Where Is The Glory?

One of the most tragic stories in the Bible is found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Ezekiel. Israel had been captive in Babylon for approximately five years when God revealed to Ezekiel through a vision, the extreme sinfulness of the small group of people who had been left in Jerusalem.

They had turned the temple of God into a center of pagan worship. There had been a complete rejection of God. Instead of learning from their sin, which resulted in the captivity, they said God does not see us, God has forsaken us (Ezekiel 8:12).

The irony is that God was still there, it was the people who had forsaken Him.

But He wasn’t there for long.

Because of their callus sinfulness, the Glory of God that had resided in the Holiest place in the temple departed from Israel (Ezekiel 8-11).

God removed His presence from His people.

He will not share His space with sin.

The good news is that one day God will change Israel and will give them a new heart and He will put a new spirit in them (Ezekiel 11:19). And once again Israel will be His people and He will live among them. And the Glory will Return.

It’s worth asking – Where is the Glory of God today?

In the Old Testament the Israelites knew where to find the Glory. At least until the time of Ezekiel. But where can people today find the Glory of God? Where does His Glory shine so intensely that they can’t miss it – even if they’re not looking for it?

It’s true that God has displayed His Glory in nature. The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). But that is not the only place where God has revealed His Glory.

And for us – it may not be the most significant place.

Today the Glory of God does not reside in any one place like a temple. It resides in a hundred million places around the world – today the Glory of God resides in the life of every Child of God; in every person who claims the name of Jesus; in every Christian.

People should be able to see His Glory in every one of us. Every. One.

When people look at us they should see all of His magnificence; all of His purity; all of His holiness; all of His splendor; all of His perfection; and all of His love.

They should see all of His Glory.

The Glory of God should be on display for the world to see – in us.

So the Question is: Where is the Glory?

Where is His Glory? Where are people going to see Who God Is?

Let me paraphrase a key text. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, eating, drinking, or whatever, do it so people can see His Glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

If people are going to see the Glory of God they must see it in us.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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The Wonder of God

More and more we live in a laid-back, relaxed society. We’ve lost a lot of the formality of former times. That’s not all bad. It keeps us from being too pretentious. Too full of ourselves.

But, as with everything, there are unintended consequences to our informality. One downside of our penchant for a lack of formality is that this laid-back attitude has infiltrated many churches with the result that even our view of God has suffered.

Being informal at church is not in itself a problem. It can even be a good thing. But there’s a danger that if we are not vigilant we’ll drag God down to our level.

There’s an old song that George Beverly Shea used to sing called The Wonder of It All.

There’s the wonder of sunset at evening,
The wonder as sunrise I see;
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul,
Is the wonder that God loves me.

O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.
O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.

The Wonder of God. It’s something that we seem to have lost along the way.

The Bible talks about the wonder of God’s works (Psalm 65:8) and the wonder of His word (Psalm 119:161). And we’re astounded by what He has done and by what He has said.

But what about God Himself? The one who works is greater than his works. The one who speaks is greater than his words. The very thought of God should amaze us even more than what He has done or what He has said.

The Psalmist wrote, Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him (Psalm 33:8).

King David understood that the maker is greater than what He has created. He wrote, O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places (Psalm 68:35).

One of God’s holy places was Solomon’s Temple. A magnificent structure, it undoubtedly caused a sense of awe, especially in those who saw it for the first time.

God was/is greater.

On a recent trip to Italy, my wife and I stood in the middle of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and just took in the magnificence of that structure. The wonder that is St. Peter’s takes your breath away.

But God is more awesome.

I’m not suggesting that we jettison our informality and go back to the days of top hats and stiff collars. I’m just saying that we need to see God for Who He is. Not for who we think He is or who we want Him to be.

And certainly not as we see the rest of life.

We need to take time to be moved by who God is. To marvel at God. To be amazed by Him. To wonder at His greatness and His glory.

We lose when we lose the wonder of God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Learn to Let Go

One of the problems that we as Christians experience in life is not being able to let go of situations that cause anxiety, stress, pain and even anger. It often seems that we are incapable of simply letting them go.

We pray about them and we ask God to remove them (that’s good), but for some unknown, divine reason He doesn’t. And since we cannot know the mind of God, we wrongly assume that He doesn’t care. You’ll have to take this one on faith – He cares, even when we think He doesn’t.

I wonder if we put too much on God. Not too much in the sense that He can’t handle it, but too much in the sense that we can and should handle it.

Not everything requires God’s intervention.

Sometimes we just need to let it go. Not always – but sometimes. The wisdom comes in knowing when it’s right to let something go.

I think the Apostle Paul indirectly touches on this issue in Romans chapter 12. That’s the passage that famously says things like, Repay no one evil for evil. And Do not avenge yourselves. And Heap coals of fire on his head.

The reason behind these statements is because revenge belongs to God (vs 19). When we step into territory that belongs to God, we’ve stepped over the boundary.

So what are we to do while we’re waiting for God to do whatever He’s going to do?

There are several things. Naturally we should pray. We should spend more time with God so He can change us. We should try to learn what we can about God, sin, ourselves, forgiveness etc. because God is always teaching us.

But we should also learn to let go. Just. Let. It. Go.

Responding to some things in life is God’s prerogative, not ours (vs 19).

Let go of what’s not yours.

Let go of what you can’t change.

Let go of whatever is toxic in your life.

At the same time let go of your anger (Col 3:8). Let go of your bitterness (Eph 4:31, Heb 12:15). Let go of your desire to get even (Rom 12:18). Let go of anything that does not promote godliness in your life (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

You’ve probably heard the expression Let go and let God. It’s an expression that is easy to misuse. But it applies here. In fact it’s exactly what Paul is advocating for in Romans 12. Let go of what is not your right. Let go of what you can’t change. Let go and let God be God.

It’s not easy to do. You will have to learn how to do it. And that means learning to control your mind and thoughts. The mind is a hard thing to control. It wants to control us.

But the key to letting go is controlling it. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:6 that we are to bring every though into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

In the context of that passage he was referring to ungodly philosophies that exalt themselves above God. But the principle is still there – that every though is to be made captive to Christ. That includes our thoughts.

When we learn to control our minds and thoughts we will find that it’s possible to let go and trust our problems to God (Prov 3:5-5).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Is God Hiding?

I’m intrigued by the hiddenness of God. The Bible presents God as both beyond us, hidden from our eyes (Job 11:6-7, Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33-36) and at the same time there for us (Jeremiah 9:23-24, Matthew 11:28). He is both incomprehensible and knowable.

The idea of the hiddenness of God has caused some people to reject Christianity and to even take the position that there is no God. Their reasoning can take several different directions but ultimately it comes down to this: if God does exist then He should reveal Himself in a way that removes all doubt.

Even as Christians we struggle with the hiddenness of God. When we face the acute pressures of life we want God to make Himself known to us in unmistakable and obvious ways. And we want to decide what form that takes.

The reality is that God has revealed Himself. He’s revealed Himself in creation (Romans 1:20), in the Bible (pick a page!), in history (this was one of the arguments used in early church history – see Acts 7:2-54), and most of all in Jesus (John 14:9, Philippians 2:6, Colossians 1:15).

That brings questions to mind, such as What more does God have to do? How many more times does God have to show Himself before we’re satisfied?

Our desire for God to be obvious is not unlike the wife who continually asks her husband if he loves her. At first he tells her. Then he tries to show her. But no matter what he says or does, she continues to doubt – and ask. That’s going to get old after awhile.

I wonder if it gets old for God when we continue to expect Him to reveal Himself when He’s already given us all of the evidence that we need.

The problem is not the lack of evidence. The problem is our lack of trust in God – we don’t think that He’s done enough, or a lack of satisfaction with the way He’s chosen to reveal Himself.

But if we believe that God is who He says He is – an omnipotent, all-wise God of love, then He has revealed Himself in exactly the right way and enough for anyone to believe and be satisfied.

As finite beings, we should not expect to know the Infinite One in great detail, nor should we expect (demand?) that He act in ways that meet our requirements. As Paul reminds us, He’s the potter and we’re the clay (Romans 9:21) and we have no right to question what God does or how He does it.

There is no unrighteousness with God (Romans 9:14). To state it another way, all that God does is right and righteous. Even when we wish He would do more.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What’s On Your Bucket List?

I’m not sure where the term bucket list originated, but it was certainly popularized by the 2007 movie of the same title, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. You remember the movie – two terminally ill men escaped from a cancer ward and headed off on a road trip with a wish list of things that they wanted to do before they died. Their list included skydiving, driving a Shelby Mustang, flying over the North Pole, eating in France, visiting the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Mt Everest and a safari in Africa.

Not a bad list!

As the story goes, they were able to do many of the things on their bucket list before time ran out. In the end one died and the other lived to the age of 81. Both of them were cremated and their remains were left on a peak in the Himalayas.

Since then, the idea of a bucket list has reached a certain popularity in our culture. It seems like most people have a list of things that they hope to do before it’s eternally too late.

But have you ever considered a spiritual bucket list?

The benefits of crossing things off a bucket list are limited. Beyond a few moments of pleasure and a sense of accomplishment, there isn’t much more.

The benefits of accomplishing items on your spiritual bucket list are far more significant. Depending on your list you may change someone’s eternal destiny; bring peace into a tumultuous life; encourage someone who is down; lift a fallen brother or sister; or offer hope to the hopeless.

There’s nothing wrong with having a bucket list. I have places in the world that I would include on my list – Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, the Taktshang monastery (The Tiger’s Nest – check it out!), and the Great Pyramids to name a few.

But how much better – and more exciting – to have a spiritual bucket list that has the potential of eternal outcomes.

If you were to sit down and begin composing a spiritual bucket list, what would you include? What things do you want to accomplish in the spiritual realm while you still have time?

It’s never too late to get started!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What Makes a Good Missionary?

Some of the greatest people I know are missionaries. Not great in the sense of power or influence, and especially not great in terms of how well-known they are. But great in the sense of faithfulness, loving people and serving well.

I know a lot of missionaries and I have the highest respect for them.

