One for the glory of God

There is a myriad of lessons and sermons about Christians unity. There are explanations of what unity is and isn’t and what the boundaries are and aren’t. And I think in most cases the goal of seeking the unity of believers is misplaced and wrong.

God wants us to be unified, to speak the same things, to be one in purpose, but not for us! Not for your church or our “churches”. God wants us to know unity, true unity for His own purposes.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
(Romans 15:5-7)

The unfolding of God’s revelation, the manifestation of his grace and mercy toward us is not about us, it is about Him. The pages of our Bibles are packed with passages about the glory of God and yet we hear precious little about it.

Before there was time, before there was a world, God planned that Christ would come here and be like us in kind but unlike us in holiness and purity. He planned that Jesus would take the sins of mankind and die for us, and then to rise from death and give eternal life to those who would come to him in faith. But it still was not and is not about us! We are not the story of the Bible, God is the story!

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory

These passages from Ephesians 1 are examples of God’s emphasis on His own praise, His own glory. We are not the end of God’s purpose but rather a means to the end, His greatness and glory!

May our worship, our giving, our living, be to glorify our Father in heaven. May our missions, our budgets, our buildings, move us to glorify God for His greatness. May our marriages, our children, our jobs, our recreation, move us toward giving glory to our God who alone is worthy.

May this be the banner we march under.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)

May we see our purpose as God does.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

“Father, help me to not be so near sighted that I focus on me and us and ours but on you and yours. Help me to make myself small that you can be large. Teach me over and over again to not love the praise of men but your glory alone. For your beautiful name. Amen.”

Thanksgiving like no other…

When King David’s son Solomon decided to build the temple of the Lord and a palace for himself, he made great preparations. The Old Testament book of 2nd Chronicles records the following.

And Solomon assigned 70,000 men to bear burdens and 80,000 to quarry in the hill country, and 3,600 to oversee them. (2 Chronicles 2:2)

A project that requires a 153,600 man workforce is quite an undertaking. In 2 Chronicles chapter 3 you can read about some of the details and size of the building. It would make the TBN headquarters look like a drug flop house. It was not only huge but was adorned with jewels and had gold everywhere. No expense was spared and the furnishings were as magnificent as the building.

Finally, when everything was completed according to specific plans, the Levitical priests brought in the ark of the covenant in which lay the tables of the law. Then the celebration began!

Three praise leaders assembled a choir and the musicians which included cymbals, harps, and lyres. To round it off there were 120 preachers playing trumpets! They started to play and sing in unison and the glory of the God filled the place like a cloud so that the priests were unable to stand to minister.

This is a mega church doing it right! Praise and thanksgiving with singing, and musical instruments, and God give his approval by filling the house with his glory! Is there a lesson for us here? Read the account for yourself, part of it is here.

12 and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; 13 (and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD,
“For he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever,”

the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, 14 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:12-14)

One of the marks of the people of God way back in David’s day, and in the days of his son Solomon, was praise and thanksgiving. It was done loudly, by many people, using voices and musical instruments of all sorts. Today I read several passages written by the great apostle Paul who was routinely giving thanks. He give thanks for the faith of those who had put their trust in Jesus, for their holy lives, for their generosity, etc. And he taught others to be always giving thanks as well. An unthankful Christian in the Bible is unthinkable.

So, as we gather with family and friends this Thursday, have a blast! Enjoy the food God has provided, praise God for his grace and goodness, laugh, sing, play music, and be  thankful. It’s a plan God approves.

The “Unknown God” of 21st Century Evangelicals

I readily confess to a play on words borrowed from the Apostle Paul in Acts 17 verse 23. While Paul was in Athens he passed the Athenian temple dedicated to the “Unknown God”. When he made his famous address to the listeners at the Areopagus he mentioned seeing an alter with the inscription “To the unknown God”. He went on to tell them about the God they did not know. The Areopagus was a gathering place for almost continuous speeches on all sorts of topics. The Athenians, and likely many visitors to the great city of Athens, had an unquenchable thirst for anything new. (Things haven’t changed much have they?)

The God Evangelicals claim allegiance to in our day is just as unknown, in the sense he is hardly recognizable when compared to the God of the Bible. Many of us are quick to point out the obvious excesses and extremes of those who are blatantly peddling their wares on TV and radio in the name of God so they can sit in gold plated chairs, drive Rolls Royce’s and Bentley’s, and enjoy lavish lifestyles at the expense of the ignorant. Meanwhile the God we profess to know, while slightly more moral than the one of the “you write it and I’ll cash it for Jesus” crowd, is a dependent weakling compared to the God of Holy Scriptures.

