Christianity 201

July 26, 2020

The God You Can Know; The God Who Wants to be Known

NLT.Phil.3.10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death

There has been quite an outpouring of tributes following the death of J. I. Packer. I would say more than I expected. I posted a very brief tribute to him at Thinking Out Loud, and just eight days ago I ran a series of quotations by him here at C201. But today I felt led to see if anyone had posted a larger book excerpt — transcribing things is half the battle — and found this excerpt from his most popular book.

Knowing God was first published in 1973, with a 20th Anniversary edition published in ’93. You can learn more about the book at the website of its publisher, InterVaristy Press (IVP), where you will also find this tribute. Knowing God may also be read as a 365-day devotional published by IVP under the title Knowing God Through the Year.

The excerpt below was not originally paragraphed so what appears may slightly vary from the paragraphing in my print copy (which I can’t locate right now!) Material below is © InterVarsity Press.

Knowing God

…[U]nlike horses, people keep secrets.

They do not show everybody all that is in their hearts. A few days are enough to get to know a horse as well as you will ever know it, but you may spend months and years doing things in company with another person and still have to say at the end of that time, “I don’t really know him at all.”

We recognize degrees in our knowledge of our fellow men. We know them, we say, well, not very well; just to shake hands with, intimately, or perhaps inside out, according to how much, or how little, they have opened up to us. Thus, the quality and extent of our knowledge of other people depends more on them than on us. Our knowing them is more directly the result of their allowing us to know them than of our attempting to get to know them.

When we meet, our part is to give them our attention and interest, to show them goodwill and to open up in a friendly way from our side. From that point, however, it is they, not we, who decide whether we are going to know them or not.

Imagine, now, that we are going to be introduced to someone whom we feel to be “above” us; whether in rank, or intellectual distinction, or professional skill, or personal sanctity, or in some other respect. The more conscious we are of our own inferiority, the more we shall feel that our part is simply to attend to this person respectfully and let him take the initiative in the conversation. (Think of meeting the queen of England or the president of the United States.) We would like to get to know this exalted person, but we fully realize that this is a matter for him to decide, not us. If he confines himself to courteous formalities with us, we may be disappointed, but we do not feel able to complain; after al, we had no claim on his friendship.

But if instead he starts at once to take us into his confidence, and tells us frankly what is in his mind on matters of common concern, and if he goes on to invite us to join him in particular undertakings he has planned, and asks us to make ourselves permanently available for this kind of collaboration whenever he needs us, then we shall feel enormously privileged, and it will make a world of difference to our general outlook. If life seemed unimportant and dreary hitherto, it will not seem so anymore, now that the great man has enrolled us among his personal assistants.

Here is something to write home about-and something to live up to!

Now this, so far as it goes, is an illustration of what it means to know God. Well might God say through Jeremiah, “Let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me”—for knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a person’s heart. What happens is that the almighty Creator, the Lord of hosts, the great God before whom the nations are as a drop in a bucket, comes to you and begins to talk to you through the words and truths of Holy Scripture.

Perhaps you have been acquainted with the Bible and Christian truth for many years, and it has meant little to you; but one day you wake up to the fact that God is actually speaking to you—you!—through the biblical message. As you listen to what God is saying, you find yourself brought very low; for God talks to you about your sin, and guilt, and weakness, and blindness, and folly, and compels you to judge yourself hopeless and helpless, and to cry out for forgiveness.

But this is not all.

You come to realize as you listen that God is actually opening his heart to you, making friends with you and enlisting you as a colleague; in Barth’s phrase, a covenant partner. It is a staggering thing, but it is true — the relationship in which sinful human beings know God is one in which God, so to speak, takes them onto his staff, to be henceforth his fellow workers (see 1 Cor 3:9) and personal friends.

The action of God in taking Joseph from prison to become Pharaoh’s Prime Minister is a picture of what he does to every Christian: from being Satan’s prisoner, you find yourself transferred to a position of trust in the service of God. At once life is transformed. Whether being a servant is a matter for shame or for pride depends on whose servant one is.

Many have said what pride they felt in rendering personal service to Sir Winston Churchill during World War II. How much more should it be a matter of pride and glorying to know and serve the Lord of heaven and earth! What, then, does the activity of knowing God involve?

