Christianity 201

March 6, 2021

Looking at the Face of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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If we compiled a list of the five authors we’ve featured here most often, Elsie Montgomery would be in that list.  She has been faithfully writing daily at Practical Faith since 2006.

For 2021, she decided to do something different, and use the alphabet to provide word prompts for themes. “God directed my thoughts to the alphabet and 2×26 equals the weeks in a year, and that He can be described by many English words beginning with those 26 letters.” (Never say you can’t think of anything to write!)

As always, please support our contributing writers by clicking through (it send them traffic) and reading this on her site. Click the article title which follows.

Seeing God?

During their wilderness travel, the Israelites sinned and Moses interceded for them. In that conversation, he asked God to “Please show me your glory” but God said to him:

(Exodus 33:19–23) “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

I picked FACE as a word about God for today. In Hebrew, FACE is a plural noun. It means “the presence or proximity of someone understood in terms of the face; with the implication of being before or in front of them.” This supports the idea that much can be known about someone by the look on their face.

However, God says no one can see His face and live. Then other passages speak of seeing the face of God. This stumped me. I found an article in a theological word book about this Hebrew term. The section is long but the content is helpful. Here are a few main points:

The face identifies the person and reflects their attitude and sentiments, much the same as we talk about how another person feels according to their facial expression. In the Bible, “face” can also refer to behavioral patterns as well as revealing human emotions, moods, and dispositions.

For instance, a “hard” face indicates defiance, impudence, ruthlessness. A “shining” face is evidence of joy while a “shamed” face points to defeat, frustration, humiliation. A “fallen” face indicates very strong anger or displeasure. The phrase “to hide one’s face” means to show aversion or disgust and “to turn away the face” is to reject.

There are more examples, many of which are applied to God. God’s face “shines” as a sign of favor and good will, or “falls” in anger. He also may “hide” his face. The phrase “to see God’s face” probably indicates someone is visiting the sanctuary to worship. It includes “to see” or “to appear” suggesting the idea of “appearing before” God rather than seeing His face even though it is said that Jacob and Moses saw God “face to face.” Even so, Moses, Elijah covered their faces in God’s presence. These who saw Him were overwhelmed with astonishment and gratitude and awe.

In the New Testament God is manifested in Jesus. John 6:46 says “Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” He is not only the Word through whom God is heard but also the image through whom God is seen.

(Hebrews 1:3) He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . .”

GAZE INTO HIS GLORY. My eyes cannot ‘see’ the face of God nor do I get a full look at the face of Jesus Christ, yet when He walked on earth He was ‘seeable’ — His disciples could say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) and “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)

Their testimony helps me see the face of my God and Savior. It also makes sense of the reason why the Bible tells me to keep my focus on Jesus because by seeing Him, I am transformed to be like Him. This is the blessing in this pandemic isolation — for it has given me the time and motivation to draw near and see Him more clearly, not so much His face but the wonderful qualities of who He is.


What can be known about God? For starters we can know he exists. Here’s a bonus article from the same writer, The Fundamental Truth.

January 23, 2021

Telling God We’re Serious About Him

This is our fifth visit to Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International. We appreciate their grace in allowing us to use this material, and each of you can help us reciprocate by reading today’s article at their website. Click the header which comes next.

Obedient and Free

I was thinking to myself one evening recently, I really want a tattoo of God’s name “Yahweh” on me. It instantly reminded me of how in Isaiah, God says, “Behold! I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”. Which in turn got me thinking, “Ouch!” Imagine a tattoo on the palm of your hand!? One of the most sensitive areas of the body, containing dozens of nerves. Safe to say…it would really hurt! Something would have to hold a lot of value for you to choose that specific area. I wondered whether that was why God chose the imagery of palms—to bring home how much His people mean to Him?

Still contemplating the idea of a tattoo, I thought, it would be so great to have something so permanent of my faith. I very quickly heard God remind me, “Nothing is more permanent than your salvation.” His tender and true answer made me smile; I answered Him, “But it would be such a cool way to show my dedication to you, how else could I show that?” And I heard Him softly say, “Obey.”

So gentle and loving, yet so loud and profound to my heart. May God’s still small voice always be louder to us than anything the enemy shouts at us. Humbled by my Heavenly Father’s soft and succinct answer, I pondered – I guess we can do all sorts of things outwardly to try to prove and show we’re committed to God, but if we are not obeying, then are we really committed? Have we really dedicated our life to God, and made His Son, Jesus, Lord of our whole heart and life?

It reminded me of how in John 14:23, Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him”. The phrase “keep my word” stands out. We keep things that are important to us; that have meaning to us; that can benefit us. So how do we “keep” and obey God’s Word?

With love. We’re called to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. Second to this, we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we truly love God, and our Lord Jesus, we will have a sincere and deep desire to obey them. I truly believe the instruction in John 3:18 to not just love in word, but in action and truth also, is not only direction for how we treat other people in our lives, but also how we walk with our God, and Saviour; we are not just to say we love them, but live like we do, with our actions in line with and “keeping in step with the spirit” (Gal. 5:25).

Nevertheless, we must not confuse obedience with empty works of the flesh—either acting out of fear that they won’t love us if we don’t obey, or that maintaining our salvation is determined by how “good” we are. Christ has already accomplished everything on our behalf, and the thankfulness that overflows from that should mean we can’t help but express our love through willing obedience—not obligation—and an abandonment of our own fleshly impulses and desires, replaced with an enthusiasm and determination to do the Will of God and know that God’s will is for our good and His glory.

In exchange for Christlike obedience, surprisingly, comes freedom. You wouldn’t necessarily consider that being in obedience means you are free. However, as Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Not my truth, not your truth, not your best friend’s, aunt’s, or cousin’s truth, but THE Truth—the one and only Truth that breaks strongholds and sets captives of sin free! Free from condemnation, free from the wages of sin, free from the enemy’s grasp, free from people’s opinions, free from shame or the pressure of perfectionism. Free to love without man-made conditions and rules.

For “if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a sounding bronze, or clanging cymbal. And if I prophesy and know all the sacred secrets and all the knowledge, and if I have all trust so that I can move mountains, but I do not have love, I am nothing.” We are nothing if we are not loving, and we cannot love the way we are called to if we are not in obedience to God and His word. So much good comes from obedience to our Heavenly Father, but obedience is not always easy, and it likely at times takes sacrifice, even suffering in this life. Nevertheless, if we give it our best shot at being faithful to our God and the Lord through word and action, no doubt we will be witnesses to that good—and even moreso in the ages to come. We may not reap all the blessings this side of eternity, but we know there is a day coming where we will be rewarded if we do not give up.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”

Luke 11:28

Just like a parent who loves their children regardless of obedience, but whose heart sings when their child heeds their words and direction, how much more must God love us regardless of our downfalls but His heart rejoices all the more when we have a willingness to obey Him and actually do.

