The Eternal God

“Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Exodus 3:13-14; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version),

The letters in the middle are the Hebrew letters “YHWH,” the Old Testament name of God. Photo by Ulf Carlbark, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Names of God can tell us a lot about what people think of Him. According to Wikipedia, the English word “God” and its German counterpart, “Gott,” are derived from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning “pour” or “libate”; it is believed that this associates “God” with sacrifices or idols. Some Christians may notice the similarity of “God/Gott” with “good/gut” (note that “Gospel” comes from the Old English “God-spell,” meaning “good news”) and make the connection between “God” and “good.” Yes, God is good. However, this means that God becomes the basis of our idea of goodness; it does not mean I can re-imagine God to justify my false notions about what is good.

The Greek word for “god” is “theos,” which is related to another Greek word “theoreo,” meaning “to look at, to see, to observe.” This is the root of our English word “theory.” Perhaps the Greeks first thought of their deities as beings who saw everything that happens. Perhaps we have turned it upside-down, so that modern Christians often think we can see, observe, and develop our own theories about God.

Other cultures and languages have other words for God, associating the deity with kingship, eternity, power, or some other attribute. The name of God identifies a vital essential characteristic.

In the Old Testament, we find three names for God:

  • El” (or its longer form “Elohim”) is associated with His might and power. In most English Bibles, this is the Hebrew word when you see “God” in the Old Testament.
  • Adonai” means “lord.” It connotes His authority as One who should be obeyed. If you see “Lord” (with only the “L” capitalized) in the Old Testament, it is usually translating Adonai.
  • Yahweh” is usually spelled “LORD” (all capitals or small caps) in our English Bibles. The Hebrew Bible only contains the four consonants which we transliterate as “YHWH” here. Ancient Gentile writers have recorded that it was pronounced “Yahweh” but, by the time of Christ, Jews would normally not pronounce this name of God. To avoid mispronouncing God’s name and using it in vain, they would generally substitute another word like “Adonai” while reading the Scriptures or use a substitute term (like “the Name” or “Heaven”) when referring to God in conversation.

Yahweh essentially means “I am” or “I will be.” This is the name that He revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:13-14. Much of the rest of Scripture unpacks and unfolds the meaning of this Name. God is…period. This concept perhaps reaches its greatest explanation in St. Paul’s description of the divine nature of Jesus Christ:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).

German theologian Paul Tillich coined the phrase “ground of being” to summarize the nature of God, perhaps echoing the thought of St. Paul:

“{F}or
‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:28).

“Big Bang.” Image courtesy of Max Pixel

God does not derive His existence from anything or anybody else. He just is. As the ground of all being and the Creator of all, everything and everybody derives their existence from Him. This is a hard concept to fully comprehend. We usually find an answer to the question, “But where did {something} come from?” Human nature seems dissatisfied with final answers. We become like small children who reply to every answer by saying, “Why?” During the past few decades, scientists proposed a “Big Bang” as the beginning of our universe, the beginning of everything. Now, many scientists, who previously thought they found the beginning of everything, ponder what existed before the Big Bang. Yet, when we reach God, we come to the end of the questions. He is. He always has been. He always will be. He derives His existence from nobody or nothing else. He just is.

God’s eternal nature may be beyond our comprehension, yet God still reveals Himself to us. Everything else about God springs from that eternal nature He is our Creator because He is eternal. He is sovereign because He is eternal. In a forthcoming post, we will look at some of the ways His eternal nature relates to His sovereignty.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Theology Matter?

Does theology matter?

When Darkened Glass Reflections was born, the articles were primarily devotional. The “reflections” part of the name referred to the fact that most of the particles came out of reflection and meditation on the Word of God rather than academic theological research. Even though the posts have become more “theological” recently, this blog remains committed to being written on a somewhat devotional level. People who are eager to grapple with heavy-duty scholarly theological questions will have to look elsewhere. Even when writing about theology, I hope the reader comes away with encouragement, insight, or inspiration to walk closely with the Lord. Whether they can explain, compare, and contrast amillennialism, premillennialism, historism, and full preterism is irrelevant to me.