The question of What Makes a Good Missionary? is complicated. The missionaries I know are all different. They have different personalities; different abilities; different perspectives; different spiritual gifts; different ideas; different ways of approaching ministry; different interests in ministries; different temperaments – you get the idea. They are as different from each other as the rest of us.

So What Makes a Good Missionary?

Part of the answer is in what they believe and how they put what they believe into practice. That is, it’s in their theology and their practice.

Theologian Ed Stetzer wrote about this in an article with the title Two Grids Every Church Pastor/Planter/Missionary Must Use: Missiological Grid. The essence of his article is that every pastor, church planter and/or missionary needs to view their ministry through a theological grid (what they believe) and a missiological grid (how they put what they believe into practice).

But it was something else he said that grabbed my attention. He wrote: Think like a missionary wherever you are. For a church and church planter to be missional, thinking and acting with a missiological purpose, they have to be living on mission where they are. That means behaving as if they were a missionary, because the reality is that every Christian is just that.

Did you hear that?

That means behaving as if they were a missionary, because the reality is that every Christian is just that.

Every Christian is . . . a missionary.

Every one of us.

We don’t have “missionary” Christians and “non-missionary” Christians. We are ALL missionaries. We are all to be living on mission wherever we are.

That means that each of us needs to view all of life “through a theological grid (what you believe) and a missiological grid (how you put what you believe into practice)”.

That’s not just what makes a good missionary. It’s what makes a good Christian.

And that’s really the issue.

As Christians we need to know what we believe and then we need to live out what we believe in the places God puts us.

Missionaries have no greater responsibility to live out the gospel than the rest of us. Or to put it another way, we have as great a responsibility to live out the gospel as any missionary has.

So let’s start living like missionaries. Right where you are. Right now. Don’t expect things of missionaries that you don’t expect of yourself.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) isn’t the Missionary Commission, it’s the Christian Commission.

You can be the greatest missionary you know by living on mission where you are.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Crushed But Not Forsaken

One of the great struggles of the Christian experience is our struggle with God when we are being crushed by life. Too often it feels as if God is nowhere to be found at exactly the time we need Him the most.

What is it with God?

David Powlison a teacher at Westminster Theological Seminary and the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, addresses this dilemma in an on-line article, Is God Far Away When He Feels Far Away?,

He writes:

So Crushed in Spirit

There’s a passage in the beginning of Exodus 6 where Moses goes to the people bringing words of hope and promise. It says that [the] people could not even listen to him. They were so crushed in spirit and so under the weight of their harsh slavery.

It’s interesting that Scripture captures both the subjective experience of being internally broken, crushed, and distraught, and it captures an external experience: that there was something objectively hard in their lives.

They couldn’t even hear.

Sharing in Christ’s Suffering

So, the experience of God feeling far away is a common one.

What is so remarkable in how the Bible approaches people in suffering—fully cognizant that they feel God is far away—is that over and over again it says “he’s near, he’s in it, and he’s going through this with you.”

In saying that Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith [Hebrews 12:2], it’s saying he was actually the one that suffered and was tempted in all ways as you are, went through the afflictions of what it means to be human. He went through betrayal, mortality, physical pain, being mocked, and humiliated. He’s with you, and he’s not going to forsake you.

Two Roads

An understandable battle in the human heart arises . . . when something is very hard and God seems far away. People can be tempted to give up on God, looking for a quick fix, weighing God’s closeness by a feeling, experience, or sense. And, God may give a sense of his presence. He may show up in some way that’s visible and evident in what happens—a change of circumstances.

But, there’s another way where his purposes in us is that our faith would grow up. We all love the subjective experience of faith with joy and a sense of closeness to God, but faith at its heart is objective—it’s about someone who is there, irrespective of how I feel.

Often, only really hard affliction can push you to the point where either you give up on God and like Job’s wife you say Curse God and die, or you hold fast allowing your faith to prove true to who God really is.

He is near and he is with us in what we go through.

There are some important take-a-ways from Powlison’s article that can help us when we are being crushed by life.

1. There are real-life reasons for you to feel crushed in spirit. God knows your circumstances and He understands. He never minimizes what you are going through in life. To Him it is real (1 Peter 5:7 – I like J. B. Phillip’s translation here, You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.)

2. You are not alone. As Powlison says, the experience of God feeling far away is a common one. That may or may not encourage you, but just know that your experience is common to faith.

3. Jesus feels your pain. It’s easy to say, But He was the Son of God and He knew He would come out on the other side. I don’t know that. True. But that doesn’t negate the fact that He can sympathize with your pain (Hebrews 4:15). The pain of the nails in His hands was real. And you will come out on the other side.

4. Jesus is not going to forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Even when you don’t feel a sense of His presence, He is there. Sometimes our pain is so great that it obscures our view of Him. Take it on faith that He’s with you.

5. God may show up in obvious ways when you need Him – but He may not. If He does, it’s grace. If He doesn’t, it’s grace. Trust His grace.

6. God has a purpose in your suffering. Let Him work out His purpose in your life. You may not see it now, but in time it will become evident.

You may be crushed today but you are not forsaken. Perhaps by others, but never by God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve