Blogging the Institutes–1.5.2–The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

The skies and the earth—the whole creation—presents clear proof of God which impresses itself on the mind of even the most obtuse person! You can’t open your eyes with seeing the proof of God all around you! The skies and the earth present clear proof whereas other areas such as astronomy, medicine and the natural science also present proof of God, though it may take extra work to uncover it in those areas. Nevertheless, people who are acquainted with those areas of study will also be able to obtain a deeper insight into God’s wisdom. You don’t need a deep knowledge of science or other areas of study, however, to know God. All of you need to do is open your eyes and the evidence around you will cause you to break forth in admiration of the Creator.

Studying the sun, moon, stars, and planets can be very challenging. Furthermore determining their positions, measuring their distances, and figuring out their properties, requires great skill. Since such skill is involved in this study of God’s creation, it is reasonable to believe that the more you use your mind to figure out God’s creation, the better “sight” of God’s glory you can have. Let me clear something up again, however. Just because you’re not an astronomer doesn’t mean you can’t have a view of God’s glory. By merely using your own eyes, you can see God’s divine imprint upon the universe. For example, look at how God has made the planets distinct and yet they run orderly in the sky.

Therefore, God has given people enough proof of His wisdom. The same thing is true with regards to the human body. It requires great study and skill to know exactly how the body works. And yet, even medically untrained people can observe the meticulous design of the human body, which testifies to God’s great wisdom and handiwork.

Blogging the Institutes–1.5.3–Even Human Bodies Give Us Knowledge of God

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Even Human Bodies Give Us Knowledge of God

Because the human body has such intricate design, it is no wonder that the philosophers called the body a microcasm, that is, a miniature world. The body shows off God’s power, wisdom, and goodness in a unique way. We could spend all day contemplating the wonders of the human body.

Paul reminds the Athenians that they “might feel for God and find Him.” He also immediately adds that “He is not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27). In other words, every person has evidence of God’s grace within them, by virtue of their own body! Therefore, if we don’t even have to see anything else except our own bodies to know God, then what excuse does a person have not to know God? How lazy does that person have to be not to find Him?

David, after celebrating God’s wonderful name and glory as being displayed everywhere, exclaims, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them?” and again, “You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength.” (Psalm 8:4, 2 NLT). Thus, David not only says that the human race is a mirror of God’s glory, but that even nursing infants are eloquent enough to proclaim His glory without others needing to speak for them. David also does not hesitate to use infants as evidence for God’s knowledge so that he can refute the arguments of those who would try to extinguish the knowledge of God.

Furthermore, Paul quotes Aratus and says, “We are His offspring” (Acts 17:28). Even the different abilities we have testify that God is our Father. Look at that quote again. Even pagan poets recognize that God is the Father of all people. Therefore, no one will voluntarily and willingly devote himself to God’s service unless he first tastes the goodness of God’s Fatherly love.

Pray Better: Paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer

Advice from Tim Keller:

The Lord’s Prayer may be the single set of words spoken more often than any other in the history of the world. Jesus Christ gave it to us as the key to unlock all the riches of prayer. Yet it is an untapped resource, partially because it is so familiar…How do we overcome the deadly peril of familiarity?…The Lord’s Prayer must stamp itself on our prayers, shaping them all the way down. There could be no better way to ensure that than Luther’s twice-daily exercise of paraphrasing and personalizing the Lord’s Prayer as introduction to more free-form praise and petition.”

Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, pp. 109, 118

Here’s my attempt of paraphrasing the Lord’s Prayer this past Sunday at LBC:

Lord,

You are the Father of all Your people. We look forward to the day when will worship around Your throne with people from every tribe, nation, and language, proclaiming, “Our Father!”

May Your name be kept holy. May we bear Your name with integrity as we work, as we play, and as we live in the world.

We ask for Your kingdom to come. We thank You that You have brought us out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of Light, the kingdom of Your Son. Help us live as kingdom citizens even though we still live in a broken world. And we also look forward to the day when Your kingdom will come with all of its glory and splendor and Jesus will make all things new.

