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.

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living and serving with others

serving with others

Living the others can be difficult. My first experience living with another person was in college. As a freshman, I was preselected a roommate and had no idea who he would be. I was going to share a fifteen foot by fifteen foot room with a stranger. It turned out my roommate was a dairy cow farmer from Ohio and a camping ministries major. I remember after a whitewater rafting class he got a bad sunburn. He bathed himself in vinegar and smelled like a pickle for a week. Although we were very different and butted heads on occasion our living arrangement worked out.

Sometimes living and serving with others doesn’t work out so easily. Sometimes it is work. Hard work. If you are doing life with members of a church or are serving on a team with other Christians you know just how hard it can be.

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes five rapid-fire imperatives and one promise to those who are living and serving together in the church. The five imperatives have one singular focus on bringing unity to the Corinthian church. Take note of how intentionally intrusive they are. Paul knows firsthand that ministry relationships are full of passion and opportunities for disunity are apparent. Unless you are a hermit, being intentionally intrusive with others is important, especially if you are living and serving with others.

“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)

1. Rejoice.

There is no surprise that the first imperative is “rejoice”. Why? Paul longed for the Corinthians to be a cause for his own rejoicing (cf. 1:24; 2:3). He loved the church deeply. He knew there would be rejoicing in the church if all members listened to him, trusted his apostleship and walked in repentance. Paul had every reason to despise the Corinthians and to give up on them. So “rejoice” is an imperative full of faith and expectation that the Corinthians were on the verge of joyous unity. He was nowhere near giving up on them. They brought him that much joy!

How can you rejoice in the Lord giving you a church? How are your church members a cause for your own rejoicing?

2. Mend.

The second imperative, “Aim for restoration,” has the sense of putting back into place or mending or repairing. Living and serving with others is a group assignment and the more you are with each other the great the probability there will be friction and fraction. Paul lays the responsibility directly on the church—“Get it together”—work at restoring your unity in Christ (cf. 13:9; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:10). Paul echoes this when writing another church, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1b-3)

Are there any relationships within your church that need mending or repair?    What are the most prominent heart idols that you anticipate may get in the way of you allowing others from being intentionally intrusive into your life (i.e. fear of man, lover of pleasure, pride, wanting control, comparing yourself to others, failing to believe the best in another, etc.)? Are you working towards restoration rather than destruction? Explain.

3. Comfort.

The third imperative is to “comfort one another” or listen with tenderness (cf. 1:3-11). Paul was aware of the depth of the hurt among both those who were in the right and in the wrong. He himself needed comfort as his relationship with the Corinthian church was frayed.The situation then and now in Corinth demanded mutual tenderness and comfort. Comfort is the currency of unity and harmony. To comfort another means you spend your time and energies to reassure, relieve and repose another who is hurt or struggling.

Who is someone in your church who needs the tenderness of Christ right now? How will you comfort them?     If you were to be struggling with allowing someone to be intentionally intrusive into your life, what would be the manifestations of your struggle (i.e. not returning phone calls, short answers, no eye contact, easily irritable, blame shifting, etc.)?

4. Harmony.

The next imperative is to “agree with one another” or “be of one mind” or “live in harmony” (cf. 1:10). Every church needs this admonition, but no church needed it more than Corinth. The elitist, Corinthianized super-apostles had issues with everything Paul stood for. Harmony is sounds working together on different notes that make a pleasing sound. Paul did not ask the church to agree on everything, but they were called to agree with one another on the the main things like his role as an apostle and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are there secondary issues that are causing disunity among you and another church member (i.e. decision making style, not being understood, not liking what someone else is doing, etc.)? Have these secondary things become an idol in your heart? How can focusing on the main thing or the essentials help build harmony between you and others?

5. Peace.

Lastly, the imperative to “live in peace” flows out of such harmony, since being out of tune is not a peaceable sound; rather it’s discord. Peace doesn’t come passively. Nevertheless, living in peace requires intention and determination (cf. Mark 9:50; 33-37; 42-48).

How are you pursuing peace with church members? Would others describe you as a peacemaker? How can you actively live in peace?

