Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to lead worship for the 2013-2014 Youth Encounter teams. What a powerful message they have to share this year! The theme which will be guiding their encounters this year is taken from First Chronicles 29:11 … Yours.
Then, yesterday, during our morning prayer time, our good friend, Dieter, led the staff and several visitors through an insightful exploration of the first four chapters of Romans. His words resonated powerfully with those I had spoken to the YE team members the night before. He highlighted Paul’s emphasis on the belongings of God — the gospel of God, Son of God, beloved of God, will of God, power of God, righteousness of God, wrath of God, truth of God, judgment of God, goodness of God, sight of God, name of God, oracles of God, fear of God, and the glory of God.
Do you see it? All things are of God. Paul speaks here primarily in terms of things intangible, but David says it well when they had gathered the offering for the temple of the LORD …
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness,
The power and the glory,
The victory and the majesty;
For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours;
Yours is the kingdom, O LORD,
And You are exalted as head over all.
But who am I, and who are my people,
That we should be able to offer so willingly as this?
For all things come from You,
And of Your own we have given You.
All that is in heaven and in earth. Apart from God, we are nothing … we have nothing — no thing to possess, no thing to give. As humans in general, especially those of us residing in a culture that has conditioned our thoughts toward individualism, privatization, possession, and pride, we can find this concept elusive. And, if we are fortunate for such thoughts to invade the lives we live, we may find them hard to stomach. We are no more than recipients, vessels, temples for a giving God.
At World Mission Prayer League, we house a library with an excellent selection of missiological, theological, cultural, and historical books. Perusing the shelves, I happened upon this title — God Unlimited by Norman Grubb. It is not often I can point to a writing and say that it may foundationally change the way I ultimately understand life, the universe, and everything. This book, I may point to and will likely need return for a second read. Before I offer you a final thought, consider this excerpt …
The extreme, the absolute, the revelation of which so totally re-orientated my own life, was the fact, so plainly and repeatedly stated in the Scriptures, that there is really only One Person in the universe, and that is God Himself. To say that sounds exaggerated, because we immediately counter it with the seemingly obvious alternative fact — that we also are persons. Yes, that is true in a purely secondary sense; but the trouble is such a totally distorted concept of the function of the human self has captured and blinded the world since the Fall that the only way to destroy the false and replace it by the true is by almost throwing out the human self on the rubbish heap, and only restoring it to its proper place when we have restored the right perspective.
The way I saw it was when it suddenly dawned on me that the Bible does not talk about God having a lot of separate gifts and graces with which He would endow me (though a surface reading of the Scriptures might appear to say He had); but it continually says that God Himself (Father, Son, or Spirit) is, not has, so and so. What you have is not you, but merely possessions you can share with others. What you are is you, and you cannot take parts of yourself and share them with others. The Bible says, God is love, God is light, Christ is our life, Christ is the power of God, Christ is the wisdom of God, Christ is our sanctification; the Bible speaks of God our hope, our peace, our exceeding joy; (the peace of God, for instance, in its hidden meaning for those who have eyes to see it, is really God our peace; and the same is true of each attribute of God, which might read as if it was just some “thing” He shares with us, but in reality is He Himself as such within us): and the ultimate being “Christ is all and in all” for the believer, and “God all in all” in the universe.
It was the exclusiveness of God which confronted me. I had been looking for a lot of gifts and graces to improve me as a servant of Christ. The answer I received was “Nothing doing. There are no such ‘things’ for you. These things are not things at all, they are all the characteristics of a Person, and only one Person in the universe. They never can be yours. They are not available to you, nor attainable by you.” That shook me, and I needed a shaking — from this mistaken concept of the position and function of the human self. I cannot be thankful enough that I was given to see this absoluteness, this exclusiveness of God. I say again, it may sound extreme, it may not even be all the truth (in the sense that we are also persons), but once and for all I had to get out of my system the idea that ultimate life is I alongside God, God alongside me. No. Life is just GOD. Not God first, but God only.
