The Endless One

The Endless One

The book my husband and I are reading aloud reminds me of those times when the kids found themselves indoors, in a room together. You remember.

You hear them “playing” in the next room. They call to one another, you hear the thudding of feet hitting the floor, of something hitting the wall, laughing. The pitch rises, the activity escalates to a frenzy, and you know you better step in before the pointless, foolish, nonsensical horse-play turns foul. This is when we, the mom or dad, step in to give direction to the energy. “Stop what you are doing and pick an activity with a beginning and an end.” [Free parenting tip: this instruction directs the rowdy, uncontrolled children to focus on a direction – a game with parameters and boundaries that doesn’t allow for uncontrolled silliness which often results in the youngest of the bunch getting hurt. “Get out the Lego and build something to display on the supper table as our centerpiece. Play Sardines. Play ‘pretend’ where you each have a specific role. Read a book. Go climb a tree. You discuss it and agree on an activity that has rules.” Believe it or not, the kids actually seem relieved to have authority intervene and put a stop to what they, in their childishness, could no longer control.]

It’s the book that never ends. On our e-reader, we’ve been tapping the right of the screen for over a year and there’s still no end in sight. Thinking it would be good to know more about church history, we bought (real cheap) and downloaded “History of the Christian Church – from the 1st to the 19th Century (All 8 Volumes)”. We have read more detailed discussion than I thought could exist about every pope, every reformer and every friend and enemy of each of them.

We’re in Volume 8, the Reformation. We begin to see similarities between the church of the early 16th century and that of northern Namibia today. We have lively discussions, the two of us, as we compare and contrast the past and present, and pray for our Namibian brethren.

Then one day, I tapped the screen to peel off the next layer of discussion on the Calvinistic system of predestination. My eyes glazed over as I looked with disbelief at some very long, very strange words I had never seen before in all my Christian education. Apparently the actual words used in Scripture are not enough to satisfy us as to God’s purposes. These brilliant minds made up new words in order to expand our maze of wanderings in God’s infinite wisdom. Thorough counter-arguments, agreements, and agreements with exceptions postulated by every known theologian from then, to “now” (“now” meaning 1890, the date of publication!) consume hours of our reading time.

Grownups can meander aimlessly in the endless labyrinth of inquiry into Divine mysteries, just as children’s play can be foolishly endless. We, too, must have our thoughts directed. So God steps into our verbosity and redirects us to approach the subject with reverence and a humble sense of the limitation of our mental capacities.

So then, on the workings of God’s grace, the recipients of it and the “timing” of it’s effective application, I offer some of my favorite quotes from our various readings as some “rules to think by” :

“The difference between the two schools [those 2 interminably long words referred to above] is practically worthless, and only exposes the folly of man’s daring to search the secrets of God’s eternal counsel …” Philip Schaff

“There is a learned ignorance of things which it is neither permitted nor lawful to know, and avidity of knowledge is a species of madness.”  John Calvin

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Moses

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’” Paul the apostle

Paul himself “humbly sits at the brink and adores the depth.” The angels themselves puzzle over God’s grace and mercy revealed through Jesus Christ and His gospel. (I Peter 1:12)

“We are forbidden curiously to enquire into the secret counsels of God and to determine concerning them. … We are directed and encouraged diligently to enquire into that which God has made known … He has kept back nothing that is profitable for us, but that only which it is good for us to be ignorant of. We ought to acquaint ourselves, and our children too, with the things of God that are revealed. … All our knowledge must be in order to practice, for this is the end of all divine revelation, not to furnish us with curious subjects of speculation and discourse …” Matthew Henry

And, finally, one of my favorite hymns is the prelude and postlude to every read-aloud session, reminding me that “the only way out of the labyrinth is the Ariadne thread of the love of God in Christ, and this is a still greater, but more blessed mystery, which we can adore rather than comprehend”. Schaff

I Know Whom I Have Believed

I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He has made known,
Nor why unworthy – Christ in love redeemed me for His own.

(chorus)
But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him.

I know not what of good or ill may be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days, before His face I see.

I know not when my Lord may come, at night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him, or meet Him in the air.

————-
Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33-36; I Cor . 2:6-12; Ps. 139:6

Photo: Nampula, Mozambique, May 2008

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Glory For Me!

Glory For Me!

That which gives you your sense of worth
is your glory.

“Glory!” What comes to mind when you hear the word? I think: jaw-dropping awesomeness, perfection, God, and Christmas. “Glory!” What do you see? I see angels, white and blinding light, glitter and sparkles. Glory. It’s one of those Bible words that we don’t use much nowadays, unless it’s December and we’re singing about it. But the word does appear in the Bible over and over. I was seeing the “glory” theme so often that I decided I’d better take a closer look and understand what is actually being said.

The glory of God is easier to define, even from a brief dictionary definition. glory – n. 1 high renown or honor won by notable achievements 2 magnificence; great beauty; a thing that is beautiful or distinctive; a special cause for pride, respect, or delight. Granted, this only scratches the surface of what the prophets and apostles mean when they speak of God’s glory but at least our understanding is pointed in the right direction. What really threw me was the passages that quote a human being saying “my glory”. What is that about? Take Psalm 16, for example, where we listen in as David alternately prays to God and talks to his own soul. Towards the end he says,

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices…”

Now, if you are using a modern paraphrase, you probably won’t see the word “glory” here. The translators have accommodated our self-imposed, limited vocabulary. I’m sorry about that because I think the meaning intended in the original manuscript holds layers of richness that contextualised translations miss.

One commentator, Matthew Henry, explains that “our glory is that within us that makes us different from the beasts”. Our tongue, our ability to speak, distinguishes us from animals. Therefore, in the case of Psalm 16 David audibly, with speech, rejoices in the Lord. But speech is not our only distinguishing characteristic. There’s a deeper layer of meaning to “glory”.

We differ from animals in that we are aware of the self. We think about our self. We consider our image and we ponder the level of satisfaction we have attained. We are conscious of our self, of our soul. So now I invite you to read Psalm 84 with that in mind. Notice that in David’s self-awareness, he directs his soul to God. David is the king! He sits on a throne and lives in a palace! But this is not where he finds his worth. “The Lord will give grace and glory”, he assures his soul, “no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” We see here, then, that “glory” also carries the meaning ‘the weight of significance, honor, esteem’. And here is the point. David, for all his talents, skills, wealth and power derived the weight of his significance from the Lord who gives it to those who trust in him! What freedom this truth has given me from the bondage of self — of having to assert myself, to protect and look after the measure of my worth and significance!

Do you see the powerful truth here? If you trust in the Lord Jesus your identity, self-esteem, value and worth is wrapped up in him. He shares his glory with you. In Him you live and move and have your being. Our personal glory is centered in our Savior, the only truly Glorious One.

Now, when you read your Bible and come across the phrase “my glory”, don’t rush over it. Amplify the meaning with “my esteem” or “the weight of significance” and catch a glimpse of the further glories that await you and I! Go to John 17 with this in mind and you’ll be blown away! Christ’s glory, which He has given to us, is for the purpose of unity among us, His followers, to the end that the world may know God sent Jesus. I am identified with Christ, sharing in his worth, not to realize my self but to manifest the truth of the gospel, God’s glory, to the world! Genuine significance lies in an absence of pride in the “me” that I love, and finds its pride and worth in God’s glory.

There is an old hymn I sang as a child that comes to mind. Sing along with me (or say it) and in your mind think “significance or esteem” when you sing “glory”.

When all my labors and trials are o’er, and I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, will through the ages be glory for me.

[chorus] Oh that will be glory for me, glory for me, glory for me. When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me!

When, by the gift of His infinite grace, I am accorded in Heaven a place,
Just to be there and to look on His face, will through the ages be glory for me. [chorus]

Friends will be there I have loved long ago; Joy like a river around me will flow;
Yet, just a smile from my Savior, I know, will through the ages be glory for me. [chorus]