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.

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walking with God

Have you heard of the song by the band, The Proclaimers, with the chorus, “But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles, to fall down at your door”? Well, one man’s girlfriend took those song lyrics and said, “If you walk 1,000 miles, I’ll walk up the aisle to you!” He didn’t know she was joking, but he did it anyway.

As strange as that story may sound God’s story is stranger. God created the world and made man from the dust of the God. God walked in the garden with the first couple. When given a choice the couple rejected God. Later generations made images of gods after their own liking. While this broke God’s heart, he loved mankind so much that he came into the world as a man and walked in our shoes. He carried the cross and sacrificed himself so that man could walk right with God once again.

To sacrifice is to give up something important or valued for the sake of something regarded as more important or worthy. We will readily sacrifice time and treasures for others who have a need. We will sacrifice reputation for something we believe in. We will sacrifice our life for someone we care about who’s in danger.

The biblical idea of sacrifice—slaughtering an animal and sprinkling its blood on the altar—may seem archaic or barbaric. The idea of sacrifice according to the Jewish law was to shed the blood of an animal to forgive the sins of a man. However, no blood of an animal could legitimately forgive the sins of a man. The people knew this. God knew this. It had to be a man sacrificed for a man. A human sacrifice. A man without blemish—no sin in him. Jesus was that man and his blood was sufficient to cover all sin.

Hebrews beautifully shows how all the Old Testament, particularly the practices and symbols, point to Jesus. For example, the tabernacle and temple had an altar on which daily sacrifices were made. The author connects this altar with Jesus’ death and sacrifice (v.10). Sacrifices for sin were to be burned outside the camp. Likewise, Jesus suffered outside the camp on a criminals cross (vs.11-12).

“We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” – Hebrews 13:10-16, ESV

Just as Jesus had to suffer and endure much, so will Jesus’ followers. As Jesus sacrificed himself for all (7:27; 9:12) so believers are called to offer ongoing praise from their lips and lives to God (vs.15-16; cf. Romans 12:1). He is pleased with these sacrifices.

Walking with God is a sacrifice. We have to sacrifice our ability to walk alone or in our power and wisdom.  When walking with God, he does the walking. He went the distance for his Bride. He made the greatest sacrifice. God longs and loves to walk with you. The reward of walking with God is a place in the everlasting city (v.14). And that’s no joke.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How did the tabernacle and the articles within point to Jesus? How did the sacrificial system ultimately culminate with Jesus’ sacrifice?
  • How did Jesus suffer outside the camp? How do believers suffer “outside the camp” like Jesus? Why would this mean great enduring for the believer?
  • What does it look like to praise God with your lips and life? How are you a living sacrifice? What sacrifices do Christians make for the name of Christ?
  • How is the promise of an everlasting city a satisfying reward? What is to look forward to in that city?

God is King

“God is king over the whole earth” (Zechariah 14:9; Psalm 47:7)

God is King
with

A kingdom without natural border in the universe
A domain relished the hearts of Your subjects
A duration without conception or culmination
A reign characterized by justice and righteousness

God is King
by

A dominance unshakeable, regal and kind
A vaunted power above all nations and people
A Name renown throughout all generations
All praise is due him. My lips declare it.

God is King
but

Peoples and the leaders oppose You
You laugh at it, yet your heart breaks
You press forward without wavering Your hope
Honoring the High King of heaven, a Son.

God is King
and

The Hope of Nations you endowed.
A priceless inheritance beyond the grave.
The Rock that will shatter every empire
Until every one of them returns to dust.

God is King
yet

You are sent a Suffering Servant.
A Sovereign who can turn the soul homeward.
Whether king or subject You humble .
Worship the King in reverence and awe.

God is King

May I cease rejoicing in my feeble feats
Take the crown from my grip.
For I revel in Your glorious deeds.
Now and Forevermore.

“Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7)

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?

what God asks of you

A good friend recently asked me, “If someone becomes a Christian can he hide it?”  That is a good question.  How would you answer that?

I paused for a long moment before answering.  At first I responded by answering, “Yeah, he can hide, but not for long if he really is a Christian.”  Then I followed up by sharing some of Christ’s words about shining the Light within a dark dark world,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Jesus said many interesting and hard things, especially to those who followed him (see Luke 14:25-33; 9:57-62).  He knew if his followers really would follow him it won’t be easy.  In fact, he said if you follow me you will still face temptation and inevitably you will face fierce suffering.  For the light shines into hidden places that most people would rather fight to remain hidden.

The idea of a light shining in darkness is a theme in Scripture.  Israel was chosen to be a light to the nations.  God chose them from among all the nations of the world to show all people his purposes.  He just asked Israel to trust him, to walk with him, and not mingle with the gods of other nations.  It wasn’t easy for Israel.  And their story isn’t secret.  It’s recorded for you and I to read today.

When Isaiah was called to be prophet of Israel, they were already on a downward spiral away from God.  They forgot everything God had done for them.  They already adopted the gods of other nations and prided themselves on what they could do with their own hands and minds.  Their light was dimming.  And Isaiah’s task was to bring Israel back to God.  That was no easy task.

Are you starting to catch a theme here?  What God asks of us is not easy.  In the final verses of Isaiah 6, God gives Isaiah both a command (what he is to say) and a consequence (what will happen if the hearers don’t listen).  If you were in Isaiah’s shoes would you do what was asked of you?

