Saturday, June 20, 2009

How Well Does God Know Us?

There are such a lot of Bible passages that explain just how well God knows us, and how much He loves us. He knows our thoughts, our coming and going, how many hairs are on our heads (Matthew 10:30)...and yet, I have often felt that when He was telling those who read His word over the centuries, He was talking in what I would call "crayon talk." That is, they only knew the visible, they didn't know anything about cells, or genes, or the "human genome" that most of us today have heard of but only a handful might claim to understand well. I think God was telling people of all generations in a fairly amazing intimacy how well He knows us--but I think He was saying it only in terms they could understand, while He knows us far and away much better than that.
So I was thinking of some questions I am convinced that God knows the answers to about every one of us--and it's a fun thing to ponder, when you think about how He truly is omniscient.
He knows, of this I am convinced, about all of us, without having to ponder or count on His fingers:

1. Your human genome in detail, just what each portion represents, and if you were able to ask Him how many of each molecule it contained, He would immediately be able to answer.
2. How many red blood platelets you have coursing through your body at this moment.
3. Who taught you that wierd expression you come up with when you are puzzled.
4. Why you pronounce "orange" the way you do in one context, and another way in another.
5. How many worksheets you filled out in 3rd grade.
6. How many paperclips you used in 10th grade.
7. How many times you used "I never" in any sentence in 1983 (substitute another year that works for you).
8. The date that you first thought about God.
9. How many times you tripped over your shoelaces.
10. The reason you do or don't like parsnips--just what molecule or other thing it is that makes your tongue go bananas when you taste them.
11. Why you have that scar on the inside of your left ankle.
12. How many moles you have.
13. How many times you've thought that you hated someone.
14. How many crushes you had in kindergarten.
15. How many times you clipped your left big toenail in 2004.
16. Where that ring is that you brought home from the dentist when you were 6.
17. How many times you have said any word that has 4 letters in it. Just what those words were, even if they weren't swear words.
18. The name of all your grandmothers 44 generations ago, and how many times each of them sneezed during their lifetimes. (Just 8 generations back, you have 256 grandmothers...I was too tired to go back 44 generations and figure that out, but I assure you, it's a lot.)
19. How many water molecules you've had to drink that were also drunk by the donkey that talked to Balaam.

Of course, the list could go on forever. I just thought I'd get you started. Whatever item it is on the list, God knows it already, even if He didn't expect the Israelites to understand modern-day scientific lingo. Well, just so you know, I'm not telling the whole story. God did make it pretty plain that He knows us well. Read Psalm 139:
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,"
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day
Darkness and light are alike to You.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand
When I awake, I am still with You.
O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

See, the Israelites knew we all have hair, and many of us have quite a bit--and the number changes as we go through each day, since some 80 hairs fall out every day and some of those grow back. So that's amazing enough, for our human minds to comprehend. Still, no matter how much we know God knows us, and according to Psalm 139 He knows what our thoughts and words are and where we go to hide, and what we looked like before we were born, we still have a tendency to think we can hide anything from Him, or that He's not paying attention to us. It isn't that the things I listed are foremost on His mind, but if asked to recall them, He would be capable of doing so. His thorough knowledge of us in terms of life in these days was just an additional thought I was pondering as I was trying to go to sleep, and I knew I'd sleep better if I blogged it so you could think about it too.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Friday, June 19, 2009

Respectable Sins

Since Katie came back from college for the summer, one of the side benefits is that she has some decent reading material to lend me, and when I am too tired to be physically productive around our house, I can sit and read and hopefully learn something. The most recent that I have finished reading is Respectable Sins: Confronting the sins we tolerate, by Jerry Bridges.
A friend who knows I read this book had been wanting to read it, and she asked me what sins I found it bringing to light in myself. At which point I felt rather stupid, because I'd just read the book, probably too quickly, and I couldn't remember the specific points where I felt it applied to my own life. How unteachable is that! I think I can attribute it to the fact that some issues were distracting me, and I was reading it as much to give myself a mental break as to learn something.
So I looked back into the book, and rediscovered that list of sins that presently apply to me. The oddest one is anxiety, because until maybe the beginning of this year, I could honestly say I was hardly ever troubled by it. Yet I find myself fretting over things that I should be able to hand over to my ever-more-capable and sovereign Lord, and leave my worries to Him. It's logical, and I know it, and I pray for Him to take care of my trouble, and then I pick it up again and carry it. It's as if to say I don't trust Him to be able to do well enough without my pondering it. I think it comes from wanting to work out unworkable knots in my brain. This is a good picture, like the fable of the Gordian knot, an unworkable knot that was supposed to be a test of a man's qualifications to be the next ruler--the man was supposed to undo the strings of the knot. Everyone would try to untie the knot without success, until some man came along and sliced it with his sword and then he could take apart the little pieces of rope with ease. It was such a stunningly simple solution that a person's mind protests that it's not fair. Still, if he was not told it was against the rules, it was fair enough and he outsmarted the knotty problem.
It's similar to how we have it with our unworkable problems--and if we have access to the sword that slices through it, it is surely the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; we also have access to the Person who best wields that Sword, though--if He actually needed it. Recently, our sponsored child in Uganda, Herbert, sent a letter that had one Bible verse in it, not knowing my recent tendency toward anxiety. His verse was 1 Peter 5:7, Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you. Imagine the goodness of God that He put that in the boy's mind to include that verse in his letter, and the comforting weight it carried when it arrived for me to read. It was a gentle and loving conviction, just as the Spirit supernaturally works.
The next sin (sequentially within the book) was discontentment. We were wanting to sell our house and get into a smaller one; it would be better for our finances and for the availability of time that is presently so devoted to maintaining the house and yard. We moved into this one for the sake of hospitality, and because it was near our previous church. Within a week of moving in, I discovered something about that church that eventually was the reason we left. For the last couple of years, we haven't hosted many guests, and our guest room had become a storage room full of clutter. So when I realized that the goal to sell had become a contentment issue, I started praying asking God to show me why we were staying here. I cleaned out the room and restored it toward the purpose of hospitality, removing clutter and putting beds back in, cleaning the sliding door down there and pressure-washing the patio. Already we have had one night where we hosted four girls Katie invited home from college; another night we hosted a fellow from Illinois who was headed toward Alaska to work in one of the fish-processing places up there. It has been a fun opportunity, and I am expecting that God is willing to fill the room frequently in times to come, or He might not have kept us here. In addition, the children in the neighborhood who had previously been incited to gang up against our Tim have changed their tune since the meanest two moved away, and since we got a basketball hoop. They now are coming around to play with Tim, and I'm hoping that instead of thinking of Christians in a bad light, they might come to realize we're not so bad after all, and we might have a forum in which to share Christ. So that contentment issue has turned around significantly just recently!
There were other issues too, such as lack of self-control (in parenting issues more than any other area, I think--I give up too readily when I'm challenged, most of all). There are other issues too, but perhaps they are to be brought to light on another day. This author wrote the book well, but I think I need to read it over and over again to get the most out of it--it will hit different areas depending on what I'm struggling with at the time.
The most convicting book of all, of course, is the Bible, and that's where we all should turn on a daily basis to let it do its refining work--that Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Though the Spirit's conviction of sin in the light of Scripture may bring pain, it generally still comes as sweetly and gently as Herbert's letter did. The Spirit humbles; He never humiliates. When the Spirit is at work, He knows just how to draw that person in love, because he is His creation. When we bear the fruit of the Spirit, we are only reflecting what the Spirit shows us, and when He works, He works with the characteristics listed, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we experience those things, we are experiencing His goodness, whether in His word, or in another person's work in our lives.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Substance of Truth

Just recently, the truth of what I say was questioned. It eats at me, and I'm going to have to further address it before I can be settled, because if there's anything I don't like, it's being called a liar. Anyone who has been around a liar knows the difficulties that result. I have had my share of time dealing with lying myself. I remember for years thinking that I had a strange way of remembering things differently than I heard that they occurred. Then, probably when I reached about my Tim's age, 11, I realized what I was dealing with was that a person in my life was telling lies and that's why they didn't correspond to what I had experienced. Oftentimes, when the confusion started, I would observe that it went from bad to worse, that one lie would lead to a more incredible one. In one way my discovery was a relief, because suddenly my life started making so much more sense, but in another way it was troubling, because I realized that I couldn't rely on what I was being told--ever. Even when I was being told the truth I had to doubt it. I've always likened it in my head to walking in a big pool of Jello. Isn't it great that the substances we walk on tend to be so solid! Because if it weren't, we wouldn't be able to stand upright, we wouldn't be able to direct our own steps, we would sink in the mire and not be able to get where we were going, at least not without great trouble. I take exception to being called a liar, because I developed such an abhorrence of it growing up.
So great is the confusion when dealing with a liar! If they lie to you once, everything they say after that lacks credibility and it can be a very long time again before they might again establish your trust. Maybe they will never be trusted again. You might as well not communicate with them in the meantime, because it's pointless and confusing. You can't establish anything you do based on what they're saying, because chances are, it won't turn out right. You yourself will be more prone to error when you trust in the words of a liar.
The flip side to lying is great. When you don't tell lies, even the most fantastic thing you say will generally be believed because you are not in the habit of wrecking your credibility; you have developed a reputation for honesty. If you promise something and fulfill it even to your own hurt, then your promise will be relied upon in future times. Others will generally trust you and your own path will be easier because you don't have to establish the things you say; they are already established.
The funny thing about a liar is that they establish their own murkiness in life and don't ever rise above it. Because they lie, they suppose that others lie as well, and they don't ever know the goodness of trusting others and being trusted themselves. The person who doesn't trust you when you tell the truth might well be a liar themselves, because they don't have the delight in being able to trust any aspect of the world around them. They don't live on a foundation, and they don't see any foundation under others either. Their lives are filled with doubt and confusion; they don't know anything different.
Truth, on the other hand, is one of the hallmarks of Christianity; it is one of the things for which Christianity is famous. The gospel is the good news of the Bible, and I think it's telling that the word "gospel" has come to be used as a synonym for truth. I have tested and tried the truths of the Bible that can be used in everyday life; I have found that the things I have been able to apply are true and foundational. I have read various different aspects of the Bible and where some would say they contradict, I instead see how different aspects can complement each other and work together in His truth. I see this because in my testing God's word, it has proven itself to be reliable, so even the more confounding things can be trusted and should bee seen in that light. I guess a love of truth might also be why I like to see things more in terms of black and white rather than in shades of grey: black and white are absolute and definite; shades of grey are cloaked in mystery, indiscernable edges, and doubt. I like absolutes! And God's word is absolutely true. It's like the old hymn says: "On Christ the Solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand." I don't have to doubt any more; He has given me a sure foundation on which to stand and I can be certain of Him. I love this all the more because I know what confusion and uncertainty comes with doubt and lies.
John 8:31-33 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation