God’s Word at work in our world

The previous three articles provide a simple look at what God’s word is: powerful, authoritative, and self-expression. Today we’ll see these three ideas in what God does.

God’s Word makes plans.

We talked about this in the context of God’s Lordship attribute of control. God determines what will happen according to His own plans, then decrees it to be done. In His Lordship, God has the power to bring these plans to pass, controlling all that happens.

God’s Word speaks.

God not only plans and controls the earth and all its creatures, but also speaks to them as one person speaks to another person. I don’t just mean metaphorically. God’s Word speaks to angels and men, but also to the sun, moon, stars, wind, rain, and every part of nature. When God speaks, His words carry absolute authority, demonstrating that God is Lord of all.

Where God’s Word is… that is God’s dwelling place.

While Jesus was physically on the planet, housed in human flesh, He was limited to be in one place at one time. This is why the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is so significant. If Jesus wanted to be present with Mary and Martha before Lazarus died, Jesus would have to leave where He was and travel to Bethany.

We know that Jesus could have healed Lazarus from a distance by the POWER of His spoken Word. But that was not in God’s PLANS. So Jesus was in CONTROL by staying where He was, in order to demonstrate His ultimate control, authority, and presence when He did raise Lazarus from that tomb. [John 11:1-46]   Jesus told Mary, (11:25-26)

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John wrote of Jesus in John 1:1, describing Jesus as the Word, and the Word was God. This means Jesus was God housed in human flesh, and bound in some ways because of it. This explains what Paul meant in Philippians 2:5-7. One of the things Jesus emptied out to become human was His omnipresence, He couldn’t be everywhere at one time. But in His resurrected body, Jesus could now be omnipresent again, as God, fulfilling this wonderful promise:

Matthew 18:20
For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

So, God’s Word is His dwelling place on earth, demonstrating His Lordship attribute of abiding presence, among His people of faith.

Next time we’ll begin looking at the “how” or the “means” God uses to communicate His Word to us.

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God’s Word is Self-Expression

So far we’ve seen how powerful God’s word is, and established the authority of God’s word. Now we’ll look at how God expresses Himself through His word.

If the question is, “What KIND of god is God?”, then you have to dig into Scripture. It is the Word of God that reveals God’s heart, mind and will. When you search the Scripture you find God actions are the spoken Word of God revealed in an event of God’s power (like creation or judgment). God also differentiates Himself from all other God’s because He speaks. All the idols man can create are just “dumb” (mute), yet God by nature is The Word.

Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal and said, 1 Kings 18:24

“Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.

Go ahead and read the rest of that chapter and see how powerful God’s word is!

When God speaks He demonstrates different attributes, which are unique to Himself:

  • Righteous (Psalm 119:7)
  • Faithful (Psalm 119:86)
  • Wonderful (Psalm 119:129)
  • Holy (2 Timothy 3:15)
  • Eternal (Psalm 119:89)
  • Omnipotent (Genesis 18:14; Isaiah 55:11)
  • Perfect (Psalm 19:7)

Scripture teaches that God alone is to be worshiped and praised. However, the psalmist writes

“In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can mere man do to me?” [Psalm 56:4]

So the Word which David praised (worshiped) is God. He was worshiping the being described in John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

We are going to look further at this truth, where the Word is talking about Jesus, in a future study. The point I’m making here is that the Word identifies God’s speech with God because it takes us all the way back to creation. In Genesis God’s spoken word “let there be…” made it all. It ties directly to John 1:3

“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

Let me be as simple and practical as I can. When we meet God’s speech, we meet God face to face. We should be more like David and receive God’s word with praise and worship.

Just one more thing…

Don’t try to know God apart from His Word, and don’t try to read the Word without realizing you are indeed in the presence of God. Don’t look at the Bible as an assignment. Instead, open your heart and mind to the word like Samuel, and say, “speak Lord, your servant hears.”

Get out of the habit of taking God’s word for granted, so God can bless you with clear understanding. And get ready, because when you meet God’s word in these ways… you will never be the same again.

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God’s Word is Authoritative

Last time we looked at the power of God’s word, in creating the world and controlling the world through God’s spoken word. Today I’ll explore how God’s word is authoritative. Unfortunately for too long some teachers/preachers/scholars have understood and thought of God’s word as only power. However, God’s word is also language. Why is this important? If God’s word is only power but not language, then it cannot speak authoritatively to us on a personal level. Which is exactly what liberal theology is about today, a word without authority.

Look again at the creation story and you’ll see God’s word had meaning and authority, not just power. God didn’t just bring all things into being, God also named them… light God called “day”, darkness God called “night.” On five separate events of creation, God calls created things by the names He gave them. When God controls the course of nature it is not only powerful, but also wise (Psalm 104:24).

So, here’s the thing.

God’s spoken word, (meaningful speech), is authoritative over all His creatures. Remember, because God is LORD, His speech is authoritative, and His creatures are obligated to obey Him. We can really only do this correctly when we believe Him. The entirety of Scripture is the story of how God speaks, and how man responds to what God says… either in obedience, or rebellion.

The Fall… demonstrates the first humans disobeying God’s word, and the consequences which result. Yet, over and over and over, time and again, God continues to send His word into the world to communicate with mankind.   Sometimes people do hear, believe, and obey: Noah built an ark, Abram left his home country to become the father of many nations. And other times people disobey God’s authoritative word and suffer extreme consequences. So the main question is whether people will hear, comprehend, believe God’s word at authoritative, and be obedient.

Let’s not leave out the New Testament version of this truth.

Matthew 7:26
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.

For those living in the world today the words of Jesus must be our foundation. We are to hear them, read them for ourselves, understand them, believe them, and act obediently to what they convey. Here’s a short list of the authoritative words of Jesus to live by:

Matthew 7:21-29
Mark 8:38
Luke 8:21; 9:26
John 5:24; 6:63, 68; 8:31, 37, 43, 47; 12:47-50; 14:10, 15, 21, 23-24; 15:3, 7, 10, 14; 17:6, 14, 17 1 Timothy 6:3-4
1 John 2:3-5; 3:22; 5:2-3;
2 John 6; and
Revelation 12:17; 14:12

Simply put, to be a true Christ-follower, to be a genuine person of faith, means that we come under the meaningful, authoritative word of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and all those prophets and apostles who recorded that word through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Surrendering to the authoritative word of God means we believe it, and act in obedience to it.

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Define: Word of God

Having laid our foundational tenets that God is Lord, and the attributes of His lordship are control, authority, and presence among us, we’ve also established that God reveals Himself. And when God reveals Himself it is as LORD.

Now we’ll look at how God speaks to us. It is only when we grasp His Lordship, that we can understand how God speaks to us, then discern what He is saying.  A natural question that arises is: “What does the phrase ‘Word of God’ actually mean?”

In these articles I desire that you see what I mean as I write about the word of God. Now yes, the Bible is God’s Word, but the Word of God is more than just the Bible.  Because God doesn’t just speak to us in the Bible, He also speaks to us through creation [Psalm 19:1; Romans 1]. At times God speaks to people from heaven, or in a burning bush, or in a dream. We cannot believe that Jesus only spoke the red-letter words in the gospels, for surely there was more to His comments and teachings than are recorded in the gospels. In fact John the Apostle says so… Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” [John 21:25]

So, here’s the thing. We need a much larger definition of “word of God” than just the Bible. And, this definition should show there is a relationship between God’s word and His Lordship. I read one definition a few years back and think it captures the concept I’m trying to teach.

God’s word is His powerful, authoritative self-expression.

You can easily see how this definition fits with the tenets of God’s Lordship. Look how His power reveals He is in control, authoritative reveals His authority, and self-expression reveals His presence here and now.  Over the next few articles we’ll look at each of these three points of interest in more detail.

