Friday, January 26, 2018

God can be my friend, never my buddy

Here are reflections from a recent quiet time with God. I try to do this five days a week, letting God's Word speak to me in a dynamic, relational way. To see how I approach quiet time, read here. I hope that these journal entries are helpful to others. But nothing can replace your own personal quiet time encounters with God!

Look: “...And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6)

God has just revealed Himself to Moses in Midian at the burning bush. When Moses realizes that he’s in the presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he hides his face. Moses understands the infinite distance between God and himself: God is immortal; Moses is mortal. God is perfect; Moses isn’t. God is the Creator; Moses is the creature. God is sinless; Moses is, like the rest of the human race, sinful.

No wonder Moses hid his face. His response is appropriate, understandable. Centuries later, Isaiah was conscious of the infinite distance between God and himself when he encountered God. He knew that for an unclean human to dare to look at God meant death. He cried out after God had initiated His call to Isaiah to be His prophet: “ “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Theologians and experts in comparative religions say that Moses and Isaiah experienced “numinous awe,” awe, respect, terror, fear in the presence of the God of all creation.

Neither in Biblical history nor in the history of Jews and Christians since would this be the first time that people experienced awe or terror in God’s presence. During their wilderness wanderings, the people of Israel, who God called Moses to lead, caught a glimpse of God’s holiness and were terrified. They asked Moses to act as a go-between so that they wouldn’t have to look at God and be killed by the infinite distance. "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." (Exodus 20:19)

Decades later, Israel would marvel at how Moses enjoyed an intimate relationship with God. Deuteronomy 34:10 says, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face…”

Here’s what strikes me in this passage: Where is my numinous awe?

I often seem to treat God as an afterthought.

Or I take Him and, maybe worse, His grace for granted.

I often ignore Him or treat Him like a buddy.

Listen: Of course, with Jesus, the new covenant or the new testament has come. God has revealed Himself to all people in Jesus Christ. John writes in the prologue to his gospel: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:19)

In Jesus, to use Martin Luther’s phrase, all are able to see God’s friendly face, the same friendly face Moses, Isaiah, and others came to “see” as their relationship with God developed.

God IS perfect. God IS immortal. God IS sinless, righteous, and, in Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich’s phrase, “wholly other.”

But God loves us, cares for us, and wants a relationship with us. If these things weren’t true, God wouldn’t have met Moses and Isaiah. And if these things weren’t true, He wouldn’t have reached out to Gentiles as well as Jews, to the whole world, in Jesus Christ.

God wants to be reconciled to us, to forgive us our sins, to give us new life, and to shower His love on us for all eternity. Jesus told Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

To all who repent and believe in God as revealed to us in Jesus, God offers life, forgiveness, citizenship in His kingdom, and intimacy with God.

Through Jesus, we can speak with God and ask of God anytime, anywhere. “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full,” Jesus says (John 16:24).

“...we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin [God has been subjected to temptation and death when He shared in human life in Jesus]. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Citizens of God’s kingdom, believers in Jesus, are to approach the God revealed in Jesus, our “high priest,” “with boldness,” the preacher in Hebrews says. But it’s interesting to see where Jesus is as we approach Him: “God’s throne of grace.”

No matter the intimate friendship with God that Jesus opens to those who believe in Him (John 15:15), He is still the King of all creation, my God, my Creator. He still deserves our honor, praise, and submission. When unbelieving Thomas finally realized all of Who Jesus is, he fell to his knees and confessed Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

The God Who seeks intimacy with me is also owed by submission, surrender, awe, and praise. In fact, His desire for intimacy with a sinner like me, along with His desire to cleanse me of sin and make me fit for living in His kingdom, should incite me to the deepest and most reverent of fear, honor, and praise.

But too often, I turn Jesus into a buddy.

Or my prayers are like emails dashed off to an indulgent uncle, an easy mark.

Not only does such an approach to God mock Him and His desire for closeness with us, it risks turning God into an idol, a good luck charm. Instead of being an expression of an intimate friendship with God, my “prayers” risk becoming messages to a false god I’ve created in my own head, a god I use for my convenience and comfort. I don’t want that! I want real intimacy with God! And I never want to forget that God is God and I am not!

Forgive me, Lord! For taking You for granted. For forgetting, in the words of the preacher of intimacy with You, that it is nonetheless, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Forgive me for forgetting that only You are God and I am not. With the saints in the heavenly city, help me to say and believe, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (Revelation 5:12).

I realize that this is a practical issue. If I don’t reverence, fear, honor, praise, and glorify God, it indicates a deficiency in my understanding of You, a deficiency in my relationship with You.

Help me, Lord, to heed the words of the preacher in Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,”

Respond: Lord, to help me to get in the habit of acknowledging Your holiness and giving it to You, help me to spend time next week contemplating several passages of Scripture for five consecutive days: John 9:16-24; Revelation 5; psalms of praise. Help me to note reasons to honor and praise You. Help me to understand more fully the depths of Your love and grace. Teach me to honor You more fully as God. Help me to not be flippant. Help me to know You more fully as my best Friend, but not my buddy. In Jesus’ name I pray.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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