Who Are You God? The God of Love

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Hey TD,

A few years ago I wrote an essay for the Who is God? series that we’ve been posting over the last year.  My focus was on love.  If you could use a boost in your understanding of your “love life,” read on.  I hope it helps you towards becoming a better lover, as you learn from the One who loves best. – Arthur

Who Are You God?  The God of Love

“Do you love me?” Jesus repeatedly asked Peter in John 21 … and for good reason.  Prior to Jesus’ arrest, “trial,” sentencing, and execution, Peter, the emotionally charged and flamboyant disciple boldly, repeatedly, and confidently professed his love and allegiance to Jesus.  Relying on the emotion of the moments, and his strong “feelings” of love, Peter would make daring claims of loyalty.   So self-driven was he that on one occasion, he rebuked Jesus after He informed His disciples of the manner in which He would die, promising the Master that he would never let that happen to Him.  This prompted Jesus to return the rebuke, saying to Peter, “Get Thee behind me, Satan.”

On that terse Thursday evening, shortly before Jesus was to be arrested, Peter assured Jesus, “Even though all may fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”  Jesus informed him that before the rooster would crow that very night, Peter would deny him three times, to which Peter insisted, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.”  Such was Peter’s confidence in his own love.  The rest, as they say, is history.  When presented with the opportunity to align and associate himself with Jesus, while Jesus was on trial, Peter’s “love” took a leave of absence, and indeed, as Jesus stated, Peter denied any association whatsoever with Jesus … three separate times, even cursing and swearing at one point for emphasis! (Matt. 26:74)

One of the most poignant, dramatic, and chilling verses in the New Testament, to me, comes soon after, when Luke records, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:61)  Imagine the piercing guilt and shame Peter felt when their eyes met, knowing that he had done the unthinkable: he forsook His Master.  No wonder Peter couldn’t answer Jesus’ question any other way than to say, “You know I love you.”  You may be scratching your head a little, asking, “Wait.  What do you mean?  Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him, and Peter answered in the affirmative.  What’s the issue?”  Let me explain.

There are at least two keys to better understand this intense relational exchange between Jesus and Peter.  The first has to do with what is meant by “love.”  The word Jesus used in His question was the Greek word agape, which is translated “love” in English.  This represents the highest form of love, God’s love, the love of unwavering fortitude and commitment to another’s best, even at personal expense.  Unfortunately, three other Greek words are also translated as “love” in English, so something gets lost in the translation.  There’s storge – a familial kind of love, as family members would have; there’s eros – a romantic, sensual, feeling type of love; and then there’s phileo – a brotherly, friendship type of love, as good friends would share.  Jesus asked Peter, “Do you agape me?,” to which Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; You know I phileo You.”

The second key is in the timing of the question.  A few weeks earlier, Peter would have answered with a resounding, “You bet!  Of course I agape You, and I always will!”  Now He’s faced with answering the question after having denied Jesus three times.  Though I’m sure he was agonizingly dying to respond in the affirmative, he couldn’t; not with the facts staring him in the face.  He could not tell Jesus, “I agape You.”  He could only truthfully say, “I phileo You.”  That exchange happened a second time.  The third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you phileo Me?”  This deeply grieved Peter.  Many think that this grief is Peter feeling offended and hurt that Jesus would question him on whether he even had phileo love for Him.  That’s a possibility.  I think another possibility is that Peter felt deeply grieved that he couldn’t honestly tell Jesus, “I love you,” though he desperately wanted to.

What if Jesus asked you that same question, “Do you love me?”  Would you be able to say, “Yes, I love You”?  When a servant-girl identified Peter as an associate of Jesus, the Scriptures tell us that he responded with an oath, saying, “I don’t know the man!”  (Matt. 26:72)  Peter lied.  Or did he?  I think it was Joni Eareckson Tada who once commented that this may be the first time Peter actually told the truth!  He didn’t know Jesus!  Not really.

The truth is, no one knows Him, and no one can know Him unless the Lord first loves us, reveals Himself to us, and unilaterally changes our hearts.  Hence, John’s admission in 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us…,” and later in verse 19, “We love because He first loved us.” (emphasis mine)  Remember when Peter boldly confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”?  Jesus reminded him that “… flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

This is what Peter had to learn before Jesus was going to hand him the keys of heaven and build his church upon him (Matt. 16:18-19).  This is what we all must realize before our worship, proclamation, and ministry are to become authentic and mature.  The Lord is sovereign over absolutely EVERYTHING, even our love.  He controls it all. That’s humbling to know.  The Lord wants us to know this deeply, especially those of us who are regularly praised, followed, and admired for our “love for God.”

