Distorted God-images

What is the God-image you had growing up? Was God good? Was he distant? Was he passive? Was he mean? Often your childhood God-image you will carried into your adulthood.

A God-image can be shaped by your parents, caregivers, authority figures, religious models or experiences. The way these influencers cared for you could have spoke louder than what they taught you doctrinally or theologically about God. No influencer was perfect and that can have a powerful affect on your private God-image for good or bad.

Underneath our pains, fears, despairs, behaviors or expectations can be buried a belief about God that does not match who God really is. This leads to distortions about God, which can cause great suffering for people.

A.W. Tozer said,

“Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God” (The Knowledge of the Holy, 10)

My parents were very young when I was born and they had to grow up fast with a baby to take care of. I didn’t spend a lot of time with them as my mom worked to support me and I only spent time with my dad every other weekend. My earliest God-image was a God who was distant (away most of the time) and spoiled me on occasionally because he felt bad that he didn’t get to spend much time with me.

My parents aren’t to blame for my God-image.  They did their best and actually taught me many good things about God.  That he was real, friendly and caring.

There were other influencers, like the nun who taught my catechism class. She disciplined me for asking difficult questions about God. My God-image grew to think that God is busy and shouldn’t be bothered by my questions.

I also grew up going to church festivals where old-ladies played Bingo and adults drank excessively in the beer garden. From this I grew up thinking that God was rather permissive. He doesn’t mind a little naughty fun even now and then as long its followed by a trip to the confessional.

What comes to your mind when you think about God? Your God-image is the most important thing about you and is the most revealing part about you.

Distorted God-Images

Just to be clear when using the term “God-image” it is not the same thing as “image of God”. “Image of God” is the means by which God created man and women in his likeness, primarily giving man the ability to have dominion over the earth. “God-image” is one’s view of God learned from others or experiences. “Image of God” is something we are, while “God-image” is something we think about God.

Distortions come from false teaching, bad experiences, and poor models. It is shocking how these distortions creep into our thinking. Here are a few of the most common distortions about God.

Great Expectations God. If you had parents, teachers or bosses that expected too much of you, then you may think that God has even higher expectation of you. Often the expectations are nebulous or impossible, and you are left feeling a lack of love from God unless you meet his expectations.

Replacement image: Compassionate God; Caring God.
Scriptures: Psalm 103:1-14; Matthew 7; 1 Corinthians 13; Exodus 33:19; 34:6; Lamentations 3:22; Luke 15:20

Merit Badge God. Some parents can give approval when you do good, but when you do bad they withhold affection or affirmation. You can view God as a scout leader with a sash keeping count of all your good and bad. You get trapped in a performance based faith fighting for God’s approval. You feel guilt you aren’t doing more good.

Replacement image: Providing God; Rejoicing God.
Scripture: Psalm 27; Matthew 6:26; 11:28; John 13; Philippians 4:19; Romans 15:13; Psalm 16:11; John 16:24; Zephaniah 3:17

Easygoing God. If your parents were permissive with a live-and-let-live attitude, then God can be seen as a fun-loving God who winks at sin. You grew up with too much freedom and no boundaries.

Replacement image: Just God; Holy God; True Freedom God.
Scripture: Isaiah 30:18; Job 34:12; Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 72:4; Psalm 99:4; Romans 12:19; Acts 10:34-35

Game-Playing God. If your parents made a lot of promises, but didn’t keep many of them, then God may seem too good to be true. You grow up thinking that God is a tease and simply unreliable.

Replacement image: Faithful God; Promise Keeper God; Generous God.
Scripture: Psalm 23; Deuteronomy 7:9; 2 Timothy 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Lamentations 3:22-23; Joshua 23:14; Philippians 1:6; James 1:17

Too-Busy God. If you were left alone to figure things out on your own because you parents were busy, then your God-image tends to think God has more important things to attend to than you. You may have felt abandoned or neglected by your caregivers and God.

Replacement image: All-Knowing God; Pursuing God; Always Available God.
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-18; Psalm 3; Psalm 40; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Proverbs 15:3; 1 Corinthians 3:16; John 14:18; 1 John 3:24

Emotionally Distant God. If your parents didn’t help you when you were struggling through difficult emotions like anger, pain, despair, or fear, then you may also think that God is impersonal, cold and not emotional. Maybe there is an unspoken rule that when it comes to emotions, you don’t go there or don’t talk about it.

Replacement image: Empathetic God; Gracious God; All-powerful God; Protector God.
Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Samuel 22:33; Job 26:7-14; Jeremiah 10:12-13; Psalm 34:17-19; Proverbs 29:25; Romans 8:37; Hebrews 13:6

Punisher God. If your parents or caregivers were abusive, then you may think that God is mean for allow it. You may think that God hates you because horrifying things happen on his watch. Or maybe you had a dream for your life or career (or call from God), but it didn’t pan out as you had planned, then you may think God is crushing your dreams for no good reason.

Replacement image: Healer God; Patient God; Kind God; Forgiving God; Merciful God.
Scripture: Matthew 20:29-34; Isaiah 40; Psalm 36; Psalm 86; Luke 6:36; Ephesians 4:32

There are likely a dozen more distortions to be uncovered, but these are by far the biggest. It is possible to believe a combination or all of these distortions, but what is important is to acknowledge that they are distortions of God. It is not an accurate image of who God really is.

Growing a God-like God-Image

When you have a distorted God-image, you can wonder how can I know what God is really like? Here are three helpful paths towards having a God-like God-image.

First, Look in the Book. The best and most accurate God-image you have is from God himself. Discover what is said about God in the Bible. Memorize verse about God that counter the distortions you believe about God.

If you think that God couldn’t love you, then read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 with the reality that each word describes God’s love towards you. It is as if God is writing you a love letter. Or read the Gospels, see how Jesus demonstrated love and put yourself in the place of those he shows love towards. Jesus is God’s love with shoes on.

I have found that studying the Scripture, particularly some of the verses gathered above about God that counter my distortions.  I have sought to memorize or post these Scriptures in prominent stops as mental and visual reminders not only to aid my intellect, but to affect my heart.

The Bible has a storehouse of images about God. For example, when reading the Bible you hear that God is a Good Shepherd, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Forgiving Father, Gift Giver, Healer, Lover, and Comforter. Those are powerful life-changing God-images. The Bible’s God-images have a way of penetrating through the distortions you have built up over the years.

Second, Ask others and God how you see or respond to him. By asking it will help you discern your distortion about God.

It may be helpful to draw a picture. Take a piece of paper and draw images or symbols that depict your God-image as a child, adolescent, young adult, or most currently. Show it to others and explain what you see, ask what they see.

Third, be in a safe community. Christian relationships are crucial. It begins at church and small groups in church.  As you learn about God from other people who love God this affects your God-image. If you learned a distorted God-image in relationship with others; it will take relationships with others help you say “no” to distorted God-images.

When you shed distorted images of God and replace them with true images of God from the Bible you will display to others a beautiful image of God.  How the world needs to see a God who is patient, kind, loving, generous, helpful, humble, available, fair, faithful, merciful and so much more.

how the nearness of God matters

The last part of Philippians 4:5 says, “The Lord is at hand.”  Some take this to mean, Jesus is coming back soon.  While that is true, it also means God is present.  He is near.  It’s when our life is chaotic, when we don’t feel so happy about our circumstances, or when we are tempted to worry it is the nearness of God that matters most.   We know God is near.  Theology tells us God is omnipresent, but how does that matter when I need it most?

Philippians 4:1-9 is like the junk drawer of the letter (before you get in a huff let me explain), yet unlike most junk drawers this text is jam packed with treasures.  It’s junk that is valuable gems for your faith (e.g. 7 rapid-fire commands).  There is too much here to talk about today, so I will limit my focus to two commands and the intersection that brings them together which is the nearness of God.  Today we will explore how the nearness of God matters.

SINCE GOD IS NEAR I CAN HAVE REASONABLE JOY (4:1-5)

Paul has deep joy for Philippi.  He planted the church 10 years prior with a slave girl, a jailer and fam, and a business woman named Lydia.  Now there are others.  Paul addresses them all as “brothers” (v.1), not because he couldn’t remember their names, but because they were that close to his heart.  He proves it by using other terms of endearment like: “whom I long for”, (cf. 1:8) “my joy and crown”, (cf. 1:4; 2:16) “my beloved.”   Aren’t those encouraging words to hear?  Don’t you need to hear those words spoken over you?  Or words you should share over one another?  Look around.  Do you think of one another this way?  Is this the kind of affection you desire to have for one another?

Paul then changes his tone in the next two verses because there are two ladies in the church who aren’t being so affectionate with one another and Paul urges them to reconcile and encourages the church to get involved (vs.2-3).  Why would Paul care if everyone is getting along?  The first reason is that a divided church is a terrible witness Christ.  When people see Christians bicker, bark, and backbite, they certainly don’t see the beauty of Jesus’s Body or Jesus as their Head; they see the ugly reality of someone unchanged by the gospel, which is something they see everyday.

The second reason is that togetherness in Christ—a church fixed on Jesus—results in joy.  Paul says, “Rejoice,” and in case you didn’t hear it, “again I say rejoice.” (v. 4).  Joy here is not optional, it’s essential.  I like how Eugene Peterson in The Message puts it, “Celebrate God all day, everyday. I mean revel in him!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.”  Isn’t it interesting that this familiar command reserved for coffee cups and kids club songs follows a plea for conflict resolution?  Holding grudges, giving people what they deserve, gossiping about your brothers and sisters, gives a smug sense of satisfaction, but it more so produces relational emptiness, not deep joy.

If you are around Christians you are also around conflict.  Each of us are so different.  We have different personalities, different interests, different spiritual gift, but there are two things we have in common: 1) we are all sinners and, 2) we are all sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus.   Jesus died so that our greatest conflict (between He and us) would be resolved and it makes resolution between our brothers and sisters possible.  Joy is at stake (cf. 2:2).

It sounds so unreasonable, doesn’t it?  To rejoice always doesn’t seem practical or attainable.  How do you rejoice when your child is hurting?  When your marriage is rocky?  When things aren’t going well at all?  You got to remember Paul isn’t commanding the church to just be happy when everything is going well, but to rejoice in the midst of chaos, in those emergency moments, when you get that phone call, when it is most difficult to have joy.  You and I need help with this command, don’t we?

How is joy possible in those moments?  Thank God He tells you and doesn’t leave you hanging.  He says, “Let your reasonableness be known to all.” (v.5a)  Again, joy doesn’t seem so reasonable here, until you know the soil that joy is rooted in.  This joy is not predicated by your circumstances.  It never is.  The ability to have reasonable joy in whatever situation is because “the Lord is at hand.” (v.5b)

Resting in the promise that the “Lord is near.”  gives a future hope.  He is coming.  It’s a sure thing.  As sure as the dawn.  When he comes he will make all that’s wrong in the world right.  No more sorrow.  No suffering.  No conflict.  He will wipe every tear.  He will reconcile creation.  Yet there is also a present hope.  What is more encouraging than knowing the Lord is near to you, even right now? He is with you, always.  That is reasonable.  God is sovereign over your yesterday, today, and tomorrow..  He is loving.  He is good.  When everything in life is hard, nothing is hard for him (Jer. 32:17, 27).  In the moment of chaos, the God of the universe, the God who rescued and saved you, is not Himself powerless at all in that moment, is not at all surprised or shocked by that moment, is not reeling one bit or trying to figure out what to do in that moment.  That’s not what He does.  He’s there.  He knows.  He is with you.  He is in control within the chaos.  That is reason to rejoice.  That’s where reasonable joy is rooted.

