The Personal God Who Can Be Known

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10, ESV).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

A few recent posts have reflected on Jesus’ statement that God is a spirit (here and here). While He is a spirit, He is also a personal Being who seek to be in a relationship with His people. We cannot afford to ignore His personal nature, assuming it contradicts His spiritual nature.

Scripture frequently speaks about the possibility to “know” God. This is a personal knowledge grounded in relationship.

There is a difference between knowing about somebody and actually knowing them personally. As a music lover, I can share a wealth of trivia about some of my favorite musicians. I can tell you the birthdays and birthplaces of each of the Bee Gees, along with the names of their wives, children, and the titles of all their albums. But, I have never met them. I know about them, but I have never had a personal relationship with any of them.

I can tell you my wife’s birthday, where she was born, and the names of her siblings and parents too. The big difference, of course, is that I actually know her personally. We have a relationship. We know things about each other that perhaps nobody else may know.

I also have friends whose birthdays I do not remember. Yet, unlike the Bee Gees, I actually know these people. There are some of whom I can say, “He reminds me of myself when I was his age.” We have connected, done things together, served the Lord in ministry, shared our victories and struggles, etc. Factual knowledge about my wife, family, and friends is surpassed by a personal knowledge and connection.

Job learned the difference between knowing about God and knowing Him personally:

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job 42:1-6).

The previous 39 chapters of Job’s book recounted a debate between Job and his friends. Did Job deserve to suffer? Was God punishing him for some hidden sin that he would not admit? Was God being unfair by punishing Job for something without telling him what it was? It is tempting to accuse and blame God for things when you view Him as a distant entity, impersonal force, or abstract concept. Job struggled with these questions: Although God did not clearly answer his questions, He invited him to know Him personally.

Proverbs 9:10 parallels “knowledge of the Holy One” with “fear of the Lord.” To fear God is not necessarily to cower in terror. Many Bible dictionaries will define this kind of “fear” as “reverential awe.” Perhaps we can best think of it as giving God His due respect—taking Him seriously.

The person who truly knows God does not try to twist Him to his own liking. God is Who He is. We have to accept Him on His terms. People who know about a celebrity can easily idolize him or her, imagining their favorite singer or actor to be flawless. We might convince ourselves that “I’m sure I would like him even more than I like his music.” Since we only know about a distant celebrity, we may not know their weak qualities or annoying personality quirks that make them difficult to get along with, so we pretend such flaws do not exist. However, when we know someone personally, we have to accept both the good and the bad. Married couples and best friends know each other’s flaws and spend a lifetime learning to care for each other and get along in spite of them, perhaps being the people God uses to help them overcome their weaknesses.

Likewise, the true child of God knows Him as He is. We do not twist or distort the Bible to make Him what we want Him to be. We worship and revere Him for who He is. As a personal Being, we cannot change who He is. As our Ground of Being, Lord, and Savior, He is worthy of our praise and worship.

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

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

God is Spirit: Like the Wind

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, ESV).

A recent post pondered the meaning of the word “spirit” in relation to several scientific theories. The Bible tells us that God is a spirit but never specifically explains what a spirit is.

However, the Bible provides an illustration, if not a definition. In both Greek and Hebrew, the word for “spirit” can also mean “wind” or “breath.” The Greek word is pneuma, the root of such English words as “pneumonia” or “pneumatic.” The Hebrew word is ruach. Pneuma is translated as both “spirit” and “wind” in John 3:1-8:

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’” (John 3:1-8, ESV; emphasis added).

So, although the Bible does not clearly define “spirit,” it allows us to associate it with “wind” and notice some of its traits.

First, the wind is invisible, but it is real. We do not see wind, but we see its effects. When we see a tornado, we do not actually see the wind. We see the stuff that the wind is blowing around: dirt, debris, some rain or water vapor, etc.