First, God’s word is powerful.

The Word of God reveals, communicates, illuminates, and illustrates all that God would have us know about Him. For example Scripture teaches that God created the world by speaking (His word).

Psalm 33:6-9
The LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the LORD, and let everyone stand in awe of him.
For when he spoke, the world began! It appeared at his command.

When we talked about God’s providence, it was in the context that God controls the world comprehensively for both the evil people and the good people of humanity. So, for instance how does God control the weather and the seasons on earth? Yes, you guessed it, by speaking His word.

Psalm 147:15-18
He sends his orders to the world—how swiftly his word flies!
He sends the snow like white wool; he scatters frost upon the ground like ashes.
He hurls the hail like stones. Who can stand against his freezing cold?
Then, at his command, it all melts. He sends his winds, and the ice thaws.

So God, by His word, created the world, and by His word, He controls the world. In the New Testament it says that when God’s word in the Gospel is preached, it is not just communication, but it is also POWER.

Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

 

1 Thessalonians 1:5
… because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

Here are a few other resource scriptures to see God’s word is powerful: Jeremiah 23:29; Ephesians 6:17; Isaiah 49:2. But maybe my all-time favorite regarding the Word of God and it’s power, is Isaiah 55:11.

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

We should never take the Word of God for granted by treating it like just another abstract textbook of instructional do’s and don’ts. When a person ignores it, or just listens to it being read but they are disobedient in their hearts, just like Israel, they will become hardened against God’s word.

On the other hand, if we could respond like the young prophet named Samuel, when He heard God’s voice, Samuel simply said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” When a person reads/hears this Word and receives and applies this Word, God’s power will be in your life, and on your behalf, and will do in you and around you exactly what God intends (Isaiah 55:11 above).

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God is One; God is Three; the Three are One

It’s been a few days since my last article where we looked at different Models which illustrate some aspect of the Trinity. Rather than overwhelm you, I took a couple of extra days to let these ideas sink in. Someone might say, “Why are you spending so much time on this difficult topic?” The simplest answer is: to establish the link that LORDSHIP applies equally to all three of the “three in One.”

When we lay the foundation that God is in Control, God is Authoritative for all of life, and God is present with us in real time, each of these foundational thoughts apply equally to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit… because the Three are One.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

God is One

The tendency is to think of God as three persons, but the concept of “Triune” is the Three are One. The Israelites knew there was only one being worthy of worship, as opposed to the thoughts of the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians and Canaanites who all worshipped many different gods. Hebrew thought was that only one person can be fully in control of the world, speak with absolute authority, and yet, still be intimately involved in the life of His people whom He called by name. Since there can only be one Lord, there can only be one Savior… Jonah says, “For my salvation comes from the LORD alone.” [2:9]

God is Three

The Bible teaches that the LORD is three persons. Look at this image through David’s eyes.

Psalm 33:6
The LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.

God the Father spoke, the God the Holy Spirit (breathed) the word (God the Son – John 1:1), and all the stars were born.

In this one verse we see the One true God, in three separate images, all taking part in the creation story.

WOW! That is exciting to me! Do you want to see another one… a little less detailed, but where the same principle applies?

Genesis 1:26
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”

Do you see it? “Let US… to be LIKE Us.” Don’t confuse “like us” to mean “little gods.” We’ll discuss this more in a later article, but for now just see the Triune God active as ONE in all of creation: Father, Son, and Spirit – One LORD of all.

The Three are One

There are many different scriptures through which we can see the three-ness of God, or the Triune God. But one of my absolute favorites is Matthew 28:18-20, where Jesus says:

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

The attribute of AUTHORITY is absolutely God’s, so Jesus is saying out loud for all to hear, that He is God. Then Jesus lists the other two persons of the Trinity in His command for baptizing new believers. And finally, I AM translates all the way back to God revealing Himself (Three in ONE) to Moses:

Exodus 3:14
God replied to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.”

Here’s another good reference from the New Testament:

2 Corinthians 13:14
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Grace, love, and fellowship… Son, Father, Spirit… One LORD.

The conclusion of the early church patriarchs, the men and women of faith who planted the first churches in and around Jerusalem, all believed the Father, the Son and the Spirit are each one fully God… one LORD

Each of the three persons have the attributes of God as Lord equally:  control, authority, presence.

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3 in 1 – Models

Before you read this article, I need to warn you.  The challenge I have taken on is to discuss complicated theological thoughts in a way that the person sitting in a Bible study can understand it while never having been trained at Seminaries like most pastors.  In tackling this challenge, I still have to provide a basis for the information.  Theology is the study of God.  When we study God, we find the concept of the “Trinity,” Father, Son, and Spirit, all throughout Scripture.  Seeing God in three persons acting in the Bible is not the difficult part.  Seeing them as all being God, and all being ONE God… well, that’s a horse of another color.

Today I’m asking you just stay with me.  If something confuses you, or if you have a question, please feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to provide an answer.

I heard once the Irish shamrock was the best illustration of the trinity:  One plant, Three leaves.  In the most simplistic way possible this really isn’t a bad image, but there’s a problem with every Trinitarian model, and it is seen in the shamrock too.  You can tear the shamrock into three pieces, but not the Trinity.  You may have seen the egg image [yolk/egg white/shell = Father/Son/Spirit], or the apple explanation [core/flesh/skin] as images for the Trinity.  Each of these illustrations are good to a point, but could never comprehensively help us understand the complicated relationship of the Trinity.

This is the problem not just with visual images, but more sophisticated models of the Trinity as well.  There are two primary theological models used today to explain the Trinity to the human mind, the “psychological model” and the “social model.”

Psychological model of the Trinity

This model was developed by Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.).  He believed the Trinity was like a great mind.  Our human minds consist of: intellect, memory, and will.  Yet, we only have one mind.  So, when we know ourselves… we are the “knower, the known, and the knowledge” all at the same time.  Augustine argued that God has a mind too, and when God knows Himself, God’s thoughts of Himself are so perfect that the thought itself is God.  His argument then is that the three persons of the Trinity are: God-the knower, known, and knowledge.  Sounds good but there’s a problem.  What about relationships?  We contend God is three PERSONS, so the model here speaks to God’s one-ness but not to His three-ness… His substance as three persons.

Social model of the Trinity

You can Google “Cappadocian fathers” and discover Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.) Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 A.D., and Basil’s younger brother), and Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 A.D.) who represent some of the patriarchs of Christian thought.  In the fourth century these men developed what is now called the “social model” explaining the Trinity.  Simply put, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, and they relate to one another in love.  It is an interpersonal model.  It is also often used as a model for human society, where my dad, me, and my son in relationship represent an image of God’s three-ness.  But it doesn’t help us understand God’s one-ness.  The Cappadocians began with three separate images of God, but found it difficult to explain how God is one.

Over the centuries different theologians from Protestant and Roman Catholic schools would argue the merits of both these models to explain the Trinity, and never come to any consensus on either.  I’ve tried over the years to find a good image to use as a simple way to understand the Trinity.   In closing today, I offer this as the most simple, but most factual view of the Trinity.

TrinityOn the outside of the triangle, God is three separate persons.
On the inside of the triangle, each person is equally God, all having LORDSHIP attributes: the control, authority and presence we’ve been discussing so far.

Next time we will look more at this triangle, and dive deeper into this mystery.

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The Trinity and Lordship

Up to now we’ve been looking at how God reveals Himself in the Bible through His actions, and His own nature and character revealed in descriptions of His attributes.  All of this corresponds to our tenets that: God is in control, God speaks authoritatively to all mankind, and His promise to be present with us always.  Now we’ll spend a few days to approach the concept of how God reveals Himself in three separate means, or persons, we call the Trinity.  God’s promise to be with us always is seen best in this doctrinal thought: God is three in One.