May my prayer be like Job, “Though [You] slay me, I will hope in [You].” (13:15) or like Jehoshaphat, “[I] do not know what to do, but [my] eyes are on you.” (2 Chron. 20:12)  Or may my prayer be, “Lord, help me to rejoice in You in this moment.  Help me to be reasonable.  I am not happy with this horrific situation.  However, You are in control.  I trust You.  You love me.  You understand what You’re doing.  I have You.  I am Yours.”

What if you just can’t get along with your brother or sister?  What is the one thing you can get along with together?  The gospel—Jesus!  Learn to love Jesus more than your opinions.  Remember WHO you have in common.  The gospel makes what is irreconcilable reconcilable.  The gospel makes resolving conflict possible.   It makes Jesus and the Body shine.  And creates fertile soil for the roots of deep joy.

Few things are more fatal to your faith than the poisonous idea that joy in Jesus is optional, not essential.  Rejoicing always doesn’t mean there isn’t sorrow.  In fact, Paul says that sorrow and rejoicing can exist simultaneously: “… as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Corinthians 6:10). What Paul means is that sorrowful circumstances will come, and may cut deep, but the undercurrent of joy runs deeper still because he is the source of it and he is a river that never runs dry.

SINCE GOD IS NEAR I HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT (4:6-9)

Paul finishes his thought with something a bit extreme.  He says, “do not be anxious about anything.”  Anything?  Really?  Literally he means no-thing.  Not one thing is to be the cause of your worry.

Worry is the enemy of joy.  If you are filled with joy you are not filled with worry, but if you are filled with worry you are not filled with joy.  It’s that simple.

The questions is, “What do you have to worry about?”  One might say, “A lot.  Let me give you a list: my health and future, my spouse or lack thereof, my kids health and future, my responsibilities, that project due soon, travels, the holidays.”  And the list could go on and on, right?

But let me ask that question again, “What do you have to worry about?”  The answer: nothing.  Why?  There is not one square millimeter of creation or one millisecond of time that God is not present or sovereign.  God is near.  God knows not time.  If we worry about the future, may we not forget that the future is a place where God already is.

Paul says that worrying is worthless.  It doesn’t help the problem.  In fact, it adds to it.  Jesus says, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Mt. 6:27).

God has never failed you.  He has never let you down.  He may not have given you everything you wanted or run your life the way you desired.  He may have never taken your advice or considered your wishlist.  He may have felt distant, but he has never abandoned you.  He has never left you.  You have never been without his love and sovereign care.

Worry is what happens when I believe God is not in control and I can’t be.  But it’s so hard not to worry. I know I shouldn’t worry, but I feel anxious plenty of times about plenty of things. Like those moments when I’m traveling by plane and I suddenly realize that there’s nothing beneath me.  I’m thinking, “Whoa, we’re in the sky.” It’s hard not to be anxious.  Or that time you realize.  I am in Chad.  I am really far from “decent” medical help.  That’ll freak you out.  Also, I have three daughters.  Enough said.  Can I just be honest?  It’s hard not to worry about certain things?

Is there a remedy to eradicating worry?  Paul’s answer is also a bit extreme, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (v.6)  Everything?  Really?  Yes.  Everything.  Literally he means, all things.  God wants you to bring all your hurts, pains, worries, fears, and doubts to him.  As we have learned, the Lord is at hand.  He is right there with you in it all.

There are two components to prayer that we learn from Paul that are important for eradicating worry.  The first is supplication.  Supplication is a “Help Me!” prayer.  It fits well with the encouragements Paul has already been teaching on lowliness, humility, and awe of God.  Prayer and worry are sort of the same.  They both rehearse the circumstances and chew it over.  In worry there is no traction.  It spins its wheels.  But praying is worrying at God and handing them over to God.  The second is thanksgiving is to be connected to the first.  Thanksgiving is a “Thank You” to God for his listening ear and loving hand.  Thankfulness is the worry’s kryptonite.  Thanksgiving and worry can’t occupy the same space.  When we come to God with a thankful heart even in the middle of chaos, hurt, or doubts, our worries flee like roaches to light.

And the result is “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (v.7)  This means through prayer the worry I once entertained is now eradicated and replaced by a right understanding and peace that is produced by God and rooted in Christ.

Have you been there?  Yeah, me too.  In the past few weeks, these verses have taken on a freshness I haven’t known since I memorized them as a teenager in Youth Group.   Just last week I had witnessed a horrific situation that revealed worry and fear that had been incubated for years if not generations in my family.  As I prayed about it with some dear friends God not only spoke peace over my life, but he gave me a peace which surpassed all understanding.  Isn’t that often what happens in the hard times?  God is a God of peace.  He has no place with worry, but he loves it when we bring our worries to him with thankful hearts allowing him to Father us.  He knows we are like weak little children, but he is a good strong Father.  He is our peace.

When we live with a lack of worry about the future, even in those tightrope kind of times, we communicate the truth that our God is indeed worthy of our trust—our life.  Worrisome Christians are bad advertisements for the God of all comfort.  But if you have to worry, Paul says worry (or think) on these things, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (v.8)  Aren’t these each powerful combatants to worry?   Where does this kind of thinking lead us?  It leads us to Jesus!  Ultimately, we see these mindsets in Christ.  In other words this text is the action of taking, “every thought (worry) captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) And the result again is that “the God of peace will be with you.” (v.9b)

It is interesting that Paul concludes this section by saying “practice these things.” (v.9a)  This tells me that not worrying or having reasonable joy in all things doesn’t come naturally to us, but only happens by the power of the Spirit, by the the sweat of faith, by prayer, by doing life in community with other believers.  We have to practice this stuff.  This is the stuff of maturing in Christ.  It’s part of growing up in our faith. Reasonable joy in all things and eradicating worry by prayer is a mark of maturity.  That is the kind of man I want to be and I am certain the kid of man, woman or child you want to be too.  And it’s possible because the Lord is near.

 
Reflection: Can you identify what robs you of joy or worries you today? Is there someone you need to get right with? Will you bring “everything”, right now, to God in prayer with thanksgiving?Spend some time alone or with someone praying together.

overwhelmed

There are days that are downright hard, ugly, and overwhelming.  Sometimes there are seasons of life when all I see is what overwhelms me most.

There are so many things that can overwhelm us that leave us feeling like we are sinking and can barely breath.  Many of things that overwhelm can begin as good things, but become hard and ugly like a struggling marriage, a wayward child, a strained relationship, or a load of expectations or responsibilities from work or home.

Do you ever have days or seasons like that?  Do you sometime have a difficulty seeing the good in grim situations?  Do you dread the idea that God sometimes places you in really hard places or situations to help you to realize just how desperate you are and how delightful He is?

Today I will look into the heart of a man who is overwhelmed.  He is overwhelmed in a unique way.  Yet he has the help of a good friend with new eyes to help him see the good in the overwhelming.

Paul is the friend who wrote two personal letters to Timothy; a young man.  Timothy was a leader in the church at Ephesus, which Paul planted a decade earlier.  He wasn’t passionate and radical like Paul, rather he was timid and tender.  Paul, as a spiritual father and mentor, writes Timothy a critical juncture to encourage him through heavy challenges he was facing because certain persons were taking cracks at his youthfulness and in the same breath undermining the doctrine of Christ.  Timothy was overwhelmed.

What Paul models for Timothy is that while ministry is difficult and problems with people are real and overwhelming, it is possible to be overwhelmed by the realities of God’s promises and see His purposes in all situations.  Paul helps us to see an alternative in a biblical pattern toward becoming overwhelmed by God, even when my day or season in life is hard or ugly or overwhelming.

1.  OVERWHELMED WITH THANKS (vs.12-14)

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.  But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Thankfulness is where becoming overwhelmed with God begins.  As we look under the lid of Paul’s heart we see a man overwhelmed with thanks.  He cannot help but thank God.  He saw the deep crimson stains of his sin, yet saw the grace of God being deeper still.

Before Jesus, Paul was a religious terrorist.  He was the Jewish equivalent to ISIS.  He was radically devoted to his religious system and aimed to stop anyone who differed or threaten it.  When God intersected with Paul on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9), God miraculously altered Paul’s faith and future.  Only God could have altered Paul’s route.

Do you remember who were you before Jesus?  Similar to Paul, you could say, “Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent—though formerly I was an enemy of God, doubter, skeptic, agnostic, cheater, liar, thief, addict, adulterer, womanizer, slanderer, sloth, fool—But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Aren’t you grateful for that “but”?  That little conjunction brings hope in the most hopeless situation.

Paul reflects on his unglamorous past and what the glorious gospel has made him to be.  The gospel takes him back, like when you’re driving in the car and “your song” comes on the radio taking you back to a certain time and place.  Thinking of the gospel had that affect on Paul.  He is so thankful.  Does it have that affect on you?

‘Thank you’ is one of the highest forms of praise.  When someone says, “I am thankful for you,” it can be one of the most precious and powerful things said.   When is the last time you said those words to God?

My first year of life in North Africa was the hardest.  I had created a list.  Not a written list, but a mental list of all the things I was unthankful for; all the things that overwhelmed me most.  This is the part of the message that you should not take home nor replicate, but I want you to see under the hood of my heart because maybe you can relate.

My Unthankful List:  It’s hot (again).  I have heat rash (again).  I am so tired and exhausted.  Someone is knocking at the gate and it’s 5:00am?  I feel so used.  Do people only come to visit to get ice, charge their cellphones, and ask for ride to the next town?  If another person comes to visit and I am expected to be hospitable, I think I will snap.  Are those boys throwing rocks at the tin roof again?  The man who I thought was really interested in hearing about my faith is now forcing his faith on me.  I cannot understand the language or be understood.  They are laughing at me (again).  I am trying so hard.  Today my chores took me all day and I’m still not finished.  Why am I here?  I am sick again.  This has to be my 43 day in a row with diarrhea.  Sophia has lost a quarter of her body weight is she going to be okay?  What I wouldn’t give to have a burrito right now.  I am so fellowship starved.  What I wouldn’t give to be in a church right now surrounded by my brothers and sisters.  I feel like my faith is mimicking this dry thirsty land.

Maybe you can relate.  Although we might live in different places, we are still so easily overwhelmed.

That was until a friend recommended that I go take a walk and pray.  So I did.  I began prayer walks a few times a week.  It took a few walks to stop thinking about all that overwhelmed me and to see what God was doing in me.  Out of these walks came a new list.  A list that I wrote down.  A list that I am proud to share and recommend that you would take home and replicate.

My Thankful List:  I am not alone.  God, you have surrounded me with a family, a team, and a cloud of witnesses.  I am seeing You answer prayers from the front lines.  God, you are providing for all my daily needs (again and again).  When I am tired You are my strength.  You are my protection.  You have helped me make new Chadian friends; many who are hearing the good news for the very first time.  Little by little You help me to communicate (and laugh at myself) and be hospitable.  People are knocking on my gate to visit me. You are giving me a love for those I’ve had a hard time loving.  God you are changing things.  You are changing me!  Thank you!!