An F5 tornado. Photo by Justin Hobson via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Wind can have some powerful impacts. During Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, we got a lesson in the power of wind. At the height of the storm, we could feel our house shaking! The house survived, but not long thereafter we saw fire trucks pulling up in front of our house. Apparently, the tree in front of our house did not survive. It had fallen, yanking a power line down, which then sparked a fire on a utility box of the house next door. Fortunately, the firemen responded quickly enough to avoid any serious fire damage to either house. There was also minor damage to our chimney and some roof tiles missing. All this damage from an invisible force.

One of the trees in front of my house could not withstand the winds of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photograph by Michael E. Lynch

I share the story about Hurricane Sandy because I remember it most vividly and can share a few pictures. Having lived for eight years in Missouri, I could probably share a few tornado stories, but I was usually a few blocks away when the tornado actually hit and did not take photos.

Another photo I took after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This is all that was left of a segment of the boardwalk in my childhood hometown, Long Beach, NY. Wind and water tore away the boardwalk, railings, benches, etc. Photograph by Michael E. Lynch.

Yes, wind is invisible and powerful. It is also uncontrollable. We cannot predict when the wind will pick up or slow down. Yes, meteorologists can tell us it will be windy and that the wind will come from this or that direction. But, we do not know when a sustained 20 MPH wind will suddenly speed up to a 40 MPH gust.

Nor can we do anything about it. In the words of the”Alive, a Bee Gees’ song from 1972, “And I can’t change the wind or make it blow the other way.” Try to make a northerly wind change direction. Make it slow down. Let me know how that works for you.

Wind is like spirit. This becomes a beautiful illustration of what God is like. We cannot see Him, but we can recognize His presence and power in what He does. Not everything He does is like Hurricane Sandy or a tornado; some of it is like the windmills one sees in rural areas, providing electrical power for local communities.

Windmills. Image by Piotr Zakrzewski from Pixabay.

Nor can we control God. Sometimes it is tempting to think that we can coerce or manipulate Him with our prayers or piety. Don’t try it. He is God. He is Spirit. He is powerful. He is unchanging. He is uncontrollable. He is Lord. God blows where He wishes; if you look with the eyes of faith, you will see Him in action, but you do not know where He comes from or where He goes. But, you can trust and worship Him.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

First Sunday of Advent: One Year, One Thing

“If every year we would root out one vice, we would soon become perfect men. But now oftentimes we perceive it goes contrary, and that we were better and purer at the beginning of our entrance into the religious life than after many years of our profession” (Thomas a’ Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chap. 11).

By Liesel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy New Year!

No, I am not confused about the date or accidentally posting an article one month early. Today is the First Sunday of Advent, which begins a new year on the church calendar. Over the next few weeks, churches that follow a liturgical calendar will have Scripture readings and songs looking to the coming of Christ, which we will celebrate on Christmas. At the same time, we are reminded that He has already come and He is coming again. We should also remember that He is still with us (Matthew 28:18-20).

Many Americans will wait until January 1 to make New Year’s Resolutions. If the secular world can recommend New Year’s Resolutions, to be announced in a drunken stupor shortly after midnight on January 1, perhaps Christians can make spiritual resolutions on the First Sunday of Advent.

In a recent post, I listed Of the Imitation of Christ as one book that all Christians should read. Brother Thomas’ quote above, found early in the book, really spoke to me. There are areas of my life where, to be honest, I am not as holy or righteous as I was a few years ago. In some areas, my life looked more Christlike before I became a Christian.

I know I am not alone. I know people who admit that they have developed bad habits after becoming disciples of Jesus. Perhaps they overcame a drug or alcohol addiction and got hooked on pornography. Maybe they stopped cursing and became self-righteous, judgmental gossips. If this sounds like you (maybe your sins are different from mine), let’s take a stand together in the coming church year.

Take a look at that quote. Imagine if you could overcome one sinful habit per year. Maybe you have five or six sins that you keep falling back into. Can you imagine overcoming those five or six sins within five or six years?

