Tag Archives: God’s character

Janet Sketchley

Why We Need to Know God

He will flatter and win over those who have violated the covenant. But the people who know their God will be strong and will resist him.
Daniel 11:32, NLT*

This is part of Daniel’s prophecy about a future king who will conquer and destroy many nations and intend great harm to God’s chosen people. It also has a lesson for Christians today, in our own circumstances.

We have an enemy too—the enemy of our souls. How do we stand against the opposition and persuasion he sows? (Daniel warned of the enemy king’s flattery and winning over.)

Daniel tells us how. We have to know our God.

  • Know His character. His ways. His commands.
  • Know His ultimate power. Events unfold according to God’s timing. (The phrase “the appointed time” occurs three times in Daniel 11.)
  • Know that He is bigger than our circumstances and thoughts. Focusing on this perspective keeps us from letting our problems loom larger than life.

How well do we know God? Biblical literacy is on the decline, and many people’s idea of God comes from a mix of Hollywood, hearsay, and maybe even heresy, depending on who they’ve been listening to.

To truly know God, we need to go to the source: the Bible. (tweet this) And we need to ask Him to reveal Himself in it.

God who is the Author and the Finisher of our faith, who knew the end from the beginning, and who reaches into our tangled lives to rescue and redeem us, help us to know You better. Help us live relying on Your character and following Your ways, so we can recognize and resist deception.

There are many classic hymns that declare the wonders of God, but this newer song is the one that came to mind when I wrote this post: Magnificent, by Matt Redman.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God’s Reputation

You displayed miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, his officials, and all his people, for you knew how arrogantly they were treating our ancestors. You have a glorious reputation that has never been forgotten.
Nehemiah 9:10, NLT* (emphasis mine)

Many North American Christians are walking closely with God and growing in our faith. But to the watching world, even to many in (or leaving) the church, God’s glorious reputation has been forgotten, replaced by one that’s distorted. (Click to tweet.)

That makes me sad. No wonder people aren’t drawn to follow Him, when they don’t know who He is.

In context here, the returned Israelites have heard the Law read aloud, have confessed their corporate and individual sins and vowed to live God-honouring lives. Even when they’d forgotten the nuances of holy living, they remembered God’s mighty acts.

We don’t tell God’s stories: miracles in the Bible and our own personal encounters, large and small.

We don’t live in clear trust, in joy or peace. We’re bogged down by the cares of this world (some of which are heavy indeed). Respect for diversity (or fear of offending) keeps our faith low-key, personal and private.

But even Israel’s enemies knew God’s reputation. We can tell the stories without insisting others embrace them, and trust God to do what He will with our words.

We’ve given the wrong impression of God. Instead of a glorious reputation, He’s perceived as judgmental, carrying a big stick and waiting for an excuse to swing it. Or people think He’s helpless, because flashy miracles aren’t happening much in North America and the quieter miracles aren’t recognized or aren’t shared. Others think He’s confusing, because we can’t answer the deep pain questions and yet we’ve felt we had to be able to explain Him.

Holy and majestic God, God of power and tenderness, judgment and love, we don’t understand how Your character traits mesh together. Still, we know we can trust You. Forgive us for the part we’ve played in the damage to Your reputation. Remind us of who You are, of what You’ve done. Help us to live confident in You, to see and share what You do. Restore Your glorious reputation in the eyes of all the world, and in Your grace give us a part to play in that restoration. Not because we’re worthy, but because You are good.

A good song to focus our faith is “Our Great God,” by Todd Agnew and Rebecca St. James.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Knowing God, by J. I. Packer

Knowing God, by J.I. Packer

Knowing God, by J. I. Packer (InterVarsity Press, 1973)

In this collection of material previously published in his columns in the Evangelical Magazine, J. I. Packer emphasizes the foundational importance of knowing God—and challenges readers to learn who the Bible says God is instead of going with who we think He is. As we come to know God’s character and attributes, we can trust Him. It’s hard to trust someone whose character you don’t know.

The book explores key attributes of God, including such things as His majesty, wisdom, truth, love, justice, wrath, goodness and severity, and His adequacy. It’s not meant for a casual read, but to be considered, pondered and prayerfully ruminated on. There is much in its pages to nourish Christians.

The writing style is scholarly and includes references to teachers and hymn writers whose names may be unfamiliar to contemporary readers. Taking the time to Google these names would introduce us to many stalwarts of the faith. Knowing God  is a valuable resource, and I’d love to see an updated edition for today’s readers. I think the deep content would be easier to process without textbook-level delivery.

Dr. Packer writes from a solidly Protestant/Evangelical point of view, and my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters won’t agree with his chapter about images of God. I’m not sure what to make of it, myself, but the chapter includes a challenge to examine one’s mental image of God to be sure it’s whole and true, and I found that very helpful.

