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God is not under my control. I do not have Him figured out. I cannot define Him; I cannot explain Him. All I can possibly ever do is bow my head upon the ground in silence before Him. To one He says, "Speak," to another He says, "Shut up." To one He says "Go here and go there," to another He says, "Sit down, you aren't going anywhere." And He WILL do the very opposite of what you want, and He will ask you to bow in silence before His right to order His creation as He sees fit.
5. God - of the Cup
I had imagined that my next letter in this series would be about "Many Sons," that is, the end result God intends from this Covenant He enters into with us. But God doesn't always show me what He wants me to write next, sometimes He surrounds my way with agony, and out of that agony comes the cry that is what He wanted me to write next. God was not finished with Gethsemane.
Only, He didn't want me to write about Gethsemane; He wanted me to write from Gethsemane.
Please bear with my frustration with God and my agony of soul.
If God reveals Himself to my neighbor BEFORE He reveals Himself to me, will I accuse my neighbor of heresy and deception and will I put my neighbor to death?
The greatest problem with God is that He is entirely out of control.
It is the vanity of man, including you and me, dear reader, to put God to death every time He does something or shows Himself to be something of which we do not approve.
We can't get at God Himself, of course, so we deal with an out-of-control God by endlessly re-writing the Bible and then by rebuking our neighbor when he reads or hears something from some verse we have already so painstakingly put in its place. Non-Christians are astonished when they see the endless, endless drivel pouring out of Christian minds and pens, in our ceaseless attempts to "explain" God.
To define God is to control Him. We demand a controlled God with no tolerance for any other kind of God.
God, of course, eggs this vanity on, having imposed it in the first place. (No, no, no, God would NEVER do such a thing! I am not deceived, everyone else is.)
I said once that God is "reckless." A "mature" Christian leader protested strongly - "No, God is not reckless." Meaning, "I have Him entirely under my control and if you will just listen to me, I will explain this God-on-my-Leash to you."
Now, everyone of us knows that God is out of control, reckless, and unexplainable. We know that when God should go up, He goes down; when He should go out, He comes in. When He should damn, He shows mercy; when He should show mercy, He destroys. When He should be sensible, He acts in extraordinarily bizarre and utterly unreasonable ways.
Okay, let's be honest, let's admit it - the worst thing about God is that He never does what He says, or so it seems to us. But we have lots of wonderful ways to explain a God who does not do what He says.
Jesus said, "Take no thought for tomorrow, what you shall eat or what you shall drink - God will take care of your needs." I've never met a Christian in Western culture who did not disagree with Jesus 100%. There are a few cultures who live that way and they are poverty-stricken as a result. "Get an education, get a job, earn some money, save your money, put up for retirement, buy insurance, store food for the winter, buy bulk quantities to save money," all of them taking thought for tomorrow, what we shall eat and what we shall drink. No one I have ever known would live like Jesus said. In fact, there is good and accurate argument that such a philosophy is the cause of poverty in this world.
Haitians must live for today only, they are not allowed to "lay up" for tomorrow. Should any Haitian accumulate sufficient to provide for tomorrow, his property will be seized by the government. It is for this reason alone, the complete non-existence of capital, that causes the people of Haiti to be desperately poor in spite of billions in aid that vanish into that stricken nation.
So was Jesus wrong? I have no doubt we think He was; we, of course, would never say such a thing; instead, we write books explaining how Jesus meant something quite different from what He said.
So what is the problem?
That's easy - God. God is an uncontrollable problem.
Here's what He says. "The first shall be last and the last first." "Many are called, but few are chosen." "God rewards those who diligently seek Him." "If you want to be the greatest in the Kingdom, here's how." "Many run, but only one wins the race." "If you overcome." "I will give to My two witnesses." "He is coming and His reward is in His hand." "Those who seek glory will win eternal life." "Leave out the outer court for it is not being measured at this time." "Take the little bit from him who did not produce an increase and give it to the one who did." "The stars differ from one another in glory." "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven."
I am writing this bit during the London Olympics. Man is very competitive. We watch the winners, but fail to remember the thousands and thousands of losers, all of whom gave their lives and long hours every day for years to fulfill the dream of their hearts, Olympic gold, but who failed, who came short, who did not measure up, and who will never ever see their dreams fulfilled.
The gospel is the most competitive arena in the universe.
MOST of Christian argument attempts to remove the competition built into the gospel to assure us that we are all winners. Although all of us argues for this belief, that all who receive Jesus will be happy in heaven forever, none of us buys into it for ourselves, not even a little bit.
