Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
God Is: Transcendent & Immanent
May 7, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
This morning I am beginning a sermon series which I have simply entitled “God Is.” Over the next few weeks we will be looking at how the scriptures define for us who God is. What are His attributes (nature)? What is His character? What is He like? Our doctrine of God is the central point for most of the rest of our belief system. Having a correct understanding of the nature of God is crucial to our walk of faith and critical to inform the choices we make for our lives. “One’s view of God might even be thought of as supplying the whole framework within which one’s theology is constructed and life is lived.” Consequently, a false/incomplete understanding of God can lead to making false assumptions about his nature and character.
I have come to believe that in the contemporary church there is a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of God. And it’s not that what is being taught is necessarily untrue, it is just incomplete. Modern preachers tend to focus almost exclusively on the love and grace of God to the virtual exclusion of his holiness, and the implications of that holiness. Too often God is pictured as a kindly old grandfather with a boatload of forgiveness who is quick to offer grace to all who indulge in their selfish desires. However, it is also true that the pendulum has at times swung the other way where God is understood as a cosmic cop wielding a club and who is seeking opportunities to pounce on those who are straying. It is because there is so much misunderstanding that I have decided to work through this series. It will be by no means exhaustive, but I hope that by the end, you (and I) will have a better understanding of the nature and character of God.
However, to start off with today I want to give our attention to a pair of very important emphases that the Scriptures teach us about God - they are not really attributes, though they help to define some of his attributes. They have more to do with defining God’s relationship with his created order. They are known as God’s transcendence and His immanence. These truths are foundational to our understanding of God. So let’s dig in!
First: “God Is” transcendent. Isaiah 55: 8-9 says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
A. Definition. What does the English word “transcend” mean? The dictionary defines it as going “beyond the limits or powers of; exceed”: to “be above and independent of the physical universe.” God’s transcendence means that he is above and beyond even his created universe. The theological definition of transcendence is captured in the idea of “otherness.” This suggests that God exists wholly separate and distinct from his creation – and that he exists in a totally different reality or dimension. The meaning of transcendence, then, is that God is not merely the highest point of human understanding, or that he can be known by taking the highest and best qualities of man and amplifying them – but that he is wholly “other” and exists in a different realm of reality.
B. Ramification (result, consequence). The most important ramification of God’s transcendence is his holiness – in fact many theologians consider them virtually synonymous concepts. But holiness is also a moral attribute of God that we will consider in more detail later on in this series. However, God’s transcendence informs His holiness and is intricately connected to it. Holiness in scripture is understood in two ways – the first means to “separate” or to “set apart,” which is captured in the concept of God’s “otherness.” The second component of holiness is in reference to his moral purity and perfection, and therefore his intolerance to sin.
Other ramifications of Gods’ transcendence are that He is self-existent and self-sufficient. Since he is self-existent, there is nothing external to him that is necessary for him to maintain or define his existence; “I AM WHO I AM.” In a similar sense, his self-sufficiency declares that he is not in need of anything that he himself cannot provide for and within Himself. God does not need us, nor does he need his created universe.
Other consequences of God’s transcendence are that God is both incomprehensible and inaccessible. Since there is a gap that separates our realms of existence, God is unknowable to us. However, we can know him, but we can only comprehend what he has revealed to us. So to say that he is unknowable is not to say we can know nothing about him, but that we can only know what he has chosen to reveal to us, not the fullness of his nature and reality. In his essential nature, God is also inaccessible and unapproachable. In 1 Timothy 6:16, Paul states that God “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” No one can see God in all his glory and live – God made that clear to Moses when he requested to see God’s glory. In his transcendence, God is inaccessible, but we also know that in his great grace and mercy, he has opened a way into his presence through his Son, Jesus Christ.
C. Implication. What are some implications for us concerning God’s transcendence?
* Isaiah 6: 1-5 (Read). Isaiah was given a powerful experience of God’s transcendence – (Describe). What were Isaiah’s responses? A healthy fear, reverence and awe. These are the things that God’s transcendence should trigger in us. Whatever happened to reverence and awe? In too many evangelical churches, the sense of transcendence has lost favour. But here’s the problem, as A. W. Tozer said: “When people no longer fear God, they transgress his laws without hesitation. The fear of consequences is no deterrent when the fear of God is gone.”
