Behold Your God — The End

18 Aug

We have come to the end of the Behold Your God study this summer. I hope you have enjoyed the study, benefited from the videos, been blessed by your small group, and been helped by these blog articles.

Many people have told me this study has been challenging and helpful. I am grateful for this. Now, as we come to the end, what do we do now? Here are some possible suggestions . . .

  1. Go through the book again. A couple of people have told me they are planning to do this. Much like an exercise program can have benefits if repeated, so this study will benefit you through repeated exposure.
  2. If you have been doing the workbook, continue to give significant time to Bible study.
  3. Take up and read some of the works of the figures presented in the videos. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and A.W. Tozer would be good places to start.
  4. Share what you have learned with others. Talking about the key ideas of the book will solidify them in your mind and help you continue to grow as you see the implications of the truth you are learning lived out in your daily life.

Thanks to all who participated this summer.

Behold Your God — Week Twelve, Day Five

18 Aug

Don’t expect perfection. Don’t let your zeal be misdirected. Don’t chase after feelings. Don’t give up.

These four statements summarize the final study in the Behold Your God book.

When seeking to know and live in the presence of God . . .

  1. Don’t expect perfection. You will not live a perfectly sinless life and your life’s circumstances will not be perfectly smooth. Hard days attend to the one who seeks God. Frustrating failures of heart will be common. Days of joy in God will be sidetracked by one action or comment. Expect this. Know that in this world you will have trouble. Know from the outset that while you should be growing in holiness, you will always fall short of perfection. One of the keys to healthy Christian living is perseverance. This can only happen if two things are going on in our hearts. First, we must believe the goal of our pursuit is worthwhile and second, we must not give up when we fail.
  2. Don’t let your zeal be misdirected. This can manifest itself in many ways. The book described the “Toronto Blessing” of the early ’90’s and the idea of “holy laughter,” discussing how this seemed to be out of step with revivals in the Bible. But there are other ways zeal can be misdirected too. In our excitement over knowing God, we may insist that everyone must know God in exactly the way we do. So if we came to know Jesus through the influence of great books, we will insist that everyone else must read these books. Or if it was through a small group Bible study, we become the world’s biggest cheerleader for Bible study. But there are many gifts in the body, therefore many expressions of those gifts should be expected and many different points of emphasis on many different points of need.
  3. Don’t chase after feelings. There is a way we can get so fixed on seeing revival that we begin to seek revival rather than seeking God. We may become religious consumers, looking to get a certain high from a worship experience and may fail to see the significance of knowing God is far greater than the warm feelings of a revival meeting. The two are not always synonymous.
  4. Don’t give up. When I think about the sin in my own heart, the sin of fellow church members, and the devastated world we live in, I am tempted to give up. I must remember that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” I have resources for this life to see me through each day and God’s promises to sustain me. So I must never give up. “When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

I don’t want to end telling you what not to do, so let me list a few things Christians through the centuries have found helpful when it comes to knowing the Lord and walking with Him.

  • The Word is essential. Reading it, meditating over it, committing it to memory, all these things are key. I think it was said of John Bunyan that he was so immersed in Scripture that it was as if you pricked him, he would bleed the Bible.
  • Prayer is essential. Seeing God through the Word, we come into intimate fellowship with God through prayer. Prayer is not mainly about getting stuff we want, it is mainly about coming into God’s presence and knowing Him.
  • Church is essential. Church can take many forms, but gathering with other like-minded people is an essential part of your journey of faith. You need the other perspectives, the encouragement along the way, the shared ministry opportunities.
  • Service is essential. If you never put all you are knowing of God into practice in your daily life, you are missing out on knowing God more deeply than you could otherwise know Him. God is a giver. His love overflows. As people made in His image, we function best when we are giving, when we are overflowing with acts of love.
  • Ongoing learning is essential. The resources we have for spiritual growth in our day are absolutely amazing. If you don’t take advantage of the great books of the past, of conferences, of seminars, of online events and podcasts, you may be missing out on a great means of spiritual growth. To be sure, this can be an area where we overdo it. There is no salvation through reading, no sanctification by podcast. But ignoring the opportunities to grow God has given us in our day may be an indicator of pride or laziness. We must be judicious in what we take in, but the mentoring we can receive through resources by saints who have walked this path of life before us is invaluable.
  • Time is essential. This may be the most challenging thing of all. If you really want to behold God, you must devote time to Him. If you are working every hour of the day, don’t be surprised if you feel distant from Him. If you are filling free moments with games on your smart phone or social media, don’t be surprised if you have no intimacy with God. If you binge watch Netflix but don’t read your Bible, don’t be alarmed when you realize God is no longer very important to you. Love means an investment of time. Will you make the time commitment necessary to see the work of God flourish in your life? Will this study not be an end but the beginning of a life of earnestly seeking the Lord? I pray it would be so.