God’s Promise

Now, if you step back and look at the whole, all five imperatives call the Corinthians to continuous action day in and day out. If the Corinthians heed them and walk in them they are given a resplendent promise: “and the God of love and peace will be with you” (v. 11b). God promises to give his children his love and peace as they actively do his work together.

What is it like to not experience the love and peace of God? How can the love and peace of God be with you when others do not seem to be at peace with you? In what ways are you being blessed by God’s love and peace with your church members?

Unity by living and serving with others in a team/church does not come easily. We must work at every facet at all times. Restoration is work, comfort is work, harmony is work, peace is work, and even rejoicing requires work. Paul called for continuous, specific focus for the church—and everything depends upon their response.

“Passion for the church involves diving into the community of the local church. It means ‘doing life’ with other Christians by pursuing relationships that extend beyond the church building and official church functions… ‘Fellowship is a uniquely Christian relational experience,’ writes pastor John Loftness. ‘Fellowship is participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common at the deepest possible level of human relationships – our experience of God Himself.’ Fellowship means belonging to each other” (Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church pg. 75).

Paul was so concerned about restoration and unity in Corinth that he became especially directive about demonstrating affection. First, he called them “brothers.” (v.11) Paul’s relationship to the church is not professional. The familial language assumes that Christians are family in meaningful spiritual relationship. Second, to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 12) was a cultural expression of affection among family members. It is difficult to embrace another person with whom you have discord. Third, Paul shares a “Hello” from his companions in Ephesus, “All the saints greet you” (v. 13). The unity he desires to renew in Corinth is universal. Christian unity is true for the whole Body of Christ. Finally, in Paul’s final benediction he says, “The [amazing] grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the [extravagant] love of God and the [intimate] fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (v.14) The example of the Trinity is also a picture of unity. The promise was for everyone—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was Corinth’s hope. And today it is ours too!

Who is a person in your life whom you welcome to be intentionally intrusive who you know will love you in Christ, show you grace and provide intimate fellowship? How will you be more intentional involved in the fellowship of your church? How does the grace, love and fellowship of God encourage you to share the same with others?

how to pray for your church

As a pastor, I can relate to Pastor Paul as he writes to the Ephesians. I love the church. I love the church God has called me to pastor. I am so encouraged by the people’s faithfulness and hunger for truth. I think about them often in my prayers. How should we pray for our church? In Ephesians 3:14-21, we are given a peek into the heart of Paul’s prayer for the church.

Paul begins his prayer on his knees [v.14]. There are many different ways to pray—you can pray standing up, arms raised high, flat on your face, or on your knees. Praying on your knees is the most common way we often think of praying. What is the significance of praying on your knees? Bowing to our knees is a symbol of humility to God’s authority. It is a sign of reverence [cf. Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10]. Kneeling is the outward appearance of the inward affection. Paul in essence is bowing before his Father the Creator and name Giver.[1]

When we think about our churches it is easy to complain about what is not happening according to our expectations, but praying wish lists to God for your church are not helpful for you or your church. As Paul prays for the church he mentions three things: He prays that the power of God over that goes beyond what they can think, that the love of God for that goes beyond what they can think, and that they give God glory that He can go beyond what we can think.

1. Supernatural Strength [Ephesians 3:16-17a]

The first request for the church is for the power of God. How great is the power of God? God’s power is unfathomable. It is glorious [cf. Romans 6:4; Colossians 1:11]. Now if God were to pour all of His power into you, do you think you could stand the strain? Those who come face-to-face with the power of God are never the same.

God’s power doesn’t want to co-dwell with anyone or anything in our hearts. He wants Christ only to fit in the temple He has established within His believers. The believer’s life is like a house, through which God goes from room to room. In the library [mind], He catalogs the useless and worthless images and knowledge. In the dining room, He replaces our worldly appetite with spiritual hunger and thirst. In the living room, He challenges our worldly companions and activities. In the garage, He rummages through all the clutter. In the closet, He sheds light on the hidden sins. He desires to dwell in the entire house. Only when He had cleaned every room, closet, and corner of sin can He be at home.[2] Are there rooms you would rather God not see? What room needs the most renovation?

