Christianity 201

July 24, 2017

Mystery: God’s Transcendence and God’s Friendship

Last year at this time we quoted Gary Henry at WordPoints as part of a longer article. Today we’re back with two recent posts from his site which show two sides of God: That he is wholly other (transcendence) and can also be our friend (immanence).  Click the titles of each to read at source and then take some time to look around the rest of the site.

Awed by God’s Grandeur

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28:17).

ON SOME LEVEL, EVERY HUMAN BEING CAN UNDERSTAND THE AMAZEMENT OF JACOB WHEN HE REALIZED WHAT HE WAS SEEING

As he slept that night at Bethel, fleeing from his brother’s wrath and with a stone as his pillow, he dreamed of “a ladder [that] was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). Above the ladder was God Himself, who spoke to Jacob words of promise and hope. And having grasped this portion of God’s greatness, Jacob was a man changed for the better.

Like Jacob, we need to contemplate the majesty of God and the marvel of His communication with His creation. Nothing is more healthy for us spiritually than to be struck by the wonderful lightning of God’s grandeur. It is a truly transforming experience.

It was Immanuel Kant who said, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe — the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” The connection between these two sources of wonder is more than coincidental. We can’t give serious consideration to God’s greatness without being appalled by the huge chasm between His perfection and our imperfection. To be awed by God’s grandeur is to be moved to turn away from anything inconsistent with His glory. Thus for fallen creatures like us, there must always be strong elements of humility and repentance in worship. “Repentance is the process by which we see ourselves, day by day, as we really are: sinful, needy, dependent people. It is the process by which we see God as he is: awesome, majestic, and holy” (Charles Colson). For us, godly sorrow should be a quite natural part of our reverence.

God’s grandeur . . . our need . . . unutterable awe. These things are the very heartbeat of religion. If we really live in God, we’ll lose ourselves in wonder before Him.

For worship is a thirsty land crying out for rain,
It is a candle in the act of being kindled,
It is a drop in quest of the ocean, . . .
It is a voice in the night calling for help,
It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the universe, . . .
It is time flowing into eternity, . . .
[It is] a man climbing the altar stairs to God.
(Dwight Bradley)

What Good Is God’s Friendship?

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

COULD WE POSSIBLY PUT A PRICE TAG ON GOD’S FRIENDSHIP?

Even among all the good things that are available to us, is there anything that a wise person wouldn’t give up in order to have God? The privilege of knowing God through Christ so far surpasses the value of everything else that Paul said he would gladly “count all things loss” in order to have this one thing.

God’s friendship is good not because it “pays” us to be His friend, but simply because of God Himself. Whatever blessings may flow from God (and there are many indeed), these are only secondary benefits or by-products of our friendship with Him. If such things ever take center stage and become our primary motivation, they cease to be good things and become idols. Nothing must be allowed to take the place of God in our hearts, not even God’s own gifts to us. To have God alone is to have wealth untold, and to be without Him is the very definition of poverty.

But although God’s friendship surpasses the worth of anything else in existence, we not only fail to value it as we should, but there are times when we go so far as to trade it away. Faced with a choice between God’s friendship and that of our worldly peers, we often seek the favor of our peers by doing things that greatly damage our relationship with God. Maybe we suppose that we can have it both ways, or maybe we’re just being thoughtless. But in any case, we’re being quite foolish when we try to maintain equal measures of God’s friendship and the friendship of the world. James put it bluntly: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23,24).

“We regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire” (Gregory of Nyssa).

 

 

January 13, 2017

The Origin of Our Capacity for Fear

Today’s study is the product of Martin and the team at Flagrant Regard. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Do You Struggle With The Concept Of Having To Fear The Lord? We Have A Patch For That!

Our fall Bible study has been centered on the Book of Proverbs and, a few weeks ago, the term ‘fear of the Lord’ came up for discussion. We examined the mystery of ‘fearing God’ as it often elicits thoughts of, or concerns about, a God who supposedly requires that we be frightened of Him. Our pastor, and facilitator of the study, wanted us to delve into what it means to ‘fear the Lord’ as it seems to stand in direct opposition to our being told that God is love. Is there a paradox here for the way we are to live – either ‘in fear mixed with love’ or ‘in love mixed with fear’ and do such dispositions affect how we feel about God?