Despite finding the book a hard read, I think it’s one that will benefit any Christian who takes the time to prayerfully work through it. For me, it’s a keeper that I’ll refer back to again.

Dr. Packer is a well-respected theologian and Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College, Canada. In 2005, TIME Magazine listed him as “one of 25 most influential Evangelicals in America.” [Influential Evangelicals: J.I. Packer]

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Our Shepherd

He guides me along right paths,
bringing honour to his name.
Psalm 23:3b, NLT*

Psalm 23 is probably the best-known psalm, and it’s such a comfort, whether we’re in the green meadows or in the narrow valley of the shadow.

Our Shepherd is with us, resourceful to nourish us, powerful to defend and rescue, wise in His leading and rewarding us for following.

We can get to thinking it’s all about us, and there’s a lot of “us” in the message.

Today’s verse reminds me of the bigger picture: the psalm—and life—is about revealing the character and nature of our Shepherd. It’s about Him.

Thank You, God, for the care You give us. You provide, protect, guide and reward. The way You treat us reveals more about You than about us. You are the Holy One, worthy of all honour and praise. Help us follow obediently, not just to stay safe but to give You glory.

Our song this week is the traditional Irish hymn, “The King of Love My Saviour Is,” sung here from the Maranatha Celtic Hymns recording.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Rational Worship

cover art: Rational WorshipHow do you feel about the Apostle Paul “pleading” with us to give ourselves to God as living sacrifices?

What would that look like in our lives? Can we trust God that much? Are we willing to trust Him?

I’ve been following Carolyn Watts’ Hearing the Heartbeat blog for a while now, and she’s a writer I can trust to be authentic, transparent and encouraging. Not long ago she posted an intriguing question about how this ongoing “living sacrifice” might look. [Read: The One Question You Need for Each Day]

This week she released an online Bible study called Rational Worship: Offering Ourselves to the God of Mercy. It’s six weeks on Romans 11:33-12:2 and related passages from the Old and New Testaments.

Carolyn explains the reason behind the study:

What you really want to know is “Can God be trusted with my life? How can I know that it’s safe to trust Him?” And as many stories as you hear, that answer can only be received in God’s presence. So instead of merely telling you my own story, I’d like to lead you (with those big questions) along a bit of the road He has led me on toward the One who knows how you can best hear His whispers. To the One who has been waiting to welcome you deeper into His heart. [Read the full post: The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (and How to Live it Fully)]

This is a professionally-designed resource that comes with a separate leader’s guide for group study. And it’s free. You can download the PDF and either work from your reader or computer or print out the pages.

The journey is designed for (short) individual daily steps and a weekly group discussion, but it can be taken on your own. For now, that’s what I’m doing. As an added resource, Carolyn’s Monday posts will continue to explore the character and nature of this God who is trustworthy enough to inspire our surrender.

For more information and to download the material, visit Rational Worship.

To Know God

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
John 14:9, NIV*

Have you heard the anecdote about three blind people encountering an elephant for the first time? The one, touching the trunk, said the creature was skinny, long and floppy. The one at the elephant’s side insisted it was huge, while the third one stood at the patient animal’s foreleg and thought maybe it was a tree.

God is so much bigger than we can comprehend, and the silly story illustrates the danger of insisting we know all about Him based on what we’ve personally encountered. We have the Bible to teach us about Him, but we need to be careful to read all of it  instead of focusing on what we “get” or on what makes us feel good.

And we have Jesus, who reveals the Father’s character. That makes the four Gospels extra valuable for study.

Majestic and holy God, the better we know You the more we can trust You. And the more our spirits will surrender to You in worship. You alone are holy, all-wise, our Redeemer and our Judge. You are more than we can comprehend, yet You reveal Yourself to us. Open the eyes of our hearts to the truth of who You, and help us to live lives of worship.

For a light touch on the subject, here’s Jonny Diaz‘ song “Figured Out.”

Here’s a link to the story behind the song.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

To See God

Where there is no vision, the people perish:
but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
Proverbs 29:18, KJV*

Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint;
but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.
Proverbs 29:18, NIV**

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
But whoever obeys the law is joyful.
Proverbs 29:18, NLT***

Interesting nuances in the translations of this verse. The opening phrase is what’s on my mind today, with the vision / revelation / divine guidance – that which we need to not only receive but accept and obey.

I usually think of this verse in terms of direction and planning: of a corporate sense of purpose. But God’s been suggesting to me that there’s more to vision than just seeing the next step in His plan.

There’s seeing Him.

Not literally – not yet – but seeing, believing, accepting His revelation of who He is. His character. His attributes. His promises, laws and requirements.

Do we really know Him? Or are we distracted by the pain or pleasure in our own small lives? Too often the problems look bigger than the God who can solve them. Or we pray for help but don’t really believe things will change, because we don’t see them changing.