Admit it. Your deepest desire is to be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. You want with all your heart for God to say, "Hey, look at this one, he really pulled it off, she pleased Me in every way." You want God to approve of you above all your fellows. You want, so very much, to hear, "Well done." And deep down inside, you "know" that all those who see things differently from you will most likely hear, "Depart from Me."
Now, someone who reads this may well say, quite loudly, "Not me, I trust in God, and that's enough for me."
It's so easy to prove that such a one is lying through his or her teeth. There's more than one way to prove it. One way would be to simply ask, "Please explain salvation to me." Very, very few would answer, "Although Jesus is salvation, I don't know Him very well, I am so ignorant. I don't see at all; I am blind. Do not ask me, I am so deceived about most everything."
You see, underneath that statement, "Not me, I am not pursuing glory, I don't want to be the greatest in the kingdom, I trust in God, and that's enough for me," underneath that statement is a very definite assertion that says this. "I know who God is, I can define Him. I know what salvation is, I can tell you. The way in which I understand reality is correct, I can see clearly."
Here's the game.
But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "will render to each one according to his deeds": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness - indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil . . . but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good . . . Romans 2:5-10
There it is. If you and I seek for glory, if we pursue honor, if we desire never ever to die, then God will reward us with this thing called "eternal life," whatever that is - IF we measure up. But if we don't seek our glory, if we don't hanker after honor before all, if we don't long for beating old age and death, then God claims we are, in fact, self-seeking. But self-seeking is not just a negative. The one who does not run this race for glory, is in fact, building up great "treasures" on the other side of things - WRATH.
Do you see what I mean? The desperate, desperate, desperate desire to explain why God does not mean what He says here? You're doing it right now, aren't you?
Here is how God sets up this turkey-shoot, this vanity, we seem to be caught in.
God gives only one definition of "eternal life." Even though almost all Christians try to give the term a definition God never ever gives, a definition that "eternal life" simply does NOT mean, still, all Christians know instinctively what the reward really is, and that certain knowledge drives our psychosis.
Here is the only definition given to the term "eternal life" in the Bible.
"To know God, and to know Jesus Christ whom God has sent."
The goal is to know this Guy who is patently unknowable. And the first one who really knows Him as He is wins. What do we win? Here it is:
. . . We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2
The prize of knowing God as He really is; the prize of seeing Jesus Christ whom God has sent, as He really is, is that we get to be just like Him - just like the King of Glory, just like the Lord of heaven and earth, just like the most glorious and exalted Being in the universe.
We get to sit in His throne.
So, either we are seeking for glory or we are building up treasures of destruction, one or the other. And both the Way to glory and the Prize itself is to KNOW God.
Do you see how desperately, desperately important it is to each of us to know God, to figure this Guy out, to win the prize, to make Him like us, approve of us, be pleased with us.
"Without faith it is impossible to please God." - "Oh you of little faith."
Even the Christian who says "I understand that God is a 'mystery' and that we will know what it all means in the sweet by and by," is so obviously blowing smoke. They think nothing of the sort; you probe just a bit and you will discover very quickly, and likely to your own pain, that the one who says "I 'know' that God is a mystery," has, by those very words, put God under control, and they will assure you that they see things as we are supposed to see them, and if we will just listen to their take on things, their explanations of "the mystery," then we, also, will understand. In fact, you can really get them going by saying, "Amen, brother, so good, never saw it that way before, you have really enlightened me, keep talking, please." They (and me as well, I do not exclude myself from vanity) will be more than happy to oblige.
God is NOT like winning the lottery. If you play the lottery, you could win millions, but if you don't buy or you don't win, life will continue as it is. If the lottery rules were like God's rules, then it would say, "Buy this one ticket for $1 and you could win millions, maybe, but if you don't buy the ticket, over and over, then you will certainly win losses and losses, greater and greater until you live in unending and utter ruin.
"If you seek for glory, you could win the throne, but only a few do. And if you don't seek for glory, you will win ever increasing destruction, and if your 'effort' to win the throne does not satisfy me, if you don't have enough 'faith,' whatever that is, then somebody else will win the little bit you happen to have." That's God's ticket.
Now listen, the whole reason why the words "That's not right, that's not what God means, God isn't like that," are going through your mind right now is that you know for a fact that you're in this high-stakes pitch for glory or dishonor, you know for a fact that "knowing" God is the race you must win. That's why you "know" what God is all about and can explain quite accurately what He does mean. The possibility that, after all these years of seeking to know Him, we might remain utterly blind and ignorant, is simply unthinkable; the stakes are just too high.