A thankful heart is the remedy to one overwhelmed by a myriad of things towards becoming overwhelmed by God.  Thankfulness helps us to see hard and ugly situation through new eyes.  Ask God for a thankful spirit.

2.  OVERWHELMED BY SALVATION (v.15)

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

Paul is overwhelmed by his salvation.  He is overwhelmed that God would redeem a sinner like him.  He knew who he was and would be without Jesus. Paul had the right scale on which to measure himself.  Often I don’t.  More often I compared myself with another person thinking I look pretty good in comparison, but compared to Jesus there is no comparison.

This realization can change your life—I am the worst sinner I know.  Like Paul, I am Public Sinner Number One.  I am the worst sinner I know because only God and I know the depth of my sin.  But thanks be to God that he stepped into my shoes, lived sinlessly, died in my place to clear my debt, championed the grave, all so that God could save me from God’s wrath and my own destruction.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “I’m not that bad!  I teach Sunday School.  I listen to Christian radio.”  Remind yourself just how bad you are by looking at the cross.  Remember the price paid for your sin.  Remember the red blood shed for your sin.  Remember how ugly and horrible cross of Jesus was. That’s how ugly your sin is.  Doesn’t that overwhelm you in a good way?  You got to see your utter depravity before you can see Jesus’ glory.

John Newton was a captain of slave ships for the British Royal Navy and in his own words said he was a ruthless businessman and unfeeling observer.  Despite a regrettable past God intersected with him en route and saved him.  Like Paul, as he looked back on his past he said, “I am a great sinner but Christ is a great Savior.” Later he wrote a song which we sing still today, “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound), That sav’d a wretch like me!”  Many would say that is “my song.”

Verse 15 is a beautiful missions verse, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  That is the gospel in a nutshell.  That alone gives me the motivation to wake up everyday and share Jesus with others because if it weren’t for Jesus I would not love my neighbor or stay in Africa.  That alone is enough motivation for you to do the same wherever God has placed you, even if it is hard and ugly.  That is a verse to rehearse to yourself everyday.

Why evangelize those around you?  Why go to the ends of the earth?  If God can save Paul.  He can save anyone.  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  He can save your boss, your father, your child, your crazy uncle, your annoying neighbor, the abuser, the prostitute, the terrorist, even you.  It happens when God gives faith to a person to believe that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

To be overwhelmed by God is to be overwhelmed that God would save a sinner like you.  Or that God would even use a sinner like you, which leads us to the next thing.

3.  OVERWHELMED BY MERCY (v.16)

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Have you ever heard the words, “You’ve changed”?  Those can be words you either love or hate to hear.  But God changes people.  It’s his job and joy to change you.  He himself never changes.  But he loves to keep changing you more into his image.   People who do not want to change are either perfect or disobedient.  Which are you?

Paul is overwhelmed by mercy.  To him God’s mercy is a river wide that keeps flowing and never runs dry, it is flooding over its banks, and Paul’s is drowning in it.  And one who is given mercy, gives mercy to others. Mercy multiplies mercy.  God’s design in saving Paul is to make him the poster child parading God’s mercy.  God’s shows off Paul as if to say, “Here is what I can do.  See for yourself.”

God had you in mind when he saved Paul.  That is what the verse says.  That is an awesome thought.  God saved Paul for your sake.  So that you would see God’s “overflowing grace”, divine “mercy” and “perfect patience” and take courage and hope for your own salvation and the salvation of others.

God wants you to see the most unlikely people can believe and do believe.  God can change people and is changing people.  God’s mercy and power are not limited to people who have been set up for Christianity by a good family or live near a church or have a clean moral track record.  The chief of sinners was saved.  And that means hope in evangelism and in your own underwhelming walk with the Lord.

Don’t belittle the mercy of God by saying, “I can’t be changed” or “I’m just the way I am!”  The message of God’s mercy is that what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed.  A critical spirit can be changed.  Alcoholism can be changed.  Irritability can be changed.  Ingratitude can be changed.  Laziness and overeating and lust can be changed.  The habits of not tithing and excessive TV watching and gambling can be changed.  Lack of hospitality can be changed.  Self-righteousness can be changed.  Fear of telling others about Jesus can be changed.  It’s God’s joy and job to change you.

In what ways are you parading the mercy of God to those around you?  Everyday you are displaying God’s perfect patience and as an example to who are to believe in Jesus for eternal life.  This is a reason to run to God not from God unashamed because of his mercy.

ph-kalvin-maarten-iriba-6391

In Africa, sometimes it’s too hot inside that we sleep outside.  Our night light are the bright stars in the sky.  Why are the stars so bright and beautiful?  It is because the sky is so dark.  In the same way, you live in a dark world tainted by sin, but God in his mercy uses you as his lights to shine for all to see what God can do in a person or a community overwhelmed by him.

4.  OVERWHELMED WITH PRAISE (v.17)

Paul ends his personal thoughts with a bang.  He does this from time to time.  Its as if he gets caught up in the thought and his pen explodes into doxology on the page.  God’s goodness becomes his anthem. He is overwhelmed with praise.

To the King of the ages (past, present, and future), immortal (who never naps, takes a break, or dies), invisible, the only God (who doesn’t have a living comparison), be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (For more see Revelation 5)

Enough said.

When comprehending God saving power over your past, when you see yourself against the cross, when you acknowledge the mercy of God saving a sinner like you, it is natural to be overwhelmed, overcome, overjoyed, and overflowing with gratitude and worship to God.  A person overwhelmed by God sees his troubles or trials through news eyes.  He sees people problems through new eyes.  He sees whatever is hard and ugly and overwhelming through new eyes. For all that you lack is supplied for you in Christ.  All that ruined you was renewed in Christ.

May God give you new eyes to see the beauty of what he is doing in you and those around you, even when it is hard and ugly.

May we be around the worst sinners looking for gospel opportunities.

May your complaint turn to thanks and praise.  May you be refreshed by the joy of your salvation and that God would use a sinner like you.  May God overwhelm you and your church.

 

Application

What areas of your life do you struggle with thankfulness? How does thankfulness change the way you see your circumstances, even difficult ones?  Spend some time in prayer thanking God.

What do you remember about your salvation story?  What does it look like to rehearse the gospel to yourself everyday?  Why is it important to be reminded of the gospel so often?

What is the mercy of God? How have you experienced the mercy of God? In what ways are you parading the mercy of God as an example for others to see?

Read Revelation 5.  How is Revelation 5 a bigger picture of 1 Timothy 1:17?  How is John’s vision of Jesus overwhelming with praise?  Why is it helpful to have this future picture of Jesus? 

When was a time when you were overwhelmed by God?  What about God’s working in your past, present, or future marvel you?

God is…

We live in a culture—as others before—that are not easily wowed.  We pack arena’s chanting our favorite songs from our favorite band.  We wait in line to see the next biggest summer blockbuster.   We swarm sports stadiums to cheer our beloved team.

A few years ago, I had a bucket list item come true.  I went to my first ever Packers game at Lambeau Field.  Growing up in Wisconsin only a 50 miles from the Frozen Tundra is was my dream to see the Cheeseheads play live.  Before the game began I almost teared up as I walked from the concourse into the stadium seats.  It was cold and loud and the Packers blew out the Vikings.  I was wowed by the experience.

What are you wowed by?  Chances are what wows you is what you worship.

It is not easy to define worship in a culture that readily worships anyone or anything.  Yet worship is about what you live for.  Every day, all day, everywhere you go, you worship. It’s what you do.  It’s who you are.  You can’t stop it nor live without it.  Worship is a way of life.  It is a whole-life response.  You are a worshiper before you are a sister, brother, father, mother, student, employee or boss.  Worship is simply about value.  Worship is your response to what you value—what wows you most.

Isaiah was wowed.

“In the year that King Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1)

Uzziah is different than Isaiah.  Isaiah is Israel’s prophet, but Uzziah was Israel’s king.  He was revered because he brought peace and stability to his nation.  52 years he reigned, which is longer than most Israelites in his day lived (think Queen Elizabeth II; 63 years).   Imagine your entire lifetime one man was president or king, everything’s running smoothly, then you hear the news “the king is dead.”  Although he was king, he was still human.  Note the reason for his death (2 Chronicles 26:15-21; 27:2).  Uzziah grew proud in his old age.  He thought of himself as superhuman.  And God has a way of humbling monarchs with a god-complex.  God struck Uzziah with leprosy and he died.  And just days after his death the nation of Israel began to unravel.

So in the same year a human king dies, Isaiah gets a vision of the Great King who lives.  While Uzziah isn’t, God is.   And this is what Isaiah sees of God—the God who is.  What unveils are some spectacular truths about who God is.  Get ready, put your seat belt on, and be wowed (vs.1-4) by God as Isaiah sees him.

God is alive.

“I saw the Lord”

Uzziah may be dead, but God still lives.  It’s as David said, “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God” [Ps. 90:2].  God isn’t dead.  Isaiah sees him.  God doesn’t have to prove it, but he often does.  He was alive when the universe began.  He was alive when the Buddha and Muhammad walked the earth. He was alive in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  He is alive today.  And He will be alive ten trillion ages from now when all the puny powers of the earth like the Kardashian’s and Donald Trump are long forgotten.  God always has been and always will be alive, even right now, He lives.

God is in control.

“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne.”

You will never see a vision of God taking a nap or out of the office for vacation or scrambling to figure out what he’s going to do tomorrow or stressed out by all the work he has to do.  He sits.  And he sits on a throne.  He is in control and never out of control.  Heaven and earth are not falling apart.  He holds it together.  He keeps the rules and writes the rules.  Whether you like it or not.  Whether you allow him to or not.  He is sovereign.  Who are you and I to question his authority?  Uzziah is peanuts compared to God.  He’s a pawn in God’s hand.  It’s a humbling yet hopeful truth to know that God is in control.

God is incomparable.

“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up.”

God’s throne highest, biggest, and better next to any other earthly throne.   God’s throne stands above all other thrones.  Other thrones are not even in the same stratosphere.  God is the supreme and he exercises supreme authority.  What God purposes, He accomplishes. Later God says to Isaiah, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” [Isaiah 46:10].  Many have tried, but no opposing authority or earthly king or powerful person can nullify the decrees of God.

God is majestic and most important. 

“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and his robe [train] filled the temple.”

Why do kings adorn themselves in robes and crowns and extravagant clothing?  It is because they want to separate themselves from the subjects they rule over.  It’s to stand out or to appear majestic and important.

When Queen Elizabeth II had her coronation at Westminster Abbey the train of her robe was carried by a dozen ladies in waiting, but God’s robe made the queen’s robe look like a baby blanket.  It’s like a bride on her wedding day dressed to impressed and her gown covers the aisle, the steps, the platform, the chairs, the lights and all.  That God’s robe fills every inch of the heavenly temple is to show us that his beauty and majesty and importance are incomparable.  God loves to wow us.  Just look at the stars, mountains, patterns of nature, and intricate details of the human body.  If the world God created is so majestic, then he—the Creator—is so much more so.

God is revered. 

“Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.”

What earthly king or mortal man has these kinds of servants?  Say it?  “No one!”  chubby angelNo one knows what these strange six-winged creatures are (certainly not some chubby winged angel babies) nor do they appear again in the Bible.  When one of these angels speaks the foundations of the temple tremble (v.4).  If you caught a glimpse of these angels you’d be wowed, but notice, God wows them.  They cannot look at God.  They feel unworthy to be in his presence.  They revered God.  How much more so should we?

