Behold Your God — Week Eleven, Day Three

9 Aug

In contrast to yesterday’s study, today’s is very short, with several passages of Scripture to read and to interact with. In today’s study, the dangers of pragmatism are clearly seen, as several biblical figures go awry doing what looks reasonable and sensible and what is approved by the majority, only to find in the end that they did not do what God told them to do. This is our struggle. We often think God’s commands to us unreasonable, so we choose our own way, but this is deadly to the spiritual life. It is a dangerous expression of pride. It is also very easy to do. Our flesh will convince us that we are acting in wisdom. Here are some examples of this pragmatic spirit . . .

“Why pray when I can work and get something done?”

“Who cares about a little cheating on my taxes as long as no one finds out?”

“My exaggerations and lies made the story I was telling more interesting.”

“No one can be totally pure, so my little glances at things I shouldn’t watch don’t offend God. He knows I will fail.”

“What does it matter how we do church as long as people are excited and giving is good?”

“The worship song has very little true biblical content but it moves my emotions, so it must be ok.”

“I have to watch the latest raunchy TV show to be relevant to my unbelieving friends.”

“The preacher hardly uses the Bible but I sure feel good when I leave church on Sunday.”

“We’ve got to live together before we get married so we can save extra money for our wedding.”

“I don’t need to read my Bible because I can just listen to Christian radio.”

“I don’t need to go to church because I can watch a great preacher online every week.”

“I can’t choose church over sports on Sundays for my kids because then they’ll miss out on scholarships.”

“I don’t need to gather with people to worship God. I have my church at the lake.”

Each of these quotes are examples of pragmatism trumping biblical truth. But many people in our culture would accept at least some of these things as reasonable or permissible courses of action. We must look to God not to what is comfortable or easy or socially acceptable. What would God have you to do? That is the question.

 

 

 

Behold Your God — Week Eleven, Day Two

8 Aug

Today’s study is pretty heavy in terms of reading but every word is worth your attention. One of the great things we must get free of in American evangelicalism is the insistence that spiritual health in the church means things are smooth and successful. Many years ago a good book was written entitled Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. We need a constant reminder that God often works through weakness, often works in ways that are contrary to our expectations and often works over the long-term to accomplish His purposes. And His purposes are often at odds with our purposes, even if we call ourselves Christians.

Today people are seeking community with other people (often outside the Church) but not communion with God. But in the end, this community will be temporary. Once I hit middle age and I can’t do the heavy duty exercise classes any more the friends I had there will fade away. When my kids grow up, the relationships I formed with their parents through their traveling sports teams will fade away. The same is true of school activities and relationships in their growing up years. Even in church, if the foundation of the community is in the church rather than in communion with God, it will fall apart eventually. This manifests itself in the church in both nostalgia and novelty. Some long for the good old days while others are always seeking the new thing, the perfect church. The problem for both is that they are focused on the Church as a human organization that teaches about God instead of a God-established and empowered body of people who love Him.

The only sure way to have deep community is to base it on deep communion with God. Shared ministry goals, shared theological interests, shared backgrounds will not cut it any more than the secular alternatives of social media and book clubs. But communion with God as the foundation of deep community works because community is not based on something subject to fade and change (such as physical health, location, local church structure and the like) but is founded on the solid base of God’s nature. This foundation brings together diverse people from many backgrounds. This is why a healthy church is not normally a group of people who are just alike but are a people who are very different from one another but are bound together by a desire to know God.

When we think about the fall in Genesis Adam and Eve, in eating the fruit, lost their community with each other and their communion with God. They hid from God and they covered up from each other. God’s saving work is about reversing this curse. Salvation from sin means not only deliverance from hell but also entrance into new life with God and with God’s people. Communion and community are restored, in part now and in the end fully.

