We amputate and cauterize in a desperate attempt to keep it all together. We say, “The road is narrow… and thus few take it.” We sing, “Though none go with me, still I will follow.” We write off our brothers and sisters. We cry over them. We pray for them. But slowly, we accept the fact that they are gone.

We mourn them and try to find closure, because to do anything less hurts far too much.

Seasons pass and the cauterization stops aching, though we still feel a twinge of pain now and then; we still look through a mist of sadness when we see them outside of church, and we wonder, “Can anything bring them back?”

Jesus once held a small child in his arms and asked his disciples, “What do you think?”

“If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” [2]

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and death. As they go, Jesus teaches his apostles what this church of his—what the Kingdom of Heaven—is to be like. How to reprove someone gently, how to forgive, how to treat children. And now this story of a shepherd that goes after one out of many. Here is a glimpse at the ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven: a God who chases us down. We stand among the murmuring apostles, looking at Jesus and the child he holds, and it slowly comes upon us all as a hearth pushes the chill from a room.

“Here is the Son of God,” they say to each other. “Here, in our midst. Has he not already decried us as an ‘evil and adulterous generation?’ [3] Has he not displayed disappointment at our lack of faith? [4] Has God Himself not sent nation after nation to conquer us for our sins and failures? And yet he is here, telling us that he will not stop searching until the last one of us is found.”

“Is this not Good News?”

Failure after failure, betrayal after betrayal, Israel always finds God still mercifully searching for her everywhere. Even in Hosea—one of the most judgment-heavy books of the Bible—God raises his hand to rain destruction from the heavens and stops himself at the thought of his beloved children:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
  How can I hand you over, O Israel?…
My heart recoils within me;
   my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
   I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
   the Holy One in your midst,
   and I will not come in wrath.  [5]

The God we see in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is One who loves despite. Despite our sin, our waywardness, our piety, our efforts, our failures, despite everything. From the complaining under Moses to the rejection of God as King, from idolatry under the monarchs to the compromise under the Romans, God across thousands of years has pursued a stubborn people called Israel. When all else fails, He appears in the flesh to knock on their doors, to sleep in their gardens, to eat at their tables, to call them back to Him. God will not let them go.It is here that we find our hope. God’s reckless devotion to his own people makes up the scraps we Gentiles hope to eat as they fall from Israel’s table. [6] We hope to one day have the same devotion from the God of Israel: that even when it seems that we have crossed the final line, we see God, shepherd staff in hand, come rushing over the hill to bring us back. And how ecstatic are we when this becomes a reality, when God makes a way for us to become part of the chosen people through the death and resurrection of Christ? We are now part of the flock, part of the one hundred. Should even one of us—any one of us—go astray, the Shepherd will begin his searching again.

In this I take comfort. He is faithful even when we are not. When we walk away, the Shepherd follows us. But “follows” is really too weak a word to describe this. The Psalmist tells us that “Surely His goodness and steadfast love yirdĕpûnî all the days of my life.” [7] We tend to translate yirdĕpûnî as “will follow me,” but all other uses of the root rdp (רדף) have a connotation of hunting, pursuing, even persecuting.

“Surely His goodness and steadfast love will pursue me relentlessly all the days of my life.”

God refuses to give up. Ever. On us, on those who leave the church, on those who have never been part of the community. He is the God Who Pursues Us Relentlessly. Until our last day, He will dog our steps with love.

I think of my friend, now living apart from the flock. I fight the temptation to stop the pain, to stop the feeling by writing her off, by saying that she has made her choice and that is that. Such thoughts are not from God. His thoughts are the ones I must grab. His thoughts are yet turned to her, despite the pain, despite the rebellion, despite the waywardness. He picks up his staff and begins his pursuit, over hill and across desert, until the one is brought back. I cry with joy at the thought that the Shepherd has still not given up on her. I wipe my tears and follow in his steps.


[1] John 15:6
[2] Matthew 18:12.
[3] Matthew 12:39; 16:4.
[4] Matthew 14:31.
[5] Hosea 11:8-9.
[6] Matthew 14:21-28.
[7] Psalm 23:6.

 

November 27, 2017

The Reckless Love of God

Luke 15:11b [Jesus teaching] “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them…”

Often here we begin with a devotional study and then end with a worship video. Today, I want to begin with the song, Reckless Love. The following is a shorter (5½ minute) version of the song originally by Bethel Worship.

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so, so
Good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

When I was your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so
Good to me
When I felt no worth
You paid it all for me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine…

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
No lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God…

My wife and I had a discussion about this song on the weekend. The idea of a God who will “lavish his love” on us is found in the parable we call The Prodigal Son. We often think that prodigal means runaway, or someone who leaves and returns, but the word’s origins have to do with his spendthrift nature; how he burns through his cash reserves — with abandon.

But in the book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller points out that it is the father in the story who is free-spending. We actually see this twice.

First, he quickly gives away the inheritance to the son. Notice how quickly this is established in the key verse above. Some have said about this story that he knows he needs to lose his son in order to gain him back. There’s an interesting parallel here to 1 Corinthians 5:5 that we don’t have time to explore fully; “[H]and this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Second, he is equally free-spending when the son returns, throwing a huge party.

