Yakkity yak, don’t talk back…

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”
Romans 9:20

I have written before describing how our relationship with our children are good reminders of our relationship with God.  Your child’s dependence on your provision as a parent is a tremendous sign of your own dependence upon God for everything.  Your child’s begging and pleading for the desires of their heart is how we ought to come to God in prayer.  Your child’s disobedience illustrates our own disobedience from our heavenly Father.  Your love for your child, even your disobedient child, is but a glimpse of the steadfast and unfailing love of God.

As I was reading through Romans 9 today, I was reminded of another correlative aspect of the parent/child and God/creation relationship: lipping off.  I don’t know if there is a more frustrating thing as a parent than to have a child talk back in disrespect. As a parent I’ve learned the meaning of pain by stepping barefoot on a lego on the bedroom floor.  I’ve learned humility through cleaning up sick in the middle of the night.  I have re-learned Algebra, History, Biology and the Arts to help guide and shape my children through their education.  And what thanks do I get, “Whatever, Dad!”

I am not a perfect father, far from it.  I have a lot to learn, and I will readily admit when I am wrong, and often have.  But when a child starts talking back, questioning not just my decision, but the very intention of my heart, that’s too much.  It is as if they think I’m making this up as I go (which, sometimes I am), but even worse, that I don’t want what’s best for them in the long run.  I doubt that I’m alone; this is one of the most frustrating things I have faced as a parent.

And yet, aren’t we like that with God?  This evening I’m attending a Presbytery Seminar on “The Future of the Five Points,” in which 5 of my colleagues in ministry will be discussing the 5 Points of the Doctrines of Grace and how they continue to be relevant today.  What I find fascinating is that whenever Calvin or Reformed Faith are even mentioned, the automatic question is, “What about my free will?”

Okay, what about it?

By insisting upon your freedom of will, what are you making of God’s will?  Shall the will of the sovereign of the universe bend to yours?  Are you questioning the wisdom of God?  Are you doubting his heart?

The apostle Paul has laid out the gospel throughout his letter to the Romans, that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and that “God has done what the law, weakened by flesh, could not do by sending his own Son… in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us”.  This is God’s sovereign work of salvation in Jesus Christ for all who are called according to his purpose.

As Paul anticipates the rejoinder from his audience, arguing “Well, if God’s will is sovereign and you cannot resist Him, why does he still hold us accountable.”  And his answer, Because God is God.  “Who are you to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'”  Ultimately, Paul’s solution to the question of free will is to compare the will of created man to the will of the eternal God; and there is no real comparison.

This is the answer that God gave Job when Job questioned the Almighty:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding. (Job 38:4)

Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? (Job 40:8)

Ultimately, who gets the glory? Who’s will is sovereign?  If it is mine, then we’re all done for, because I cannot even plan a trip to the grocery story without something going wrong. He holds my breath in his hands (Dan 5:23).  So who am I to think that I have the strength of will to determine the outcome of my existence in eternity?  God is sovereign, therefore His will must reign supreme and work all things for the purpose of His good pleasure.  Will I not honor Him?

Please don’t think that I am being flippant or dismissive of the real struggle that many have in regards to our responsibility and God’s sovereignty. But in the end we must acknowledge that He is God, and we are not.  Will you, will I, continue to question his love, his mercy, His sovereign will?  He has ordained all things according to His will, things for wrath and things for mercy, that He might be glorified in all things.  This great mystery ought to lead us, not to divisions among us, but to join in the wonder and praise that Paul shares in Romans 11:

Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.

A Definition of Worship

Planning and leading worship services for the church week in and week out can sometimes drain the essence out of worship itself.  Worship becomes something I do, an act of professionalism rather than encounter with my heavenly Father.  As Presbyterians are known for doing things “decently and in order,” our worship often takes on a rehearsed tone, and “passionate worship” is not how visitors would typically describe the service.

So it is that I came upon the following by A.W. Tozer in his book, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship.  May this serve as a corrective understanding for all of us as we prepare to enter into worship again.

A Definition of Worship

First, worship is to feel in the heart. I use that word “feel” boldly and without apology. I do not believe that we are to be a feeling-less people. I came into the kingdom of God the old-fashioned way. I believe that I know something of the emotional life that goes with being converted; so I believe in feeling. I do not think we should follow feeling, but I believe that if there is no feeling in our heart, then we are dead. If you woke up in the morning and suddenly had no feeling in your right arm, you would call a doctor.  You would dial with your left hand because your right hand was dead. Anything that has no feeling in it, you can be quite sure is dead. Real worship, among other things, is a feeling in the heart.

Worship is to feel in the heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe.  Worship will humble a person as nothing else can. The egotistical, self-important man cannot worship God any more than the arrogant devil can worship God. There must be humility in the heart before there can be worship.

When the Holy Spirit comes and opens heaven until people stand astonished at what they see, and in astonished wonderment confess His uncreated loveliness in the presence of that ancient mystery, then you have worship. If it is not mysterious, there can be no worship; if I can understand God, then I cannot worship God.

I will never get on my knees and say, “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I can figure out. That which I can explain will never overawe me, never fill me with astonishment, wonder or admiration. But in the presence of that most ancient mystery, that unspeakable majesty, which the philosophers have called a mysterium tremendum, which we who are God’s children call “our Father which art in heaven,” I will bow in humble worship. This attitude ought to be present in our church today.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was one of the greatest minds that ever lived. When he was only in his teens, he wrote advanced books on mathematics, astonishing people. He became a great philosopher, mathematician and thinker.

One night, he met God, and his whole world was changed. He wrote down his experience on a piece of paper while it was still fresh on his mind. According to his testimony, from 10:30 pm to about 12:30 am, he was overwhelmed by the presence of God. To express what he was experiencing, he wrote one word, “fire.”

Pascal was neither a fanatic nor an ignorant farmer with hayseeds back of his ears. He was a great intellectual. God broke through all that and for two solid hours, he experienced something he could holy characterize as fire.

Following his experience, he prayed; and to keep as a reminder of that experience, he wrote it out: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned.” This was not a prayer for somebody who reads his prayers; this was not formal religious ritual. This was the ecstatic utterance of a man who had two wonderful, awesome hours in the presence of God. “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob not of the philosophers and of the learned. God of Jesus Christ… Thy God shall be my God… He is only found by thy ways taught in the Gospel… Righteous Father, the world has not known Thee, but I have known Thee. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…” And he put an “Amen” after it, folded it up, put it in his shirt pocket and kept it there.

That man could explain many mysteries in the world, but he was awestruck before the wonder of wonders, even Jesus Christ. His worship flowed out of his encounter with that “fire” and not out of his understanding of who and what God is.

Tozer, A. W. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship. (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker House Books) pg. 108-110.