Thinking Out Loud

August 3, 2017

Mistaken Views of God

When listing what might be called ‘modern classics’ the book Your God Is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike by J. B. Phillips is often mentioned This 124-page pocket book is usually remembered for its first 59 pages which focus on a number of “wrong pictures” we have of God, and while I know that Thinking Out Loud readers would never fall into one of these errant views, I believe that we often partially fall into looking at God in one of these stereotyped forms. Here’s a quick paraphrase of the types Phillips lists:

Do you ever find yourself falling into any of these mistaken views of God?

  • Policeman — an image usually formed out of a ‘guilt-based’ response to God
  • Parental hangover — the Father image of God evokes images of an earthly father which is often more negative than positive
  • Grand Old Man — the head of the seniors group perhaps, or president of the country club; but the danger is the ‘old’ part if it implies irrelevance
  • Meek and Mild — an example, Phillips would argue, of a Sunday School chorus influencing theology which we might want to keep in mind when choosing modern worship pieces for weekend services
  • Absolute Perfection — which leads to us trying to be absolutely perfect even though we don’t often grasp what it means; or thinking God isn’t interested in us when we’re not perfect
  • Heavenly Bosom — a variation perhaps on burying our head in the sand; we bury ourselves in God as a kind of escapism
  • God in a Box — what I think Phillips is using describe people whose image of God has been shaped by subjective experience in local churches or denominations; or conversely, is defined by the beliefs of his or her denomination
  • Managing Director — with an emphasis on God as “controller,” this image evokes another metaphor: puppet string God
  • Second-Hand God — a longer section; it might be summarized as variations on the God-picture we would get from having seen a single movie or read a single book about God and built everything else up from there; somebody else’s vision
  • Perennial Grievance — whatever the God-view the person holds, this one is ever mindful of the time that God let them down them; disappointed them; etc.
  • Pale Galilean — an image Phillips uses to describe people whose faith is lacking vitality and courage; or whose loyalty is fragile
  • Projected Image — which we would describe today as “creating God in our image.”

While the terminology might not be readily used today; the book is fairly thorough about describing the full range of false views about God that can exist. I felt led to share this here, but then needed to come up with some resolve to this. Phillips views the first half of his book as deconstructive and follows it with a constructive second half. What I want to do here instead, is end with a quotation I’ve used before, but which I believe everyone should commit to memory:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones

Further reading: If you find reading older material less engaging, see if you can get your hands on this out-of-print book, Jarrett Stevens’ The Deity Formerly Known as God (Zondervan, 2009) which is an updated version of Phillips’ classic. It still exists as an eBook and audio download; another example of where promised print-on-demand books simply failed to materialize. If not, the original by Phillips isn’t all that difficult.

June 1, 2017

God Would Like You to Get to Know Him

Filed under: books, Christianity, God, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

Book Review: God Has a Name  by John Mark Comer (Zondervan, 2017)

This book arrived with an assortment of titles on Monday afternoon, and by Wednesday afternoon I had turned the last page and could have kept going. I became aware of the author and the book following his recent appearance on The Phil Vischer Podcast, though I had a passing awareness of his previous title Loveology. Then I listened to a series of sermons from Bridgetown Church in Portland on prayer.

John Mark Comer is Pastor of Vision & Teaching at Bridgetown, a church which, while it does have a morning service, focuses more intensely on two evening services at 5:00 and 7:00 on Sundays. Spiritual formation is encouraged through a series of practices, some of which are assigned as a type of homework to be pursued by members of the congregation throughout the week.

God Has a Name is a phrase-by-phrase exposition of Exodus 34:4-7, the verse Comer says is the most quoted verse in the Bible by the Bible.

NIV Ex.34:4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

In addition to the exegesis, the book’s secondary mandate is to provide us with the various instances where direct quotations or allusions to the passage appear in both Testaments. These are introduced where they appropriate to the phrase under consideration.

This book really impacted me personally in many ways.

First, the very title of the book stands in contrast to what we have done in the last several centuries, referring to God as the LORD, in all capital letters.  It’s respectful, but robs us of the relational aspect. We speak of accepting Christ as “our personal savior,” but the relationship isn’t always that personal. God’s name is Yahweh.

Then there’s prayer. Comer teaches that there is a certain elasticity with God. Our prayers can cause him to change his mind in a most literal sense. This view stands in contrast to a doctrinal position where God has ordained certain details absolutely and finally before the foundation of the world. This has impact on how much we see as predestined, though Comer doesn’t overemphasize that particular aspect. (You could say not everything is chiseled in stone; ironic in a passage that talks of something being chiseled in stone.)

