Wednesday, February 17, 2010

1st Night Under Our Belts

We had our first Bible study tonight and I'm encouraged by the response.  We basically laid the foundation of what we'll be discussing going forward:  the character of God as He is, not necessarily as how we see Him.  Please refer to the "straw in a glass of water" analogy from the 29th of January.  We started out with a straw and answered the question, "What can you tell me about the straw?"  The obvious answers followed;  it was tubular, it was straight, it was plastic, it was white, etc.  We had a glass of water in which I placed the straw and the question was then asked, "Now how do you see the straw?"  Again the answers were fairly obvious;  it was bigger in the water than out, it didn't look straight any more but skewed, etc.  We made the connection between the fall and how our view of His character is now skewed, how Paul addressed how we see Him in I Cor 13, and how Satan attacked God's character hence our desire to study God's character as it is "out of the water" as opposed to in it.

Having personally put together the analogy I was rather pleased with myself as everyone seemed to be on the same page I was, and then R.G. dropped this incredible bombshell:  We knew that our comments about the straw when it was in the water, i.e. bigger, no longer straight, were false because we had studied the refractory effects of water.  At the time I thought it was a great comment, however upon further reflection I see much more wisdom and insight in that one statement than at first I was aware.

Two things have to be true for R.G.'s comment to make sense:  1.  We must be able to establish the initial "state" of the straw (it's straight, round, white, etc.).  Said another way the straw must be "knowable" prior to any refractory manipulation.  2.  We must attribute the change in the straw's appearance to the refractory properties of the water and not to an actual change in the properties of the straw.  Said another way, we understand the water makes the straw look different, however the straw does not change itself when it enters the water.

Do you see where I'm going with this?  1.  God is knowable (the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit), and 2.  Based on His immutability, His inability to change (Malachi 3:6), we know that any difference between His true character and how we perceive His character is due to the refractory properties of the fall, of sin, and not to any change in His character.  Thank you R.G.!!!

The implications of this in our relationship with Him are huge.  Do you know how folks at Treasury can tell if currency is counterfeit?  Do you think they study all the counterfeiting techniques?  Maybe there's a "Top 10 List" of most used inks and papers?  No.  You know what they do?  They study the real currency so in depth that any inconsistency from what they know to be true is a glaring indictment of the bill or coin they're studying.  The currency they're protecting from fraud is knowable, is available for study, can be counted on as "truth."  If they see anything that doesn't match up against the truth they know its not the currency that has changed but error and fraud have entered the picture.  All of that said, it makes much more sense to study the character of God as He actually is so that anytime our emotions say, "If He's really a good God" the Holy Spirit can scream within us, "Counterfeit, Counterfeit!!!"

Think about it, we can renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) through the study of who He is.  Let us, as we go forward, so study His true character that any reaction we have to the contrary is branded as counterfeit and deception.  Can we be assured of knowing Him?  Look at 1 Cor 2:11-16 and see that we have the mind of Christ, the only mind that can know the Father.  Have others seen Him?  Please click the link to see other examples from the Old and New Testaments of "God sightings."  Furthermore, although this a commentary on Christ's deity it applies here as well, if we've seen Jesus we've seen the Father (John 14:9).  Can we know Him?  Absolutely.  I look forward to renewing my mind with you as we bathe in His word and revelation of Himself.

Dear, Father.  Please forgive me if I've in any way misrepresented You here.  If I've taken a verse out of context to make a point, please prick our hearts with Your Holy Spirit to look deeper and see what You really meant.  Please meet us as we seek You out, as we try to know who You are, not for mere understanding sake, but so that we may love and glorify You more.  Thank You for Your love, grace and mercy.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Place your trust in His Name

We're going to start this morning in Psalm 33.  A pet peeve of mine is the notion that an entire idea or theory can be built upon just one verse; many times that verse is taken out of context and is manipulated to fit the idea or theory and call it "biblical."  The verse in which "trust" is housed that we'll review is Ps 33:21 - "In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name."  By virtue of the fact we put our trust in Him I'd assume that He is trustworthy.  What I love about this psalm is all the other examples of supposedly trustworthy people/things that fail in comparison to our Lord as well as the reasons behind placing our trust in Him.

