HOW DO WE KNOW
IF WE TRULY KNOW HIM?
HOW DO WE KNOW
IF WE ARE TRULY EXPERIENCING THE LIVING GOD
OR JUST GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS OF RELIGION?
IT’S VITAL TO KNOW
FOR IT’S THE DIFFERENCE
BETWEEN DEATH AND LIFE
In our study on The Stonecutter, we’ve seen God’s promise from Ezekiel to exchange our dead hearts of stone for living hearts of flesh. We’ve repeatedly talked about letting The Stonecutter remove the stone idols from our hearts — the things we often think we have to have to be beautiful, significant, or satisfied. But those idols lie — they have no life giving power at all, Instead, if we cling to them, we will go into a downward spiral, and we will shrivel up — like Rachel did. Though she was the wife who was loved, though she was the woman who was so beautiful she made men weep, she is the dead flower on the left, whereas her sister Leah, whom the world did not value, blossomed into life and left a legacy. Rachel clung to her idols. She thought she could not live without them. She said to Jacob: GIVE ME CHILDREN OR I’LL DIE! Rachel is also the one who stole her father’s household gods, hiding them under her skirt.
In The Seduction of Lesser Gods, Leslie Williams writes something I think is worth memorizing:
Without knowing fully what we are doing, we hide the things we secretly love under our skirts, like Rachel, sitting primly and righteously on our camels, wondering why we are not whole, why we still suffer, why we feel un-reconciled to the God we profess.
We have also learned that idols cannot be removed, they can only be replaced. Our only remedy is a vital relationship with the living God. It is He who gives us beauty, significance, and satisfaction. This is where we are turning in our final leg of The Stonecutter. Many of you are grasping it, and those who have just joined us may feel breathless to catch up, but let me know when I am not clear, and I and the sisters on the blog will try to help. Keller said once, “If you think you understand the Gospel, you probably don’t — if you think you are just beginning to get it, you probably are.” The Gospel is so much bigger than just being saved from the wrath of God — it is about realizing, on a moment to moment basis, both how weak and needy you are, and yet how loved you are and how He longs to be your all in all. Jack Williams put it like this:
We are so sinful Christ had to die for us.
Yet we are so loved that He did.
This truth must shine in your heart so you are willing to release your idols, the things that in the past you thought you had to have, even going to the point of “hiding them secretly under your skirts.”
Last week Terri and Anne articulated the joy of grasping the Gospel:
Terri: –I have been overwhelmed this week by the truth that God pursued and pursued me because he loves me so much and wants me to be free from guilt and the bondage of sin.
Anne: I remember an image from a sermon a few years ago of driving the gospel deep into my heart. It is like a peg, the deeper it goes the stronger it becomes. I feel like that is what has happened to me this week.
So we are going to let the Word of God keep hammering the peg of the Gospel into our stony hearts, that our stones may fall apart, and that He may give us hearts of flesh.
Richard Lovelace, a Puritan and poet from the 17th century, made this comment on why it is so important to grasp the full power of the Gospel:
Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure
persons, much less secure than non-Christians, because of the constant bulletins they receive from their Christian environment about the holiness of God and the
righteousness they are supposed to have. Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce defensive assertion of their own righteousness and defensive criticism of
others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger. They cling
desperately to legal, pharisaical righteousness, but envy, jealousy and other branches on the tree of sin grow out of their fundamental insecurity… So it is our insecurity regarding our acceptance with God which is the reason we make idols. We look at our knowing of him (which fluctuates so much) instead of his knowing of us, in Christ. We are desperately trying to firm up a positive self-image by using our idols. Paul reminds us that in the gospel we don’t need to make ourselves beautiful or lovable to God; he already knows us. If this is the case, we don’t need to make an idol out of other people’s approval or even our own self-approval. The classic statement of this is in I Cor.4:3-4. There Paul says that he does not only not care about other people’s evaluation of him, he does not even care for his own evaluation of himself. Rather, all that counts is God’s evaluation or “judgment” of him.
Some of our newcomers, and I’m so glad they did, expressed confusion, the sense of getting lost in our journey. So I am feeling led to turn to the New Testament letter of John, one of my favorite places to go. It always feels like going home to the arms of God. It is a letter that has helped me more fully comprehend the breadth of the Gospel.
Come home with me.
1 John is perhaps my favorite letter in the New Testament, My guide, A Woman of Beauty, is on this letter, and Kathy Troccoli and I also delved into it in our curriculum, Living in Love with Jesus. Plugging into 1 John with your heart, mind, and soul will help you experience God. It has helped me, and it has also helped to reassure me that I know the living God. I have seen in your posts how you often, as I do, can feel discouraged — you’ve made so much progress, and yet, those stubborn stones come back. But you can know you know Him, that His mighty energy is at work within you, and you can have the joy John expressed. Yet we must ever be vigilant. John closes this letter with this warning:
My little children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:21
If that seems like a strange command, perhaps this paraphrase from Today’s Living Translation will clarify:
Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.
Idols are not the stone gods people bow down to, but anything from which you are getting your significance. Examples:
Rachel had to have children or she didn’t want to live, so having children became the most important thing.
Practicing homosexuals have to have intimacy with the same sex or they feel life is meaningless, so that intimacy becomes the most important thing.
Many of us feel like we have to have the approval of others or we despair, so that approval becomes the most important thing.
Christ wants to be our all in all.
Christ wants us to experience God. To have an ongoing intimacy with Him, an awareness of Him, a joy in Him.
How do we do it?
Let’s just take two ways this week:
1. Let Him fill up your senses by living in the present.
When you enjoy one of His gifts, let it turn your heart to Him in gratitude. Live in the moment, like children do. They are neither feeling badly about
the past or worrying about the future — they enjoy the moment.
Look at this clip of my fifteen month old grand-daughter Miabelle (David — our website guy’s daughter) loving the moment.
Now, as you live in the moment, give thanks — and you will be enjoying intimacy with God. A person who doesn’t know God simply enjoys His gifts, but a person who knows God allows that gift to turn her face to Him in gratitude. Think of Ann Voskamp’s “Eucharisto.” Consciously live that way this week, letting life lead you into gratitude and into His arms.
I’m not going to give you a lot to study, because I want you to slow down until it lights a fire. I am praying you will experience God.
Let me pray for us before we begin — please join me in praying for your sisters.
Father, we want to know You more. We do not want to be dead, lifeless — we want your pulsating life to fill our hearts. We know that is the secret, and we are helpless without You. As we turn to this letter of John, to this Apostle whom You chose to remain to the end, please quicken our hearts, please light a fire, please help us understand the breadth of the gospel and thereby experience You. I ask this in the name of your precious Son Jesus.
ICEBREAKERS: (Do both!)
A. Look at the picture of the dead versus blossoming flower, imagining them as Rachel and Leah. What have you learned about the contrast between these two sisters that could help you turn from your idols to God?
B. Take one or at most two things from the introduction that stood out to you and contemplate it. After telling us what it is, tell us why it impacted you.
PART I. BIBLE STUDY:
FELLOWSHIP, KNOW, WALK, ABIDE — ALL TERMS FOR EXPERIENCING GOD
1. Read 1 John 1 through 1 John 2:6 in your first quiet time. Read slowly. Then read again, circling these words which are interchangeable words for experiencing God. Circle them in any form (fellowship, fellowshiping…walk, walking…abide, abiding, know, knowing)
2. After doing this, write out your reflections on what you’ve learned about better experiencing the living God.
GETTING TO KNOW JOHN
THE OPENING OF HIS GOSPEL
AND THE OPENING OF HIS LETTER
CONTAIN THE SAME AWE
THE SAME JOY
HE CAN HARDLY CONTAIN HIS ENTHUSIASM
HE WANTS YOU TO KNOW
WE SAW HIM WITH OUR OWN EYES!
WE TOUCHED HIM WITH OUR OWN HANDS!
THIS IS THE APOSTLE WHO WAS ONE OF THE THREE CLOSEST TO JESUS
HE IS THE APOSTLE WHO RAN, BREATHLESS, EASTER MORNING
INDEED, AS HIS OPENING SAYS
HE SAW HIM
HIS OWN HANDS TOUCHED HIM
BY THE TIME JOHN WRITES HIS LETTERS
ALL OF THE OTHER DISCIPLES HAVE DIED MARTYRS’ DEATHS
JOHN ALONE IS LEFT
AND HE LONGS FOR US TO GO DEEPER
TO EXPERIENCE THE LIVING GOD
THAT OUR JOY MAY BE COMPLETE
3. What stands out to you about this opening concerning John the Apostle and why?
4. Read 1 John 1:1-2
A. Compare Genesis 1:1; John 1:1; and 1 John 1:1 and find the similarity.
B. In the opening of Peter’s 2nd letter, he says, “We were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus
Christ.” (2 Peter 1:16 NLT) John wants us to know the same. How does he express this here?
C. Can you remember the first time you became aware Jesus was real — and that He really cared about you? Share something about it.
D. Has there been a time in the last week when you were aware of the same? It may have happened when you “let Him fill up your senses and gave thanks;” or it might have happened when His Word lit a fire, or it may have happened in another way. Share, if you can.
5. Read 1 John 1:3-4
A. In verse 3, John talks about two kinds of fellowship, one vertical and one horizontal. First, he talks about the horizontal: having fellowship with other believers, Christianity is not “me and God,” but corporate. Fellowship with one another is essential, for this is one of the ways we experience God. Name one way you experienced joy this week interacting in Christ with another believer.
B. John also talks in verse 3 about fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. This is “interactive,” just like our fellowship with one another is inter-active. This is harder, but vital for experiencing the living God. We’re concentrating on two ways this week. Re-iterate what they are:
6. Has His Word lit a fire in you yet? If so, share.
PART II. THE TIM KELLER SERMON
My first choice for you is one that is not free. It is called “To Know The Living God” and it is on the opening of 1 John by Keller. (LINK)
Here’s a quote I love from the above sermon:
Daniel Steel – a Methodist 19th century English minister
Almost every week and sometimes every day now a pressure of his great love comes down upon my heart with the light of his radiance presence. The inner spot of my heart has been touched and its flintiness has been melted in the presence of love divine all loves excelling.