 

 

 

Behold Your God — Week Eleven, Day One

7 Aug

God is sufficient. Nothing else is sufficient for our life or growth in godliness. Why? Because nothing else can bear the weight of our souls except God. Only God is eternal and all-powerful and all-loving and unchanging. Everyone and everything else we know is fleeting, subject to change, decaying, corrupted. So if you hope in a spouse, one day that hope will not be enough. One day your children will leave the nest. Where will you be if you’ve put all your hope in them? No matter how healthy a lifestyle you live, one day your body will break down. Your political party will one day be out of power. The shingles will fall off the roof of your house. On and on we go. Analyze anything you hope in and you will find that, if it is not God, it will perish, spoil and fade.

This is true even in matters of religion. Your church is no place to put your hope. Times will change, people will die, leaders will come and go. If we make our church too much our identity we will be asking for disappointment. Your Bible knowledge is no place to put your hope. Your mind will diminish over the years. Your spiritual gifts are no place to hope, because one day your singing voice will go away, your teaching capacity will fade, your ability to practice hospitality will be diminished. On and on we go. Analyze anything you hope in spiritually and you will find that, if it is not God, it will perish, spoil and fade.

So what is the solution to our dilemma? Hope in God! Lean on the sufficiency of God. God alone is enough.

Behold Your God — Week Eleven Introduction

6 Aug

This week of Behold Your God may in many ways be the hardest for us to fully understand and embrace. The focus of this week’s study is pragmatism, a philosophy so deeply woven into the American psyche that it will take a serious work of the Spirit of God to free us from its grip. Pragmatism is based on the idea that whatever works is what we should do. In the church context, this idea of “what works” usually revolves around things like attendance, baptisms, budgets, a sense of excitement, and excellence in programming. None of these things are wrong in themselves, but when they become the focus, you can be sure that pragmatism will work into the mix somewhere.

The reason I say pragmatism is so difficult is that as I write this early on a Sunday morning I realize that if our attendance is off today, I will have to fight discouragement. My own heart wants to strategize rather than rest, plan rather than pray. There is, of course, a place for strategy and planning. We see this in the Bible often. But we put far too great a focus on these things.

Pragmatism is such a danger to us because it can cause us to take our eyes off of God and put them on measures of success that may or may not be very important at all. And this is really the ultimately deadly aspect of pragmatism: it insists on success. One of the reasons American Christians are so depressed and defeated and deflated is that they have been taught more about the American dream of prosperity and success than they have been taught the ways of God. They believe that their Christian lives ought to be one uninterrupted victory after another and that they should always be onward and upward. And the evidence of Scripture gives just the opposite picture. The kingdom of God is often not outwardly impressive. The kingdom is often filled with failure and stumbles and weakness. This is the truth we need to embrace and when we do, we will see the death of pragmatism in our lives. When we trust God enough to trust His ways and when we hope in God enough to make Him the goal, then we are on our way to living a life that is true to His calling for us.

Behold Your God — Week Ten, Day Five

4 Aug

When it comes down to it, life always boils down to the character of God. If I view God unbiblically or incompletely, I will find in my own character some manifestation of sinful attitudes. Failing to believe that God is in control may lead to an anxiety-ridden life. A lack of confidence in God’s promises may produce a similar anxious spirit. If you don’t believe God provides your needs, you may seek to provide your own, becoming greedy or angry when things don’t go as we wish. If we are not confident in God’s love and sufficiency, we may look to other things for help and hope. If we do not believe that relating to God in prayer is a positive help to bring us peace we may seek peace in entertainment or food or sinful things. If we don’t believe that Jesus is the only way to God, we may feel no need to share the gospel with others as we are commanded to do. If we believe that God will only bring good things into our lives if we trust Him, we will be devastated when something difficult comes.

In short, virtually all of our sin problems can be traced first and foremost to a problem in our view of God. This is why if we try to attack sins we will often end up defeated. The problem isn’t normally related to that sin problem, it is normally some deficiency in our view of God. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to fight sin is to behold your God. Seeing who He really is and grounding your life in that reality makes all the difference. Since the primary way that happens is through abiding with God in the Word, the Bible becomes a central means of our growth in holiness.

Local churches should make sure all members are grounded in the truth of the gospel and the attributes of God. Families would be well served to return to the older tradition of the catechism, teaching the children the basics of God’s character. Individuals should read every passage of Scripture with a view toward what God has said to us about Himself more than what a passage says about us.

When we think about our living and where it is deficient or incomplete, it is most often an issue of our view of God. Therefore, our Behold Your God study is one of the best things we could have done this summer as a church. Soon we will be moving on from this study but we should never move on from its central concept, expressed by AW Tozer, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Behold Your God — Week Ten, Day Four

3 Aug

Today’s study deals with a subject that has long baffled me: prayer. Personal prayer is sometimes a challenge, but corporate prayer in particular has been a struggle. I identified with so much in this chapter, from the description of past prayer meetings of which I have been a part to longing for something better and more lasting. I don’t know what it will take or how it will take shape, but I pray the Lord will show us as a church how to pray together and to pray more effectively.

Behold Your God — Week Ten, Day Three

2 Aug

Today’s study focused on formal efforts to alter the Jesus of truth presented in Scripture to a more acceptable Jesus. Thomas Jefferson did this with his Jefferson Bible which removed elements of the supernatural. Nineteenth century scholars did this with their “quest for the historical Jesus.” Twentieth century scholars like Rudolph Bultmann did this with their program of “demythologization.” In the late twentieth century scholars of the Jesus Seminar tried to discern in the gospels which were the core teachings of Jesus and which were later additions from His followers. Finally, in the twenty first century we have the immensely popular Dan Brown novels The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. Brown’s novels revolve around the idea that the truth about Jesus has been obscured by a conspiracy of Church powers.

All of these formal efforts to alter our understanding of Jesus have affected our culture profoundly. But the more profound change has taken place in the hearts of countless people who have altered their concept of Jesus without telling anyone. A little shift here, a little change there, and suddenly I have made a god in my own image. This is a real danger. The only antidote is prayerful attention to Scripture and a willingness to believe what God says even if it is difficult to accept or understand. Sometimes, things are difficult for us because of our background. For example, we might be tempted to overemphasize or underestimate Jesus’ teachings on poverty and wealth based on what kind of political background we were raised in as children. We have to honestly face the words and works of Jesus and come to terms with who He really is and this is part of worship. Getting to know Him more accurately is a means of drawing near to Him. Any other approach leaves us in the end worshiping a god of our own making.

Behold Your God — Week Ten, Day Two

1 Aug

The descriptions of practical atheism and practical deism in day two are very powerful.

Practical atheism is when we live as if God does not exist. Practical deism is when we acknowledge that God exists, but live as if He is no longer actively involved in the world on a personal level.

Practical atheism is a particular danger for those who are not well-grounded in the Word. If you are not consistently taking in the truths of Scripture, you will be prone to live your life based not on the truth of God but on your own notions of what is right and wrong. You will claim a profession of faith in God perhaps, but your life will not be marked by the hand of God. Practical atheists are church members who rarely open their Bibles, treat prayer like a glass case holding a fire extinguisher (break in case of emergency) and sleepwalk through gathered worship. Practical atheists believe life really runs by the ways of the world and they manage their lives on that basis to maximize their temporary happiness. Many times churches that are filled with conflict are simply churches that are filled with practical atheists, as everyone pulls against one another for the sake of their own preferences.

Practical deism, on the other hand, is a particular danger for those who are well-grounded in the Word. These deists may be very involved in church life but they are prone to think of God’s work as a thing past or perhaps a thing far future, but not as a present reality. People in the grip of practical deism are convinced that Scripture is true but are not sure it is true for them on a daily basis. Somehow, the stories of the Bible seem remote and God seems to have withdrawn. Turning away from the truth that God is unchanging, they may even use phrases like “It is finished” to put all the emphasis on what Jesus has done rather than what Jesus is doing. Committed to the sufficiency of Scripture they turn away from the life of the Spirit. Afraid of becoming too emotionally-driven or too experience-based rather than biblically-based, they are full of light but not warmth. To be sure, Jesus paid it all and what He has done and what Scripture teaches is critical. But God is real. He is alive today. He is still at work every bit as much as He has always been. And we can enter into His life and work in the world today through faith in Christ.