So, here’s the challenge I am placing before anybody who desires to draw closer to Jesus:

  • Pick one sin that you struggle with. Ideally, it will be the one that causes you the most difficulty. Maybe there is an addiction that is destroying your health and family. Maybe you have a bad temper that has gotten you into trouble. Write that sin down.
  • Bring that sin before Jesus in prayer. Thank Him that He has already forgiven you. Confess that it is sin. Ask Him to give you victory by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of those fruit is the most direct antidote for your sin? Pray for the Holy Spirit to manifest and grow that fruit in your life.
  • Believe and expect God to do this! If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit already dwells within you. The fruit of the Spirit is already available to you. If you are not living in victory, it is because you have neglected some fruit that is available to you. Claim it!
  • If there are resources available for addressing your sin, use them. You may want to follow the Twelve Steps, originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous but adapted by numerous other organizations to address other life-controlling problems. A copy of the Life Recovery Bible, available from https://www.tyndale.com/p/nlt-life-recovery-bible-second-edition/9781496425751, will help you work the steps over your struggle.
  • As part of the Twelve Steps, you will be challenged to conduct a personal moral inventory. Do not be afraid: It can be intimidating to dig up all that dirt, but it will bring freedom. Recovering addicts will often say, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Share your findings with someone you can trust: a priest (if your church has sacramental confession), sponsor (if you are in a Twelve-Step Program), or a close friend or mentor whom you can trust to keep your confession private. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23-24, English Standard Version).

Throughout the coming year, we will come back to this challenge from time to time. I may mention it within other posts, or I may devote special posts to it. This may be in conjunction with other special days on the church calendar (I will follow the calendar of my denomination, the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church).

May we all find victory in the coming year. Let’s find that one sin that holds us back and cast it aside as the Holy Spirit works in our lives. Imagine if we can find victory over one sin per year, without taking on a new one. Where will we be in our walk with Christ one year, five years, or ten years from now?

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

Categories: Character and Values, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feast of St. Andrew: Drawing People to Jesus

“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter)” (John 1:35-42; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

One odd irony about the traditional church calendar is the placement of the Feast of St. Andrew, on November 30. Many years, it occurs right after the First Sunday of Advent, making it the first official feast day on the church calendar. However, when Advent begins in December, it becomes the last feast day on the calendar. This can be a little reminder that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:16).

Eastern Orthodox Churches refer to Andrew as the “Protokletos,” meaning the “first-called,” because he was the first apostle to follow Jesus. (Many Bible scholars think that the other disciple in John 1:35-42 was John, but the title still goes to Andrew, who is mentioned by name.) Despite being one of the first men to follow Jesus, Andrew drifts into the background.

Usually, when Andrew is mentioned in the Gospels, he is bringing people to Jesus (John 1:40). First, he introduced his brother Simon to Jesus, who gave him a new name, Peter. Simon Peter, of course, would become the chief apostle after Jesus’ ascension.

Later, Andrew would introduce Jesus to the boy who had five loaves and two fish (John 6:8-9), thereby playing a key role in the feeding of the 5000. A few days before the crucifixion, in John 12:20-22, Andrew and Philip brought some Greeks to meet Jesus.

That sums up the life and ministry of Andrew. He introduced people to Jesus. He ministered quietly. Other people may have received the glory and recognition, but when you think about his life, the history of the Church would be very different if not for his presence.

May we all be a little more like St. Andrew—consistently introducing people to Jesus without regard for recognition and glory.

“Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer).

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

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

God Is Spirit: But, What Is a Spirit?

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

In some recent posts, we have thought about some of God’s majestic attributes, the qualities that set Him apart from everything He created. He is self-existent. He is eternal. These qualities are beyond full human comprehension.