Maybe I’ll get a tattoo, maybe I won’t, but something more important resulted from that simple musing; a sweet exchange between me and my Heavenly Father, and a renewed desire to follow Him and obey His Word whatever the cost, just as Christ exemplified so perfectly.

How can we show God we are serious about Him in our lives? We obey. And how do we do it? With love.

November 10, 2020

I Want to Know More (Spiritual Knowledge) and How to Use that Information (Spiritual Wisdom)

Today marks the longest title for a devotional here! I could have made that more concise, but I wanted to frame what follows within the title itself.

The basics of our faith are simple enough that even a child can understand. In fact, a child-like innocence is almost a requirement, since our sophisticated, adult, intellectual, rational processing can sometimes put us at a disadvantage.

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.
 – Matthew 18:3 NLT

Contextually, this chapter begins with a teaching on spiritual humility, but the model of child-like exuberance with which we enter the Kingdom makes it clear that child can understand all that’s needed to be understood to turn (ESV), change (NIV), become converted (NASB, NKJV) from a recognized pattern of sin to a desire to live, through the power of Christ’s atonement, a sin-rejecting life. (See how easy it is to lose the child-like language and make it complicated!)

But what comes next? Hopefully a desire to gain some sophistication in our knowledge of the one who saved us, who we endeavor to serve.

Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. – Hosea 6:3a NKJV

Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” – Isaiah 2:3 NIV

And sometimes, this is where the subject matter can start to get dry for some people. It shouldn’t. We’re getting to know a someone. We want to follow that person the same way the students of a rabbi would follow his life and teachingWe want to be able to convey all of this to others so they can join us.

It should excite us.

My wife is working on a graduate degree in theology. This week they asked the following essay question. I’d love to reprint her answer here, and perhaps we’ll circle back to that at some point, but instead I’ll offer my own.

After morning worship one Sunday, you are chatting with a man named Bob, and he learns you are studying… Bob says, “Systematic Theology? Why would you waste your time with that? What’s the point of all those endless debates? We just need to get on with the mission!” How do you respond to Bob? …

I contemplated this earlier today, and all I could think of when I thought of the word theology was Theophilus. We meet him in the introduction to Luke’s writings:

NIV.Luke.1.1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

NIV.Acts.1.1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…

Theophilus’ name means a lover of God, or a lover of the things of God, or, if I may, a lover of theology! The name may refer to an actual person, or it may be a poetic way of indicating all those who have a heart for God as revealed in the life of Jesus.

From there I thought about all that is written about key people in our world. Especially sports heroes and entertainers such as actors, musicians, authors, etc.

Think of all the statistics that are kept on players of all types of sports (including, perhaps sadly, their financial earnings.) All those numbers! Is it boring? Yes; to me. I’m not a sports guy. To my friend Gary who has a ravenous appetite for all things hockey? Not at all.

Think of all the little details that websites like IMDb keep on actors. What they’ve done on television, in movies and on stage in live performance. All that data. Is it boring? For me; yes! (Seems I’m not a fan of the arts, either. Sorry, folks!) But to others, the information is almost intoxicating.

What about Jesus? I want to know more. The background information is never boring. And the implications of his life and teaching — to bring us back to the topic of theology — are always filled with material for discussion.

Theology will always seem boring if we don’t have a love for God; a desire to follow on and know more about Jesus. But if we are a Theophilus, we’ll want to soak it up like a sponge.

Are you a Theophilus?

 

 

November 3, 2020

Seeking Knowledge When We Want Power

John 9.1(TPT) Afterward, as Jesus walked down the street, he noticed a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused this guy’s blindness, his own, or the sin of his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither. It happened to him so that you could watch him experience God’s miracle.

John 9.3(NKJV) Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

If you’re unfamiliar with this story, check out all 41 verses of John’s gospel, chapter 9.

A year ago this month we introduced Wes Barry who is the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina, a church he planted seven years ago. Today’s article is actually older than a second piece by him we shared six months ago, but one I wanted to share with readers here. Clicking the header below will take to this article at its source.

The Wrong Questions

Perhaps you have heard the acronym that the Bible is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” to imply that the Bible is life’s instruction manual. Or, if you were like me and involved in FCA, you heard the analogy that the Bible is God’s Playbook. When I received Davidson’s football playbook, I received detailed descriptions of what was expected of me and how I was supposed to run a play. Though I rarely actually read instruction manuals when putting together a project, an instruction manual gives us specific step-by-step how-tos. As I have read scripture I have come to see how both of those are wrong. And they cause us to ask the wrong questions.

The ultimate problem we face is that through Adam and Eve’s eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we have knowledge but lack power. For example: We know the impact of this virus, but we lack the power to control it. Knowledge without power is an extremely painful position to be in. Therefore, we try to minimize that pain through scientific questions of “How” and “What,” that give us a false sense of power. Yet, this causes us to fail to ask the spiritual questions of “Who” and “Why.”

Our industrial and mechanical minds ask “How” and “What” questions. Scripture, however, is answering “Who” and “Why” questions. If we approach scripture with a What/How mindset then we are asking the wrong questions and will entirely miss the purpose of scripture.

While the question in John 9 is translated into a “who sinned”—the heart of what they are asking is “what caused this man to be born blind?” They are seeking to capture the cause of this man’s difficulty in life—probably in an effort to avoid their own peril, or the peril of their children. They are seeking a rational explanation.

Jesus, however, re-frames the question. He tells them they are asking the wrong question—the question we should be asking is not “what caused this” but “why.” Why would God allow this to happen?”

Who and Why questions ask relational and purpose questions. They draw us closer to God, and once we discover who God is, we become aware of who we are and are not.

As John Calvin states in the opening part of his Institutes: “The whole sum of our wisdom is…the knowledge of God and of ourselves…the first ought to show us not only one God whom all must worship and honor, but also that the same One is the fountain of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness…The second part, by showing us our weakness, wretchedness, futility, and greed, leads us to feel cast down about and to distrust and hate ourselves; and then kindles in us a desire to seek for God, since in Him lies all the good of which we are empty and naked.”

Once we realize who God is and who we are, then the only logical question becomes, “why.” If God is good, and I am not, then why is God allowing this to happen?