Prayer for the power of God is important so that the church does not waver from its commitment to Christ. If Christ has taken up residence in our hearts He has the authority to establish His rule over all that we are and do.[3] At times He will renovate the dwelling place for the purpose of cleanliness and Christlikeness.

2. Limitless Love [vs.17b-19]

The second request Paul pray’s for the church is that they know the immensity and incomprehensibility of God’s love. God’s love secures and anchors the believer in Christ. Love is the soil in which believers are rooted and will grow [rf. agriculture], the foundation upon which they are established [rf. Architecture; Colossians 1:23].[4]

Why is love so important? Without love the church has no real motivation to serve God and one another [cf. 1 Corinthians 13]. Without love you cannot grasp the greatness of God [cf. Romans 8:35-39]. What does ‘width, length, depth, and height’ indicate about God’s love? When I think about knowing the love of Christ I think of explorers charting new lands or a pioneer divers plumbing the depths of the sea. However, when I chart and plumb the love of God I do not reach an end or run out of discoveries. I will spend an eternity discovering the vast territory of Christ’s limitless love. His love surpasses knowledge. That does not give me an excuse for not trying to understand God, it just cannot be understood over a cup of coffee.

It seems strange to pray for knowledge of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Equally as strange is that Paul pray’s that the church be filled with the fullness of God. What we know is that they are already share in the fullness of God at salvation [cf. 1:23; Colossians 1:19; 2:9-10]. The believers in the church simply grow in the fullness of God. They are to become what they already are—that they may become all that God wants them to be in Christ.[5]

3. Give Glory to God [vs.20-21]

As Paul meditates upon the greatness of Gods power and limitless love he is moved to give God praise.[6] Praise is often the result of meditating upon what we know about God. This is called doxology—a study of glory—praise based on doctrine. Paul is moved to praise God because He is able to do more than we can think, ask or imagine [v.20]. In other words, you cannot ask from God too much because Gods gifts exceed our capacity. Paul cannot help but give praise to God.

When you shout out the words, “Glory to God,” it’s like a football team carrying their coach off the field on their shoulders or a standing ovation to a beautiful performance. There is in the heart of every person a longing to give glory. We are wired to worship. We worship anything from rockstars to athletes to hot wheels. The main reason people do not worship God is that He is not as real to them as other things they admire. Is God real to you? Do you admire Him? Do you give Him glory?

Think of the most popular and powerful people you know. Google says Lebron James, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, the Kardasian’s, or Obama. Historically, Google says Obama,  Julius Cesar, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great or Martin Luther King. As John Piper says, “The most admirable of men are only meteors on the sky of history—they last about a third of a second and then are gone. But God is like the sun. And generation after generation He rises and never fades in His glory.”

The arena of glory to God today is in the church. The church is the stadium and amphitheater of the God’s glory and the main character and hero of the divine drama is Jesus Christ. The mystery hidden for ages in God is “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” [3:10] The church reflects Gods glory to the world.

In conclusion, as you pray for your church pray for the power and love of God by giving God glory that He can go beyond what you can think. God can do more in and through your church than you can think or imagine. The church of Christ is a beautiful anthem praising the greatness of God. He is using your church even with its personal flaws to display His perfect glory.

Here are some practical ways to pray for your church:

  1. Call your pastor and ask how you can pray for the church.
  2. Get with other members of your church and pray for your church.
  3. Write a prayer for your church.

[1] God gave people names [Gen.35:26; 1 Sam.25:25] and He gives His creation names [Ps.147:4; Is.40:26].

[2] Adapted from Robert Munger’s, My Heart Christ’s Home, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1954.

[3] L. Morris, Expository Thoughts on the Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 104.

[4] Stott, 135; and Lincoln, 207. (Cf. REB: ‘With deep roots and firm foundations’)

[5] D.A. Carson, Spiritual Reformation, 195.

[6] Cf. Phil.1:19; 4:19; Col.1:9-14; 1 Thess.3:12; 1 Cor.1:5