And while we wait for that day, we find that we encounter many troubles, trials, and difficulties here and now. May Your will be done on this earth. May we submit to Your will, O Lord, even when it is difficult and doesn’t always make sense to us.

We also ask that You would give us what we need for today–our daily bread. Give us not only the physical and material provision we need, but give us wisdom to make choices which honor You, patience to bear with others who sin against us, and grace to endure the troubles and trials of the day. May we be a forgiving people, for we have been forgiven much. Let us freely pass on Your costly forgiveness, which Jesus purchased on the cross.

Keep us from temptation. Help us learn to pray so that we will not enter into temptation. May we be watchful and faithful, alert to things which can derail our faith. Deliver us from the clutches of the devil as You already have delivered us from his servitude through Jesus.

The depth of riches of Your wisdom and knowledge are too great for us! How unsearchable are Your judgments and unfathomable are Your ways! No one has known Your mind fully, nor become Your counselor. No one has given You anything so that You owe them. For from You and through You and to You are all things. To You be the glory forever. Amen.

Blogging the Institutes–1.5.1–The Created World Shows Us God

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Created World Shows Us God

True happiness comes through knowing God. Since happiness in found in Him, God is pleased to make Himself known to us. He does this through the knowledge which He plants in our minds and also through the creation. He puts Himself on display every day through what He has made. We cannot go a day without “seeing” Him there!

Although God’s essence (His “substance”) is totally beyond what our minds can grasp, He engraves His glory on all of His creation. His glory in creation is so bright, so distinct, and so illuminating that no person can plead ignorance and say, “Where’s the evidence for You, God?” The Psalmist declares about God, “You are dressed in a robe of light” (Psalm 104:2). The image the Psalmist is giving here is one where God is dressed in light and then imprints this light in the created world. Later in the Psalm, the author writes: “You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens; you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds. You make the clouds your chariot; you ride upon the wings of the wind.” (104:2-3). He is comparing the expanded skies to God’s royal palace. Because His glory is often seen brightest in the created world, it is frequently designated as His palace.

Furthermore, there is no place in the world—however minute—that does not have some spark of beauty. You can’t look around at the world, and all of its beauty, and not be completely overwhelmed by the weight of glory. This is why the author of Hebrews describes the visible world as an image of the invisible (Hebrews 11:3). The elegant structure of the world serves as a mirror by which we can “see” God, even though He is invisible. For example, the Psalmist says that the sun, moon and stars are all speaking a language, declaring God’s glory. All nations understand this language (Psalm 19:1-2). The knowledge of God is made too clear in creation for anyone to miss it, as Paul says, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Romans 1:20).

Blogging the Institutes–1.4.4–Corrupted Knowledge of God is like a Weed

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Corrupted Knowledge of God is Like a Weed

When the wicked do finally get around to thinking about God, it is against their will. They never approach Him unless they are dragged into His presence.  When they do come into His presence, they do not feel a voluntary fear flowing from reverence for God’s majesty. Rather, they only feel a forced and a servant-like fear which comes from fear of God’s judgment that they cannot escape. Although they dread God, they also hate Him. The saying of Statius applies well to those people who have no reverence for God: “Fear first brought gods into the world.”

People, who do evil, know that God is a God of justice and will punish evil. So they earnestly desire that God’s justice would be overthrown. By feeling this way, they are actually warring against God Himself because justice is one of His essential attributes. They also know that they are always within the reach of God’s judgment and unable to escape it. Thus, they shake with fear. Therefore, to avoid looking like they are railing against something which is so much greater than they are, the wicked will often have some kind of religion. Yet, they still continue to defile themselves with every kind of vice and pile up crime upon crime. Eventually, they end up breaking up every holy law of the Lord and setting aside His perfect standard. Even though they have some fear of God’s judgment, it still doesn’t cause them to turn away from their sin. They would rather choose to indulge in their sinful desires rather than allow them to be curbed by the Holy Spirit.

The garbled “religion” of the wicked—with its confused knowledge of God—is very different from the true worship of God. And yet, people who buy into false religion often make a big “to-do” about being “close to God.” But they aren’t actually getting close to Him. Ironically, they are running away from Him! For example, a person’s life should always be in obedience to God, yet these hypocrites rebel against God without fear in almost everything they do. And then they try to appease God through a few paltry religious rituals! They ought to serve God with integrity and holiness, but they try to earn His favor by a few measly “good works” and other rituals which don’t mean anything.

