What’s in a Name: The Names of God

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What is a name?  Google defines “name” as: “a word or set of words by which a person, animal, place, or thing is known, addressed, or referred to” .  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary refers to it as “a word or phrase that constitutes the distinctive designation of a person or thing“.  So in essence, a name is a word by which something’s distinctiveness is known, what makes that particular something unique.

Often, we just refer to God as “God”, but sometimes we say “Father” or “Lord”.  Would it surprise you to know that God has many different names and titles?  Can you name a few?  How many?  Did you know that some sources say there are as many as 900 different references to God?  Amazing.  If a name tells us what a thing IS, maybe we can learn more about who God is, just by studying His name.  Here are a few names that we use when we refer to God: the Lord, the Almighty, the Creator, the Maker, the Godhead, Jehovah/Yahweh; Father, Son, Holy Ghost/Spirit; the Holy Trinity; and even “The Man Upstairs” (although, this one seems a tad irreverent).  Over the next few weeks I’d like to explore some of these names in an attempt to know God better.

Let’s start by looking at what just the English name “God” means to us.  Once again, Google says God is: “the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being“.  Merriam-Webster defines the word as this: “a spirit or being that has great power, strength, knowledge, etc., and that can affect nature and the lives of people“.  Already we have some synonyms that we use for our God that describe His nature: creator, ruler, source of all authority.  He is: powerful, strong, knowledgable, supreme, and able to affect all that He has created.  Already we are painting a word picture of the distinctiveness of God, the personage of God.

The next few weeks we will study the names God is referred to in the Bible, specifically the Old Testament since it is there that we are first introduced to our Creator.  Each one gives us an idea of who God is and why He deserves our worship and obedience.  Hope you’ll join me! God bless!

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Multiply: The End of the Story

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Well, fellow imitators, we have made it.  We are in our last session in our Multiply series.  So, we’ve learned that God is our King, we have a commission from Him and we fight a daily war against sin, wouldn’t you like to know how that war is going to end?  Today we get to find out, join us in Part V: Session 6: The End of the Story.

Do you ever give much thought to the end?  We’ve already seen how God created a perfect world that fell to the corruption of sin and death as mankind rejected their King.  Thank God the story didn’t end there and we followed God’s redemption plan as it played out in biblical history, through Abraham, then Moses, then David, the ultimately in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Finally, God sends His Holy Spirit and builds His church then gives her her mission.  The Bible begins with the statement that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and ends with God’s declaration: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5) (316).

The Beginning of the End

When Jesus announced “It is finished” on the cross, He was referring to the securing of the salvation of mankind (John 19:30).  Our salvation doesn’t happen until the end of history, however, Jesus has already ensured that our relationship with God was restored and our place with Him established forever.

Just as Jesus changed all of history when He came the first time, everything will change again when He comes back.  We can read about both occurrences in Hebrews:

“He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:26-28 ESV)

“Jesus appeared the first time to sacrifice Himself and secure our salvation, and He will appear again to bring that salvation to fruition” (317).

Even though many Christians disagree on how the end times are going to happen, we can agree that hanging onto the hope of the end can give us hope to continue our mission.

Discussion Question #1: Have you done much studying or thinking on how and when the world will end? If so, what has been your impression of the end times? If not, why do you think you haven’t approached this issue in the past?

What We’ve All Been Longing For

We all feel there is something wrong in the world.  We know things are not the way they are supposed to be.  People try to blame rulers or religions or just about anything under the sun, even God.

Christians are already able to see some of the effects of the fall reversed: we are free from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6) and God’s Spirit lives in us and empowers us to follow Christ (Rom. 8 & Gal. 5).  In Christ we can have joy, but we still lives in a fallen world and can often be discouraged.

We have an amazing promise that life will not always be this way.  Christ will return and right all that is wrong with the world.

Discussion Question #2: Read Romans 8:18–25. How does this promise affect your view of the world?