The Command: “Go and Tell”

“And [God] said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive. ’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

Within God’s command he gives three imperatives that will characterize the Israelites: they 1) do not perceive, 2) do not understand, and 3) render hearts insensitive.  In other words, God says, “Tell my people that they will be just like the idols they love: blind, deaf and dumb.”

G.K. Beale in his book, A Biblical Theology of Idolatry says, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.”  It’s true, you become like what you worship.  As kids you learn to mimic parents, actors, singers, or whoever we idol.  Children see. Children Do.  From Simon says to being a Copy Cat.   The question is what do you imitate and resemble?

In high school, I really wanted to have a Volkswagen Jetta. It was the hottest car for college students.  So I took one out for a test drive.  The sound system was thumping and the accelerator had some get up and go.  I not only wanted one, but the car dealer convinced me that I needed to have one.   I couldn’t afford one as a poor college student, but my desire to have a Jetta lingered.  That was until a family member offered to sell me their 10-year Jetta.  It was within my budget so I bought it.   As I drove away I though I was hot stuff.  But you know what?  In a matter of months the luster wore off, I had maintenance bills, and newer models of the Jetta rolled off the line.   My desire to drive a Jetta wasn’t sinful, but my identity tied to a Jetta was.  I became the Jetta guy.

Isn’t that how idols work?  They disguise themselves as needs, but when you have it they become yesterdays news, even nuisances.  You love idols, but thy never love you back.

John Calvin was in tune with the problem of idols.  He said,

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.  Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” Institutes, 1.11.8

The heart longs for what only God can completely fill (e.g. approval, control, success, pleasure, security, knowledge, relationship, comfort, entertainment, etc.).   Idolatry is whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, other than God.  Often idols are really good things, but they take the place of the greatest thing.  They seem tangible, when God is invisible.   Yet they rob us of a heart reserved for God.  In fact, they make us blind to God, deaf to God, and dumb to God.

Think about the command to go and tell.  God tells Isaiah to go to his people–his family, friends, neighbors, tribe–and tell them about their hearts that are like factories pumping out idols.  On top of that God let’s Isaiah know ahead of time that nobody will listen or respond.  Sure, they will recognize Isaiah as prophet from God, but for 40+ years Isaiah would preach without a response.  Talk about difficult and discouraging ministry.  Yet it isn’t that much different than the world you and I live in?  Isn’t the command God gave us to make disciples of all nations just as difficult and at times discouraging when people don’t see a need for God because they think that they are fine on their own?

Isaiah is no Debbie Downer.  Yes, his message is grim; if the Israel won’t turn back to God their judgment will be to become just like the idols they worship.

Many get in a huff when God dishes out judgment, but one must consider God’s character.  All his characteristics are balanced and he never ditches one to feed the other.  In Hebrews 6:1-3, it teaches how God’s grace and justice are in balance.  God is both gracious (slow to anger) and just (character demands consequences for sinfulness).  God never makes snap judgements.  He doesn’t go through middle school mood swings.  Rather he is slow to anger and patient.  However, Isaiah’s generation broke the last straw and His patience finally ran out.

  • Isaiah 1:29-31 “Surely you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, And you will be embarrassed at the gardens which you have chosen. For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away or as a garden that has no water. The strong man will become tinder, His work also a spark. Thus they shall both burn together And there will be none to quench them.”
  • Isaiah 2:12, 17-18 “For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning Against everyone who is proud and lofty And against everyone who is lifted up, That he may be abased….The pride of man will be humbled And the loftiness of men will be abased; And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, But the idols will completely vanish.”
  • Isaiah 3:8-9 “Jerusalem is about to fall. And so is Judah. They say and do things against the Lord. They dare to disobey Him to His very face. The look on their faces is a witness against them. They show off their sin, just as the people of Sodom did. They don’t even try to hide it. How terrible it will be for them! They have brought trouble on themselves.”
  • Isaiah 5:13  “Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge.”
  • Isaiah 43:8, 10 “Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, And the deaf, even though they have ears… “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He.  Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.”
  • Isaiah 42:18-20  “Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but My servant, Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, Or so blind as the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; Your ears are open, but none hears.
  • Psalm 135:14-18 (cf. 115:3-8) “For the Lord will judge His people And will have compassion on His servants. The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; They have eyes, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear, Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, Yes, everyone who trusts in them.”

When it comes to the the first and second commandments, God is serious: Don’t worship other gods or make imitations or substitutions of him.  If so, you will become just like them: deaf, dumb, and blind.  This is the message God commands Isaiah to go and tell Israel and if they don’t turn back to God there will be a consequence.

You might be thinking, “Wow, Isaiah doesn’t have an easy task.”   Yeah!  You’re right!  It would be as if you are a manager and you are given the task of turning around a failing company, but the company is bound for bankruptcy anyway.  Or you are a teenager and you given the task to stand against the flow of peer pressures even though you will be outcast.   Or you are a carpenter and you are given the task of fix a fixer upper, but the house is doomed for foreclosure.  Who wants a job like that?  What reward is there in that?  What is in it for Isaiah?  The benefit is that he is doing exactly what God asks of him and he does it willingly because he has seen who God is and he has come to know how sweet his forgiveness tastes.  Faithfulness to the command is what God asks of you, even when it is hard and no one around responds and everyone things you’re nuts.