The "word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does" (vs. 4) starts off the litany of why He is worthy of our trust.  He "loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of His unfailing love" (vs. 5).  Take a look at verses six through 15 and see example after example which prove His trustworthiness.  By His word were all things made, "He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; He puts the deep into storehouses", all things came into being by His mere word, plans of the nations cannot stand against Him, He defeats all purposes of man set against Him.  I love the description of his omnipotence and omniscience in verses 13 through 15.  Do you want to trust Him who sees, ponders, and forms all?  About whom else could all this be said?

Kings, warriors, and horses are saved neither by the size of their army nor their great strength (vs. 16,17).  The Lord keeps His eyes out for those that hope in Him, for those that put their trust in Him.  As a result we rejoice in Him because our trust has been placed in the One, the only "one", who is worthy of our trust.

Okay, I don't know about you, that's all well and good, but what does this whole "trust" thing mean?  Seriously, I know that I "trust" the chair in which I sit to hold me up.  I "trust" that gravity will keep my car on the road.  Trust in that sense isn't what I'm talking about in context of Him, nor is it what the scripture talks about in Psalm 33.  The word "trust" in verse 21 is the Hebrew word "batach" which means "to hie for refuge."  Personally, I had to look up "hie" and it means speed, race, rush, move fast; for example "He rushed (hied) down the hall to meet his guests."  I am confident of my safety in a refuge and I rush to that refuge in light of my need for provision.  Trust then is the action of rushing to Him because I am assured of His capacity to provide.  When compared with the alternatives (kings, warriors, horses) He is the one most able to deliver.

Look back at verse 21 and in what about Him do we place our trust?  It's in "His holy Name."  If you've ever done a study of the names of God it is truly amazing and how many names there are for Him and the difference piece of His character each name describes.  If you'd like to delve into His names please click here and you can get started.  The list, by its own admission, is not exhaustive, however it will certainly be a good starting point for you.  That said it would appear to me that the psalmist is pointing out that by trusting in His name we are trusting in every aspect of who He is.  I may be reaching there, so take that last comment with a grain of salt.

Here's where I get really excited about how the Lord uses the exact words of scripture to paint pictures of who He is, then reinforces one verse with this!  Remember that the word "trust" in Ps 33:21 means "to hie for refuge."  Read the following verses please:  Psalm 5:11, Psalm 31:19, and Isaiah 57:13.  What one word is in each of those verses?  That's right - REFUGE!!  The word translated "refuge" in these verses is the Hebrew word "chacah" which means "to flee for protection."  We can trust in His holy name and make him our refuge.  This points out another aspect of trust that I want to discuss.

Use the following analogy:  the chair is trustworthy regardless of the trust I place in it.  It can hold my weight, but I can choose not to place my trust in it by sitting down.  Conversely I can place my trust in my hand to stop a bullet, yet you can imagine the result when the rifle is fired and the bullet makes its way neatly through my flesh.  My point?  Whether your exercise your trust or not has no bearing upon the trustworthiness of the object of your trust.  Said another way, whether you trust in Him or not has no bearing on His trustworthiness.  Bluntly, He is worth of your trust (Ps 33 in particular and the entire redemptive history of the Bible in general).  He who is greater and creator is master of the lesser and created, period.  You have a refuge available to you; Him.  I suggest you hie on over there today!

Last couple of points and I'll bring this morning to a close.  Trust is an action, not a feeling.  Remember to have truth drive your actions which yield emotions to be pondered, but not acted upon.  He is trustworthy, I am in need of a refuge and rush to Him, and I will eventually have an emotional reaction that lines up accordingly.  Why do I say it this way?  Experience tells me that I run to refuge when I'm in fear.  When I make it to safety I am filled with relief and, honestly, lingering doubt about the ability of my refuge to protect me.  By His grace I am called to act according to truth, not feel according to truth.  My emotion of doubt has no bearing on His trustworthiness but is rather a reflection of how far to go I have in my sanctification.  My level of trust is irrelevant in light of the Object of my trust.  Thank You, Father, its about You and not me!

Lord thank You for meeting us this morning.  Thank You for the presence of Your Spirit and His explanation of Your word.  Again I ask for forgiveness if I have in anyway misrepresented You, Your character or Your word.  With an difference of opinion as to what You've said may we dig deeper and defend or dig deeper and amend.  Praise Your Holy Name, Lord.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You can trust Him!

You'd think after starting this weeks ago that I would've gotten to His character sooner than now.  Remember, I'm assuming that you and I are on the same page and that we consider the Bible to be the holy, inerrant, infallible word of God - basically it is our source of knowledge as explained to us by the Holy Spirit.  That said, the question of trust is a big one for me.

You'll remember in James 4:15 we're told not to assume anything will happen in the future but we should always add the caveat "if its His will."  You'll also remember from "When Harry met Sally" that Harry was so pessimistic that he would read the last page of the book to make sure he got the ending in before he died.  When I lay my heart out before the Lord, when I ask for those things that are nearest and dearest to me as well as the more mundane requests, I always end my prayer with, "but in the end Lord, Your will be done."  Sounds good, but here's where Harry shows up:  if I'm going to stay away from being a white-washed tomb with a heart far away from Him I need to come clean with my reasoning behind the disclaimer.  I don't trust Him to give me what I want, or He won't give it to me when I want it, or since I know He's going to do what He wants anyway my prayer is a fruitless enterprise that just keeps me strung along while He does His thing.  I have it in my mind that His pursuit of His glory is mutually exclusive with my joy and contentment.  Said another way, His pursuit is not merely for His benefit, but necessarily at my expense.

And at the same time His word calls me to put my trust in Him, that there are things in which I put unmerited trust, that there are benefits to trusting Him.  The majority of my musings come from a stroll through Strong's Concordance looking up trust, trusted, trustedst, trustest, trusteth, trusting, and trusty.  All told there are 11 Hebrew words that are translated "trust" or one of the aforementioned variations, and in Greek there are five.  Before I get to those I also want to see what in the world "trust" means in English so off we go to Merriam-Webster.  The first definition resonates with me, "1 a : assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something."  Assured reliance speaks of a heart at peace and in full confidence that the person in which the trust is placed will deliver.  It does not, in mind at least, speak of a heart that's worried about the outcome of the trusted's actions.

Even more than the noun definitions do I like the verb descriptions:

1 a : to place confidence : depend b : to be confident : hope
2 : to sell or deliver on credittransitive verb 1 a : to commit or place in one's care or keeping : entrust b : to permit to stay or go or to do something without fear or misgiving
2 a : to rely on the truthfulness or accuracy of : believe b : to place confidence in : rely on c : to hope or expect confidently s that the problem will be resolved soon
To place confidence, to depend, to hope, to commit or place in [His] keeping; to rely on the truthfulness or accuracy of [Him].  Are any of these actions to be taken towards one who is not trustworthy?  Think about, would you sit in a balsa wood chair?  Would you jump from a plane with a torn parachute? Would you ask a blind person to describe the beauty of the rainbow?  Would you ask your toddler to drive you to the store?  Ridiculous questions I know, but you can see the point.  We make judgment calls on a daily basis about in whom we trust.

So now on to Hebrew and Greek.  I beg each of you to take what I'm getting ready to say with a grain of salt.  By that I mean I'm venturing in languages I've not studied and have only rudimentary knowledge based on what Strong's has said.  I'll offer that I'm prayed up and not intentionally misguiding anyone, but please dig into this for yourselves.  I've got links up on the right that should help you from a resource standpoint.

I'm going to split this up into three sections:  1.  Trust to be placed in, 2. Trust not to be placed in, and 3.  Benefits of trusting.  This greatly reduces the overall number of verses to be studied and takes us from the 16 words for trust down to just five, four Hebrew and one Greek.  For ease of reference I'm going to refer to them by their Strong's number and they are as follows:

982 batach baw-takh' a primitive root; properly, to hie for refuge (but not so precipitately as 2620); figuratively, to trust, be confident or sure:--be bold (confident, secure, sure), careless (one, woman), put confidence, (make to) hope, (put, make to) trust
4009 mibtach mib-tawkh' from 982; properly, a refuge, i.e. (objective) security, or (subjective) assurance:--confidence, hope, sure, trust.
2620 chacah khaw-saw' a primitive root; to flee for protection (Compare 982); figuratively, to confide in:--have hope, make refuge, (put) trust.
4268 machaceh makh-as-eh' or machceh {makh-seh'}; from 2620; a shelter (literally or figuratively):--hope, (place of) refuge, shelter, trust.
1679. elpizo el-pid'-zo from 1680; to expect or confide:--(have, thing) hope(-d) (for), trust.
 As 1679 (the only Greek one we're reviewing) comes from 1680 I include it as well for reference:
1680. elpis el-pece' from a primary elpo (to anticipate, usually with pleasure); expectation (abstractly or concretely) or confidence:--faith, hope.
A further look at numbers...part one will show only three "things" in which to place our trust, while part two will describe six things we tend towards with our trust, and part three gives us 11 benefits to the proper placement of our trust.  Without even looking at the verses yet it would seem that there are a lot of benefits won by well placed trust, yet I will tend to just about anything other than "the three things" to gain those benefits.  If I have been deceived and believed the lie that the straw is crooked, it would make sense that my efforts to straighten that straw are misplaced and misguided giving me the frustrated pose of perpetually failed.  Said another way, if I've been told that God is not trustworthy I will find those things in which to place my trust which I feel are most likely to give me the assurance, contentment, and joy I seek.

