Thursday, December 28, 2017

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year

This week’s post is more of a non-post. Instead, I just want to take a moment to wish each of my readers a (belated) Merry Christmas and a timely Happy New Year.

Whether our years are happy or not, may we find joy knowing that Christ was sent and He will come again. Until then, let us be about knowing Him, serving Him, and loving Him.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Knowing God, Part 3

In the first two posts of this brief series, I have focused on how little any of us truly can know about God (not that we shouldn’t try) and that knowing information does not necessarily translate into love – which is what we are called to do. (You can read the first post here and the second here.) This week, in concluding the series, I want to briefly cover the progression of how we can know God now and how doing so impacts our future (i.e. eternity).

The Bible Is God’s Gift So That We Can Know Him

Much of what we know about God is from the Bible. Furthermore all of what we know about Him can be confirmed by the Bible. For instance, perhaps you have heard that Jesus died on the cross. That can only be known because of the Bible. Sure, some ancestor of one of the apostles could keep the verbal story alive, but I have never heard any person make a claim to be a direct descendant of someone who saw Jesus crucified. Even if a direct descendant existed, we would do well to confirm what was being said. On the other hand, we can know of God by looking into the night sky (or any other aspect of nature). Seeing all of the stars on a clear night should allow us to pause and ask how the stars came to be. The Bible provides an answer. So, the Bible is a gift from God that allows us to know about Him and learn to know Him.

Jesus Came As a Man So We Could Know God Better

Many have asked a question about why God would do something (i.e. allowing evil or even creating mosquitoes), or what He might do in a situation (the idea behind WWJD?). Of all that Jesus came to do during His life on earth, one aspect was to show how God would live as a human. (His life was far more than to come to model behavior for us, but He no doubt did provide a model while He lived here.) He answered many questions that the Jews of the 1st Century were asking, but certainly not all of them. 2000 years later, all of our questions are still not answered, but there is no doubt that in reading the stories from the gospels we can see God far better by realizing that He lived among us than we could if we simply had words on a page about Him. That is, we can begin to know God as a person because He lived among us rather than only knowing about an impersonal being who is out there somewhere. (Please note, God has never been impersonal toward man. While direct contact with man is not in every chapter of the Bible, His relationship with man is documented in Genesis 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12...and so on, all the way through Revelation 22.

Jesus Rose From the Dead So We Can Know God Eternally

The fact that Jesus lived does not generate a great deal of debate. Who He was, what He did, and why He came can generate endless debate. But, I would suggest that if Jesus came and died without the resurrection then the story, and subsequently, our ability to intimately know God would have suffered greatly. Someone needed to bridge the gap between us and God and while the death paid the price for our sins, without the resurrection, we would have little, if any, hope in that truth. For instance, Jesus told His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them. But then He dies. So, the resurrection provides the hope that He truly is preparing a place. But what need would there be for a place to be with God if we were not to know God? Again, as I mentioned in the first post of this three part series, we will never know everything about God. He is infinite, we are not. But without the resurrection, the question of why we would want to know Him would be very valid.

So, we can know (about) God because of the Bible. We can know Him better because Jesus came, and we can know Him eternally because of Jesus’ resurrection. But to be able to know and to truly know are different. And that brings us to the concluding remarks of this series.

Many Will Know God Intimately Because They Are His Children

John 1.12 tells us that all who receive Him (Jesus) have the right to become children of God. That statement comes from the Bible, is possible because Jesus came to earth, and is achievable because Jesus rose from the dead and brings about a tremendous reality – adoption by God as our Father. And unlike fathers on earth, God is the perfect picture of what a Father is to be. We may not always understand His actions, but we can be certain that His motive is about His righteousness and His love for us. A part of that righteousness and love will be for God to share Himself with us for all of eternity where we will not only know be with Him physically, but we will be able to know Him intimately. Again, not perfectly, but deeply, personally, and in a way that is more complete than we can imagine.

As I have stated many times, a Christian’s goal should not be to die to “go to heaven” it should be to be with God. That goal is possible because of Jesus who is not only the truth and the life, but is also the way for us to know God (Father, Son, and Spirit) in a manner too unfathomable for our limited minds. So whether you know a lot about God, a little about God, or are somewhere in the middle, take time to know God (not just know about Him), and let Him reveal Himself to you as a loving Father would his child.

If you are interested in knowing God better, consider reading the book Knowing God by JI Packer. This book will teach you about God, but does so in a way that you will know Him better.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Knowing God, Part 2

In last week’s post, I attempted to prove that regardless of how much we may know about God, the amount is minuscule compared to how much can be known. I do not mean for that statement (or the post) to provide an excuse for not desiring to know about God. Indeed, God has given us the Bible so we can definitively know certain aspects (attributes) of His being – even if we cannot know them fully. However, the crux of this brief series is that while knowing about God is important, knowing Him is what truly counts.