Moreover, they actually take even greater license in indulging their sinful desires, because they imagine they can appease God through their little “sacrifices”: do bad now and get forgiven later. When they should have confidence in God alone, they instead put Him aside and rest in their own abilities. Because they allow themselves to get tangled up in so many errors concerning the truth about God, eventually the darkness which comes from ignorance clouds their minds to the light—which is the knowledge about God. Still, however, some conviction that God exists still continues to persist. The corrupted knowledge of God which they have is like a weed—it is very hard to kill but only brings worth worthless “fruit.”

Therefore, one of my main points is reinforced again: some knowledge of God is engraved upon the human mind. Because even those who do not believe in God are forced to acknowledge it. Many times what happens is that they will mock God and treat the issues surrounding Him flippantly. But as soon as some terrible event happens to them, they seek God and cry out to Him in desperation. This demonstrates that they were never totally ignorant of God. Rather, they had suppressed the truth about God which should have shown up in their life earlier.

The Externally Focused Church–A (Short) Review

God’s people live for God’s mission. Scripture tells us that the church community as a whole is commissioned by God for mission: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Notice that all of those descriptions of the church are corporate, not individual.

So how does the church become mission-minded? Enter Rick Rusaw’s and Eric Swanson’s book, The Externally Focused Church. The book is a call for the church to be engaged in acts of service in its community. It gives both a quick theology of service as well as a methodology for becoming an externally-focused church—a church which seeks to serve the surrounding community.

Strengths

Generally, the book has sound theology. Although the highlight is on doing good works, I did not get the sense that the authors thought good works were more important than the good news of the gospel. Good works and good news go together in Scripture (see: Book of James). This book examines the one side of that equation (good works) more in-depth than the other. And that’s ok; no book can do everything.

The book has tons, I mean, tons of examples of churches doing service projects in the community. All of the examples are great for stimulating your thinking and generating creative ideas of apply in your community context.

Weaknesses

The Externally Focused Church is good for helping churches in lower socio-economic areas figure out the needs of its community. With a median income of $127,623, however, Lincroft, New Jersey—where my church is located—is extremely wealthy. How do we as an upper-class church make a difference in our community, when physical needs are not readily apparent?

Furthermore, although the book does have a section on Urban-Suburban church partnerships (pp. 188-189), much more information on that topic would have been useful. For example, how can a rich church like mine partner with another ministry without being paternalistic?

Buy, Borrow, or By-Pass: It’s a helpful book for church leaders to buy and discuss.

Blogging the Institutes–1.4.3–No Knowledge, No God

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

No Knowledge, No God

If true knowledge of God fuels the true worship of God, then those who think their superstitions are true worship are wrong. They argue that having some kind of passion for religion is enough to count as “true worship.” They don’t understand, however, that true worship must conform to God’s will. God cannot deny Himself. In other words, He must always be as He really is! You must come to Him on His terms. He is not like clay, which can be fashioned into a shape determined by an individual’s own whims.

It’s easy to see how superstition, although it attempts to please God, actually mocks Him. Instead of worshipping God as He has laid down for us in His Word, superstition usually focuses on things which God doesn’t really care about. This causes superstition to miss out on the things which God truly takes pleasure in.

Consequently, those who set up a false way to worship God end up merely worshipping their own ideas or imagination. In fact, many of these people wouldn’t even pretend to be interested in God at all, unless they could make up their own way to worship Him, which they usually do. The apostle Paul deems this vague and ambiguous “knowledge” about God as actually being ignorance: “At that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods” (Galatians 4:8). Elsewhere, Paul says that when the Ephesian Christians did not have correct knowledge about God, they were even without God Himself (Ephesians 2:12).

Therefore, it doesn’t really make any difference whether you believe in one God or in many gods. As long as you don’t have true knowledge of God, you don’t have God, only an idol. Even Lactantius says, “No religion is genuine unless it is in accordance with truth.”