It’s very easy to get subtly seduced into subconsciously thinking that the reason we’re such “good Christians” is because we love God more than the average person; and it’s tempting to think that the reason we love God is because we believed, we obeyed, and we followed Him.  And of course that’s true in a sense.   But why is it true?  Because we’re so smart and wise?  Well, yes, that’s true too, in a sense.  But how did you get to be that way?  Why you and not your friend?  The reality is that once you weren’t and now you are, and it is God who made you the way you are; without first consulting you, and without using pre-existing “material.”  You were absolutely nothing –  zero, zilch, nada – until God, all by Himself, with no outside influences, unilaterally and lovingly fashioned you.  And that great love for God you have?  It isn’t yours.  It’s His.  He monergistically (by Himself, with no prior cooperation from you) bestowed that gift of faith and love to you (Rom. 12:3), so that through you, He will love Himself.

Peter finally came to understand that, and because of that, God was able to build His church upon Peter and the apostles; a church that is still growing and maturing today, two-thousand years later.   It’s important to note that years after Jesus’ return to heaven, Peter was again put in a position to affirm or deny his association with Jesus.  This time, God’s love, not Peter’s, won out.  Peter and his wife were crucified as lovers of Jesus Christ.  It is said that while his wife was being crucified, he kept reminding her to remember the Lord Jesus.  When it was his turn, historians tell us that that he requested to be crucified upside down, for he was not worthy to be crucified like His Lord.

What a difference God’s love, true love, makes.   If you truly love the Lord today, your potential for powerfully and distinctively loving God is limitless, because His love is limitless; and it is His love which abides in you today.  To the extent that your love is subsumed by His love, the sky is the limit!  So, what are you waiting for?  Love God and keep His commandments like you never have before; and do it with joy, power, zeal, and freedom, for “… the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are NOT burdensome.” 1John 5:3

 – Arthur Hsieh

Who Are You, God? Infinity!

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Jonathan Edwards believed that of all the forms of knowledge, knowledge of God and knowledge of self are the most important.  After taking a few months off from our Who Are You, God? essay series, it’s back!  Grow your perspective and understanding of the infinity of God with this essay that Kathy wrote back when she was a student in college.  Enjoy! – Arthur

Who can fathom infinity?

In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis ends his Chronicles of Narnia series with a picture of infinity. Three of the Pevensie children have finally entered into the presence of Aslan, the “Great Lion” of Narnia, forever. C.S. Lewis writes, “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Can you imagine reading a book like that—that goes on forever and in which every chapter is better than the one before? You’d never stop reading!

Or, if you don’t like reading, look up into the sky at night. Can you imagine counting all the stars in the universe? You’d never stop counting! Or, for all you chemistry-lovers, can you imagine writing out all the possible amino acid sequences that make up proteins and all the possible nucleotide sequences that make up our DNA? Can you wrap your mind around numbers like 41000000?

Imagine counting the sand from a massive desert sand dune, where the grains are so fine that getting them in your socks and shoes are not bothersome at all, but rather soothing. I’ve tried counting my handful of sand before, and let me tell you, sand is not meant to be counted. Neither are stars and neither are molecules. I think they are meant to give us a picture of infinity, to blow our minds about the greatness of who God is, to blow our minds that He who created and sustains all things knows us intimately, and to blow our minds that we know Him and call Him our Father. Who can grasp such magnanimity? “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is too high, I cannot attain to it!” Ps. 139:6.

The Psalmist has also exclaimed, “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!” (Ps. 139:17-18) He says that God’s thoughts are vast, too numerous to count, as sand is, because God is infinite! And we know Him. God says, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23). And Jesus prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Knowing God is eternal life. Furthermore, the knowledge of God can’t be exhausted! There are infinite facets of His love, grace, kindness. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) Just as C.S. Lewis described heaven as a book without an end that contains chapters in which the next is always better than the one before, I think something similar is happening for us when we come to salvation and enter into eternity—we will forever be knowing God, not merely knowing about, but intimately knowing in new ways that we have not known before! When we enter Heaven, intimate knowledge of God will continue to be a perpetual novelty. What blows my mind is that as my knowledge of the infinite God increases, my love and adoration for Him will also increase…forever and fully! It makes sense then that Charles Spurgeon would say that “The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can engage the attention of a child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the doings, and the existence of the great God which he calls his Father.” For the Christian, knowing God is no simple and tiresome feat. In fact, we are characterized by who we know God to be, just as A.W Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

We know God to some degree because He first knew us and we love because He first loved us. Our whole life should be a hunger to know and love Him. If that is so, why is it that so few of us can fervently say with David, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1)? Or “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (Ps 119: 20)? Those are intense words, if sincere. We have only to measure ourselves against Scripture to see how far away we are from truly knowing our Savior, and God. Do we desire knowledge of God to the point that we can say we thirst, faint, and hunger for Him? Few of us can declare such truth in our life and use such intense language. Where does David get that passion? This much I know, we can only hunger and thirst and yearn for that which we have already tasted, and seen and known. How can we hunger and yearn for chocolate or frozen yogurt if we have never tasted how good they are? “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Ps 34:8) Have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good?

Furthermore, our soul can only thirst and our flesh can only faint for God alone if we find and seek our only satisfaction in Him. How can the degree of our yearning to know our Father be like David’s if we are constantly seeking satisfaction and delight elsewhere? One thing He has revealed about Himself time and time again is that He is a jealous God, desiring our full devotion, submission, love, delight, and obedience. God is El Qanna, a jealous God.

If ever I shall thirst, I pray that my soul shall thirst for God. If ever I shall faint, I pray that my flesh would faint for God. He is the greatest Person in the universe to know and love. So, who is this God that David thirsts and faints for?

It will take a lifetime and more to answer that question fully. The Great Story begins now. For “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” (Augustine)

– Kathy

 

 

Who Are You God? The Immortal Word

Last night in TD, we began to get more clarity and soberness with respect to the spiritual world that we live in.  It’s certainly important to understand and get a handle on, for the realm of demons, angels, and the supernatural is real.  It would be foolish to ignore.  The Bible doesn’t. 

As we continue in our Who Are You God? series, in this piece, Nathaniel peeks through the curtains and gives us a vivid description of what heaven may be like.  It’s a brilliant and moving piece that he wrote when in high school that left me not only more concretely aware of the supernatural realms, but increased my yearnings and desires to know my Destiny more fully.

Please take the time to stop, read, ponder, and stroke your imagination; something God-given that we Asians tend to under-cultivate … but need to.  – Arthur

Stunned, I passed by the columns of heaven, glimpsing what appeared to be intensely familiar.  I looked again, intently studying the rich marble and the radiant gold lettering.  Yes indeed, embedded in the gates of the celestial city were the chronicles and laws of Moses, the laments and warnings of prophets, the cries and songs of David, the miraculous accounts of Luke, the impassioned letters of Paul, and the vivid revelations of John.  Scripture, Holy Scripture, indelibly etched into heaven’s eternal gates.  Yet my countenance must have revealed my awed bewilderment, for Empyrean, my guiding angel, aptly remarked, “It’s as if you’re stunned to see the Words of life immortalized.”  “Stunned alright,” I admit. “Wasn’t the Bible given for our use on earth?  I mean, I have just always assumed that being in the presence of God would be enough.  There is no need for partial revelation when we are basking in the full light of His glory, is there?”  Empyrean strolled along then paused in front of a massive column.  “You are wrong, my son,” he affectionately stated, “being in the presence of the Almighty, basking in His light is not enough.  It’s more than enough.  In fact it is more than any angel or man could ever absorb, process, or know.  No, for all eternity I will never cease to revel in and learn from the Holy One.”  Those were my thoughts exactly and that was why I was so stunned to see something from the finite realm transcend into the infinite one.