Instead, we need to see God.

At Other Food: daily devos, Violet Nesdoly often quotes J.I. Packer’s classic, Knowing God (affiliate link for The Word Guild). I received a copy for Christmas, and God is using the opening chapters to reinforce what He’s been saying to me about my need to actually see Him – to know Him rather than just knowing about Him. To believe Him instead of believing whatever stress is currently staring me down.

Holy and mighty God, You spoke the universe into being and You proved Yourself as Israel’s King and defender. You haven’t changed. Reveal Yourself to Your people today as we live among people who reject You and who are indeed casting off restraint and running wild. Guide us. Strengthen us. Give us a glimpse of who You really are, so we can stand in firm confidence in You, so that others will see You too.

Paul Baloche’s “Open the Eyes of My Heart” is a good prayer for today.

*King James Version (KJV) Public domain.

**New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

***New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: The God of All Comfort, by Hannah Whitall Smith

The God of All Comfort cover artThe God of All Comfort, by Hannah Whitall Smith (Whitaker House, 2003)

If God is indeed the God of all comfort; if He is our Shepherd; if He is truly our Father; if all the many aspects we have been studying of His character and His ways are true, then we must conclude that He is, in Himself alone, enough for all our possible needs. Therefore, we may safely rest in Him, absolutely and forever. (p. 284)

That’s an apt summary of the message of this book. Hannah Whitall Smith challenges readers to consider what the Bible says about God and His nature, and to compare that with what our inner responses reveal we actually believe. It’s not enough to have head knowledge that God is good, for example. We need to develop the heart knowledge that lets us base our lives and actions on the fact.

The version I’ve read has been “revised for clarity and readability” although it keeps the King James Scriptures. The next time I read it, I think I’ll look each one up in a newer translation as I go, for an even clearer grasp of what’s being said. And there are still some readability issues.

For example, Mrs. Smith refers to “comfortable faith,” meaning faith that’s not “uncomfortable” in the sense of distressing us because we have an unhealthy view of God as tyrant, weak or unloving. To my mind, “comfortable faith” implies laziness and stagnation.

I found much to bless, encourage and strengthen me in The God of All Comfort. Some things I didn’t quite accept, and I’m not sure if I didn’t understand them or if I take a different view.

According to the biography at the end of the book, Hannah Whitall Smith ended her days as a Universalist. In general, the teaching in The God of All Comfort meshed well with Scripture and drew me nearer to God, but with her change in mind I’m not too eager to adopt anything blindly (good advice at the best of times).

My copy of the book bristles with coloured flags marking key points. The best thing it did for me was challenge me to intentionally trust God as my Good Shepherd and to consciously rely on His Word.

According to the Wikipedia article on Hannah Whitall Smith, she lived from 1832-1911 in the US and England.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Surrounded by Glory

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Psalm 19:1, NLT*

My part of Canada is just heading into winter’s cold. We have crisp mornings with each grass blade sheathed in white and with cars covered in etched patterns of frost. The change is new enough that I might see mist rising from the still-warmer lakes on my way to work.

Beauty is everywhere.

I’m challenged by how rarely I stop to take notice, and I’m reminded of how God nudged me in June to be alert to find wonder. How quickly I’ve forgotten!

It’s not just the beauty or the details. And it’s not just about stopping to enjoy it. It’s God – in the details, giving us a glimpse of who He is. It’s amazing.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries
[From “Aurora Leigh”]

Magnificent and lavish Creator God, forgive us for getting used to the glory that surrounds us and for taking it for granted. Awaken us to see what You’ve made, and to see the hints of who You are. Earth is so crammed with Heaven that it’s dripping with Your glory. Open our eyes. Captivate us. Draw us to worship, to wonder, to adore.

Todd Agnew’s song, “Isaiah 6,” is about the glory of God. Don’t miss the line about God’s glory filling the whole earth.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Obeying Because We Trust

All [God] does is just and good,
and all his commandments are trustworthy.
They are forever true,
to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.
Psalm 111:7-8, NLT*

We may struggle with obeying God, but we never need worry about the quality of His leadership. He’s not like a human leader who may be mistaken or manipulative.

When I think of “all His commandments,” I think of the Ten Commandments and of Jesus’ teachings, not of the hundreds of legalistic man-made rules the old teachers of the law made to teach people how to apply the law.

Some of His principles seem upside-down to our thinking: give to receive, die to live, humble yourself to be exalted. They don’t look sensible to our eyes, but they work. Will we choose to trust what God says, or what we see?

God who is enthroned above the heavens but yet whose Spirit dwells in our hearts, You’ve proven Your character, authority and goodness time and again. Help us choose to trust and obey the commandments and principles You’ve set out, because we trust that You are good.

What if we really lived like we believed everything God says? Be inspired by Matt Redman’s song, “We Could Change the World.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.