There’s also a section dealing with this God, Yahweh, held in contrast to other gods. The point is made that the other gods have potency — both then and now — in ways we might overlook. He’s discussing spiritual warfare here, but avoids that term and goes several pages without actually using words like demons or Satan, but makes a clear case from scripture that these forces are real and powerful. I found in this section something that’s been missing in the teaching I’ve heard lately.

That phrase about punishing the children? Awkward, right? But again, we’re offered a fresh picture of the consequences of sin that are more in line with God’s overarching compassion than a cursory reading of the verse would suggest.

I’m not sure if the author reads some of the Old Testament stories with the degree of literalness some would like. He refers to the story of Jonah as “God’s comic book,” but makes clear that the teaching principles surrounding this and other narratives mentioned can clearly be extracted from the text regardless of how you’re reading it. Of course Jesus seems to affirm the Jonah story. Or is he just referring to it? (This should be the subject of a future book; I’d love to hear how he lands the plane on various passages.)

The book ends with a challenge to us to bear the name of God in our time and place today.

John Mark Comer offers a unique voice and a distinctive writing style. After finishing the book, I found myself re-reading sections of it last night. I intend to keep following his sermon podcasts at Bridgetown and I encourage you to check them out as well as the book. 

Postscript: This falls into that “first book to give a non-churched friend” category. It would answer some questions they may have or respond to things they may have wondered, or simply help them get to know God personally.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to review this.

 

December 16, 2014

A Good Question

This published a month ago at Just a Thought, the blog of author and church planter Rick Apperson in British Columbia, Canada. I thought readers here might appreciate this; click the title below to read at source.

A Good Question

“What does that teach you about God, Daddy?”

This is the question my son has been asking lately. He likes to sing praise and worship songs. He also likes to make up new songs about God. Invariably he will end the song and ask what that song has taught me about God. It is a good question and will often cause me to think, what is the meaning of the song and what does it teach me about God? It is a great exercise.

I also realized, it is something I never used to ask. I love to sing and will belt out a song anywhere and at any time. Yes, I am that guy walking down the street singing to himself. I will sing at work, in the car and yes, in the shower. Until my son started asking his question, I never put much thought into what the song was teaching me about God. Now I can’t stop.

I have also begun applying the question to my reading as well. When I dig into God’s Word, I have asked myself, “What does this passage of Scripture teach me about God?”   According to God’s Word, the Scriptures are a light for my path (Psalm 119:105) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training. (2 Timothy 3:16)

It is all that and so much more. As I read the Old Testament, I see a God who is long-suffering and filled with patience and loving kindness. Moving into the New Testament, we see a God who loved us enough to send His Son to earth, to die on a cross for you and me!

God’s love, mercy and grace are all things that I have been taught through the reading of His Word.

My son has challenged me to go deeper in worship and in reading the Bible. Hopefully you will be asking yourself this same question he asked me. “What does that teach you about God?”

April 4, 2014

Communion Service: Just Me and God

Church Established AD 33

Church Established 33 AD

A variation on this story appeared yesterday at Christianity 201.

So last weekend our friend Brenda — the one who wrote the short poem that’s been in the sidebar of this blog for the past three weeks — took us church hopping.  It was a storefront church in the central business area of a smallish town.

There, we participated in a most unusual communion service. The elements — the bread and juice — were placed on a table in a self-serve style. Nothing unusual so far, right? But to get to them you walked behind a curtain, single file, one at a time. Suddenly, you were in there, all alone, just you and God.

Others were waiting and they joked ahead of time that they’d ‘tie a rope to your feet and pull you out if you stay too long,’ but you had these brief seconds to enter into the ‘Holy of Holies’ and express to God in a whispered prayer whatever you would say to Him, or listen to whatever He would say to you. But you did have those few seconds, and I found it rather awe-inspiring.

It’s a communion or Eucharist that I will never forget.

It brought home the idea that although we worship corporately at weekend services, ultimately, our relationship with God is individual. We’re not saved, or counted among God’s people because of what our church does collectively, but because of our personal response to God.  Consider the difference between these two phrases:

  • ‘We had communion at church this Sunday’   or
  • ‘While in the service today, I communed with God’

That got me thinking about the broader aspects of making our experience(s) with God more individual.