Jesus also tells us that “God is spirit.” This can exceed our comprehension as well, even though we have a spiritual nature. We bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26–29); Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling within us (Romans 8:9–11); and we can be spoken of as “spiritual people” (1 Corinthians 2:15). In spite of that, we have a hard time understanding the meaning of the word “spirit.”

Perhaps most of us imagine something spiritual as being somehow less real than the physical world we see. We imagine life in heaven seeming more like a dream than an awakened reality. I suspect that we will be surprised and find that heaven seems even more real than life on earth; after a while in heaven, we might think our earthly lives seemed like a dream we had while asleep. We hear “spirit” and we think of a shapeless transparent ghost.

People in twelve-step recovery groups will say that theirs is a “spiritual program.” Yet, many describe it in terms that can more accurately be described as “psycho-social” rather than “spiritual.” The same confusion can exist in the church.

In light of this, I will share a few thoughts I have had about the concept of “spirit” from the world of science. Keep in mind, I am not a scientist. As an editor, though, I spend a lot of time reading scientific papers. I often watch science programs on television. I am fascinated and curious about many of the theories that float around. As a Christian, I often look at these theories and ask, “Can this relate to the Bible, the Gospel, my faith, etc.? Can this science inform my faith?” So, here are just a few thoughts.

Is the spiritual realm somehow intertwined with the natural realm we see? More than 15 years ago, I came across a book (I wish I remembered the title and author’s name) which looked at the concept of “intelligent design” from a Hindu perspective. Much like Judaeo-Christian creationists, the author believed a divine being created the universe and his handiwork could be seen in the natural realm. He believed you could see scientific evidence supporting the belief that our world was created by a deity. Frequently, he would refer to electrons as “spiritual particles.”

Electrons are interesting. As we learned in high-school chemistry and physics, atoms are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Electrons have very little mass: so little that, when we refer to the atomic mass of an element, we mean the combined number of protons and neutrons, ignoring electrons. Yet, they have a charge, equal and opposite to that of a proton, which makes them essential to most chemical reactions. The merger or exchange of atoms in the formation or change of molecules is largely the result of electron transfer. They are very small, but they wield great power in the natural realm.

Could electrons or some other subatomic particles be “spiritual particles”?

Is the presence and work of God and spirits evident in the universe, but not adequately explained? Scientists now believe most of the universe is “dark matter” and “dark energy.” They propose that most of the mass and energy in the universe cannot be measured or directly observed. However, this so-called dark matter and energy must be there, because you cannot explain the universe without it. Galaxies are moving apart too quickly. There must be inobservable forces or matter preserving order.

Could it be that the effects of dark matter and energy are nothing more than the work of God Himself as He sustains the universe that He created? Scripture says this about Jesus:

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Are scientists using the term “dark matter” or “dark energy” to refer to the work of Christ?

Does the spiritual realm perhaps exist parallel to the natural world that we see? We think we live in a three-dimensional universe, where things are measurable in terms of height, width, and depth. Albert Einstein’s theories proposed that it is actually a four-dimensional universe, with time being intertwined with these three spatial dimensions. However, some theories propose that space-time has eight or more (I think some scientists have suggested 20 or more) dimensions: They are just as real and physical as the ones we know, but we cannot observe or experience them. Is the “spirit realm,” including heaven, linked to dimensions of space-time that we simply do not see or experience, even though they exist alongside the four dimensions we experience? Could the spirit realm be in, with, and under our natural world, fully a part of it, yet manifested in dimensions we do not see or hear?

Like I said, I am not a scientist, so perhaps I misunderstood and misrepresented some of these theories. I share these ideas to encourage thought, dialog, and reflection. We say that God is a spirit. Christians believe in the presence of spirits, including angels and demons, and we believe that our spirits and souls will live after we die. This is not mere symbolism. When we say that God is a spirit and there are other spirits, we are making a statement about reality, even though we may not fully understand what that reality is. Perhaps one or more of these ideas can help us to envision the spirit world described by the Bible as something that is real, not merely a dream, fantasy, or symbol.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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