Awesome Indeed

What is it in the human heart that attracts many to extreme sports? We all desire an awesome feeling of fear. Inside every single one of us is a desire to feel truly alive.

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest…

21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, (Heb 12:18-22)

Over the last few decades we have commercialized this deep desire in us all. Jumping out of airplanes, scuba diving, roller coaster riding, or name any other thrill seeking adventure is a pursuit of this elusive tremedous mystery we call “thrill.”

We seek the excitement of fear. Fear, we hope, will make us feel the risk and joy of feeling truly alive.

Rudolf Otto called it, “Mysterium tremendum et fascinans”  or the fearful and fascinating mystery. The encounter with the beyond that is both terrifyingly awesome yet stunningly fascinating.

A very good way to describe this fascinating mystery is the word numinous. C.S. Lewis described it as a feeling utterly different than fear. Fear he said is the feeling we get when we are told that the adjacent room with the door ajar contains a tiger. Numinous is the feeling we get when we are told that there is ghost or spirit in the room next door.

Let’s recover the wonder of fear as we tremble before the majesty of divinity. It is this quivering that is not fearful, only awesome. True wonder inspired fear will make us feel truly alive. The encounter will be awesome indeed. We need Someone other than ourselves to breathe life into us. That is why Jesus breathed on his disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”(John 20:22)

How Low Can You Go

A year ago my little daughter discovered the game limbo. She found it fascinating. Whoever could get lowest and most limber, this one would win. The main reason for liking the game was not the flexibility or testing the limits of our core strength and gravity. No, the game of limbo is fascinating because we find it humorous to see the great lengths that people will go to win. They are willing to look ridiculous just to win a prize. How low can you go?

One of the attributes that we often overlook about God is that of humility. If anyone has the right or prerogative to make use of rank or privilege it is God (v6). We are reminded of what an exalted God we have, that he did not consider humility as a trait beneath his station.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:5-7)

Often we read these verses and see them as a goal to emulate. We would miss the whole thrust of this passage if we thought it were just about playing spiritual limbo. God does not want us to perform a version of limbo in which we debase ourselves. This would still be a subtly arrogant way of earning our way to God. Jesus did not come to show us a new way of life, but to give us new live.

Paul tells us to do nothing out of selfish ambition, conceit or vainglory (kenodoxia), but to have Christ’s attitude of humility. We humans suffer from “empty glory.” We are living off borrowed glory and are still grasping at it, clinging to it. Jesus who had every prerogative, did not exercise his divine right, but rather emptied himself (heauton ekenosen). Paul masterfully illustrates this by a beautiful play on words.

Striving to live a humble life is still very proud. Laying aside what is rightfully yours is absolutely humble.

God’s solution to our empty glory (kenodoxia) is his self-emptying (ekenosen).

Reliable

A boss of mine once commented, “The only thing constant in life is change.” Life is full of its ups and downs. Seasons come and go. Situations change. People change. Feelings change. Our experience would tell us that life in general is very fluid. There is much truth in this statement. At the same time it does not altogether fit with how we wish reality would look. Scripture sometimes describes God using abstract words. Other times, God reveals himself hiding behind metaphors. One of the metaphors scripture uses to describe constancy is that of a rock. God is as reliable and steadfast as a rock.

“There is none holy like the LORD:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.”
1Sam. 2:2

Rocks weather and are buffeted by the wind and sand. They are beautifully formed and changed by their surrounding conditions. Not so our God, He is our firm foundation who weathers the storms of life. The idea of changelessness is called immutability. Seeing God as immutable helps us identify when we base our lives on other things that do in fact change. Regardless of our present situation emotionally, financially, physically, seeing God as immutable gives us the ability to weather all the storms of life.

“For I am the LORD, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”
Mal. 3:6

The beauty of constancy is that we are not subject to capricious whims and desires of an ever-changing God. This constant God undoes the effects of the fall and their ever-changing notion of decay. In the midst of the sandstorms of life there stands our Rock, our tested Rock, our precious cornerstone.

“as it is written,
‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
Rom. 9:33

 We see Jesus, the unfailing and constant God, who weathers the ultimate storm of the cross to place our feet on firm ground. God’s love for you is a constant and solemn promise, “GOD has taken a solemn oath, an oath he means to keep.” Is. 62:8.  God’s love is reliable. 

