Archive

Archive for December, 2008

The Intrinsic Value of God

December 31st, 2008

January 1, 2009

 

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

To whom, then will you compare God?

Isaiah 40:15-18a

 

As we step into a new year today we need to be grounded in our lives with the knowledge of eternal God, to be able to understand and consider his true greatness and value. To worship means to consider the worth of some thing, and to worship God means to contemplate him. But worship of God refreshes our spirits, feels right to our souls, lifts our burdens, renews our hope for the future, and paves the way forward in life. The recognition of God’s greatness and his love for us creates a center to our lives, a central focus that allows us to place everything else around. “Without a center there can be no circumference,” and our lives only make sense as we find God to be that center.

 

One of the challenges in worshipping God, as Isaiah pointed out, is that there is nothing to which we can adequately compare him. He has already made the points that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but before he gets to his application he wants us to also consider the value of God. His greatness surpasses the heavens, his wisdom is from everlasting, and his intrinsic worth is likewise beyond anything or anyone else.

 

What is the worth of God? Not only in terms of his meaning to us personally, but in the entire scheme of things? What price tag could you place upon the one who created all and by whose word they are sustained? Paul wrote of Christ in these terms:

 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17

 

It is beyond human ability to truly place a specific price on God. He created the universe and holds everything together.

 

But what is he worth to me? To you? The prophet is causing us to think and consider, to become reasonable people. He is presenting his argument for the greatness of God based on a series of comparisons. He first dealt with power, then wisdom, now he comes to the earth’s people and its raw resources.

 

“Nations” refers not to lands but to inhabitants, to people. Wherever our paths will take us in this world we will find human societies and cultures. We have each come from at least one culture ourselves; some have been raised in societal eddies, where two or more cultures have collided with one another and created their own whirlpools and new currents. But human cultures and societies that are based upon our interests, survival, and perspectives alone are not a fitting match for the kingdom of God. All of these things morph and change with the times, but God is eternal.

 

God loves the world and sent Christ to redeem the world; that is not the issue here. What Isaiah was comparing unfavorably to the intrinsic value of God was the real value of any and every unredeemed human culture. We as human beings were created in the image of God, but sin has marred that image. Every human culture has something to recommend it, but the best of human cultures is still far short of the glory of God, still far less than what God created us to be, and still far less than what we shall be one day in the New Jerusalem.

 

In our fallenness we see man acting out of hatred against his fellowhuman, wars, murders, injuries, jealousies, hatreds, and the list goes on. We may pat ourselves on the backs for a little social progress here and there (and perhaps we should, for real and true progress is a rare enough commodity) but the only way the world will truly be made right is through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Until Christ comes in his power and righteousness to reign there will be no lasting peace on earth.

 

Isaiah also addressed the holiness of God. Were Lebanon, known in those days for its forests and livestock, to use all of its trees for the altar fire and all of its animals for the sacrifice, even that would not be worthy of the glory of God.

 

So what can we then bring to God, for worship demands our response? We can bring ourselves humbly and through the mercies of Christ Jesus appeal to God for his offer of forgiveness and restoration.

 

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:16-17

 

This is all that God requires, all that he wants from us: our repentance from sin and our faith in Christ.

 

Prayer:

 

Lord, you are truly great. Whatever greatness we seek to bestow on our fellow humans does not compare to you. We bow before your power and knowledge. We kneel in worship before your true righteousness and love. As we acknowledge you as Lord today. May you be the center of our thoughts and our lives. May we walk in your paths. Amen.

 

 

Evening Devotionals

God All-knowing

December 31st, 2008

December 31, 2008

 

Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or gave Him His counsel? Who did He consult with?  Who gave Him understanding and taught Him the paths of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding? …

Who will you compare God with?

Isaiah 40:13-14,18, HCSB

 

As believers in Christ we hold to the promise of Scripture that God leads us in this life. We have heard his Spirit’s voice bear witness to our souls (Romans 8:14-17). We have read the words of David and believe they apply as well to our lives, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). We have his word to guide us that we might not sin against God (Psalm 119:11). We have the fellowship of faith through whom also God speaks, as we speak his truth in love to one another, giving guidance and application to his eternal truth (Ephesians 4:14-16).

 

Yet we also have the experiences of hardship, difficulty and even confusion, and we may doubt him and ask God why he has led us into something so unpleasant. We may wonder in those moments whether we heard his voice at all or, in our despair, we may question if he truly is all wise and all knowing. As a pastor I have often stood by the side of fellow believers who have endured terrible losses: losing a child, having an incurable disease, experiencing a devastating financial loss, enduring betrayals by those they relied on. Often God has miraculously lifted the burden, but not always, and in their pain they, as each of us may, have asked if God really knows what he is doing.

 

It seems that every one of us will at least once in our lifetimes on earth experience such a moment, at least one. We will each endure a great loss or we will experience confusion in our direction and purpose. Sometimes we may be able to attribute these losses to personal sin, or a lapse in our judgment, or a neglect in our responsibilities that militates against us and mitigates for God allowing us to experience the results of our poor behavior. Sometimes we may identify someone intentionally making our lives miserable, and the Scripture warns us as followers of a Lord who the world crucified we can expect such treatment, “seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:17, HCSB). But it will also happen that we may be able to make no connection between our loss and our actions, rather we must simply chalk up the experience to living in an imperfect and fallen world.

