A God we cannot Exaggerate

Exaggeration is a large part of society today. We see it in advertising: “This is the best movie you will see all year.” Sports fans are inundated with proclamations that a certain player is “the best of all time.” Even the champions of our pro sports leagues are labeled “World Champions,” even though the Super Bowl winners rarely play against the New Zealand or Chilean football teams. Politicians are promoted as almost Messianic figures, rather than being merely egomaniacs with little substance.

It is easy for words to become almost meaningless when there is such an escalation of superlatives. In his amazing book, “Crazy Love,” Francis Chan addresses this issue in relation to praising and describing God.

To say that God is holy is to say that He is set apart, distinct from us. And because of His set apart-ness, there is no way we can ever fathom all of who He is. To the Jews, saying something three times demonstrated perfection, so to call God “Holy, Holy, Holy” is to say that He is perfectly set apart, with nothing and no one to compare Him to. That is what it means to be “holy.”

Many Spirit-filled authors have exhausted the thesaurus in order to describe God with the glory He deserves. His perfect holiness, by definition, assures us that our words can’t contain Him. Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?

There is nothing we can do to overstate God’s greatness. Words do not even come close.

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That They will be One

There is a lot of talk about unity today. Inclusion and tolerance are promoted, yet in spite of all of this talk, our differences continue to be what we focus most on. Sadly, this is true in Christian churches too. As we see in Acts chapter 6, it is not a new church phenomenon.

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. Acts 6:1

What I find amazing about this chapter is that we are told that the number of believers greatly increased at this time in Jerusalem. But do we see the church celebrating the victories and praising God for the incredible increase in the number of believers.? No, we are told that the Greeks complained about the Hebrew speaking people. If the church in Acts, in the face of phenomenal success, found people who spoke different languages complaining against each other, what hope does the church have today? The only hope we have in anything, Jesus.

Jesus prayed to God the Father for Believers to be united.

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. John 17:21-23

In this passage, Jesus is not talking about worldly unity, where everything is accepted as truth, thus eliminating “truth.” If all is true then nothing is true. Jesus was speaking of the “perfect unity,” that can only come through faith in Jesus Christ. Thabiti Anyabwile said that “Christ’s blood creates a different, closer lineage. “(T4G conference 2008) What unites us is so much stronger than petty differences in how we look or what language we speak.

Dost thou knowest what a Hymn is?

 Some things are difficult or impossible to label. Even when nearly everyone uses the labels, they can still be difficult to explain. Take for example these widely used terms, “grunge” and “emo.” Just what comprises the rules for being either grunge or emo, is hard to explain, because the definition varies from person to person. I looked to Wikipedia for help.

Grunge- a style of music and fashion popularized in the early 1990’s in the Pacific Northwest. Grunge fashion (or anti-fashion as some called it) was characterized by plaid fannel shirts, stonewashed blue jeans.

Let’s see Pacific Northwest, flannel shirts, blue jeans, and scraggly beards.  I thought this style was called Lumberjack!

Emo- meaning being comfortable with oneself. Its a more direct way of altering the feelings one has without words, just emotion.

……………..crickets chirping…….more crickets……….I think I will leave this one alone. The point is that labeling music, fashion, or anything that depends on interpretation, is tricky business.

In church circles, over the past decade or two, the term “blended worship” has risen to almost unimaginable popularity. Almost everyone in the Christian church has heard or used this term. To me, “blended worship” is as useful a phrase, as emo or grunge. Even though MANY people use it, I am not sure what it means. What is it a blend of? When I have challenged people to explain what the term meant, the typical answer is something like,,”you know, hymns and praise songs.” Excellent!! A starting point. Ok, now all that is needed is a definition of each of these song types. After that is done, we can look into the nuts and bolts of this  “blended worship” thing.

St Augustine defined a Hymn very simply, cantus est cum laude Dei. Which means, loosely translated, “a song that praises God.” If I weave my rudimentary understanding of the term “blended worship,” with St Augustine’s definition of Hymn, I can easily describe what “blended worship” is. Apparently, “blended worship” is a mixture of praise songs and praise songs. I hope this has been helpful to you.

In this case, as with the Lumberjack versus grunge debate, the definitions have only made things more confusing. Since so many people have uttered the phrase, “blended worship,” a further look into what people mean, or think they mean, by the phrase seems like an important endeavor. What are the real or imagined distinctions between praise songs(Hymns) and praise songs? What is the conversation really about? Stay tuned.

What would they call us?

If you are a sports fan, you may have noticed a few of the more over the top fans at a sporting event. Fans who are so different from a typical person you might encounter on the street, that even without saying a word, you know who they are rooting for. Duke University has fans who camp for days in advance to get tickets to a game. Keep in mind that the college basketball season is played in the winter time. Even in Durham, NC camping in January is a little out of the question for most rational people. Many of these fans will go even further by painting their whole bodies blue and white, just to show their allegiance.  These people have been called “The Cameron Crazies,” after the venue that hosts the Duke basketball games.

If someone looked at your everyday life what would they call you? Would your life be different enough for others to know where your allegiences were? Would they call you pretty much, “just any old average person?
As Christians, we are called to be salt and light to a world in dire need of salvation.

Isn’t it interesting that in Acts 1, at the end of verse 26, it says, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” What I find interesting is the simple thought that the Christian’s didn’t name themselves.  But rather, they were called(or named) “Christians” by those watching their lives. I wonder if it would be the same today. Could someone look at your life or look at my life and name me a Christian?  A humbling question for sure. (Chris Tomlin, Forward to the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan.)