I think that sometimes people are critical of the phrases “accepted Christ” and “personal Savior,” when the problem can be solved with a rearrangement of one or two words. Consider the difference between:

  • ‘I accepted Christ as my personal Savior’   and
  • ‘I personally acknowledged Christ as Savior’

But then, the personal has to go beyond the initial conversion experience. It’s got to stay personal. Consider phrases like:

  • ‘We’re now part of local congregation’
  • ‘I’ve joined a weekly small group Bible study’

Each implies the idea of assimilating into the larger body, and that’s right and good, but total assimilation would mean the loss of personal identity. (We once visited a church that had someone listed among the staff as ‘Minister of Assimilation’ or maybe it was ‘Pastor of Assimilation. Seriously.)

Your relationship to Christ cannot be expressed in terms of a relationship to a Church or study group; neither can it be defined in terms of your place in a biological family.

Rather than concentrating on the body you are part of, these more personal statements on for size; say them out loud if necessary; and see if they fit you:

  • ‘I am growing in my understanding of the ways of God’
  • ‘I am more fully aware of God’s presence in my life’
  • ‘I am increasingly making decisions subject to God’s desires’
  • ‘My appreciation for what Jesus did is a daily factor in my life’
  • ‘I am so thankful for God’s grace’

These I/My statements — and others like them you can add in the comments — should be at the core of our spiritual identity, not statements like:

  • ‘I’m really enjoying the church I’m attending’ or
  • ‘My pastor is absolutely amazing’   or
  • ‘Our lives changed when we joined this church’

Maybe your pastor is amazing, but he will have to give his own account to God, and you will have to give yours. Maybe all your life you’ve wanted to be part of something larger, but again, your spiritual life can’t be defined in terms of membership in a group.

Or maybe you need your own personal ‘Holy of Holies’ experience to remind you that it’s God that’s amazing.

II Cor. 5:10

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. (NLT)

Romans 14:12

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (NIV)

November 12, 2013

Dear God: I’d Like to Order a Medium Pizza

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:01 am

This appeared Sunday at Christianity 201…

Fast Food Prayer RequestsSo I pick up the phone and I call the number of the Chinese Food restaurant around the block, and I tell them I’d like to order:

  • dinner for four
  • two extra egg rolls
  • an order of chicken fried rice

I give my name and tell them I’ll come by to pick it up in 30 minutes. And then I hang up.

I have no idea who took my order. I have no idea if they’re busy or if I’m the first customer of the day. I don’t really know if the person who I will be served by is even the same person I just talked to. And honestly, in a busy world, I usually don’t care.

Are our prayers to God any different? People talk about having a “laundry list” of prayer requests, but I prefer to think in terms of ordering Chinese food or a pizza.

Phil 4:19 (NLT) And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

God wants us to bring our needs to Him. He loves it when we ask. He wants us to keep the conversation going. He wants us to be in relationship with Him. He promises to meet us in the area of provision.

But in the model prayer Jesus gave The Twelve, this type of request was only a small part of a bigger prayer picture. The prayer consists of three requests toward God Himself:

  • that His name be honored and reverenced
  • that His will be accomplished
  • the bringing about of His kingdom to earth

And then toward ourselves:

  • for our basic provisions
  • for us to live in, practice, and be agents of grace and mercy
  • for us to be protected from evil, and the temptation to evil

Now, you could say that if each of these is equal that mean each should form 1/6th of our prayer time, or that each one constitutes 17%. (I don’t think we need to be that literal.) Others might argue that in the Hebrew mindset, where there is a list, things are presented in an order of importance. (Some might say the first thing is doubly important.) In a proportionate percentage guide, that might look like this:

  • 28%
  • 24%
  • 18%
  • 14%
  • 10%
  • 6%

I don’t for a minute believe it works that way. The point is, that we don’t spend 70% on concerns that would fit the patter of prayer toward God, in fact we don’t even spend 51% (using the 17% figure above) or 50%. We tend to spend all our prayer time on ourselves. That a lot more than the 17% that would put things in proportion.

And we often want our order ready for pickup in 30 minutes.

But interestingly enough, God promises us that if we put him first we might need to spend so much time concerned with health and material provision requests. You find that in a familiar verse in Matthew 6, provided you incorporate the context of a previous verse:

Matt 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [i.e. 31..What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’] will be given to you as well.