Nevertheless, theology does matter. Since Christianity is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we need to know who He is and what He is like. You cannot have a genuine relationship with someone if you do not know who he or she is, where that person is from, what they are like, etc.

The entire Gospel, the Christian faith, has its roots in the nature of God. The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds answer questions like these: Who is God? What is He like? Who is Jesus? What is His relationship with God? How is He the Son of God? The creeds say little about mankind. They start and end with God. Scripture begins and ends with God:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1; unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Revelation 22:20–21).

(Emphasis added in both passages.)

The Bible begins and ends with the Alpha and the Omega: God, who revealed Himself most visibly through His Son, Jesus Christ. The person and nature of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are central to the faith. The answers to questions about who God is affect every doctrinal or theological statement that churches or pastors can make.

If you forget to begin with God, you will eventually reach wrong answers. Most heresies, cults, and false religions build upon a foundation of false views about who God is. Recently, fellow blogger Shofar/Liz shared the following quote by an unnamed “religious leader” in a post on God’s Enduring Love, in which she spoke of the dangers of deception within the church:

“My understanding of a loving, compassionate God supports the basic right of all loving couples to have the full benefits of marriage.”

I will point out two errors that are rampant in modern American Christianity, which are reflected in the quoted speaker’s thinking:

  • Preachers like this quoted “leader” frequently emphasize “my understanding” with limited or no reference to Scripture. If they do quote Scripture, it is generally taken out of context. To them, “my understanding” takes precedence over Scripture and doctrine. The committed follower of Jesus will say “yes” to God and His Word even when it goes against the believer’s wishes or desires.
  • Preachers like this one will focus on one or two aspects of God’s nature and ignore those that make them uncomfortable. The committed follower of Jesus acknowledges and accepts the complexities of God’s nature. I do not deny that God is loving and compassionate: Actually, my spiritual survival depends on those qualities. If I forget God’s love and compassion, I will quickly spiral into despair. However, the true disciple will also recognize that God is holy and righteous. You cannot ignore any aspects of God’s nature without becoming spiritually imbalanced or thoroughly heretical.

Therefore, over the next few months (only an omniscient God knows how many at this time) I will share a series of meditations and devotions about different aspects of God’s person and nature. My prayer and goal is that you not only become more theologically balanced, but that you grow to love God more as you come to know Him more. Perhaps together we can grow beyond merely recognizing those attributes of God that we are tempted to ignore and thoroughly embrace Him in His fullness.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Five Books Every Christian Should Read (Besides the Bible)

After almost 20 years in our current residence, my wife and I are preparing to move. We have already filled a lot of boxes (I have lost count) with some of our belongings. Quite a few of those boxes are filled with books (again, I have lost count). We are only a fraction of the way through our books. We realized we have books in almost every room of our apartment.

A few books from my collection.

We love books. When we first met, we hit it off over the fact that we are both fans of C. S. Lewis. I think my wife and I both love reading almost as much as I enjoy writing (maybe more so). Books have played a major role in my life and great Christian authors have shaped my faith significantly.

With that in mind, I would like to offer the following list of five books, besides the Bible, that have influenced my relationship with Christ. I would encourage all Christians to read them at some point:

  • Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis—Lewis is one of my favorite authors. Early in my relationship with Christ, several people encouraged me to read this book. Lewis provides a simple, concise, intelligent defense and explanation of the essentials of the Christian faith. For someone who prides himself on being an intellectual and independent thinker, it was refreshing to read a book that shows that you do not have to lock your brain in a corner when you become a Christian. You can be a thinking Christian and a sincere believer.
    • Honorable mention: Another of my favorite books is The Screwtape Letters, which imagines a series of letters where a senior demon tries to mentor his protege. A few other great Lewis books include The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and the seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia children’s books. Lewis wrote in numerous genres, so you are likely to find something by him that suits your style.
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence—I found this little book among my father’s belongings after he passed away. I still have his copy. Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth-century monk who concluded that a committed Christian life primarily involved a continual acknowledgment of God’s presence at all times. Whatever you do, wherever you are: Keep your mind on the Lord, remember He is always with you, and rejoice in His love for you. It is a very brief book; each of its chapters (my copy contains 26: four conversations, 16 letters, and six brief “spiritual maxims”) can be read in less than five minutes. A book like this is best read by reading one chapter at a time and then allowing yourself time to reflect on its message throughout the day.
  • Of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a’ Kempis—Another monastic spiritual classic. Kempis was a fifteen century monk with a view of the Christian life that complements Brother Lawrence’s. As the title suggests, Kempis urges his readers to imitate Christ. Is book is somewhat longer than Lawrence’s, but the chapters are likewise very brief, allowing the reader to devote time to reflection and meditation on their truths throughout the day. It is actually four books, with a total of 114 chapters: “Admonitions Useful for Spiritual Life,” “Admonitions Pertaining to Inward Things,” “Internal Consolation,” and “A Devout Exhortation to the Holy Communion.” While both Brother Lawrence and Thomas a’Kempis write from the perspective of men cloistered in ancient monasteries, their writings will provide insight and encouragement for those of us living twenty-first century lives.
  • The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer—“When Christ calls a man, He bids him ‘come and die.’” Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, and seminary professor whose ministry coincided with the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The Cost of Discipleship is probably his most easy-to-read book, most of it being a devotional commentary about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Living at a time when it was impossible to be a committed Christian and a loyal supporter of one’s government, Bonhoeffer could relay some of the conflict between Jesus’ teachings and the mindset of the world. He would eventually be executed for his involvement with “Valkyrie,” an attempt to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime.
    • Honorable mention: Bonhoeffer wrote prolifically during his brief life. I have not read his Letters and Papers from Prison but understand that this book is quite popular. Life Together examines Christian fellowship and the church from the perspective of his seminary, which was forced to live and study “underground” after it was outlawed by the Nazis.
    • I strongly recommend the biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. It examines Bonhoeffer’s writings and thoughts in the context of German history at that time. One would be wise to read it to see the conflict a Christian may face as his nation gravitates toward tyranny. I believe there are lessons there that modern American Christians need to learn quickly.
  • Anything by Andrew Murray—I have read many of Andrew Murray’s books; all of them have blessed, inspired, and challenged me; and I really cannot pick a favorite. I have quoted him several times on this blog, most recently when The True Vine inspired parts of my recent series on “Abiding in the Vine.” Some of this nineteenth-century South African pastor’s other works include Abide in Christ, The Deeper Christian Life, The Master’s Indwelling, The Ministry of Intercession, The Spirit of Christ, and The Power of the Blood. All of Murray’s writings are full of wisdom and zeal for the power of the Holy Spirit to be seen in the lives of Christians. Most of his writings address the subjects of prayer and the Spirit-filled Christian life. His books are generally brief, written to an audience of ordinary churchgoers. They are not overly complicated or hard to read, but they are spiritually deep. Read thoughtfully and be challenged to go deeper with Christ.

These are just a few of the books that hold a permanent place on my bookshelf. I would love to hear some of your favorite picks. What would you count as “books every Christian should read”? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Abiding in the Vine: V. Fruitful Prayer

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:7–9; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image via pxhere.com.

Finally, as we abide in the vine, we can experience power in our prayers.

Biblical prayer is not the self-centered shopping list recital many Christians think it is. Numerous preachers will quote John 15:7 and tell you that you can demand from God for whatever you wish. After all, He said He would do it for you. He promised! He has to fulfill His promise!

Read further, though. He answers our prayers so that He may be glorified and so that we may be much fruit. God does not answer our prayers so that we can have fancy houses and expensive cars. He does it so that we can glorify Him, bear fruit, and impart His life to those around us.