God is holy.

“And one called to another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!”

God is in a separate category.  He is in a class by Himself.  No one is like him.  Nothing compares to him.  We would say, God is awesome, unbelievable, or unfathomable.  He is beyond words.  We are speechless trying to come up with a word to pin him down.  That is the essence of holiness.

  • “Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, They have despised the Holy One of Israel (27x in Isaiah), They have turned away from Him.” (Isaiah 1:4)
  • “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.” (Isaiah 40:25) “There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides You.” (1 Samuel 2:2)
  • “I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.”  (Hosea 11:9)
  • “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20)

God is glorious.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Glory is God’s holiness visualized.  One cannot put words on what holiness means, but you can put eyes on it.  God’s holiness goes public in His glory.  When God shows himself to be holy, what you see is His glory.  In Leviticus 10:3 God says, “I will show Myself holy among those who are near Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.”

If you want to know was God’s glory looks like with skin on just look at Jesus.  “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.” (Hebrews 1:3)  Jesus never turned down people worshiping or praising him, yet he often deflected glory to his Father.

The greatest barrier to being wowed by God is me.  I want to wow others.  I seek glory from my fellow man.  One day God will blow away and chase away every competing glory—the other things that wow you more than God.  The truth is as you live wowed by God you too reflect his holiness and glory to the world around you.

Like Isaiah, maybe you have been wowed by him.  But for many of you maybe you still need more glimpses of God.  Draw near to God.  Look upon him. Be in awe of him.  Let him wow you.  When you spend time with Him, He will point it out to you (Exodus 33:18-19). And when you do God’s will, you show God’s glory to others (John 17:4, 1 Peter 2:12).  And God promises, “You will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me (go hard after me) with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12–13).

 

Coming up next:  Isaiah’s response to God and the result of obeying God.

 

DOWNLOAD QUESTIONS:

Before Isaiah’s vision, who died?  Why was that a big deal?   What emotions do you think Isaiah was feeling before the vision?

How did the vision refocus Isaiah?   How might the vision of God had calmed Isaiah’s fears or worries?  What does fear and worry usually show our hearts are trusting in?

Why is knowing about God so important?  How does knowing God  help you when making decisions?  When facing temptations?  Which truth about God in Isaiah 6:1-3 wows you most?

 

Image from the Science Blog.

what wows you?

I got a question for you.  What wow’s you?  I mean, what really wow’s you?  Is it being in the outdoors like the Teton Mountains, or being with 80,000 fans at a stadium, seeing an amazing magic trick, looking at art or listening music, or a friend giving you a surprise gift.  There’s got to be something that really wow’s you and leaves you awed or speechless.

What if God just showed up in your bedroom and said, “Hey, wake up, you ready to see something amazing?”  And there you were in the throne room of God.  What would you be thinking?  That’s kind of what happened to Isaiah the prophet.  Would you roll over in your bed and say, “Hm. That’s cool.  But I am not crazy impressed.”

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings:with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;  the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said:“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” – Isaiah 6:1ff

Although none of us would say that to God, we often do when we read the Bible.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to just see God?  To be wowed by him?  Did you know that you can?  Every time you open the Bible you get a glimpse of God.  Does that wow you?  Often we become passionless in our walk and faith because we become Godless.  Passion for God comes from knowing God.  

Would you take up a challenge to read Isaiah?  There might be a lot in Isaiah that can be confusing or cause you scratch your head.  That’s okay.  I am still digging and discovering new and wonderful things about God there.  As you read (any Scripture for that matter) ask one question, “God, teach me about you?”  I promise, you will be wowed.

born to forgive

Sunday at church I heard a great message about forgiveness from a familiar passage (Luke 7:36-50).  However, I fall in the trap of hearing a lot about forgiveness, but practicing it superficially.

Jesus was born to forgive.  His life teaches us three things about about forgiveness: 1)  It takes compassion , 2) It is costly, 3) It involves continuity.

One of the most celebrated encounters Jesus has in the Gospels is when a sinful woman washes His feet with her tears and her hair. Those around Jesus were shocked that He would allow Himself to be so intimate with someone so sinful.

People would expect Jesus to shun the woman who washed his feet at dinner because of her past; the Pharisees were shocked that Jesus would let himself be touched by her, but Jesus accepted what she brought to him with love. Not only did He accept her, he defended her. Jesus forgave her, fully aware of what her sin was, and Jesus honored her sacrifice and the enormity of what she brought to him. She didn’t even need to speak during the entire story – she needed no defense. It was not because of her arguments that Jesus bestowed His forgiveness.

We need to recognize our need for forgiveness before we can accept it. However, it is not because of our effort that we receive it – it is freely given. And when something is that freely given, we cannot keep it to ourselves. We often put ourselves into the position of the Pharisees. Who would the people be today that we would shun? Whose sins would we say cannot be forgiven? How might Jesus be asking us to both extend and receive forgiveness?

daughters, daddy’s, and God’s glory

daughters

I have three little jewels. They came to me as blessed gifts from above.  Each jewel has unique facets and glimmer with unending beauty.  Their beauty rises from within and shines throughout, mixing the temporal and eternal.  I simply enjoy holding my jewels and can look at them for hours upon hours.  I cherish them.  I take time to let them know how much I adore them and do whatever it takes to help them keep their beauty.  For their beauty reflects a greater beauty to a beauty-stricken world.  My jewel are my daughters.

Dads and daughters. It’s a uniquely special relationship. I know, since I have three daughters. Truth be told, I wouldn’t trade my daughters for any son. My daughters are my pint-sized princesses. They were born with a natural ability to pirouette, a spirit bent on loveliness, and contagious giggles. I delight to watch my girls be girls and crush them with squeezes and douse them affectionate words like “Sweetheart,” “Snuggle Bums,” or “Beautiful one”. I even have special, silly songs for them that I like to sing only over them.

Where does the delight that daddy’s have for their daughters originate? It is eternal.  It came before time began.  It originated from another Father.  You see it first in his love for the eternal Son.  But it spreads to his creation which he lavishes with his embrace, pours out affectionate words, even sings overs.  There are many songs God has written for his children.  Zephaniah 3:14-17 is perhaps the most enchanting.

14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing

God has a daughter?

Did you know God had a daughter too?  Did you think God only had a Son?  It might come to you as a surprise, but God’s daughter is Israel (v.14).  God calls an entire nation his daughter.  He chose Israel from among all nations of the world and adopted her as his own.  He favors her, treasures her, sings to her, and loves her deeply.  Israel is the apple of his eye.  His heart melts for her, even when aa Zephaniah tells us how bad his daughter had become (see 3:1-5).

God is his daughter’s keeper

Daughters are precious jewels and there is within a good father a God-given inclination to protect her and keep her from evil (v.15).  Most daughters do not like this about their fathers at first or at all because some father tend to be either passive or overprotect.  However, good fathers are aware of the enemies that steal and destroy the hearts of daughters such as vanity, seductiveness, and self-image.

The enemy and the world are clever at redefining and distorting beauty and says, “This is what beauty looks like. Follow this way, and you will be known and liked and loved.”  Most daughters or women will tell you that  way is shallow and is an endless pursuit leading to much frustration and regret.  Therefore good fathers go to great lengths to remind their daughters where the well of beauty is found and strive to lead them there.

God warned Israel over and over, “Do not turn away from my voice and follow other gods (or faux-fathers).”  He is jealous for his daughter.  He delights in his daughter as the apple of his eye, but knows they were a surrounded by rotten apples.  Yet God assures them that though there was much to fear around them they had nothing to fear because God was with them.  God is his daughter’s keeper (vs.15-16; cf. Psalm 91:14ff; 59:1-2).

I remember when I first brought my girls to Chad, Justus in particular, was afraid and intimidated to talk to people. She was surrounded by many new faces she did not know.  There was so many new fears.  She would cling to her mom or me.  Sometimes when I would lead her outside the gate for a walk she would ask for me to hold her and she would hug my neck tight.  She thought is was safe to be near to me.

The safest place for you to be is with your Father.  Cling to him.  Hear his words.  Trust he is near.  Clasp onto his strong hands.  Do not fear.  He is your protector.  He will keep you.

Fathers, keep your daughters.  Teach them about the love of God.  Guard them from enemies and teach her his lies.  Stand in the line of attack so that your daughter sees how you fight against the enemy when the day comes when she doesn’t have you nearby to protect her.

No father wants to see their daughter fall or get hurt because they walked outside the umbrella of your counsel.  That’s when it becomes a temptation to overprotect, but an overprotective father is not a loving father.  Overprotection seeks control your daughter.  A father cannot control everything.  And when you do you play god, but don’t play god very well.  The intended result of overprotect is often the opposite.  Instead of your daughter running to you for counsel, they will be repelled by it.

Fathers, trust God to protect your daughters when they venture out on their own.  Pick them up when they fall and embrace them when they return to you.  Remember, even Israel became a harlot and shamed God, but she was still God’s daughter and he keeps all his promises to her and loves her deeply.  God is like the father of the prodigal, full of grace and love.

Daughters, maybe your view of God the Father is tainted because you’ve had an abusive or passive earthly father.  This happens.  But God the Father is not like this.  He is a good Father.  Yet if you have an earthly father, trust him as he seeks to protect you.  He might not always be the best at it.  He may have many holes in their armor.  He might miss an enemy or two, but God has called them to protect you.  If you step outside their protection the enemy has better aim at you.  For your own protection heed the words of your father and your God and learn how to fight the enemy from him.  There is nothing to fear.

God is his daughter’s warrior and songwriter

God often fought many battles for Israel, but sometimes he let her go out to battle alone.  This was a test to her faith and resolve.  Sometime Israel would fear and flee.  Sometimes she would call on the Father for help and he would rescue.  Sometimes she would make an alliance with the enemy and not listen to the Father’s words.  But always, God was there with her.  He was with her on good and bad and ugly days. Loving her, soothing her, holding her, rejoicing over her, and singing over her (v.17).

When are daughters most afraid?  I find that my daughter is most afraid when she feels alone or unsure or she has done wrong.  In those moments, my daughter is looking for a warrior, a fighter, someone to champion her fear.  It is then that I remind her that I love her (even if I must discipline her) and sing over her.

Fathers, rejoice over your children.  Sing praises over them.  For real!  Even if you sound silly or think you look stupid or sing severely out of tune.  As God sings over you with loud frivolous exultations, mirror that to your daughters.  Your daughter will remember this the rest of her life.  These will be her battle songs.

Daughters, encourage your father to be a strong warrior.  He needs to hear this from you.  Ask him to help you, pray with you, and advise you through your battles.  Also, don’t be embarrassed when he sings silly songs of praises over you.  He loves you because you are his jewel. the apple of his eye.  He cannot help but sing over you.

God quiets us with His singing, its a singing that drowns out all other competing noises of life that clamor for our attentions and do what they can do to distract us.  He is drowning out the noisy lies of the enemy and quieting our raging heart with his beautiful songs of praise.

What does God sing over us?  He sings songs of truth.  He sings his promises over us.  He reminds us of his faithfulness, that as we abide in Him, He abides in us and keeps us in his love.  He sings to remind us that as we draw near to him, he will draw near to us.  He is for us and not against us.  How wonderful it is that our good good Father sings over us.

