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Matthew Bauer
 

Matthew's Blog

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Hide and Seek

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

iStock_000006985164XSmallI saw the most amazing film the other night, called The Tree of Life. While two-and-a-half hours of un-narrated visual imagery and plot-less storytelling may not be for everyone, it was one of the most worshipful things I have ever seen on the big screen. Some people were even dancing and worshiping in the aisles of the theatre by the end of it, while others sat in contemplative silence, unable to move in the power of God’s presence, which filled the room as the credits ran across the screen. The film is a beautiful portrayal of life, in every sense, and the search therein for an unfathomable and unpredictable God among every age and circumstance of our being. The telling of the story is immersed with scripture and seamlessly ties everything from creation to the fall and redemption of man to the teaching of the Apostles into everyday life, as the characters in the story search for meaning and truth.

On the way back from the theatre, I couldn’t help but reflect on this story about the search for God, and I was reminded of this scripture – Matthew 7:7. “Seek and you will find,” Jesus said. But is God really hidden? Look about you. Everywhere you look, you will find more and more of God. He is right in front of us, all around us, and even living inside of us. We cannot look far enough or near enough to see beyond God. I think that God, who is outside of time and space, created time and space in reflection to his infinite nature – with everything big being continually part of something bigger, and with everything small being made of things continually smaller – so that in no matter what direction we look in time and space, we will always find more of God. So why does Jesus encourage us to seek God, that He (who is so evident in everything) might be found?

I would suggest that it is not because God is hidden, but rather it is because we have hidden ourselves from God. We are not only afraid to be seen by God in our weakness (nakedness), but we are afraid of the incomprehensible-ness of God, and we are even afraid to be found in His image. Let me explain these areas further so you can better understand what I mean.

In Genesis 3:8-10, we see where our hiding began:

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he [Adam] said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

This is such an amazing passage to study. God’s question to Adam reveals so much of God’s character. Did God not know where Adam was? Of course not. God doesn’t question us to help Him figure things out – that would be foolishness. His question to Adam was for Adam’s benefit. His question to Adam was to help Adam realize that he was lost – that he was separated from God – not even by his sin, but by his own choice to hide.

So our sin also does not separate us from God directly, for we’ve been forgiven in Christ – the price has been paid, we’ve been given grace and know that God’s love “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), and we know that there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Rather, it is our own hiding that separates us from Him. So why again do we hide?

Our Nakedness

One of the first things we notice in Adam’s response is his explanation of why he hid from the Lord… “I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Adam was afraid to be seen in his weakness and shame. Yet what had really changed in Adam? It was not anything physical, not that his physical nakedness would have been a surprise to God in the first place. It was rather Adam’s perception of himself. When he ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam gained the art of comparison. For the first time, he could compare himself to something else and see where he was lacking. He could see every area in which he failed and in which he didn’t measure up to a standard, and he immediately formed his self-image based on his deficiency. In essence, he lost his true identity – he forgot who he was. Rather, he hid who he was behind his comparison, because he was afraid of being found by others [God] to be inadequate. He saw himself unworthy of love, and was afraid that God would reject him.

I could say here that this is more about Adam’s misunderstanding of God’s character than of his own. And that may be true, except that we were made in God’s image, so really I’d be saying the same thing either way. While Adam clearly did not understand the grace of God (even the grace that is found in God’s law and HIs judgment), it was because he stopped seeing himself by his God-given identity that he determined himself unworthy of God’s affection.

But here’s the thing… we are everything to God. Have you ever been in love? I mean mad in love – head over heals in love – stupid crazy love? Your beloved is the world to you. They’re everything you can think of. The thought of them blinds you from everything else. You can’t find a single fault in them, not because they’re perfect, but because true love doesn’t take imperfection into account (it bypasses the knowledge of good and evil).

Think about it. God created all the universe – not just the earth and all the animals and plants and such, but all the planets and stars and galaxies and even more! Just to think about our own sun and solar system – Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus… is overwhelming. But think of 100 Billion such starts and solar systems in our galaxy. It would take 39.5 billion years for the space shuttle just to travel from one end of the Milky way to the other. Then think of the 100 Billion estimated galaxies in the known universe! That’s God’s playground! He MADE all of that! But out of everything He made, where does He choose to dwell? Who does He choose to pursue?

God doesn’t live in our hearts out of obligation. He lives in us – He chooses every day to pursue us, to make His home in us – because He is head-over-heels in love with us. We are His everything! He even gave His own son for us – that’s how important we are to Him. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” And we know that love prefers others over itself. How amazing to think, then, that God, the center of our universe, considers us to be the center of His.

And so it’s not even us who do most of the seeking (though we ought), but God who seeks for and pursues us. He does so, knowing that we will be united fully when we can come (by our own accord) out from our hiding places to be found completely naked in His presence. It means that we must return to the place of non-comparison, circumventing the knowledge of good and evil, to allow God’s love to permeate our very being – becoming lost in Him and not in our own self-image.

His Incomprehensibility

I’ve come to discover something recently about worship. True worship (not just allegiance, like in the worship of money, but falling-on-our-faces, abandoned worship) has to be of that which cannot be contained, that which is beyond all understanding. It’s when we glimpse the greatness of God (or even of a single character of God) that we fall to our knees in awe and wonder and adoration and worship. It’s true, worship can be allegiance and obedience and can be found even in our mundane labor, if it is surrendered unto God, but there is a deeper worship I’m referring to that is not so much motivational as it is transformational.

We cannot truly worship what we understand, because to understand something is to conquer it, to be greater than it, to be able to recreate it. That’s not to say we can’t worship what we partially understand. It’s also not to say that we should stop seeking to understand (for God commanded us to subdue [conquer/understand/bring under submission] the earth, and called us to rule over creation). It is to say, however, that if God is not more to us than our understanding – if He is no more than a system or tool to call upon when needed – if He is no greater than a servant to us, we cannot truly worship Him.

Part of the problem here is that we have made gods of ourselves. We ate the forbidden fruit because it would make us more like God, able to judge good and evil for ourselves (Genesis 3:5 – “and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”) So we also fall into the trap of judging God, trying to determine for ourselves if He is really good or not. How much of our struggle is found in asking the age-old questions. “Is God really good? Will He really come through for me? Can I trust Him? Does He really know what’s best for me?” This was never an issue for us before we ate the fruit. God was our standard. He determined good and bad, but now we’ve taken on that role for ourselves.

In this film, The Tree of Life, one of the most striking elements is the foundational sense of God’s incomprehensibility. Through an amazing portrayal of creation in the film, we witness a glimpse of the greatness of God, beyond anything we can imagine. And through the struggles of the family in the story, we see the main characters searching for and questioning God through all the circumstances that they don’t understand or that seem unjust or even contrary to their understanding of His love. I could only come away with an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and humility, knowing that I can do nothing but surrender to God’s will; knowing that His ways and His thoughts are definitely higher than mine; and knowing that I understand so very little of Him after all.

God is wild and unpredictable. C.S. Lewis depicted Him as a lion in The Chronicles of Narnia, safe, but by no means tame (that is to say He is not obedient to man, but has a will of His own). He is not a system. We can’t expect, aside from when He promises to do so, that our actions will produce the same response in God every time. We can’t expect that God can be manipulated or controlled. He is a wild being, unharnessable, uncontrollable, fierce, just, and good (while at the same time being the most gentle and compassionate of beings). That’s a frightening thing. We don’t like the unpredictable. We want to know what to expect, because the unpredictable is not safe in our minds – it’s beyond our control.

In making gods of ourselves, we’ve determined that only we know what’s best for our lives, and we find it exceedingly difficult to believe (with all surrender) that someone else, namely God, has our very best interests in mind. We can’t see where God is leaning us. We can’t understand His thoughts. We are blind to His will and His plans and His purpose for our lives and for creation. He’s too great for us.

And so Adam hid. “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid,” he told God. He heard God’s voice, but with his newfound ability to determine good from evil (and glimpsing God’s inherent goodness compared to his own evil desires), he could not determine what would happen next, and he was afraid that God would react harmfully toward him.