The Bible was God’s special revelation to humanity, but wasn’t its express purpose to shine light in a dark, distorted world?  Here, nothing could possibly add light to the brilliance of the Son.  To me, Scripture was an accommodation.  Yes it is so glorious and full of truth that it works in conjunction with the Spirit himself.  But isn’t the Word necessary only because we cannot stand before the face of God and live; only because fellowship has been broken; only because our hearts are hardened and our eyes blinded?  There was no need for Scripture in the garden when pre-fall man walked with Him and talked with Him, was there?  Empyrean stepped over to the massive edifice and reached out his undefiled hand.  Running his fingers over the golden words, he uttered, “Timeless truth, within these precious words are timeless truths. They are the Master’s words, each letter pointing to the heart of a Father.”  The column shone with haunting luminescence, reflecting its deep light off of the angel’s white robe and into my awe- stricken eyes.  Then Empyrean turned, casting me into the shadow of his massive figure.  “Define Scripture,” he ordered, suddenly taking on the role of a learned teacher.  “Scripture is,” I started, and then paused to collect my thoughts, “Scripture is the compilation of sixty-six documents written by over forty authors across a span of about sixteen hundred years.  Each and every passage was inspired by God and is profitable for bringing the elect to salvation and continuing the process of sanctification.”  Satisfied with what I believed to be a fairly comprehensive answer, I waited for a response from my angelic teacher.  “O, but it is so much more,” Empyrean exclaimed, “Scripture probes past sterile details and even musings of the mind. In this sacred text are words that pierce the heart.  The Word does not merely recount the Almighty’s words; it reveals the Creator’s own heart.  Likewise, the Bible does not merely chronicle the utterances of humanity; it exposes and lays bare their hearts, every thought, intent, and desire.  Scripture,” he declared with cadence, “is the pouring out, in love, of God’s timeless thoughts and omniscient heart.  What God has to say was never meant solely for a moment.  He is eternal and so are His words.”

Speechless, I stared dumbly at the pillar, pausing to absorb the weight of the words which had been uttered.  Then I started reading.  JOHN 19 the heading stated, “Pilate then took Jesus and scourged him and the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face.” I gazed at these all so familiar words and thought to myself, “Well the best is yet to come.  Good Friday always segues into the glories of Easter morning.”  Yet my anticipation soon turned into contemplation as I looked past the etched letters.  Before long, my gaze penetrated the immortal words and the pillar came to life.  As if by some cinematic miracle, I was confronted with the sheer agony of the Savior.  In vivid color I glimpsed the crimson blood dripping down the Savior’s face, past a tearful eye.  In rapturous sound I heard the cruel jeers of the crowd, the brutal mocking of the Roman centurions, and the silent sobs of a mother who was losing her firstborn son.  Overwhelmed, I shouted, “This is not the way it is supposed to be!  Where is the heaven without tears, without sadness, without death?”  Empyrean strode over to the column with an expression of satisfaction, “The eyes of God are not confined to time.  All of history is ever before Him.”  Stepping closer, Empyrean confronted me, “You see, dear one, Heaven is tearless only because of the bitter tears and bloody sweat of Gethsemane.  Heaven is joyful only because of the infinite sacrifice and total atonement of Golgotha.  Heaven is vitality itself only because of the victory of a hollow tomb.  Heaven is a place of remembrance.”  From my prostrated position I lifted my eyes and saw for the first time not merely grandiose Ionic columns, but stones of perfect remembrance.  I myself recalling the choruses of earth could not help but raise my soul in worship with the words of Robert Robinson, “Here I raise my Ebenezer; Here by Thy great help I’ve come; And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wandering from the fold of God; He, to rescue me from danger, Interposed His precious blood.”

Suddenly, as if the blinders were removed from my eyes, I realized where I was.  The pillars of remembrance were arced in massive yet graceful semicircle, and there I was, in the middle, in front the central column.  “Do you finally see?” Empyrean inquired, “We are witnessing the climax of history, what all of creation has been and is longing for.  For this moment had God stepped out of eternity and into time so that you could step out of time and into eternity with Him.”  Indeed as my eyes slowly passed over the vivid heavenly gates, I realized that not only all of Scripture, but all of history converged at Calvary.  The near sacrifice of Isaac and the actual human sacrifice of the Aztecs spoke to the need for a bloody atonement.  The prophetic voices of Isaiah and John the Baptist mingle with the cries of Jezebel’s Baal worshippers who were acutely aware of their need for deliverance.  The epistles of Paul are viewed side by side with the condemning edicts of Nero, for both testify to the uncontainable and powerful truth of a dead and resurrected Christ who is worth dying for.  I turned and stared into the words of John 19.  Exuding from the image was an indescribably luminous beauty.  The torn, whipped flesh, the mingled dust, sweat, and blood, described with poignancy who God was.  Knowing that I had just experienced the piercing power and timeless purpose of the Word, Empyrean asked with the air of a masterful teacher, “So, who is God?”  “God is indescribable,” I started, knowing that no sole answer could satisfy such an ultimate, hallowing question.  Yet before I could excuse myself, my eyes fell on what was God’s very own answer through the special revelation of the Word and the incarnation of His Son.  Falling on my knees, I exclaimed to the Lord of the celestial city, “God, You are eternal truth poured out in Calvary love.”  And then with tears in my eyes, I managed to stammer what I should have been saying all along, “Thank You, thank You, thank You.”

– Nathaniel Hsieh