Category Archives: Devotions

What’s in a Name

 

Perhaps this is an over-generalization, but it seems rather apparent that the world has always endorsed the idea of individuals making a name for themselves.  While this sentiment has historically come under many different guises from being famous to self-branding, the concept has remained the same.  In order to be successful, popular, wealthy, etc., you need to get your name out there, or so we’re told.  This is especially true with having an online presence.  Just Google the phrase “self-branding” and you’ll find more than 13 million results, mostly lists of how-to.

Modern efforts to make a name for oneself are not all that different from those efforts in Genesis 11 where members of society tried to make a name for themselves by building a tower to heaven.  Verse 4 summarizes well

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

The people of Babel were united with a common language and a common motivation to make a lasting impact on  history by drawing attention to their technological advancements.  That they attempted to build a tower to heaven, highlights their common blind spot as a failure to rightly recognize God, most notably that no amount of human effort will be enough to earn your way to God.  Though the technology and methods have changed, the human heart has not.

The little phrase, “let us make a name for ourselves” becomes all the more remarkable when we encounter Abraham for the first time.  In the very next episode, after Babel, we read in chapter 12 of Genesis God’s call of Abraham and the introductory covenantal formula that will be repeated throughout Abraham’s life

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Amidst the covenantal promises outlined above is the phrase just highlighted from the Babel events only this time, it is God who is speaking, “I will bless you and make your name great”.  The contrast between these two statements, specifically Who it is that is making the statement, should be striking.  In the first case, it is the people of Babel who are attempting to make a name for themselves.  In second case it is God who declares that He will make a name for Abraham.

Only One can accomplish what they set out to do.  Only one can guarantee lasting value.

Through desire, invention, and efforts, humans are constantly trying to make a name for themselves, a lasting legacy as it is sometimes called.  Ultimately these desires are rooted in a recognition of human frailty and the brevity of life on the timescale of humanity.  It’s a desire to live a life of purpose and meaning that finds value in being remembered.  However, as Christians know all too well, this world is not our home.  Our longing is for a city who’s builder and maker is the Lord.  Therefore our lasting value, our worth, is found in Christ and it is our union with Him that is His great accomplishment in making our name great…child of God.

I’ve often been tempted, and have sometimes fallen into the trap, of wanting to make a name for my self or to somehow make efforts for self-promotion or branding.  But then I am reminded that first it is God who will make a name for Himself.  Then it is God who chooses who, when, and how to make a name for those as He sees fit.  Ultimately there is a reminder found in the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase.  I must decrease.”

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

The Balance between Despair and Hope

 

In a previous post, we looked at the tendency of believers faced with the circumstances of affliction who despair to the point of asking the familiar questions, “Why this happening?” or “Where is God?”.  There we suggested that although this was the course and pattern of Job’s response to his affliction, perhaps he lamented too far and too long, reaching the point of failing to properly recognize the consistent and righteous character of God in his afflictions.  It was not until God’s extended discourse in reminding Job that it is He who orders His creation as He sees fit, even those things which on the surface might seem contrary to nature and even those things which might seem impossible to the natural mind, that Job’s eyes were opened to properly stop asking why and start asking Who.

Lest we should walk away from that post thinking that our response in the face of affliction and despair should be one of resignation or stoicism, in this post we want to add balance to argument by looking at the much neglected practice of lament.  The Psalms provide for us this balanced approach through its inclusion of numerous laments.  Here we find that pouring out our hearts in agony and anguish before God, may indeed be a proper response to our most difficult circumstances, i.e. afflictions.  It may even be that God is working in our hearts to draw out the marrow of lamentation.  However, we must be reminded not to linger here, lest despair overtake us and doubt of God’s goodness begin to enter our minds.

Psalm 13 provides a typical pattern of a lament, maintaining the balance between despair and hope.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The breaks above, provided by the ESV translators, highlight the transitions of the Psalm.  In vs. 1-3, we hear the words of the lament through a series of questions, much like the aforementioned, Why is this happening? and Where is God?  In vs. 4-6, there is a shift towards an appeal by the Psalmist to God for a response to his situation.  Then, in the last two verses we see the psalmist rest in the character of God, namely His goodness.

Entering into a lament shows a dissatisfaction with our circumstances; a recognition that things are not supposed to be this way.  Ultimately it is a desire for God to reconcile all that has been corrupted by sin.  It is toward this hope of reconciliation that our minds must then turn if we are to undergo lamentation properly.  If we linger in our despair, if we allow our minds to sink with the waves of doubt and depression, we show evidence of lacking faith as Peter did when walking on the water to our Lord.

The duration for how long we allow ourselves to lament over our afflictions, in order to maintain this proper balance, cannot be answered with any certainty, as it depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the person and circumstance.  Nevertheless, universally, we must continually give ourselves over to prayer and continually fix our minds on the hope that is set before us knowing that our circumstances are only temporary and one day Christ will return to establish an eternity in which there will no longer be any crying; one in which He will wipe away all tears.

In closing, we need only to look at the life of our Lord to realize that lament has a proper place in the life of a believer.  Turning to the Scriptures, we find that Christ lamented over the death of Lazarus.  He lamented over the hardheartedness of Israel.  He lamented over the the pressing reality of experiencing the cup of God’s wrath.  And He lamented with outpouring  cries at the temporary abandonment from the Father as He bore the sins of many.  Yet all the while, He knew a better day was coming when sin would no longer exist, darkness would be engulfed by the light, and death would no longer reign over man.

When the time comes that we must navigate the darkness of despair, let us follow this pattern of our Lord by shining the light upon the hope of glory.

Knowledge of God and Self

 

In the Scriptures we are often confronted with the Principal of Recognition.  First, we come to recognize who God is, e.g. “In the beginning God” and then we come to recognize ourselves, e.g. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” and “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 1:26; 6:5

This is clearly on display in the Book of Job, particularly if we examine the latter chapters where Yahweh speaks, revealing more of His character in bringing Job to an increased knowledge of Whom he has to do (Hebrews 4:13).  Subsequently, Job’s eyes are illuminated to see himself now with respect to God; the creature in light of the Creator.

This principal is not limited to Job, but spans all of Scripture and the examples are many.  It is evident with Moses (Exodus 34:8); Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5); Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28); as well as in the New Testament with Peter (Luke 5:8) and the Revelation given to John (Revelation 1:13-17).  In each example, and there are others, we see how man is brought to a recognition of his own unworthiness, own sinfulness, in the light of God’s own holiness.  We may refer to this revelation as knowledge of God and it is with respect to this knowledge that we have a greater knowledge of self.

Writing in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin comments

“man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself (Vol. 1, pg. 37).”

and again

“we must infer that man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty (Vol. 1, pg. 39)”

Bringing the mind to a knowledge of God, through His general revelation (creation) and divine revelation (Scripture) should cause us to be struck with fear and reverence and then gratefulness that this same God would ever, by grace, condescend to call us (believers) His children.  Consequently, as Calvin says, this contemplation of God should cause us to consider ourselves, that we may humbled before him, realizing our sinfulness and weaknesses.

This was the path that God lead Job down, may it also be our path as we come to know more of God and more of ourselves.

Job 42:1-6

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”