Christianity 201

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…

 

May 20, 2017

Who is God?

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
~ A.W. Tozer

This week I got to enjoy a fascinating interview on The Phil Vischer Show with John Mark Comer, author of the book, God Has a Name. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of this book and reviewing it on Thinking Out Loud.

He went on to elaborate that your thoughts about God will define your life; shape your destiny. The hosts bantered with him for a few minutes, and then he got to the meat of the interview and the heart of the book; namely that it is commentary on Exodus 34:6-7 which is “the most quoted book in the Bible by the Bible.”

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, 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.”

He said that it’s interesting that when God describes himself, he doesn’t use the words we would use — omniscient, omnipotent, etc. — but first he tells his name, but then he describes his personality; his character traits; he provides a highly relational description.

Of this passage, Matthew Henry wrote:

The Lord descended by some open token of his presence and manifestation of his glory in a cloud, and thence proclaimed his NAME; that is, the perfections and character which are denoted by the name JEHOVAH.

The Lord God is merciful; ready to forgive the sinner, and to relieve the needy. Gracious; kind, and ready to bestow undeserved benefits. Long-suffering; slow to anger, giving time for repentance, only punishing when it is needful. He is abundant in goodness and truth; even sinners receive the riches of his bounty abundantly, though they abuse them.

All he reveals is infallible truth, all he promises is in faithfulness. Keeping mercy for thousands; he continually shows mercy to sinners, and has treasures, which cannot be exhausted, to the end of time. Forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin; his mercy and goodness reach to the full and free forgiveness of sin. And will by no means clear the guilty; the holiness and justice of God are part of his goodness and love towards all his creatures.

In Christ’s sufferings, the Divine holiness and justice are fully shown, and the evil of sin is made known. God’s forgiving mercy is always attended by his converting, sanctifying grace. None are pardoned but those who repent and forsake the allowed practice of every sin; nor shall any escape, who abuse, neglect, or despise this great salvation. Moses bowed down, and worshipped reverently.

Every perfection in the name of God, the believer may plead with Him for the forgiveness of his sins, the making holy of his heart, and the enlargement of the Redeemer’s kingdom.

bold face emphasis added

John Wesley’s commentary on this passage:

And the Lord passed by before him – Fixed views of God are reserved for the future state; the best we have in this world are transient. And proclaimed the name of the Lord – By which he would make himself known. He had made himself known to Moses in the glory of his self – existence, and self – sufficiency, when he proclaimed that name, I am that I am; now he makes himself known in the glory of his grace and goodness, and all – sufficiency to us. The proclaiming of it notes the universal extent of God’s mercy; he is not only good to Israel, but good to all. The God with whom we have to do is a great God. He is Jehovah, the Lord, that hath his being of himself, and is the fountain of all being; Jehovah – El, the Lord, the strong God, a God of almighty power himself, and the original of all power. This is prefixed before the display of his mercy, to teach us to think and to speak even of God’s goodness with a holy awe, and to encourage us to depend upon these mercies. He is a good God. His greatness and goodness illustrate each other. That his greatness may not make us afraid, we are told how good he is; and that we may not presume upon his goodness, we are told how great he is. Many words are here heaped up to acquaint us with, and convince us of God’s goodness.

1st, He is merciful, This speaks his pity, and tender companion, like that of a father to his children. This is put first, because it is the first wheel in all the instances of God’s good – will to fallen man.

2ndly, He is gracious. This speaks both freeness, and kindness: it speaks him not only to have a compassion to his creatures, but a complacency in them, and in doing good to them; and this of his own good – will, not for the sake of any thing in them.

3dly, He is long suffering. This is a branch of God’s goodness which our wickedness gives occasion for. He is long – suffering, that is, he is slow to anger, and delays the executions of his justice, he waits to be gracious, and lengthens out the offers of his mercy.

4thly, He is abundant in goodness and truth. This speaks plentiful goodness; it abounds above our deserts, above our conception. The springs of mercy are always full, the streams of mercy always flowing; there is mercy enough in God, enough for all, enough for each, enough for ever. It speaks promised goodness, goodness and truth put together, goodness engaged by promise.

5thly, He keeps mercy for thousands.This speaks,

    1. Mercy extended to thousands of persons. When he gives to some,still he keeps for others, and is never exhausted:
    2. Mercy entailed upon thousands of generations, even to those upon whom the ends of the world are come; nay, the line of it is drawn parallel with that of eternity itself. 6thly, He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin – Pardoning mercy is instanced in, because in that divine grace is most magnified, and because that it is that opens the door to all other gifts of grace. He forgives offenses of all sorts, iniquity, transgression and sin, multiplies his pardons, and with him is plenteous redemption. He is a just and holy God. For, 1st, He will by no means clear the guilty. He will not clear the impenitently guilty, those that go on still in their trespasses; he will not clear the guilty without satisfaction to his justice. 2dly, He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children – Especially for the punishment of idolaters. Yet he keeps not his anger for ever, but visits to the third and fourth generation only, while he keeps mercy for thousands – This is God’s name for ever, and this is his memorial unto all generations.

