The Fullness of God

At the same time that my church began a sermon series on the Holy Spirit, my small group began to study Becky Harling’s Who Do You Say I Am? The pastor based a sermon on the Holy Spirit on Ephesians 3:16-19 and gave us copies of the verses to take home. Becky Harling told us to memorize these verses as we study who Jesus is.

I get the feeling that God trying to tell me something: write this prayer on your heart.

Paul’s prayer packs quite a punch. He prays that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith and that we may have power to grasp how huge Christ’s love is so that we may be filled with the fullness of God.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-19

My psstor noted that Paul did not pray that the Ephesians would have the intelligence or cleverness to grasp Christ’s love. His love surpasses our knowledge!

When Christ dwells in our hearts, we are rooted and established in love.

The love of Jesus grounds me. His love is an anchor in the storms of life. When the world tries to tell me who I am or who I should be, his love establishes my true identity and my true purpose. I am a beloved child of God. I am to love others as he loves me.

Christ’s love is deep and wide, like a fountain flowing, deep and wide.

When I really get this, when I feel the power of God’s love deep down in my innermost being, I may be filled with all the fullness of God.

What is this fullness of God? A commentator described this fullness (or pleroma) as God’s controlling influence on your thoughts, emotions, desires, words, and actions. It is to be aware of God’s presence and to yield to his Spiritual authority and character (his holiness, righteousness, and love). It is to continually walk in the Spirit.

Lord, you put these words on my heart for a reason. I pray that I will be constantly aware of your presence and your guidance. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you. Amen.

The Gift the Father Promised

One day, Jesus told his disciples to stay in the city because “I am going to send you what my Father has promised.” The gift God promised is the Holy Spirit, the person of the Trinity that seems to get the least attention in scripture and worship.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

Acts 1:4

In a sermon on the Holy Spirit, my pastor shared a verse that made me think about why it is for our good that Jesus is not here in the flesh. How could it be good for the disciples that Jesus was leaving them? They were so blessed to see God in the flesh and to learn from him! Oh, how I want to be with my friend Jesus!

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you

John 16:7

Jesus had to go away because he had to die to atone for the sins of mankind once and for all.

I am thankful that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, to guide us, and to be our Advocate. The Spirit empowers us. Lord, let us become more aware of your presence! You are welcome here.

Holy Spirit (Francesca Battistelli)

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord
Your presence, Lord

*******

Photo by 卡晨 on Unsplash

The Middle Way

Recently, my pastor shared a quote from Blaise Pascal. The quote I found online at Good Reads was translated differently:

The knowledge of God without that of man’s misery causes pride. The knowledge of man’s misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle course, because in Him we find both God and our misery.

Blaise Pascal

In the version shared by my pastor, the word ‘wretchedness’ was used in place of the word ‘misery.’ For me to better understand the quote, I have to make it more wordy.

The knowledge of God without knowledge of your wretchedness results in pride. The knowledge of your wretchedness without knowledge of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle way because in Him we find both God and the cure for our wretchedness.

The knowledge of God without knowledge of your wretchedness results in pride.

The first part of the quote makes me think of two types of people. One type is the person who says things like, “I’m a good person. I’ve made mistakes but I’m doing fine on my own. I don’t need religion. I don’t need to be saved.” This person uses other people as their measure of goodness. When talk of religion comes up, this person may bring up the second type – the religious hypocrite.

The word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the Greek word ‘hypokrites,’ meaning ‘an actor.’ The religious hypocrite has knowledge of the Ten Commandments and religious virtues but lacks knowledge of their own wretchedness. They are self-righteous and self-important, pious, holier-than-thou. They make a display of their good works. They look down on and condemn other sinners.

Both types of people are relying on themselves to earn salvation. Thinking you are morally superior to others is a form of pride. But anyone who does not acknowledge their own sinfulness in relation to God is using a false measure of righteousness. The proper measure of righteousness is not other people. The right measure is God. We all fall miserably short of our glorious, holy Father.

The knowledge of your wretchedness without knowledge of God causes despair.

The second sentence makes me think about people who compare themselves to others and conclude that they are inferior, unworthy of love. They may even say, “I’m a bad person. I’m a failure.” Perhaps they have been criticized and verbally abused by others so much that they have no self-esteem. They feel remorse for their mistakes and wish they could undo them. They feel wretched. They can’t stop thinking about the things they have done wrong.

The person who has knowledge of their wretchedness but no knowledge of God may feel hopeless, especially if they have never been shown grace. They know that they can’t earn their way to salvation. They know they don’t deserve to be forgiven.

Jesus is the middle way.

In Jesus, we find both God and the cure for our wretchedness. Many people have knowledge of God but they don’t know God. Jesus shows us who God is because He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:6-7

My sinfulness created a vast canyon between me and God. Jesus is the bridge between us. Jesus makes it possible for me to have a personal relationship with God.

Jesus taught me that God’s commands are more than a list of do’s and don’ts. God’s commands are about love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Jesus pushes me to be a better person than I would be if I just followed the Ten Commandments. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Turn the other check.