For this man born blind, Jesus is saying that the purpose of this man’s blindness was so that one day the glory of Christ might be revealed. His blindness revealed the futility of his efforts and his parents’. The man’s entire life—all the limitations that he felt due to his blindness, his parents’ worry that they may have caused this malady—was necessary so that on that particular day during that particular encounter Jesus could demonstrate his power to give sight to the blind. Due to this man’s life and testimony, one of the greatest hymns was written: “I once was blind but now I see.”

Now, finally, notice that this man’s healing required active engagement on his part. He was not a passive recipient but an actor in the healing story. While other healings occurred immediately, this man was commanded to go and wash. So once we understand who and why, it does not mean we become mere observers of God’s plan, but we must become participants in His mission.

 

 

October 15, 2020

One Word that Should Not Be Part of Thanksgiving Celebrations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:40 pm
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This was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada so that was a major theme in this week’s devotional from Clarke Dixon, which also continued in Philippians.

by Clarke Dixon

There is one word which should not be part of Thanksgiving celebrations. What is it? Keep reading to find out! But first, let us continue to dig into Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi:

And being found in appearance as a man,
[Jesus] humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:8-11 (NIV emphasis added)

We are so steeped in a love for democracy, and a desire for individualism, that we might read this and think, “Wait, I didn’t vote for Jesus!”, or “One person is in charge? Isn’t this tyranny?” Many people don’t like the idea of Jesus having an exclusive reign and reject the Christian message outright. Meanwhile, we Christians can be demurring in our attitudes, “I guess if Jesus is in charge, I should commit to him. If every knee is going to bow, I should go ahead and bow my knee.”

These are two possible responses to the idea that Jesus is Lord, that God is in charge. Our response may be rebellion, that this does not sound like the kind of God we want to believe in, or our response may be acquiescence, that we should follow whether we want to or not, and, being Thanksgiving, we should give thanks that Jesus is Lord. Thanksgiving is something we should do. Praise is a matter of duty.

There is a third response to the idea that Jesus is Lord, that God is in charge. Let us consider the response of the people to the dedication of the Temple in king Solomon’s day:

When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,
“He is good;
his love endures forever.” . . .

On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the LORD had done for David and Solomon and for his people Israel.

2 Chronicles 7:1-3,10 (NIV)

When the people get a sense of the presence and glory of God, they bow in worship, but not out from a sense that this is something they should do as a matter of duty. Rather, their thanksgiving is genuine, spontaneous, and joyful. Thanksgiving is a joyful and genuine response to God upon the recognition of who God is and what God is like.

When we know God well, we will recognize the news that Jesus is Lord, and therefore God is in charge, is good news! Thanksgiving will be a natural and joyful response as opposed to a duty or obligation.

We often frame the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, as being that we are saved from sin and so gain eternal life through Jesus. While this is true, and is very good news indeed, the fact that Jesus is Lord is also very good news. The early Christians in New Testament times would have known that.

Those coming to faith in Jesus from a Jewish background would have had a sense of their history, that the succession of kings seemed to go from bad to worse and the current king was no king at all. Over the years the people suffered, especially the vulnerable of society, the very ones a king was supposed to watch out for. The thought, given through prophecy, that God himself was coming some day to take charge, would be met with “thank the Lord for that!” When Jesus says things like “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” those who trusted him would naturally say “thank the Lord, this is good news!”

The news that Jesus is Lord would also resonate as good news among those from a non-Jewish background. In Roman society where the politics around the emperors rivalled what we see on CNN, where the people were left wondering if the next ruler would be better than the last one, the news that there is one true God who has come to take charge would be met, by those who believed, with “Thank God, this is good news indeed.”

We can think of the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who, a song about revolution with a very cynical concluding line: “meet the news boss, just the same as the old boss.” With the news that Jesus is Lord, the new boss is very different from any boss ever known before! The new boss is none other than the creator of the universe who has shown himself to be for us and not against us.

The news that “Jesus is Lord” would have brought the response of joyful and genuine thanksgiving in New Testament times to those who believed. Does it today?

For many people it is not quite as joyful, because they can only think of God in terms of a judge. When we think of God only as judge whose relationship with us is primarily about looking at our deeds with judgement, with the expectation of either a “pass or fail,” praise and thanks may be a thing we do out of mere obedience.

When we think of God also as Redeemer, as Father and Ruler, as Shepherd, as the Good Shepherd Who has given His life for the sheep, praise and thanksgiving become a natural and joyful response to God. Throughout the Bible, God is presented as judge, yes, but also as a good ruler and good father whose heart is inclined to seeing his loved ones fare well.

What is the one word that should not be part of Thanksgiving celebrations? It is the word “should.” It is the idea that we should give thanks to God. When we really grasp just who God is, what God is like, what God’s relationship with us is like through Jesus, then thanksgiving will just happen.

Is thanksgiving to God naturally happening in your life? Is thanksgiving genuine and joyful? If not, I’m not going to say you should thank him. I am going to say we have the amazing opportunity to get to know Him. We will be grateful when we do.


The full reflection can be seen as part of Clarke’s church’s “online worship expression” from October 4th.

October 9, 2020

Everyone Wants to Inherit the Earth, But No One Wants to be Meek

(If you are not familiar with the section of the Bible called The Beatitudes, check out the first 12 verses of Matthew 5.)

This year it seems that more than ever local church pastors — both local and those from megachurches with a wide reach — have done series on The Sermon on the Mount. In many respects it is a perfect response to the racial tension we’ve seen in the United States over the Spring and Summer.

The sermon begins with what we call The Beatitudes. In much of our preaching the focus is on the first half of each phrase, “Blessed are the…” Demographic chunks of the populace are identified in terms of situations which have befallen them — poverty*, loss, persecution, etc. — or their character — purity, kindness, agents of peace — and then there is the promise of a reward. Some of these rewards are possibly meted out in this life — “they will be shown mercy” — while others are clearly indicative of a blessing in a kingdom either in process of becoming, or a kingdom to come to fruition in the future.

In the shorter Luke version, those blessings are contrasted with the “woes” in Luke 6 which are much less the subject of preaching:

²⁴”But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
²⁵Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
²⁶Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Again, the first woe shows an immediate payoff, whereas the second and third show consequences yet to come…

…In reflecting on the “blessings” however, it amazes me how often we focus on those people categories to the detriment of studying the blessings they receive. Here is just that part of the text from Matthew 5:

  • theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • they will be comforted.
  • they will inherit the earth.
  • they will be filled.
  • they will be shown mercy.
  • they will see God.
  • they will be called children of God.

For this list, I’ve omitted the 8th form of blessing as it is identical to the first.