Behold Your God — Week Twelve, Day Four

17 Aug

The letter to the church in Laodicea in the book of Revelation is one of the more famous passages in the Bible . . .

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

This passage is known by its focus on being lukewarm and by the invitation of verse 20 to open the door to Jesus. The lukewarm aspect is interesting. It seems to me from a reading of verses 17 and 18 that what leads to lukewarmness is self-sufficiency. There is some allegiance to Jesus (hot) but also a lot of allegiance to self (cold). Thus a lukewarm person is one who is not yielding daily to the Lordship of Christ but is trying to make it through life by their own wits. They are self-deceived, thinking they have all they need but being blind to their true spiritual condition. The solution is found in buying true riches from Jesus. This refined gold (the path is suffering), these white garments, this salve for the eyes, all these things are pointing to a life with Jesus that is rich and joyous and holy and true. If we will pass through the refiners fire day by day we will find a quality of life with God that we can find nowhere else. We will be free from the deadly grip of self-deception and we will enjoy close fellowship with our Maker and Savior.

The pathway to this life is repentance. That is why many people, even church people, never experience the fullness of God. They won’t repent. They won’t move their allegiance from self-dependence to dependence on God. The way to life runs counter to our expectations, while the way to death is broad and welcoming.

It will take fresh eyes to see these things for many of us. And when the voices of culture are so strong in their denunciations of such an approach it will be tempting to just go with the flow. But nothing could be more damaging to us than to gain the whole world and forfeit our souls.

Behold Your God — Week Twelve, Day Three

16 Aug

Every Christian from time to time feels keenly the absence of God. This is sometimes associated with the idea of “the dark night of the soul” a condition in which the heavens seem silent and God seems distant. We can not control God. His presence and power are His to give and to withhold. We can be confident that His giving and withholding are not capricious, but are in line with His character.

When we are longing for the presence of God but He seems absent, there are two things we can do to address this situation: yield and pursue. We yield through submitting our whole heart to God. Is there any sin area I am clinging to, anything unwilling to let go? Is my attitude one of practical atheism or practical deism? Until I look at my life and yield to Jesus, I will likely miss much of the presence of God in my life. Second, pursue God. One of the great dangers of the right emphasis on grace is that it can be misunderstood as a doorway to passivity. Because I am justified by His grace and because His grace empowers us for living, I don’t need to do anything. But this is wrong. The Bible is clear that I am to abide with the Lord, I am to seek Him, I am to obey His commands. I can’t do any of that in a real way apart from His power, but I am called to pursue God.

Having yielded my heart and given myself to the pursuit of God, then I must receive what God gives with gratitude. Whether God does what I hope for or not, I must receive what He gives with gratitude. If I do not have this attitude of settled contentment, I show that I have set my hope on something else, and in effect have made that thing my goal. So if I seek God, hoping my marriage will improve and then my marriage doesn’t improve and I express anger and frustration with God, I have revealed that I am trying to find my life in marriage rather than God. God Himself is the goal. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. You can’t get much more comprehensive than the greatest commandment. And the flip side of this command is “You shall have no other gods before me.” Our lives should be lives of surrender and faith, growing in love for God all along. God loves to reveal Himself to those who seek Him, so we can have confidence that His presence will be with us if we walk in these things. Most of us do not experience the presence of God because we do not yield and pursue.

Behold Your God — Week Twelve, Day Two

15 Aug

Today’s study laid out three signs of God’s absence . . .

  1. The loss of God’s noticeable concern and powerful activity.
  2. Going further and staying longer in sin than you had intended.
  3. Looking like a people who never were ruled by Jesus.

The problem with all of this is that we may continue with our lives much the same as they have always been and still be far from the daily power of God’s presence. We can continue to come to church, serve in the church, even read our Bibles and pray and still be far from God.