*The revelation of God’s transcendence also creates a healthy sense a distance. We do not get too casual with God. Remember the experience of Israel with God at Mt Sinai. (Ex. 19-20). The powerful manifestations of God on the mountain shook them to the core, and they said, “Moses you go, we’ll stay back here.” The tabernacle of the OT clearly communicated this sense of distance, and even though the curtain has been torn in two by Jesus, the transcendence of God reminds us that there is necessary aspect of distance between us and the Almighty God.
* The transcendence of God reveals the element of mystery in our relationship with God. Habakkuk 2:20 says: “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him.” Silence! Awe! Mystery! Since God is incomprehensible in the fullness of his being – and that we only can know of him what he has revealed, then it follows that there is much we don’t know or can’t fully explain (Trinity). There are elements of our faith that we have to accept as divine mystery, and hold it as a part of the transcendence of God – the God who is wholly “Other!”
Second: “God Is” immanent. Jeremiah 23:24 reads: “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”
A. Definition. “The meaning of immanence is that God is present and active within his creation, and within the human race.” His influence is everywhere, and he is at work in and through the natural processes. So while God is present and active, and in and through his creation, he remains distinct from it. This is a very important concept. While God is everywhere in creation, he is not one with it. Many eastern religions teach that God exists in creation – that god is one with every rock, every tree, and every animal – this is what is known as pantheism. So while the transcendence of God says he’s “other” (reality), his immanence says he is here.
B. Ramification. The ramifications of God’s immanence are also expressed in some of his attributes, which I will just quickly mention here because I will go into more detail later in the series. The results of his immanence are expressed in two terms, the first one being omnipresence. God’s omnipresence means that God is present everywhere – there is no place in creation that he is not. Psalm 139:7 says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” David goes on to suggest that no matter where he could go, God would be there also. Jesus’ promise to all who would believe in him was that he “would never leave them nor forsake them.” The second term is God’s omniscience which means that God is all-knowing. He knows everything – nothing happens in this world that he is unaware of or takes him by surprise. Again in Psalm 139, David says: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” He knows everything about each one of us – that is both comforting and frightening, isn’t it?
Another consequence of God’s immanence is that his influence is everywhere. God can work on every situation and in every person’s life – whether they acknowledge him or not. He also has at his control all of the natural forces. (Jesus calmed the sea)
C. Implication. What are the implications for us concerning God’s immanence?
* One of the most important implications of God’s immanence is that it contributes to the sense of the nearness of God. In Acts 17: 27-28 Paul told the philosophers: “He is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” James also reminds us to “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” The nearness of God is found in many other scriptures and can be a real source of comfort to us. Much of our contemporary music has tended to focus more on the immanence of God, but that has started to change (Hillsongs: Power of love; Brian Doerksen: Holy God).
* While in transcendence, God is a consuming fire, the God who is also immanent allows us to call him Abba, or Daddy/Father. He calls us his children and he offers to us an inheritance of eternal life and fellowship. He says that we can come into his presence with confidence – how wonderful is that?
* Another implication of God’s immanence might surprise you. Since He is present and active within it, we should have an appreciation and respect for all that he has created. Its beauty should bring us to praise and awe. While we should use creation to satisfy our legitimate needs, we should neither exploit it nor pollute it - particularly out of greed. So the doctrine of divine immanence has both ecological applications and implications.
So there you have it, God’s transcendence and immanence, seemingly opposites but both true and necessary in our understanding of God. In Jeremiah 23: 23, we see a direct statement from God about the truth of both of these emphases: “Am I only a God nearby, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?” He is both a God who is nearby and a God who is distant.
It is important that we understand both of these emphases not as a balancing act, but as tensions. When you hold something in balance, it’s a matter taking some from one thing to balance the other. When things are held in tension, they are truths that are 100% true, and they both must be understood in that way. While it is true that throughout history, the church has at times tended to focus on one more the other, they are both important theological truths that should be fully embraced in tension – because they are opposites by definition.
May the Spirit help us to grasp and understand these truths regarding the majesty and complexity of our God - who is far away and yet very near – even in us through the dwelling of his Holy Spirit. To God be the glory!
