Sunday, January 8, 2017

Who is God? - Isaiah 42: 5-9

If we want to know the basics of being a Christian, where better to look than at the Apostles’ Creed?
Actually, the name “Apostles’ Creed” is a misnomer. It only appears in its modern form in the fourth century after the disciples. Nevertheless, it expresses what the church has universally believed since the time of the apostles. 

“Creed” comes from the Latin “credo”--which means “I believe.” We each have a creed, whether we ever say it or not. If we take our faith seriously, then we need to know what we believe. A creed is a kind of fence that surrounds and defines God’s people. Outside is another flock. The creed helps us define what a truly Christian church is, so we can distinguish truth from error. Inside that fence we can disagree, but we all live within the boundaries of that fence. To exist within the church and not hold to the doctrines of the creed is to be an illegal immigrant. That’s what makes us Christian. It is Christianity at its simplest.

It begins with this statement--“I believe in God, the Father, Almighty.”

 What’s most astounding about God is that it’s not about what we know of Him, but what we don’t know. We know very little about the nature and will of God. The Bible tells us some things about God, but not really that much. We don’t know where he came from, where He lives, or exactly what His nature might be. He just is and always has been. Everything else is beyond our comprehension.  

Whenever we try to speculate about His nature and purpose in life, apart from the few scraps of information we have about Him, we step out of knowledge and into the realm of speculative fiction. 

The creed reminds us of what we know and leaves out what we don’t know. Most theological arguments are pointless, since we, who are small and finite, can somehow grasp in our minds the nature of One who is limitless and infinite. We can’t grasp the nature of God from our short stay on earth than we can tell what a foreign country is like from a one-hour layover in the airport. 

We can’t know God—but He can and does know us. He doesn’t just know us, He also loves us.  In His love, He has revealed a few things we need to know about Himself. He is our Father. He is Almighty, and He created everything. Next week, we will talk about God as creator. Today, we will talk about the first two statements, and how they concern the way we live.

When I was a toddler, I knew practically nothing about my earthly father. I knew him, but nothing about him, except how to recognize him. I couldn’t tell you what he did for a living, the kind of car he drove, or where he went to college. Truthfully, I didn’t care about any of that. If my father had been a truck driver or a gangster, it would have made no difference to me. All I knew was that he had an enormous pair of legs that towered over me, great strong arms that held me, eyes that watched me all the time, and a smile or frown that told me when he was pleased or displeased. 

 Nothing else matters to small children than knowing their fathers love them, and that their fathers are strong enough to protect them. Nothing else is important.

Compared to God, we all are like toddlers. Theological issues are really just relational issues. All that matters is that He is with us, and is big enough to protect us.

Theologians have fancy terms for everything. The idea that God is with us, they call the immanence of God. It means that God is with us and in our lives. Is God really in our lives? Is He really with us?
In Isaiah 42: 6-7 we read this:

 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness!

What a beautiful picture of God. God walks with us, like a man walking with his toddler, holding his hand and gently leading the child in us. This is the gentle Shepherd God of Psalm 23, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the caring God who walked with Abraham and Moses.

We easily forget that God is our Father. In hard times we think he has abandoned us, because things are not going our way and He doesn’t magically make our problems disappear. In good times we abandon Him, and would rather congratulate ourselves for our own good fortune than give thanks to the God who made it possible. When He doesn’t solve our problems we blame Him. When He does solve our problems, we take the credit. Neither good nor bad fortune leads us to understand the immanence of God.

Many people reject God entirely. The number of atheists in America is growing rapidly.  Twenty years ago, more than 95% of Americans believed in God, but today only 88% do. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. A far larger group of people reject His immanence. This is called Deism—the acceptance of God’s existence, but rejecting His Presence. Deists believe God created the universe, but He doesn’t care about it now. To them God is their Father, but He abandoned His children. He is not with us.

The other statement the creed makes is this—He is Almighty. Theologians have another fancy word for this—transcendence. He is with us, but He is bigger than we are, stronger than we are, and smarter than we are. He is not like us and we can never fully understand Him. He is far greater and more powerful than anything we can ever think or imagine.

Isaiah 42: 8 says, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”  

“Lord” means master, boss, king, leader, ruler, president, commander, and ultimate authority. When we call Jesus our Lord, we acknowledge His transcendent place in our lives. 

God is more than just our playmate. God may enjoy being with us, but sometimes He has to say “no” to us. He makes the rules and sets the standards. We—His children—must acknowledge and respect this. If we think we can boss God around, we have not understood Him. God is not just loving. He is also awesome.    

So God reveals His two great roles in our existence—Father and Almighty. What does any of this have to do with us? 

Plenty. It means we must learn to depend on Him in every portion of our lives, and not on ourselves. We must not simply say, “Okay, God, I’ve got this.” We must instead learn to seek His will and His power in and through everything. 

In a modern war, what is the most important and effective weapon a soldier possesses? It’s not his rifle, knife, grenade or pistol—it’s his radio. If he is attacked, he uses his weapons, but if that attack is too great, he calls for reinforcements.

Prayer is our radio. When we are in constant communication with the Father, He can come rescue us. If we think we are strong enough where we never need to call for help, then we can easily be overcome. Sometimes we all feel this way. There are times when we all feel that God has abandoned us.

We know this, but we are stupid, at least compared to God. We need to keep reminding ourselves both of the immanence and transcendence of God. The Bible is one long reminder of both these ideas. They are the central theme of the whole book. When the people of Israel forgot either the immanence or transcendence of God, they started moving away from Him. It is only when we see God as with us and above us, as both caring Father and a Holy Other, did we remember to obey him and call upon Him in trouble. 
 That is why worship is so important in a modern Christian’s life. It is not just important on Sundays, but on every day. Worship is how we remind ourselves of God’s presence and place in our lives. That daily and weekly reminder of God must be both immanent and transcendent. 

Worship is transcendent when it focuses on God’s power, might, eternal nature, and majesty. In songs like “Immortal,” Invisible,” God only Wise,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “Our God is an awesome God” we express our knowledge of his majesty, power, and glory, and we respond with respect and Godly fear.

Much of our modern worship lacks a sense of transcendent. It doesn’t focus on Who God is, but on how we relate to Him. It focuses on our personal experience, not on eternal truth. There is a place in worship for songs such as, “I just came to praise the Lord” and “Come, now is the time to Worship,” but if you notice in them they focus on how we react to God, not on God Himself. 

Imagine you want to express love to your wife, but you keep saying, “I really should love you.” Instead of “I love you,” or “I really should tell you that you are wonderful,” instead of “You are wonderful.” Every sentence begins with “I” instead of “you.” After a while, she noticed that you seem to talk more about yourself than her. You are focusing on your feelings, not her attributes.
Transcendent worship puts God first, and us second. It’s not about how well we do it, or how eloquent we talk of God. It’s about how great God is, and how glorious He is. It’s not personality driven. It’s God driven. 

But worship is more than just transcendent. It’s also immanent and intimate. It acknowledges that God really does care for us. Sometime worship feels like watching a parade, where dignitaries ride by in cars, waving at the crowd. We see them, but they don’t see us. Immanent worship reminds us that He sees us and knows us. Worship needs to be personal, too.

God went to great lengths to be immanent in our lives. He took on human form, and was born in a virgin’s womb. He lived and died on the earth, and became a man in Jesus. Jesus is almighty God’s personal expression of care and concern. No earthly father could ever love us the way Christ loves us. 

Keep God personal in your life. Study the Bible, pray, and thank Him daily. Confess your sins to Him, and acknowledge your forgiveness. Take the time on a daily basis not just to read about God, but to talk to Him as well. Don’t let a day go by without seeking the presence of God. When we are broken turn to God. 

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