The solution is beholding and becoming. As we spend time with God and turn our minds constantly to Him, and walk in His ways, we begin to become what He wants us to be. But the presence of God is difficult to comprehend sometimes even when we are walking with God. It would be a mistake to just seek warm feelings. Goose bump Christianity will not get us far. On the other hand, cold, information-based Christianity is also a dead end. We must seek the presence of God without succumbing to emotionalism.

Behold Your God — Week Twelve, Day One

14 Aug

We have not been studying for these twelve weeks to just get more information about God or even to learn how to serve Him better. We have been reading and thinking and praying and preaching so that we might know God and draw near to Him. To walk with God, this is the goal. Because when we walk with God, we are honoring Him as God, we are being shaped by His presence and we are fulfilling the purpose for which were made, to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbor. So what we long for is the presence of God. The presence of God will be the focus of our last week of study. Having avoided the counterfeits of practical atheism and practical deism and pragmatism over the last two weeks, now we draw near to God to seek the real thing . . . fellowship with God.

The thing is, we cannot make this fellowship and sense of God’s presence happen. We cannot control God. He is Lord, we are not. But we can put ourselves in the path of the fullness of His presence. We can walk in ways that make Him more likely to draw near to us and we can walk in ways that will move Him to remove His hand from us.

When God really wants to judge someone in the Bible, He most often doesn’t strike them with His hand, He removes His hand. When God strikes it is often for the purpose of disciplining a person. But when His hand comes off your life, that is the time when you should really begin to tremble.

What should you do if God is absent in your experience of daily life?

Ask God for His presence in your life.

Confess and forsake sin.

Keep coming to God regardless of what you feel.

Keep walking in obedience to God regardless of whether there is a tangible reward. Walk with Him even if going another way would be temporarily easier.

Behold Your God — Week Twelve, Introduction

13 Aug

It is hard to believe that we have come to the end. This week is our last week in the Behold Your God workbook this summer. We will have one more sermon next Sunday and then a summary sermon on the last week of the month but this is our last week of daily study in the workbook. It has been a rich time. I worked through this study several months ago and found it so helpful that I thought it would be worthwhile for us to study it together as a church. Many people have benefited from the daily time in the Word and with the teaching from the workbook and the many great quotes from Christian lights of the past in the margins.

I hope you will continue on in the daily habits of study and reflection on the Word in the weeks after the study concludes. Thank you to all who have taken part in Behold Your God this summer.

Behold Your God — Week Eleven, Day Five

11 Aug

We’ve talked a lot in the last few days about the unconventional ways of God’s kingdom. God often works in ways that are not according to our expectations. He often calls us to do unusual things. The easy way is often not the right way. But today’s study has a very important paragraph which I want to highlight here:

“It would be dangerous to think that just because something seems impractical or reckless it is the spiritual thing to do. Doing something reckless in Jesus’ name is not equivalent to obeying Him. Obedience, not reckless self-directed spirituality, honors God.”

Last night I was reading a little booklet called An Hour with George Mueller. Many people know George Mueller as the godly man of the 1800’s who housed thousands of orphans in England, relying on donations through prayer and faith. One of the things that struck me about Mueller’s approach was how rooted it was in the promises of God. In other words, Mueller would pray in faith based on what God had said in His Word. So the spectacular answers Mueller received were not because he was a special person but because he leaned on a God who was able to do above and beyond what we ask or imagine. Mueller would have rejected the approach of doing something radical or impractical just to avoid pragmatism. Instead, he would bank all on God. And that is what the Behold Your God study has been urging us to do from the beginning. To live our lives based on who God is, this is the path of maturity, fruitfulness and blessing, even through hardship and pain.

Behold Your God — Week Eleven, Day Four

10 Aug

Day four is convicting if you have ears to hear. The author gives us all sorts of scenarios where pragmatism plays out and they are all close enough to reality to cause us to check our hearts.

But I was drawn to the last paragraph of the study, which talked about Hebrews chapter 11. Several years ago I heard Matt Chandler preaching about this chapter, known widely as the Faith Chapter, and he said of the people of God, “some people shut the mouths of lions and some people get eaten by them!” This is in fact what Hebrews 11 implies . . .

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,

Notice here the people of faith have very different outcomes in their lives, even as they all follow the Lord in faith. We cannot tell what the results of our lives will be in this world if we follow God. This is the reason pragmatism is so wrong. It demands a certain outcome to be the only acceptable one and then designs outcomes to get there.

