God of Our Own Understanding

lightstock_294429_xsmall_user_1188538Several times this week I’ve been confronted by others perspectives on God.  At an AA meeting, celebrating a friend’s sobriety, I heard testimony from others about how they trusted in God – “as they understood Him.”  A best-selling book has become a movie and will most likely make millions – but yet it portrays God in a way that is different from the Bible.   A popular “Christian” artist caused a firestorm on Twitter by discrediting the Orthodox teaching of Jesus’ substitutionary death for us on the cross.

Is any of this a big deal?  Social media has seen a slew of reprisal posts calling for people to “calm down” with all this doctrine and just love each other, after all people…we aren’t supposed to be theologians, are we?  That’s just for seminarians, Pastors, and other egg-heads, right? [No…that picture is not me…]  Well…yes, we are…because anytime we open our mouth (out loud or online) about God, we are theologians.  So it is sort of a big deal- because like it or not, we are all theologians.  The question remains will we be good theologians or bad ones?

The way to be a good theologian is to seek to know God where he reveals himself and teaches us about himself – in His Word, the Bible.  We must therefore conform our thoughts about God to be aligned with what’s in the Bible, not of our own understanding. Here…don’t believe me – look what the Bible says…

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

(1 Corinthians 2:12–13 ESV)

Two applications come from consideration of this passage.

  1. The Holy Spirit brings understanding.  Our eyes have to be opened by God to understand spiritual things.  Jesus is the one who “utters the words of God and gives the Spirit without measure.” [John 3:34] so we receive the Holy Spirit through hearing the Word of God proclaimed about Jesus…the gospel.  After conversion, we continue to seek deeper growth and understanding through the Holy Spirit causing us to understand God’s word.
  2. Theology informs our lives – we live out what we believe.  Humans are interpreters.  We all have a worldview, a perspective that we filter life through.  What we believe about God is HUGE, it colors all of our interpretations about life, so we must be all the more diligent to ensure it is accurate, as compared to who God claims to be in the Bible.   Otherwise…we can drift away into strange and dangerous teachings. [See more from Hebrews 2:1; 2 Tim 4:4, etc.]

 

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Remembering 9/11

9-11-Tribute-In-Light-MemorialGod does not cause evil, sinful men do evil as an act of rebellion against their Creator.  Yet, God is not helpless and unaware of the evil men do, he is sovereign over it…using it for the billions of reasons that we will never understand because we are not Him – yet we may catch a glimpse of a reason every now and then.

Twelve years ago, God used an astounding act of evil to spin my head around, get my eyes off of myself, and return to my Creator.  He used 9/11 in my life as a giant wake up call, that my life without Him at the center is ultimately empty.

God is also the God of all comfort.  And so, while today I’m very thankful for God using 9/11, I’m very aware that there will always be people who still mourn the loss of loved ones.  We remember them, hug them, pray for them.  We encourage them that the only true comfort is not found in this world, where I was searching for it in my pre-9/11 self-centered fog – it is in a person – Jesus Christ, who came on the ultimate rescue mission to provide a way for a rebellious people to be reconciled to their Creator, by his selfless act of taking our punishment on the cross.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””

(Mark 10:45 ESV)

 

The Things that Cannot Be Shaken

Japan-Earthquake_2155758bI spent some time in Hebrews 12-13 this morning.  So much good stuff in there, but what particularly grabbed me was Hebrews 12:18-28.   In the Old Testament, God spoke to Israel at Mt. Sinai and everything shook, they were terrified. That same God is speaking to us today, there is not two different Gods – and Old Testament God with an anger problem, and a kinder, gentler,  80’s feathered-back-hair “Jesus God” in the New Testament.  There is one God, in three persons, who is forever the same.   One day, God will shake the heavens and the earth,  and return to make all things new, to restore forever what sin has broken, to judge,  and to usher those who are his into our new “city of the living God.” (12:22)

The parallel is that in our lives, we can experience times when everything around us seems shaken.  I have a few close friends who are going thru such times now, and I’m certain I will be there someday as well.  No one is immune to such times – when everything we have known as stable for many years is upside down.  In these times, it is important to remember the message of this passage – there are things that cannot be shaken.  The shaking of our worlds can actually cause us to see more clearly those things.  In speaking of this passage, author Michael Horton in “The Gospel Driven Life” writes “Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, the Scriptures remind us, and only the kingdom that God is building will remain.”  Hebrews 12:27b says that they are shaken “in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain”  – there is a purpose to the times in our lives when everything is upside down – so that we may see more clearly that it is only God’s kingdom that will remain.  Sometimes, it takes everything falling down around us in order for us to see what is truly permanent.

So, what do we do in response to this?  Heb 12:25 says “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.”  God is still speaking today, right now.  God is speaking to you in these times, make a decision to turn from controlling your life, and turn over your life to live for God’s kingdom which cannot be shaken.  Our lives are meant to be lived in worship of God.  That doesn’t mean walking around singing worship music 24/7, that means turning from sin and toward God’s way in purity and truth and faith, in a healthy respect of who God is.

Hebrews 12:28-29 sums it up well –

“Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Words

As I was reading thru the book of James this AM, I was reminded of how many times in this book we are exhorted to keep a close eye on the words that come out of our mouths:

  1. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (1:19)
  2.  If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (1:26)
  3. Speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:12-13)
  4. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.  If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot direct. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by man, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, an with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (3:2-12)
  5. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (4:11-12)
  6. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you many not be judged: behold, the Judge is standing at the door. (5:9)

The practicalities of this as a leader and Father, Husband are profound and severe – as I read a quote from Matthew Henry this week:

Sin is more easily learned from others than holiness

A Worship Problem

You may have heard me say it a lot – worship is not only just singing.  In fact, singing is a very small percent of worship – we worship with our entire being and person.  We are all created to be worshipers, therefore we all worship something – so what is it?

