When the Silence of God is Deafening.

affliction

Loud noise can leave us feeling paralyzed. A shriek of microphone feedback can stop a room dead like nothing else can. But we can feel paralyzed by silence also, especially when we experience the silence of God. Tragedy hits, we ask “why?” and nothing ensues but silence. Why is God silent? Why has He not made His presence known? What are we to do when God is silent? The Psalmist experiences the silence of God in a time of suffering and composes a song about it in Psalm 13. Here are three cues we can take from the Psalmist:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2 NRSV)

First, take a cue from the Psalmist and complain to God. Yes, you heard that right, go ahead and complain to God, that is the first thing we find the Psalmist doing. “But didn’t the Israelites complain in the desert, and so are we not to avoid complaining?” you might ask. True, they did, and yes, God was not impressed as you can read in Numbers 11:1-6. And therefore many people only pray “nice” prayers, the kind they think God will like, very dignified and polite. However, the complaint of the Psalmist in Psalm 13 is very different from the complaints of Israel in the desert wanderings. Consider:

  • This complaint is prayer. When the Israelites were whining in the desert they were not directing their complaint to God whereas the Psalmist does. And this is a prayer of faith, we do not have a “God, if you are there” kind of prayer, but a prayer from someone who knows he is being heard. If you experience the silence of God, let it lead you to prayer.
  • Being prayer, this complaint is integral to relationship. When some people pray, you would think they are speaking to the Queen, their language and thoughts being so dignified and well mannered. If you were a child of the queen, would you prefer a more honest and open kind of relationship with your mum than her subjects had? Do you think she would prefer that too?Well, we are children of the King, so we can stop speaking to Him as if He is the queen! If you experience the silence of God, let it lead you toward a deeper and fuller relationship with God.
  • There is a strong desire for the presence of God. The Israelites wandering in the desert had lost their appetite for manna. And it seems they never had much of an appetite for God. The Psalmist complains out of a strong appetite for God’s presence. “How long?” is asked four times, as if the Psalmist did not want to wait another second to know God’s presence. When God is silent, let it ignite your appetite for His presence.

3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
    my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. (Psalm 13:3,4)

Second, take a cue from the Psalmist and appeal to the glory of God. The Psalmist is not being self centered in pointing out the possibility of his own death or his enemy’s gloating in verses three and four. He knows that God’s glory is at stake in what happens to Him. When evil wins, God is not glorified. When justice and mercy kiss, God is glorified. When we see or experience injustice do we appeal to the glory of God? Here is another difference between the complaint of the Israelites in the desert and the complaint of the Psalmist. Israel had no thought for the glory of God. Do you? When you experience the silence of God, let it drive you to seek God’s glory.

5 But I 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. (Psalm 13:4,5 NRSV)

Third, take a cue from the Psalmist and let worship of the Lord take you to trust in God. The Psalmist is able to bring to mind a true concept of God. He is the God of “steadfast love” a term which conjures up God’s faithfulness to His people and to His covenant promises. The Psalmist can speak of salvation, and God’s goodness, both of which we know so much more vividly this side of the New Testament. In worship we deepen our knowledge of God. Worship enables us to look back and look forward to God breaking the silence. When God is silent we can look back to times that He broke the silence, such as when God spoke at creation, called Noah, called Abraham, spoke to Moses from the burning bush, spoke to Moses at Sinai, spoke through the prophets, spoke in Jesus, and spoke through the Holy Spirit. When God is silent we can also look forward to those moments when we know the silence of God will be broken. For example, there will be the trumpet blast at Christ’s return when the dead in Christ are raised to life. Also, as a person trusting in Christ, the silence will be broken when your name is read from the book of life. And we look forward to the silence being broken by an angel:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 NRSV)

Here is another key difference between the complaint of the Israelites in the desert and Psalmist. Despite seeing the miracles of God in their time the Israelites were quick to worship gods that are not God. On the other hand, though experiencing the silence of God in affliction the Psalmist was in a place of worship. If you experience the silence of God, let it drive you to a place of worship, and let your worship take you to a place of trust.

Though we may find ourselves paralyzed by the silence of God, let our first step be a complaint against God. And so with the Psalmist move toward being:

  • a person of prayer
  • a person of deep and full relationship with God
  • a person desperate for God’s presence
  • a person seeking God’s glory
  • a person of worship

Let the silence of God lead you to becoming more fully the child of God you are called to be.

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No, the Trinity is Not a Reference to Me, Myself, and I.

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The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
(2 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

There is a lot of self-created and self-centred theology these days. To quote Andy Bannister, “Dogma is out, spirituality is in. What many people want is not a godless secularism, but a god they can control & coerce, a god in a box.” Christianity is being passed over by a few taking up atheism, and by many taking up a self-created and often self-absorbed “spirituality.” This stands in contrast to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrine that is revealed to us, not created by us. While many find the concept of the Trinity hard to understand, there are three things that make it rather plain, even obvious.

Suppose you are God and that your character is marked by grace. You have a people who have rebelled against you, who do not deserve your goodness, but because your character is marked by grace, you are going to offer them forgiveness and reconciliation to yourself. But you are also holy and just, so you can’t just let rebellion go. What do you do? You do exactly what God did. You come to them and give yourself for them. God the Son, Jesus, is the evidence of God’s grace.

When you doubt that you are good enough for God, look to God the Son, for He is the evidence that yes, while you are not good enough, you are reconciled if you accept His offer of grace. Now if you are making up your own spirituality, grace and mercy are likely going to be important components of it. What evidence is there that grace ought to be an important concept?

