21 August 2007

There's No God like YHWH

by Frank Turk

My friend Phil ended his last post in the "Elijah" series by saying this:
It's always interesting (isn't it?) to look back on an episode like this and marvel at the wisdom and goodness of God, who can bring so much eternal good out of a moment of tragedy. But real faith is to be able to trust Him in the midst of the tragedy—before we see the final outcome—and rest in the assurance that He does all things well.
And so be it -- amen. I would agree with Phil, and add the encouragement of James the brother of Jesus that we should count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

It's true, and I have no qualms with that -- this is how true faith, saving faith, acts out. This is what it does.

But as we consider the contemporary church, there is a greater danger to faith which is manifest every single day on the blogosphere and in our culture which God also warns us about, and ironically, it's that we have it pretty good.

Just to change things up a little, in order to explain that, I'm going to use the Message (don't faint):
When God, your God, ushers you into the land he promised through your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you, you're going to walk into large, bustling cities you didn't build, well-furnished houses you didn't buy, come upon wells you didn't dig, vineyards and olive orchards you didn't plant. When you take it all in and settle down, pleased and content, make sure you don't forget how you got there—God brought you out of slavery in Egypt.[Deu 6:10-12]
This is from the part of Deuteronomy where God, Moses and Israel are having a sort of one-time event -- you have read me go on about it before, I am sure. Moses was on the mountain receiving the 10 commandments, and when he came down the people were afraid of him and of God because of what they saw going on up there. So they say to Moses, [this is a paraphrase] "Dude, don't make us go up the mountain to God, because we won't make it. If God wants to say something to us, you go find out what it is, and whatever it is, we'll do it."

And when Moses delivers that message to God, God is actually pleased with Israel -- He tells Moses, [again, paraphrase] "If they'd always think like that they'd stay out of trouble, because this is one time they have a right-minded fear of YHWH." And in that, God gives Moses the Sh'ma and what follows.

Listen: God doesn't ever miss a beat when it comes to knowing who we are and upon what we usually hang our hopes. Here He's telling Moses to tell Israel that it's pretty easy to remember that God loves you when He's a cloud of fire and lightning on the mountain who's delivering bread every morning and squab every night, and that's all you got. But think about His warning here: "you're going to walk into large, bustling cities you didn't build, well-furnished houses you didn't buy, come upon wells you didn't dig, vineyards and olive orchards you didn't plant. When you take it all in and settle down, pleased and content, make sure you don't forget how you got there". That is, when you need Me, you're pretty quick to treat me like I'm God, but when I give you all the blessings I want to give you, you're going to like the blessings more than you like Me.

I'm pretty sure that there's not another verse of the Bible more specifically useful to most American Christians than this one -- and it's not because this verse promises us prosperity.

It seems to me that this relates directly to why we are worried about becoming "too God-centered" when a bridge falls down. Haven't we forgotten who God is because we have it so good in the first place? We're spoiled, really -- we think (each one of us) that we're the king of the world and we should have a really sweet existence where the part of "me" is played by Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, and we each get to tell all the good jokes and hook-lines, and gas for our Sports Utility pleasure barge is free, and our jobs should not intrude outside of Monday thru Thursday 8-4 (well, Friday if you must) (and I need to catch up on my blogs before break [!] on Monday), and so on. We have a nation we didn't build, in cities we didn't toil for, and we get food we didn't plant, and we have homes that frankly pop up out of nowhere -- we didn't have to frame one wall or float any sheet rock.



We need to remember something before we start thinking about how God provides in the bad times: we need to remember -- we who are sitting in our homes reading this post via the internet -- how good God is to us almost all of the time.

I was in church on Sunday (weren't you?) listening to my Pastor close up week 20 of a 15-week series (seriously) on the core convictions of our faith, and we wound things up with the doctrine of the eternal state -- the doctrine of Heaven, and the doctrine of Hell. And as the Tad-meister was really swinging for the parking lot, I got a little stirred up and frankly I wept over the beauty of God's plan and the exquisitely-generous provision He has made for us in Christ -- and to be honest, the provision He has made for me, because I am certain it is a larger provision than average -- because my need is so much greater than average.

And my kids were sitting with me (weren't your's?), and they both put their arms around me when I was weeping.