Holding together the various elements involved in this relationship, as we have sketched it out, we must say that knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.


NIV.I Cor.9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

October 31, 2018

The God Whom We Trust With Our Destinies

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today our search took us to The Serener Bright, a site we’re featuring here for the very first time. Ian Graham describes himself as “a pastor, church planter, musician, songwriter, reader, and writer.” His church, Ecclesia, is located in West Trenton, New Jersey.

Psalm 26: Unflinching Trust

In honor of the life and legacy of Eugene Peterson, I will be using the Message version of the psalms as our text.

Psalm 26 sounds, on its face, like the self-righteous protestations of a deluded legalist. Is David really placing wagers on his own integrity (v. 1) in the presence of a holy, all-seeing God? He even invites God to perform open-heart surgery on him, examining the hidden caverns of his life (v. 2). So what are we to do with a psalm that most of us would never claim is true of our own experience? How do we pray this along with David with a straight face?

What David expresses here is a visceral, unflinching trust. It may sound as though he is unwilling to confess his own sinfulness but that misses the point. This psalm is not about who David is, this psalm is about who God is. The steadfast love of God is the branch that David clings to, holding fast in the rushing currents of falsehood and idolatry. Left to his own devices, David would be swept along with the sinners, the devious, the frauds. But David’s life is not defined merely by his own actions, his life flows from a deep river of confession, worship, and prayer.

I scrub my hands with purest soap,
then join hands with the others in the great circle,
dancing around your altar, God,
Singing God-songs at the top of my lungs,
telling God-stories.
God, I love living with you;
your house glows with your glory. 

The Message, vv.6-8

He expresses his trust in the means that God has provided for purification. He recalls rapturous times of worship in the presence of God and the community. His life is shaped by story and song both of what God has done and his own experience with God. Everything for him starts from a deep and personal encounter with God.

David invites us to a faith that is embraced in momentary acts of faithfulness, where the words of our mouths and the state of our hearts are constantly presented to God for examination. God’s presence is a fire, engulfing and purifying every corner of his life. We can trust that God’s presence will not simply rubber stamp our agendas, or provide us with good feelings to get us through the day, but it will provide a way forward, a way of openness, of integrity, of transformation.

David beautifully conveys the meaning of life: God, I love living with you. David’s life before God expresses the poles of this life: exuberant displays of abandon in the congregation where everything is in its right place and a life of contemplative nearness in the midst of ambiguity and brokenness, a life lived up close to God. Openness, vulnerability, this is the life that is oriented to God’s presence. Trust is the foundation of this life, a trust that says God is exactly who he has shown himself to be, abundant steadfast love and thus, I can trust that I am exactly who he says I am: beloved.

Christian faith is not neurotic dependency but childlike trust. We do not have a God who forever indulges our whims but a God whom we trust with our destinies.” -Eugene Peterson


Take some time to read another devotional from the same author, continuing through the Psalms:


As we write this, Laruen Daigle, an extremely popular Christian music artist, is enjoying unprecedented chart success. A previous album, released in 2015, contains this song about trusting God, which has been seen by 71 million people.

 

August 6, 2015

Is Jesus a Person or Just an Idea?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death – Phil 3:10

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” – John 14:9

Today we’re going to do something we don’t normally do — we have “six month” rule — and spend a second day at the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Portland, OR pastor and author Brad Watson. To read this at source, click the title below.

The Scandal of Jesus

Despite the talk about the biblical gospel of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, we rarely stop to take in, reflect, or meditate on the life, character, words, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christianity is nothing without Christ, yet we often rely on second or third hand descriptions of Jesus from books, blogs, preachers, movies, and music. All of these things are helpful and involved people using their gifts to make Jesus clear. However, at some point, to get to know Jesus and understand his message, you have to go to the source and read a Gospel account. Why? Because Jesus is God manifest in human form (Col 1). The fullness of God dwelt in him. He is the Conqueror of Sin, Author of Salvation, Giver of Life, Rescuer from Darkness, and Initiator and Sustainer of All Creation.

Jesus is not an idea but a person. A person who lived, spoke, acted, befriended, rebuked, and made the intentions of God’s love clear. What did he do, what did he say, how did he teach us to be restored humans, and how do you worship and follow him? The answers to those questions are scandalous because he is not a contestant in the competition to be your best friend, but he is claiming and proving himself to be fully God. He is not simply the center of a worldview but God. He is not the example for effective discipleship only, but he is the Savior of the World who descended from heaven into the world.

Making Jesus in Our Own Image

For many years I was content with my favorite stories of Jesus: walking on water and the feeding the thousands. I also had a choice selection of teachings: the beatitudes, the great commission, loving your enemies, and the cost of discipleship. Lastly, I had my favorite parables he told: the prodigal son, the soils, the good Samaritan, and the wedding feast. These weren’t just my favorites; they were my entire playlist.

In the end, I chose to make Jesus into who I wanted him to be. I didn’t take in the whole of his life or his teaching, but the bits and parts that appealed to me most. To me Jesus was the collision of my preferences. He oddly, approved of my political, economic, ministerial, and personal preferences. Jesus had my personality even. Journeying through life proved my Jesus wasn’t enough for me or the world I inhabit. The Jesus I had fashioned was too small.

Making Jesus Our Method

Then, I began to read the Gospels to discover the best way to be a Christian and make other Christians—which is a noble task but not the primary task of reading a Gospel. I wanted the best practices, techniques, and tools for making disciples. I didn’t read them to follow Jesus myself. Stop reading the Gospels to figure out how to “make disciples for Jesus” read it to “be a disciple of Jesus.” That’s when you will make disciple of Jesus.

I realized I was quoting Jesus as a proof for my model of ministry and not worshiping and wondering at God incarnate. The Gospels are theology and story—not pragmatics. It is the most captivating true story about what God is like, what he does, and what he wants for us. The story of Jesus unfolds in our mind as our story. We long to be reminded of our God’s most visible moment. This story changes what we believe, who we are, and the world we live in. The Gospels are not “how-to manuals.” They are theology and story.

You can’t use Jesus to perfect a method. The only effective discipleship models come first from beholding Christ and only then walking humbly in stride with him and the way he loved the Father, submitted to the Spirit, and loved neighbor. The point of the Gospels is not that Jesus chose twelve guys and spent a lot time with them. The point is the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdoms of this world through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the point of the Gospels.

I didn’t know Jesus because I hadn’t tried. I tried to find myself in Jesus (as the hero playing his role), instead of finding God in Jesus. I tried to use Jesus for my purposes, not to glorify him in wonder and worship. I had avoided confrontation with Jesus and it had left me the same. I yearned for transformation in the midst of the holy God who was pleased to dwell as a man on earth.

This month GCD is committing the majority of our articles to the endeavor of knowing Jesus through the Gospel of Mathew. We hope you will join us in the wonder, bewilderment, conflict, and challenge of knowing Jesus.

How to Join Us in This Journey

Read the Gospel of Matthew. One of the reasons Jesus’ life ends up feeling like a random collection of anecdotes and one liners is we rarely read through it all together. We may have done so in our early days of faith but have since neglected it. We invite you to spend August reading the Gospel of Matthew. Read a chapter a day. As you read, contemplate the passage. Here are some helpful questions:

  • What is Jesus saying or doing?
  • What does that say about his character?
  • How are people reacting to him? How does that expose your reaction to Jesus? How would your friend who doesn’t believe in Jesus respond to this?
  • How is Jesus proving to be the true humanity? The true Prophet? The true Priest? The true King?
  • What is most challenging about Jesus?

Pray the Gospel of Mathew. Practice Lectio Divina, Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest.

What We Pray and Anticipate Will Happen

You will encounter the scandal of Jesus not being who you want him to be. You will find that Jesus is not a warm cuddly lovable loser. Instead you will discover he is the Prophet who says: This is the truth. You will find that Jesus is not an all accepting cuddly bear. Instead you will discover that he’s the King who says: This is true humanity. You will find that Jesus is not just a philosopher of good ideas on the ideals of life but someone who says: Love looks like and does this. You will find Jesus as the Priest who says: Access to God is closed, but I will make a way to usher you into unity with God. Lastly, there’s the scandal that Jesus is God. You will find a holy, completely other, Jesus.