Consider the second one, to know the comfort of God. Who would not want that? But to get there is to mourn, to suffer loss, to be bereaved. That isn’t something that any of use would desire.

In other words to get there is to pay a price. And yet, having said that, Jesus invites us into a relationship with him such that we can in various degrees know his love and comfort each and every day.

To know the mercy of God is to live a life of mercy, forgiveness and lovingkindness toward others. This is going to be a sacrificial lifestyle.

But again, each of us will experience such mercy when we stand before God and, despite the things we have done or omitted to do, because of his grace — because of Calvary — he will welcome us into his eternal kingdom. This is not to mention the smaller graces which he pours out on us each day, many of which we never quite notice.

To see God — the 4th century prayer, “To see thee more clearly” comes to mind — is to live a life of holiness and purity. In the middle of a sinful world, this is going to take a resolute mind, a life of dedication.

But in the smaller everyday acts of saying no to sin and temptation, we can be working out purity in our own lives, and be aware of the smile of God upon just as a walk on a sunny day makes us aware of the warmth of the sun in the sky…

…You can continue to work out the pattern for the other four blessings, for those who work for peace, or those who live a life of humility, etc. These blessings of God are things we should want and desire but at the same time know there may be price to pay in this life in order to achieve them. Sometimes there is a short-term micro blessing, but with others there is a macro blessing only visible when one casts their eyes over an entire life…

…The title of this devotional reminded me of an older saying, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.” In many respects this applies here. To receive the beatitude blessings is to die to ourselves.


* When looking at the poor in spirit, keep in mind this is simply poor in Luke’s version of these teachings. Hence, I’ve used the term poverty, with which we are familiar. We know it when we see it. What would poverty of spirit look like?

September 1, 2020

Keeping a Sense of God’s Holy Presence

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Far too often true, humble worship is lost in the shadow of giftedness.

With so much clamor and movement it is hard to sense the otherness and grandeur, the holiness and authority, of God, His voice and His Spirit – the Divine Presence

 ~ Arnold Reimer


Today we return to the writing of Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well.

The Divine Presence

One of the most amazing promises of God to His people is: “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” To His threatened prophet, Isaiah, God declared: “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. Do not fear, for I am with you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

In spite of His people’s oft waywardness, God led them through forty years of wilderness, with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, assurances of His presence with them, His protection of them, and His purpose for them.

When Jesus told His frightened disciples He was going to leave them, He also assured them, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. After a little while the world will behold me no more; but you will behold Me; because I live, you shall live also. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me and I in you.

What could be more awesome and reassuring than to know the Creator of the universe, God Almighty, Sovereign over all, is with us, even in us? That is the reality for all who believe in, and receive, the saving work of Jesus Christ. What security and boldness that gives to our going out and coming in! What comfort in the face of trial and hardship! What meaning that brings to each new day! The eternal, all-wise God is with us. His Spirit indwells us, teaches us, leads us, enables us, provides for us, protects us. It is as He promised, “Lo, I am with you always.”

I cannot think of many things more important than this truth. It is vital to our physical, mental and spiritual well-being that we do not forget or belittle this reality. Our need and sense of the Divine Presence puts purpose and urgency into our daily reading of the Bible. It motivates and focuses prayer. It emboldens godly living and witness. It encourages fellowship with the saints. It directs worship and stimulates desire to serve God and others.

Few things are more important to the gathering of the saints than the preparation for, the hope and sense of, the presence of the Lord. Jesus declared, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” Knowing human nature, its tendency to neglect, and its prone-ness to fear, God gave to Israel clear signs of His presence: the cloud, the fire, the tabernacle/temple, the ark, the altar, the bread and wine, the priesthood, the prophets, the apostles, elders, and His Word full of promises. All of it speaks of Him and His holy presence.

It is a sad loss to the church today that for the most part we have put aside the few visuals that once served to remind us of the Divine Presence – the familiarity, instruction and beauty of hymns, the reading of Scripture, the communion table, the pulpit, and the stark simplicity of a wooden cross. Of course, God is bigger than all of that, but each of those symbols spoke volumes to gathered saints. Their absence tends to exaggerate/glorify the role of persons and gifts rather than the Spirit and truth. Sadly, we rarely sense or experience the awe-inspiring Divine Presence. Far too often true, humble worship is lost in the shadow of giftedness.

The emotion and movement of creativity, commonality, noise, immodesty, darkness and technology have replaced the support of melody, harmony, humility, light, familiarity and quietness. With so much clamor and movement it is hard to sense the otherness and grandeur, the holiness and authority, of God, His voice and His Spirit – the Divine Presence. Perhaps, during this time of upheaval, we need to re-think many things.

Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever. . . . Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts.

 

July 18, 2020

J. I. Packer Quotations

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Yesterday the Christian world learned of the passing of the man Wikipedia describes as an “English-born Canadian theologian;” J. I. Packer. His books — numbering over 50 — have been staples in Christian bookstores for decades. But his name may appear elsewhere in your library, as John Stackhouse noted a few years ago, “Perhaps no one in history has written more endorsements and prefaces to the books of others than Packer did.” He was 93.

One tribute noted, “In Knowing God, he quoted Jeremiah 6:16, with its image of the ‘ancient paths…where the good way is,’ claiming that his book was a call to follow those old paths.

ESV.Jer.16v6a Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.

Read these slowly and allow each to percolate inside you!


“In the New Testament, grace means God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending his only Son to the cross to descend into hell so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven.”


“A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of Himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all.”


“Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.”


“I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, One who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted for me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.”


“To know that nothing happens in God’s world apart from God’s will may frighten the godless, but it stabilizes the saints.”


“Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”


“Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.”


“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.”


“The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God’s word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.”


“Not until we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty…acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts and willing to have our minds turned upside down can divine wisdom become ours.”


“Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.”


“‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”


“Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New-Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, … the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death.”


“Historical exegesis is only the preliminary part of interpretation. Application is its essence. Exegesis without application should not be called interpretation at all.”


“All true theology has an evangelistic thrust, and all true evangelism is theology in action.”


“God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependence on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away. To live with your ‘thorn’ uncomplainingly—that is, sweet, patient, and free in heart to love and help others, even though every day you feel weak—is true sanctification. It is true healing for the spirit. It is a supreme victory of grace.”


Sources: GoodReads, Gospel Coalition, AZ Quotes, Inspiriting Quotes, Logos Talk, Heartlight, Quote Tab.

July 9, 2020

Father in Heaven: How Praying the Lord’s Prayer Can Help us Pray Through the Disconnect

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. Like we are trying to connect with God, but it feels like he is up there, we are down here, and “never the twain shall meet.” We may feel like the Psalmist in Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

Psalms 42:1-3 (NRSV)

Our best, sometimes only, prayer may be like one of my brother’s favourite expressions “beam me up Scotty, this planet sucks!” Lord, just let me escape this world and its problems.

Our prayers are to go much further than that, prayer itself being much deeper than that. Prayer is connecting with God, inviting God to participate in our lives as we seek to participate in God’s.

We are going to take a deep dive into prayer over the summer and we will do so through the core teaching of Jesus on prayer; the Lord’s Prayer. So let us begin, appropriately enough, at the beginning.

The very first word of the Lord’s Prayer, if we are reading the original Greek, is Father. This means that the very first thought, the very first thing we are to expect to experience, is intimacy with God. That is where prayer begins, with a recognition and acknowledgement of intimacy with God.

Prayer begins with the recognition that praying matters, because prayer is heard. We need not pray wondering and worrying if there is some God up there who might hear us. We pray knowing that God has revealed himself to us as the one who does hear, who listens as a good father does.

There are speed bumps on the way to this experience of intimacy.

For starters, religion may have taught us to doubt God’s desire for intimacy. Religion may teach us that God is there, yes, but God is just waiting to punish us.

The story of the prodigal son comes to mind. The story of a son who demands his inheritance even before the death of his father. The story of a son who went away from his family chasing the “good life.” The story of a son who realised that being a servant in his father’s household would be much better than where he ended up.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Luke 15:20-24 (NLT)

This is our story. God is not waiting to punish us. God is waiting for us to come home. When we are done with trying to live life on our own, when we recognise that we have separated ourselves from God, when we return to the Lord, he runs to us and embraces us. No matter what religion may tell us, intimacy with God is possible, for it is something God longs for.

The whole story of the Bible comes to mind. God created us for intimacy with Him. We ran away. God kept in relationship with us through the covenants and prophets. We continued to be on the run. Then God came to us in Jesus, and in doing so opened the door to our coming home. When we return, God runs to us with a warm and welcoming embrace.

The second speed bump on the way to intimacy is that our own fathers may have taught us to be frightened of fathers. We may have learned from an early age that intimacy with a father is not possible. Some people have been seriously hurt by the very people that should make them feel safe.

I was trained in seminary to never begin a public prayer with “Father.” This is out of sensitivity to those for whom the image just won’t work. While I’m not inclined to move away from traditional language for God, some people think of “Heavenly parent,” or even “Heavenly mother” instead. Since I don’t know what it is like to live with such wounds, I think holding out some understanding is the “do unto others” thing to do. What we don’t want to lose sight of, though, is the intimacy of God the relational terms provide. Always beginning our prayers with “Creator God,” or “Lord God,” misses the reminder of intimacy which Jesus would have us think of as pray.

A third speed bump on the way to intimacy with God is our own idea that God is far away. We may, in fact, think this is what Jesus has in mind when he teaches us to pray “Father, in heaven.” There is a reason that Jesus teaches us to pray “Father, in the heavens” and it has nothing to do with distance. It has to do with the transcendence of God. Heaven is not far away, it is a completely different realm. God is not far away from us, but He is very different from us.

What we mean by the transcendence of God is that, though we are created in the image of God, God is not like us in fundamental ways. God is God, we are not. God is eternal, we are created. God is Creator, we are created to be creative, but we cannot create out of nothing. God is able to save sinners. I do well to save a document. God knows all truth. We do not, and we would do well to admit that more often than we do.  God is omnipresent, try as we might, we cannot be in two places at once. God is holy, we are often wholly messed up.

As we pray, we begin with the reminder that God, though intimate like a father listening intently beside us, is not limited to sitting beside us, nor prone to the limitations of even the best of fathers. Our Heavenly Father is God, with all the powers and purposes that go along with being God. He is profoundly capable.

In teaching us to pray “Father, who is in the heavens,” our prayers begin with a focus on an absolutely amazing fact: God, who is so not like us, and whom we rebelled against, still wants an intimate relationship with us. God, who could have hit the delete button on us ages ago hit send instead; He sent his son. God came to us Himself, as God the Son. This is the opposite of “beam me up Scotty” we mentioned earlier. Far from taking us out of the world, God enters our world of suffering, to begin the process of making a better world, to help us look forward to an even better world still. God came to us in Jesus so that intimacy with God whom we sinned against could happen.

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. The Psalmist is honest about that feeling of discontent in Psalm 42. But the disconnect is a feeling. The Psalmist also knows the fact of the connection:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalms 42:11 (NRSV)

The feeling of disconnect we may feel from God is just that, a feeling, and it is temporary. The connection with God through Jesus is a fact, and is permanent.

Jesus teaches us to remember the facts as we begin to pray, praying “Father in heaven.” Let us remember the amazing intimacy we can have with an amazing God, thanks to his amazing grace.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church services where he ministers due to COVID-19 precautions.

May 11, 2020

Have You Been Conscious of God’s Love in the Past Week?

This is an excerpt from Healthy Me, Healthy Us: Your Relationships Are Only as Strong as You Are by: Dr. Les Parrott and Dr. Leslie Parrott releasing later this month with Thomas Nelson. To read the full excerpt go to Devotions Daily. Learn more about the book at this link.

How to Change Your Negative Self-Talk

…In the 1700s, Jonathan Edwards used a simple analogy: “There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness.” You can know honey is sweet because someone tells you, but you don’t really know its sweetness until you’ve tasted it.

We’re talking about opening your heart and allowing the sweetness of God’s love to be experienced. This is more about your heart than your head. It’s what John Wesley was getting at in pondering God’s love when he described his heart as being “strangely warmed.” Pascal, who was a mathematician and scientist as well as a philosopher, said his heart was “directed into the love of God.” It’s a feeling at the center of our beings. It’s beyond knowing with your head. In fact, it’s beyond comprehension. How can you wrap your head around being loved by the Creator — so much so that you feel it?

When I (Les) was a graduate student in seminary, a professor asked a class of more than fifty students: “How many of you experience God’s love?” He quickly added, “Don’t raise your hands on impulse. Think about it and only raise your hand if you know the feeling of being loved by God.” Out of this room of students preparing for ministry, how many hands went up? Fewer than a dozen. Those who didn’t raise their hands gave answers like “I know I’m supposed to say that I have… I know the Bible says He loves me… but I don’t feel it.” Some even admitted that God felt cold, aloof, and demanding — not loving.