As part of a New Year’s commitment, I hope to read more of the Bible and spend less time Internet-ing. Just yesterday, I came upon an interesting passage in Jeremiah that got me thinking about the topic at hand. I hope my personal discovery regarding this proves to be valuable to anyone who has struggled with the whole ‘fear of the Lord’ issue or teachings surrounding it.

fear-flagrant-regardBefore I present the Bible passage, I’d like you to consider something rather interesting. Every good attribute of God that we as humans share – love, gentleness, kindness, self-restraint, etc. – is considered the ‘fruit’ of a spiritual life. But where does fear fit into all of this? Fear is not considered to be a fruit of the Spirit, so what is it to the believer and why do we need it? 1

Fear is interesting in that: a) God does not manifest or experience it; and b) it is a reactive response to an outside stimulus, something we share with the animal world, even.

If God doesn’t possess fear as a characteristic, then why does He regard it as a good thing for us (as per the writers of Scripture) and why would it make us more Godly?

Well let’s think about another good thing God doesn’t need. Repentance. God has no need to apologize for anything (although some prominent atheists would disagree). But without repentance (a change of mind especially concerning the will of God) we are clearly told that no human being can access God. And so, if repentance (like fear) isn’t an attribute of God, then what is it?

Fear and repentance both seem to be presented to us in the Bible as a reflexive action, harmonized with our response to God’s promptings or influence.

In the physical world, reflexes and responses can be honed and sharpened. Watch any budding martial artist working hard at their craft and you’ll see that come into play in a matter of time. Is it the same for those of us whose lives are focused on spiritual development? Can responding to everything life throws at us with a reflexive ‘Godly fear’ be of any benefit to His children? Will it have us thinking better of God’s character or disposition toward us in the long run?

And now onto the passage that shows us why fear of the Lord is not only important, but essential for living well.

(36) … this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: (37) I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. (38) They will be my people, and I will be their God. (39) I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. (40) I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. (41) I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.
Jeremiah 32: 36-41 (NIV translation)

According to the above Scripture, it is only after God gives us a ‘singleness of heart and action’ that Godly fear can even enter into our lives. Further, the fruit or benefit resulting from this particular fear is, “that all will go well for us and our children”. Fear is, if we interpret this text correctly, a reactive or reflexive response to God that not only gives his people peace of mind but extends this promise to those we treasure dearly!

God then compounds the importance of fear in verse 40 by showing us that after something incredible (i.e., salvation) has been gifted to us, as well as promising to continually do good things for us, He will ‘inspire us’ to fear Him.

Why?

So that we will never turn away from Him.

This healthy Godly fear is like His word: ‘God-inspired’. It is furthermore something you cannot actively develop or appreciate in your own strength. This fear is more like a gift (once again similar to repentance) that is infused into our souls to keep us on the straight-and-narrow where, to put it simply, it is a safer and better place to be. Is it so wrong for Godly fear to hold prominence in our thoughts and actions so that all will go well for us and so that we may continually recognize, as the Psalmist said, “It is good to be near God.”? 2

I think it’s important, at this point, to distinguish between Godly fear and worldly fear.

Worldly fear is primal and can result in one’s being frozen like a deer in the headlights or in the fight-or-flight response. It can prompt chivalry in some and cowardice in others and is rarely viewed as a desirable thing.

But Godly fear is fruit-of-the-Spirit producing. The more of it we have, the better (and more immediate) our response is to the moral quandaries presented to us by the world we live in and the better our ability to see our way through the many challenges we will face in our lifetime. In conjunction with holy fear, we are given oceans of hope that are fed by the springs of God’s many great promises – promises we’d be fools to forget or ignore lest we lose out on all the benefits God has already showered on us, His children.

Preacher George MacDonald once said, “A perfect faith would lift us absolutely above fear.” That’s very true, but our faith is not yet perfect. We are ‘in process’. We live in the ‘now and not yet’ because of our frail humanity. Fear of the Lord then, in its purest form, can do nothing but evoke our deep love and utmost respect for the God who rescues us from darkness every day we find ourselves still breathing.