Jesus taught me that the contents of my heart are just as important as my behavior. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.

Jesus sees right through hypocrisy and condemns it. Do not do what they do for they do not practice what they preach. Everything they do is done for people to see.

Jesus taught me that God has compassion for sinners, for the outcast, for the least among us.

Jesus taught me that God rejoices when the lost are found. Even in our wretchedness, we are as precious to Him as rare pearls.

Lord Jesus, you are the way and the truth and the light. You are the cure for my wretchedness. Thank you for saving a wretch like me. In you, I see God and know His love and mercy.

****

Matthew 5

Matthew 22:37-40

Luke 15

Colossians 1:15-22

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

Get Acquainted with God

A.W. Tozer said that he wrote The Knowledge of the Holy because he believed that modern Christianity wasn’t producing the kind of Christian who can experience life in the Spirit. In writing his little book, Tozer hoped to promote “personal heart religion” and to encourage others to practice “reverent meditation on the being of God.” Although Tozer’s writing style seems archaic to me, with lots of thee’s and thy’s and verbs ending in “eth,” his message is as relevant now as it was sixty years ago. There is a need today for personal spiritual revival and the key to this revival is to get acquainted with the holy God.

We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.

A.W. Tozer

Tozer believed that the root of the problem is the Church losing its sense of the majesty of God. Many Christians (e.g. prosperity gospel followers) think of God in utilitarian terms – i.e. what can God do for me? The modern Christian has created God in our own image. I believe that one of the most perverse and false images of God in America today is the image of God and guns.

Christians are the Church, the body of believers. Whatever we are doing is what the Church is doing. Transforming the Church begins with the individual Christian. If we want the Church to change, we need to change. We need to transform our own vision of God. We need to give God the glory and reverence He deserves.

In the last chapter of the book, Tozer shared the “open secret” about how to acquaint yourself with God and gain knowledge of the Holy. Knowledge of the Holy is a free gift available to anyone who chooses to pursue it. This knowledge isn’t acquired through religious study; it takes spiritual discernment.

Tozer listed six conditions that must be met if if we are to know the true, holy God. Tozer noted that these conditions are taught in the Bible but he didn’t cite any scriptures.

Prerequisites to Knowledge of the Holy

1. Forsake your sin.

Tozer’s use of the verb forsake was interesting to me because Christians typically use the verb repent when speaking about sin. When I think of the verb forsake, I think of God’s promise to never leave or forsake us. But just as true repentance requires a commitment to change your actions, forsaking sin is to leave it behind, to renounce it, to give it up.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (NIV)

Forsaking sin is an important condition for knowing God because sin separates us from Him. When we are disobedient to God, He turns away from us. Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God (John 8:47).

As Tozer wrote, we should approach God with a good, pure heart. We should seek him with simplicity of heart. As Jesus said, the kingdom of God belongs to those who receive it like a little child (Luke 18:15-17).

2. Commit your whole life to Christ in faith.

Commit your whole life, not just your Sundays, not just Christian holidays. Commitment is a deep emotional attachment to Christ. If you love anyone or anything more than you love Christ, you are not worthy of him.

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:37-39

Take up your cross and follow Jesus. This means being willing to publicly identify with him, to experience opposition because of your faith, and even to be persecuted or face death.

3. Die to your old self and open yourself up to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (John 3). To be born again is to be born anew, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives believers wisdom and the ability to understand spiritual realities (1 Corinthians 2). The Spirit dispenses spiritual gifts as God sees fit (1 Corinthians 12).

Even those who are born again must resist the temptations of the flesh. Our sinful natures lead us to act in ways that are not pleasing to God. Temptations of the flesh are not just sexual sins; it includes sins of the heart – jealousy, hatred, rage, selfish ambition, etc. If we want to know the holy God, we must live in the Spirit and walk with the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25

4. Repudiate the values of the world.

The world’s values are cheap in comparison to the treasures of the kingdom of God. Worldly people place too much value on money, possessions, status, popularity and fame. Worldly people act out of self ambition, self interest, and self indulgence. If you want to know God, you must detach yourself spiritually from the things non-believers set their hearts upon. Keep a tight rein on your tongue and do not let yourself become polluted by the world (James 1:26-27),

Instead of following the ways of the world, follow the example of Jesus who said, store up for yourself treasures in heaven. You have to make a choice. You can’t serve both God and money (Matthew 6:19-24).

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

5. Meditate upon the majesty of God.

To meditate upon the majesty of God is to practice true worship. As you become better acquainted with God, you may need to alter previously held beliefs about Him. You may need to break away from the lifeless, frivolous worship that prevails in so many churches. At my old church, I stopped going to the large, formal service on Sundays and attended the smaller, more contemplative service where we were given time to sit quietly to reflect and pray.

Withdraw inwardly and meet God in adoring silence. Pause and reflect on his omniscience, his omnipotence, his omnipresence, his immutability, his sovereignty, his holiness, his benevolence, his mercy, his grace, his glory. God’s majesty is more than the human mind can fathom!