After church, as we were driving home, my boy asked me, "Dad, why were you crying in church?" And we pulled the vehicle over so we could talk about why I was crying in church. It wasn't exactly like this, but here's mostly what I said:
The next time your child asks you, "What do these requirements and regulations and rules that God, our God, has commanded mean?" tell your child, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and God powerfully intervened and got us out of that country. We stood there and watched as God delivered miracle-signs, great wonders, and evil-visitations on Egypt, on Pharaoh and his household. He pulled us out of there so he could bring us here and give us the land he so solemnly promised to our ancestors."
That is, "Son, it's because God has done something for me which I did not deserve and which I couldn't do for myself. I deserved to be sent to hell, and instead God sent Jesus to take the punishment for me." We talked about Leviticus (which we are reading), and how only blood pays for sins, and how God didn't take my life, but took Jesus' life in my place -- canceling the record of debt that stood against me with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.

This is when it matters -- our theology and who we say we think God is. It matters when we are in the midst of plenty, and we still can see that what God has done is the most valuable thing, the most beautiful thing, and that it is worth proclaiming and telling-forth.

Here's the challenge, folks: if faith is built up under trial, how do we build up our own faith when we are full up to the chin with blessings which 98% of all people who will ever live never have? And what do we make of our faith when it is tested so infrequently?






35 comments:

centuri0n said...

I just wanted to note that it's "TYPO IN THE SUBJECT LINE" week here at Team Ypor.

um, Pyro. I mean "Pyro".

centuri0n said...

Maybe we should change our name to Team Typo.

DJP said...

Excellent, touching, penetrating. Really good.

(And now the pressure's on me to fumble my next. Somehow, I'm certain I can rise to the challenge....)

Johnny Dialectic said...

Great thoughts, Cent. Like you, when I'm teaching about the meaning of the Cross, I find it very hard not to weep.

Will Durant wrote that civilizations begin stoic and end epicurean (we're seeing that happen right now at home, aren't we?), and it seems true for faith as well.

Libbie said...

yes, yes and yes, Frank. That is a very good post. I'm not using my crutches all the time now, and I've been thinking how easy it is to forget to be reliant on God when I can use my own legs.

I can't see you as Angelina Jolie, though.

chris818 said...

That really was great, and I don't want to change the subject too much, but this principle goes well with what I am preaching this week and I need some help...

Our passage is John 21:15-19. In doing my research and such I looked at other passages that mentioned denying God or Jesus using the same word that Jesus used in predicting Peter's denial.

2 Timothy 2:11-13 is tripping me up a bit alond with Matthew 10:33. Can anyone help me understand how we are to take these passages in light of Jesus' fogiveness of Peter?

Thanks, and sorry for hijacking your post. I won't do it again

centuri0n said...

She's way too butch to play me.

DJP said...

But Pitt isn't.

( ba-dum bum )

lordodamanor said...

How's about cast your bread upon the waters, after many days it will return to you.

The commission that the Jews were given was to be a testimony to the nations for God. To that end they were not to hoard their blessings, not to cut the corners, to care for their brothers and the stranger. Of the two great commandments it is easy to love God for the great blessings, but as John would correct our thinking, it is not really loving him unless we love him who we can see. If we are to be vessels but out of our bellies the rivers do not flow, we just swell up and pop!

centuri0n said...

Chris818:

There's no question that the NT makes a pretty clear condemnation of those who "deny" Christ -- but we have to ask (before we turn to the example of Peter) what it is talking about by "deny".

Especially in the two passages you have listed as examples, the idea of "denial" is not a one-time event: it is a denial in the sense of renouncing or turning away as a final decision. So, for example, in the mini-creed in 2 Tim, what is implied there is that if we reject Him as savior, He will reject us as His people.

That said, there's an interesting parallel in the events of the crucifixion which ought to be compared: the end of Judas, and the denials of Peter. In the former case, Judas is called by Jesus a "devil" as early as John 6 in ministry chronology; in the latter, Peter is said to be taught by the spirit, and confesses (in John 6) that Jesus has the "words of life".

In that, Judas betrays Christ to fulfill prophecy and kills himself rather than repent. Peter denies Christ to fulfill Christ's words, and then seeks Christ out, running to the tomb and seeking forgiveness for his cowardice.

There are two kinds of "denials" in play in the passion of Christ, and one leads to redemption. We would do well to recognize how it differs from the one which leads to perdition.

Sewing said...

A-MEN!!!

THIS is the Gospel:

"Son, it's because God has done something for me which I did not deserve and which I couldn't do for myself. I deserved to be sent to hell, and instead God sent Jesus to take the punishment for me." We talked about Leviticus (which we are reading), and how only blood pays for sins, and how God didn't take my life, but took Jesus' life in my place -- canceling the record of debt that stood against me with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.