Now let us return to our main line. There if only really One Person in the universe — God Himself. The creation is the means of manifesting Him. Human brings, created as persons in His image, only exist to contain and manifest Him as The Person, for they alone as persons can do that. But likewise, being persons, therefore self-conscious and free, they can and did refuse to “retain God in their knowledge”, and thus became the containers of the false spirit of self-love in place of the Divine Spirit of self-giving. The way they became like this, and the way back, we will go into later.
But at the moment I want to stress most plainly the complementary fact to God being the only real Person. It is that we humans are basically containers, and nothing else. I have already referred to our misconception of the function of the human self, and here it is. Through the self-sufficiency we inherited from the Fall, we instinctively regard ourselves as something very much more than containers. “Vessels” the Bible calls us; it was the first description given by the Ascended Christ of the most dynamic Christian of history, the Apostle Paul: “He is a chosen vessel unto Me”: just a vessel that was all. Were all the dynamism, the wisdom, the revelations, the passionate love, the self-sacrifice then attributes of the vessel, or of Him whom it contained? And Paul himself went on to call us all “earthen vessels”. Not even tin cans, but nearer to crack-pots! Humbling, self-emptying, an offense to any man not enlightened to facts by the Spirit of God. But let us get it plain, and without equivocation. If God is the All, and we are merely the means of His Self- manifestation, is it not a fact that we must be just containers? “Christ is all and in all”. “Temple is another like metaphor, for a temple has no reason for existence except to house its god: “Ye are the temples of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them.”
The point then is that a vessel or temple has only one function (and you will remember that we humans have a misconception of the function of the human self). Activity is not the function of a vessel, but receptivity. Here we reach right down to the roots. Receptivity is the simplest, most child-like human function. In Bible terms, it is not works, but faith. But what we have to re-learn is that receptivity is not a function, but the function. All other functions are by-products. The whole of life is a parable of this. Is not everything some form of the self-giving of God? And do we not totally live by what we receive — food, air, the floor boards beneath our feet, the clothes on our backs? And in most cases something has died to give us life. Life is surely based on receptivity, and the Bible word for receptivity is faith. Can anything be simpler? How wonderfully God has made us: to live, spiritually and materially, by exercising a capacity which is as near as possible to doing nothing — just receiving. Not reaching up to drag things down, but things poured upon us in such abundance that we just open our mouths and they are filled: and the gift of gifts we receive is Himself.
Wait a minute, you may object, but we do have to act also. Certainly, activity is a product of receptivity, but not a substitute for it. But remember we said that we must take extreme measures to expel the human self from its false position before we can replace it in its true one. Certainly, we are real persons. We think, we will, we act. Yet it is not safe or even true for us to regard ourselves as such until first we have “died” to our independent selves, and begun the life of constant recognition (reception) of Another as the Real Self in us. We must start at the bottom and remain forever at the bottom — mere containers, vessels, capable only of receiving, and with no other capability.
After sharing a portion of Mr. Grubb’s words with the Youth Encounter teams, I encouraged them to courageously embrace and explore the message which has been entrusted to them this year. I now encourage you to the same.
Also, in preparing to share with them, I happened upon these words I had written years ago … tucked away in my Bible.
When we strip ourselves of all the madness around us, we find that we are simply the workmanship of God and that God is. And this simplicity, really, should overwhelm us.
God, we ask for a transformation in the way we encounter Your Word. Position our hearts, our minds, and our souls, that we might simply receive Your Spirit. As we read, strip us of self-love, self-service, self-thought — all selfishness. Grant us Your Spirit of self-giving. As we meet You in Scripture, remind us of Your sovereignty. What are you telling us belongs to You alone? Let us know the profound truth of Your Name — I AM.
|Reflect On||1 Chronicles 29|
|Praise God||that He is!|
|Offer Thanks||for the ways in which He has poured Himself out upon your life.|
|Confess||your penchant for possessing.|
|Ask God||to humble your heart as a clay pot.|
|Comment:||Do you agree with the theology posited by Norman Grubb?
What might we need to be reminded belongs to God?
Oh, and P.S., we sang this song …