The Consequence: Become “Stumps”

stumpsIsaiah thinks for a moment about what God is asking him to say to the people and he asks an honest question, “How Long?” (v.11a)  Could he be wondering if this is a short-term job assignment or a career?  How will he know when the job is done?   God’s response is grave, “until there is complete devastation.” (v.11b)  He goes onto say that Israel—His chosen people—will be like stumps.

What comes to your mind when you think of a stump?  Can you think of a so-called follower of God who is now stumps?  Why would God call them stumps?  Isn’t that a little harsh?  A stump is a memory of a tree.  It shows you where a tree once stood, but now it’s gone..  In essence what God is saying it that Israel will be an illustration to all nations of a ruined life because idolatry is wasted worship and God is jealous for his children to worship him.

shutterstock_205490491_stump_sapling_1920x1280_39percentDid you catch the glimmer of hope in the midst of the smoke from the chainsaw.  With God there is always hope.  There is hope of a remnant (v.13).  Although God judges, burns, purges, prunes, chops; the stump will sprout again.  God promises restoration.  In the chaos there is always Cosmos.  God is a Restorer.  He is a Redeemer.  See the glimmers of hope God gives Isaiah,

  • Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel [God with us].”
  • Isaiah 9:6  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
  • Isaiah 11:1-2  “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
  • Isaiah 53:5  “But the servant was pierced because we had sinned. He was crushed because we had done what was evil. He was punished to make us whole again. His wounds have healed us.”
  • Isaiah 53:8  “He was arrested and sentenced to death. Then He was taken away. He was cut off from this life. He was punished for the sins of my people.”

Remember, as G.K. Beale said, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.”  Idols ruin, but God restores.  Idols blind, deafen, and dumb, but God heals.  Idols enslave, God forgives.  Idols stump, but God sprouts growth.

The stump would sprout.  That young sprout would be none other than Jesus Christ.   He displays for the world what it looks like to be loyal to God.  He models what it looks like to love God and have no other God’s but God Himself.  He even came to heal the blind, deaf, and dumb and free you from the idols of our hearts.

Isaiah is a warning to us all: don’t become a stump, run to the sprout.

Today the same truth rings true.  While God may not send a prophet to warn you, you do have a community called the church.  Just as Israel was asked to be a light to the nations, God also asks you to shine the light and encourage one another to shine through the church,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest. ’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:7-13)

God is seeking followers to send into a dark world on a difficult task.  He doesn’t promise it will be easy.  But he does promise to go with you.  Will you go?  Will go and tell the nations to turn back to God?

Going back to my friends question, “If someone becomes a Christian can he hide?”  Yes, but not for long if you you follow the Light of the world.”  Stand in the light.  Shine the light.  Go and tell about the Light.  Warn others the darkness.  Encourage one another to be in the Light.  This is what God asks of you.

 

Previously in this series: God is and what is your response to who God is?

 

DOWNLOAD QUESTIONS:

What did God ask Isaiah to say or do?  How did God say the people will respond?  Would you be up for this task if you were Isaiah?  How does Jesus ask Christians to do a similar task?

What is an idol?  How is the heart an idol factory?  How do people become like what they worship?  What examples of this have you seen?

As you read verses 8-13, how does it describe the spiritual climate of the people?   How is this same spiritual climate often seen in your community or church?  What hope is there to overcome this spiritual state?   How can you encourage or help your fellow brothers and sisters?

Cover photo from: http://signafire.com/

 

What is your response to who God is?

Those who have seen God are never the same.  The children of Israel asked to see the Lord of Moses, but when they saw the Lord they were afraid and ask Moses never to allow them to see God like that again [see Daniel 10:7-10, Luke 2:10, Acts 9:3-4].  In Revelation 1:9-18, John saw the awesomeness of Christ and fell as a dead man.  People who see God are left with an awesome, fearful, and unforgettable impression of who God is.

stop-drop-and-rollA response to seeing God is similar to one who is on fire.  What is the normal trained response or actions for someone who is on fire?  Stop, Drop and Roll. Just as that is a memorable way to deal with being on fire it is also a great way to respond to God.

STOP to take a long look at who you are and who God is. 

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 6:5)

Isaiah sees that his spirit is on fire.  Hot!  Isaiah is deeply impacted by seeing God.  As he glimpses God’s holiness and glory he says, “Woe is me.”   This is not “whoa!” but “woe!”  In ancient times “Woe” was a pronouncement of judgment on those who dare disobey God’s Word (cf. 5:18-23).  It was a shot to the heart, a punch in the kisser, and a kick to the spiritual stomach.

As Isaiah gets a glimpse of God and he’s devastated.  He got a peak behind the curtain of the holy of holies and is found out. He’s caught. He’s ashamed. He’s afraid.  He speaks a judgment upon himself as if to say, “I’m toast!”  It’s not an understatement—Isaiah’s freaking out. He is no longer shocked by the sins of the king or Israel but by his own sin.  Before he pointed one finger at Israel but now points three back at himself.   He sees no ones sin but his own in the presence of God.  Isaiah thinks he’s toast.  He knows he deserves to be.  That he is still alive is a wonderful thing.

This is a good thing for us to see.  We are good at pointing of the sins in others, but bad dealing with our own.  We play the comparison game with other Christians and pride ourselves on not being as sinful as the other Christian.  Jesus said to the religious leaders who were shocked at the lifestyle of the prostitute, “Whoever is sinless throws the first stone.”