There is also a free sermon that has many of the same truths. Some of you have heard it before, but it is one I have listened to many times. It is where he says, as he does I believe in the above, “That the sense of His absence is a sign of His presence.” (Link)
7. Please write down the points that stood out to you from the sermon and explain why.
PART III. REBECCA’S TESTIMONY
Rebecca has been with us for some time, and it gives me joy to see the transformation in her. She exemplifies what happens when we turn from idols to the Living God. She also truly lives out what we are talking about this week — letting God fill up your senses. Her testimony is filled with word pictures, as she does this. Though she has a challenging life with four boys, two of them special needs, she enjoys them, seeing God at work in them. She’s a cheerleader to not just her boys, but to us. (My daughter-in-law also tells me she has a wonderful husband. )She abides in His Word until it is honey in her mouth. She sings amazingly, and God is whittling away her fear of people so that she can shine for Him.
I was overeating both with food, and politics. I clung to politics like if we had the perfect leaders everything would be well and just in life. My desires were telling God that He wasn’t the desire of my heart, that He couldn’t comfort me like food could and He was certainly not a God of justice. I couldn’t trust Him for the future because my hope was in these things. I was isolating myself from other brothers and sisters in the Lord as my world continued to spiral downward.
Then I remembered what my sweet sister in the Lord, Julie Brestin, Dee’s daughter in law, told me about Dee a few years ago. I had heard of her studies, but didn’t know about her. What Julie shared reminded me of an older woman who discipled me years ago. I remembered what a well that was and how God used that in my life. So, I went online and noticed Dee had an online Bible study, although reluctant of what others might think of me being on an online study, I joined anyway. I so desired to be mentored by Dee.
Immediately I was drawn to the women who were godly, transparent and teachable, and whom God had given a heart to pursue Him. This became a well for me given by the hand of God and he started getting my heart ready to hear what He was about to tell me.
A few months after being involved in the Bible study, Dee started the Stonecutter study. I was filled with a lot of pride, let me tell you! When she posted the topic, I thought “Great! I don’t have a heart of stone. I know the Lord! “
I was wrong. As our study moved on, God soon revealed in me a heart of stone and that I was an idolatrous and had been deceived for many years. He began to chip away at my stone and revealed to me the core of my problem with depression. I had some real stressors in life, but instead of running to Him for comfort I was running to my comfort idol who promised me food would bring me comfort and politics would bring me hope.
I was in bed with my comfort idol tasting the sweet honey he offered, that soon became bitter. His love was like a worthless poison berry-beautiful, enticing and and inviting on the outside, but once eaten poisons the soul.
I was drowning and though I could rise up for air for quick relief from the things my idol offered, I grew weaker and could no longer get to the top as my idol wrapped weeds around my ankles pulling me deeper down into the depths of depression.
God came in like a gentle, shy lover at first and then like a hurricane when he revealed his jealous passion for me. Dee took us into Jeremiah 2. God spoke to me-it was the turn in the road for me. When we got to verse eleven it stuck with me “But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.” I was his bride in a covenant relationship with Him-my glorious God, my husband, provider, comforter, who loves abundantly overflowing, in bed with another lover-a worthless lover, a dead stick bent on my destruction. I saw God’s jealous, passionate love for the Israelites and how their idolatry grieved him. I knew mine did too for God never changes.
My stone began to crumble over time as I started to see how jealous, how passionate and how deep His love is for me and how my sin grieved Him and that drew me to repentance over and over again and I fled from my idol.
I drew closer to God as He pressed me into Him deeper and he began to peel back the layers of lies and replace them with truth. I gave up over eating and watching political shows and replaced it with spiritually edifying books.
I gave up sweets and trusted God for the timing on when I could eat them, not as a tool to bring comfort, but just simply to enjoy as a gift from God.
I did lose weight, but unintentionally it became a fast, and I soaked in the Lord instead.
I could enjoy the birds singing again in the mornings, every song new, every sunrise was as new as God’s mercies! He opened my eyes and ears to really see and taste His love for me both as I saw His majesty and wisdom in creation and as I drank from His well in the word.
The honeymoon was renewed, yet sweeter and deeper . I truly tasted the sweetness of His honey.
Yet, around the corner my idols vie for my attention daily, so having my time with the Lord in His word every morning, and to be in sweet communion with him throughout the day is crucial in me hearing Him and taking heed to the Holy Spirits red flags when these idols began to start drawing me in again. I am still an idolatrous who can easily be led away from God, but at the same time I am His princess and I have tasted Him in a deeper way which compels me to abstain from my cheap, worthless idols and fall into the arms of my glorious, passionate, creative and loving God.
8. What stood out to you from Rebecca’s testimony and why?
9. How can you affirm Rebecca this week?
10. What is your take-a-way this week and why?
P. S. If you feel ready to send a Stonecutter testimony, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org If you are not ready — then wait! 🙂