The Return of the King

Jesus is coming back.  He isn’t done.  He’s going to come back and rule over a re-created, perfected world.

When Jesus came the first time, He was meek, seemingly-ordinary servant and He died a criminal’s death on the cross.  When Jesus comes again, things are going to be different.  Revelation describes warfare and depicts Jesus as a victorious King returning to claim what rightful belongs to Him in the first place (Rev. 19).

Discussion Question #3: Read Revelation 1. Based on this description of Jesus, how will Jesus in His second coming be different from in His first coming?

The New Heavens and the New Earth

The Bible begins and ends with God’s creation the way it should be.  In Genesis, God creates His perfect world.  In Revelation, God creates His world to restore it to it’s former glory, except even better! Everything about the old creation has become corrupted.  So God is going to make all things new, no more sin, no more death.  All will be full of joy and life.  And we will finally enjoy perfect communion with our God!  “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Rev. 21:3 ESV).  People from “every tribe and language and people and nation”  will be worshipping at the feet of Christ. (Rev. 5:9 ESV).

Discussion Question #4: Read Revelation 21–22. As you read this beautiful description of the New Creation, don’t get caught up in trying to interpret every detail. Instead, try to picture and feel the beauty and peace of the scene that awaits us. What stands out to you most from reading this account?

Discussion Question #5: Based on what you read in Revelation 21–22 and what you read and discussed in the session on creation, how will God’s new creation reflect the reality of God’s initial creation before the fall? How will it be better?

A Day of Judgment

Not everything will be “hunky dory” in the end of time.  Eternal judgment is in store for those who have completely rejected God and His rule.  All those who practice evil will not be allowed into the Holy City.  Christ will judge people according to their deeds (Rev. 22:12) and only those who are covered by Christ will be allowed to enter.  The rest will be cast into a lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think about this kind of judgment without shuddering.  Just as Paul says in Rom. 9:2, we should “have great sorrow and unceasing anguish” when we consider the lost who have not acknowledged Christ as King.

What about you? Do you understand the extent to which sin stains your life and separates you from the Holy God of the universe? Do you see your rebellion for what it is? Have you embraced the sacrifice that Jesus made to remove your sin and restore your relationship with God? Or are you under the illusion that your own moral effort will grant you access to God’s everlasting rest? Hear Jesus’s words: ‘To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment’ (Rev. 21:6). Come, believe, and drink freely” (323-324).

Discussion Question #6: How should the promise of judgment at Jesus’s return affect the way we think about and interact with the non-Christians in our lives?

Discussion Question #7: Is there anyone in your life whom you need to be more purposeful in reaching out to? If so, spend some time asking the Holy Spirit to give you confidence and wisdom in reaching out to this person with the gospel.

Living with the End in View

Revelation helps to give us hope when all seems hopeless.  It encourages us to remain faithful to Christ to the end.  And it urges those who are not followers to turn before it is too late.

The apostle Peter warns us that we will be mocked for believing in the day of judgment, but he also offers us hope:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:8-14 ESV).

“Make no mistake, Jesus is returning. He is patiently waiting for the men and women He created to repent, but He will not wait forever” (326).

Discussion Question #8: How should the end of the story affect the way we live today? Be as specific to your own situation as possible.

Why We Make Disciples

We now know God’s story of redemption.  “We can follow the storyline from beginning to end, yet there is one gap that still remains in the story, and that is the part that we are called to play” (328).  We have a mission.  We are entrusted with a sacred role in God’s plan and that is to reach people around the whole earth.

Discussion Question #9: Spend some time in prayer. Thank God that Jesus will return to set the world to rights and that His plan of redemption will be completed. Ask God to affect your heart with the reality of what the future holds. Ask Him to guide you and empower you to live as a faithful disciple maker at this moment in history.

So now we are at the end of our study.  I hope you all enjoyed it and learned as much as I have (I find no matter how much you study the Bible, there is always more to learn!). Where to from here? Keep reading your Bible and get out there and make disciples! I’ll see you back here next week for the beginning of a brand new study. God bless!