The Lord God, in His unmerited grace, has delivered us from the only reward any of us deserve—he has commuted our sentence, His only Son Jesus Christ paying the penalty in our place. Jesus Christ, the perfect fulfilment of the Law, the perfect Lamb of Atonement, High Priest, Son of God, Lord, and Saviour. May we remember and praise the Lord God in the midst of our worldly comforts, and may we trust and praise him in the midst of our trials and tribulations. He is sovereign over all, Judge, King, Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. To Him alone must we give all praise.

bassicallymike said...

LOL! Soooooo, is the Hiatus officially over??

centuri0n said...

Mike:

No. This is what I do in the off-season. You will hate it when I actually come back from hiatus.

Chris said...

Frank: that was beautiful.

But you don't "float" sheet rock. You float a floor. Sheetrock is a brand of drywall.

Which just illustrates your point perfectly. Well done.

SolaMeanie said...

I'm at least thankful you were weeping in the context of being convicted and moved by the sermon. What a blessing that must have been indeed.

Unfortunately for me these days, I feel myself weeping at sermons for other reasons, which I shall charitably not mention.

centuri0n said...

I don't want to get off-topic here, you do, too, float sheetrock.

centuri0n said...

I also wanted to note that it's amazing that this piece is getting half as much play as Phil's new posters. I guess the greatest love of all is easy to achieve ...

Evangelical Regular Reformed Baptist said...

No pain....errr No gain.
The LORD be glorified in our desperate humanity.

Shall I join John Piper and declare:" God is most Glorified in us; when we are most satisfied in Him" adding no matter what, when or where we are at.

Christian hedonism eh? LORD willing we will all be taken from our comfort zones to a deeper dependance upon Him ALONE for our comfort and joy (Is there space for a 6th Point of Calvinism?).
Certainly having lived with a long term pain condition has given me a deeper understanding of Grace and I pray that my fellow bretheren may not need to be in my position in order to see the needs of the neglected, nobodies and needy. (By the way the Masters College had a wonderful speaker in Doug Nichols from ACTION International address this very issue). The bottom line is "What are we gonna do about it?" It is no good we hear the sermons, gain the understanding; but then neglect the APPLICATION of our doctrine. I feel challenged to bear fruit; but am in a predicament as I fall into one of the catogories above myself being disabled by pain in terms of mobility.

My prayers to all the bretheren in your missions to the lost.

In the grace, mercy & compassionate care of our LORD God Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit.

Evangelical Regular Reformed Baptist said...

No pain....errr No gain.
The LORD be glorified in our desperate humanity.

Shall I join John Piper and declare:" God is most Glorified in us; when we are most satisfied in Him" adding no matter what, when or where we are at.

Christian hedonism eh? LORD willing we will all be taken from our comfort zones to a deeper dependance upon Him ALONE for our comfort and joy (Is there space for a 6th Point of Calvinism?).
Certainly having lived with a long term pain condition has given me a deeper understanding of Grace and I pray that my fellow bretheren may not need to be in my position in order to see the needs of the neglected, nobodies and needy. (By the way the Masters College had a wonderful speaker in Doug Nichols from ACTION International address this very issue). The bottom line is "What are we gonna do about it?" It is no good we hear the sermons, gain the understanding; but then neglect the APPLICATION of our doctrine. I feel challenged to bear fruit; but am in a predicament as I fall into one of the catogories above myself being disabled by pain in terms of mobility.

My prayers to all the bretheren in your missions to the lost.

In the grace, mercy & compassionate care of our LORD God Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit.

candyinsierras said...

I was thinking about the great goodness of God today.

My 26 year old son called me at 6am to come to the hospital. He was riding his bicycle last evening and was hit by a hit and run driver and left unconscious in the road where a pedestrian found him and called 911. My son can't remember a thing about the accident. His face is completely torn up on one side, and he had a slight concussion. No broken bones. I often pray for his salvation. I thought of God's mercies by allowing him to be alive and hope that God will receive glory and praise in his life. I thank God that I can look at his face and be really broken up but at the same time so thankful for God's mercy in the situation. Just a personal thankful testimony of the goodness of God.

Matt said...

Cent, I agree with Dan. This post was the total package: profound, beautiful, and moving. Thank you for your excellent work here.

SJ Camp said...