Enough for tonight with the follow exception:

In what should I place my trust?

God's Name - Ps 33:21
God's Word - Ps 119:42
Christ - Matt 12:17-21

What are those things that I tend to place my trust but which are destined to fail?

Weapons - Ps 44:6
Wealth - Ps 49:6,7
Leaders - Ps 146:3
Man - Jer 17:5
Works - Jer 48:7
One's Own Righteousness - Ez 33:13

What are the benefits of trusting in God's Name, Word, and His Son?
Joy, Ps 5:11 - Deliverance, Ps 22:4,5 - Triumph, Ps 25:2,3 - God's Goodness, Ps 31:19 - Mercy, Ps 32:10 - Provision, Ps 37:3,5 - Blessedness, Ps 40:4 - Safety, Ps 56:4,11 - Usefulness, Ps 73:28 - Guidance, Pr 3:5,6 - Inheritance, Isa 57:13.

Dear, Father.  Thank you for taking the time to come and meet with us today.  I pray that nothing I've said has in any way misrepresented You or our Your word.  I ask that your Holy Spirit continue to guide us and reveal Your Word to us.  Take the scales away from our eyes of flesh so that the eyes of faith can see You.  Confirm by Your Spirit that You are trustworthy, that all those benefits after which we seek can only be found in You and not in those false gods in which we place our trust daily.  We love You, Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Where to start?

I suppose the first question to ask is "Where do I begin the discussion of God's character?"  I guess I could start with "In the beginning, God" and talk about His eternal and infinite being, however I want to start with the first time His character was called into question.  Genesis 3 and Psalm 119 have impacted me greatly over the past few months.  Psalm 119 because of how His law, decrees, statutes, precepts, commands and word sustain, teach, and give comfort; Genesis 3 because of the eye-opening revelation of why I would have a difficult time trusting Him.  Add to this Romans 12 and I see a way out of the flesh driven view of Him and a way to "pull the straw out of the water" and see Him as He really is (with the obvious caveat that I will never completely overcome my flesh until I go home to be with Him).  My questions to my mom in college about "why" and many of the questions I hear from people have to do with "why"; why would God allow [fill in the blank]?  Believe it or not, He's given us the answer to that question.  We've even codified His answer when we asked ourselves, "What is the chief end of man?"  You'll recall the answer is "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

If then my chief end is to glorify God, what do you think God's chief end is?  You got it - to bring glory to Himself.  I don't know about you but I immediately bristle at the thought of one person seeking out their glory over another person.  I attribute "too much" humanity to Him and assume that the pursuit of His glory, especially when I see it at my expense, is a selfish, ego-maniacal pursuit.  Shouldn't He be in pursuit of me?  Shouldn't He look to my benefit and my blessing?  Shouldn't He display His greatness in making sure that I enjoy comforts, blessings and abundance at His right hand?

Look at the progression of my questions above.  I've somehow moved from my chief end, bringing glory to Him, and put myself in the center.  Having done that I've already violated the first commandment He gave on Sinai, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." Ex 20:2-4.  If He pursues me as a chief end He violates His own law we which know He cannot do.

I like the way Rick Warren put it, "it's not about you."  Go back to Job.  Read the first 10 verses of so of chapter 1 and tell me this, did Satan ask God if he could go after Job or did God bring up Job to Satan?  God offered up Job!!  Thus commences the account of untold suffering, personal loss, and physical affliction which takes 42 chapters to tell.  Job sits there wondering what he has done to be worthy of suffering.  He even gets the opportunity to ask God, "What in the world are You thinking?  How could You do this to me when I've done nothing to deserve it?"  Do you remember how God answers Job?  I can tell you He did it much more graciously than I ever would.  My response would sound something like, "Shut your pie-hole.  I made you and don't answer to you."