Deuteronomy 6:4
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

This topic is mysterious indeed, and I would never presume I understand better than other theologians who have written on this topic.  I just want to make it easier to understand, without getting bogged down in technical terms or theological protocols often driven by different denominational instruction.

Here are the basic declarations we can find in Scripture:

  • God is one
  • God is three
  • The three persons are each one fully God
  • Each of the three persons is distinct from the others
  • The three persons are eternally related as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

At the end of this topical search for truth in the Bible, I hope that you will be confident in your understanding of the Trinity.  Well, as confident as any one person could possibly be regarding a mysterious truth that only God alone can know fully.

Over the next several posts we’ll look at models and illustrations explaining the Trinity.  And we’ll look at least briefly at each one of the declarations above.

After my years of study on this topic I agree mostly with Athanasius (296-373 a.d.), bishop of Alexandria, a great hero of the faith.  Athanasius was a defender of the concepts of the Trinity given voice in the Nicene Creed which was written 2 years after his death.  He suffered horrible acts of persecution by Arian heretics for his views about the Trinity.  Why would he do this?  Who would suffer hardship and persecution for philosophical terminology?  For Athanasius the important issues of the Trinity were pretty basic and simple.  In his mind this belief (the Trinity) is the firm foundation of worship and salvation.

Worship…

If Jesus, as Son of God, is only a creature… then we are guilty of idolatry.  At the time of his death Christians had already worshiped Jesus as God for 400 years.  Athanasius said Jesus is worthy of worship ONLY if He is equal to the Father.

Salvation…

If the Arians were right, he said, then we are placing our hope of salvation in the life and hands of a mere creature.  ONLY if Jesus is equal to the Father, is He capable of saving us from sin.

Next time we’ll talk about models and illustrations of the Trinity.

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God’s Attributes of Power

God is LORD of all.  The basic tenets of this faith statement include: God is in control, has authority over all things, and is ever present with us.  We’ve examined God’s attributes of Love, and Knowledge, and finish this section with a look at God’s attributes of Power.

God’s power is so dominate and extensive trained theologians describe it with the word “Omnipotence.”  Why can’t they just say “God can do anything”?  Well, because you might find it difficult to believe, but there are some things God CANNOT do.

  • Titus 1:1-2 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness–in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,
  • Numbers 23:19  God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

God cannot lie.  In fact, God is Holy, Good, and Love so God cannot do anything evil.  God cannot do something logically contradictory [like making round squares] since He is always consistent in His words and actions.  God cannot do anything contrary to His nature as God [see Numbers 23:19 above] like buy a suite or celebrate His birthday.  God had no birthday, He was, is, and always will be God.

So it seems our dilemma in knowing God better, and understanding the enormity of His power, is to arrive in general terms that help us see Him as He wants us to see Him.  That God is omnipotent is a clear teaching of Scripture [Psalm 115:3, Isaiah 55:11; Jeremiah 32:17].  These verses also imply God has a will… the ability to choose.  After choosing whatever He “wills” to do, God has the power to do it.

God reveals Himself in the Bible by helping us see His “will” in three basic ways.  First God makes DECREES which declare His will in unmistakable ways.  [See what Joseph says to his brothers about their actions toward him – Genesis 50:20].  The decrees of God’s will in the Bible will always come to pass. Listen to how Paul says it to the Roman church:  “What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory…” [Romans 9:22-23] .

Second, God has a Preceptive will.  We refer to this when we say God has PRECEPTS.  Precepts are revealed as God’s values, which often take the place of commandments to us and for us.  Whatever God has decreed will happen whether we agree with it, or believe it or not.  However, God’s precepts are those things that we can choose to line up with, or not.  When we violate God’s precepts, this is called “sin.”  As an example look at 1 Timothy 2:3-4, This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.    See, God wants all people to be saved… but not all will choose this precept for themselves.  The sin that condemns them is their own unbelief of this simple truth.

Third, there is Divine Vocation (theological term) which means basically “God’s will for our lives.”  So how do we find God’s will for us?  Look no further than the verse we just examined, 1 Timothy 2:3-4.  If you want to see another one, re-read John 3:16.  God’s grace and forgiveness, direction, mercy and power are available to every person who submits to God as Lord (Jesus as LORD).

God is Lord of time and space, He is Lord of everything everywhere.  This power is on display in all the realms of scripture: eternity past, the present on earth, and the infinite realm of eternity future.

Ok, here’s the thing.  while the Bible says that God is unchangeable in some ways [Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17]… Scripture also presents God as changeable in other ways.  God spared Nineveh (just as He said He would), when the city repented and turned to Him for deliverance.   We can see these two separate thoughts better if we say “it is God’s unchanging will to relent in this way.”  God placed a condition on Nineveh, “repent or be destroyed.”  They repented, God did not destroy them.

Not only is God unchanging, omnipotent, and ever-present with us… God has no needs according to Paul addressing the people of Athens in Acts 17:24-30.

Just a reminder, again, when we examine all these attributes of God, we are also defining the attributes of Jesus Christ the LORD.

Next time we’ll begin looking at the topic of the “Trinity,”  God as Three in ONE.

 

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God’s Attributes … of Knowledge

The ATTRIBUTES of God which demonstrate His control, authority, and presence are:  LOVEKNOWLEDGE, and POWER.  Last time, we looked at God’s attribute of love, seen in His allegiance, affection and action.

Today we dive into God’s attribute of KNOWLEDGE, which from a purely Biblical view must include: SPEECH, TRUTH and WISDOM.

When we think of SPEECH as a divine attribute we must make an important distinction here.  The Supreme Being of the Bible (God) is the only divine being that communicates truth about Himself to His creatures.  In polytheistic religions (many gods) the gods do speak, but none is the supreme being.  In Hinduism while there is a supreme being, he is silent.  Speech happens between two persons and that’s what makes this attribute of God such a blessing to us.  God speaks to us.  God desires to help us know Him, and His knowledge, in our own minds and in our hearts.

TRUTH in scripture is found in three contexts.  First, God is the truth.  In other words He is the true God and not a false god [Jeremiah 10:9-10; 1 John 5:20].  In the Bible God always speaks the truth.  God never lies, never makes a mistake in His speech [Titus 1:2].  And finally, God does the truth (action) representing Himself as the God of all goodness and love  – Deuteronomy 7:9 says “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

Regarding God’s attribute of knowledge (generally) the Bible clearly represents God as omniscient (all-knowing).  Here’s just a few verses as a reference point:

  • Psalm 147:4
  • John 21:17
  • Hebrews 4:12-13
  • 1 John 5:20

In addition to knowing all things, God also understands all things, even to discerning (knowing) the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. (all of us!)  The deduction we make from this knowledge is that everything happens by His wise plans, since He knows all.

There is a group of people today called “open theists” who say God does NOT know the future completely and exhaustively as I suggest here.  Some go on to say that God makes mistakes all the time in saying what will happen.  In Deuteronomy 18:21-22 there is a prophet’s test.  Simply put, if a prophet’s words prove false… they can’t come from God, since God is never wrong about the future or anything else.  We might simply extend this test then to God.  In Isaiah 41:21-23, this great prophet speaks God’s words challenging the ancient false gods of the surrounding peoples to predict the future, all the while, knowing they cannot do it.  Only God knows what is going to happen.

Open theists say God is ignorant, using scripture itself to assign this charge.  As a proof-text, they use Genesis 18:20-21 which says “Then the Lord said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.’

“See,” they say, “if God is all-knowing, why is He suggesting here He needs to find out for Himself?”  Is God ignorant in this passage?