Candy
I was so sorry to hear of your son's accident. My kids and I just prayed for him and you this evening. May the Lord use this to bring him to the end of himself and to Christ Jesus as Lord (Matt. 16:24).

In His sustaining grace...
Steve
Col. 1:9-14


Chris818
You asked about 2 Timothy 2:11-13: "It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." (NASB)

This is speaking of the faithfulness of Christ to His own Word to judge people with they are unmasked as faithless (unbelievers) before Him. He cannot be unfaithful to His Word; IOW: that He will deny those who deny Him, though we be not faithful to our profession of faith in Him... He remains faithful; and will be faithful to judge eternally unbelievers (those without faith - faithless) [cp, Matt. 7:21-23]. He will not be swayed, deceived, nor triffled with.

God cannot be deceived by the religious professions of men knowing their hearts thoroughly. When man is proven that his confession of faith is false and that his belief is a sham, the Lord remains faithful and in righteousness sentences him to eternal perdition.

"Three things are impossible to God, to die, to lie, and to be deceived" [AUGUSTINE, The Creed, 1.1], (cp, Hebrews 6:18).

"Also, indirectly, comfort is suggested to believers, that He is faithful to His promises to them; at the same time that apostates are shaken out of their self-deceiving fancy, that because they change, Christ similarly may change. A warning to Timothy to be steadfast in the faith." (JFB)

Frank
Good article brother... But The Message? (say it isn't so Serpico?) It's not even a real paraphrase, let alone to be considered a genuine Bible.

It is Peterson's quasi existential magic carpet ride around the translation barn by his own vain imaginations. IOW, he makes it up as he goes along. The anchovies on that pizza he had the night before he started writing must have really gone bad.

Again, very good post. But just think of how more powerful it would have been if an actual Bible was being quoted from...

northWord said...

"there is a greater danger to faith . . .it's that we have it pretty good"

absolutely...

I close my eyes every night awash in thankfulness to God, and every morning stand in awe, without words, of His great grace in my life. This brings tears for me many mornings and nights, His great grace realized.

To here a man talk candidly of his tears, and the gentle purposed way he handled his boys' question is another fine example of our Father's great Grace.

Thank you for this exemplary post, Frank.

northWord said...

hear

centuri0n said...

Steve:

I prayerfully ask you to consider something: all the passages of the OT Paul cites in the NT, and the only OT available to Gentiles until the 4th century when Jerome did his work, was the LXX -- of which you and I would agree that it's a somewhat-problematic translation.

There are two things that strike me about your critique today:

[1] In this particular place, Peterson's rendering looks a lot like the NLT, and doesn't really do harm to the text. And in that, since we aren't making any doctrinal affirmations based on the use of any particular word's nuance, it is certainly close enough to make a theologically-sound point. I would say openly that there are many places Peterson's rendering is shoddy at best, but even a blind dog finds a bone once in a while.

[2] Using Paul's example, we have to be careful to see God's word as God's word and not the property of any particular translator, translation theory, or committee. Paul never once said, "well, the LXX says it this way, but the Hebrew says ..."

Particular exegesis has its place, and is useful, but if we miss the propositions because of all the words and word-studies, we're completely lost. We may even be committing verbolotry, where we are worshipping the words rather than the speaker, and focusing on the jots and tittles of the handwriting rather than the weighter matters of the law.

I'm still a formal translation guy -- it's what I use and recommend to those I teach in Community Life class. But to ignore that God may use even the crumby, truncated warning that Jonah used to prophecy to Ninevah to bring that city to repentance is to ignore the kind of God we serve.

Daryl said...

Cent,

Great post. Very thought provoking.

Isn't it funny that the non-believing theorists will posit the exact opposite, that suffering and difficulty will drive us away from a belief in God when in reality those things drive us to Him and prosperity causes drift. The unbelievers theorys sound right, but life just doesn't seem to play out that way.

I've always found it fascinating that suffering often has a more negative effect on the on-lookers than it does on the go-throughers. (Witness Job and his friends).

For my part, being brought to an understanding of the doctrines of grace has done far more to combat that tendency in me than just about anything else I think.

Thanks again.

centuri0n said...

northword:

Thanks for the kind words; don't let my comment here admonish you as I don't think what I'm about to say here is your point, but it is in fact the way some people will read your point.

Let me say clearly that me crying is not really the point of this post. There's another guy in our church who is a great friend of mine (we were in men's group together this morning), and he would never be caught dead crying in public, let alone telling people about crying in public.