These two approaches to life are deadly to a church and are especially deadly within church leadership. If you have pastors who are practical deists, most of the time you will have a dead church. If you have a deacon body filled with practical atheists, most of the time you will have a divided church.

So let’s search our hearts in prayer and repent of practical atheism and practical deism. Let’s be people of light and warmth, fully committed and wholly devoted, people of the Word which is living and active.

Behold Your God — Week Ten, Day One

31 Jul

Today’s study is an excellent treatment of the subject of idolatry.

What is idolatry?

Idolatry is worshiping a false god. The god may be something we have created or something we ascribe worth to or the god may be a refashioning of the true God according to our own preferences or imagination. The statements from different people on their view of God made in the introduction were all examples of idolatry.

Why do we worship idols?

We worship idols because we do not want to worship the true God. We would rather do things our way than His way, so we create something else to worship. The idol serves us rather than us serving the idol. Our hopes and dreams become central and our idol becomes central to fulfilling our hopes and dreams. Idolatry is at the center of a self-centered life. And because we are all naturally self-centered apart from the grace of Christ, idolatry is something almost all people participate in and something with which almost all believers struggle to one degree or another. We are all prone to give our allegiance to counterfeit gods because we all have a tendency to want to serve self rather than Jesus.

The most insidious kind of idolatry is that kind which takes the things of God and twists them ever so slightly, so that what is worshiped is not the God of the Bible but my own preferences. Clothed in religious language, this idolatry can look like real worship and so deceive even the participants. We must be careful here to stay true to what God tells us about Himself and worship Him on that basis.

Are there any idols in your life? Anything you are clinging to as if it were God? Anything you are hoping in instead of hoping in God? Are you creating gods which are a slight alteration of the true God? Are you unwilling to face certain truths in Scripture about God and so create a god to satisfy your preferences. Only you and the Lord can answer these questions, but we all need to consider our hearts before God.

Behold Your God — Week Ten Introduction

30 Jul

We are now heading on to the homestretch of our Behold Your God study this summer.

This week, we explore two particular dangers on the road to beholding God: idolatry and pragmatism. We will get into these two dangers as the week.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I like to think of God as . . .” or “my God would never . . .?” If you’ve heard these kinds of phrases or used them yourself, you are in a danger zone. When it comes to who God really is, it is absolutely irrelevant what I think. Now for my own life, it is essential what I think of God. But my thoughts of God do not change who He is at all. He is who He is whether I believe in Him or not, whether I twist His reality to fit my conceptions of who He ought to be or not.

So the question really isn’t “what do I think about God?” the real question is, “what, if anything, does God say about Himself?” If God tells us who He is, then we really have a basis on which to believe in Him. If He doesn’t tell us who He is, we are left with the best thoughts of the highest minds, but they are all human just the same. So our understanding of God comes down to whether He has authentically revealed Himself and whether we can learn from that revelation.

God has revealed Himself to all people through the book of nature. The universe displays an order and design, a symmetry and a power that points to a great God. But understanding this is insufficient to save us. We cannot be saved just by believing God exists. But God has revealed Himself also through the Word of Scripture. God has revealed who He is by giving us His inspired Word. So we must strive to understand what He has revealed and walk in those truths. In Scripture, we can find the way to salvation and life with God. That way is Jesus, the living Word, who is the God-Man, who came to live and die and rise for the glory of God and the good of His people. God has spoken to us through His Son, but the truth about His Son is given to us in the Bible. Therefore, if we are to know Jesus well, we must know the Bible. Otherwise, we are in danger of creating a Jesus of our own conception rather than the One God has revealed. In so doing, we will be sitting ducks for the kind of idolatry and pragmatism explained in this week’s study.

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