Who do you say I am?

In The Truth Project’s lesson on theology, several “men on the street” were asked the question, who is God? When I heard one of the responses, I laughed because it sounded ridiculously conceited. What hubris! To paraphrase: Who’s God? I am. I am a tattoo artist. I create. I’ve done very well for myself. The tattoo artist is not alone in thinking he is a “little g” god. But who is God with a big G? And if you know the answer, what do you do with it?

Who is God?

Although we cannot fully know God, a long list of attributes have been used to describe his nature – holiness, graciousness, omnipotence, etc. The authors of The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) wrote a lengthy sentence about God’s nature with scriptural sources for each attribute.

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter II, Of God and of the Holy Trinity

The words “without body, parts or passions” gave me pause. What did the writers of the confession mean when they said God is without passions? My mind interprets “without passions” as emotionless, which isn’t consistent with my view of God. The God I know loves deeply. According to William Tate, as published in Reformed Perspectives Magazine, to affirm that God is without passions means that God is not moved or controlled by something else in the way that humans are controlled by our emotions and passions.

The many names of God in the Bible – Abba, Father, El Shaddai, etc. – reveal a lot about his nature. Dr. Tackett spoke at length about the name El Qanna, Jealous God. Tackett struggled to understand how jealousy is consistent with a God who is without sin. But God is described as a jealous God because he wants to preserve the covenant relationship he has with his people.

God is my Father, Rock, Redeemer and Shepherd. He disciplines me like a father. He is strong and dependable, a firm foundation. He saves me and leads me. But one of my favorite names for God is I Am because it so simply affirms that he always was and always will be. He is immutable.

I AM: (Exodus 3:14) – This name for God, given by Him to Moses, is a form of the Hebrew “to be.” It expresses His self-existence and the unchangeableness of His nature. He is the “eternal present,” because He always was and always will be. Because He is outside time, He is always in the present. He does not change or change His mind. He is immutable.

From Compelling Truth: What are the names of God?

Knowing God

A central premise of The Truth Project’s lesson on Theology is that there is an important connection between knowing God and receiving eternal life. Eternal life is mentioned several times in the New Testament, including the familiar John 3:16, which says that whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life. Dr. Tackett pointed out the prayer in John 17:1-3, in which Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

The key to receiving eternal life is knowing the one true God. You can’t know God unless you have a personal, intimate relationship with him. As Dr. Tackett says, God revealed himself to us in his Word. The Bible is God’s Word but God’s will was made clear when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Dr. Tackett warned about the people who have attacked God’s Word throughout history. I am not concerned about people who question the veracity of the scriptures. I do, however, feel compelled to repeat the warning that Jesus gave in Matthew 7. Not everyone who calls out to Jesus, Lord, Lord (as if they know him) will enter the kingdom of heaven, only those who show that they understand the Word of God by doing God’s will. Jesus will tell the false disciples, ‘Get away from me. I never knew you.’

Jesus often spoke in thought-provoking parables that were incomprehensible to those with hardened hearts. When asked why, he said:

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
   you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them

Matthew 13: 14-15

Through Jesus, I see the grace of God. I see how much God cares for the least among us. I understand with my heart.

Who do you say I am?

Focus on the Family posed the question, who is God? Jesus asked the question, who do you say I am? Do you see that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to save us? Do you grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is? Do you see how much the rest of the world needs to know God too?

When asked the question, who is God, the tattoo artist in The Truth Project video facetiously responded that he is. I found a video about Flash on Focus on the Family’s website. As I listened to him talk, I saw the pain behind the conceit. Many people reject God because the world is dark and cruel and the “churchy” people they see are not genuine. One bright memory in Flash’s childhood was a woman from church named Millie. She was the real deal. She was a light in the darkness.

As I reflected on this lesson on Theology, I am convinced that knowing God is not merely an intellectual exercise. It is much more than knowing his many names. It is much more than being able to describe his mysterious attributes. It is about knowing and loving him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. It’s understanding that people like Flash won’t know the love of God unless you show them who He is.

One Lord, one body, one hope

Sojourners and other faith-based organizations say that Christianity has been co-opted by politics. I have long believed that the pursuit of political power has a corrupting influence on religion. Last year, a group of religious leaders wrote a declaration called: Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis. How should the Church respond in this struggle against the powers of this dark world?

An identity centered on Christ

Today, many believers seem to derive their identity from their political party and from nationalism; the Pew Research Center calls them God-and-country believers. Paul reminded the Ephesian believers that our true identity is centered on Christ. Jesus is the head of the body, and it is by his grace that we were saved. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10).