This should be our objective. The mature Christian wants to glorify God, bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and impart the life of Christ to those around him. The one who abides in Christ is eager to do evangelism and/or discipleship. Our prayers should be focused on a few important areas:

  1. Our genuine physical needs: Yes, we should pray for our needs. However, “needs” and “wants” are not the same things. I need food to survive; I do not need to eat at the most expensive restaurants in the New York area seven nights a week. I need a place to live; I do not need a mansion. I need money to survive; currently, that means I need to go to work. Because of my job’s location, a car is the most efficient way for me to get to work. I do not need a Lamborghini. (I may add that, if I lived closer to my job or worked in Manhattan, where I could take a train to work, I would not need that car.) Learn to discern between your needs and wants. Do not be so demanding about your wants.
  2. Our spiritual needs: We should spend more time asking God for wisdom, freedom from sin, the gifts of the Spirit, and so on. We should want God to be glorified in us. We cannot do that on our own. We need His strength, wisdom, and power.
  3. The genuine needs of those around us: Let us pray that God would prove Himself real to those around us as He heals them, meets their needs, and guides them through the difficulties of life.
  4. That God would be glorified throughout the world: How often do you pray for persecuted Christians in other countries? How often do you ask God to intervene with His grace and mercy in international affairs? How often do you ask God to be glorified in federal, state, and local governments?

The point of all of this is that the committed Christian will pray upwardly and outwardly. We pray that God is glorified (upwardly). We pray that His life and blessings may be imparted to others (outwardly). Even our prayers for ourselves should answer the question: What is God doing in and through your life? How can He use me to bless others? How can He make me more like His Son, Jesus?

To abide in Christ is to live a life in consistent connection with Him. We remain close to Him. We seek to be one with Him. Our greatest joy should be found in bringing Him joy, praise, and glory.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20–23).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Abiding in the Vine, Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Abiding in the Vine: IV. Bearing Fruit

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:5–8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

A grape vine bearing fruit. Image via pxhere.com.

As mentioned several times previously, the branch’s purpose is to bear fruit. When the vinedresser is trimming and pruning the vine, he looks for fruit: perhaps some buds or blossoms, growing fruit, surrounded by lush leaves. If these are lacking, there is a problem with the branch.

Fruit’s purpose is to impart life. Fruit contains seeds which, when scattered, can grow to become new plants which will themselves produce fruit.

The Christian is called to bear fruit (John 15:2, 5, 8; Galatians 5:22-23), and that fruit should impart life. The mature Christian imparts the life of Christ within him to others. We may do this in several ways. These are the key ways in which we abide in Christ and exhibit His fruit to others.

The first is by partaking of His Word and sharing it with others. Read and study the Bible daily. Meditate on it. Reflect on it. Let Jesus’ words abide in you.

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

Believing in Jesus and loving Him go hand-in-hand. If we love Him and believe He is Who He says He is, we will want to do the things He commands us to do. We will want to know His will for our lives and the lives of those we care about.

As we know more of God’s will and word, we will want to share it with others. We will share it with those who do not know Him, offering the chance to receive salvation through Christ.

We should also share it with those who are already saved. While evangelism gets all the attention in many churches, there is a need for the gifts of encouragement and edification in the body of Christ. One of the bishops in my denomination has a reputation for greeting people by asking, “What is God saying to you these days?” Instead of “How are you?” (generating a generic “OK”) or “What’s up?” (generating the almost-as-meaningless “Not much, how about you?”), this greeting demands a thoughtful response. If you meet him in a church setting, be prepared to answer. God is always speaking. If you are reading His Word, you should be able to hear Him. You will have an answer for anyone who says “What is God saying?” You may even have an exciting insight you discovered by reading God’s Word that other believers need to hear.

The second way we abide in Christ and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit is by participating in worship. Praise Him, not only in church, but throughout the day. Turn off your car stereo and sing some praise songs on the way to work. Real worship experiences God and acknowledges His presence wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

Finally, we abide in Christ and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit by performing His work. Use your gifts and talents to minister to others. There is a real temptation in some churches to think we are not really ministering if we do not preach, teach, or sing. However, there are numerous ways to share the love of Jesus: Bringing food to a needy family; providing free childcare for a single mother; using your talents and hobbies to help others.

If we are seriously committed to abiding in the vine, we will do all three. We will read God’s Word, worship Him, and serve Him and His people with our gifts and talents. As we do these things, the fruit of the Spirit will grow in our lives, and that fruit will overflow into the lives of others. The fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us to be shared with others and impart God’s life into the hearts of those around us.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Abiding in the Vine, Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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