Glory to God!
Glory to God!
Don’t we find ourselves at times spiritually plateaued in our journeys of faith? And maybe not even plateaued, but rather, more like spiritually bankrupt? What do we do when we begin to feel this way? Maybe it’s found in the ebb and flow of faith. Maybe it only characterizes a small portion of time. Or maybe it is descript of decades. Years of complacency. No zeal. No excitement. No anticipation. No experience of God. What then? What next?
In his book Attributes of God, AW Tozer writes, “A local church will only be as great as its concept of God. An individual Christian will be a success or failure (in the Kingdom) depending upon what he or she thinks of God. It is critically important that we not only have a knowledge of the Holy One, but that we truly come to know Him in all His majesty and wonder.”
Maybe what we “think of God,” as Tozer puts it, is directly related to our being spiritually plateaued or bankrupt.
Do we think enough of God? How much thought do we honestly give Him during the course of the day? How often do you engage in silent conversation with Him if even for a brief moment? How often do you pray? I mean really, really pray? Not as an aside. But heart and mind, engaged in prayer with our Father. How much time do you set aside in reading Scripture and being fed by God’s Word? How often do you read what others have written to broaden your concept of God? How many conversations do you have throughout the week with others who are seeking to be faithful to our Father as well? Do you seek out Christian insight from others who have faith? Because what we “think of God” is answered in questions such as these.
The Apostle Paul writes: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.” – Ephesians 1:17
The question is: Do we really want to know Him better?
Or maybe in asking what Tozer had in mind: Do we think enough of God?
Somehow spiritual discipline has too often been divorced from faith. Faith is too often seen as mental ascent rather than a life characterized by discipleship. No wonder we find ourselves so often spiritually anemic.
Discipleship. Living cognizant of the presence of God. Spiritual discipline. A life characterized by faith and faithfulness. When our practice reflects our concept of God – it is then and only then that we will begin to know Him better.
Glory to God!
When you get right down to it the Christian faith is about closeness with God. Certainly we are in need of salvation. We are in need of forgiveness. We are in need of the strength that only God can provide. But when we look objectively at faith (and life) we begin to see the innate need each of us has for closeness to our Father.
And I believe this is a struggle for many. Because God seems so very distant.
As God descends upon Mt Sinai He does so in power. He had delivered Israel with power out of their slavery in Egypt. There was no doubt to any of them that He alone was God. As He leads them to Mt Sinai to engage in covenant with them He establishes a boundary around the mountain. No one was to come near. They were all to be kept at a distance. The glory of God encompasses the mountain in thunder and lightening and fire and trumpet blast. The mountain shook violently. Smoke billowed from the mountain “like a furnace” (Ex 19:18). “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain” (Ex 24:18). “When the people saw the thunder and lightening and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear” (Ex 20:18). And they stayed at a distance….
However in Christ we have a different reality. If we’ve learned anything from the Gospel of Jesus, anything from what God has accomplished through our Savior, anything from the cross and resurrection of our Lord, it is that our Father desires closeness with us. He wants us near. He has come near to us in Christ and so desires for us to engage Him in a close, intimate relationship in this life.
Read these powerful, comforting words from the Hebrew writer of our present reality in Christ: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’ But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant…” (Heb 12:18-24).
Our reality in Jesus is of a God who brings us near.
Glory to God!
“…pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get. To learn to look with compassion on everything that is; to see past the terrifying demons outside to the bawling hearts within; to make the first move toward the other, however many times it takes to get close; to open your arms to what is, instead of waiting until it is what it should be; to surrender the priority of your own safety for love – this is to land at God’s breast.” – “An Altar in the World,” Barbara Brown Taylor (p206)
Glory to God!
Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”
Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
Jeremiah 31:34, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
God reveals relationship in vivid metaphor. Sin removed as far as the east is removed from the west. The stark contrast of scarlet and snow. Sins plummeting to the depths of the sea. An all-powerful, all-knowing God choosing to forget, and remember our sins no more.