Those who were the first to be called Christians were not merely different or quirky. But like the Cameron Crazies, the differences pointed to a source. Their lives looked like people who followed Christ, hence the name “Christian.” What would the world call you or me? Humbling indeed.

Sign of the Times

 It is almost impossible to drive very far without seeing a sign or billboard, advertising a yard sale, real estate open-house, or community event. Signs are a part of life in our culture. There is an old church that I must pass by every time I leave my neighborhood. This morning they had a large and colorful banner advertising Vacation Bible School. This church posts many such signs throughout the year. When I pondered this fact today It occured to me that I never see very many people at this church. Ever. Not on Sunday morning. Not for the many special events throughout the year.

Even today signs, on their own, usually are not enough to compel people to go out of their way to go to some place or event. The main reason we try a new restaurant or go see a new movie is the recommendation of a friend or loved one. I think this is especially true with introducing people to Christ. Signs, bumper stickers, and web-pages are all useful, but what really matters to people is hearing from people they respect and care about. 

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.  (John 1:40-42)

Notice that this scripture passage does not tell us that the first thing Andrew did was make a clever sign or have some bold message printed on a t-shirt. He told someone very important to him the life changing truth that he found in Jesus. I believe that this is still the best way to reach people with the gospel. We should not rely on church marketing, or some television ministry to reach the people we care about. We must make the difference by tirelessly inviting, encouraging, and serving people in a way that shows God’s love for them through our lives.

Real Freedom in Jesus

I read a blog that was incredibly powerful and beautiful to me. I wanted to share it with you. It is a little long, but well worth the time investment. Happy 4th of July. Take some time to thank God for our freedom, So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).

Real Freedom in Jesus

Posted: 04 Jul 2008 03:31 AM CDT

The 4th of July is a different sort of ‘Independence Day’ for me. On July 4, 1995 my multiply-disabled son entered the world and my life came crashing down around me—and would soon include a deep and intense bitterness toward God.

I never denied that God existed or is powerful; I concluded he was mean and capricious. But it also began God’s work of creating an affection for him and for the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. I am often astonished, when thinking back, that I am now able to praise God for his goodness in giving my son his autism and blindness.

None of this happened easily or by accident. I can point to five specific things that God brought to bear on my life:

1. Faithful pastoral leadership.

I can still remember Pastor Tom Steller, now leading The Bethlehem Institute, walking up my front steps with a note from Pastor John. And I remember sitting with and emailing Pastor David Michael.

These men, with great courage and biblical conviction, entered into dangerous territory. My attorney, a man trained in conflict, said that my intensity and bitterness frightened him. But my pastors never wavered from bringing a message of hope and absolute certainty in the sovereignty and goodness of God, even when I pushed them away.

2. Faithful people of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Shortly after my son was born we dropped everything at church—our small group, volunteering, Sunday school class and attendance. One couple refused to let us go and loved us with a gracious, firm, consistent tenderness that made me want to understand how they could love someone like me, my wife or my son so completely.

3. A faithful father.

My own father was the first person in the world to understand and communicate my son’s value and inherent worth as a creation of a good and loving God to me. Through 13 years, he has stood with me through much pain and sorrow—and joy.

4. A faithful wife.

My wife and I have not walked the same path; hers has been much harder than mine for many reasons. But by the grace of God we are together and I thank God every day for this woman whose spine is made of steel and who loves me and our four children.

5. The sovereignty of God as revealed in his word.

I remember a particularly heartbroken, bitter email I sent to Pastor John. He had every right to discipline me, but instead wrapped the words of the bible around my heart. God used those words from the bible, among many others, to create longings I didn’t have, to start a dead heart beating, and to reveal, when I was incapable of seeing, the beauty, sufficiency, and majesty of Jesus Christ and his cross.

God has done it all, and it was his word that proved decisive.

Living with a boy, now a teenager no less, who will always be dependent on someone for all his needs is hard. I have a daily, often hourly, fight for joy in my salvation. Yet, through my oldest son’s daily care, through my youngest son’s premature birth, and now through my wife’s ongoing battle with metastatic cancer, God is not just sustaining me, but revealing more of his goodness because he is sovereign over all these things, for his glory and my good.

So, on this Independence Day I am grateful to Jesus for my real freedom in him and for giving me my boy to help me see it: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).

Happy birthday, Paul.

(Author: John Knight)

Where are the other nine or 19,999?

A few nights ago the NBA Championship was decided. The Boston fans, understandably, were jubilant in there celebration. I wonder what would have happened if only one fan in the entire crowd would have celebrated wildly at the end of the game, complete with green and white face paint, fist pumps, and screaming until hoarseness took over. Imagine every other fan in the building quietly gathering up the family and very quietly and orderly leaving the building. That would be a surreal site, especially considering that the home team won the championship. Could all of these fans have witnessed the same thing and reacted so differently from the one fanatic fan? Consider the following account from the gospel of Luke.

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

To me this is as surreal as the hypothetical Boston Celtic, one-fan celebration. Jesus asked “Was no one found to return and give praise to God?” Have you ever been in a worship service and seen some worshiping so intently and sincerely while nearby others seemed to take part in an almost routine way? This might naturally cause you to wonder if they all witnessed the same miraculous change in there life? Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?” The Leper who returned to praise and give thanks, did what you would expect from someone healed of such a horrible disease, one that was physically, socially, and emotionally debilitating. The actions of the other nine lepers is baffling. Our praise for God should be like the Samaritan leper.

Bringing healing and victory to us cost Jesus His very life, don’t be among the nine. Rise up and praise Him, He deserves our love.