God created the world and created us to enjoy him and his creation that points back to him and his greatness.  In Romans 1 he says that this is obvious – just walk outside or sit by the ocean or the Grand Canyon, or the mountains and it smacks you in the face – there is a Creator.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20, ESV)

Knowledge that there is a God and that he is eternally powerful and divine (not human) is “plain to” us in Creation.  The Apostle Paul then uses stronger language and says that we are “without excuse!”  We can’t say to God that “Oh, gee, I didn’t know you existed.”  He made everything in such obvious complex beauty and structure it is obvious that he exists.

And so if it so obvious that he exists, it also should be a given that he is to be worshiped.  C.J. Mahaney once said something to the effect that there are two categories- the created things and the Creator.   By nature and design the created things worship the Creator.

We are part of the created things and therefore need to worship the one who created us, but this isn’t just singing songs – it’s devoting our whole lives in worship to God.  He has provided a way for us to worship him fully in Jesus Christ. For as created things, we sin and that sin separates us from a 100% sinLESS God.   This is a cosmic dilemma for we cannot fix this separation ourselves.  God in his grace has provided a mediator for us in Jesus. Thru faith in Jesus and perseverance of a life dedicated to God we are restored and the separation repaired – this is the gospel. God’s Gospel.  His design and creation to reconcile us to himself.

Paul also uses strong language that we are to “obey” this  – calling it the obedience of faith in v5.   The bad part is that if we do not obey, we’ll still be worshipers – however we’ll worship the created things, instead of the Creator (v25) – and when worship is directed at the wrong things – it all goes wrong.  The list of sins that stem from this worship problem is astounding, and we see it everywhere today. Check out v26-32 for a commentary on much of what we see today.

No one will deny that this world is jacked up, that’s obvious too.  But, God is working his plan to fix what sin has broken and restore his creation back to him.  Let’s remember that creation itself screams out that God exists and the sin we see is an indication of a fundamental worship problem – and let’s all rightfully worship our Creator thru faith in Jesus.

Self-Alignment

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

(Ephesians 4:16–24 ESV)

As believers in Jesus, we are called to think differently – if you’ve ever noticed the way non-believers live their lives – sometimes we are shocked when they sin so openly – why?  In a sense they don’t know any better because their minds are darkened and their hearts are hardened.

We see a contrast in how believers in Jesus are to be thinking and living – three important things – (1) put off sin (2) renew the way we think and (3) Put on new self

The old self belongs to the old way of thinking, the hard heart, the non-believing heart and we are called to put it off.  We are called to think in line with how we are as new creatures in Christ.  Align our thoughts with the spiritual reality of who we are. – this is work that we are called to do – Jesus has done the perfect work on the cross, but now we are called to do the spiritual work of living up to the reality of who we are in Chirst.   That leads us to number 3 – we are created in the likeness of God, but in Chirst we are righteous and holy – we “put on” (as in outward actions) our new self – we wear it out – the last part of our passage tells us what that looks like:

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

(Ephesians 4:24–32 ESV)

Let our lives be outwardly characterized by speaking truth and not lies, not letting anger and other emotions rule our actions, doing honest work, being a responsible contributor to others’ needs.  Watching our words – are they corrupting? (tearing down?) or building up (and giving grace to everyone, by standards included).  Are we bitter? or are we kind, tenderhearted, forgiving?

All of this is because of what God has done or us in Jesus – we did nothing to attract him – we only offer our sin, and in the grace and love of God in Jesus he restores us, reconciles us, forgives us.  How much should that dictate the way we live our lives?  Not walking in the old self, but continuously renewing our minds to align ourselves to our new spiritual selves in Jesus.

 

Fearing God Amidst Fearing Life

Psalm 86 is a very powerful Psalm – you can tell that David is writing this as someone in the midst of a trial as v1 shows a man desperately seeking God as he is “poor and needy,”  v2 asks for God to “preserve his life,” and “save your servant.”

David is crying out to God in a desperate time in his life – in the Hebrew “Lord” in v3 (and 6 other places” is “Adonai” which is “Sovereign.”  Here we see a very important thing about David’s perspective – he is in a desperate situation,but he knows who God is and he is calling up on the Sovereign nature of God.  God is in control of all things, and is working his plan for his glory.

It’s interesting to note what David does not pray for – that God would get him out of this situation, or simply ‘make the pain go away.’  Verses 11-13 a great summary of what he is praying for:

Teach me your way, O Lord,

that I may walk in your truth;

unite my heart to fear your name.

He wants to know God’s ways more, he wants to live them, he want his whole being to be one to honor, respect, revere God.  As one commentator puts it:

[David] does not mean ‘teach me how to get out of this trouble’ but ‘teach me, while the trouble still rages, to live your way’. Undivided heart, ‘unite/unify my heart’, deliver me from being double–minded, two–faced with God; give me ‘a single, steady aim, unmoved by threatening or reward, to you and your great name’.

As comfy Americans, this goes against everything we know in our blood.  God is there to make our lives more comfortable and take the pain away. When we are facing pain, we just call out to God and ask him to make it stop.  Yet, that is not what we see here from David – God is sovereign above all, and yes, even the pain he is working in for his purposes and our growth.  This Psalm should change the way we pray, moving the focus from us to God himself – that we may turn over all of our selves to him and seek to know him more. As v12-13 says:

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,

and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me;

you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

God has rescued us from our sin and the penalty of it in Jesus.  May our focus on Him create thankfulness in our hearts and outward lives lead for his glory.