Here are several things Paul wrote to Timothy, several among many other similar things he said to Timothy.
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. - If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words . . . - But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life (knowing an unknowable God who hides Himself in clouds of darkness), to which you were also called . . . - You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
Let me be frank and honest with you.
I want glory with everything that is in me. I want to be the greatest in the kingdom of God. I don't want to die, I want to live forever; I want to see all my dreams come to pass. I want God to put His hand on my shoulder and to say to all creation, "Hey ya'll, look here, this is Daniel, he blesses My socks off. He so pleases me. He overcomes every difficulty; he triumphs over every adversity; he has such incredible faith in Me. Right from the start, he zeroed in on knowing Me and all along, Daniel was more right about Who and What I am than all the rest of you who thought he was so wrong. From this moment on, Daniel represents Me, and I will move in mighty power through hm to accomplish whatever he desires."
More than that, I want to be the one that so gets God right, that so knows Him as He really is, that I am then given the greatest assignment on earth given to those who belong to Jesus. I want to be the one who says, "Thus saith the Lord," and God says, "Yup, that's right." I WANT Glory!
And you want the very same thing.
The race is to know God, the prize is to know God. Ignorance, "Well I just didn't know" is not an option because ignorance of God, lack of faith, is not a neutral, it is, rather, a heaping up of the opposite of blessing, which is the very Biblical word: CURSE.
So, saying "Well, I'm just little old humble me," is proven absolutely false in two ways. One, that very statement is an assertion of knowledge, and two, ignorance of God is not bliss, it is destruction. Paul said that "Well, I'm just little old humble me" IS self-seeking. The bold and audacious pursuit of glory is the only thing that pleases God.
Let me be more frank and honest with you.
I don't know God very well, I am so ignorant. I cannot see Him; I am blind. I have studied to know God for years and years, I have followed after to know the Lord all my adult life, and I remain deceived about most everything I think I know.
I get a bit of a handle on knowing God and He just doesn't stay put, He blows my "knowledge" of Him right out of the water. I light upon one thing He says, and think, "Wow, okay God, I believe this; I believe what You say." And then someone else hits me with the very opposite thing that God says over there, and I am left feeling like an absolute fool.
Let me give you here two VERY opposing verses.
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17
The "Holy Scriptures" is first, the Old Testament, although it certainly does reach out to include the New Testament yet to be compiled at this point. Paul wrote those words shortly before he was killed in AD 67.
Then, about 25 years later, John wrote this:
But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. John 5:38-40
The fascinating thing is that Paul's words to Timothy, penned at the end of Paul's life, are more in line with the gospel according to Matthew, Peter, and James than with his own gospel; whereas John's words, penned 25 years later, are much more in line with the gospel according to Paul.
Okay, let's be honest, no mealy-mouthed beating around the bush. These two passages cancel each other out. Either one is true or the other is true, but by all human logic, knowledge, and reasoning, both CANNOT be truth. One is the truth and the other is whatever the truth is not. Let's get it out, be honest, "God lied."
But we never ever say that, do we? Not at all. We have a much more clever device, we learned it from Adam and Eve - they started it. Here is what we do.
Now, remember, every man, woman, and child on this planet is absolutely committed to this race of knowing God. Everyone has Him figured out. Everyone is convinced he or she is correct. Listen to the atheists, they are obsessed, it seems, with explaining "God." They sure do know how things really are; they can see all things so much more clearly than anyone else. Everyone is certain; everyone is sure.
It is normal for Christians to begin with Paul's words to Timothy, they make much more sense to the natural mind. "Yea, here's the trick to winning this race of knowing God, of figuring this Guy out. I will study the Holy Scriptures, as Paul said, because they can make me "wise" for salvation, and if I learn the Scriptures, then I'll have everything I need to be thoroughly equipped."
So you have at it, in obedience to what GOD SAYS! you devote years to this labor, knowing that both the race and the prize are to KNOW God, knowing that God says that learning the Scriptures is where you find all that you need.
Then, one day, someone says, "That's all a big waste of time, studying the Scriptures. Don't you know that Jesus said that you won't find "eternal life," that is, knowing God, in the Scriptures."
So we play the Adam and Eve trick. We would NEVER call God a liar, so we call the other "Christian" who thinks he's beat us in this race to figure God out, a heretic. You are deceived! God, the problem isn't You, it's this other person!
Then God (who is REAL in spite of the vanity He has placed over us) opens our eyes and we SEE that Christ is indeed the Living Word, and that reading and studying "the Scriptures" for years has not caused us to know Him as we ought, as He really is.
The problem is, we don't slow down a bit. Yes, God opened our eyes for one moment, surprised us utterly that He was NOT under our definitive control, shaking us to our core. BUT WE SURVIVE! And we're off and running. We now have God figured out - IT'S NOT the Scriptures - and we draw a line right through Paul's words to Timothy. Only, we never call God a "liar," no, we go around and find other Christians who are busily engaged believing that what God says in 2 Timothy 3 is actually true, and call them heretics, telling them they are deceived, and if they'll just listen to us, we have God all figured out. God is finally under control!
Those who love a God who destroys His enemies, including all who disagree with their take on things, in hellfire forever can't stand a God who would show mercy and kindness to every single human being. Those who love a God who has never thought of torturing His creation in hopelessness, hate the very idea of a God who displays His wrath and brings judgment - and yes, say the big bad word, "destruction" on those who anger Him.
And everyone absolutely shudders at the thought of a God who would bring Satan into restored and tender submission to Jesus. Those who reject a God of hellfire, get rid of Satan as well. And those who love a God of hellfire, shudder with absolute horror at the utter blasphemy, the absolute Satanic deception, that the devil would bow in broken humility and weep, "Jesus, my Master and my God." (Even though this out-of-control God says that he will - we absolutely MUST explain why what God says just ain't so.)
God says, "KNOW Me!" And then, it seems to us, that He makes it absolutely impossible for us to do so.
But most Christians have God all figured out - "What He means," they cry, "is that we'll know Him AFTER we die and "go to" heaven!" The incredible thing is, God never says that, nor any such thing. But they sure know that's what He has to mean. Just ask them; they know!
I freely confess that I wrote the above five pages in a cynical frame of mind and in the pain of my own soul. I do not conclude, however, that these words are not of Him. Rather, I, as is normal for me, am brought up short before an implacable God who does not kowtow to anyone.
God is not under my control. He does not ask me for permission either to do what He chooses to do or to be who He is.
God IS - let every human being bow before Him in silence. Let every human being place their forehead upon the ground in silence before a Holy and a Mighty God.
If a God who is love chooses to order a spirit of delusion to take possession of a nation and then sends destruction upon that nation because they were stupid enough to believe the lie, He does not ask me for my permission.
If a God who is hatred of all arrogance and all haughty looks and all acts of cruelty and indifference, chooses to show incredible favor and goodness to the most despicable and violent human being I could name, He does not consider if I am okay with His actions or not.
There is a deep root of ON-your-face, silent, and willing submission before a God who never ever fits into my box, regardless of how deeply I know Him or how long I have walked in faithfulness before Him, that is the core and center of those alone through whom He will show Himself mighty.
That root of willing and silent submission is rare upon this planet and found in very, very few. It does not come over night. It is not obtained by revelation - no vision of Christ-our-life will ever impart it. It comes in the hard places, in loss and in darkness, this unbending, implacable, never budging statement: "I am God; you are not. Be silent before Me." It comes over years, over and over, time and again. It comes against all rebellion, all finagling, all arguing with God. It comes against all blaming of others, all finding fault. It comes against all self-exaltation, all pretense, all human plans and ideas.
It comes and it comes until it wins absolutely and forever or until we drive that Voice far, far away from us.
We are not the one's who speak. God speaks and we have two options: either we will tremble in silent harmony with that Word or it will shatter us.
He will be . . . a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Isaiah 8:14 He is despised and rejected by men . . . and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Isaiah 53:3
Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder. Luke 20:18
Jesus, the Word God is always speaking, is offensive to me and He is offensive to you. And He says, "Be silent before My holy temple and tremble before Me."
Those who say, "Wait a minute now, that's not my Daddy," can be blessed and happy forever in His good pleasure, and God will most certainly do what He wills with His own - He never asks me what I think He should do. But I cannot say what they say.
God is not under my control. I do not have Him figured out. I cannot define Him; I cannot explain Him. All I can possibly ever do is bow my head upon the ground in silence before Him.
To one He says, "Speak," to another He says, "Shut up." To one He says "Go here and go there," to another He says, "Sit down, you aren't going anywhere."
And He WILL do the very opposite of what you want, and He will ask you to bow in silence before His right to order His creation as He sees fit.
Indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to Him who formed it, "Why have You made me like this?" Romans 9:20
I have been trying to re-write a critical New Testament verse. It doesn't say what I want it to say - in fact, it seems to oppose the core and root of the things I teach. I thought I could study the Greek words and find a way to alter the text. That didn't happen. I tried to argue to myself that the writer of Hebrews, very likely Priscilla, a woman, just had it wrong, she didn't see the reality of Christ the way I do. I tried all that - but I find myself unable to silence God.
And being unable to silence God, to require of Him to stop saying things of which I do not approve, I am brought up against my only role of being, myself, silent before Him.
When God speaks, I tremble.
. . . Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him . . . Hebrews 5:7-9
Now, I must confess, I don't do well with "obedience." If I hear a nudging, "do this," or "do that," something freezes up inside, something short circuits and I shut down. I don't do "voices." And I read many things in the New Testament that I fail to do, or that I act against, at times.
But I cannot count the number of times over many, many years, that the word "NO!" "NO!" "NO!" has hammered against me in implacable slow motion, they are far too many. "NO!" never comes with explanation, it never provides a context, it never gives options, it never moves, it never quiets down, it never stops. When a "NO!" begins against me, it grows and grows and grows, against my crying, against my arguing, against my raging, until I fall in silence before Him and the only thing I can say is, "Yes, Lord."
I have never heard Him speak, "Do this or that great thing, for I am with you." I have never heard Him say, "Go here or go there in My name." "NO!" is the vast majority of what I have heard from God.
There is nothing inside the word, "NO!" that I can expand on or give profound teaching upon. It carries no nuances, no development of thought. I cannot stand before the congregation and give testimony of the mighty power of God moving through the word, "NO!"
God orders all my steps; He hedges my way about with thorns. His "NO!" comes in so many forms. It comes as a quiet voice, though it never stays quiet long if I resist it. It comes in doors that slam shut, opportunities that go nowhere, jobs that turn into nightmares, relationships that become sour and I don't know how to fix them. His "NO!" has come against every hope, every dream, every desire I have ever known; it has removed all my strength and ability.
I say, "come against every hope, dream, and desire" over 36 years of adult life, but in a peculiar and difficult way. God has said, "NO!" until I give Him thanks for the loss of all things, but the desire increases and increases. The more He says, "NO!" in one way or another, the more my desire to see God do what He alone has placed in my heart grows, yet I can only remain silent before His implacable control and unceasing limitation of my life.
Don't think I have a demon; don't imagine that God would never do such a thing with someone who has actually given their life utterly to Him. God does what He wills with His own, and we give Him thanks.
I have watched God give the very thing I desire to another before my eyes in more ways and at more times than I can count or remember, all the while He Himself up-whelms desire with tears in my heart and then says, "NO! - Be silent before Me."
Do not ever imagine that the one God exalts is closer to His heart and will than the one whom He abases.
Do not ever think that the one whom God fills with mighty demonstrations of glory and power is nearer to His throne than the one whom God cripples and maims.
Yet that absolute line runs both ways. I must NEVER imagine that the one through whom He does mighty and glorious things, the one whom He exalts before His people is NOT closer to His heart and throne than I.
God does what He wills with His own and He asks no man's pleasure.
God is in His holy temple, let all the earth be silent before Him.
Let God be true and every man a liar . . . that You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged - that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before Him. Romans 3
If God says "Wrath," He will be justified in His words. If God says, "Mercy," He will be justified in His words. If God says, "Nothing can separate you from My love," He is justified in His words. If God says, "I vomit you out of My mouth," He is justified in His words.
Be silent before Him; tremble when He speaks. And do not think to give Him answer or to say, "Nay" or "Yea," to the Almighty.
We have one answer, only, to offer to God in whatever it is that He speaks. Out of a quiet and simple heart, we say, "Look at me, God, I belong to You. Let it be to me according to what You say."
I had no idea, when I wrote the first five pages of this letter in frustration and agony of soul, in a hurting and cynical mind, contending with a God who seems never to fulfill what He says in my life, and yet who never allows His word and His desire to dissipate from my heart, but causes it only to grow louder and deeper - yet always unfulfilled, that I would do anything other than to file these pages away quietly. Yet I see, now, that no other word could come next after Gethsemane than this word.
For the entire contention of this point is Gethsemane.
When Jesus cried, "TAKE THIS CUP AWAY FROM ME," He was wrestling with the same agony and frustration as I have expressed, only far, far more so.
This is the God who would be your life. Will He be God in you?
Will you drink His cup?