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
God Is: Spirit, Life, Personal
May 14, 2017 - Mother's Day
Pastor Dennis Elhard
This morning we continue with the series “God Is,” and we will begin our consideration of the attributes of God. When we speak of the attributes of God, we are referring to the qualities of God which make up who and what he is. They are the very characteristics of his nature. Or we could say that his nature is revealed and expressed through his attributes. Two things we must remember about his attributes – first, they are permanent. His attributes cannot be gained or lost – they are intrinsic to his essential being. The second thing we need to grasp is that the attributes of God are qualities of the entire Godhead - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are one God, and share the same essential nature, and therefore also the attributes.
Theologians have made various attempts to classify these attributes, which is helpful, but then they came up with words like communicable and incommunicable. However, one theologian (Millard Erickson) came up with categories that I thought were much more helpful – and which we will use to form our outline. He divides the extent of God’s attributes along two main categories: God is great and God is good! Much of the outline that I will be using in this series will come from his classification of God’s attributes. In the greatness of God we will look at what can be called God’s natural attributes, and in the goodness of God we will consider his moral attributes. Se we begin today by starting to examine the first category – God’s greatness, and the following are the first three attributes which define his greatness.
First: “God Is” – Spirit. In John 4:24, we read these words: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The context of this statement is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. At issue was the proper place to worship God, but Jesus tells her that since God is spirit he is seeking those who worship in spirit and in truth – place and form are not crucial. As a spiritual being, God desires worship that comes from the spirit.
The word “spirit” comes from the Greek word pneuma, which literally means “wind” or “breath” – we recognize that word because we have pneumatic tools in our shops that are powered by compressed air. God as “spirit” (wind) suggests two things:
* He is immaterial: the Greek word for spirit in general refers to things of no material substance. God is not composed of matter and does not possess a physical nature or body.” When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, they thought he was a ghost. To confirm his bodily resurrection he invited his disciples to “Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
You might be wondering, but don’t the scriptures refer to God’s hands, his arms, his feet, his eyes and ears – and describe other physical features? Yes they do, however such expressions are to be understood only in the sense of being human analogies used in order to help us comprehend an infinite, spiritual being. How otherwise could we relate to or understand God?
As a spirit, neither does God have the limitations of a physical body. He is not limited to any geographical or spatial location. Even though the very manifest presence of God was located in the OT tabernacle, he was not limited only to that place. Another aspect of God as immaterial is that he is not destructible, as is anything that is composed of matter.
* He is invisible. Since God is spirit, he cannot be seen – at least in the fullness of his glory. In John 1:18 Jesus says: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (reference to Christ), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” One theologian comments that the great French mathematician LaPlace “swept the heavens with his telescope, but could not find anywhere a God. He might just as well have swept a kitchen with his broom." Since God is not a material Being, He cannot be seen or apprehended by physical means.
The fact that God is invisible is important theologically because it argues against any form of idolatry. Any kind of images were forbidden because no one had ever seen God, so they could not picture how he looked, and nothing on earth could resemble him. Any attempt to image God was a practical impossibility and more importantly, a denial of his essential nature.
So God is spirit; he is like the wind – immaterial and invisible, but we can experience the effects of his presence all around us.
Second: “God Is” – Life. God is alive. God is characterized by life. He is the author, the source and creator of all life – because life is a part of his essential nature. In scripture God is called the “living God.” Jeremiah 10:10 it says: “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” This verse comes in the context of Jeremiah refuting idolatry – the foolishness of cutting down a tree, carving and adorning it, and then worshiping it as a god – a dead, lifeless idol. Our God is not an inanimate object, like a pagan idol with a mouth that cannot speak, eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear, and hands that cannot accomplish anything. He is the “living” God of the universe.
In Psalm 42:2 we read: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (84:2 - “my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”) The Hebrew word translated as “living” means simply “alive” – but with an implication that life has movement and vigour. A good word picture would be that of a spring or fountain of water that is bubbling up and flowing. It reveals the life of God as fresh and active and new. I love this time of year when the new leaves are just coming out on the trees and the perennial plants are beginning to poke through the ground. It is an annual reminder of the continual cycle that brings new life. It is an example in the created order that reveals the fresh and active life that God is, and has given to us.