Now suppose again, that you are God and you and that your character is marked by love. What will you do? You could create a universe that you love and will call good. You could create creative beings in your own image, and since you love them thoroughly you could give them free will. When they rebel against you, you would call a people to be light in dark places. You would enter into covenants with them, making promises that mirror your plan to rescue people from their rebellion. You send prophets to encourage and warn them. You discipline them when they wander. You come to them as one of them and give your life for them. You give them your Holy Spirit. You enable the people to keep a running record for future generations. If you are God and your character is marked by love, you do exactly what we see God doing in the pages of the Bible. The activity of God the Father in history is evidence of God’s love.

When you doubt that God loves you, look to what we see God the Father doing in the pages of the Bible. He has gone to extraordinary lengths to show His love. The actions of God in the Bible is the evidence of His love. Now if you are making up your own spirituality, love will likely be a key component. What is the evidence that love ought to be so important?

Now suppose you are God and you want to be present to the people you have created for relationship. How will you do that? And how will you tell them that your presence should give them hope for the future? Well you could do precisely what God has done and give your Holy Spirit to them.

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory
(Ephesians 1:13-14 NRSV)

The presence of God the Holy Spirit is evidence of hope for the future.

When you doubt that the future holds much, look to God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the evidence of the future, the evidence that hope is appropriate. If you are making up your own spirituality, what is the evidence that hope is appropriate? What is the evidence that there is more to life than your body, which you know will be dead someday, and our world, which will cease to support life when the sun goes out someday?

As Christians we believe in the Trinity, for this is the way in which God has revealed Himself to us. His revelation has flowed very naturally from His character.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity also rescues us from our self-absorption. Dig deep into the self-created spiritualities of many a spiritual person, and you will find the creed: “I am good.” The doctrine of the Trinity affirms something of far greater weight: “God is great.” Even altruism, when found in a self-made spirituality, if it shows up at all, often comes from self absorption: “See, I am good!” But a truly committed Christian must be other centred from the get-go. We worship God. And because we experience God’s grace, love, and hope-inducing presence, we must hold grace, love, and hope-inducing presence toward others.

Every person has a spirituality somehow or other. Every person has a theology of some sort. Is yours self-created, and if so is there any evidence for the grace, love, and hope that is found in it? The revelation of God the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit is evidence that grace, love, and hope are real. I hope that you will not see the Trinity as some abstract theology you will never “get”, but as the very practical revelation of God revealing His character.

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The Church. Its a Holy Spirit Thing!

PentecostWhat is the defining mark of being part of God’s Church? And we are not talking about membership in the local church here. What is the one thing, that if it is missing, you are not part of God’s Church? Is it membership in the local church? Or baptism by water? Is it good behaviour? Thankfully the Bible tells us:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NRSV

The presence of God’s Holy Spirit is the defining mark of Church membership, it is the one thing that if it is missing from you, you are missing from the Church. The Holy Spirit is intimately connected with the identity of the Church, and from this fact flow a few implications:

  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, your background is no barrier. “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Your past should no more keep you from His Church than it should keep you from taking a glass of water.
  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, membership involves a new identity. Your identity as a person does not change when you join an organization. When I joined the YMCA, I was still very much me, though I hoped to become a lighter me. When you join God’s Church, the Holy Spirit indwells you and your identity changes, to child of the King of kings.
  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, membership is with family, not an organization. Once I figured out that I could get just as much exercise by walking to the YMCA and back than driving there and going in, I opted out. Though you may “opt out” of an organization, or even of family gatherings, you cannot “opt out” of family itself.
  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, we throw open a wide and world-wide invitation. In Acts 10:44-48 we read about the moment the apostles realize God’s invitation was going further than theirs, His Holy Spirit being the proof.
  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, the “organized church” defies organization. The Church is not as organized as some might think or hope, it is very disorganized and therefore greater than you think! Some want to organize it like a fine English garden, having great control over which flower goes where. But in fact God’s Church is more like the wildflowers that bring beauty throughout the earth quite apart from our meddling.
  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, we need not stress needlessly over church membership roles. Commitment to an organisation is great, but it should never overshadow commitment to God Himself. I don’t tend to know who is a member of our church and who is not. And should we ever need precision on such matters due to a contentious vote or powerblock, we ought not to be voting anyway. We had better take to our knees in prayer instead.
  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, it may be broader than we think. There are many denominations that I would never join for I find them too goofy in their theology or practice, or I don’t care for their clergy dental plan. But there are people in every Christian denomination who are Spirit marked.
  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, the Church is more narrowly defined than many people think. According to 1 Corinthians 12:3, no one “can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” God’s Church is a confessing Church, we confess that Jesus is Lord. God’s Holy Spirit enables and inspires that confession which reverberates down through the centuries: “Jesus is Lord.”
  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, water baptism is your profession of what God has already done in you. Baptism by water does not make you right with God. God makes you right with God. Baptism of water follows baptism by God’s Spirit (see again Acts 10:44-48).
  • Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, you are not just a member of the Church, you are the Church. Where is the Church in the world? You might point to buildings, and at certain times the Church may be found gathered where you are pointing, but the Church always is wherever His people are found.

So if the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, how do I know if I have the Holy Spirit? Should I be able to point to speaking in tongues, or work miracles, or have a feeling of God’s presence, or know my spiritual gift? Again we look to the Bible for the answer:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 NRSV

The defining mark of the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life is the ability to honestly say “Yes, Jesus is Lord.” We hopefully will go on to other marks of the Spirit’s presence, especially the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22,23), but it starts with a simple confession of trust, it starts with repentance.

So let us conclude, or perhaps begin something with this: Are you a member of God’s Church? Do you know why you should confess Jesus as Lord? Because He is. Do you know why you can confess Jesus as Lord? Because of God’s grace. Do you know why you would ever want to confess Jesus as Lord?

because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

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