Stubborn Children

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“‘Ah, stubborn children,’ declares the Lord, ‘who carry out a plan, but not Mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they add sin to sin’.” (Isaiah 30:1 ESV)

Israel was meant to be in alliance with God, after all, it was Him who rescued them time and again and protected them from their enemies.  He made them what they were.  But often when trouble arose, Israel would choose to rely on their own resources and plans instead of trusting their faithful God to deliver them.  Because of this, God likens them to stubborn children who refuse to learn their lesson and insist on doing it their way.  Can you feel His frustration?

And yet, aren’t we often like these “stubborn children”?  We try to solve things on our own instead of relying on God’s help to get us through.  Sometimes we have good intentions, but many times, we can get impatient with waiting on deliverance from God and we act on our own.  Like Israel, this rarely turns out well for us, yet we refuse to learn our lesson.  We keep going back to our own devices.

Let’s stop trying to seek our ways that fail.  Let’s ally ourselves with the Spirit, move when He moves, rest when He rests.  Then, we are promised success.  “Blessed are all those who wait for Him“.

Father, help me to see Your work in me and in my surroundings, help me not to become impatient and act on my own.  I want to go where You go, move when You move.  Let me ally myself with Your Spirit so I may always be led by Your gentle guidance.  Thank You for Your patience with me even when I choose my own path and stumble.  Thank You for always leading me back from my stubbornness. Your love endures forever! Amen.

Faithful and Sure

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“O Lord, You are my God;

I will exalt You; I will praise Your name,

for you have done wonderful things,

plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” (Isa. 25:1 ESV)

God has done so many wonderful things for His children over time.  He has given them blessing after blessing and ultimately redeemed them completely from their sin.  He has remained faithful in all His promises even those made at the beginning of time.  He has even remained faithful in the discipline of His children.

Because the Bible gives so many examples of the faithfulness of God, I can also trust God to continue to be faithful.  I can trust Him to keep His promises and I can trust Him to deliver me from my enemies (and myself) time and time again.  I know that He will fulfill my needs and I know that He will never forsake me.  I know He will continue to work His children’s lives until all is complete and we can come Home.  He is my Rock.

Father, thank You so much for Your faithfulness.  In a world that is ever-changing, we need a constant strength to rely on, a strong tower, a fortress.  I will forever praise Your faithfulness.  May I remain ever faithful to You and may You graciously forgive me when I fail.  Your love is eternal, may it dwell in me forever. Amen.

Take Heart

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Confrontation is a hard thing for me.  Even if it is so much as a differing opinion about something that doesn’t really matter, I tend to want to cringe and shrink back into my shell.  I don’t want to try again, I just want to hide.  I tend to see confrontation as a stab to my ego, a personal insult.  For some reason this little voice inside says “They don’t think much of you, why else would they question you?”  I know in my head that’s a silly thing to think and I shouldn’t let things get to me, but sometimes, my heart believes in silly.

There are times when I run into confrontation while sharing my thoughts on the bible or about God, my passion.  And so when someone stands up to say something different, or just outright rejects my thoughts, I take it as personal rejection and hide.  I think “Ok, I’m done with this. I’m no good at this and I should just quit”.  I can just enjoy my relationship with God without any interaction with people… right?

Yet, every time I try to hide, God pushes me out again.  He won’t let me hide.  Because the reality is, you can’t hide light.   And you can’t live life alone.  We were created to need other people and God chooses to use us to reach them.  For whatever reason, He chose me.  Wretched, weak, inadequate me.  And I cannot say no to Him.

Regardless of why conflicts arise, they have a lesson to teach.  Sometimes it really is “Keep your mouth shut next time” or “Choose your words more wisely”.  But other times it may be that you need learn to step back, take a deep breath and trust.  Trust that God will find a way.  Trust that He will give you to right words to soothe, or the right weapons to fight back.  The point is, God is in control.  And He doesn’t want us to quit.  He never promised that we would not get hurt.  He did promise that He would never leave you or forsake you.  So be strong.  Be courageous. And take heart.