 

Is there hope for us? Yes. Isaiah was communicating to a people who had so long been under the judgment of God for the faithlessness of their fathers that they had forgotten the care and concern of God. In the previous verses he wrote of God’s omnipotence, but in verses 13 and 14 he wrote of God’s omniscience. “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord?” he asked rhetorically, and here we fall silent. I cannot offer God advice for running the universe. The Creator knows what is right and just because these very matters or righteousness and justice extend from his heart. God did not hear about these matters in school, no one instructed him, rather they comprise his very nature.

 

Several Hebrew words are interesting in this passage. The word for justice, for example, is moshepat, and has more of the concept of a concrete legal decision than justice as a philosophical construct. It goes right to the point of human experience and really asks the question, “Which of us taught God how to run the world?” Our struggles with God’s sense of justice are rarely philosophical but experiential and here is an answer of the practical wisdom of God. Isaiah insists that God is engaged in this world and in our lives. When we feel as though our struggles have been forgotten by the Lord or that our lives in this world are neglected projects of God, we are assured this is not the case.

 

Then the word for the Spirit of God (vs. 13, “mind” in the NIV), is ruah in Hebrew, a word filled with meaning. Like the Greek pneuma, in the New Testament, ruah means wind and breath as well as Spirit. Ruah takes in the greatness of God, his omnipotence, his omniscience, and his omnipresence. God is a person, not an idea of a thing, but he is not limited like you or me, not in knowledge, nor in power, nor in space. The thought that I could instruct God’s Spirit is ludicrous. What classroom would he fit inside of? What textbook would I use? How could I hold him there against his will?  What do I really have that I could teach God about?

 

In each of our lives and in our struggles God is bringing his justice to bear. We are first to learn quietness before him, to not be overwhelmed by the bitterness of the unpleasant moment, but to sit in faith before him and trust his heart. There will be some struggles in life he saves us from, some he gives us the strength to endure, some which humble us that we might be more dependent on him, and some that will never make sense this side of heaven, but need not defeat our faith. We can rest assured that no sin goes unpunished forever and that no expression of faith in God is unrewarded. We can sit in faith and wait upon the Lord.

 

Lord, for all we know we thank you. For the truth that you have entrusted to us we are grateful. For the information you have kept from us we believe you have done this in love, and ask for the strength and courage, even the faith, to leave matters too great for us to comprehend in your hands. You know all things and we ask for wisdom and insight in our hearts and our paths. Give us the peace we need that transcends earthly situations and guard our hearts and minds from worry. Amen.

 

 

The Last Day of the Year:

 

At years’ end take time to consider the ways God’s power and wisdom has made an impact upon your life these past twelve months. How has he acted to protect you, to provide for you, to lead you, to instruct you, and to encourage you?  What blessings has he brought into your life? What burdens has he entrusted to your soul? How have these made you a different person? Stop to thank God for his faithfulness displayed to you this past year in so many ways.

 

 

 

Notes on the Revelation of God:

 

The Apostle Paul wrote that we know in part (1 Corinthians 13:9) and he described the experience of every true student of science and the revelation of God.  We want to know the truth and the whole truth, but God has allotted to us only a taste of complete knowledge, and try as we may, study as we might, we will never know in full until we have been transferred from earth to heaven, then we will know fully, as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12b).

 

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul was not suggesting, that God has given us faulty information, no more than a scientific experiment properly done would give faulty information, rather that we only know part of the greater picture. Where there are errors in the knowledge of our faith, they are akin to scientific errors, the problem is that we have sought to make too much out of our little knowledge and have combined truth with falsehood, facts with imaginations. We have then arrived at something that may have begun with a grain of truth but by the time our cultural biases, personal prejudices, and scholarly guesswork have finished with it, we have morphed it significantly, sometimes beyond recognition of the simple truth it began with.  Or we may have kept the truth intact, but became more fascinated with our own imaginings or philosophical constructs.

 

We may wonder if God intends to lead us or to teach us to become wise so we can make our own decisions. Human personalities seem to be drawn toward one or the other, either toward the mystical experience in life of following the leadership of God for our life, even if I never understand what he is doing, or toward growing in maturity, wisdom, knowledge, commitment, and perspective to the point that I can know and understand the right thing to do. Either way we are inclined to lean, we will need the other one to prop us up.

 

If we are inclined to always put out the fleece before major decisions then this might reveal a perspective on life that is not fully Christian. It is the fatalistic idea that dominates many non-Christian religions, and our true motivation is generally not the glory of God but our own blessedness. Gideon’s experience was the exception rather than the rule of the Scripture and Proverbs 3:5-6 cannot be used to justify this “thoughtless” approach to following Christ, since it is taken from the book in the Bible whose sole purpose is to instruct us in the wisdom of God.  God’s purpose really is to change us inwardly where we are wise and knowledgeable, and our decisions are based on divinely transformed hearts and minds more than whimsical luck.

 

If we are inclined to only use our minds in major decisions, we may also run into a bit of a problem. God is transforming our hearts and minds but even in the great ones of the Bible, God directed their paths by circumstances precisely because they were at times unable to understand God’s perspective. It is clear that some of God’s reasoning will always be beyond me, and though I may make headway in spiritual maturity the time will come when God needs to direct me in a way I would never have chosen left to my own devices, no matter how deep my faith nor mature my character.

 

 

 

Evening Devotionals