We are a people of “compare-ers.”  We compare our actions to those of others to see whether we are acting right.  And, quite honestly, compared to all the people in the world, Isaiah was probably one of the best people there was.  But when he saw the glory of God there was no comparison.  Although Isaiah was better than most people, he knew that he was filthy compared to God’s pure holiness.  Isaiah admitted that he was a sinner. He had no excuses for his sinfulness.  He had no one to blame.  He had no where to run and hide.

I believe there is a great need to reintroduce the word “woe” to our devotional vocabulary.   When you finally take a moment to look at who you really are and who God really is.  Our “Woe!” can lead to “Whoa!” which leads us to the next response.

DROP to your knees and receive God’s forgiveness.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said:“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

There is something very interesting and weird going on here that is being illustrated.  In Isaiah’s day, their was a pagan practice called the “washing of the mouth.”  wash your mouth outSimilar to washing ones mouth out with soap it was a ritual that took an inanimate idol and made it inhabited by a god.  The image would be purified and cleansed to be ready for a god to dwell in it.  The cleansing ceremony Isaiah experiences is quite similar, but ironically God chooses Isaiah to cleanse and be His spokesmen to the pagan idolaters.

So what could Isaiah do about his sinful condition? Absolutely nothing!  What did God do?  Everything.  God’s messenger flew to Isaiah, took a burning coal from the altar, and touched his lips.  Fire is used in the Bible to purify things (Malachi 3:2-3).  This burning coal from God’s altar was a symbol that God was the One who made Isaiah pure.  Only God can save someone from his sins (Revelation 7:10).  God did not just cover up Isaiah’s sin. God took Isaiah’s sins away!  Isaiah’s sins would not be remembered or talked about ever again because God took them away!

I am so glad the story doesn’t end in verse 5.  Isaiah is not left feeling the heat of his sin.  He feels the forgiveness and restoration of God.  He is not left feeling afraid, guilty or shameful.  He feels true freedom.

When Adam sinned in the garden there were three consequences of sin that happened.  First, guilt.  He broke one of God’s rules.  Second, shame.  He want to hide from God and cover his nakedness.  Third, fear.  Adam was afraid for his life as death was introduced into the world.

You might know firsthand the the affects of shame, guilt and fear.  Maybe shame seeped into your life because of a hidden or naughty habit, a relationship crossed certain boundaries, or a detail about you if uncover you would haunt you forever.  Maybe guilt got the upper hand because you felt like you’d never measure up to the standards of someone or you just can’t quite quit that nagging guilty pleasure.  And guilt manifest itself in depression, self harm, eating disorder, or blame shifting.  Maybe fear trapped you because of various unknowns, via threats breathed down upon you, or someone holding dirt on you that if leaked could tarnish your reputation and future.

We often look at guilt, shame, and fear as bad, which they are if used as tools against someone or yourself.  However, God uses them for good as a tool to motivate you not to go there again and to seek rest in God’s forgiveness.

Notice how God’s pursues forgiveness in Isaiah.  He he does this with you too.  He pursues you through the work of Christ on the cross that shed His blood as your substitute so that you might be forgiven and free.  Have you known the forgiveness of God?

Just as God took away all of Isaiah’s sins, God wants to take away your sin also.  He sent His Son, Jesus, to become the holy sacrifice that takes away your sin. Just look at what the Bible says  God does with your sin.

  • God purifies your sins by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).
  • God takes your sins from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
  • Your sins can never be found (Jeremiah 50:20).
  • God forgives you of your sin and cleans you from all wickedness (I John 1:9).
  • God will trample on your sins under His foot. Just imagine God stomping His foot on your sin! And God throws all your sins into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19).
  • “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-9)

If you have not done so, it is time to drop your shame, guilt, and fear at the feet of Jesus who will forgive you today and forever.

ROLL up your sleeves and get going.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go…” (Isaiah 6:8)

Again, the verses do not end after 6-7.  Isaiah is not immobilized or handicapped.  He is not out of commission and sidelined because he has blown it or because he is a sinner.  Interesting, after God took away Isaiah’s sin, he hears God speak!  So often he is silent because our sin is like putting in earplugs.

What does God say?  After God cleanses Isaiah He commissions him: see to it that My people know I am forgiving too.  It is no irony that Isaiah’s commission is similar to Jesus commission to his followers in Matthew 28:19-20.

Commonly, commissioning follows cleansing.  Cleaning is God’s path to making you ready, useful, and humble for the task he has you to do.  One who is forgiven is forgiving and goes and tells of God’s great forgiveness.  That’s the goodness—the gospel—in a nutshell.

God was looking for the person who would be His messenger.  Isaiah didn’t hesitate.  He wanted to be the one used by God.  Isaiah sees who God is.  He is wowed.  He says WOE!  And God wipes away the fear, guilt, and shame of his sin.  Isaiah is pure and clean in God’s eyes.   He is ready to be used by God.

Likewise, Jesus came into this world to rub shoulders with people harboring loads of shame, guilt, and fear.  He came to free you from it.  He died for the sinner so that the sin would no longer have any power.  So that you could know the greater power of forgiveness and be used by God as an example of what God does through Jesus.

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate (where atonement was made) in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured… Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:12-16)

Today you stand at the altar.  Will you stop and humble yourself before God and see him as he is?  Will you drop to your knees and enjoy his forgiveness?  Will you roll up your sleeves and let others know who God is?  How will you respond?  Let God touch your lips that you might taste his goodness and sweet forgiveness.

 

Coming up next: the result of responding to God in obedience

Previously in this series: God is

 

DOWNLOAD QUESTIONS:

In Isaiah 6:5. Isaiah responds to his vision of God.   What does Isaiah immediately become aware of?   In other words, when you see the holiness of God, what do you see in yourselves?  Have you every experienced that before?

Why is it important to learn about who God is?   Why is it important to see God not as you want to see Him, but as He truly is?

What does it mean to you STOP, DROP and ROLL as Isaiah explains it?  Why is this important to remember as a follower of God?

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.

the good God

good God

“How can you believe in three gods?”  asks my Muslim neighbor.  It’s then that I come face to face with a common misunderstanding about God as I understand him.

Recently, I was given the book, The Good God (Michael Reeves, Paternoster, UK, 2012) from a pastor friend in London, England.  It is a small book.  And after a brief thumbing, it appeared to be packed with theology and quotes from church fathers.  I shrugged it off as another colorless treatise on the Trinity.  However, as I began to delve into the pages they began to delve into me.  I gained a fresh veneration and love for my God in a book I’d dub as both practical and devotional.  The fog surrounding the Trinity vanished and what appeared was God’s incomparable beauty and love.

The thrust of the book is that God is love because God is Trinity.  It goes on to say that if God was not Father he would not be loving.  “It is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God.” (vii)  The love between the persons of God help one to understand the triune God better.

What was God doing before creation?

A Christians understanding of God is built on the Son who reveals him (4). God as Father helps you to know how he loves.  If you don’t start with Jesus the Son, you end up with a different God who is not Father.  Richard the Scot said, “If God was just one person, he could not be intrinsically loving, since for all eternity (before creation) he would have had nobody to love…being triune, God is a sharing God, a God who loves to include. His love is not for keeping but for spreading.” (14-15)  Luther said, “Only when God is known as a loving Father is he known aright.” (60) And John Owen said, “God is our most loving Father…The greatest unkindness you can do to him is to refuse to believe that he loves you.” (77)

Over the past few years, I have observed a culture of a single-person god among Muslims in North Africa.  I can echo Reeves observations when he says,

“Oneness for the single-person God would mean sameness. Alone for eternity without any beside him, why would he value others and their differences? Think how it works out for Allah: under his influence, the once-diverse cultures of Nigeria, Persia and Indonesia are made deliberately and increasingly, the same. Islam presents a complete way of life for individuals, nations, and cultures, binding them into one way of praying, one way of marrying, buying, fighting, relating—even, some would say, one way of eating and dressing.  Oneness for the triune God means unity. As the Father is absolutely one with his Son, and yet is not his Son, so Jesus prays that believers might be one, but not that they might all be the same.  Created male and female, in the image of God, and with many other good differences between us, we come together valuing the way the triune God has made us each unique.” (84; also see 1 Corinthians 12:4,17-20)

Single-person gods—having spent eternity alone—are inevitably self-centered beings.  If this is the kind of god one worships, they become like what they worship.  “If God is not triune it gets even worse: for if God is not triune, it becomes difficult, not only to account for the goodness of creation (as we have seen), but also to account for the existence of evil within it.” (39)  Thus how God the Father loves the Son helps one to understand how God loves creation, hates evil, and his love does something about it.

What is God’s work in salvation?

It is because God is triune that the cross is such good news.  Friedrich Nietzsche boldly said, “God is dead.”  By this he meant that belief in God is simply no longer viable and faith is no longer needed.  However, Reeves adds “‘God is dead’ is where true faith begins. For, on the cross, Christ the Glory puts to death all false ideas of God; and as he cries out to his Father and offers himself up by the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14), breathing out his last, he reveals a God beyond our dreams.” (105)  At the cross we see a God who is infinitely better: unconditionally loving, darkness hating, tremendously glorious.

Since God is a lover from before creation (of his Son), he created humans to be lovers too.  Created to love God, we turn to love ourselves and anything but God.  This is when sin entered the world.  Naturally, man is bent in on himself and takes hellish delight in his own supposed independence.  However, God as the supreme lover atones for sin himself via the Son. God gives himself.  What single-person god would do this? Especially when you think of the reckless and storied lives of the Greeks and Romans.

“Strip down God and make him lean and you must strip down his salvation and make it mean.  Instead of a life bursting with love, joy, and fellowship, all you will be left with is the watery gruel of religion. Instead of a loving Father, a distant potentate; instead of fellowship, contract. No security in the beloved Son, no heart-change, no joy in God could that spirit bring.” (82)

Without the Son, God cannot truly be a Father.  If God is alone, he is not truly loving. Thus he has no fellowship to share with us, no Son to bring us close, no Spirit through whom we might know him.

Reeves says, “My new life began when the Spirit first opened my eyes (light) and won my heart (heat) to Christ… And as he stirs me to think ever more on Christ, he makes me more and more God-like: less self-obsessed and more Christ-obsessed.” (73)  Again, we become like what we worship.

When I go and share the knowledge of God’s great love with others I reflect something very important about who God is.  I share the missional, generous, image of God.  As Reeves continues, “The mission (of God) comes from overflow of love, from the uncontainable enjoyment of fellowship (with himself and others).” (86) Who is to love?  What is my example to be loving to others?  It is found in God as Father.

I would highly recommend this book to a new believer, seminary student, small group, and missionary to Muslims.  It is a book that fosters love for God and greater appreciation for his love for us.  This truly speaks more to my Muslim neighbors than a powerful apologetic.  As I think of God as Father and relish in the love of the Son and the life with the Spirit, it sincerely affects my love for my neighbor.  My only caution is for those who desire a beefy book with slam-dunk comments to defeat opponents of the Trinity, it’s not that kind of book.  Neither is it an exhaustive book on the Trinity.  It is sufficient enough to give a good defense why God is triune.  It satisfies ones longing to know and love God better.

Note: The book also goes by the title Delighting in the Trinity for those who live on the US side of the pond.

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

3 benefits of repentance

repent

Repentance. I’ll just come out and say it. It’s a word I don’t like to hear. It’s difficult to talk about. It’s often an awkward topic. It isn’t easy or comfortable or catchy or natural. However, I believe it is one of the biggest things that is lacking in my spiritual life and maybe even in yours.

The Bible is not shy when it comes to talking about repentance. We kind of know this already, right? In fact, it is the most common term and sermon topic in Scripture. “Repentance” or “return to the Lord” is mentioned over 1,000 times in Old Testament alone. The message of repentance was in the mouth of every prophet. Their sermon was like this, “(Clear throat) Good morning congregation. (Deep breath) REPENT! (Awkward silence) Okay. Let’s pray.” That was their message. It was all that needed to be said and heard.

In the New Testament, the message isn’t much different. John the Baptist’s message was: repent (Mark 1:4). The apostles first preached that people should: repent (Mark 6:11). Jesus tender, yet tough, said in his first sermon, “Repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus shared the story of the prodigal son, the poster boy of repentance, that heaven rejoices over one sinner who: repents. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus says to the church: repent. As the church goes global in Acts, what was the apostle Peter’s message? “Repent.” (2:38; 3:19) God’s heart from the front cover to the back cover of Scripture that we would be tenderhearted, submissive, quick to respond to the Spirit’s conviction and repent of sin.

2 Corinthians 7, our text today, is the most concentrated teaching on the topic of repentance in the Bible. This is Paul’s listen-up-and-get-ahold-of-this sermon on repentance. The goal of this message is that you and I would repent. I will challenge you to do as God has challenged me to do throughout this text. I want to practice what I preach, but also preach what I practice. Will you join me?

Have you ever had to say a hard thing, confront sin, or call someone to repent? No one wants to do it, but there come times when you have to say hard things. As you come to 2 Corinthians 7, you see Paul had to write some hard things. In a previous, unknown letter, Paul, pleaded with the church to restore a sinful brother. The church rightfully disciplined a man for causing division in the church, but when the discipline worked and he repented, the church held it over the man and was not welcomed back into the fellowship. But now, Paul, in this letter, praises them for doing the hard thing, the right thing. What you and I discover from this text are three amazing benefits of repentance.

1. Repentance is good (vs.8-9).

While not easy, repentance is good. Even Paul had mixed feelings about his letter to Corinth (v.8). On one hand he had regrets (for the grief it caused) but on the other hand he did not have regrets (for the repentance it produced). While at times painful, repentance has its purpose. Just as parents do not enjoy disciplining their children, Paul did not enjoy the sorrow he brought to the church. He did not like seeing them in pain. Yet their pain was “only for a while.” And in this, Paul, rejoiced like a parent who sees their child experience small pain by his hand only to see them escape greater pain by their own hand (v.9).

Repentance is good because God uses the short-lived sorrow to protect you from greater sorrow and greater harm in the future (cf. Hebrews 12:7-11). If Corinth did not repent, the church could have been shattered by its sin and shortage of Christlikeness. Repentance is the funnel through which blessing flows. Lack of repentance brings misery, despair, and as we will see, death.

Repentance is good because it takes stubborn, callused, dull-hearted people and makes them tender towards God’s heart. Remember this: Repentance is a gift from God. The most dangerous thing you can say is, “I will repent when I am ready.” It’s dangerous because only God readies a heart for repentance (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim.2:25). If you wait until you are ready you will only get hardhearted. Sin is the blockage that kills the heart, but repentance is bypass surgery that God does WITHIN you and it “leads to salvation without regrets” (v.10b). Repentance is that good.

2. Repentance is change (v.10a).

What is true repentance? By definition repentance means change of mind; a turning away from evil to God; a 180 from my hearts desires to God’s heart. Repentance without change is not repentance.

There are three common components of repentance as seen in Scripture. First, there is a recognition of sin. I must recognize that I have sinned. I must see that I have offended God. Yet recognition alone is not repentance. Repentance is not simply regret or remorse or feeling bad about something bad I did. I can feel sorry about something and immediately do it again. Thus Paul compares the difference between godly grief and worldly grief (v.10). Worldly grief is when I feel bad because I looked bad to others. Godly grief is sorrow is when I recognize I have offended God. Grief that leads to repentance is as Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!” Yet I don’t have to sink into grief because I have received the forgiveness of Christ (1 John 1:9). The sin under all other sin is the lack of joy in Christ, but Jesus was the one who suffered and was miserable for my sin. Repentance is my pathway to joy.

Second, there is repentance of sin. I must admit that I am wrong or have been wrong. This is often the hardest thing to do. Repentance is not mere confession or saying what God says about sin as if that will make God happy with me. Repentance is not about keeping God happy. God is not a magic genie who grants wishes when on his good side. This makes repentance selfish. I don’t please God to get or to escape consequences of sin. I cannot manipulate him nor is he is not obligated to me.