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6 ESV).

Multiply: Good News for All Nations

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One more week to go after this and we will be starting on our new study.  This week, we will be discussing what it means for Christ to be the Savior of the church.  We are in Part V: Session 5: Good News for All Nations.  Hope you’ll follow along either in the book or on the website: Multiply.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Jesus is my personal Savior”.  But think about that phrase, is He really your own personal Savior? He should be your personal Savior as He does save individuals in a personal way, but He is much more than the Savior of an individual.  He is the Savior of the church.  He died to create a group of people to love Him and fulfill God’s will on the earth.

That means that the gospel message isn’t just for me, it’s for every one.  The whole world needs a Savior, not just one or two people.  Through one man, Adam, all the world fell into sin and through one man, all the whole world could be redeemed.  And this good news is for all nations (Luke 2:10).

God’s Plan for the Nations

God had intended to redeem the whole from the very beginning.  The Old Testament made many references to a time when Jew and Gentile would come together to worship the one true God.  Remember, God promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham (Gen. 18:18).  God tells Isaiah: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6 ESV).

When Jesus came into the world, He put confirmed God’s mission to the world.  Even though He initially focused on the Jews, He had an important (and probably life changing for her) conversation with a Samaritan woman (hated by the Jews) in John 4.  He also healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter because He was impressed with her faith, even though He said that would be “throwing the children’s food to the dogs” (Matt. 15:28).

Then in the Great Commission, Jesus specifically instructs the apostles to include “all nations” when preaching the good news (Matt. 28:18-20).  He wanted all people to know Him.

Discussion Question #1: How should God’s heart as revealed in the Old Testament and in Jesus’s ministry affect the way we think about and relate to those people who seem “unreachable”?

A Jewish Messiah for All People

After Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the apostles for spreading the good news to the “end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), the rest of the book of Acts tells out that mission began to grow the church.

Acts 10 chronicles a very important turning point in church history.  Up to this point, Jews avoided Gentiles completely.  However, God specifically sends Peter (a Jew) to speak to Cornelius (a Gentile).  God proved to Peter that He intended for them to include Gentiles and He solidified this point when He empowered the Gentiles in Cornelius’s household with the Holy Spirit after they received Peter’s message.

After the church began to grow, there arose a question about what was to be done with the Gentile believers.  Where they to adhere to Jewish Law in order to be saved?  After all, God’s redemption plan began with the Jews and Jesus Himself was a Jewish Messiah.  There were some that believed that in order for the Gentiles to identify with a Jewish Messiah, they had to take on a Jewish identity themselves.

In chapter 15 of Acts, a meeting is had in Jerusalem of all the leaders of the church to determine what should be done in this matter.  Eventually, James spoke their decision:

“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20 ESV)

Christianity does have Jewish roots, but it was decided here that being a Christian was not the same as being a Jew.  Christianity is not bound by ethnicity , it is for all nations.

Discussion Question #2: Read Acts 15. How is the global aspect of God’s plan of redemption demonstrated in this passage?

An Apostle to the Gentiles

God chose Paul for a specific reason, He was to go to the Gentiles.  Paul’s missionary journeys can be found in the second half of Acts.  Romans 1:5 tells us that Paul believed his apostleship was given to him “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations“.  He believed in his mission to bring Jesus into the places that had not heard about Him yet.

Paul was one of the biggest advocates to sharing Christ with the Gentiles, not just Jews.  He argued that salvation wasn’t about being a specific ethnicity or adhering to law, all it took to be a part of God’s people was to have faith in Jesus Christ.  Any gospel aside from this was a perversion (Gal. 1:8).  Paul was very firm:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29 ESV).