They have lifted this verse “out of context” because the point of the story where it is found, is about Abraham praying for God to spare these cities.  Abraham bargains with God, “will you save the cities if only 50 righteous men can be found?  How about 40?  20? 10?” And God’s reply is always, “yes.”  “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”… ““For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”  It was never about God being ignorant, it was about God KNOWING there were not 10 righteous men to be found in all of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Being truth, and having all-knowledge then leads to God’s KNOWLEDGE attribute of WISDOM.  Wisdom is that enhanced form of knowledge that takes all the strands of information, understands the significance of each one, and relates them into a practical relevance or application.  We might label this as it is in my Bible: the Doxology.

Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever!
Amen.

One last reminder for today…

Everything the Bible reveals about God, remains true about JESUS!  He is God.

As God is love, knowledge and wisdom… so is Jesus.

Next time we’ll examine God’s attribute of POWER.

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God’s Attributes

Our foundational theme is: God is in control, God has absolute authority, and He has promised His Presence with us forever [see: A Simple View of God].  These three tenets form our belief that God is LORD of all, including us.  In order to know Him better, God acts through miracles, providence, creation, and His authoritative decrees.  This may all be a little abstract for you, but hang in there with me.  Because God doesn’t want us to just study theology, He actually wants us to KNOW Him personally.  He has also revealed His attributes through this whole process.  Each of these attributes correspond to the three tenets discussed already.  The ATTRIBUTES which demonstrate control, authority, and presence are:  LOVE, KNOWLEDGE, and POWER.

Today we’ll focus on LOVE.

John the apostle wants there to be no mistake…

1 John 4:8
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:16
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

John is emphatic:  God is LOVE!!! [He wrote it twice in 8 verses]

The Old Testament uses many different terms to describe God’s ethical characteristics including: goodness, grace, covenant faithfulness (Hebrew: hesed), righteousness, justice, and finally, yes, LOVE!  All these terms have nuance within the passages where we find them.

When we find God’s love, we see: allegiance, affection, and ACTION!  Isn’t it fun that these reflect our basic tenets about God as LORD [control, authority, presence].  Allegiance demonstrates God’s loyalty to HIS OWN WORDS of promise.  Affection is simply God’s emotional fondness for His creation [think John 3:16].  And action is God demonstrating His own love towards in that while we were still sinners Jesus died for us on the cross.  [Romans 5:8]

Here’s the thing…

God loves all His creation, and His creatures, even those who hate Him (His enemies).  Have you ever noticed the point of these verses:

  • Matthew 5:43-48
  • Genesis 18:25
  • John 3:16
  • 1 John 4:8-10

What each of these verses make very clear is that while we deserve death, that is not what God offers us.  In His death, Jesus got what we deserve, and when we trust Him as Savior and LORD, we get what we DO NOT deserve… HIS forgiveness, and life everlasting!  This is God’s love, goodness, grace, and righteousness in ACTION bringing us to salvation and redemption.

That said, it is also clear in the Bible that God is a wrathful God… a God of judgment.  You may not believe this but it actually says that God hates some people (the wicked: Leviticus 20:23; Deuteronomy 25:16].  In fact until we trusted in Jesus, this would describe us as well [the wicked].  Paul says, [Ephesians 2:3]

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

About now you might be thinking… “How can God hate people if He is love? That makes no sense!”  Look at it through the lens of what we’ve already believed as basic tenets of faith.

Because God is LORD of ALL, He has the RIGHT to expect us to be faithful to Him, to do as He instructs, to keep His commands, and to receive His grace in Christ.  When we do not do this, we invoke God’s wrath.  And while God IS LOVE, don’t mistake that to mean that He is obligated in some way to distribute this love equally to all.

While God gives everyone sunshine and rain [Matthew 5:43-48], God has the authority to reserve His best blessings (forgiveness and grace) only for those who believe in His Son, sent to save mankind from their sin.  It is only when we receive Jesus that He calls us His own family, His children, with the rights and privileges of grace and redemption.

John 1:12
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–

God is love.  This love commands, and demands, that we believe in His name… the person, Jesus!

 

Next time, the attributes of Knowledge.

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Descriptions of God define Him as LORD.

We’ve been looking at the topic “Who is God?” and we started by examining how God reveals Himself by ACTING through miracles, providence, creation and decrees. [4 separate posts see them by clicking here.]  Today I want to launch into the next major topic: How God DESCRIBES Himself through names, images, and attributes in the Bible.

Here’s the thing.  God does indeed want us to know what He is like.  The word “God” itself is a more generic term, and is often used to describe false gods as well as the One True God.  However, the NAME YAHWEH (the LORD) can only be used of the ONE True God.  There are also compound NAMES found in the Bible like:  God Almighty (El Shaddai), Lord of Hosts (Jehovah Tsabaoth – emphasizing God is Lord of all the angelic army of heaven), the Lord Who Provides (Jehovah Jireh), and so forth.  The name Jesus, is a really significant name for God, which Paul says is so worthy of praise, that every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus. (Philipians 2:10)

Now IMAGES are verbal pictures of God which compare Him to people or things in human experience.  The Bible shows God to be King, Father, Shepherd, Light, Rock, and Shield.  In fact the image of King is synonymous with LORD in thousands of verses in the Bible.  Father is maybe the most significant image of God in the Bible, and the prominent image of God in the New Testament.  Jesus taught His disciples (and us) to call God “Father” when we pray [Matthew 6:9].  Paul teaches that God adopts us into His own family when we accept Jesus as our Savior, and we then can cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Daddy!) [Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6].  Jesus did this too… in Mark 14:36.

Sometimes people ask me if it would be ok to call God our Mother.  Well, let’s be candid, since God has no body (He is invisible), God is neither male or female.  So really it is a question of imagery… should we speak of God using mainly male or female images?  Well, guess what… there are feminine descriptions of God in Scripture!

The Bible says God gave birth to Israel, so in that sense God is Israel’s mother [Deuteronomy 32:17; Isaiah 42:14-15].  In fact Paul uses similar descriptions of himself suggesting he anguishes in childbirth until we accept Christ as Savior [Galatians 4:19].  Figuratively, this makes Paul the mother of the church… but it doesn’t really raise doubts for us about Paul’s sexual orientation as male.

In Scripture God is mostly described in male terminology, and this is not an accident or coincidence.  During ancient times the pagan religions described in the Bible often worshiped female deities, mainly through sexual acts.  The Biblical authors therefore stridently avoided suggesting that YAHWEH was female.  Scripture also emphasizes male leadership in the family and in the New Testament church.  Most of these writers then would have wanted to avoid confusing their readers as to God’s authority, therefore He is presented in male terminology.  Think about how this is reflected in the image of Jesus as the Bridegroom who redeems His church as a glorious bride.  [Revelation 19:7]

These NAMES and IMAGES are meant to introduce us to God as HE wants us to know and see Him.  Once we know these names, and see these images, we enhance our understanding of Him by studying His ATTRIBUTES.

So… next time we’ll examine God’s Attributes of LOVE.

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God Acts in His Decrees

We’ve made a good start at discovering how God acts in this world through miracles, providence, and creation.  His Lordship is demonstrated in real time now, through the beginning of time in creation, and all the way back to eternity past.  The Lordship of God in eternity past is best seen through His eternal decrees.

I mentioned the Westminster Shorter Catechism before.  Listen to what it says about God’s decrees:  (they are) “…His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath fore-ordained whatever comes to pass.”

This supports our earlier discovery, that God controls everything.  Stated this way though, we see that this control is the evidence of a plan, and the Bible calls it “his counsel, or the thoughts of His own heart.”  It seems even on a cursory reading of scripture that God has already thought this thing through.  Knows every possible nuance of every possible decision of every person who has lived, is living or will live.  And because He has a PLAN (reason, goal, and purpose for everything)… God is able to make “all things work together for good.” [Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11]

Let’s read how God’s plan goes back before time into eternity past…

Psalm 33:11
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.