Do people who honor God in their prayer life get everything they feel they need? I have two answers for that. First of all, if they spend less time preoccupied with provision for needs, it is less of a priority, less of an obsession for them. This in itself will give them greater contentment with what they have. Second, I’ve always believed that ‘the desires of the righteous are righteous desires.” So in a way, the answer is ‘yes.’

Now for the hard part: Lately we’ve had a number of people voice prayer requests that are not prayers for ourselves. We have friends who need a healing touch. We have friends who need jobs. We have friends whose marriage is in trouble. We’ve sensed — and commented to others — that our prayer list has gotten very long lately.

So surely, this does not apply to altruistic prayers like we’ve been praying, right?

Wrong!

I think the principle still applies. I need to be challenged to spend more time working on the part of the model prayer that concerns thoughts toward God. I need to begin my prayer in worship and reverence. I need to pray for the extension and raising of God’s Kingdom. I need to spend more time praying for God’s will to be done on the earth.

A ‘laundry list’ is a ‘laundry list’ no matter how you frame it. God wants my prayer life to be so much more, even when I feel that bringing needs on behalf of others.

If it looks like a take-out order, and it sounds like a take-out order, it’s probably a take-out order. God wants me to spend time with him beyond voicing specific need-based prayer concerns.

God, help me to spend more time letting you know that I love you, and that I am in awe of your greatness and majesty and dominion. Help me to be more concerned that Your Will be carried out on the earth. Make my desire that You build your kingdom.

September 5, 2013

Best of Thinking Out Loud — Microblog Edition — September 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:10 am

Another brilliant post from the UK website ASBO Jesus.


The problem in the church isn’t to be found studying the churches that are seeker sensitive; the problem is dealing with the churches that are seeker hostile.~ source unknown

How God Made the Clouds

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

~ Phil 4:8 & 9 – The Message

January 13, 2013

Knowing All About God vs. Meeting God: Louis Giglio

I mentioned to several people this week that my major disappointment in the way things turned out with Louis Giglio not being part of the U.S. presidential inauguration later this month is that it would have made a whole lot more people aware of this man and his ministry.

A few weeks ago here I commented on how the Liberty Convocation series on YouTube is a treasure trove of great Christian speakers, and sure enough they had one for Louis. I know some people who read here regularly can’t watch the videos I post here, and I’m very sorry about that, but this is the finest message I’ve heard in a long while; it really resonated with me, and I felt it should be shared. (The 2-minute intro describes a conference that has already taken place; you can fast forward to 2:36)

This is well-worth the 41-minute investment it takes to watch.

August 26, 2011

Your God is too Stereotyped

This morning while looking for something else, a copy of Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips fell into my hands.  This 124-page pocket book is usually remembered for its first 59 pages which focus on a number of “wrong pictures” we have of God, and while I know that Thinking Out Loud readers would never fall into one of these errant views, I believe that we often partially fall into looking at God in one of these stereotyped forms.  Here’s a quick paraphrase of the types Phillips lists:

  • Policeman — an image usually formed out of a ‘guilt-based’ response to God
  • Parental hangover — the Father image of God evokes images of an earthly father which is more negative than positive
  • Grand Old Man — the head of the seniors group perhaps, or president of the service club; but the danger is the ‘old’ part if it implies irrelevance
  • Meek and Mild — an example, Phillips would argue, of a Sunday School chorus influencing theology which we might want to keep in mind when choosing modern worship pieces for weekend services
  • Absolute Perfection — which leads to us trying to be absolutely perfect even though we don’t often grasp what it means; or thinking God isn’t interested in us when we’re not perfect
  • Heavenly Bosom — a variation perhaps on burying our head in the sand; we bury ourselves in God as a kind of escapism
  • God in a Box — what I think Phillips is using describe people whose image of God has been shaped by subjective experience in local churches or denominations; or conversely, is defined by the beliefs of his or her denomination
  • Managing Director — with an emphasis on God as “controller,” this image evokes another metaphor: puppet string God
  • Second-Hand God — a longer section; it might be summarized as variations on the God-picture we would get from having seen a single movie or read a single book about God and built everything else up from there
  • Perennial Grievance — whatever the God-view the person holds, this one is ever mindful of the time that God let them down them; disappointed them; etc.
  • Pale Galilean — an image Phillips uses to describe people whose faith is lacking vitality and courage; or whose loyalty is fragile
  • Projected Image — which we would describe today as “creating God in our image.” 

Do you ever find yourself falling into any of these mistaken views of God?

