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.

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.

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