Sons and daughters of God.  Run into your Daddies arms.  Listen for his songs of praise over you.  Know that you are his precious jewel…

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” – 1 John 3:1-3

6 Essentials for Proclaiming the Gospel

proclaim it

I have read dozens of books on evangelism. I have sat in conferences and seminary level courses on how to share my faith. I have equipped churchgoers with tools to present the good news to neighbors, strangers, and foreigners. On paper, I have a lot of knowledge and experience sharing the gospel, but in reality I still feel inadequate when it comes to personal evangelism.

I find the Book of Acts an indispensable and encouraging guide for proclaiming the gospel. It is heads above all other resources on evangelism available today. I am able learn all I need to know to share the gospel in the 21st Century by how 1st Century church did it. Acts is filled with case studies, one of which you and I will study together today. In this case study, I will share six essentials for proclaiming the gospel by plagiarizing another mans sermon, Paul’s sermon that is.

1) Stand in the midst the lost (Acts 17:22a)

Our text begins with “Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus,” literally it means “high place” and it rests above the city of Athens on top of Mars Mill. It was sort of a temple to the human brain, a forum for philosophical talks. Why would Paul stand in the middle of a crowd of philosophical eggheads? To understand Paul’s present situation you need to go back in Acts and hear the undergirding motivation for his trip to Athens (cf. 9:15; 16:10; 17:16ff). What you discover is that Paul has a deep rooted, God-given burden for people to hear the truth about Jesus. His burden for the lost leads him to stand in the midst of the lost.

You might ask, why doesn’t my heart beat for the lost, like Paul? Why do I struggle so much just to love my neighbor? Remember, a burden for the lost is birthed and nourished by the Spirit of God setting your heart blaze for the lost.

Charles Spurgeon said,

“The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest, too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy, too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘God, give me converts or I die.’ Then you will have converts.”1

Undoubtedly, you have a burning passion for the gospel, however, one must never assume that just because one serves God as a career that you are actually living out the gospel or proclaiming it often and well. When was the last time you stood in the midst of the lost and spoke about Jesus? Does your heart ache for the lost? Will you die if God doesn’t give you converts? Stand among the lost.

2) Know the people to whom you are speaking (17:22b-23a)

Paul was in Athens, the seat of the worlds intelligentsia. It was home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno who have influenced human thought ever since. In Paul’s day, Athens was a city in philosophical flux, particularly between two parties of thought: the Epicureans (pleasure seeker) and Stoics (long-sufferer). Both quests for truth were polar opposite, and therefore, truth was thought of as unknowable, yet the people continued to spend their days talking about the newest philosophical fads at Areopagus (v.21). Athens was Starbucks on Steroids!

Paul knew the people to whom he is speaking because as he toured Athens he took good notes. He walked in the shadow of the Acropolis. He saw temples filled with a smorgasbord of gods. Upon invitation by the local philosophers, he said with kindness and clarity, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…”

Are you a learner of people around you? What do you observe about their beliefs and culture that are different or even similar to yours? How would you describe their God? In their words and deeds, how do you see their beliefs lived out each week? How are they struggling? What questions are they asking? What do you observe?

Now you will never know another culture completely like you know your own, however if you walk around, sit with people, and ask questions you will learn a lot. Yesterday, I sat with a father who lost his 4-year old son through an unexpected accident. The boy who was sleeping on a mat when in the night a car backed over the boy crushing him to death. I regarded many men come to my neighbors mat, greet him politely, and then each guest proceed to repeat short prayers. I heard these prayers at least a dozen times within the 10-minutes that I sat with him. I was broken for him and the others who were praying. I perceived they are very religious.

3) Seize interest in the gospel by using common ground (17:23b)

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t rest with just learning about people and culture, he turns his observations into a provocative statement. Can you imagine ears perking up? Especially, as he says, “I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” Paul seizes their interest by using the one thing he has in common with the Athenians. What is their common ground? Worship. Paul sees at the heart of Athens is a quest to understand life, a desire to find meaning and significance, and a hunger to worship, even if they did not know exactly what it was they were worshiping. Isn’t that the quest of all men? People want to know what matters most. People want to worship something or someone bigger than them. Worship is at the heart of the matter.

Albert Einstein echoes this in his 1932 credo,

“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.”2

A.W. Tozer clarifies Einstein’s words by saying,

“Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring and awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause (the ultimate truth), but which we call Our Father Who Is in Heaven.”

Paul uses worship as a springboard to say, “This unknown God that you worship. Yeah, I know Him. And you can know Him too. This God you say you cannot know, in Him, I live, I move, I have my entire being.” It’s an audacious statement Paul makes and in a sense he says, “I know God, therefore, I know Ultimate Truth.” How is Paul so confident that God knowable? He met Him on the road to Damascus (cf. 9:5).

I find that the religious culture I live in can be accurately summed up by this phrase, “ignorantly worshipping an unknown God.” My heart is burdened when I see people praying to a God they do not believe is unknowable just to continue with religious traditions and expectations. My neighbor believes that if God wills he will go to paradise one day, but he will never really know the God that He is praying to, but I’m sure that he will always pray. A religious façade has become his god. The form of his worship becomes more important than the one he is worshiping.

Listen, if your faith is not rooted in Jesus Christ, you too are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church or tradition rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshiping, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If the gospel ceased to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction, you are ignorantly worshiping and unknown God.

4) Make sure your message is saturated in Scripture (17:24-29)

Have you noticed that Paul’s sermons are saturated with Scripture? What Paul understands it that the power in a message is always in the Spirit of God through the Scripture. Paul is not the authority, he has another authority. Scriptures are his authority. In short, Paul will use the Scripture to give the Athenians a crash course on God 101. And without a doubt, this is one on the most beautiful treatises on God in all of Scripture.

  • God is the omnipotent Creator (v.24a). Your world begins with God, not you.3
  • God is omnipresent (v.24b). You cannot limit or localize God. He doesn’t dwell in tiny hand-made shrines,4 He dwells in hearts.
  • God is completely self-sufficient (v.25). God doesn’t depend on us; we depend on God for everything.5 This is the most humbling verse in Scripture and a good verse to remember as you serve others.
  • God is sovereign sustainer and ruler (v.26). He is intimately involved within history and geography.6
  • God is a gracious pursuer (v.27; Romans 1:19-20). God has placed within each man a GPS (Godward Pursuit System), a homing beacon that is questing for the Most High.
  • God is a revealer (v.28a). God imprints Himself everywhere, even in secular poetry and art (creation and heart).
  • God is the life-giver (v.28b). God is the Father of all humanity.
  • God is eternally priceless (v.29; Romans 1:22-23). People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.

Why does Paul give this treatise on God and His character? Remember, when Paul entered Athens, he was provoked within his spirit when he saw the city full of idols (v.16). He was deeply torn and his heart stirred because the God of Scripture is stirred by idolatry too. God is jealous and angered and does not share His glory with another. He is provoked to crush any substitute, “high place”, or Areopagus in this world and in your lives. God alone desires the high place because He is the Most High God. The Scripture says there is no adequate substitute for the living God.

5) Boldly proclaim the whole gospel: call for repentance (17:30-31a)

As Paul presents the living God to Athens, he doesn’t just say “Believe in Him.” Yes, belief in God is critically important, but it’s not the whole gospel. Many people believe in God, but it doesn’t change their life. That’s why Paul, like Jeremiah, walks into an idolatrous hot bed and proclaims, “Repent!” He says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed.”

Who is “the man God has appointed to judge the world”? Jesus. Jesus is the blazing center of Paul’s gospel. Jesus is what makes the gospel shine. Athens could no longer claim ignorance or hide from the light. They were now cognizant of Christ, the Judge, and they stood before Him guilty and condemned (just as are those to whom you share the gospel). Yet Paul gave them a life-changing proposition: humble yourselves before Jesus and repent. If not, now, when? When Jesus judges you on the fixed and final day? It is better to face Jesus today as Savior than tomorrow as Judge.

6) Proclaim the gospel expectantly, but leave the results to God (17:31b-34)

Notice the different responses to the gospel? (vs.32-34) Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt (mock), some wait to hear more, and some believe. We find out that at least two women were changed by the gospel, including a member of the Areopagus council. Even if no one believed, the mission to Athens wasn’t a failure. God be praised!

God calls us to proclaim the gospel (v.31b); he doesn’t call us to convert people. God holds us responsible for faithfulness; not fruitfulness. He calls us to scatter seeds, water and till peoples souls; not harvest them. Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It took the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth, it is the Spirit that opens eyes to have faith in His Son, like Lydia (cf.16:14). Conversion is the work of God and God alone. We can expect results in good faith. So let’s do God’s work in God’s way with God’s power and leave the results to Him.

In high school, I worked at Schmidt Sporting Goods. It was a great high school job. I got sweet deals on new shoes, Packer gear, and I got to watch sports while working. It was also a great opportunity to mingle with many unbelievers. During the evening shift the customer flow would slow and I’d have time to talk to other employees. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see a breakthrough. No one ever came to church with me. No one repented and turned to Jesus. However, 10-years later, long after our days working together, I got an email from a fellow employee. He shared a story from that summer. He jump out of a boat into a murky lake. Unknowingly the water was shallow and he snapped his neck. As he lay in the hospital paralyzed he recalled our conversations at work, he also had another close friend who was shared the gospel with him regularly. He gave his life Christ that summer. The seed I planted, another watered and tilled, but God opened his eyes and produced a harvest.

You might not see the results of the gospel in your lifetime. Keep sharing. Continue praying. Never give up.

how long…?

How-long-does-tramadol-last2

Some people back home ask, “How long do you plan on being in Africa?” I know many of those faces we will not see for years. I don’t know how to answer that question, but my usual response is to answer, “As long as it takes.” We desire to see a mighty movement of God. That could take a while.

On Sunday, Sarah and I were listening to a sermon on the book of Habakkuk during our family worship time. In Habakkuk 1:2, he asks “How long?” for a different reason. He sees all the violence and injustice around him and asks God, “Why aren’t you doing anything about it?” (my paraphrase, 1:2-4). It is easy to regard our circumstances and think that God is passive, however, God is more proactive than you can imagine. For in the next verse, God answers Habakkuk’s question, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” (1:5)

Like Habakkuk, I may doubt God promises. I may question His character. I may not see immediate results from my work. I may throw in the towel too early. Yet God says, “Wait a minute. Check this out. Look and see. Be amazed. Be still and know that I am God over history and your circumstances.” He’s been working among the Z people long before we arrived. He will be at work among them long after we’re gone (whenever that may be). Right now, He is at work within me reminded me of His faithfulness, His truth, His presence, and His sovereignty. If God were to share with me all that He is doing at this moment, I would not understand or comprehend.

the God who hears

Does God hear when I call on Him in prayer? If I don’t get an answer is God just hard of hearing? Somewhere we’ve acquired an illusion that God as a toothy grinned grandfatherly figure straining to hear through his old-fashion ear horn. This leaves us with an idol-god who is finite and rather creepy when you think about it.

Take a quick glance at Scripture and it will debunk any myth of a God who is decrepit or hard of hearing. Surely He is kind, slow to anger, full of all-consuming joy, spoils His children with indefeasible grace and generosity. But He does not have a cane or have need of hearing aides.

God hears.