The God of the vast majority of self proclaimed “Christians” is one who thinks humans are the center of the universe and his chief purpose of being God is to make them happy and prosperous. You know, the God Joel Osteen supposedly speaks for every Sunday on TV. You don’t hear much about God followers being thrown to the lions or being sawed into from Osteen and others like him. Even those who don’t approve of Joel Osteen because of his perceived weakness on “sound doctrine” still largely buy into his grand idea of a man centered world populated by people, each of whom can have a heavenly father who is no more than a supernatural concierge who is waiting to supply their next wish list.

Christians are often personally offended when some happening in life is inconvenient or diminishes their pleasure in living. At once, while blaming God, they cry out to Him, “Why me?” What today’s average Christian wants from God is at a minimum an upper middle class lifestyle with two weeks paid vacation, healthy and bright children, no sickness that a trip to Rite Aid can’t cure, and an even more lavish home someday in heaven. They don’t really like being told much about how they should live their lives and certainly don’t entertain any thought of personal sacrifice for God. Are you kidding? Have you not heard that God is a loving Father full of grace and gifts to make me happy? Do you not know that God created us so he could have some friends, and that the reason he does so much for us is so we will love him? He was lonely in his big old young universe and he made us so he would have someone to talk to and do things for. He just wants us to love him back. He wants us to go to church, not get drunk, stop cursing, be nice to people we like, and tell other people about how nice he is to us. The bottom line is we are to imitate Jesus but God knows we can’t really do that so that is why Jesus died for us so God wouldn’t be mad at us.

This God we imagine has many of the limitations of humans. He doesn’t know what we will do until we have done it. And, he has made it so that pleasing a pastor or an elder is more important than pleasing him. This God gets his feelings hurt easily and in a fit of anger might just cause us to get cancer if we don’t toe the line. He doesn’t really like it when we cheat on our income taxes, tell dirty jokes at the office, and have a habit of lying, but He really will not do anything about it because he is all about love and good things.

This sort of God is an “Unknown God” to the pages of the Bible. The God of the Bible is far different. The center of the universe is God who is self sufficient and needs nothing and His chief end is His own glory and praise. We humans were created and recreated to that end. Ephesians chapter one gives the rationale for the redemptive scheme of God in Christ bringing sinners to himself.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
(Ephesians 1:2-14)

The praise of His glorious grace”, “the riches of His grace” and “the praise of His glory” are the reasons why God chose to lavish His love on us and to make us holy in Christ. The focus of God’s redemptive scheme is not us, but rather Himself. Paul explains further.

 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,  I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
(Ephesians 1:15-23)

Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to know how truly great and powerful and majestic and worthy God is. The emphasis of the unfolding revelation is never focused on us. We are only a means to an end which is God’s unmatched praise and glory demonstrated in us because of Christ’s work for us and in us.

The greatest good of man is to bring glory to his God. The truth that God does hear us when we pray and grant requests that meet His approval is not about us but about His glory. The reason for the salvation he freely gives us based upon the merit of Jesus is not about us but about Him.

When Paul described God to the Athenians he said these words:

(He is)“ The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being”. (Acts 17:24-28)

The God Paul talked about was hardly a God who needs anything, especially puny little us. In Revelation chapter 4 we are given a glimpse of the continual, eternal praise and glory of God with the shouts of “Holy, Holy, Holy” which never stop. Even in heaven, so far removed from sin and its curse, there are no words to describe the glory of God fully so that for eternity they must be repeated without ceasing.

Jesus in His humanity was the fullness of the godhead bodily, the express image of His person and His demands of those who would follow him are far, far from what our “unknown God” demands. Instead of prosperity He promised persecution and rejection by our fellows. Instead of a crown he demanded that we bear a cross, an instrument of death. Instead of delightful “things”, He demanded denial of self and self interests. All of this so that in the end, when those who have believed God’s record of His Son, and have depended on Him, are raised from the dead and given immortal bodies, they might show the richness of his grace to the praise of His glory.

Two or three hours a week and a small percentage of our gross income hardly measures up to what the Creator God who provides everything we have deserves in gratitude.

Do I, do you, serve and worship the God of the Bible who delights in Himself? Or, do you and I give allegiance to the “Unknown God” who is a creature that only exists in our imaginations?

For truth,