Third, there is a returning to the Lord. I must leave my sin behind. I must come to God. I must make a clean break. I must come to him as I am. I can wallow in the sin-confess-sin-confess cycle trying to do it on my own or I can come to my Lord. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This is illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. When you repent, you are like the prodigal son. You don’t have it all together. You are living in the pig style. You come to your senses. You change your mind. You don’t want to think for yourself. You come to the end of yourself. You think about your father. You run back home to him still messy and smelling like the stench. You come as you are. You know you are unworthy to be your fathers son, but the father runs to you, gives you his best robe and throws you a party.

Biblical repentance is recognizing your sin, repenting to it and returning to the Lord. When was the last time you did that?

3. Repentance bears fruit (vs.9,11).

“The reach of our repentance should match the reach of our sin. Private sins demand private repentance. Sins that can be seen by many necessitate a repentance that can be seen by many. And while we ought to forgive each other seven times, and seventy times, and even seven times seventy times, looking for the fruit of repentance is not the same as being unforgiving. Ronald Reagan was right: trust, but verify.” – Keven DeYoung

The beauty of repentance is what it produces. It produces things on the inside that are reflected on the outside. Acts 26:11 says there are “deeds of repentance.” In other words, repentance produces fruit (Matthew 3:8). While the list in 2 Corinthians 7 is not sequential or exhaustive, it gives you a sense of the affects of repentance (vs.9-11).

First, repentance produces godly grief over sin (v.9). “Grief” is soul anguish, a heart wrenching and heart changing emotion. Its a grief that says you can never be the same again. Second, repentance produces revulsion towards sin (v.11) The word used is “earnestness.” What used to please (attracts) you now repulses (detracts) you. Sin sickens you. Third, it produces restitution towards others (v.11b) It produces a desire to “clear yourself,” to make it right, right away with those your sin has injured. Fourth, it produces revival toward God (v.11c) You have a “longing” to walk with God. Fifth, it turns your eyes forward, not backward (vs.8-9). Repentance sees “no loss” and is “without regret.” It walks into the future full of freedom.

Repentance happens both as a process and a crisis. It happens over time and it happens at a point in time. Repentance is not a place I visit or a place I go and get over it. It is the place I live. I must never get over it. I never want to leave it. Just like Disney World. Who wants to leave Disney? Give me a room at the castle! God desires a lifestyle of repentance.

Martin Luther launched the Reformation with hammer and nail, nailing “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the front door of Wittenberg Cathedral. Do you know what the first theses stated? It said, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” What Luther saw as he unpacked the Scripture is that repentance is the way we progress in the Christian life. Repentance is the fruit you are growing deep and strong and rapid in the character of Christ.

How do you respond when confronted? How do you respond when the Spirit convicts you? How do you respond when you know you are wrong? How do you respond when you have sinned against another person? When was the last time you had godly grief over sin that produced repentance? Don’t wait. Repent. Be free. It is good.

home

home

How would you describe your dream home? Maybe like you, I find myself dwelling on this question often, especially now that I am house hunting in Africa. I think about sitting in air conditioning, having a green garden with shade trees, actually staying in a place longer than 4-years, and a sizable list of other things. Until then my thinking is preoccupied with fixing our home, making it more comfortable and more like home. All these thoughts are normal and not bad in and of themselves, but they often become an end. I find myself getting stuck making earth my home, when as a Christian I’ve been secured another home beyond.

there is more beyond this world (2 Cor. 5:1)

There is more beyond, right? That is a heavenly reality. The Apostle Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

And he continues, “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v. 1). Paul’s metaphor of the body being like a tent is fitting. First, Paul made tents. It was his side job. He knew tents well. He had good job security, since tents tore or wore out. Tents are both vulnerable and temporary dwelling places and therefore a fitting metaphor for the body. Second, “tent” is a biblical metaphor. When Paul switches metaphors from “tent” to “a building from God” he has in mind the tabernacle tent that was superseded by the temple building. Temporary became permanent, tent became Temple, thus earthly body will become resurrection body. We ought to pinch ourselves with exuberant joy for what awaits our bodies!

Paul talks a lot about a future body, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20, 21) And  “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

Why does Paul talk so much about the future body? Why does he have death on the mind? Is he morbid? Is he as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. says, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”?

Ironically, the problem is precisely the opposite. The issue is not that Christians think too much about heaven, but rather that we think too little about it. The apostle Paul said,  “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2). Some translations use the word “affections,” instead of “minds,” which gives it the feel of saying: “get fixated on heaven, not on earth!”

Paul thinks about death because he is aging. He isn’t getting any younger. Also, he bears the scars, wounds and bruises of years of persecution. Life has been difficult for this Jesus follower. Paul, like most bold Jesus followers, knows there is more beyond this world.

a longing for home always dwells within you (5:2-5)

Have you ever really longed for something? Like Christmas to come or your next vacation or to see a friend or loved one? What does it mean to long for something? To long is to desire something so deeply often there aren’t words for it. How does Paul express his longing? He uses the word “groan” (vs.2-4; cf. Rom. 8:23). Paul’s groans are echoed by creation (Rom. 8:19-22), Christians (8:23), and the Holy Spirit (8:26). All are groaning over the present worlds nakedness, longing for the day when our groans will transformed into praises and our nakedness will be robed in the righteousness of Christ, just as God clothed Adam and Eve’s nakedness covering their shame (Gen. 3:21).