Psalm 104:24
O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions.

Isaiah 37:26
Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone.

Matthew 25:34
Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

1 Corinthians 2:7
No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

Ephesians 1:4
…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. 

Ephesians 3:11
…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…

 

Please don’t miss the most significant and wonderful truth of Ephesians 1:4.  Jesus Christ the LORD chose me… chose YOU… before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him!!!  It was the PLAN.  It was the PURPOSE.  It was the GOAL.  It was the RESULT of all He decreed from eternity past!

So, in all the ways that God acts, [miracles, providence, creation, and decrees] He is LORD of ALL, and LORD throughout time.

Another way the Bible teaches us about God, and pretty clear and directly, is by describing what God is like.   The Bible’s many descriptions of God are intended to help us get past all the theoretical (theological mumbo jumbo) evidence, to see and know Him personally.

Next time, we’ll dig into the names, images, and attributes of God revealed to us through the Bible.

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God Acts … in Creation

Our foundational beliefs are based in the fact that God acts.  We’ve briefly examined how God acts in miracles and providence.  Now let’s see how God acts in the doctrine of Creation.

Genesis chapter one is the documentation of God bringing everything into being “that has come into being” (1 John 1:3).   So while miracles and providence display God’s extraordinary involvement in history and the world today, and His Lordship in this temporary place, “creation” demonstrates God’s Lordship before the beginning of time.

Another foundational belief of the church is how God made everything we see now out of nothing, or “ex nihilo” [latin].  This belief is hard to grasp since humans naturally have a difficult time comprehending eternity past or future, we are so focused on the now.  So think of it this way.  In “the beginning” when God created the heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1), there was nothing but God Himself, and the hosts of heaven.

Two important issues arise with the belief of God’s creative power.  First, God did not create the world out of an uncreated substance or “stuff.”

An artist in the world today must have materials such as clay, paint or canvas on an easel.  Yet, God used no material.  For the artist to do what God did, it would mean the human artist made not only the statue itself, but the rock from which it was carved.

Since the Bible clearly teaches God made everything (in the heavens, the earth, and the sea), there was no uncreated substance out of which God created the world.

Second, God did not make the world out of Himself.  This world is not God, not divine.  According to the Bible, God is the Creator, and the world is His creation.  This is why we worship God alone, and worship nothing in this world.  Some forms of Eastern religions, as well as much current Western New Age teachings, suggest we ourselves are God… but this is false teaching.

Now here’s the thing.

Ex Nihilo, (out of nothing) is critically important, not just because it demonstrates God’s power in action, but also as an analogy of Salvation.  The redemption of humanity and God’s creation is the ultimate long-term goal. [see 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10]

In the same way God created the world out of nothing, brought light out of darkness, God brought His people from sin into righteousness and from hopelessness into the assurance of His great love.

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Today a typical controversy continues… how long it actually took God to create this world.  Many believe God created everything in a literal six, twenty-four hour, days.  Others hold that the “days” of Genesis were longer periods of time like geologic ages.  This is called the “day-age” theory.  And yet some people believe Genesis 1 as a whole is figurative or just a general idea of God’s creative power with no chronology at all.

The simple truth is, we’ll miss the point of studying creation if we get bogged down in the “how long it took” debate.

God acts.  He is LORD in real time now, because He has always been LORD, demonstrated in His power to create this world we live in today.  He created us, and all we see.

He deserves to be called LORD, and worshiped as LORD of ALL.

So, if God did not use an unknown “substance or stuff” to create, how are we even here?

Good question!

Next time we will introduce God’s eternal DECREES.

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God Acts … in Providence

If the definition of “miracle” is defined as God working in extraordinary ways, then “providence” is God working in ordinary ways.  However, the line between these two distinctions is not always that clear.  Miracles seem magnificent to us, but providence can also be amazing.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines providence like this:

“His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.”

In short, this means God either allows or designs everything that happens.  Where do I get this idea?  Focus here on the word “ALL” in this definition of providence, because God’s control of His world is comprehensive and all-inclusive.

Providence carries with it these three concepts:  preserving, revelation, and concurrence.

God’s PRESERVING can mean a variety of things but according to scripture must include:

  • that this earth could not continue to exist without God’s permission
  • that Jesus holds everything together [Colossians 1:17]
  • that God is holding off His final judgment until all He knows will be saved, are saved [2 Peter 3:5-9]
  • that God preserves His people from death or destruction at many points during this earthly life [Genesis 45:5]
  • even though death will come to us eventually, in death God continues to preserve us [Psalm 16:10]
  • ALL this happens as God directs the course of nature and history to a preordained goal [Ephesian 1:9-11]

God’s REVELATION is not mentioned in the Catechism above, but is important for us to note, because:

  • everything that happens reflects (reveals) God’s wisdom (Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 8:22-36]
  • God’s Word directs (reveals) all things [Psalm 147:15-20; 148:5-8]
  • the heavens themselves declare (reveal) God’s glory
  • in all this God’s invisible nature is clearly in view (revealed) {Romans 1] as He makes Himself known to us.

CONCURRENCE then refers to God’s working in even the smallest events of nature and history to bring about (according to the Catechism) ” the cooperation of the divine power with all subordinate powers, according to the pre-established laws of their operation, causing them to act and to act precisely as they do.

Huh?

Think of it this way.  When plants germinate, they are carrying out the natural law God designed for them.  This is true.  However, the doctrine of concurrence demonstrates that God is also working in, with, and through these laws to achieve His own ultimate preordained goal [Ephesians 1:9-11].  This means that even when a sparrow falls to the ground [Matthew 10:29], this event will never occur unless it fulfills God’s preordained goal.  It also means that God knows the numbers of hairs on each of our heads [Matthew 10:30].

God is working both in heaven and in everything that happens in nature and history.

So here’s the thing.

Providence (in the same way we looked at miracles, fits the original threefold picture of: control, authority, and presence.

In providence God controls everything, reveals Himself authoritatively, and is present and active in the world He made.

Next time we will look at how God acts in Creation.

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God Acts – an outline

If you have been one of those people who made it their goal to read the Bible all the way through … cover to cover, including the maps and concordance… what you quickly notice is how difficult it is to understand the timeline of this work.  The Bible is not linear.  The books overlap and many cover the same time period but from different authors perspective.  But one thing is clear from the very beginning, God is actively involved with the world He created.

When we ask the question “Who is God” the Bible becomes the definitive work for not just discovering the answer, but also for understanding how the information found there applies to us individually.  In Scripture we find God acting in many ways to reveal Himself to mankind.  Here is a brief outline of what we’ll examine in this section of God ACTS.

God acts:

  • Activity in and with the natural world through miracles, providence, and creation
  • Making heavenly proclamations including His Lordship in eternity past, controlling everything in the present, and a plan for eternity future
  • All these activities and proclamations are done in accordance with the plan to redeem His creation from sin and death.

Why would God go to such lengthy extremes to reveal Himself in this way?

Let’s start with God acting in this world through miracles.

So, what constitutes a miracle?

Many people today define “miracle” as anything occurring outside the laws of nature.  However, Scripture doesn’t say all that much about natural law, because the Bible authors didn’t know enough to identify miracles as exceptions to the laws of nature.  Even when Jesus calmed the storms of the sea, the emphasis from those who witnessed this is interesting.  “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (Luke 8:25)

God has always been busy in and through His Sovereign control of nature. The authors of the Bible speak of miracles as an extraordinary demonstration of God’s LORDSHIP.  One great example is the deliverance of the Hebrew people as they left Egypt.  God made the waters separate so His people could cross on dry land, but they had no concept of natural law being suspended.  Moses wrote that the event happened through a “strong east wind.” [Exodus 14:21]

So here’s the thing.

The wording used in Scripture for “miracle” whether expressed in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, or the Greek terminology of the New Testament, seems to focus on three general ideas:  powers, signs, and wonders.

Powers… are miracles where God acts in extraordinary ways controlling His creation. [Luke 8:25; or Exodus 14:21 above]

Signs… correspond to the idea of an authentic communication from God about His intentions.  [Luke 2:12]

Wonders… circumstances of events intended to wake us up and realize God really is here, right now, just like Peter did in Luke 5:1-10.

Well… do miracles still happen today?

To answer this question, maybe we should recognize that while there are many miracles demonstrated in the Bible, even in this historical record miracles didn’t happen every day.  Miracles were the exception, not the rule, and they were usually to validate the words of a prophet (OT) or an apostle (NT), but especially to authenticate God the Father’s witness that Jesus Christ is the Son.  In fact, there is a 400-year time span between the last book of the Old Testament, and the first book of the New Testament, where God didn’t act, or speak in any way at all.  Because of this truth, we shouldn’t expect miracles to be a regular part of the Christian life either.

God never promised this.

That said, there is nothing to indicate God doesn’t or won’t work in a miraculous way today.  The term “wonder” usually applies in Scripture to floating axe heads [2 Kings 6:1-7], turning water into wine [John2:1-10], or miraculous feedings [Mark 8:1-13],

But Psalm 134:3-4 says, “Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever, to him who alone does great wonders…” then verse 25 says, “He gives food to every creature.”  We don’t pay enough attention sometimes to realize God feeds us all, through His Sovereign control to keep this world in order, producing the food we eat.

In this sense God is working in extraordinary ways (miracles) all the time, all around us.

Next time… God acts in Providence.

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God is…

To answer the question: Who is God?… we must state the obvious.  He is LORD.  In the first two installments I introduced three basic tenets as a foundation for spiritual understanding.  God as Lord is… in control of all things, speaks with absolute authority, and is present with us, His creatures, all the time.

But the question, “who is God?” really is asking for more than this simple view, right?  So over the coming weeks, my articles will be like taking a leisurely stroll through some Bible passages that help us see, know, and understand God better.

This will be a glance into the nature and character of God, as His word reveals it.  The vast expanse of Bible material to cover would overwhelm us both, if we tried to cover it too quickly.  So little bits of tasty morsels is all I will give in any one article.

Psalm 34:8
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Where to begin?

One of the mysteries of scripture is how God reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. We call this the Trinity, although this word is not found anywhere in the Bible.  Three in One we say, and the Bible implies it is so.

Deuteronomy 6:4
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

You will notice right away that I will also use this threefold pattern to help bring clarity to the topics discussed.

The Bible reveals God to us by

  • showing us his ACTS,
  • by giving us authoritative DESCRIPTIONS of Himself,
  • and by revealing just a glimpse of the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit.

The ACTS of God are all about demonstrating how God the LORD is in control of everything.

The DESCRIPTIONS of God the LORD help us understand the demand on His creatures to yield to His authority and will for our lives.

And the glimpse of the TRINITY tells us that even before God made the world, He was in personal relationship – committed to one another in love, and perfectly PRESENT to one another.

Now, here’s the thing…

Some of the work you’ll have to do on your own.  If you don’t own a Bible, you need to borrow one, or buy one, or link to an online website that makes the Word of God available to you.  I simply will not be able to give the text of every reference, every time, but will give you the source to look up for yourself.  It will have great benefit for you, if you look it up and read it for yourself, trust me on this.

In all of God’s acts, descriptions, and glimpses of His inner life (Trinity) He puts Himself on display as LORD.  Everything He does, everything He says, every glimpse is so that you and I will be like those first chosen ones.

Exodus 29:46
They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

Are you ready?

We begin tomorrow with “How God Acts”


 

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Transcendence and Immanence

Yesterday I introduced three basic tenets for why God is Lord (Jehovah) and Jesus is Lord (since They are One):  Control, Authority, and Presence.  If you missed this article, read it by clicking here.  Transcendence and immanence are two terms which describe the God of the Bible, even though they are not terms found in the Bible.  The Bible talks about God being “On high” (transcendence), it speaks of God being “with us” (immanence).

Some teachers/pastors/theologians have misunderstood God’s transcendence. suggesting God is so far away (above) us that we cannot really know Him personally, our language can’t describe Him adequately or accurately, making God nothing more than a heavenly blur without any definitive characteristics.  This view of transcendence is unbiblical, because the Bible teaches we CAN know definite things about God, and even come to know Him personally.

Jeremiah 33:2-3
This is what the LORD says—the LORD who made the earth, who formed and established it, whose name is the LORD: Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.

When the Bible uses terms like “on high”, “exalted”, or “lifted up” it does not mean distance, it means the glory of enthronement.  God is King, He is LORD…transcendent above us in His Lordship, being in control and having all authority.

Isaiah 6:1
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

In this same way, using the term immanence,  should refer to God’s presence among us and within us.  The misinformed speak about God becoming immersed in the world, hidden, so that He cannot be distinguished from creaturely reality, referring to His humanness.  But this is not Biblical teaching either.

Jesus incarnate was neither hidden nor consumed in His humanity.  Yes, He emptied Himself, the Bible says. Yes, He didn’t think holding on to His eternity-based God-ness was something to be held onto, the Bible says.  What He did say was “I’m going to prepare a place for you, so that where I am you can be too.”  [Philippians 2, John 14]

So, here’s the thing.

Transcendence and immanence are not that difficult when you think of it this way…

God is not so far away that He doesn’t know you exist, or what you’re going through.  And He isn’t so far above you that you can’t know Him personally.  In fact that is His plan exactly, for you to find Him and know Him, as Lord (transcendence).

To make this easier for you, He came to earth Himself (immanence – Jesus) to implement the plan of God for humanity to be saved.  His Spirit is right next to you now, leading you to this truth.  And when you trust in Jesus as LORD, embracing His saving power in your life, this same Spirit comes to reside inside of you… His presence never leaving you.

Next time:  Who is God?

 

 

A simple view of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Here’s the thing.  Everything we do… and I mean everything… is either to God’s glory or it is not.  Therein lies the crucial concept about what it means to call God/Jesus “Lord.”  In order to live in this simplistic view of God, several elementary tenets must be present.

First, God is in control.  This means in His sovereignty, God is in charge of everything.  He allows evil to exist so that He can demonstrate His power to turn it into good.  We can choose to do good, or not, but what happens as a result of our choices God is still in control… even if our actions were ill intentioned.  For example, Joseph’s brother’s willfully chose to sell him into slavery in Egypt.  But God… (don’t you love that phrase?)… but God took that evil action and turned it into good.

Second, because God is in control, He has absolute authority over my life.  We should never doubt or question this authority.  And, the absoluteness of God’s authority means His lordship transcends all other loyalties on our part.  Yes we should be loyal to our parents, friends, nation… But God says we should love Him with all our heart… without any rival.  In addition, this authority covers all areas of human life.  Read the opening verse 1 Corinthians 10:31 again.

Third, when God takes you and me into His family, He fights for us, blesses us, loves us, and sometimes disciplines us for our sinfulness.  But most importantly, God is present with us.  Jesus was named Immanuel (God with us – Isaiah 7:14).  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, because we are His temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

So…

Control, authority, covenant presence… these three tenets are the main biblical concepts that explain the meaning of God’s Lordship.

Tune in tomorrow for the meaning of “transcendence and immanence.”

Just in time…

Just in timeThis is the Rocky Mountaineer engine which pulled our train from Seattle to Vancouver on the first leg of our fantastic vacation in May, 2018.  As we boarded that afternoon I was almost overcome with excitement at what I would see and experience over the next week and a half.  I remember the rush of adrenalin at the first movement of the train pulling out of the station, and the unmitigated sense of joy at being in that place, at that time.