Third: “God Is” – Personal. Another aspect of the Christian faith that sets it apart from many of the world’s religions – especially the eastern religions, is that the God of the Bible is revealed as a God who is personal. God is a person, not a force or influence. The highly popular movie(s) Star Wars presented God or the “higher power” as an impersonal force. You may remember the line, “May the force be with you.” This concept of God is very popular in contemporary culture. Apparently, even the British Columbia Appeal Court has ruled God to be a nonperson. A suspect was observed by hidden camera praying, and in his prayer he admitted that he was guilty. The court ruled that privileged communication, which would be inadmissible in court, must take place between two people, but that since God is not a person; comments made to Him are considered to be admissible evidence.
But scripture reveals the true God as a personal God – in at least three ways:
* God has a name. God is not a nameless source. He has a name which he assigned himself and by which he reveals himself – “I AM.” But he also reveals himself through a multitude of other names in scripture, and personal pronouns are ascribed to God and used continually. Names in the ancient world were chosen carefully for their significance and meaning, and the names of God are intended to reveal his character and demonstrate that he is knowable. God’s name is also used to address him, and it is important that his name be spoken reverently and respectfully. In the Lord’s Prayer, we hear the words, “Hallowed (holy) be your name.” Respect necessary for his name indicates his personhood.
* God possesses all the attributes that define personhood. There are three fundamental attributes that define a person: they must possess intellect, will, and emotion. God obviously possesses all three – he is not merely a force, an object or an influence. Scripture reveals the reality of his personhood in that God repents, grieves, is angry, is jealous, loves, and hates. He is a personal God who responds and feels emotion.
* God interacts with humans on a personal level. We say something is personal when it involves relationship—particularly a binding or socially acknowledged relationship. Furthermore, if something involves the actual presence of or interaction with another individual, then it is deemed personal. In this way, a personal relationship is not possible with an inanimate object, an intangible force, or an abstract idea.
Back in Genesis 3: 8, from the very earliest of beginnings, God is revealed as having a relationship with Adam and Eve. He is depicted as walking in the garden in the cool of the day and coming to talk with them. While this incidence was not to be a pleasant conversation, you also get the sense that this may have been a regular practice – God in regular communion with his created image-bearers. “Because God is a person, our relationship with him has a dimension of warmth and understanding.” He interacts with us as a person, and we can relate to him as a person. Conversely, if God were not a person, there could be no communion with him. God is personal and he desires a personal relationship with us – a relationship from the heart.
So today we have learned these three attributes about the greatness of God – He is spirit, He is the living God, and He is a person. Is God a living reality in your life? Because he is life, have you gone to him to get life, and not only life, but life abundantly? Do you know him as a person, and do you have that kind of relationship with him? These truths are essential to a biblical understanding of the nature of God and can help us to know and understand him better. More “greatness” to come next week!
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
God Is "Great": Infinite
May 21, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
King Louis XIV of France, who preferred to be called “Louis the Great” and had declared, “I am the State!” died in 1717. His court was the most magnificent in Europe, and his funeral was the most spectacular. In the church where the ceremony was performed, his body lay in a golden coffin. To dramatize his greatness, orders had been given that the cathedral would be very dimly lit with only one special candle that was to be set above the coffin.
The thousands of people in attendance waited in silence. Then the Bishop began to speak. Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great.”
Indeed, only God is great, and it’s his greatness that we will be considering again this morning as we continue in our “God Is” series. Last week we began to look at some the attributes of God that make him great – they were: God is spirit (immaterial, invisible); God is life (living); and God is personal as opposed to a impersonal force. Today, we are going to focus on one key attribute of God that is expressed in four different ways. That one attribute is this:
“God Is” infinite. What does the word “infinite” really mean? The dictionary defines it this way: “without limits” or boundaries; endless.” In mathematics the definition is a little more technical: infinite means “greater than any assignable quantity or magnitude.” Therefore it is beyond anything that numbers can define. Remember the little mathematical sign for infinity – a little figure 8 that was laid horizontally.