But today we were chatting during our study group about what a fine message our pastor delivered, and he mentioned that he was reminded (coincidence? pneumatalogical intervention?) of how deeply grateful he is to God for what Christ has done. He didn't cry -- he brought it up at men's group.

I don't think his gratitude is any less sincere or real than mine was or is. Let's be careful not to tie up our personality quirks with the real stuff of our faith.

Rebekah said...

Wow. And Amen. What an incredibly good post. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts.

northWord said...

heheh, it's all good :)

It's interesting, and often frustrating how the "typed" conveyance of thought can so differ from real face to face conversation.

I think most people would understand all of the the points in your post without my little observation getting in the way.

It was the emotional aspect of realizing just how great God is that struck me most, coupled with your candor in revealing a personal experience that most men do not. It points to the contrast of the "worlds" standard of what a man is and God's standard - quite a difference.

Humility is the supreme standard, and I love (as Christ does) when I see it displayed.

"I don't think his gratitude is any less sincere or real than mine was or is. Let's be careful not to tie up our personality quirks with the real stuff of our faith."

Absolutely agree, and I should clarify that to my way of thinking "having tears" is less demonstrative than say, crying (all quirks considered) -so when I say I'm brought to tears its a more of a welling, no kleenex required :)

Now you've got my mind reeling with thoughts about "looking-to-the-guy[gal]-in-the-next-pew" and gaging ones own "emotional" reactions according to what the others "look like" (e.g. tears in face / hands in air / audible noises during sermon...) -something that once really hindered my own personal growth, allowing "man" in place of God to validate me..

anyway, sorry, I got off a bit there..
Thanks for your considerate thoughts on my comment, Frank.

Sewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sewing said...

Candy: May God have mercy on your son, and bring glory to Himself through him.

Cent: "Pneumatological intervention"—I'll have to remember that one!

Northword: Can't say I've never done the "next guy/gal in the pew" thing. I get especially neurotic around collection time...I want to set a good example and keep our church's work for God going by making an offering, but do it discreetly so as not make visitors uncomfortable for not offering, and stick it in the envelope to be discreet and put my name on it for the tax credit, but then I'm allowing myself to potentially be judged by the amount I offer...and so on...then I'm halfway through filling out the envelope and my wallet's in my lap and we have the prayer for the offering, and I feel like a Pharisee, or one of the moneychangers in the Temple. Tithes and offerings should be a time of joy at giving the Lord our firstfruits, but for me it's mildly traumatic!

Daryl: Excellent point! I agree that from a non-believer's point of view, of course Christians praise God for their prosperity, and a little suffering would "set them straight." And yet, it is indeed precisely the opposite, as you pointed out! We drift away from God in our comfort, and are reconciled to Him in our suffering.

Yet another example of how the paradigms of the world are a twisted parody of the paradigms of God.

SJ Camp said...
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SJ Camp said...
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SJ Camp said...

Cent:

U Said..."But to ignore that God may use even the crumby, truncated warning that Jonah used to prophecy to Nineveh to bring that city to repentance is to ignore the kind of God we serve."

"The Message" does not represent the One Triune God that I serve; nor was it the version that Jonah used to give a warning to Nineveh. :-).

Jonah spoke God's Word, not Peterson's stream of conscience version. Lastly, you can't do exegesis with The Message; but you certainly can do effective eisegesis.

I think you would agree my brother, that when studying God's Word: 1.) we don't want a version that "comes close..." but actually gets it right; and 2.) that is consistent in its meaning throughout the entirety of its version--not playing "blind dog may find bone" kind of study.

Again, I enjoyed your article; but may it never be acceptable that TeamPyro uses and sometimes approves of "The Message." People will think you've gone Emergent man :-).

One Message factoid: not once in any of the gospels; Acts; or Paul's epistles does Peterson use the word "repent." That should be alarming to all of us...

But I do understand the dilemma: any Bible "version" that enjoys the theological endorsements of such notable and trusted biblical scholars as Bono and Rebecca St. James is bound to be authentic.

One last question: do you sell "The Message" at your bookstore? Just curious.

Campi
Prov. 30:6

SJ Camp said...

Frank:
So I interpret your silence to my question is that you actually do sell "The Message" at your bookstore.

If so, and this may sting a bit, how do you sell such an inferior, emergent, and postmodern version of the bible, profit from it, and still sleep at night?

It's a legitimate question brother...

Grace and peace,
Steve