The professor wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t his first time to pose the question to a class of students. He followed it up with another: “How many of you have been conscious of God’s love for you, personally, in the past week?” No hands went up this time. He waited a couple of beats and continued: “How many have been conscious of God’s disapproval of you this week?” Hands shot up all around the room.

If you want to experience God’s love, if you want to feel it deep in your spirit, you’ve got to admit that you are indeed inadequate — that you haven’t and will not ever earn God’s love. It’s an impossibility.

You can only receive it as a grace gift. When God tells us,
Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually.
— 1 Chronicles 16:11 ESV

He is not merely making a suggestion. He designed us to live with Him. That’s where we find health, wholeness, and fulfillment. Jesus underscored this when He said,
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
— John 10:10 ESV

You may feel as though a million hurdles stand in your way to experiencing God’s love — guilt, shame, blame, perfectionism, legalism, inadequacies, hurts — but be assured that nobody has or ever will earn the love of God. Each of us is undeserving. But when we open our hearts to receive it and continually walk with God to experience it, our internal dialogue forever changes…


Taken from Healthy Me, Healthy Us: Your Relationships Are Only as Strong as You Are by: Dr. Les Parrott and Dr. Leslie Parrott Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

March 31, 2020

Connecting With God’s Presence

Two years ago this month we introduced you to the devotional First 15 — for the first 15 minutes of your day — from Seedbed. Today we’re back with them again. Click the header below to read this at source, where it appears along with the music video for the day or with the option of hearing an audio version of today’s reading.

  • lee esto en español: Read today’s devotional in Spanish

The Reality of God’s Presence

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Psalm 139:7-8

It’s a troubling truth in Christianity today that many believers don’t know about or aren’t experiencing continual encounter with the real, manifest presence of God. The Bible contains story after story of life-changing, world-altering encounters with the reality of God’s presence. From Moses and the tent of meeting to the disciples at Pentecost, we continually read about God supernaturally encountering his people in real, transformative ways. Jesus died so that we might walk in communion with our heavenly Father not only in heaven, but here on this earth. Biblical characters modeled what it was to experience God consistently in both the New and Old Testaments. God, in his desire to have restored relationship with you, has made the reality of his presence fully available to you. Through the death of Christ there is nothing separating you from him. Before we dive into different stories of God’s manifest presence on the earth, let’s take time to focus on the biblical basis for encountering God. Open your heart and mind to the truth about God’s nearness and allow your faith to be stirred for all the ways your heavenly Father would transform your life through encounter with him.

Psalm 139:7-8 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Acts 17:26-28 says,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Scripture is clear that God is omnipresent and his presence can be tangible to us. David describes God’s presence this way: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

The sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 84:1-2, How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Then in verses 10-12 they declare,

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

There is no doubt in looking at Scripture that God’s presence is real, good, and available to us. Rest in the truth of that for a moment. You can consistently enter into the tangible presence of your heavenly Father anywhere and anytime. Have faith today that God created you to experience him. Encountering his presence is made possible entirely by his grace, so it is available apart from any good or bad thing you do. But, know that God will never force his presence on you. He only fills up what is open and ready to receive. He sweetly calls you to meet with him and waits for you to make space in your life to receive what he longs to give.

There is no more life-giving pursuit you can embark on than the pursuit of God’s presence. Spending time resting in him is meant to be the satisfaction that lays a foundation for you to live the life of abundance made available to you through Jesus. Your role in encountering God is simply seeking him. If you will make time to encounter him, open your heart, and have faith in his word, then you will discover the wellspring of life, joy, love, and transformation that is the presence of our heavenly Father.

Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “You will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Seek and find the presence of the living God today as you meditate on his word and pray.

Prayer:

1. Meditate on the availability of God’s presence. Allow your faith to be stirred up in response to God’s word.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Psalm 139:7-8

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” Acts 17:26-28

2. Now meditate on the goodness of God’s presence. Allow your desires to be stirred as you read about the wonders of encountering the living God.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Psalm 84:1-2

3. Open your heart to receive his presence. Ask the Spirit to make known God’s nearness. Seek his presence and have faith in his word that when you seek him you will find him.

“But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6


That wraps up ten years of Christianity 201. Tomorrow we begin year eleven!

January 1, 2020

A Year of Vision

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Just face it. You’re going to see many, many references over the next 366 days connecting the year 2020 to the idea of 20/20 vision. So vision seemed like a good place to start.

We kick off the year with an article from a site that is relatively new and offering resources for the whole family, Minno Life brings us this brief devotional by Carlie Kercheval.

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

As we enter into a new year, many people are searching for a fresh, new start and a new vision of what God has for their life. And with it being 2020, this seems like the perfect year for vision and clarity.

In the world of optometry 20/20 vision refers to a person’s visual acuity. More specifically, 20/20 vision measures how clearly a person can see objects 20 feet away. There are limits to what we can see clearly with the naked eye.

Yet, isn’t it amazing to know that there are no limits on the vision and clarity that God brings into our lives? His omnipotence means that there are no limits or constraints to His vision, and His truth stands the test of time.

Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about vision and lean into His Word for wisdom to enter into this new decade and beyond.

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

Without a Vision People Perish

Where there is no vision, the people perish . . . Proverbs 29:18 KJV

One of the things that this verse makes very clear is that a vision is vital to carrying out God’s will for our lives. And without any revelation of His will, we have no way of creating a Christ-fueled vision for our family. However, when we are actively seeking God, we not only download His vision for our lives, we are able to teach our children to do the same. Our children watch everything we do and by modeling a life of seeking God, we are sowing an eternal legacy that will bless our children’s children.

God Has a Good Plan

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

The words of Jeremiah 29:11 bring a confident peace in knowing our good Father has a good plan for our lives. He promises us that we have hope and a future. Knowing this gives us a great understanding of what our future with Christ holds, and it is always good. This is so comforting as a parent as we seek to teach our children about God’s love and goodness. This verse is a wonderful way to keep God’s vision for us at the forefront of our minds, especially when circumstances are leading us to believe otherwise. It is important that we hold fast to the vision of God’s plans to guide and protect us as we raise our children unto Him.

The Holy Spirit Shows Us Things to Come

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. John 16:13 NIV

I don’t know about you, but this verse gets me really excited. Why? Because Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will show us His truth and things to come. This is especially helpful through the different stages of parenting so we can continue to trust in Jesus for our children’s future. That means when we position ourselves to hear God speaking to us through prayer, reading the Bible, and worship, that He will give us wisdom about His vision for our future. I am so thankful for this promise!