What does an infinite God mean? It means that he is without limits – a limitless being. He is not only unlimited, but he is also un-limitable. (Grudem) “He is infinite in that he is not subject to any of the limitations of humanity, or of creation in general. He is far greater than everything he has made, far greater than anything else that exists.” When we try to describe or define what an infinite God is, we get into territory that the human mind cannot even fully grasp or comprehend. We have finite minds; finite logic and we’re trying to describe what is indescribable. So we need to understand that our best efforts to define God always fall short. Yet, he has revealed enough for us to grasp some basic understanding of his nature. So let’s look at the four primary ways that God’s infiniteness is expressed:
A. He is Omniscient. The word “omni” simply means “all,” and so omniscience means “all-knowing.” God is unlimited (infinite) in knowledge – He knows all things and is absolutely perfect in knowledge. Psalm 147: 4-5 reads: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” God has access to all information; nothing is or can be hidden from him. “God never learns new things of forgets things; he knows all things past, present and future and knows them all equally vividly.” Now that’s a bone to be chewed! God knows and sees the whole spectrum of time. Think about this: The future already exists in God’s dimension of reality. How can what is yet to happen already exist? How can what appears unknown already be known? These are questions our finite minds cannot fully grasp.
God’s unlimited knowledge also means that he sees and knows us totally. Psalm 139 is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful Psalm in the Bible. In the first 6 verses it offers a wonderful description of what the omniscience of God means to us personally (Read). This scripture makes the claim that God knows everything about us. He knows when we sit down, get up, lie down and where we go. He knows our thoughts and what we are going to say even before we say it! David says it well, “Such knowledge is too wonderful to me, too lofty for me to attain.” How do we comprehend these truths? We can’t, fully, but we believe.
The realization of God’s knowledge of each one of us can bring us much comfort. “Jonathon, four years old, was trying to learn the Lord’s Prayer. He learned by listening at church each Sunday. One Sunday as we were praying the Lord’s Prayer, he could be heard above all the others, praying, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, I know you know my name’.” When we are facing the trials in our lives, it is comforting and assuring to us that God knows who we are and everything that we are experiencing. He is aware of our every circumstance. On the other hand, His knowledge of our thoughts and words can also make us feel a little uneasy. Our thought life is an open book to him, and so we need to win the battle for our minds through the help of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, God is all-knowing in regards to everything in his creation. In Matthew 10 29-30, Jesus teaches that not one sparrow falls to the ground outside of the knowledge and will of the Father, and that “the very hairs on our head are numbered.” Now that’s a pretty incredible statement!” Hebrews 4:13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” (Warning)
B. He is Omnipresent. This word is simple to define – God is “all-present.” This means that that God is unlimited in space. God is not subject to any limitations in space, nor is there any place where he cannot be found. Jeremiah 23:24 reads: “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Thus we cannot hide in “secret places” so that we cannot be seen. Adam and Eve tried that in the Garden of Eden without much success. There is nowhere that we can run from the presence of God - as Jonah attempted when he hopped on a boat thinking he could run way from God and his call on his life.
Psalm 139 again speaks so eloquently of the truth of God’s omnipresence (Read: 7-12). “Where can I flee from your presence?” There’s no place we can go to get away from God’s presence – not the highest height, nor the deepest depth, nor the farthest point across the planet. Even an escape into darkness will not provide place to hide. God is everywhere, even (and especially) in the mother’s womb.
God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being. That’s another incredible statement. We cannot think of God simply as one part of him being in one place and another part of him being in another. He is everywhere in the fullness of his being, but he can act differently in different places.
The truth of God’s omnipresence can again bring us comfort and assurance. Even when God feels a thousand miles away, he actually remains present with us. His presence does not leave or move away. Sometimes, however, we sense or experience his presence in a greater measure, but what we experience is not based on the reality of his presence - which is constant. Also, God’s omnipresence is closely associated with God’s immanence (in and through creation), and so it also reminds us of his nearness. God desires to come near to his people – so they can experience him as their faithful, present Father.
God is omnipresent. I like this quote: “God is everywhere and in everyplace; His center is everywhere; His circumference nowhere.”