22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15)

Reviewing Keller’s book nine years ago, I noted,

  • “Prodigal” means “spendthrift”, which also means “reckless”
  • The father in the story is reckless in his willingness to forgive and reinstate the son
  • The father in the story represents God
  • God is “reckless” in that he chooses not to “reckon” our sin; instead offering forgiveness.

Others have noted the character of the Father in his willingness to run to meet his son while he is still in the distance. In a sermon titled, The God Who Runs Martin Ellgar writes,

He sees him coming in the distance and with joy runs out to greet him. In this way he brings honour again to his son. In the eyes of his neighbours, such behaviour of a man towards his disgraced son is disgraceful and unwarranted in itself. He has humiliated himself before others. The loving father has not only gone out eagerly to meet his returning son, but has willingly sacrificed himself to share in and to relieve the humiliation of the returning son.

To me this parable is much in the spirit of the lyrics of the song above.

However, we can’t leave the song there because much has been made of the lyric leaves the ninety-nine. It’s unfortunate that even among Christians, as we face declining Biblical literacy, we need to stop and explain this. Earlier generations — and hopefully readers here — would pick up on the reference immediately.

Interestingly enough, as I prepared this, I realized that the story is actually part of the trio of parables in Luke 15 of which The Prodigal Son is the third. (Maybe that was partly what drew me to the third story as an illustration of God’s lavish love.)

4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

God desires to lavish his love on you. Are you ready to receive it?


Further Reading: The Father’s Love Letter (presented in your choice of text, audio, or video and available in over 100 languages.)

See also tomorrow’s devotional, The God Who Pursues Us.


I mentioned that my wife and I had been discussing this song.  Sometimes I will workshop an idea for a blog post with friends online, and my friend Martin at Flagrant Regard agreed with her somewhat:

If we open dictionary.com, we have this:

1. utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless (usually followed by of):  to be reckless of danger.
2. characterized by or proceeding from such carelessness: reckless extravagance.

I can’t get my head around the concept that God’s love is ‘careless’ or ‘unconcerned with the consequences of some action’. Just a bad choice of descriptors in my mind.

Words do matter. What do you think?

 

October 2, 2017

The Old Testament on Jewelry: Principles Behind the Rules

This is an excerpt from a book by Rachel Held Evans, an author who is accused of great theological liberalism, none of which manifested itself at least in this particular book. What I found instead, in the four paragraphs which follow my introduction, was a tremendous insight into the principles behind the rules.

I was greatly enlightened on this subject by a booklet published by InterVarsity Press (IVP) in 1981, What’s Right? What’s Wrong by Donald E. DeGraaf (sadly out of print, with no e-Book edition or Google Books file, nor can I find my copy.) In it he talks about the difference between rules and principles. A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles.

So when God gives his people rules — especially in Leviticus, but also in today’s text in Isaiah — God has His reasons. Sometimes we need to spend longer in the text to see what His intentions are. We’ll let Rachel pick it up from here…


In his list of God’s grievances against Israel and his warnings of Jerusalem’s imminent destruction, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

16 The LORD says, “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. 17 Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald.” 18 In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, 19 the earrings and bracelets and veils, 20 the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, 21 the signet rings and nose rings, 22 the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses 23 and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls. – Isaiah 3: 16-23

At first glance, this passage would suggest that Westboro Baptist Church has it wrong: what God really hates is accessories. But the larger context reveals that what so troubled Isaiah and his fellow prophets was the blatant materialism among Israel’s rich to the neglect and disenfranchisement of its poor.

In biblical times, gold jewelry signified wealth, and although several of the Bible’s heroines wore it (Genesis 24:22-31; Song of Songs 1:10-11), jewelry was far more commonly associated with excess and idol worship (Genesis 35:2-4; Exodus 32; 33:4; Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 7:18-20; 16:9-15; Hosea 2:13). This sentiment carries over into the New Testament, where both Paul in his letter to Timothy and Peter in his letter to the churches of Asia Minor discouraged women from wearing gold jewelry and pearls in the context of a Christian community that prioritized simplicity and charity.

In fact, it seems that most of the Bible’s instructions regarding modesty find their context in warnings about materialism, not sexuality… a pattern that has gone largely unnoticed by the red-faced preacher population. I’ve heard dozens of sermons about keeping my legs and my cleavage out of sight, but not one about ensuring that my jewelry was not acquired through unjust or exploitive trade practices.

Some conservative religious communities, such as the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, continue to forbid women to wear any sort of jewelry at all. Others simply discourage excess. I’m a bit of a jewelry fanatic — not so much of the gold and pearl variety, but of the beads and hemp variety — so I figured it would be a healthy exercise in self-discipline to ditch my necklaces, bracelets, and rings for Lent. I wore only my wedding band, not my engagement ring, and I avoided the items in Isaiah’s list: bangles, headbands, earrings, bracelets, anklets, sashes, perfume, charms, rings, nose rings, fine robes, capes, shawls, and, of course, tiaras.

~A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson, 2012) pp 127-8

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