As a pastor and seminary professor, people expect me to know about the Bible. They expect me to know about God. But a knowledge of God is not the only qualification for either of those roles – at least, it should not be. In Matthew 7, Jesus says that a day will come when many will stand before Jesus having cast out demons in His name, done mighty works in His name, and even referred to Him as Lord (vv. 21-23). However, Jesus warned that some have no place in His Kingdom despite those facts. Again, the words to which I refer are from the lips of Jesus. His reason for rejecting them – “I never knew you.”

Why would Jesus not know these individuals? Because they did not know Him! They obviously knew about Him. They knew about His power for miracles, to cast out demons, and even managed to call Him Lord, but saying the word and living accordingly are not the same. The reality is that we can teach ourselves and others much about God without capturing the essence of who He is and what He desires from us. And what He desires is a relationship with us – not a series of facts about one another, but an intimacy with one another.

Next month I will be travelling to teach others about God and ministry. I have flexibility in my topic so a few months ago I decided the best use of the time is to teach from the book of Mark. I chose Mark because it is short enough to briefly cover over a few days, yet robust enough to give the pastors and church leaders an opportunity to get to know Jesus. Yes, I will teaching them facts and truths that Mark recorded, but my real aim is to make sure they leave knowing Jesus better. I can teach a great deal of information over the few days I am there, but what I hope I do is create a love for Jesus and who He is. We can teach information, but we cannot force love.

Over these past few years, what I have come to realize is that whether I teach all I know to this group next month, to the students at the seminary each semester, or to the church I lead every week, some people who may be learning information for the first time already know and love Jesus more than I ever will. I concluded the previous paragraph with one statement about information and love, but here is another. We can know information, but it may not produce love. However, if we know God, it should lead us to better love Him. And that should create a desire to know more about Him as well.

Next week, I will conclude this brief series by sharing the progression of how God has made Himself known and what that means for us in the future.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Knowing God, Part 1

One of my goals this year was to read one book per week. I am slightly behind pace (although if you count a few books I finished for other purposes, I have met the goal). My list includes several leadership books (Christian and otherwise), biographies (Christian and otherwise), history (several related to events and people around the American Revolution), baseball (past stories and concepts on how the game is changing), several Christian Classics such as The Imitation of Christ, Paradise Lost, etc., as well as others on topics such as personal productivity. Additionally, I am seeking to complete reading the Bible again. The exercise in reading has been good for me this year, but I need to take another approach next year.

One book I recently finished was The Mortification of Sin by John Owen. This book, and several others, has been a part of an emphasis I have led at our church to read some Christian Classics this year as we marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  I have been familiar with this book for years, but like many of the others our group read this year, I had not read it yet. The book was convicting in a few specific ways, but perhaps the most important reminder it provided was how little I know my God.

For several years, I have made the comment (teaching, preaching, etc.) that God is so infinite that even after “we’ve been there ten thousand years” (to quote Amazing Grace) we will still not have exhausted all we can know about God – and we never will for all of eternity. I believe that. However, as Owen painted the picture of God, I received a fresh perspective on this very idea.

I don’t mean to say that I know nothing about God. Nor will I pretend that I know nothing about the Bible which provides us with an opportunity to know about God, which, in turn, can lead us to better know God. But as important as the Bible is (and it is!!!), it paints only a part of the picture. And, the truth is, even if someone knows the Bible perfectly, their knowledge of God is only slightly greater than the person who knows nothing about God.

Think of it this way. If Person A knows 10 facts from the Bible (not just God, let me expand to the full Bible – as it is God’s written Word), and Person B knows one thing about the Bible (the word God – I must have one fact to make the calculations possible), then person A knows 10 times as much. Person C knows 100 facts from the Bible, so this person knows 10 times more than Person A. Person D knows 25 facts from the Bible. A graph of this scenario, based upon the most facts known, would look like this:

Let us remember that this graph is based upon facts known from the Bible. Again, that is important, but our goal is ultimately to know God. So, let us transition our thinking to the next level and stipulate that these facts are specifically about God. With that established, let us now remember my statement from earlier that we can never know all of God – we cannot know everything about God (facts), nor can we know or all of who He is. For the sake of argument, however, we must use a number. So, let us add three more markings to our graph. Person E knows 1000 facts. Person F knows 1 million. And the grand total to be known about God is 1 billion. (Again, this number is presented just for the sake of argument, the fullness of God is immeasurable and unknowable.) With these three additions, notice how the graph looks now:

What we see is that each number on this graph when compared against a billion facts is unseen. My point, and Owen’s point, is that even if we know a great deal more than some others, we know nothing in comparison to what is available (not what is possible, for we can never know all – remember God is infinite).

This idea should be humbling to all of us. I have a doctorate in ministry, so I may know more about the Bible than some, even most, but it does not mean that I have a mastery of knowledge about God. More importantly, it does not mean that I know God better than anyone. Yet, God is my Father, and wants me to know Him intimately. And He wants the same for you. Knowing God, not just knowing about Him, should be our aim – and that will be the focus of next week’s post.