Do you realize how important it is that God hears? The God of the universe hears the prayers of all His children (Ps. 65:2; 4:3; Jeremiah 29:12). The gods made with the hands of man cannot hear,[1] but human hands do not make God. He made man. And He made man with a mouth that are able to speak. With the psalmist, use your mouth to joyfully sing, “I love the Lord for He hears my voice” (Ps. 116:1)

Jesus after He raised Lazarus from the dead prayed and thanked God, “I knew that You always hear me” (John 11:41-42). Jesus prayed knowing that He was praying to His Father who listened.

“Because I have listened definitely to one thing from God, it does not follow that I will listen to everything He says. The way in which I show God that I neither love nor respect Him is by the obtuseness of my heart and mind towards what He says. If I love my friend, I intuitively detect what he wants, and Jesus says, “Ye are My friends.” Have I disobeyed some command of my Lord’s this week? If I had realized that it was a command of Jesus, I would not consciously have disobeyed it; but most of us show such disrespect to God that we do not even hear what He says, He might never have spoken.”[2] – Oswald Chambers

God hears more than words.

He knows the motivation behind my words. He sees my words straight through to my heart. He knows what I really want. Now God does meet wants, even needs. He demonstrates over and over His sensitive ears to the cry of the orphan and widow (Exodus 22:23); the plea of the poor (Exodus 22:27); the cry of the needy (Ps. 69:33). However, God does just give me whatever I want whenever I want it. Thankfully.

God has selective hearing.

God is not a passive dad that tunes out His children for no good reason. He hears the prayer of the righteous God-fearer,[3] and often He ignores the cries of the unrighteous sinner.[4] It is not that God is insensitive to the cries of sinners; it’s that sinners are not sensitive towards listening and obeying God. Their judgment is God replicating the treatment they are giving Him.

God has spoken many words, 774,746 to be exact.[5] Start by listening closely to those words. As Jesus said, to each of the believers in the seven churches of Turkey, “He who has ears let him hear.” (cf. Revelation 3-4)

My daughter Justus is 2-years old. She has good ears. Still she has a natural inclination to ignore the authority God has put over her like Charlie Brown listened to his teacher at school. For the most part, she hears the words of her parent’s say and eagerly listens. I want to have eager ears toward my authority, God, like my daughter.

A child’s attitude is “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.” (cf. 1 Samuel 3:10) If you have not cultivated this devotion of hearing, you can only hear God’s voice at certain times; at other times you are taken up with things—things which you say you must do, and you become deaf to Him, you are not living the life of a child. Have you heard God’s voice today, moreover, have you listened to God’s voice today?


[1] Cf. 1 Kings 18:26-27; Psalm 115:6; 135:17; Isaiah 46:7

[2] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest : Selections for the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1993).

[3] Cf. Prov. 15:29; Psalm 34:15; 145:19; John 9:31

[4] Cf. Isaiah 59:1-2; cf. Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 11:11,14; Ezekiel 8:18; Amos 5:23; John 9:31

[5] This number is a guesstimation taking an average among English Bible translations.

Theology of the glory of God from the book of Revelation

Many have tried to establish a theme for the Book of Revelation, but the following summary by George G. Weeber captures its theme and focus,

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, as the unveiling of our exalted, glorified, and sovereign Lord over His church and the world as the Revealer and Executor of the secret decrees of God in order to consummate His victory over the world of evil at His Second Coming and establish the royal kingdom of God.[1]

The glory of God is a theme that permeates the Book of Revelation. From chapter 1 through 22 there is a golden vein that describes and ascribes glory to God. This portion of the paper will describe the theme of God’s glory in Revelation as it relates to his holiness and incomparability.

The Glory of God Within the Literary Structure

Worship scenes play an important role in unifying the book because they are not just interludes, but part of the context. The hymn sections of Revelation usually provide commentary within the narrative visions in which they are embedded. The primary reason that the author introduced throne scenes was to serve as literary contexts for commentary on the hymns. This makes them important for the structural analysis of Revelation.[2]

Revelation is a hymnal of worship describing God’s glory as seen in His holiness and incomparability. The setting of the book of Revelation is within the throne room of God and the hymns are sung in this setting. The worship in Revelation is characterized by thanksgiving (11:17), praise (19:5), prayer (5:8), and song. Worship for God is expressed in the context of desolation and divine judgment.

The Book of Revelation has, like many letters, a prologue (1:1-8), body (1:9-22:5), and epilogue (22:6-21).[3] Within all three elements there is an overwhelmingly large emphasis given to the praise and glory of God. The author of Revelation teaches his readers a lot about how to worship God now in light of how we will worship Him in the future. Among the 22 chapters of Revelation there are 11 distinct worship episodes, which make up a sizable chuck of the book’s text.[4] The verb proskymeo (to worship) is used 24 times in Revelation compared to 59 times in all of Scripture.[5] One could say worship is what ties Revelation together.

The Glory of God is pictured within His divine characteristics

The Revelation of Jesus Christ is full of imagery and expresses John’s reverence for God. Within Revelation God is presented in all His majesty and glory. It is His glory that lights the heavens (21:23). We see God as holy, omnipotent, omniscient and eternal. There is an emphasis on His righteousness and judgment upon sin, but little about His love and mercy.[6] The character of God within Revelation is fitting to the role He plays as the Judge of mankind.

God is holy.  Those that are in the presence of God near His throne never cease to worship God day and night. They cry out to God, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” (Ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ: 4:8; cf.4:9, 11; 19:2) There is no one that is like or will ever be like our God. He is incomparable. He alone is worthy of worship because He is holy.

God is Sovereign over all things, including the judgment of man and His dealing with evil.[7] God protects His people and punishes rebellion. The picture in Revelation is of God ruling history and the fact that He will bring about history’s consummation in Christ.[8] The overwhelming picture of God is of a mighty potentate seated on His throne (4:3), a picture that is determined by the visionary nature of the book and by the need to stress the sovereignty of God over the forces of evil.[9]

God sits on His throne (τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ: 4:9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:15; 21:5).[10] He rules and reigns over His people and their dominion with His supreme plan. He reigns on His throne as Judge and King.[11] It is God, not the evil one, who sits on the throne, and it is God who judges His enemies and blesses those who faithfully follow the Lamb of God.[12] The Book of Revelation is a letter written to encourage followers of Christ to focus their faith on the triumph of a sovereign God’s reign, which has now been disclosed through the exaltation and reign of Christ.

God is sovereign over all creation. The twenty-four elders proclaim God as the Creator of all things (4:11). He creates and He sustains (cf. 10:6; 14:7). The culmination of absolute sovereignty is seen in God’s creation of the new heavens and earth (21:1-22:5). At that time, He destroys the old earth tainted by sin and combines earth and heaven “making all things new” (21:5). The Book of Revelation conveys a sense of sovereignty that no other New Testament book approaches.[13]

God is Eternal as related to His Sovereignty. God is described as One who will be forever and ever. He is “the One who is and who was and who is to come” (ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος: 1:4, 8; 4:8-10; 11:17; 16:5). God is in control of the present in the same way He was in control of the past and will be in control of the future.[14] With this promise of His eternal control is the promise of His coming and judgment. God does not have a beginning or end, for He is described as “the First and Last” (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος: 1:17; 22:13). He not only controls the past and the future, but everything in between, for He is “the Alpha and Omega” (Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ: 1:8, 17;21:6, 13).

God is Omnipotent as related to His Sovereignty. God is a mighty God.[15] He is the divine warrior and has all the power to do His will. Whatever evil is done in His sight by the evil powers of this world, God has more power still. God is stronger than the kings of earth. He will overcome and be the victor over evil. He will judge in His power and glory (18:8). God is “Almighty” (ὁ παντοκράτωρ: 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 19:6; 21:22), and all heaven ascribes power and might to Him (7:12; 12:10).

The Glory of God Seen Within His Son Jesus Christ

From the beginning of the text John greet his readers “from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (1:5) The first vision of John in Revelation is Jesus in all His glory (1:12-20).

Jesus is referred to by John with many distinct divine names: the “I AM” (1:8, 17; 2:23; 21:6; 22:13, 16), Son of God (2:18), ruler of God’s creation (3:14), Word of God (19:13; cf. John 1:1-14 & 1 John 1:1-4), and the Lamb of God (13:11; cf. John 1:29, 36; 21:15) . These characteristics and more are vivid throughout the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Lamb of God (ἀρνίον) is a constant symbol for Christ in Revelation as the victor over the forces of evil and the Church as the body of Christ, which shares this victory with Him (17:14).[16] He has opened up the way for His people to have a glorious destiny. He is the Lamb worshiped by all heaven (5:6) and worthy to open the seven seals (6:1, 3ff). The greatness and glory of the Lamb is indicated in the way He is joined with God (cf. 7:9; 14:4; 22:1-3).[17] He is equated with God. Jesus is the supreme One and His glory makes His saving work possible.

There is a hint to the humanity of Christ as He is referenced to being from the tribe of Judah and the house of David. Greater emphasis, however, is placed on His deity. Revelation leaves us no doubt that Jesus Christ is the God of all. He is triumphant over death and regarded as the eternal One of infinite power and majesty who is worthy of all honor and adoration.[18] He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, slays the wicked, delivers the righteous, and reigns over the earth. John cannot help but fall before Him and worship. At the conclusion of two visions, he falls at the feet of the angel to worship, and the angel responds, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” (19:10; 22:9)[19]

The Book of Revelation is a cataclysmic reminder that through Christ life is stronger than death and eventually the kingdom of this world will be the kingdom of our Lord and His Messiah (1:6; 5:10).[20] He will reign forever and ever (11:15). There is no one like Jesus Christ. Jesus is supreme.

In conclusion, the Book of Revelation has a heavy emphasis on the glory of God. God’s glory is seen in the literary structure of the book, within His characteristics, and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If one wants to grow in his or her understanding of God’s glory, the Revelation of Jesus Christ is a great place to start. God is enthroned in heaven and is working out His purposes on earth. Revelation calls us to respond with awe, godly fear, praise, faith, and obedience.[21] One day we will ourselves cry to the Lord, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”


[1]George G. Weeber, The Consummation of History: A Study of the Book of Revelation, (s.l: s.n., 1978,) 27.

[2] David E. Aune, Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 22. (Word Books: Dallas, TX. 1997), xcviii.

[3]Dennis A. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary of Revelation, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing Co., 2001), 26-28.

[4]1:12-20; 4:1-5:14; 7:9-17; 8:3-5; 11:16-19; 12:10-12; 14:1-7; 15:2-8; 16:5-7; 19:1-10; 20:4-6; 21:1-22:5

[5]Leon Morris, New Testament Theology, (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986), 296.

[6]John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 10.

[7]Note there is a great conflict between good and evil (Ch.12-19; and reiterated in 20:1-10).

[8]Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co, 2000), 40.

[9] I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 573.

[10] There are also variations of this phrase cf. 4:2, 3; 7:10; 19:4; 20:11.

[11] His sovereignty is seen in His judgment through the 7 Seals, 7 Trumpets and 7 Bowls.

[12] Robert W. Wall, Revelation: New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 39.

[13]D.A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 721.

[14] Grant Osborne. Baker Evangelical Commentary of The New Testament: Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 32.

[15] The sovereign might of God is seen in the incredible use of εδοθη, a divine passive that points to Gods control of the events (6:2, 4, 8, 11; 7:2; 8:2, 3; 9:1; 3, 5; 11:1, 2; 12:14; 13:5, 7, 14; 13:5, 7, 14, 15; 16:8). Osborne, 32.