I’m thinking this must be what it was like (in some greater way) for my dear friend Jay Wheelock, yesterday morning at 6:20 a.m. CDT., when Jay went to be with Jesus.  His passing was difficult for me.  I loved this man as much as I ever could have loved a brother.

He was in fact my brother, because I also had the rare privilege of leading Jay to trust in Jesus as his own personal Savior back in the late 1990’s.  For the last 20 years or so Jay and I played lots of golf together.  We went on many spiritual journeys together, as his mind led Jay to read the Bible constantly and come to me with a list of questions to help him make sense of it all.  Now, looking back on all those years, and all that conversation and discussion, I miss him already.  I’m sad… but it’s a joyful sadness.  Because I know… that Jay now knows… the truth of all we discussed.

Consider for a moment these truths:

Psalm 139:16  ~  You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Psalm 39:4  ~  LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered–how fleeting my life is.

Romans 8:1  ~  So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:53-58  ~  Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:  “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

The schedule for the Rocky Mountaineer train journey was never precise, they always gave us a general arrival time span.  This was because they shared the tracks with other trains and the train traffic controllers determined who went where and when.

However, in the Sovereign plan of God, laid out before Jay was ever born, God had it all worked out.  And God is never late or imprecise.

The ultimate truth is crystal clear:

Romans 5:6  ~  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Thank you God, for my brother Jay, who now knows the truth of these words, and lives now in the power of your presence.

Faces

faces

The smile.
The frown.

Sadness.
Disbelief.

Comprehension.
Fear.

Doubt.
Peace.

Just a few of the faces I’ve seen.
All coming from one set of muscles designed to demonstrate unlimited tales of emotion.

The face.
Yours is beyond beautiful.

The lines of time in all the right places, enhancing your glow, casting spells on all who care to see.  The eyes, nose, cheeks, lips all perfectly placed, what a marvelous creation.

Each expression a diamond mine to explore until time is no more.
And even then, there would be no end to the joy that is your face.

Mine seems to be one dimensional compared to yours.
I lack the luster, and grace of the excitement of your eyes.

My nose just sits there whether I talk or listen.
Yours with all it’s tiny curls and twitches brings brilliance to every laugh, drama to every tear.

My lips too long have drawn taunt with frustration, anger, depression.
Yours always inviting conversation and the taste of life and love.

Why is it that women’s faces are always so beautiful, and men’s always so worn and chiseled?  It doesn’t seem fair until I realize one simple truth.

Men were never intended to look into mirrors.
They were created to look into the divine and bring him glory.

And to facilitate that end, God in his infinite wisdom gave man the greatest of all gifts.
The faces of the woman he loves.

 

 

Revelation 14:2

rushing water

And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.

The sound of this water was so loud I could barely think.  But what I thought was this verse describing a worship scene that even John struggled to describe.

May the light of God in Jesus Christ shine bright upon you today, and His love and grace fill your life with blessing unspeakable.

 

#WalkAway in not a new thing…

In these confusing days of intolerance, judgment, and hate I’m reminded of these words written thousands of years ago:

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” [Ecclesiastes 1:9]

What stirred this thought process for me was an article on the Fox News Website this morning, click here to read it for yourself.  According to Fox News, “Kevin Nicholson is a decorated Marine Corps veteran who served combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Following his time in the Marine Corps, he earned a joint degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (Master of Public Administration) and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business (Master of Business Administration). He then worked for McKinsey & Co., and now works for ghSmart as a business consultant. He is a first-time candidate in the Wisconsin Republican primary for U.S. Senate.”  Now here is a man I could get behind and support without question.

Yet, as I read this article, an overwhelming sense of sadness came upon me.  What the author of Ecclesiastes wrote is true throughout the ages.  Intolerance will be around until the end of time itself, repeating with fervor ever so often, rising again and again to claim its victims.  One very famous victim of intolerance had a lot to say about the #walkaway concept.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.  God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.  God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.  God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.  God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.  God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.  Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”  [Matthew 5:3-11]

In His teaching, Jesus went on to talk about hate, anger, revenge and other volatile topics ending with these words…

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.” [vs. 43-47]

There comes a time when dealing with intolerant judgers and haters requires a person to just #WalkAway.  Jesus said this too.  When His disciples were met with ridicule or persecution after preaching the gospel in a given city, Jesus instructed them:

But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate. 

[Mark 6:11]

Today’s vernacular would say… #WalkAway

He never said this life would be easy.   He never promised we would only walk through rose gardens, and only smell the roses.  In fact He said,

“They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

[Luke 12:53]

Today on the front page headlines we find Kevin Nicholson’s story and see these words fulfilled:

I’m running for Senate as a Republican. My Democrat parents are so furious they’re backing my opponent

 

The most important thing you can take away from this blog today is this:  God’s WORD is absolutely true.  There is nothing new that God hasn’t seen, or already said is coming.

So, if you want to find your way in this crazy world, the place to seek your path is in the word of God.  It was true then… it’s true still, today.

2,107 Miles North

2107 Miles

Photo taken:  May 24, 2018, 1:12 P.M.

It’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post, but I can explain.  Perhaps the best explanation is this image.  My wife and I love to play golf together, and we look forward to many golf trips in the future.  If you follow this blog you’ll know that we just returned from a trip to Canada where we toured the Rocky Mountains and saw amazing sights along the way.  One of our two-night stops was at the Jasper Fairmont Lodge, in Jasper, Alberta, Canada.  This photo perspective is from the first tee of the JFL Golf Course.  We didn’t get to play that day, the course was having some teenage tournament, and behind us (not in the photo) were several bus loads of kids about to tackle this course.

So with that context, the reason I haven’t written in a couple of weeks is that upon our return from vacation it became apparent that if we were to go on many more vacations involving hiking, or golfing, my wife was in need of a total knee replacement.  Eleven days ago, she had this surgical procedure done.  We go back to the doctor tomorrow to get the staples removed.  Then, in about another month or so, we’ll be back out on the golf course chasing that little white ball.  As a result, I’ve been out of touch and haven’t even been at my computer much.

This morning I travelled 2,107 miles in my mind, standing once again on this first tee box, imagining what it would be like to play this course.  What strikes me now, stuck me then, that I might have trouble focusing on my swing because I was so distracted by the beauty of the surrounding terrain.  The blue hue of the mountains, the almost fall-look of the forrest, and the brilliant gleaming green of the fairways was a truly awesome sight.  I wondered then, and I wonder now, if those kids realized how blessed they were to play in such a grand place.

As I write this, I can almost smell the cool air drifting down the fairway as the breeze quickens, the leaves rustle in nearby trees, and the branches move at the tops like soldiers saluting a passing general.  On this day, just like that day in May, I’m reminded of God’s glory, and how blessed I am to know He is in sovereign control of all of life.

Thank you God for the beauty of this world, and thank you that my wife is healing well, and that soon we’ll be venturing outdoors again to experience your creation among the greens.

1 Corinthians 2:9   That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

 

 

Can’t see the forest for the leaves

look straight up 2

photo taken: Sunday, May 20th, 1:55pm

I realize that I misquoted this statement, but it fits better with this image.  It was, and still remains a mystery to me why so many people look out, or down, but never look up when walking through a forest.  The path may be dangerously steep or rocky, so yes you have to look where you’re going, I get that.  No mistake at all that the forest is filled with all different species of trees which are glorious all on their own, but together in the mix of trees, one could even call it magnificent.  But just once when you look up into the canopy… at the tops of the trees where the sun shines through… well most people never do see this image.

These leaves were a good 5 to 10 feet above my head, so the tops of the trees overhead had to be 75-100 feet above, or more.

Our eyes seldom focus on the far things, but rather on the things right in front of us.  These bright green leaves might represent our current circumstances, good or bad.  The tree tops might represent our future, sometimes obscured except for an occasional glimpse of what might be.   And the brightness of an overcast sky in the distance having no clarity at all, represents a hazy, gauze-like, white cotton heavenly, but unknowable, eternity.

I don’t want to miss any of it.  I want to capture everything in this life which God meant for me to experience, understand, and know.  So while I’m focused on the now, I live in the hope of seeing the tops of the trees before my life is over. Then, in the end, to go into that bright light, to be at home with the Lord.

Right now, I continue to look up, because I want to be ready.

Job 35:5   Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you.

What’s wrong with this picture?

whats wrong with this picture

photo taken May 25th, 2018, 4:12pm

We had stopped at this location to see a frozen lake and landscape on our way to Banff.  It was majestic as far as the eye could see, the mountains, the ice cap, the beautiful blue sky, and this lake that until now was frozen solid and had just begun to melt.

When into the frame stepped this young man with a paddle board… hmmm.  Now I’m not one to judge, but it did cause me to contemplate, “What is he thinking?”  Surely he is not going to plunge himself, on purpose, into this ice cold water, then paddle board around for the afternoon… is he?  I don’t know how this story ended.  It was time to load the bus, and go on to the next site on the list.  So, we never saw him go in, only his intention to do so.

The action of the young man weighed on me as I consider life around me today.  I don’t know what causes some people to just “jump” into an irrational pattern of behavior.  I don’t understand how this action would even be a consideration.  Maybe it is as simple as this young man considers himself to be a “paddle-boarder.”  So in all kinds of weather, regardless of hot or cold, he goes paddle boarding.  I guess I could accept that.

I also know that it might be how people look at me.  I consider myself to be a person of faith, long-time pastor/teacher.  So whether in adversity, or peace; when I’m sick or when I’m healthy; whether I have little, or a lot… my thoughts turn to scripture and its applications for life today.  It’s who I am.

What came oozing out of this young man’s veins was, “I need to go paddle boarding,” it’s who he is.

What comes oozing out of you on a daily basis?  And does the world around you always understand why it does?

There is one sure-fire way to determine people of faith in the chaos of the world today.  When it’s freezing spiritually, or when it’s beautiful spiritually, the person of faith is seen this way: they are … loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and in control of themselves.   How do I know this?  Read Galatians 5:22-23.

The world in chaos and darkness will look at you the same way I looked at this young man… and they won’t understand it.  But make no mistake, God’s Holy Spirit will use you in these actions to make a difference in your world.  So let the “fruit” of God’s Spirit inside you work through you today.

 

 

It’s Not Easy

not easy

taken: Johnston Canyon, Alberta Canada, May 26th, 11:31 a.m.

Walking this path to the waterfalls in Johnston Canyon was a fast 20 minute hike, so we chose to let younger legs pass us by as we just took our time listening to the sounds of the forest and the river below.  In one incredible moment, there was a single ray of light that lit up this lone aspen tree in the forest, and I knew what it meant when Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” [Matthew 5:14]

What we are designed to do is reflect God’s image to the dark world around us, because He lives inside us.

What we are supposed to do is speak God’s truth to an unbelieving world which is filled with hate, anger, fear, and judgment… and speak this truth in love.

What we are supposed to BE… is holy, set apart for God’s own purposes, just like this lone aspen in the middle of the forest.

In the chaos of life surrounding you today, if you are in Christ, be “The light of the world.”

It’s not easy…

Can You Imagine?

Center of Attention small

Thursday, May 24, 1:18 p.m., Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada.

And the thought that came to mind was, “Heavenly!”

These two read chairs, sitting next to the lake just behind the Fairmont Lodge, were so inviting.  In the cool mountain air, with just a hint of breeze, I was thinking how nice it would be to just sit and talk.

This led me to folks who’ve gone on before me to heaven, and how one day maybe I’ll get to sit beside them in some idyllic setting such as this, and just catch up.  I’d like to sit with my mother again like this and just talk like I did when I came home from college.

Then, I thought of my dad, struggling with the mysterious illness we call Alzheimer’s disease.  I don’t remember many times when my dad and I just sat and talked.  We played golf, we played card games at family times like Christmas or Thanksgiving.  But there weren’t that many times when we would just sit and talk.  Now, I wish he could remember me, and we could just sit and talk.

Inevitably, these thoughts today brought me to the idea of one day just sitting and talking with Jesus.  How marvelous that will be!  But wait…

I know it seems like prayer is a more formal exercise often only emphasized in church worship or at Bible studies, but doesn’t the Bible actually teach us that prayer is simply having a conversation with God?  In fact on this day we celebrate as Father’s Day, what could please him more than if we simply pulled up two chairs together (wherever you are today), and just took the time to have a conversation with the Creator of the universe, our Heavenly Father?  The Apostle Peter said it this way… 1 Peter 5:6-7

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

No More Thirst

AF 1 small

Here I stood, listening to the roar of the mighty Athabasca Falls, taking in the stunning view of sunlight as it lit up the mist, while my heart inside my head repeated over and over and over, “My God, How Great Thou Art!”

The stone monument nearby read:

Since the last in a dynasty of glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago, The Athabasca River has battled a trembling earth.  Abandoned channels, potholes and deep canyons in some of the hardest rock in Jasper National Park mark the ancient battle lines.  Today, the battle continues upstream at the 25-metre falls.  This trail offers a 20-minute visit to one battleground in a land of many.  It is a dangerous please so please stay behind the guard rails.

This image taken May 25th, at 10:15 a.m., captures the spirit of this monument completely.  The power of the water running over these giant stones was intense.  It was easy to believe the story of the river in battle with a trembling earth.

It also brought instantly to my mind the eternal battle being waged around the world for the hearts and minds of those far from God.  In one crystal clear image I was drawn to the words of Jesus as He sat teaching during the Feast of Booths (see John 7).  What stunned those great teachers in the temple was His ability to speak so clearly, communicate so effectively, with authority and influence, because Jesus had received no formal training like they had.

Think of the stubbornness born out of rote ritual and legalistic thinking as the stones of the mountain, and the words of Jesus spoken in love as the river water doing battle against the walls of human thinking.  These water falls, to my mind, are these words of Jesus to the Pharisees that day, and yes to all the world, to every person alive today:

John 7:37-38
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

Today as you read these words, as you view this image, trust in Jesus to quench the thirst in your heart for meaning, purpose, and life.  Only Jesus has the power to give eternal life.

 

 

One Way

One Way small

On Sunday, May 27th, at 8:34 a.m., I was remembering all that we read about the discovery of Lake Louise by the first settlers, and the small hamlet named for this nearby lake.  It was named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria… yes “that” Queen Victoria.

This view is pretty much due west from our room, and overnight most of the ice that covered over half the lake had melted.  There was almost no breeze at all and the lake took on a perfect mirror reflection of the mountains and sky above.

While standing in awe of the view, I wondered about the pioneers who might have witnessed this view decades ago, and if they needed direction, it was easy enough to see.  Right in the middle of the photo, where the lake meets the closest mountain on the left, the snowy mirror reflection made a perfect arrow pointing west.

Here’s a closer view.

One Way 2 small

As I reflected on these images this morning, I was reminded that God does these kinds of things on purpose.  When the way to turn is obscured by difficult circumstances, when life seems pointless or dreary, God can reveal a path to wellness, wholeness, and healing… if we just know where to look, and follow the path revealed.  That’s why Jesus came.  It is … who He is.

John 14:6, Jesus said…
“I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Follow the signs, follow the arrows, and turn your eyes upon Jesus today.