What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be born again? What does it mean to be evangelical? Our culture misuses these words so much, it is no wonder that Christianity is misunderstood and it is no wonder that religious hypocrisy is on the rise.

If you want to know what it means to be a Christian, read the gospel. Jesus said that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again, that is born of the Spirit (John 3:3-7). The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Jesus said that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus made it clear that he will judge us based on how we treat those in need (Matthew 25:31-46).

Spiritual battles

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote that the first believers were “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14).” Today, many believers have been led astray by the cunning and deceitfulness of those with wealth and political power who are willing to do whatever they can to keep it.

There is a spiritual battle going on today even if we cannot see it. I tend to think of the enemy as the people who practice the deceitful scheming. But Paul said that the battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil. It is a battle between truth and deception. As Jesus said, the devil is the father of all lies. Jesus came to testify to the truth and everyone on the side of truth listens to Jesus (John 18:37).

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 

Ephesians 6:13-14

If Christ’s followers keep our eyes on the head of the Church – Christ – we will be equipped to do the work he has called us to do and to be strong as we face these spiritual battles.

Unity in the body of Christ

Paul wanted the believers to remember that they were called to one purpose. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:3-6).

When Jesus prayed for future believers, he prayed that we would be one just as the Father and Son are one.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus, John 17:20-23

Unity of faith is not blind, tribal unity. We must guard our hearts and minds against deception. We should not be partners with those who are immoral, greedy and dishonest. No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them (Eph. 5:5-7).

I struggled with the concept of unity in the body of Christ after the 2016 election. I looked at the people in the pews around me and wondered, how can so many of you not see what I see? But when I walk through the doors of my church, I know that I will hear the word of God preached. I know that God’s name will be praised. We pray to one God. God is working in in ways that I cannot see.

A couple of weeks ago, my pastor told us about a dream he has had more than a dozed times since he became the pastor of our church. In the recurring dream, he sees a wood-framed church somewhere on the coast. Huge waves rise up and tear down the church. After the waves came and destroyed the physical walls of the church, my pastor saw the people, hands joined together, standing on a rock. I loved hearing about this dream because it reminds me that there is a body of believers who will stand strong in the spiritual battles of our time.

It is hard to see people of faith being tossed about by the waves, aligning themselves with those who deceive with empty words. The right response is to be humble, gentle and patient. The right response is to speak the truth in love. The right response is to stand strong in the Lord, our Rock and Redeemer. The right response is to pray for God’s people. The right response is to keep on imitating Christ so that the world will know that God sent him and that God loves them.

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Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Prison walls started falling

On Tuesday, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone in preparation for giving up social media for Lent. Now my phone is just a phone and not a time-wasting distraction. This morning as I drove to the gym, I listened to a beautiful song that not only expresses how I feel about the “sacrifice” I’m making, it reminds me of the real reason for the season of Lent.

Red Letters is a song written by David Crowder and Ed Cash about the life-changing impact of the red letter words of Jesus.

Then I read the red letters
And the ground began to shake
The prison walls started falling
And I became a free man that day

Red Letters – David Crowder Band

The phrase, prison walls started falling describes how I feel about being freed from the addictive hold of social media. Over time, I have become a slave to Facebook, depending on it to keep myself entertained, looking to it for social affirmation, and ridiculously fearing that I will miss out on something important if I don’t read my news feed everyday. It’s only been a couple of days since I gave it up, but the prison walls are already falling.

Red Letters also reminded me of the real sacrifice that Jesus made.

For God so loved the whole wide world
Sent His only Son to die for me
Arms spread wide for the whole wide world
His arms spread wide where mine should be
Jesus changed my destiny

Thank You, God, for red letters
When the ground began to shake
The grace of God started falling
And I became a free man that day
The prison walls started falling
And I am a free man today

Red Letters – David Crowder Band

Thank you, God, for red letters. Thank you, God, for Jesus!

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Photo by Denis Oliveira on Unsplash

Giving up social media for Lent

This year, my pastor encouraged us to give up social media for Lent. As a Presbyterian, I have never been asked to give up anything for Lent. I have decided to take my pastor’s advice because I am addicted to Facebook and I know that I waste a lot of time on it.

I did not tell anyone that I’m going to stay off of Facebook for Lent. Will anyone even notice that I’m not posting anything?

It will be interesting to see how my life changes in the next 40 days. Will I miss out on anything important if I don’t use social media everyday? How will I use the time that I would have wasted scrolling down my news feed? Will I have a more positive outlook on life?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash