Who Am I? vs Who Are You?

How do we respond to God properly?  How do we respond with thankfulness and not with presumption?  How does our response show how we have received (or not received) His grace?

"I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord..." King David Playing the Harp, Gerard von Honthorst, 17th C

“I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord…”
King David Playing the Harp, Gerard von Honthorst, 17th C

King David was a man of many failures.  Also, he had many high points in his relationship with God.  Perhaps that is why he can be of such help to us as we all struggle/stumble/trip/fall/get back up in our pursuit of God.

2 Samuel 7 records an amazing prayer of thankfulness that David prayed God makes covenant with him.  It is well worth meditating upon but the first line jumps off the page.

Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?

This is how to pray.  This is prayer to God that understands his grace.  And when we understand God’s grace, our disposition to Him will be similar.  When we don’t, it tends to veer to the opposite.

Who am I?   David prays with total humble thankfulness.  He knows that he deserves nothing from God.  Why?  Because he remembers where he’s from and that it was God’s grace alone that brought him to where he is.  He is King (no small achievement).  he has had success (by God’s power).  And he knows that everything is his life is a gift (it’s this way for us all).  He has a low view of himself and his efforts – not in a low self-esteem way but a healthy way.  He has no sense of entitlement.  He is at the top of his life and knows he doesn’t deserve.  God’s grace has made him amazed, thankful, and reverently worshipful.  He gives all the glory to God.  This is a response of one who has a sense of God’s grace.

Who are You?  Without a grasp of grace, we will either become arrogant in ourselves or will turn demanding of God.  Instead of an amazed ‘who am I?’, we may begin to ask God ‘who are you?’.  Not in a searching, seeking way but in a demanding way.  We believe that God owes us something – for our good behaviour, or just because we’re entitled to a good life.  But we’re not.  Everything comes as a gift from God.  When we forget that, our amazed thankfulness will turn to demand.  And because the life we want is rarely the life we get, we could doubt God’s goodness or blame Him in some way.  Who are You? we could ask, demanding that He give the life we desire.

God’s grace given to the undeserving is the heart of Christian faith and a key to the amazed, worshipful, and thankful soul.

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A God Too Big to Hold

There’s a fallacy afoot that says ‘if I can’t understand it, than it can not be true’.  Many objections and much questioning of the Christian faith find their basis here.  Even those who are Christian sometimes make their own ability to grasp something the measure of it’s value or truthfulness.

How can God be both One and Three?

How can Jesus be both God and Man (not half and half)?

How can a good God allow, permit, ordain suffering and evil?

How can what Adam did way back when have consequences for human nature now?

These are all valid questions but the truth of the answers to them is not dependant on whether we can grasp the immensity.  (They’re also not dependant on whether we like the answers)  But we’re not called first to exhaustively understand but to believe and confess. The truth is that God is too big to hold.  We need lots of words and thought to try and understand but even in our best and most faithful efforts we must find Him as He is.  And the true God is too immense for our knowledge.  This should free us from the “if I can’t get it, it can’t be true” position.  Or using Cornelius Van Til’s analogy “if my net can’t catch it, it must not be fish.”  The truth is that some fish are far too big for our nets.  What we can know of God is immense and so we must be confident to speak of Him in clear ways.  But even then the nets are bursting. fish in net

The Wise Still Seek Him

"The Magi Journeying"  James Tissot, 19th C

“The Magi Journeying” James Tissot, 19th C

When I drive to my parent’s house my route takes me past a wholesale shingle distributor.  Outside his business each December he places a simple sign that reads:  WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM.  It’s a true enough statement for a traditional Christian like me to believe, but it’s also in danger of becoming a cliche.  But spiritual searching in our culture also runs the danger of becoming cliche.  To be a “seeker” has even become commodified.  If you don’t believe me, just head to your local bookstore.

But what does a true spiritual search look like?  When one searches after God, what is found?  And what does a true search produce in us?  With respect to these questions, those wise men from the East (Magi) still have a lot to teach us.  Matthew records their search and their discovery, and what their search produced.

Great Humility.  It is often assumed that humility means being uncertain of what we believe or whether truth can be found at all.  Isn’t it arrogant to say that we can seek God and truly find him with certainty?  Well, no.  True humility means the willingness to search after what we do not know but also to look with the intention of finding.  These wise men went on a search but also came to a destination.  Endless searches with no goal actually are not humble because one never needs to submit to any found truth.  But when we search for a true destination, it creates true humility because when we find we must kneel.

Great Generosity.  If there is only a few things known about these men, one will certainly be that they brought gifts. Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh.  These were expensive gifts, royal gifts.  They came out of an overflow of honour and affection the wise men had for the baby they found.  Why does a true search for God in Christ produce such rich generosity?  It is a response to the immense  generosity first shown to us by God.  The Christian Gospel is one God’s grace – he came to us, he lived for us, he died in our place.  Even the faith we have for him is a gift to us.  Everything is a gift.  And upon the receiving of the gift we become more like the Giver.  God showered us with his generosity – we spend for others.

Great Worship.  When the wise men searched they were humble enough to know they had found.  When they arrived they poured out generously in response to the gift that had been given the world.  And they also kneeled and worshipped.  When we search after truth (truly search) and then find (truly find) we discover that truth is a person.  That which is ultimate, absolute, divine is not abstract ideas or an ephemeral something.  It is a Someone.  And when we seek him, find him, we will love him.  That worshipful love is the result of a true search.

Wise men sought him.  Wise men still still seek him.  May we be like them.

 

Full Sermon – Still Sought By The Wise – Matthew 2:1-12 – Week 3 of Advent

Be An Ass!

donkey

Here’s a famous question:  If you could be any animal, what kind of animal would you be?

Did you pick something strong, beautiful,or majestic?  Or maybe something able to fly high or run far?

Well, if you were to ask the great theologian Karl Barth he would reply…  I’d be an ass!

Referring to the story of Christ entering Jerusalem on the back of an ass, Barth found affinity with that donkey and said:

“If I have done anything in this life of mine, I have done it as a relative of the donkey that went its way carrying an important burden. The disciples had said to its owner: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ And so it seems to have pleased God to have used me at this time…”

Wanting to be used by God.  Wanting to carry Christ and His message where he went.  He wanted to be an ass.  There is great humility in this statement.  Nobody was looking at the donkey on that day.  They were all looking at the One that was carried.  Wouldn’t it be great if all our lives were more like that?