[16]Weeber, 27.

[17]Morris, 293.

[18]Walvoord, 27.

[19] J. Ramsey Michaels in His commentary suggests that the parallels in the two visions are intended to form a contrasting pair, each centering on a city personified as a woman—Babylon and Jerusalem, prostitute and bride. Interpreting the Book of Revelation: Guides to New Testament Exegesis, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992), 65-66.

[20]Stephen F. Smalley, The Revelation to John (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2005), 19.

[21]Poythress, 40.

Oh, that I would decide to give thanks

by kylie j lloyd

“Thankfulness is the attitude that perfectly displaces my sinful tendency to complain and thereby release [God’s] joy and blessing into my life.” (James MacDonald, Lord Change My Attitude, p.45)

It is easy to shift from being thankful to being unthankful. For me, it only takes a moment. I’ve already caught myself saying, “I am tired of speaking in French today. I can’t even order the right thing at the restaurant. Am I ever going to see my wife and kids? It’s cold outside already? What? No appliances are provided from my friends new apartment! That’s bogus.”

But then God used a verse of a song written a few thousand years ago. Psalm 107:1, “Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness.” (cf. vs. 8, 15, 21, 31) God, like a master chef, using this verse to tenderize my heart with 3 important truths:

1) Thankfulness is a decision: “Oh, that men would give thanks…”

Notice that the psalmist did not say, “COULD”. What difference would it make if it said could? “Could” makes being thankful contingent on my ability, “I could if be thankful if my situation were better.” Would is a word used to agree or be okay or to be willing to comply. No matter my day, circumstance, or influences from people around me, I have the capability to be thankful. I have the responsibility to be thankful. I must decide to be thankful.

I remember the year after college I visited a friend in Ukraine. He took me to a small town where we popped in on a Sekret family to encourage them. I remember being greeted at the door by the Alexander and wife and their 7 children. Their home was a 1-bedroom shack that was cold and smelled musty. Immediately the husband excused himself and left the premises for about 10 minutes. When he came back, his wife excused herself and they were doing something in the kitchen for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile I was sitting on a wooden chair looking at the 7 children staring at me. Neither of us could speak each other’s language. After minutes of awkward silence Alexander and his wife entered with bread, spicy mustard, Russian sausage, cooked cabbage, and beets. They asked me to come to the table. I stood by a bed near the cramped table and Alexander prayed, I don’t remember much Ukrainian, but I do remember, “Slava Bog, doosha smachna” (meaning: Praise God for this food…) My friend told me after we left that the style of meal they made for us was equivalent to our Thanksgiving. I will never forget the spirit of thankfulness in the eyes of the Sekret family.

Why are we not more thankful? Could it be we are use to having so much? Emerson once said, “If the stars would come out only once a year, everyone would stay up all night to behold them.”

B.B. Warfield said,

“We are frequently told, indeed, that the great danger of (Christians) lies precisely in his constant contact with divine things. They may come to seem common to him, because they are customary. As the average man breathes the air and basks in the sunshine without ever a thought that it is God in His goodness who makes the sun to rise on him. Other men, oppressed by the hard conditions of life, sunk in the daily struggle for bread perhaps, distracted at any rate by the dreadful drag of the worlds work, find it hard to get time and opportunity so much as to pause and consider whether there be such a God, and religion, and salvation from the sin that compasses them about and holds them captive. The very atmosphere of your life is these things; you breathe them in at every pore; they surround you, encompass you, and press in upon you from every side. It is all in danger of becoming common to you! God forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of God!”

2) Thankfulness is a decision based on divine reality: “give thanks to the Lord for His goodness.”

“I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.” (Psalm 7:17) “We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for Your Name is near; men tell of Your wonderful deeds.” (75:1) Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.” (106:1)

Giving thanks is a decision based on Divine Reality. When I consider the character of God and believe He is true and acknowledge His ways are good, my perspective of the situation is different than the worlds. If you’ve read Robinson Crusoe you see how his perspective changes as He reads about the God of the Bible. His demeanor says, “I have been on this deserted island for 28 years…but it is beautiful. I am sick of these coconuts…at least it’s food! I am all alone…but at least I don’t have to worry about traffic or lines or loud neighbors.”

3) Thankfulness is a life-changing decision: “Oh…”

“Oh” is a word that comes “from the gut.” It’s a word you say when you really want to express deep emotion. Let’s say it together, Oh!” Say it like you mean it.

Moses said, “I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!” (Deut. 32:3)
Isaiah said, “Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all Your people.” (64:9)
David sang, “Oh, how I love Your law! I meditate on it all day long.” Psalm 119:97
Job said, “Oh, how I wish that God would speak,” (11:5)
Elisha prayed, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked.” (2 Kings 6:15)

I desire Psalm 107:1 and Psalm 105:1 be my prayer,“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples” Oh, that I be thankful for Your Word. Oh, that I be thankful for my salvation. Oh, that I be  thankful for Your provisions. And make it known to all how good You are.

the God who knows it all

Have you ever been called a “know-it-all”? If so, it’s usually not a compliment. When someone calls you a “know-it-all,” they are sarcastically saying, “You don’t know as much as you think you do and I hope soon realize how little you actually know!” Ouch.

Does anyone really know it all? Yes, in fact there is One: God. God knows it all. His knowledge is instantaneous, total, and completely retentive. God knows what He knows without any kind of research, education, or strenuous study. He never had to go to school, take a test, or be informed about anything. You will never surprise Him with some new fact or beat Him at Trivia Pursuit. You can never tell God something He doesn’t already know; He knows it all. He knows when a sparrow dies, and He knows the number of the hairs on your head (Matthew 10:29–30). Even the number of hairs I am losing by the minute! In short, He is omniscient. His knowledge is eternal and infinite.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36′ cf. Psalm 139:17-18)

He knows you, even better than you know yourself.

David is king over all of Israel. Every person in his kingdom knows him as king. Although he is king, he doesn’t know everyone in his kingdom personally. However, He does know and honor the One who does know all and He knows David. He is God and He is King of kings.

In Psalm 139, David composes a song that grapples with God’s omniscience. He brings God—who many want to put at a distance—close to home. God’s knowledge of you is personal as it gets. To David, God’s omniscience is not just theological or philosophical—it’s relational and personal. Notice the personal pronouns: “Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up. You understand my thought afar off” (vs.1–2).

God knows your thoughts even before you think them (vs.3-4). God knows what you really believe about Him, not just what you say about Him. He knows where you stand. He knows your real opinions. He knows your motives. He knows your heart (2 Chronicles 6:30). He knows the real you.

He knows you better than you know yourself. He can see your blind spots; sins of which you are unaware (v.3, 24), or for which you make excuses. Proverbs teaches that God’s knowledge is personal: “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (16:2); “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (21:2). There is also a positive aspect to God’s omniscience: God also sees and approves of your service, even if no one else notices (Hebrews 6:10).

You will never know-it-all, but that is reason to worship.

Do you mind God knowing everything about you? Or do you feel that’s awfully intrusive? When David says “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23), it’s a prayer inviting God to know more (even though that’s not possible). That’s a humble and vulnerable prayer. It’s giving Him the key to your darkest parts and inner chambers of your heart.

You might be intelligent. You might be a 4.0 student and aced your SAT. You might be a Ken Jennings and be the best at Jeopardy. The world might label you a genius and honor you with the Noble Prize, but compared with God, you know nothing. Your knowledge is never comprehensive. Nor do you know what is best for your own sake. Ask God to show you the truth about yourself so that He might make you wise (Psalm 139:23–24).

When trying to wrap my brain around God’s omniscience—and all His divine attributes—it it easy to blow a fuse. God’s ability transcends my reality, therefore, it’s best to just bow to His immensity. God is always greater than my present knowledge of Him. If God were small enough for my brains, He wouldn’t be big enough for my needs (cf. Matthew 6:8, 32).

God indeed “knows it all.” By His very nature, without having to learn anything, He already knows everything—past, present, and future. My response to His knowledge: worship and adoration,

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:6)

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:17-18)

the God who is sleepless in Seattle

On Sunday afternoon I took a nap. I was not alone. My wife and two daughters also were tuckered out and took naps too. Sunday afternoon naps are almost traditions in our home. Some cultures have built-in siestas to rest midday. Scientists say I am asleep one-third of my our life.

God was the first Person to rest.

When God created the world He worked six-days and rested on the seventh. He rested not because He was tired or needed a day off to get His other work done, but set an example to His creation that would need rest. We humans are weak and need rest.

If it was up to mankind we would sleep less and work or play more. That’s why we say, “There are only 24 hours in a day.” But God knew our temptation would steer us into the direction of being either a workaholic or sloth, both being a distraction from true rest.

When God gave the Law to Moses, the fourth of the Ten Commandments said, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy.” Sabbath means rest. God knows we need a day of rest and refocus. Sometimes we think we might miss out on something in life if we do not cram-pack every minute of every day with something. Yet we can miss out on life itself if we do not obey this command.

Jesus confronted the religious leaders of His day about this very thing (Mark 2:27 “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”). They were so OCD about not working on the Sabbath that they wrote a ‘book of rules’ to protect themselves from disobeying the law, all the while they were missing the real purpose of the Sabbath: to worship God. We are over worked and under-worshipped. God created rest for worship.

Idols sleep, but God does not sleep.

In 1 Kings 18, there is a famous duel between the Prophet Elijah and hundreds of prophets of Baal. Elijah challenges the prophets to build an altar and call to their god to bring down fire upon the altar. The God who answers is God. Elijah urges the prophets of Baal to go first. They eagerly accept and spend all day trying to coerce their god into action. Nothing happens. Elijah cannot rest a poke: “Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he meditating, or he is pursuing, or he is away on a journey, or he is sleeping, and must be awakened.” When the prophets of Baal had given up Elijah stepped up to the altar, ordered it to be drenched with water, and then called to God prayerfully. Immediately God rocketed down flames of fire that utterly consumed the altar. The God of Israel reigned that day as the One True and Living God.

The idol Baal was asleep. Sooner or later the idols men create begin to mimic the men who created them; asleep. What’s the cure? Wake up and worship the One True and Living God. He has characteristics like men because men are made in His image. Yet He is not like men. Men are to be like Him.

God does not sleep. When the Scripture that God does not sleep it refers to His unceasing care for His people (Ps. 121:4). He does not grow weary or tired of passionately pursuing their hearts so that His people respond in faith (Isa. 40:28; 7:13; Mal. 2:17).

Jesus got tired and slept, but He was still sovereign.

Jesus was human. Therefore He was subject to human weaknesses like hunger (Mt. 4:2), thirst (John 4:7; 19:28), pain (1 Pt. 4:1), and weariness (John 4:6). When Jesus got tired He slept.

In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus and His discipled crawled into a boat after a long day of ministry. Jesus quickly found a spot to curl up and take a snooze. While crossing the Sea of Galilee a storm arose abruptly, which was common for this body of water, and their boat was being swamped by waves. The disciples were freaking out and could not understand why or how Jesus could be asleep.

I once was on a plane flying over the Sahara Desert at night. The plane was experiencing a lot of turbulence. Items were falling off tray tables and the stewardesses had worried faces. Across the aisle a man sound asleep like a baby being rocked by a giant 747. My stomach was in knots and I wondered, “How could this man be asleep?”

The disciples woke Jesus up and said, “Don’t you care? We’re going to die!” (4:39) Jesus did not say a word. What He did next did not need words. He immediately calmed the storm. Not only did it silence the wind and waves, but Jesus’ authoritative control over nature silenced the disciples. Though Jesus was sleeping in the torrent He still was sovereign over the storm.

There is a valuable truth to remember about God. Even when He seems to be resting or sleeping on the job, He is still in control of the world and your life. He never peters out. His tank does not get low on gas. He is not sleepless in Seattle, Singapore, Seoul, Sydney, Sudan or Sri Lanka. He does not rest from His sovereign work. He is always awake and alert to the affair of the universe and the actions on mankind.

After Jesus calmed the Sea He said to the disciples,“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (4:40) At the moment they went from freaking from swallowing too of water in the storm to a holy fear because they were in the presence of the Son of God. When they could talk again they said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

If you fear, fear the One True and Living God. Knowing that He never sleeps or slumbers, but is sovereign over all situations should bolster your faith.

the God who sees

I once had a friend who asked me, “If you were to lose one of your senses which one would you not want to lose?” At first I thought the question was quite strange, but the more I thought about it I realized how important all my senses are to me. To be blind to beauty, deaf to music, mute to saying simple words, or numb to touch would be an unpleasant transition.

I suppose if I could do without a sense it would be smell, but still I would for a lifetime miss the fragrance of spring flowers, my wife’s cooking, the forest after the rain, and countless other aromas. The sense I would least like to lose would be my sight.  I suppose I wouldn’t realize how valuable the eye organ is until I didn’t have it.

I have senses because God has senses. God hears, speaks, touches, enjoys sweet smelling aromas, and even sees (Ps. 94:9). Since He is an omnipresent God, He sees everything all the time. Nothing slips by His sight. And just knowing He watches over me can be a most fearful and wonderful thing all together.

God is Always Watching

There was a popular song iby Bet Milter in the 1990’s with the chorus, “God is watching us, from a distance.” I might contest the truth that God is not at watching us from a distance looking as if He were looking upon us through binoculars. But the truth that God is watching can bring an immense amount of safety and security especially in the midst of a world of ruin. His watchful eye reminds us He cares.

God sees all the earth.His eyes rove through the earth (2 Chr. 16:9; Zech. 4:10). He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything (Job 28:24). There is no place on earth that is forgotten. His eye is on the desert and the jungle mountaintop, as it is on the rural village and densely populated metropolis. His eye is on all the earth at all times.

God sees all people. Job said, “you watcher of men.” (7:20). God’s eyes keep watch on the nations (Ps. 66:7), sees all a man’s steps (Job 34:21); and His eyes are on all their ways (Job 24:23). In Genesis 16, God promises Abraham’s servant Hagar will have a son. She responds by saying, “You are a God of seeing, truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.” She acknowledges He is the God who sees (El-Roi). She is shocked to have seen God and live, and is thankful and amazed that God cares for people in the most unexpected situations (cf. Ps. 139:1–12).

God doesn’t watch His people like an ogre or oppressive supervisor or parent waiting for His child to slip up, “I’m watching you!” When Isaiah was commissioned to speak on behalf of God the people of Judah were under the threat of attack. Within a matter of years Isaiah saw God’s people taken captive by the godless empire Babylon. While in captivity Isaiah encouraged the people to remember that God never relaxes; He is always watching them (40:27). God’s people should never think He has forgotten them even in uncomfortable or insufferable circumstance.

The Eye of God is upon you

An eye can often tell what someone is thinking or feeling. In other words, eyes speak. Eyes can smile, show tears of sorrow, and even glisten with deep concern or love. God’s eye(s) is often an image of His providential care over His people. He guides with His eye (Psalm 32:8) and gives counsel to those under His watch care.

The eyes of the Lord are inescapable. Proverbs 5:21 says, “a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and He ponders all his paths.” God sees all your wanderings. Some think they can run from God. Whatever you do or wherever you go you cannot escape His sight. Even when you feel as if He were far away His eye is still upon you.

The eyes of the Lord are focused towards His own. While God sees everything that happens on your street or the world at the same time, He pays special attention to His children. 1 Peter 3:12a says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their prayer.” If you are His child, He is all eyes and ears. He can pick out of the crowd. He never loses track of His children.

The eyes of the Lord are seeking what is right and good. Deuteronomy 6:18 says, “And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you.” When you read about the kings of Israel they are immediately labeled “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD,” or “did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD.” The eyes of the Lord are constantly gazing on you and prodding you to move in the direction of what is good.

What about all the evil that God’s sees in the world? The eyes of the Lord do see the evil, wicked, and suffering. Nothing is hidden from God’s sight. He is the only one who can see through to a person’s heart. He has x-ray vision. All are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13). And as Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

The eyes of the Lord are gracious towards the righteous person. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.” An example is given in Genesis 6:8 when “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” This is both a great challenge and promise to live as though you know He’s watching. His watchful eye keeps you on mission.

Most people say they can’t imagine running for President, being a pastor, or holding a position of public leadership because of the kind of scrutiny you and your family receive from critical eyes of the public. And yet, all will face the most perfect, most thorough, most expert scrutiny of all time from God (Hebrews 9:27). We will have to account for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). We may have habits hidden from our fellow man, but not from God.

God sees everything. He will lay everything bare. You will be laid bare.

God’s Son Sees too

What kind of eyes does God have? How does He see? Well, the answer is to simply look at His Son. He was 100% God and 100% man. Jesus, God’s Son, had human eyes. To better understand how God sees look at Jesus.

Jesus saw each of His disciples before they followed Him. He turned and looked at Peter (Luke 22:61; Matt. 4:18); Jesus looked at Simon Peter (John 1:42); He saw Nathanael coming to Him (John 1:47-48). His eyes were upon His own, even before they were upon Him. His eyes passionately pursue followers.

Jesus sees the heart. Jesus saw a man who had been disabled for 38-years and healed him (John 5:6). Often Jesus sees it is their faith that ultimately healed them. He sees the motives of our hearts. He not only sees open hearts, but also sees hard hearts (Mark 3:5).

Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them (Matt. 9:36) because they were like wandering sheep without a shepherd. When Jesus saw Jerusalem he wept over it (Luke 19:41) because of its impending destruction and its blindness to His purposes.

Jesus gives a hopeful promise to His followers. Though He would leave, they would see Him again, “You have sorrow now but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice.” (John 16:22) This is hope for all who put their faith in Christ. In response, we are to wait with watchful eyes for His return.

In His redeem act for mankind, Jesus had His eyes fixed upon the will of His Father. Nothing could thwart His vision and eternal focus. And, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

the God who reveals

Recently I visited Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. My wife and I were celebrating our third anniversary walking among God’s creation. As amazed as I was by the Redwoods, all the people taking pictures of the trees equally amazed me. If you think about it, doesn’t it seem weird that people are flocking to take pictures of big trees? Why do people take pictures of trees? Why is my brother in awe of the open horizon of New Mexico? Why does our jaw drop at the Grand Canyon or Teton Mountains? Simply, creation wows us and fills us with wonder. It’s amazing.

In the 1998 film The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a generally cheerful insurance adjuster in a cozy island town whose days run like clockwork—until the day a stage light falls out of the heavens and crashes near his car. Little by little his world begins to give him clues that later help him discover the truth about the world (stage) in which he is really living. Likewise, your world is giving you clues that tell you something about God. He is not hiding.

1. God reveals He is through creation (Psalm 19:1-6)

People often wonder, “Where did all this come from? Why are we here?” What are some of the hints and clues you see in creation that point you to the existence of a Creator? And what are some of the aspects of creation that cause some people to believe that no Creator exists? Whether we understand creation or not it continually shouts out that God exists (1 Chronicles 16:31-34). Creation never presses pause on praise God. The picture you receive from this psalm is that the world acts as a loudspeaker, a stage, and an art gallery—all pointing to God’s glory.

However, man’s response to creation can be foiled (Psalm 19:3). First, people ignore the communication of creation (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:15). Second, people can miss or not hear God through creation because the communication of creation is not audible. In other words, general revelation (i.e. creation) is indirect communication unlike special revelation, which is written Scriptures or spoken through the God-Man Jesus Christ.

Think about the ways people attempt to guard themselves from God’s revelation. What are some of the most common ways we try to hide from God’s voice? What are some of the common ways we try to drown it out? God wants to be heard. General revelation goes further than just telling us that God exists. It also tells us what kind of God exists.

2. God reveals who He is through creation (Romans 1:19-20)

Suppose you came home one day to find a box at your door with a note attached: “These are the personal belongings of your twin brother.” Once you got over the initial shock of having a twin brother you never knew about, you’d open the box and look inside, hoping the contents might tell you something about him.  If the package contained keys to a Harley Davidson, a knife, and a tin of chewing tobacco, that wouldn’t tell you everything about your brother, but it would certainly give you an impression. But if the box contained a set of watercolor paints, a beret, and a tin of organic breath mints, that might give you an entirely different impression, wouldn’t it? The box’s existence would tell you that you had a brother, but the box’s contents would tell you a bit about him.

In the same way, the created world says you have a God, and what you see in the created world tells you some general things about Him. By seeing the general revelation of “the heavens” and the rest of the world, you can get a sense of God’s glory, the sum of His attributes. What knowledge of God’s attributes do you gain by looking at creation? The universe shows His eternality. The sun and rain show His goodness and grace. A volcano and hurricane show His power. When we look at His creation we see who He is and who we are too. Matt Chandler says, “Nobody stands at the base of the Rocky Mountains and says, ‘Remember that time I benched 300 pounds in high school?’”

Nor can anyone say, “I have never heard the gospel before. No one told me I am sinful and God is holy.” His attributes are seen in all humanity—sense of fairness, longing for justice, compulsion to create, etc. But what can and cannot God’s general revelation do? Romans 1:19-20 teaches about responsibility. General revelation is sufficient to hold us accountable for our sin, but not able to save us.

3. God reveals what His plans are through creation (Acts 14:11-18)

What did Barnabas and Paul want the people of Lystra to know? As the pagan demand for more sacrifices to a dead god continued, Barnabas and Paul desperately wanted these people to know the good news that Jesus has made the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and He did so to honor the will of a Heavenly Father who had been far better to the unsaved people of Lystra than Zeus had been. The missionaries pointed to the evidence: “You have a witness that this is true!” they cried. “He has given you rain and harvest and good food and happiness.”

Acts 14:17 gives you an aspect of the gospel story. When looking at the world around you it is easy to recognize that this place is broken but there are visible aspects of God’s grace. In Matthew 5:45: “For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” The benevolent heart of God is made visible through common grace, which is available to every man on this planet. God intends for the happiness you experience in marriage, parenting, and His other good gifts to point you back to Him. The gifts everyone enjoys lead to the Giver.

In Romans 8:22, Paul writes, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.” The image is that of the earth giving birth, but the focus is on the pain as it gives way to newness. We look forward to the return of Christ and the new heavens and the new earth (2 Peter 3:13). The brokenness we see in “the whole creation,” is signaling to us that something is wrong and there is something better beyond this.

In conclusion, the world is a grand theater in which God showcases His glory. One thing we must say about this theater, of course, is that it is not itself the story but the stage for it. Like a good stage set, it tells us something of the story before the players even enter and begin reciting their lines. But it is the script (i.e. the Bible and Jesus) that really reveals. God is not hiding. He is in plain sight.