Good of You

“It was good of you to look for Quentin.”
“Good!” she exclaimed. “Good! O Anthony!”
“Well, so it was,” he answered. “Or good in you.
How accurate one has to be with one’s prepositions! Perhaps it was a preposition wrong that set the whole world awry.”
CHARLES WILLIAMS
The Place of the Lion

Charles Williams was one of the Inklings, a group of Oxford friends which included J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He illustrates a very important point about God. God is different than us in degree, in character and in being. There is a view that is very different than Providence known as pantheism.  This is the belief that God is not really separate from his Creation. He dies not oversee it, but rather is part and parcel of the fabric of creation. Creator and creature are virtually indistinguishable.  When Anthony, one of Charles Williams’ characters, remarks that was good of you, he is subtly blending creator with creature and “perhaps it was a preposition that set the whole world awry.”

The faint lie that pantheism echoes is the idea that creation does not have a real, distinct existence in itself, but is only part of God. This robs God of his Glory, and humanity of their identity. Providence teaches that though God is actively related to and involved in the creation at each moment, creation is distinct from him.

The whole world was set awry by pride as we humans took the place of God. The whole world is set aright by humility as God takes the place humanity. This is Providence, to provide an atoning sacrifice and cover our pride with grace and love.

Take Care – Providence

The English language has a variety of ways of saying see you later. One of the ways in which we say Good Bye  is with two simple words “take care.” Sometimes we say this genuinely interested in the other’s well being, other times it is simply used to say good bye and I am done. Providence says that God will take care of creation from the moment of inception to the moment of consummation.

Providence does not just mean that God is creator, he is also the sustainer. The belief in God’s Providence stands as a bulwark against absenteeism or in theological terms “deism.”

Deism is the belief that God started the whole process, but is not involved in any real or meaningful way with our lives. Deism sees God as the first principle, the initial action for all reactions. Providence stands in contrast. He is the first principle, and the second the third, and the last (Rev 22:13). Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1:1-4). The picture afforded by deism is one of a God who is not powerful or capable enough to maintain a couple of spinning plates. The picture afforded by Providence is that God has enough power in just one word to sustain the whole universe.

There is more power in one syllable uttered by God, than all the words which describe the very forces of fusion powering the Sun. When God said, “I would like some light.” One little word, “light” unleashed the very origins of the universe.

The doctrine of Providence comforts us by reassuring us of God’s care: He is both all-Powerful and all-caring.

Continual Exercise – Providence

Growing up, I used to love winding a spinning top as tightly as I could and send it careening on to the pavement. The tighter I wound it and the harder spun it, the longer it would stay in motion. Slowly, but surely, the spinning top would begin to teeter and in the end it would fall and come to a complete stop. Everyday we interact in a subtle, imperceptible and stunning way with God. The universe functions and flourishes because of God’s continual exercise of power and love.

Everyday we encounter God’s Providence. In the same way that God is independent from creation, it is this very attribute of independence that shows His providence. He is ever sustaining, ever reigning. Providence teaches that God did not create the universe and then abandon it.

The word “providence” derives from the Latin providentia, the noun from the verb providere “take thought for,” “look ahead.” As a philosophical or religious concept, Providence denotes the care of God for his creatures. Providence means that God is the personal, sentient first principle. Providence assures us that all actions come from a loving, personal agent.

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. – Westminster Confession V.i

Providence lets us know that we are ever loved and ever cared for. God does not just wind up creation and then take step back to watch the show. Take a step back and drink deeply of Providence today and see His hidden hand caring for you. Interact subtly, intimately, and imperceptibly as you enjoy his Providence.

Independence

Children sometimes ask, ‘Who made God?’ the clearest answer is that God never needed to be made, because he was always there. He exists in a different way from us: we, his creatures, exist in a dependent, derived, finite, fragile way, but our Maker exists in an eternal, self-sustaining, necessary way – necessary, that is, in the sense that God does not have it in him to go out of existence, just as we do not have it in us to live for ever. We necessarily age and die, because it is our present nature to do that; God necessarily continues for ever unchanged, because it is his eternal nature to do that. This is one of many contrasts between creature and Creator.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. Is. 40:28
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases Is. 40:29

God’s independence is defined as follows: God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him [p. 161] joy. This attribute of God is sometimes called his self-existence or his aseity (from the Latin words a se which mean “from himself “).

God’s being is also something totally unique. It is not just that God does not need the creation for anything; God could not need the creation for anything. The difference between the creature and the Creator is an immensely vast difference, for God exists in a fundamentally different order of being. It is not just that we exist and God has always existed; it is also that God necessarily exists in an infinitely better, stronger, more excellent way. The difference between God’s being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the arctic ice cap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God’s being is qualitatively different. No limitation or imperfection in creation should be projected onto our thought of God. He is the Creator; all else is creaturely. All else can pass away in an instant; he necessarily exists forever.

In theology, endless mistakes result from supposing that the conditions, bounds, and limits of our own finite existence apply to God. The doctrine of his aseity stands as a bulwark against such mistakes. In our life of faith, we easily impoverish ourselves by embracing an idea of God that is too limited and small, and again the doctrine of God’s aseity stands as a bulwark to stop this happening It is vital for spiritual health to believe that God is great (cf. Ps. 95:1-7), and grasping the truth of his aseity is the first step on the road to doing this.

God does not need us for anything, yet it is the amazing fact of our existence that he chooses to delight in us and to allow us to bring joy to his heart. This is the basis for personal significance in the lives of all God’s people: to be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined.

Speechless – New Series

Ever try to describe something so magnificent or beautiful, that your words or thoughts just couldn’t do it justice? So it is when we try to describe God. Thinking about God leaves us speechless—in a good way.

Over the next month or so, we will be looking at the idea of who God is and what He is like. Theologians have spilled a lot of ink writing about who God is. Sometimes the best way to describe Him, is actually to say who He isn’t.

Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

God invented language it would only seem fitting that the very vehicle which he invented would be incapable of delivering His full disclosure.

The early Church fathers used the term apophatic theology. Words are inadequate at describing someone so magnificent. God is ineffably sublime.

We often describe God as invisible, immortal, unchangeable, infinite, unrivalled, unequalled. We often used apophatic words and don’t even realise we are doing deep theology. In saying what he isn’t we clearly delineate who He is.

God’s character nature cannot be described by words. His nature and character are only fully known by his self disclosure in Jesus, The Word made flesh.

The Enemy is Within

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” This perfectly sums up the attitude of Nehemiah and his friends. He is now weeks into his building project. He is no longer mustering builders, inspiring ideas or repelling external threats. He has discovered that he is his own worst enemy.

Neh. 5:1 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.

Read Nehemiah 5:1-13

The Threat from Within

In this chapter the enemies and the city walls recede from view, to  reveal a more subtle problem. Here the menace is hunger and exploitation, and the structure at risk is the community itself. We see another aspect of Nehemiah’s burdens and his leadership. Certainly the final paragraph takes us twelve years further on.

Judah’s history had not begun with Nehemiah’s arrival, nor even with the ‘great trouble and shame’ which were reported to him in Susa. His diverting of manpower from raising crops to raising walls may have been the final burden; it did not have to be the first. Now the people were facing food shortages.

Nehemiah discovers and resolves this internal struggle in chapter 5 through solidarity. He is now the leader of his people. He does not solve the problem by booming commands. He solves the problem through the strength of identification. Their problems become his. His resources become theirs.

Just as Nehemiah solves his peoples dilemma with identification, so it is with us. Jesus’ identification with humanity, becoming one of us, leads to the greatest healing ever. It is in the incarnation that God heals the enemy within. Gregory of Nazianzus when speaking of Jesus, God’s Son, becoming human put it wonderfully, “That which is unassumed is unhealed.” It is only by Jesus becoming fully human that God can fully heal us.

Forget You

The bags were packed, there I was sitting in front of the ticket counter of Iberia Airlines. But smile as I may, charm as I may there was no way I would make my flight. Why? Forgetfulness. Did ever forget something on a trip that made your trip difficult? Nearly 20 years ago I left my passport in my dorm room at university. The drive from JFK airport to back to my dorm room would have made me late for my flight. No amount of money, talent or gifts were going to get me on that plane. The only thing that would get me on the airplane would be remembering.  To enjoy the privilege and access of all that God has done for you all you have to do is remember. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.

Nehemiah 4:14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome…”

More often than not, I discover that a lot of the stress in my life is due to forgetfulness. I forget who God is. I forget what he has done in my life. I forget what he has done collectively for his Church. The Psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, Forget none of his benefits.”(Psalm 103:2)

So many times in our life our stress and anxiety are linked to one small thing: spiritual amnesia. But God is the ever loving Father who loves us through our faulty memory into a glorious remembrance.

Nehemiah understood how powerful our amnesia is, that is why he encourages us to remember. On the night that Jesus was betrayed he took bread, he broke it and said, “Do this in remembrance.” We repeat this beautiful supper regularly because we are so prone to forget. The whole point of God giving us bread, wine and the Word is that they might be signs, symbols, and gift that bring to heart his extravagant love. Only when we remember will we be filled with the peace that passes understanding. This peace will guard our hearts and minds greater than any wall ever would.