Discussion Question #3: Take a minute to meditate on Galatians 3:28–29. Why do you think Paul made such a big deal about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles?

The Missionary Church

Sharing the gospel to a fallen world needs to be our central mission, our identity.  This is what being a follower of Christ means (after all He brought His message everywhere He went and He traveled a lot).  After all, this is what the entire New Testament is about, bringing light into darkness.

Jesus promised to make His followers “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19, Mark 1:17).  Jesus was going to train them to seek people out and bring them to Christ.  Jesus did teach about how to live our lives, but this was intended to ready His disciples for interaction with the world.  If you want to teach people to follow Christ, you have to be able to know how to treat them in a godly manner.

In today’s world more and more people are pushing Christians to keep their beliefs to themselves, but our faith is not a private faith, it is meant to be shared.  Our mission does not depend on the world’s approval of it.

Sin and death permeates all of creation.  God intends to redeem it all.  People may not realize how lost and broken they are, but whether they realize it or not, the world is in desperate need of redeeming.  God will bring this redemption about.  It is the church’s job to spread the word.

Discussion Question #4: What does it mean to be a “fisher of men”?

Discussion Question #5: Is there anything about your life that would identify you as a “fisher of men”? If so, what? If not, what can you do to grow in this area?

Each of us are called to be involved in this mission, however our roles may look different.  Some will be called to the Middle East or to Africa.  Some will be called to support those who go on these mission while training other disciples at home. Regardless of how we are called to carry out this mission, we all have to be a part of it.

Discussion Question #6: How would you describe your church’s attitude toward and participation in spreading the gospel to all nations? How might you encourage your church to work toward this end?

Discussion Question #7: What is your own involvement with missions? Are you at all involved in going, sending, training, supplying, praying, etc.? What changes might you need to make to this area of your life?

The Multicultural Community of the Redeemed

If you want confirmation that God intends to reach all the nations, check out Revelation.  Some parts of Revelation can be cryptic at best, but it does make it clear that God will redeem people all over the earth through Jesus Christ:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Rev. 7:9-10 ESV)

We already know that God fulfills all His promises and that all His plan succeed in one way or another, so this passage should not only give us confidence in our God but also in our mission to the world as it is bound to succeed.  After all, if God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31)

Discussion Question #8: How does this picture of a multiethnic multitude worshipping God at the end of history affect the way you think about our task of reaching out to the nations?

Discussion Question #9: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to give you a burning desire to see the good news of Jesus Christ embraced in every corner of the world. Ask Him to show you what part He wants you to play in seeing His name spread around the world.

May each of you have a blessed week and may you share the good news for all people.

Scarred Victory

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Scars are ugly.  Bound up flesh.  Yesterday’s wounds.  And it’s never the little wounds that leave their mark on us.  It’s the big ones, deep, searing, painful.  Scars are reminders of pain, they leave their stigma on us forever, a constant whisper of what wounded us in the first place. Sometimes we listen to that whisper to the point where we allow it to paralyze us to ever experiencing what caused us to be wounded, good or bad.  We don’t want to go back, we don’t want to be wounded again, and so in trying to avoid going backwards, we cease to move forwards.

And yet… a scar is a symbol of victory.  It isn’t a wound anymore.  It has healed, and yes you will always remember, but the wound, the pain, is gone.  If we allow ourselves to move forward, scars can be our teachers.  They remind us of what hurt us but they also remind us of a battle won.  We did not allow our pain to linger, we healed and moved forward in spite of the pain.  We are no longer the wounded, we are the healed.

Some scars are more important to us than we can ever know.  Christ was wounded for us.  His scars are our victory.  He went through the pain, the agony no innocent man should have been through, so we didn’t have to.  Just like Thomas we can reach out our hands and know His scars and we can believe.  And His scars are our reminder of victory: victory over death, victory over sin, victory into life.  All our wounds, all our pain, are bound up in this one man, God-made-flesh, and we are no longer the wounded.

We are the healed.