To hear the interview with John Mark Comer, go to this link and fast forward to 21:51. Because of time constraints, I wasn’t able to transcribe more of the interview, though I listened to it as I was posting these more classic commentaries on these verses, but I can’t recommend the interview enough. I hope we’ll get to the book itself in the future. (If anyone wants to do a summary transcription of the interview, we’ll definitely print it here.)

 

 

April 26, 2016

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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God's Name

Today we pay a return visit to the website Missio Alliance, and what I believe to be our first look at professor and author who has started a series on The Lord’s Prayer. Click the link below to read this article at source, or click his name above to find part one — this is part two — and bookmark the page as new posts are added.

The Lord’s Prayer, A Missional Reading: Hallowed By Thy Name

I remember as a teenager having really no idea what “hallowed” means in the Lord’s Prayer. Is it related to Halloween? Or the phrase “hallowed halls”? My guess was that it had to do with being respectful to God – he is God, I am not. Actually, I came to learn that that is not too far off. To “hallow” the name of God is to sanctify or consecrate it, to make it holy (or, better yet, attribute it all holiness).

Profanity

A biblical text that helps to explain why Jesus wanted his disciples to desire the consecration of God’s Name is Ezekiel 36, a passage prophesying the restoration and “new life” of Israel. The Lord details the waywardness, idolatry, and covenantal rebellion of Israel such that the Lord’s people were scattered in exile (Ezek 36:17-20). Instead of immediately repenting, they became a mockery of God amongst the nations. Out of concern for “my holy name,” the Lord was compelled to act:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God; it is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned [i.e., degraded] among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned…and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.” (Ezek 36:22-23).

The Lord goes on to promise Israel that he will gather and unite them, restore them to their land, cleanse them and give them a new heart and spirit to obey, and turn them from their idols back to the one true and living God (36:25-27).

God’s Name, People and Restoration

Two things are striking here: First, God’s name is tied to his people – their behavior and reputation redounds upon him, for good or bad. Secondly, God’s plan to restore God’s own name entails a restoration of all things – and this requires the transformation of God’s people both in terms of ethics (doing what’s right) and in terms of unity (bringing God’s people together in common life).

This is a healthy reminder that the Lord’s Prayer cannot be prayed by those who say, “I like Jesus, but don’t believe in the church.” Insofar as the church is the people of God, God’s name must be “sanctified” within the world through the church as a “conductor” of his reputation. You really can’t pray the Lord’s Prayer – at least not in the way Jesus expected – without doing so for the sake of the church as the worshipping and apostolic people of God.

What Name?

There is one more piece I want to bring into this petition. When we say, “sanctify your name,” what “name” is it? It is not simply the name “God” or even “YHWH” the prayer assumes here. The prayer begins, “Our Father” and the Gospels attest that, first and foremost, this is the Father of Jesus. And, by the time we get to the end of the Gospels, this Jesus, Son of God, is crucified and dies a miserable, shameful death on a cross (Roman statesman Cicero called the cross the “tree of shame”).

For the crucified, their family “name” was ruined, worse than ruined. The Roman state declared such ones fools, criminals, and abject creatures. When we pray “sanctify your name,” we pray to the Father who is implicated in this profaning of Jesus’ name. The reputation of the Son “sticks” to the Father. When we pray for the holiness of the Father’s name, we signal a protest against the Roman punishment, against the public judgment on Jesus.

We reject the verdict on Jesus, and the implication against his Father. Your Name is holy, Father of Jesus, Our Father. The cross of Christ is not folly or shame. It is beautiful. We embrace it. If the ignominy of Jesus “sticks” to you, Father, let it stick to us. Let us together fight for a world where the “Jesus way” – even if it be to a cross – represents the holiness of God.


 

I really wanted to include “Our Father” by Brian Doerksen here, but iTunes has it wiped from YouTube. This is a song from the same album.

December 4, 2010

“My Name Will Be Declared in the Final Hour”

Here’s a very different but very powerful worship song from Chuck Girard, a man who is really one of a small handful of people who pioneered today’s contemporary Christian music.

CHORUS:

IT’S THE NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES,
AND WE WILL DECLARE IT, WE WILL DECLARE IT
IT’S THE NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES,
AND WE WILL SHOUT IT TO A DYING WORLD.

Who will declare My name?
Who will shout My name in the middle of the nations
Who will take the shield of faith and the sword of My tongue,
And declare My name to a dying world?
You who have declared Me thus far,
Will walk in even greater power
Though the sands of time are running out,
My name will be declared in this final hour

I am Jehovah! I Am that I Am! And My trumpet will soon call ..out
I formed the worlds with a whisper
But I’m getting ready, I’m getting ready, I’m getting ready
To shout!

CHORUS

I will possess My people
I’ll take every inch that you’ll surrender to Me
For I’m building an army, and I’ve given it My Name
And my words in your mouth shall set the captives free.

I am Jehovah! I Am that I Am! And My trumpet will soon call out.
I formed the worlds with a whisper
But I’m getting ready, I’m getting ready, I’m getting ready
To shout!

CHORUS

June 27, 2010

How Great Our God Is

With all the other songs I’ve embedded on this blog, how could I not do this one?  This is a 7-minute version of what has become the worship anthem of the past two years or so.  “Sing with me, ‘How great is our God.'”