From the beginning, God intended humans to have immortal bodies and live in constant fellowship with Him. Since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden we’ve been longing for home. We are most at home with God. While we wait for home we have been given a guarantee, the Holy Spirit, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (v. 5; cf. Eph.1:13-14) Our guarantee is that the Holy Spirit sets up residence in us as His temple. That’s a pretty good guarantee as we wait for our eternal dwelling place—God dwells within us.

Do you groan in this body, longing for heaven? If so, you’re not alone. C. S. Lewis said,

“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else… It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work.”

take courage even when you haven’t seen home yet (5:6-8)

Paul’s faith was not weakened by his present pain and persecution, rather it made his faith stronger. Therefore he encouraged the Corinthians,  “we are always of good courage” (v. 6a; cf. 4:18), or, more precisely, “we are courageous.” Paul faced his present reality with cheerful optimism. “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (vs. 6b-7). There is a day coming when we will not need faith anymore because we will see God face-to-face.

Paul has that in mind when he says,  “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). I remember, when I was a child, I would struggle the last few weeks of school before summer break because I knew I would soon go to my grandparents house on Alma Lake. I would drift away to that home and dream of it’s oaky smell, lakeside views through the birch trees, and familial comforts. Now think of what it must be like to be at home with the Lord. Paul has tasted a little bit of heaven and he hungers it more and more. Home is where God is and it is home sweet home.

home, here or there, the goal is the same (5:9-10)

Notice, the goal of “home” is not to escape this world or settle for a homecoming alone. The goal is to please God whether near or far from home. God is the goal. He is the main thing. This hope of imminent face-to-face communion with Christ naturally evokes an ongoing resolve to please Him. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (v. 9). And if that is not enough to effect your resolve, there is one other eschatological component, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (v.10)

Like I said, we are house hunting in Africa. There is no Century 21 or Remax. Options are limited. I often compare life here to camping. So house hunting is simply trying to find the smoothest plot of land. We have no running water other than a boy who runs to get the water from a well. We have no consistent electricity other than what we brought with us. We sleep under mosquito nets. We cook over a gas stove. Not only that, many people do not respond to the gospel, we’ve even had people call us names and throw rocks at our house. With all that said, I like living in Africa because it makes me desire home.

C. S. Lewis, said in his book Mere Christianity,

“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

no “easy” path

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There is no “easy” path to fellowship with Jesus.  Today I need him.  Again.  I don’t want to lay down my desire for relaxation and pleasure in order to gain fellowship.  I’d rather have my cake and eat it too.  But, it just doesn’t work.  It takes faith to get back down on my knees and believe that my Father gave me limitations in love.  He gave me weakness and tiredness – not as punishment, but as reminder.  “There is only so much I have planned for you in each day.”  Why don’t you seek my face for wisdom so that you can rejoice and not feel guilty at the end of the day?

Sometimes it doesn’t feel exciting to seek God’s face.  It feels tedious.  That is a lack of faith in my heart.  I don’t believe what he has “planned for today”  can be all that much more exciting and meaningful than the laundry and diaper changing he had “planned” for yesterday.  That is a lack of humility in my heart.  And, after awhile my pride doesn’t like feeling bombarded by these flashing neon signs that come on when I get on my knees: “You’re a doubter!  You aren’t humble! How do expect to get anywhere in your relationship with God, I mean really!”  And I can cling to my flesh or crucify it.

I crucify it by using the word of truth which is a sword.  “My God says that a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground without His noticing, so he notices that I feel tired. My God says that ‘Blessed are those who are broken and contrite in heart for He will not despise them. Come to me all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  Show me, God, how to come to you.  I believe that Your joy – even the joy you have over my life – gives me strength.  You rejoice over me with songs.  You might even dance.  One day soon I will be with you and you will wipe away every tear.  Hallelujah.

You have come to overcome the world.  You have poured out your blood to make an end to death.  You have risen and erased the accusation of the accuser.  You are God and you are good.  Hallelujah.

Come, and be my shepherd.  Here, I give you my frail heart.  Oh, be careful with it, won’t you? Give me strength to seek your face.  I can’t do it enough.  I can’t offer the quality you deserve.  I can only ask you to make me into something that will please you.  And you have.  How I long for that first look and touch of yours.  And then – forever.  All will be done except for goodness.  It will go on and on and on.  Hallelujah.

how long…?

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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 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.

4 ways to plug into the power of the Holy Spirit today

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

1. Saturate yourself with the Word of God, the Bible. There is no reason to think that God will ignite the powder of His Spirit if you don’t load your cannon with the bullet of the Word. Acts 1:8 and Luke 24:48 teach that the power is given for effective witness of Jesus and His miraculous power. And you witness primarily with the Word of God, as it speaks about the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

2. Believe what the Word of God says. If you don’t believe the Word, you wont have the power of the Word.

3. Pray earnestly for it and fast. In Acts 1:13, the disciples devoted themselves to prayer while in Jerusalem waiting for Pentecost, “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer.”  Also, this is what the disciples were doing in Acts 4:24–31 when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word with boldness. They were praying. And they were praying the Word of God.

4. Submit to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes you have resisted the Holy Spirit so often when He is calling you to bear witness to Christ you are unfit for the flow of His power. The channels have become so clogged with fear and doubt and worldliness that what you allow through is a barely visible trickle of obedience. God’s power is a waterfall and will flow torrentially if you obey His Spirit.