Instead of putting a certain goal out there, let’s just bank on God to do what He wants with us, knowing that His plans for us in the end are better than our plans for ourselves.

The Other Issue with Kevin DeYoung and “Game of Thrones”

10 Aug

Kevin DeYoung wrote an article this week on The Gospel Coalition website that has caused a firestorm in the comments section. DeYoung’s piece, “I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones” has more that 250 comments at this point. Many people agree with DeYoung, that watching this sexually explicit and violent HBO series is a no-go for Christians, while others are harshly critical, accusing DeYoung of being judgmental or worse.

My take on this issue is that the controversy reveals a deeper issue with Christians: we have bought into the lie that we must be entertained. Our culture reveres, and revels in, entertainment. Our hours are to be devoted to it, so much so that a leader with the streaming service Netflix recently said that the company’s chief competitor was sleep. Their goal was to hook their subscribers free time to such an extent that they would only put the remote down when physically exhausted.

But does the Bible give us any theology of entertainment? To be sure, we can look to verses which celebrate God’s good gifts. We can look to the ethos of the book of Ecclesiastes, which directs us to enjoy life under the sun. We can see that the Bible is not against food or drink or enjoyment. But the Bible is strongly against idolatry. And I think that is where some Christians go in their need for entertainment. In this regard, the choice of entertainment is not my focus (though I think we should be careful about the kinds of things we choose to watch/listen to). Instead, I am thinking about the volume of entertainment we insist on and the ways we bring ourselves constantly to the throne of sensory stimulation.

What we are doing is not good for us. I would be the last person in the world who would want us our attitude as Christians to fit H.L. Mencken’s definition of a Puritan: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy.” But I am concerned with my own heart and, in reading the comments in DeYoung’s article, I am concerned with many other Christians with regard to our entertainment obsession.

Why do we feel the need to occupy every free moment with some form of entertainment (often entertainment that isolates us from others)? Why do we give so much time to cell phone games and social media and streaming services and sports and so little time to Scripture and prayer? Why do we eschew opportunities to edify our souls and embrace opportunities to stimulate our senses? We reach for what feels good rather than what is good. This is idolatry, plain and simple.

What is not so simple is how we walk this out day by day. There is not a biblical prescription or command (“30 minutes of entertainment and no more”). Each believer has to work out their entertainment theology with fear and trembling. “You shall have no other gods before me” is really the flip side of the greatest commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” So idolatry is unacceptable in any form to those who want to love God. But how this looks for each believer will vary slightly from person to person and from season to season.

But I also want to say that I think there may be a deeper issue at work here as well. I believe many Christians in America have rejected a theology of suffering that is much more explicit and developed in Scripture than a theology of entertainment. In other words, while the Bible doesn’t tell us to pursue entertainment or to expect entertainment as part of our lives, we are told to expect suffering. In fact, in some way we are to count trials joy for the good they produce in us. But our culture is allergic to not feeling well. If you have a sniffle, get a pill. If you are lonely, fire up Netflix. If you are hungry, the drive-thru beckons. We have created a culture that caters to our whims so when the inevitable empty hours arise, we fill them with entertainment. The problem with this is that these empty hours are God’s will for us. They are the hollow places of life where God shapes us and fills us. Our disconnection from the reality of God is owing not to a lack of God’s presence but to our pushing everything else into the spaces God should fill.

We understand, I think, the need for Christians to embrace suffering in the big things, but we are reluctant to embrace the hundred little sufferings we face every day. A personal interaction that falls flat, an effort at work that is less than stellar, overactive and irritating children, bad news in the world, aging parents, there are dozens of things every day that we face as part of life in a fallen world. How do we handle these things? I think for many of us, we go to entertainment as a way to escape our pain. There is a place for entertainment and we certainly need to choose wisely. But sometimes we need to allow pain to do its work, even the pain of loneliness or emptiness or concern. Maybe we never get far with God and never make much progress with our problems because we medicate our symptoms instead of treating our disease. Applying gospel truth to our hearts, waiting on the Lord, talking to Him, these are all things which are not flashy or immediately stimulating, but they bring to our lives a richness and depth we can find nowhere else. In the end, our lives will be fuller if we empty them a little bit.

%d bloggers like this: