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Sunday, 9 March 2014

How should I understand the concept of the Father God?

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1). This passage begins with a command: “See.” John wants us to observe the manifestations of the Father's love. He has introduced the subject of God’s love in the preceding chapter (1 John 2:5,15), briefly discusses it here, and fully explains it in the fourth chapter. John’s purpose is to describe the kind of love the Father gives His children, “what great love.” The Greek word translated “what great” is found only six times in the New Testament and always implies astonishment and admiration.

What is interesting to note here is that John does not say, “The Father loves us.” In doing so, he would be describing a condition. Instead, he tells us that the Father has “lavished” His love on us, and this, in turn, portrays an action and the extent of God’s love. It is also interesting to note that John has chosen the word “Father” purposely. That word implies the father-child relationship. However, God did not become Father when He adopted us as children. God's fatherhood is eternal. He is eternally the Father of Jesus Christ, and through Jesus He is our Father. Through Jesus we receive the Father's love and are called “children of God.”

What an honor it is that God calls us His children and gives us the assurance that as His children we are heirs and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). In his Gospel, John also tells us that God gives the right to become children of God to all who in faith have received Christ as Lord and Savior (John 1:12). God extends His love to His Son Jesus Christ and, through Him, to all His adopted children.

When John then tells us “that is what we are!” he declares the reality of our status. Right now, at this very moment, we are His children. In other words, this is not a promise which God will fulfill in the future. No, the truth is we are already God's children. We enjoy all the rights and privileges our adoption entails, because we have come to know God as our Father. As His children we experience His love. As His children we acknowledge Him as our Father, for we have an experiential knowledge of God. We put our trust and faith in Him who loves us, provides for us, and protects us as our earthly fathers should. Also as earthly fathers should, God disciplines His children when they disobey or ignore His commands. He does this for our benefit, so “that we may share in His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

There are many ways the Scriptures describe those who love God and obey Him. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17); we are holy priests (1 Peter 2:5); we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17); and we are partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). But more than any of the above—more significant than any title or position—is the simple fact that we are God's children and He is our heavenly Father.

Why is seeking God important?

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul quotes an astonishing statement from the Psalms: “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). How can Paul, and David before him, make such a sweeping declaration? Of all who have ever lived, not even one person has really sought after God? There’s no question that billions of people have sought afteragod, but they have not always sought after the true God.

This fact ties directly to Adam and Eve’s sin through Satan’s deception. Throughout the history of mankind, the treachery promulgated by Satan has been so thorough that the natural man can perceive only bits and pieces of the real truth about God. As a result, our conceptions about God are blurred. It’s only when God chooses to reveal Himself to us that the pieces begin to fall together as our eyes are opened to truth. Then, truly seeking God becomes possible.

Jesus tells us inJohn 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Here Jesus is telling us that our continuing to seek God, desiring to know Him more, is the essence of true life, eternal life. The most important thoughts our minds can entertain are thoughts of God, because they will determine the quality and direction of life. Seeking God, then, is an ongoing responsibility and privilege for all Christians.

But we also know that this is not always an easy thing to do, not because God is elusive, but because our minds are saturated with misconceptions and deceits planted by Satan and reinforced by the culture. But the good news is that these mistaken beliefs are done away with through the experiences of seeking God and coming to know Him. For example,2 Chronicles 15:2-4was written over two thousand years ago to a people like us: “He [Azariah, the prophet] went out to meet Asa and said to him, ‘Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them.’”

Their instructions were simple: when they sincerely sought God, things went well, but when their desire to seek Him waned and eventually ceased altogether, their world came apart. Sin increased, morality declined, contact with God ceased. The admonitions to the children of God of that time are clear to us today: “If you seek him, he will be found by you.” This is such a profound principle that it is repeated throughout the Scriptures. The idea is that when we draw near to God, He reveals Himself to us. God does not hide Himself from the seeking heart.

• “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29)

• “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

• "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 NIV)

What is God like?

Every culture in the history of the world has had some concept of what God is like. Some have assumed that God is in control of the weather and have made images of a storm god throwing lightning bolts around (Baal worship in Canaan). Some have assumed that God is very powerful, and so they worshiped the most powerful thing they could see, the sun (Ra worship in Egypt). Others have assumed that God is everywhere and therefore have worshiped everything (pantheism in Stoic philosophy). Some have assumed that God is unknowable and have turned to agnosticism or, just to cover their bases, have worshiped “An Unknown God” (Acts 17:23).

The problem with each of these assumptions is that they only get part of the picture of who God is. Yes, God is in control of the weather, but He is also in control of so much more. He is powerful, but much more powerful than the sun. He is everywhere, but He also transcends everything. And, thankfully, while there are some things we don’t understand about God, He is knowable. In fact, He has revealed everything we need to know about Him in the Bible. Godwantsto be known (Psalm 46:10).

Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in their bookI Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, state the following:

- Truth is discovered, not invented. It exists independent of anyone's knowledge of it. (Gravity existed prior to Newton.)

- Truth is transcultural; if something is true, it is true for all people, in all places, at all times. (2+2=4 for everyone, everywhere, at every time.)

- Truth is unchanging even though ourbeliefsabout truth change. (When we began to believe the earth was round instead of flat, thetruthabout the earth didn't change, only ourbeliefabout the earth changed.)

Therefore, as we try to ascertain what God is like, we are simply trying to discover truths already there.

First, God exists. The Bible never argues for God’s existence; it simply states it. The fact that Godisshould be self-evident through the works He has created (Psalm 19:1-6).Genesis 1:1says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” This is a simple yet powerful statement. The universe includes time, space, matter, and energy, so that all discernible elements in the universe came into being by God's decree. Albert Einstein's Theory of General Relativity states that all time, space, and matter had a definite, simultaneous beginning. What has a beginning has a cause. That is the law of causality, and the fact of God easily explains the ultimate cause. God is the creator of all that is, and so we know something else about Him: He is almighty (Joel 1:15), He is eternally self-existent (Psalm 90:2), and He exists above and beyond all of creation (Psalm 97:9).

The same God who made all things also controls those things. He is sovereign (Isaiah 46:10). He who creates an item owns it and has power to utilize it as he sees fit. The ultimate cause has ultimate authority. InIsaiah 44:24God presents Himself as the One “who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” The next verse says that He “overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense.” This is obviously a God with power to do as He pleases.

God is spirit (John 4:24) and cannot be represented by any created thing; in fact, the attempt to create such a representation is blasphemous (Exodus 4:4-6). God is unchanging (Malachi 3:6). God is all-knowing (1 John 3:20) and all-present (Psalm 139:7-13). He is holy and glorious (Isaiah 6:3). He is just (Deuteronomy 32:4) and will justly judge all sin and unrighteousness (Jude 1:15).

The judgment of God highlights another truth about what He is like: He is a moral being. C. S. Lewis, inMere Christianity, makes the case that, just as there exist observable laws of nature (gravity, entropy, etc.), there are also observable laws of morality. He writes, “First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.” Despite varied ideas about what constitutes right and wrong, there is a universal belief that right and wrongexist, and this is a reflection of the God who made us (Genesis 1:26;Ecclesiastes 3:11).

When Jesus entered our world, He showed us the Father (John 14:7-9). Through Jesus, we understand that God seeks to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He is compassionate (Matthew 14:14), He is merciful (Luke 6:36), and He is forgiving (Matthew 9:1-8). At the same time, Jesus shows us that God will judge unrepentant sin (Luke 13:5) and that God is angry with those who live falsely and refuse to acknowledge the truth (Matthew 23).

Most of all, Jesus showed us that God is love (1 John 4:8). It was in love that God sent His Son into the world (John 3:16). It was in love that Jesus died on the cross for sinners (Romans 5:8). It is in love that He still calls sinners to repentance to experience the grace of God and to be called the children of God (1 John 3:1).

7 reasons for the death of Sunday evening worship

Historically, many evangelical churches have had a Sunday evening worship service. The idea, stretching back to the Protestant Reformation, has been that if the Bible is the authority, then it makes sense to have it taught as much as is practical.

Many of the early Protestant churches not only had Sunday morning and Sunday evening gatherings, but mid-week Bible studies as well. In Catholicism, the more you celebrated Mass, the better, and in the reformation that frequency simply jumped into services that revolved not around the sacraments, but around preaching. Eventually, as the reformation spread into Scotland and (sort of) into England, the practice settled into two Sunday worship services, both with different messages.
And in fact, this remains the pattern in much of the world. It is almost universal that Baptist churches have a Sunday morning service, a Sunday evening service, and a midweek prayer gathering of some kind. Some churches do this because they view (wrongly, I think) Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. Others do this because they have learned to appreciate (correctly, I think) the concept of Sunday as the Lord’s day, and the experience that comes with having the Lord’s Day bracketed with worship. But regardless of the motivation, in much of the world, churches that value the Bible (“Protestant” seems too wide of a term, and “evangelical” seems to miss as well—so I’m going with “churches that value the Bible”) have two Lord’s Day services.
But American churches began to drop the Sunday evening service in the mid-1990’s. There were many factors behind this rapture of evening worship:  
  1. Some churches developed a seeker-sensitive approach, where the commitment of two services was seen as a hindrance to outreach. Many churches were planted as part of this seeker-sensitive wave, and never had the Sunday night service to begin with.
  2.  Some developed a negative view of preaching, which led to the attitude of “why would we need another sermon? Shouldn’t we be in the community?
  3. One of the most common reasons I heard from churches for dropping their Sunday evening service was to launch community groups or home Bible studies. By stopping Sunday evening corporate gatherings, they could direct everyone to home Bible studies and increase the shepherding dynamic of the church.
  4. For many pastors, the pressure of a professionalized sermon became too great to deliver twice in a week. With the rise of the rock-star pastors of the early 2000’s, I know many pastors who felt like they needed to spend 20 hours in sermon prep if they wanted to really be faithful to preaching. Well, obviously that is something that can’t be done twice a week (at least not without abandoning every other responsibility you have!), and the Sunday evening sermon is what got voted off the island.
  5. Quite a few churches gave me a reason that I hadn’t thought of before: they began to focus on growing Sunday morning services, so they added services there, or they even added a Saturday night service. Many churches added a contemporary service Sunday morning, and when they went from one to two services there, they simply dropped their evening service. Some churches added satellite campuses, and with that it became too much to have a Sunday night service that was different from Sunday morning. Where would they do it? At all their campuses? What about the music? Plus, the amount of volunteer hours it took to have multiple Sunday morning services, plus a Saturday night service or satellite services, and it became too taxing to get everyone back on Sunday night for something different.
  6. When you combine the rock-star pastors with more services on Sunday mornings, people began driving further and further to go to a church that fit what they were looking for, and this had an adverse affection Sunday evenings . It was one thing to go 10 minutes back to church Sunday evening, but through the 90′s and early 2000′s, many churches saw their attenders living 30-45 minutes away, and it was just too much to have them (and their families) make that drive more than once a day.
  7. But the number one reason churches gave me (in my very unofficial survey) for dropping Sunday night services… they wanted to devote the evening for family time. In previous generations, Saturday was for family, and Sunday was for corporate worship. But sports began to eat up more and more of Saturday, so family time got bumped to Sunday, and it appears that it edged out that worship service. If you are running all around for sports on Saturday, Sunday after church really became the only time all week that your family got to spend together, and–after all–churches are in favor of stronger families, so the worship service had to go.

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