The imagery of forgiveness.
Our Father forgives. He heals. He restores. He delivers. He rescues.
Through divine prerogative and divine covenant and divine eyes He sees us not for our sin, not for our shame, not for our rebellion, but for who we are through Jesus.
Galatians 3:27, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
He sees us through Jesus.
Glory to God!
“It’s not so much who killed them but what killed them. And when we move from the who to the what, in a very real way we begin to see that we are all in this together.” – MLK after the murders of Freedom Riders: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi and then after the beating death of Princeton Seminary student James Reeb in Alabama.
Please be in prayer for Charleston, SC.
Glory to God!
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:16b-18).
There’s a lot that has brought the Apostle John to this point in his first letter. There are those who feel as if they have the market cornered on God and who readily belittle others who they consider as “less spiritual.” John writes to encourage those who are taking criticism and who are truly seeking to have high view of God and humble view of themselves.
The theme of “love” is a thread that runs throughout John’s literature. John assures that the very nature of God is love. The Apostle affirms that love is not only the foundation of our relationship with the Father, but is foundational in our relationship with others. With both those whom we agree and those we do not.
Everything of course is encompassed within Jesus’ beautiful message: “God so loved…” (John 3:16).
But here in 1 John, the Apostle moves from “love” to “fear.” “There is no fear in love.” “Perfect love drives out fear.” The connection to love (and context of John’s message) is enveloped in relationship. Relationship with God. And relationship with others. And what I believe our Father through His servant John hopes to communicate with us in this is that for those who are in a right relationship with God fear is not a part of the equation. The perfect love of God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus drives it away. However, if we were to be honest, we each, very often, have our fears. And even though John is speaking of eternity and how there is no fear (“condemnation” to use Paul’s word – cf. Romans 8:1) for those who are in Christ Jesus, I wonder what might be weighing on your heart and mind right now?
I wonder: What is it that you’re afraid of? What is it that is causing you concern right now? What is it that is weighing you down? What is it that is keeping you up at night? What is it that is dividing your attention? What are your fears?
Because the message of Jesus can be summed up in these words: “You are not alone.”
Jon Walker in his book, Costly Grace, writes: “Fear whispers in our ear that we face danger alone, that God is unaware of our plight and that Jesus is unavailable in our time of need” (p217).
You are not alone. You can trust God. You can trust our Father. You can trust Him.
You are not alone.
Glory to God!
So often we struggle with self. We struggle with self-doubt. And we struggle with self-righteousness. The question should never be: How do I see myself? The question should always be: How does God see me? And, how do I see God? This places us and God where we need to be.
Isaiah steps into the Temple and he’s not expecting much. But when he opens his eyes to the wonder and power and holiness of God, it’s then that Isaiah the priest becomes Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 6).
God is holy. He is pure. He is righteous. He is worthy. We understand His holiness no more clearly than when we are confronted by His magnificence and our own inadequacy.
But in this we find the beginning of our dilemma. Because no one knows us better than us. No one knows our inability to measure up to God better than we do. The Gospel calls us not only to salvation, but to see ourselves through the eyes of God. As those who have been made holy through the holy sacrifice of Christ. Holy not because of us, but because of Him. Holy not because of us, but in spite of us.
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21-22).
Holy in His sight? Without blemish? Free from accusation? Yes! How? Through Jesus. God sees us as holy because He sees us through the lens of Jesus. And this is what we call “Gospel.” This is what we call “Good News.”
We’re tempted to not believe it. Maybe we understand it intellectually, but we struggle with allowing it to take hold of our hearts. Because doing so compels us to relinquish control. And to allow God to be God.
When King David prays to God, “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7b), literally in the Hebrew his prayer is: “Un-sin me….” “Cleanse me. God, take away my sin. Make me whiter than snow. Remove all my sin stain. Remove my guilt. Make me pure. Righteous. Holy. Accomplish that which I cannot accomplish on my own. Make me more like you.” And the amazing thing is, through hearts that turn to Him, He does just that.