The beautiful thing about serving a mighty God like ours is that He is all-seeing and all-knowing. There are no limits to the wisdom and vision that He gives as He shows us things to come through His Word and His Holy Spirit. Be sure to keep this truth at the forefront of your heart as you enter into this new year!


Go Deeper: The website Bible in One Year offers an article on the importance of vision, the power of vision and the fulfillment of vision. Check out From Vision to Action.

August 25, 2019

Seeing God Accurately

It’s been several weeks since we introduced a new author here, but on the weekend we discovered Geno Pyse, who describes himself as “an author, poet, musician, ordained minister, and avid animal lover.”

This is part two of a two-part (so far) series. If you wish to read the first part first, click this link.

The Importance of Correct Perception of Him

In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer writes how modern man tends to think of idolatry in terms of people bowing to figures carved of stone, metal, or wood. However, idolatry begins in the mind, even if no overt worship takes place. Tozer goes on to explain that idolatry is any entertaining of thoughts about God not worthy of Him, not only worshipping something other than Him.

This has great relevance in our society that views God in so many different ways other than what He reveals in the Scriptures, and that tries to use Him for political and financial gain. This also has great relevance within modern Christendom where many of its adherents often seem to stress more as to whether or not they like the worship services, rather than truly considering if He likes them.

Nearly across the board people believe in God’s love. Certainly love is part of God’s character. The Scriptures declare, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 [ESV]). However, it is imperative we understand His overarching attribute—holiness! This attribute is the umbrella to every other one. Holy means “set apart; other; extraordinary; transcendent.” It is the only attribute of His mentioned to the third degree—and in both the Old and New Testaments:

And [the seraphim] called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isaiah 6:3)

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)

God’s love is a pure, holy love. His love will never be separated or go against His holiness. Jesus says the Father desires worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23-24). So, to profess God’s love while disregarding His holiness is to make a mockery of true worship and to plummet heart first into idolatry, which leads to holy judgment.

One of the tragic cycles we read of in the Old Testament is the Israelites’ regression into idolatry. Integrating the customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the people around them into the worship of God, only to drift away from Him without even realizing it. Perplexed and angered by the prophets rebukes and confrontations, all the while indulging in the immorality of the cult religions of Baal and Astarte, and the child sacrifice of Moloch (something God declares that never even entered His mind [see Jeremiah 7:31]).

One of my great concerns for many churches today is the adapting of customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the secular and pagan society around us, trying to integrate these into the Christian faith, dismissing the very attributes and ways of God He reveals to us in the Scriptures.

Jesus said of some of the religious people of the day, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me’” (Mark 7:6-7).

And one of the most haunting things He says is, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

God is holy, but He is also loving. Although He is loving, may we remember He is also holy, holy, holy, and His love is a holy love. If we try to tweak these to accommodate our desires or to condone or justify our beloved sins, we are guilty of idolatry. To not desire God as He is is merely to desire a god of our own making.

 

March 18, 2019

Videoing God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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…and Videoing Ourselves

Seven years ago we visited the website Glory to God for All Things written from an Orthodox perspective by Fr. Stephen Freeman. Somehow we lost track of Father Stephen in the intervening years, but today we catch up. I believe that our Orthodox friends have much to teach us in many different areas. You’re encouraged to click the header below in order to read this at source.

Facing Up to God

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor. 3:18

Among the most striking of all images in St. Paul’s writing is his description of beholding the glory of God with an unveiled face. It’s a very difficult passage to translate. The word rendered “beholding” in the translation quoted above is actually “to see something as in a mirror” (κατοπτριζόμενοι). One commentary describes this as a mirror making something visible that would otherwise be invisible. This is, in fact, Christ Himself, who is the “glory of God.” In Christ, we see God Himself. It is equally striking that St. Paul describes this “seeing” as transformative. How is it that merely gazing at something, we are changed into its very image?

This question takes us into the heart of Biblical and Orthodox understanding. The Greek word for knowing, is related to the word for seeing. Indeed, it has the same root as our word “video.” It imagines a form of seeing, a depth of seeing, that is often absent in our conversations. It is there to a certain extent in our phrase, “Do you see what I mean?” There is an assumption that truly seeing, truly understanding, and truly knowing are one and the same act. We hear this echoed in St. John:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He [Christ] appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2

Of course, a key in all of this is found in the word “truly.” Its implications are found in Christ’s saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” When read in the light of St. Paul’s “beholding as in a mirror,” this is revealed to be an ongoing, reciprocal action. As we see, we become pure. As we become pure, we see more clearly.

This same action could be described as a “refining fire.” What we see (of God) also reveals the truth of ourselves. The sight of that truth, when compared with the sight of God, “burns.” This burning, refining image is the only true mirror of the soul. It is this aspect of seeing God that often causes us to turn away.

It is a very rare thing to have an accurate glimpse of ourselves. The amount of debris and dissonance that shroud the soul make it difficult clouds our vision. We look for the self, but see shame. And though we imagine that clarity of sight would merely be a matter of the will, it is not that simple. The life of the soul has a great complexity and is not obedient to the whims of what we imagine to be the “will.” Our “willing” is largely the work of the “gnomic will” (when we’re not merely obeying our passions and calling that “willing”). This is a distortion of the true will (the “natural will”). To see the truth, even of ourselves, does not belong to those things we have at our demand.

The Tradition is filled with a different language regarding the heart. We pray, “Open to me the gates of repentance,” and “create in me a clean heart,” and “grant me an image of repentance,” and so forth. The “will” is evident in the offering of such prayers, but it is not in our power (alone) to make it so.

I once heard it said that if we were to see the true depth of our sin and brokenness in a single moment, we would not be able to bear it. I have also heard it said that if we were to see the truth of our existence in the image and likeness of God, we would be overwhelmed by the beauty and imagine that we had seen God Himself. Both are true and neither are to be taken lightly or deemed a minor matter. In plain speech, we’re not ready for such truth.

In the Scriptures, Simon Peter does not see the truth of himself. The first intimation is a revelation of glory – Christ names him, “the rock.” Another revelation comes when he is rebuked by Christ who says, “Get behind me Satan!” He is warned of his impending failure when he will deny Christ and is told that “the devil has desired to sift you like wheat.” A deeper and greater moment comes, following his denial, when he “went out and wept bitterly.” His restoration after the resurrection begins to reveal yet more. He sees both the failure of his love, as well as Christ’s steadfastness. He is told to “feed my sheep.” Lastly, we are told in a veiled manner of the final test and revelation of Peter who will end his life in martyrdom – having become the rock that is the truth of his being. It is the story of a lifetime.

St. Peter’s story points to the very character of our salvation. The journey towards the true vision of God is lifelong. It is as much or more the outworking of God’s providence than the outcome of some long chain of excellent choices on our part. What we see of St. Peter is a guide for us. He remained loyal to Christ. When he fell, he returned. When he returned and the questions became difficult, he remained. When his last trial of martyrdom came, he finally resisted the temptation to flee and journeyed to the place that Christ Himself was leading him.

This is a map for every day, as well as a lifetime. When you fall (and you will), get up. When the fall reveals more of yourself to you, don’t run, justify or pretend otherwise. Be steadfast and patient. You do not yet see as you will see – either of yourself or of God. But, we have a promise, when it is all said and done, we will see Him as He is, and we will be like Him.

In all faces is seen the Face of faces, veiled, and in a riddle; howbeit unveiled it is not seen, until above all faces a man enters into a certain secret and mystic silence where there is no knowledge or concept of a face. This mist, cloud, darkness or ignorance into which he that seeks Your face enters, when he goes beyond all knowledge or concept, is the state below which Your face cannot be found except veiled; but that very darkness reveals Your face to be there, beyond all veils. – Nicholas of Cusa, The Vision of God

 

February 10, 2019

The First Commandment is the Cornerstone for the Other Nine

Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the LORD.
 Psalm 144:15

Listen to me and make up your minds to honor my name,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “or I will bring a terrible curse against you. I will curse even the blessings you receive. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you have not taken my warning to heart.
 Malachi 2:2

And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
 Deuteronomy 6:5  
(all NLT)

More than anything else in the past two years, our Sunday Worship feature has resulted in us connecting with a great variety of writers in a the widest variety of places. This time around the search process took us to Pembrokeshire, Wales; and to a congregation where a large number of the leadership take turns in delivering the weekly sermon. The article was written by Gareth Edwards and appeared on the website of Penuel Baptist Chapel, Roch. The article really didn’t have a title, so we gave it one, and you can learn more by clicking on the header which follows.

No Other Gods

You shall have no other gods before me.’ Exodus 20:3

The first four commandments are about our relationship with God and lay the foundation for the remaining six, which refer to our relationship with others. To be right with God is our first priority, it gives the basis on which we can be right with others. Even within the first four commandments there is a logical progression. The first commandment acts as a cornerstone on which the rest are constructed. ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3) is the prime directive for life.

Each of the commandments is expressed as a negative, ‘You shall not.’ The purpose of the commandments being presented in negative language is to underline a positive. The first commandment tells us that we are to worship God alone. God is demanding an exclusive commitment to Him alone. All must be put aside (verse 5). The Lord speaks about Himself as being a jealous God. He will not share us with anyone or anything else. God is jealous for His people. They are His, they belong to no other. He is jealous for all His creation. Therefore, the devotion of our lives in worship belongs uniquely to God (Isaiah 42:8).

Why is this so? There are no other gods. He is the only supreme God (Isaiah 44:6). There are no other gods, but men invent them. When men refuse to worship the true God they make false ones. They have a natural desire to worship. If they refuse to worship the one true God, they will worship a lie (Romans 1). There are no gods – just the foolish rebellion of men (1 Corinthians 8:4). God expects the exclusive worship of our lives. He alone is deserving of worship.

He alone has done all. The Ten Commandments are set against the context of God saving Israel against tyranny (verse 2). They were to worship God not only because of who He is, but also because of what He has done for them. For them and for us there is nothing better than to spend our lives in the worship of the one who gave us life in the first place, and whose grace has brought us spiritual life through the death of His Son at Calvary.

It’s unjust and ungrateful that we should give away our worship to anyone but God. It is He who gives us life, He who gives us our daily blessings, He who gives us new birth and eternal life.

What are the implications of the first commandment?

  1. The Almighty is God alone, therefore we should render to Him alone the adoration and worship of our lives. This is the very purpose of our existence – to fulfill a calling to worship God and to give to Him the unadulterated commitment of all we have. The Westminster Confession begins ‘The chief end of man is the glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.’

Psalm 144:15. There’s nothing more worthwhile then the worship of the triune God in every part of our lives. It is a particular grace and blessing of God that we come together to enjoy worshipping Him. That’s the purpose of this day, a day set apart in which we come together to glorify His name and to enjoy Him. Did you come this Sunday morning to have the privilege of worshipping God and to enjoy Him, to meet with Him? The songs and sermon are the means to the end, to enjoying God.

We were made to know God. When we sacrifice our lives for His glory we experience what it means to be truly human. This commandment is for our blessing.

  1. What fools men are. They will worship everything and anything rather than the one true God. There are those who will worship idols – the gods of man’s imagination. Romans 1:21-23. God declares men either worship Him or waste their lives in the pursuit of imaginary gods. Those who reject Him come under His curse. Malachi 2:2.

Men, in their sin, reject God and are rejected by Him. Our nation is under the curse of God. The lives of our friends and family members are under the curse of God because in their sinful rebellion they do not worship Him. They have gods of their own imagination and creation. There are those who will think they are so intellectually complete that they think they are wise and can look disdainfully down on us. Were we once not with them – devoted to other gods? Did not God, in His grace and mercy, have compassion on us and open our eyes to see, open our ears to hear and open our hearts to know Christ? How gracious God has dealt with us. He has called us to Himself. Will we not pray for our friends, our family, the people of Roch, of Wales, Europe and the world, that God will have mercy upon them as He has mercy on us? Their greatest need is to know Him, to know that there is but one God and that He is to be worshipped for who He is and what He has done. Will we not tell them, preach to them, by the lives we live, declaring here is the Lord Almighty, and you must know and worship Him, have your sins forgiven? Man is a fool until God’s grace comes.

  1. You cannot worship God half-heartedly. He demands our all (Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30. He’s unwilling to share this with anyone else. This doesn’t mean we can’t serve our community and others. What it means is it’s shaped by our desire to glorify God in all that we do. In our love for our family, to do a good job of work, primarily our deepest desire in doing all of these things is that He will be glorified. In all we do we are to have a single-minded dedication to the Lord which puts Him first, above all else. We must guard against doing anything in the name of the Lord which, in fact, we are doing for ourselves, for our own praise. That is a denial of the first Commandment. We cannot play games with God. This is the most serious business, the worship of the Lord Almighty. Because it is so serious we need the help of God, God the Holy Spirit, when we fail in this duty, which we so often do. We need to know the saving grace that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh gracious God, grant to me the strength, the faith, the desire to honour you in all things. You are worthy to be praised.
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