C. He is Omnipotent. God is all-potent. This means that God is unlimited in power. In the book of Daniel, after King Nebuchadnezzar was restored to mental health, he declared: “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him, ‘what have you done’?” The Psalmist expresses the same sentiment when he says: “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”
The omnipotence of God is the attribute by which he can bring to pass everything that he wills. God’s power has no bounds or limitations and there is no resisting his might –“if God is for us who can be against us?” The angels are under the control of God’s power and even Satan can operate only within the limitations placed on him by God. Satan was limited by God as to what he could do to Job. In Revelation 20:2, we read that an angel of the Lord will come down from heaven with a great chain – “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” There is nothing or no one in the universe that can resist the power of God nor thwart the exercise of his will.
When God appeared to Abraham he identified himself by saying, “I am God Almighty.” English Bibles use the term “Almighty” to translate two different Hebrew words. The first, in the case of Abraham, means to be “burly” or “powerful.” (El Shaddai). The second one usually is accompanied with the word Lord - “Lord Almighty.” It means literally “Lord of Hosts, the commander the heavenly armies.” The focus of this title is on great power to conquer or rule. Two of the names that God identified himself with reveals his omnipotence – He is the all-powerful God who can exercise his will without any possible resistance – and he has the army to back him up!
D. He is Eternal. For God to be eternal means that He is unlimited by time; He is the One who always is. In Psalm 90:2 it says: “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” While God works in time, he actually exists beyond time, and time doesn’t actually even apply to him. In fact, in order to create the universe God had to create matter, time and space.
In Revelation 1:8 we read: “I am the Alpha and the Omega” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, which “implies that God “is before everything else and he is after everything else; he is the beginning of everything and will always be the end of everything.” Grasping this idea of timelessness is very difficult for our human minds. How can God have had no beginning – to have existed forever? But that is what the scriptures teach.
To God, all of his existence is always somehow present. He is able to stand above time and is able to see it all as present in his own consciousness. I have a little diagram that might help us to understand this difficult concept (powerpoint). He sees all time equally vividly – even future events. However, while God is timeless in his own being, he does see events in time and acts in time – so he does enter time and space in order to exercise his will. The wonderful thing about the eternal nature of God is that he offers to all those who call on his name eternal life - life without end. Amen.
So how does knowing these attributes of God apply to us today? Well, I hope that you may have learned something about God that you didn’t know or had realized. God is great – incomprehensibly great! We say that so trivially and thoughtlessly sometimes – I can be as guilty as anyone, so I hope this gives a fresh perspective to us all.
I also hope that focusing on God’s attributes is an encouragement to you. When we listen to the news and consider the world we live in today, we can get discouraged. In my deepest moments, I sometimes wonder if we are not plunging into a time of social and moral anarchy – the evil seems overwhelming. But then I remember that the God I serve, the God of this universe, is the all-knowing, all-present and all-powerful, eternal God – the Almighty!! He is the God who knows/holds the future and no matter what happens, nothing catches him by surprise. He’s not up in heaven scratching his head and saying, Gee, I didn’t see that coming!” No, He’s the God of the heavenly armies and righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne. He is great and awesome in power – Glory to His name! Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.
Sermon: Deuteronomy 11:18-21
Faith at Home: A Devotional Legacy
Pastor Bryan Watson
May 28, 2017
Good morning. Our scripture reference for the message this morning is from Deuteronomy 11:18-21 “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth. “
I want to speak to you this morning about passing on our faith. Primarily, this is going to be a message about passing the baton of our faith on to the next generation, and specifically, from parents to children, or from grandparents to grandchildren. But I don’t want to limit our scope to immediate family or thinking that it has to be from an older generation to a younger generation. So, take what I am saying today and apply it to whatever circumstances you have. You can take the principles I am going to teach today and use them with friends or other extended family.
Years ago, when we were still living in Regina and our kids were small, Lori and the girls would get together with one of Lori’s good friends and her small daughters. They weren’t Christians, and so they weren’t accustomed to giving thanks before a meal. Nevertheless, since it was just natural for our girls, they prayed before the meal, ending the prayer with the typical “Amen.” Some time later our friend was at home with her daughters when it was time to eat again. One of her girls asked if she could pray, and her Mom said OK. After thanking God for her food, she concluded with “All Women.” “What do you mean, all women?” their Mom asked. “Well, when we get together with Watsons, they always say All Men, but there aren’t any men here.”
It’s cute, but that’s an example of how we can open the door to the passing on of faith from one family to the next.
I want to establish as a fact that God considers it important that one generation passes its faith to following generations. In Deuteronomy 11:19, God commands us to teach them to our children. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Note that He doesn’t say, “You should,” or , “You could, maybe, if you want to…”. No, He says, “You shall.” That, my friends, is an order.
And how are we do pass it on? We are to do it by speaking of them
· as you sit in your house,
· when you walk by the way,
· when you lie down,
· when you rise up.
In other words, we are to take advantage of every moment we have to teach our faith to the next generation.
Where else do we read about this in scripture?
Listen to these words from Joshua 4. Joshua is leading the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the promised land. Beginning in verse 4 through verse 7: Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; 5 and Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”
Continuing on in verse 19 through verse 24: Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal. 21 Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land’; 23 for the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, 24 that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
This is just one example of God instructing people to teach future generations about Him.
Consider God’s command about remembering the Passover. In Exodus 12, God gives Moses the instructions about how the Passover is to be conducted just before it happens. In verse 14, God says, “‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.” And for emphasis, he says again in verse 17, “So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance.”
Think about how logical this is. God commanded special feasts as a way for one generation to teach another about what God has done. Do you see how we have done this as a practical application in our lives still today?
· We practice Holy Communion, which gives the entire church an opportunity to remember Christ’s sacrifice. “Do this in remembrance of Me,” said Jesus in Luke 22:19. Children aren’t born with this knowledge pre-programmed. They learn about it by participating in it at church. We have the opportunity to talk about why we do this, and what Christ did.
· We typically have a feast at Easter, which again allows us to talk with our children about what Christ did, and the significance of the Cross.
· And again, we feast at Christmas, which allows us to talk about the first coming of Christ, why He came, and what it means that He is coming again.
Psalm 145:4 says, One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.
Not just tell of God’s works like we are reading assembly instructions for a barbecue, but we are to PRAISE His works to the next generation. We should be excited about what God has done in the past as well as in our own lives, and our children and friends should see that.
John Piper, in his essay, Desiring God, asks the question: where do faithful hearts come from? He says, The answer is that they come from God. God makes hearts like that. And He is sovereign: He can make such a heart in a dysfunctional family and a failing church. But that is not His ordinary way, and it is not the way He commands. His ordinary way is to breed hearts like that in God-exalting families and in churches where "One generation shall praise Your works to another."
He goes on to say, “What we want from the next generation is not just heads full of right facts about the works of God; we want heads full of right facts and hearts that burn with the fire of love for the God of those facts - hearts that will sell everything to follow Jesus into the hardest places of the world.”
Piper identifies Three Principles that apply in passing our faith from one generation to another:
1) Parents Educate Their Children
· Let me say it straight up. Parents, it is not my job, or Pastor Dennis’ job, or the Sunday School teachers’ job, or the quizzing leaders’ job to be the primary teachers of the Christian faith to your children. It is your job. Too many people think that dropping their kids off for an hour of Sunday school and an maybe an hour of quizzing is laying a foundation of faith. And they couldn’t be more wrong in such dangerous thinking. There are 168 hours in a week. If you think that that the 1 or 2 hours they spend in church is going to stack up against the 30 they spend in school and the other 30 or 40 they spend watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out with their friends, you are kidding yourself. It’s like a drop or two of faith activities facing off against a fire hose of worldliness. Parents, it is your responsibility, because you are the only ones who can influence all those other hours.
· Now, in saying that, I am not saying that the Church is not responsible for evangelism among the youth in our communities. I think the Church needs to do everything in its power to reach every heart for Christ. But that doesn’t mean that the Church should bear the responsibility of the abdication of the parents.
2) The Church is a Partner with the Parents in educating their children
· The church is a partner. The job of the church is to be available to come alongside and water and nurture and provide support and reinforcement for the groundwork of faith that is being laid down by the parents.
· Deuteronomy 31:10-13 provides a great example of what the church is supposed to be doing. It says, And Moses commanded them, saying: “At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.”
· Now, that doesn’t mean you are only supposed to come to church once every seven years!!! But it is saying that at regular intervals we are to gather together as a congregation and worship and be taught together.
3) The church helps Equip the Parents to Educate their children
· As a church, and as a congregation, we are to equip each other to do the work. We older people are to serve as mentors to the younger generation that they themselves might be able to minister to their own children and others.
· There are a lot of great parents who desperately want to build a legacy of faith in their children… a lot of people who desperately want to build up the faith of their friends and neighbors, but they don’t know how. That is where the church needs to be available with resources and teaching and programs that facilitate the deep longing of these faithful people.
So today, I’m going to take a step towards principle #3 and teach you a practical way to administer family devotions in your home. And guess what? You don’t have to be perfect with this for it to be effective. In fact, you will probably be inconsistent with it, and it will still make a difference in their lives, but as long as you are consistently inconsistent; day-in and day-out, inconsistent; Month-in and month-out, inconsistent; Year-in and year-out, inconsistent; Inconsistent; Inconsistent; you will succeed. Be consistently inconsistent over a period of years and you will have developed a family legacy that will likely last for generations. So don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two here and there.
Our own family is a product of such a legacy of daily devotions that Lori’s Mom started with Lori and her brother when they were little, and we did the same thing with our children. In fact, we still do family devotions, although it is more inconsistent now with everybody running their own separate ways so many times, but we still do them. So, you’re never too old to do this.
So, what are family devotions?
Well, let’s start with the word devotion. The word devotion comes from the Latin word devotus which means to (de) vow (votus). So, by its root words, it means “to vow”. In today’s Webster’s Dictionary, the first definition given is “profound dedication; consecration.”
Mark Holmen, in his book Take It Home, says “We all have things that we are devoted to. One way to discover those is by looking at where we spend our time. The more devoted we become, the more time we spend.” I can imagine that several people here today are going to be devoted to watching the Riders play fairly soon. A lot of people at the office I know are devoted to going to the lake every weekend.
The point is, in order to have a family devotion, you have to set aside some time to do it.
So, tip #1 – set a time and be consistently inconsistent. You can shoot for 7pm every night, but you know that’s not going to work all the time. So don’t get yourself in a knot. If it doesn’t work today, tomorrow’s coming. Over the course of time, we found it worked best in our family to do this right after supper. When Lori was a child, they found it worked best at bedtime.
Tip #2 – Keep it short. Kids typically don’t want to sit through an hour-long reading… unless you are really good at dramatizing and making voices. Nobody wants to listen to dad drone on and on. In fact, most of you are only still sitting here now because you’re so polite!!! So keep it short.
Tip #3 – Keep it simple. I’m not Mr. Dressup, and I can’t do what he did to entertain me as a kid. Find a resource that works, and use it. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of great tools out there. <show books & cd’s> You can also use personal devotional material like Our Daily Bread or Men of Integrity from Promise Keepers. In fact, if you really think about it, all we are really doing here is establishing a study group in the family unit on a daily basis.
Anyway, if you want to have a look at these afterwards, come and see me over at the resource table. I can’t let you have these, but they will give you some ideas to work with. But really, there are so many great choices, and the sky is the limit.
Tip #4 – Have fun. Act stuff out. Make character voices. Turn it into a drama. And for goodness’ sake, if something isn’t working… change it up. Faith should be fun, not something to dread.
Tip #5 – Don’t give up. Keep working at it. You will have dry spells or times where it feels like you are trying to herd cats. But keep at it.
Tip #6 – Involve the kids. Let them take a turn reading, or acting out a part. Let them suggest some ideas that they would be interested in. This is a family devotion, after all.
And I’ll add my own tip… Tip #7 – ask for help. If you want to talk about this to get some ideas about how you can do this in your family, then come and find me or Lori. We want to see you succeed with this as we look to build the next generation of Christians. You aren’t alone.
In closing, I want to relate one final story that illustrates how you never know how you may be impacting somebody.
A few years ago, we were on a camping trip with some friends. Again, the kids were all small. These were faithful Christian friends. At night, Lori and I gathered all the kids around, including their daughter, to have family devotions. We read the story for the day, went through the questions and discussion, and had a short prayer time. Later that evening, the Mom came and told us that she had never seen that done before, but that she wanted to start doing that with her daughter, and building that foundation. We were able to help them get started, and I pray, a new foundation that will last for generations has been started in their family.
So if you take nothing else away from this message today, at least take this: Psalm 145:4 - One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.