While the terminology might not be readily used today; the book is fairly thorough about describing the full range of false views about God that can exist.  I felt led to share this here, but then needed to come up with some resolve to this.  Phillips views the first half of his book as deconstructive and follows it with a constructive second half.  What I want to do here instead, is end with a quotation I’ve used before, but which I believe everyone should commit to memory:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones

Further reading:  If you can get your hands on this out-of-print book, look for Jarrett Stevens’ The Deity Formerly Known as God (Zondervan) which is an updated version of Phillips’ classic.  If you can’t find it, get the original, which after all these years is still in print!

What is the New Jerusalem?

We’ve had an interesting run of comments at Christianity 201 on the subject of the New Jerusalem.  Is the Biblical language literal in its references to a city or location; or is the language more figurative, referring to believers as the people who make up the New Jerusalem?  Visit the discussion by clicking this link.

May 1, 2011

Knowledge about God is not Intimacy with God

At the end of the month, Zondervan will release Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman, host of the H2O video series and teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville.  I’ll be reviewing the book closer to the release date, but in the meanwhile, here’s an excerpt:

Fans have a tendency to confuse their knowledge for intimacy.  They don’t recognize the difference between knowing about Jesus and following Jesus.  In Church we’ve got this confused.  We have established systems of learning that result in knowledge, but not necessarily intimacy.

Think about it:  We love having Bible studies, many of which include some kind of workbook.  We go through a Bible curriculum that often has homework.  Sermons are often accompanied by an outline where members can take notes and fill in the blanks.  Many preachers refer to their sermons as a lesson or a lecture. If you grew up in the church then you probably went to Sunday school where you had a teacher.  In the summer you may have gone to Vacation Bible school

Now don’t get me wrong, studying and learinng from God’s word is invaluable.  Jesus referenced, read and quoted all kinds of passages from the Old Testament, ample proof that he had studied God’s Word with great care and diligence.  The problem isn’t knowledge.  The problem is that you can have knowledge without having intimacy.  In fact, knowledge can be a false indicator of intimacy.  clearly where there is intimacy there should be growing knowledge, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy.  …Knowledge is part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is intimacy.

Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan.

April 17, 2011

On Biblical Illiteracy and Forgetting God

A few years back, Wood (Woodrow) Kroll wrote a book which bears the same name as the organization he heads, Back to the Bible (Multnomah Publishing).  The following is taken from pages 67-68:

Two Old Testament prophets from Israel would feel very much at home at the dawn of the twenty-first century.  I think they have much to say to us as the did to those who heard them in person…

Amos was a lowly shepherd from Tekoa (Amos 1:1) a village not far from Bethlehem.  He made no special claims for himself, in fact, when his authority to speak for God was challenged because he was not what people expected of a prophet, Amos said, “I was no prophet nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheepbreeder and a tender of sycamore fruit”(7:14).  Amos was a pretty humble guy, but when God appeared to him and said, “Go prophesy to My people Israel” (7:15) he could do nothing else.

Amos prophesied during the days of King Uzziah, when Israel’s economy was flourishing.  He looked at a society in which the people of God had become complacent and noticed that the Jews had no intimacy with the heavenly Father and paid no attention to those charged with teaching them the Word.  When he spoke these words to his countrymen, Amos actually predicted our day: “‘Behold the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord'” (8:11).

That famine has arrived.  In our physical and financial prosperity, the church has become spiritual anemic and biblically illiterate.

The prophet Hosea echoed the cry of Amos.  He ministered to Israel during the chaotic period just before the fall of the nation in 722 B.C.  In that respect he was ominously familiar with what happens to a nation who forgets God and His Word.  Unlike Amos, Hosea was a member of the upper class. He was one of the most unusual prophets of the Old Testament.

Strangely, God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2-9).  His wife, Gomer, eventually returned to her life of sin, but Hosea bought her back from the slave market and restored her as his wife (3:1-5).  Hosea’s unhappy family life served as an illustration of Israel’s sin.  The people of God had fallen out of love with God, grown cold toward Him and no longer heeded His Word.  They rejected the one true God and served pagan Gods.

In that context, Hosea prophesied with words that have a chilling ring for the church of the twenty-first century.  He spoke for God when he said, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me, because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (4:6). The Israelites forgot God’s law.  They failed to read his word and showed no respect for it.  Therefore God promised that he would forget His people as they had forgotten His Word.  That simply meant that He would withhold His blessing and all the good things that would have been theirs had they spent more time loving God by reading His Word. 

~Wood Kroll

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