To see ourselves as God sees us grants significant insight into faith. It empowers us to live more into (and out of) the lives that He has created for us to live in Christ Jesus.
Two questions remain: Will we allow Him to make us holy? And, do we believe that He can?
Glory to God!
During the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. would speak of moving “from the who to the what.” Both after the murders of Freedom Riders: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi and then after the beating death of Princeton Seminary student James Reeb in Alabama, King declared “it’s not so much who killed them but what killed them.” And “when we move from the who to the what, in a very real way we begin to see that we are all in this together.”
Of course the “what” was the underlying motive of hate and bigotry and disunity that permeated so much of the world-view of the day. A world-view which in many ways has yet to be overcome. In regard to unity among races and cultures as a whole we still have a very long way to go.
In the church we are called to unity in Christ. To be one in Jesus. We who are many and yet comprise one body through the Gospel are called to oneness. The Apostle Paul implores, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6). Only God can bring this about. We are different in many, many ways. The call however is to unity, not uniformity. To “move from the who to the what.” That we would be united in spite of ourselves. In spite of our differences. Indeed we only truly know if we are united when we have differences. In many ways we have a long way to go. However we serve a God whose mercies are new every morning. A God who has revealed Himself as faithful throughout the history of mankind. And a God and who is at work in a wonderful way in the life of His people today.
We begin with the Gospel and we begin with grace. For when we begin to see ourselves in our need for God and in our need for His mercy, the playing field begins to be made level, and all pride is taken away. Only then will God begin to bring about unity.
Jesus on the night before the cross prays for Himself, His disciples, and then for us: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20b-23).
How is it that the world will believe and know the truth of God made manifest in Christ?
Only when they see unity and oneness in His people….
Glory to God!
At times we are tempted to think that we do this all on our own.
I was once talking with a friend who was struggling. He was going through a difficult time in his life and there was no easy solution. It was going to take time and it was going to take God.
In a moment of frustration he said to me, “I feel like I’m a just a speck in the ocean that’s being tossed all around and nobody knows but me.”
Maybe you’ve been there.
Maybe you’re there now.
I had a professor who would say, “Speak to those who are weary and hurting. Speak to them often. We are so very fragile.”
And so if that’s you today, I want to share with you an encouraging thought from God’s Word.
In Mark’s Gospel the account of Jesus walking on the water generally the miracle itself is our focus. The event comes right after the feeding of the thousands on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and His disciples had actually travelled across the sea to spend some needed time away from the masses, but are immediately inundated as they arrive. After the crowds are filled and leave, Jesus sends the disciples on their way, now across to the other side, as He goes on a mountainside to pray and spend intentional time with God (we should learn from Jesus).
“When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on the land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night (3-6am) He went out to them, walking on the lake” (Mark 6:47-48a).
If you go on reading you see where Jesus steps into their boat and immediately, powerfully, divinely calms the wind and the waves and the storm. Looking to Matthew’s account we see where Peter has the faith to step out of the boat and actually walks on the water toward Jesus! But when he takes his eyes off of Christ and becomes fearful of the chaos around him, he quickly sinks (something we should take to heart).
Here’s what I’ve been getting at…. Mark says that the disciples were rowing in the boat in the “middle of the lake.” John affirms they were “three and a half miles out to sea” (John 6:19). Jesus, as He is on a mountainside praying, sees the disciples “straining at the oars.” They’re three and a half miles out to sea! At 3am! Half way across the Sea of Galilee at 3am and yet Jesus divinely sees those He is closest to struggling. He sees those that He loves “straining at the oars.” He sees them pounded by the wind and the waves, tossed back and forth in a sea of uncertainly, and it’s immediately upon seeing His disciples struggle that He is filled with compassion and begins to walk toward them across the water.
The love of Christ is revealed in our Savior’s actions as He comes to us in our time of need.
This is what I want you to hear: You are not alone.
You have a Savior who is filled with compassion as He sees you “straining at the oars.”
Glory to God!