Truly, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.3

© 2017 Flagrant Regard


1 See Book of Jude, Chap. 1, vrs. 23, Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians Chap. 5, vrs. 11
2 Book of Psalms Chap. 73, vrs. 28
3 Book of Proverbs Chap. 9, vrs. 10

September 8, 2014

Knowing Our Place; Knowing God’s Place

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
..” Isaiah 55:8-9

For our devotional thoughts today we return to the blog of First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux City, Iowa, which we visited last year. Pastor Kevin Miller’s reminder here is vital at a time when God is sometimes treated casually in both a church and secular environment. Click the title to read this at source.

Jesus: Like Us and Yet Greater Than Us

This fall, we will be working through the New Testament book of Hebrews. As part of my preparations, I like to take the time to read through an entire book repeatedly both before and in the midst of preaching it. To this end, I was recently reading through Hebrews once more and something caught my eye:

The primary point and purpose of the first several chapters of Hebrews is to establish that Christ is supreme over all. Chapter 1, for example, tells us that He is supreme over the angels. Chapter 3 tells us that Christ is superior to Moses. Later, we see that Christ is superior to Melchizedek (chapters 7-8). In short, it’s as if the bulk of Hebrews spends time exalting Christ over everyone and everything. He is the better High Priest. He is the coming King. We can’t help but be in awe of Him because He is so different than even the best of us.

And then, the turn comes: it’s not just that Christ is different and better than anyone else, it’s that He is different and better and then He dies FOR everyone else.

“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)”

The Priest literally atones for all who trust Him – for those who are, if nothing else, are very unworthy of atonement.

Jesus Christ is not like us in so many ways – we dare not simply think of Him as a good teacher or as simply a buddy. And yet, Jesus IS also like us in so many ways – He gets tired, needs to eat, rests, laughs, bleeds, and dies.

Hebrews proclaims the Gospel loud and clear: salvation comes from God Himself, through His Son, who is higher and better and more absolutely perfect than anyone else. And yet this very same Savior walks and talks and lives amongst us, both back then and someday coming soon. What a Savior! What a Lord! The exalted King walks amongst and dies on behalf of His people! He rises to new life and promises that for all who trust in Him, they too shall inherit new life in His coming kingdom.

May 2, 2014

With What Type of Fear Do You Fear God?

James 2 19

According to a … survey by the Barna Group, 78% of Christians believe there is an almighty, sovereign, supreme God. That seems to be a really large number of people and it makes our hearts glad to know that all these people believe in our God. The sad part is, many of these do not believe that God cares about and desires a personal relationship with all His children. Even more tragic is that many of those who believe in God think this is all that is necessary to live eternally with Him. The Word of God tells us that Satan, himself, believes in God. He knows God exists and has defeated him already through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s why Satan and his demons shudder at knowing God exists. The Word of God says that we must believe that He exists and believe He will reward us if we earnestly seek Him. We must be born again by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  (see note at bottom for citation)

After a 15 month term as missionaries in Argentina, Robert and his wife returned to the U.S. to raise funds to return to the mission field. As always you’re encouraged to read the articles we discover here at their source, this one was titled Fearing the Lord (click title to link).

“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!  ~ James 2:19

Explanation of the Text: It is not simply a belief that God exists that saves a person. James sarcastically responds saying that if a person believes in the one God, they do well. The verse is a reference to the Jewish Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, in which the Jewish believers to whom Jesus is writing to would have a clear understanding of. It calls belief to the only one God in verse 4 and then calls for obedience to God in verse 5. The same point James has been trying to make throughout the epistle. He takes it further though and compares that type of ‘faith’ to that of the demons, drawing the connection that without the obedience of Deuteronomy 6:5, the point of 6:4 is not worthwhile and is actually the same type of belief that the demons possess.[1]

Indeed, even the demons believe in the existence of Jesus Christ, yet it can be certain that they will not find themselves spending eternity in heaven. These demons have belief in God, in His son, and an understanding of eschatology, and yet they still willingly choose to oppose God (Mathew 8:29-31; Mark 5:7; Luke 4:41; Acts 19:15). In fact, they even have enough sense to shudder!

φρίσσω (phríssō) which is the word found in the Greek text, literally means to tremble in fear.[2] Even the demons have a fear of God, so much so, it causes them to shake or tremble. Obviously this fear is different than the that commanded in Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:13; Psalm 2:11) which refers to having a reverence for God. However, to have the fear that the demons have still requires an acceptance and understanding that He is indeed God, who will judge the world and carry out His will, and thus they will receive God’s judgment. John MacArthur rightly brings this point into perspective when he says, “In that regard, they are much more realistic and sensible than those with false faith who think they will escape God’s judgment by their shallow and superficial faith.”[3]

Examination & Application of the Text: Examine your faith today. Do you have a fear of the Lord? Is it a fear like the demons do, or is it a reverent fear that is found in Proverbs and Psalms. As one who follows Jesus Christ, it is not simply a belief that He exists that saves you, bur a healthy, reverent fear that says, “I worship you Lord. You are my God.” As you seek Him more today, trust in Him, examine yourself and ask, “Do I reverently fear the Lord?”


[1] John F. MacArthur Jr., James, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 131.

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), Entry #5425

[3] John F. MacArthur Jr., James, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 132.

 

The introduction and graphics concept to today’s post was from the blog Daily Grace, which also had this prayer:

Heavenly Father, we humbly pray that You will prepare our hearts to earnestly seek You and hunger for Your Word. Help us to not just believe You exist, but to know that You are a God who loves us, who provided a way for our sins to be forgiven by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, and who has prepared a place for us to be with Him for eternity. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

November 3, 2012

Giving Your Best to God

Just as parts of the southern hemisphere are, I’m sure, switching to “summer time,” as it’s called in many places, we here in North American are changing from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time tomorrow morning. The graphic above infers that people who chronically arrive late for church may experience the horror of arriving early.

I don’t know why it is, but some people who would never for a moment consider arriving late for work think nothing of arriving late for church. We touched on this very briefly here once before, but I want to look at it more closely this time.

Maybe it’s because Christianity is all about grace, but we tend to have a rather casual approach to worship, to scriptures, and to God Himself. I’ve quoted this before: “It is said that of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own scriptures.” We hear stories of evangelical church buildings in disrepair, of ministry organizations that don’t return calls or emails, and of Sunday School teachers who don’t prepare their lessons, opting instead to ‘wing it’ each week.

While the idea that we should “give our best to God” is well known, it is not well practiced. The Bible tends not to talk about “best” so much, but adheres to the more agrarian language of “giving our firstfruits.”

Proverbs 3:9
Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops

This nomenclature is unfamiliar to most of us; but my first observation is to note that the NIV (and other translations) don’t treat this as an adjective followed by a plural noun (as in “first fruits”) but as an entity onto itself, as one word, “firstfruits.”

Related to this is the similarity in scripture to the concept of “firstborn.”

Psalm 105:36
Then he struck down all the firstborn in their land, the firstfruits of all their manhood.

Unfortunately today, there is a great cognitive distance from thinking of our firstborn children, to setting aside the first part of our “increase” (which today is mostly wages, but could be investment earnings or business transaction profits) to God. Our offspring are extremely personal, but the value of our firstfruits isn’t highly regarded.

In fact, we tend to look an opt-out wherever possible.

  • Should I tithe on the gross income or the net income?
  • Isn’t tithing an Old Testament concept?
  • Is God interested in excellence, or does he just want our hearts?
  • Isn’t requiring weekly church attendance more about law than grace?

There’s a lot of opting out going on right now. Has God changed his mind on ideas like,

Exodus 23:19
“Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.

The term fristfruits doesn’t appear in the New Testament, but there are more than hints of excellence in worship and life:

1 Corinthians 14:40
But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

1 Corinthians 16:14
Do everything in love.

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters

Personally, I think that arriving late for church is symptomatic of a greater problem. Or several problems. The same goes for halfhearted singing, preaching, praying and serving.

We should approach weekend worship as though we are coming directly into the presence of God because, well, we are.

~Paul Wilkinson