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 3:23-24

6. Serve your fellow man.

How is serving others a condition for gaining knowledge of God? The more we know God, the more we want to share his love and mercy with others. When we help those in need, we are helping Jesus and bringing glory to God.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

The more we know God, the more we want to follow the example of Jesus in serving others. To know Jesus, the Son of God, the One with whom God was well pleased, is to be like-minded. It is to humbly look to the interests of others and not just to your own (Philippians 2).

In The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer wrote about the individual’s relationship with God. As we become more intimately and personally acquainted with God, we will affect others around us in the Christian community. Tozer wrote that we can do this most effectively if we make the majesty of God the focus of our public service – in our singing, our witness, our preaching, in our writing.

Glory to God in the highest!

*******

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The Sacrament of Living

I finally finished rereading The Pursuit of God. In the last chapter, A.W. Tozer wrote about the way too many Christians divide their lives between the sacred and the secular. We have life in the Spirit but live in the natural world. The two parts of our lives may seem starkly different and separate. Tozer said that if we try to “walk the tightrope between two kingdoms,” we will not live a unified life. We will not experience internal peace.

All for the glory of God

Religious activities that Christians engage in – praying, worshiping, reading the Bible, singing songs of praise, etc. – are meaningful and satisfying because we know they are pleasing to God. As spiritual beings, we have our eyes on the kingdom of heaven and look forward to eternal life in a place where there is no evil and no suffering. But as human beings, we spend our days doing ordinary human things – working, eating, sleeping, cleaning, etc. The ordinary acts of living can seem tedious and frustrating in comparison to sacred acts of worship.

And yet, as the Apostle Paul wrote, we are to do everything – even the most ordinary acts of living – for the glory of God.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 

1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV

When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he told them to set your hearts and your minds on things above. He reminded them that as God’s chosen people, they should be kind, humble, gentle and patient. They should love and forgive others. When we work, we are to work at it as if we are working for the Lord. When we serve others, we are to serve as if we are serving Christ.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

Sacramental Living

The dictionary says a sacrament is “a religious ceremony or ritual regarded as imparting divine grace, such as baptism, the Eucharist and (in the Roman Catholic and many Orthodox Churches) penance and the anointing of the sick.” Tozer described a sacrament as “an external expression of an inward grace.” If we accept this truth, then we can see the ordinary acts of our lives as sacred. We can consecrate our total selves to God.

Tozer addressed a couple of issues that get in the way of sacramental everyday living. One is “the sacred-secular antithesis as applied to places.” He asks, how can anyone who has read the New Testament still believe that there is something inherently sacred about a place? In the Old Testament, God taught the people of Israel the difference between what is holy and unholy. What they should have learned is that God is holy; things or places are not holy. In the New Testament, the woman at the well told Jesus, you Jews claim that the place we must worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus said, the time has come when true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.

A second issue that may get in the way of sacramental living is the ritualism and religious observances in which many Christians engage. Here Tozer directed criticism specifically at the Roman Catholic Church. Christians started out with two sacraments, baptism and holy communion. The Catholic church eventually came to recognize seven. Tozer believed that in adding sacraments and in observing days and times, Catholics and fundamentalists artificially divide religion from everyday life.

Am I walking a tightrope?

When I first started reading what Tozer had to say about the way Christians mistakenly divide their lives between the sacred and the secular, I immediately felt convicted but not for the reasons he laid out. There was no social media when The Pursuit of God was published (1948). In an effort to not offend or alienate nonreligious friends and family on social media, I tend to hold back on expressions of my faith. In a way, this is dividing the sacred from the secular and I am left feeling divided.

While Tozer wrote about the important truth that even laypeople can do ordinary, everyday things for the glory of God, I struggled to get to the truth I was seeking. I already know that I can honor God when I work and do ordinary things. Something was missing from his discussion. My struggle with the sacred-secular dichotomy is not the struggle he described.

At one point, Tozer wrote about sins of the body – “perversions, misuse and abuse” – but then quickly moved on. He said:

Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life the twin wonders of repentance and the new birth have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God, as he understands it from the written word.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

What about those of us whose lives have the twin wonders of repentance and rebirth who still struggle with sins of the heart? It’s easy to be righteous when you’re sitting in church praising God or when you’re reading the Bible or praying. It is everyday, ordinary life that brings out the hard truth that I am still a sinner in need of God’s grace.

The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.  So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:15-20, New Living Translation

I am all too human, a slave to sin. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature, I am a slave to sin. Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Jesus Christ.

While Tozer did not write about the fact that our very humanity separates the sacred from the secular, he acknowledged that old habits die hard. It takes practice to learn new habits. We must offer all our acts to God and pray “a thousand thought-prayers as we go about the job of living.” We must remind ourselves that Christ dwells in us. We cannot be fruitful unless we remain in Jesus and his words remain in us.

Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.

A.W. Tozer

****

Photo by Loic Leray on Unsplash