The answer to why is this: God did it, whatever the "it" is in your life, because it brought Him more glory than doing it any other way.  Said differently, if the entirety of human history could unfold in a manner other than the way it has, and bring Him more glory, He would have done it that way.  Your why, my why, everyone's why's are answered by His pursuit of His glory.  (John Piper does a great job describing this, and so does Mitch Jolly!)

The Accuser has me constantly saying to myself, "Can I really trust Him?  The pain and suffering that I go through, the heartache I see all around me, the death and misery; aren't all of these proof that I can't trust Him?"  I'm brought back, again, to the fact that I want to judge him by the si.......

You know what I just realized?  I've been sitting here repeating over and over again why I have a tough time trusting Him and not going after what I set out to do, namely discuss His character.  Bottom line, He is trust worthy.  I don't expect you to just take that on unsubstantiated faith, but rather on the evidence of His word.  How many examples will it take for you to say, "You know what, He is trustworthy!"?  Seriously, if I ask you to find 10 examples in scripture would you do it?  Please share them as we build a body of evidence, evidence taken from the only truth available to us, His word.  If we can't trust Him, then what in the world are we doing taking the time to learn about Him?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An assumption

One last item before launching into God's character;  the Bible. My son Garrison and I were going to pick up our dogs from the kennel after our travels over Christmas last year.  He asked me about my "devotion" time and what I did.  I explained to him that "devotion" could be better said "conversation."  We talked about how I like getting to know him (Garrison) and if there's something about which I'm interested, I simply ask Garrison about the topic.  A conversation with the Lord is somewhat different in that I ask questions (prayer) but I don't physically hear His answer.  By His grace and mercy He's chosen to reveal Himself through His Word.  Because of the work of His Holy Spirit within me I am capable of understanding what He's trying to tell me.  I told Garrison it is as if I wrote a book that revealed my character such that when I was gone (agreed, I know, no where near on par with the reality of my living Father) Garrison could ask, "What would Dad tell me?" then open my letter and have his question answered.  We would have a conversation made up of verbal questions and written answers.

I realize that this is a woefully incomplete analogy, but for Garrison and me that day it made sense.  Something that Garrison would have to ask himself every time he opened my letter would be, "Is this really what my dad wrote?"  I say that this is the same question we must ask about the Bible.  We're going to look at God's character as revealed by His Holy Spirit through His word.  I would point you to A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Dr. Robert L. Reymond as a great reference for your studies on the authority of scripture.  Dr. Reymond leaves no stone unturned starting with "The Fact of Divine Revelation" and ending with "The Bible as the [Base] for Knowledge and Personal Significance."  I would also offer the Westminster Confession of Faith as it begins with "Chapter 1 - Of The Holy Scripture."  In addition the Westminster Longer Catechism touches on many of the same themes.  Basically I hold that the Bible is the word of God without error and according to 2 Tim 3:16,17 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

I say all of this to point out the following:  the Lord has given you, me, us His holy, infallible word that can be relied up as we seek to know Him.  We can know Him not in the merely factual, i.e. the sun is hot, but in a relational sense, i.e. He loves me.

[As I sit here typing this morning I can feel the difference in my writing.  Today I am in my "head" mode; A+B=C.  I get this way when I feel distanced from Him.  It is my way of staying with truth even when I don't feel like it.  Have you ever seen "A Beautiful Mind" with Russell Crowe?  There is a scene in the movie where he's trying to convince his wife and psychiatrist that he can overcome his schizophrenia with his mind such that he would no longer have to take medicine that had side effects which negatively impacted his ability to relate to others.  I remember Russell runs outside and says, "They never grow older" (or something to that effect).  He could recognize when it was a figment of his imagination based on the age of the person he spoke to over time.  I have to do the same thing with truth as it relates to my emotional reality.  When my emotions desert me for la la land, i.e. I have no reason to be in a funk but that's where I find myself, I have to recognize "they never grow older" and operate out of the reality of God's truth.]

Conclusion:  we have His word to guide us in the study of Him.  His word is His revelation to us about His character and by the ministry of the Holy Spirit the scales on our eyes of flesh fall away to a relationship with our Savior.

Father, if I have in any way misrepresented You or Your word, please forgive me.  For he or she who reads and does not feel as if it tracks with Your word, please show them in Your word, not in their emotions, what is the truth.  Thank Your for Your word; Your divine inspiration of its scribes; its authenticity and authority.  Thank you that "If any of [us] lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." - James 1:5  We ask for wisdom, discernment, and the presence of Your Holy Spirit to guide us as we get to know You better.  In Jesus' name, amen.