Pastor's Blog - Norm Byers
True greatness

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

There are three things I used to never like; asparagus (at the time, “no cooked veggies for me!”), getting organized (too much work for a free spirit), and a former foreman when I was in college named William, a.k.a. “Butterball” (he was a big intimidating guy that swore a lot). It is funny how sometimes it is easy to be indifferent or down right negative about things and or people we do not know or understand. When I finally tried asparagus, as a young adult, I liked it. About 10 years ago, at the urging of my supervisor, I tried out a PDA (personal data assistant) and it helped me immensely with arranging my calendar and my tasks. And then, there was “Butterball.” As I discovered the big heart he had for people and how he would give the shirt off his back for others, I grew to love the dude!

Maybe you have had a small or narrow view of something like food, activities or people. Sometimes, people can go through life with an inaccurate view of God.   Maybe you are like many who have grown up believing in God without really knowing him. You might even say, “I do not have a clue about what God is like and who he is.” Or perhaps, your knowledge of him just amounts to dusty old head knowledge that isn’t real and practical.

It is one thing to have a narrow view about something like asparagus. But I submit to you, if you are like most Americans and believe in God, to go through life without expanding your understanding of God would be a travesty. In the Bible, we find that God reveals who he is and his greatness through his names.

In Exodus chapter 3, we meet Moses. It is easy to remember Moses as a superior leader and the one who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. But in Exodus 3, we find Moses here as a man on the run— a fugitive.  Several years earlier, while living a life of privilege as an adopted son of the king in Egypt, Moses murdered a slave master who was beating a Hebrew, a descendant of Moses. After his act of passion, Moses buried the victim in the sand hoping that this act would not be discovered. When the murder became known, Moses escaped to the desert, to the land of Midian, miles and miles away from his people and from what he knew. This is where God begins to reveal himself to Moses through the instrumentality of a burning bush.

When life is breaking us, when life is beating us down, it is then, maybe for the first time, that we can be ready to hear from God. And this is what happens here as God makes himself known to Moses. God speaks to him and invites Moses to join him in what he is doing, and that is delivering the Israelites from the land of slavery.

But Moses is not sure about leaving his desert abode, and he presents God with several excuses ending with, “Who shall I tell them has sent me?” Exodus 3:14-15 says, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” ’  God, furthermore, said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.’” In this passage, God reveals his personal name, signified in the Bible with LORD in all capitals (as opposed to Lord). In Hebrew (the original language of the Old Testament), it is the name Yahweh and it literally means, “The One who is.” This name reflects true greatness!

Yahweh communicates that “His name is forever” and this helps us understand that God is eternal. Each of us had a beginning, everything had a beginning, but God has always been. God’s name is everlasting, a memorial-name to all generations.

Some have said that the name Yahweh is the most complete statement about God. And yet, at the same time, it is a name that is described as ineffable, meaning a name too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words. Sometimes we try to limit God to what we can understand but he is above and beyond our normal range of human experience.

Moses bought into God’s revelation and truly great things happened in his life. I urge you to take the time to explore who God is more, and as you do, you will experience his true greatness!

Real and present

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. ... If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union: but we shall have saved it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving.”

I was motivated to take some time this week to read the United States Declaration of Independence. The eloquence of the document is striking, for example, “when in the course of human events it becomes necessary…” — I love that! The laundry list of King George III’s offenses that added up to the position that he was executing absolute tyranny is impressive ("He has abdicated Government here ... He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people"). Additionally, I read with great admiration of the boldness and courage demonstrated by these leaders to sign their names to such inflammatory statements that could jeopardize their livelihoods as well as their lives. But the thing that is standing out most from my re-read is the Founding Fathers’ unequivocal affirmation of belief and faith in the Almighty, Living God.

Now let me make something clear: the forefathers of our great country, it seems to me, would have never viewed the writing of the Declaration of Independence as a religious document. From what I understand of revolutionary history, there was a wise and sincere motive to avoid any kind of “state religion” in the founding of the United States. Some argue in our day that this writing is a “Christian document,” but these political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution were merely expressing collectively what they knew to be true about reality. Their articulation was of a flawed and desperate humanity in need of the real and present Almighty God, and they viewed this as a “self evident truth.”

There are five references to God in this American treasure that point out the reality of God’s existence and his work in our realm. First of all, God is acknowledged as the Supreme Law Maker ("the laws of nature and of nature's God"). Secondly, God is recognized as the Creator of all men (“all men are created equal”). Thirdly, it is claimed that God is the source of all rights (“are endowed by their Creator with inherent and unalienable rights”). Fourthly, God is expressed as the Supreme Judge. And lastly, God is proclaimed as the protector we can rely on (“with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence”). Our forefathers were not laying down a dogma of a specific religious sect but were articulating a common law that for them was as easy to accept as the law of gravity.

What caused our Founding Fathers to collectively embrace the truth of the real and present God of the universe? Some might say it was the world they lived in, steeped in religiosity. But is coming from a “religious background” enough? Many of these were the greatest minds of the time and their minds were being developed in the “age of the enlightenment.” Growing up with a “religious background” is no guarantee.

Rather, these men lived in an age of dramatic uncertainty. They faced daily the realization of their inability to overcome the persecution they were facing and the odds against them of a war against the British Empire. This led them to write  “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” This urgent request (yes, a prayer!) captured for us in this document by our first American leaders can be a director for Americans today.

I believe great leaders point people to the help that comes from a real and present God. King David of ancient Israel did this when he wrote a song about the rescue that comes from God. This song, recorded in the 46th Psalm, verses 1-3 reads, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”  David was encouraging those around him that God is an ever-present, safe place to go to out of the elements that we may face in this world.

What causes those in our culture to reject the reality of a Creator and a Sustainer who is real and present? Pride can be the cause of rejecting God, or in other words, an elevated view of humanity that sees each individual as completely self-autonomous. Also, some spurn God because of the “faith element,” while being unwilling to recognized the faith elements of a scientific world-view.

I like our 16th President’s appeal, “Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it.” I have a suggestion. Find this great American treasure and read it, even make it a family activity (you can Google search and find it!). And let’s re-instill in our great nation the value of a real and present God.

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