Of course, we know that Adam suffered great consequences for his actions, but have you ever considered that these were not God’s punishment? I don’t think that the hard labor (for man and woman, all puns intended) was inflicted by God as much as it was the natural result of man’s knowledge of good and evil. I think that is why, by God’s grace, He did not want us to eat from that tree, because He knew all the pain and hardship it would mean for us. I also think that this is why, by God’s grace, He expelled us from the garden, knowing that it would be ultimately cruel for man to eat of the tree of everlasting life, when life would now be ruled by the pain of his own judgment. Instead, these consequences were a result of man’s taking for himself the knowledge of good (including pleasure) and evil (including the pain of hard work and labor). It’s not that the amount of work changed, and it’s not that the feeling of labor changed, but it’s that we now had the perception of those things to be painful. We also, creating gods of ourselves, would no longer be willing to rely on God’s grace, and would hide from His blessing to accomplish for ourselves (through great difficulty), that which was intended to be received as a gift.

I won’t be spoiling anything for you to tell you that the movie ends in surrender. After the great journey of discovering God through every aspect, every trial, every joy, and every age of life, the characters of the story come to finally surrender to the incomprehensibility of God. They come to a place where they really have no choice but to give in to His greatness. And so we also come to that place. We come to that place where we must decide – is God only a system to be understood, or is He a wild, untamable being, whose thoughts and ways are higher than our ways, who we can never fully understand or grasp, but who loves us more than we can imagine, who leads us to fall on our knees in reverent, awestruck, and abandoned worship to something – to someone – so much greater than we can ever comprehend.

Our Greatness

One of the more difficult reasons we find why Adam hid from the Lord is something I can only infer from my own experience with human nature. I believe Adam was also scared to be found in the image of God. In Genesis 3:5, the serpent said to Eve, “God knows that in the day you eat of it [the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” This is not to say that we were not already like God before we had this knowledge. No, the scripture says He created us from the very start in His own image (Genesis 1:26), and though, like a newborn to its father, we still had much to learn and grow to truly be like God, there was (and is) no escaping His image. But this was more than being found in the image of God; this was becoming like God, or rather making us like gods ourselves, by giving us a quality of power (judgment) that should be only reserved for I Am.

Adam was afraid of having the same, untamable, unpredictable, uncontrollable power that scared him in God, knowing (because of his newfound knowledge of good and evil, and therefore the awareness of his own weakness) that he was not worthy to carry that kind of responsibility. And ultimately, if he was afraid to carry the responsibility, it was more about his potential to fail in it than it was about his greatness. And of failure and nakedness we’ve already discussed, but there’s another side to being found in God’s likeness which scares us.

When I was a child, I was often identified as the “pastor’s kid,” and I carried an identity that was attached to my father. I could not escape it. Everyone had expectations of me to act a certain way, to have a certain kind of home life and grace about me, all because of the role my father played in the community. But I was determined to prove to the world that I was my own person; that I was unique and important apart from my father; and that ultimately, I was independent from my father, a god unto myself. It was only after much rebellion that I realized that the person I wanted to be was exactly who people expected me to be – a spittin’ image of my father (so to speak).

We’ve made the same mistake with God, trying so hard to prove our independence (to make gods of ourselves), only to realize that we want nothing more than to be known by His name, by His character, and by His love (back in our Father’s arms, protected, cared for, and led by His Spirit). But it still scares us to lose our individuality and identity to someone else.  It goes against our nature.  We spent the entire first decades of our lives learning to move from dependence on our parents to independence to being depended upon.  That seems to be the natural flow of life.  But when we meet God, we are asked to take that hard-earned self-trust and place it entirely in the hands of another (God) to become dependent again.  It’s a difficult thing to surrender.  It feels irresponsible and weak.

But there’s still another reason why our likeness to God scares us, a reason that is perhaps the most frightening of all: the loss of significance.  Think of it like this: you go outside your home and walk across the street to find an exact replica of you there, living in a house just like yours in a town just like yours – someone just like you (or in God’s case, better than you). Suddenly your own greatness is destroyed – you are no longer needed – there is someone else who can take your place. You’ve found someone who makes you irrelevant. God is just that. He doesn’t need us. We don’t have anything He needs (or that isn’t His already). He is God and we are not. When we come face-to-face with that reality (that in our likeness to Him, there is no reason for us, except to receive His love), it threatens our very existence.

But we need not fear irrelevance!  That is a matter of clear misunderstanding.  The truth is, if God does not need us to fill His lack (since, of course, He lacks nothing), and if our knowledge of good and evil is ultimately irrelevant (since that is God’s job), our purpose is only to be loved and to love.  That is not an issue of need (obligation), but of desire (freedom), and it is of itself is a very true reflection of God’s likeness.

We may be right to fear what we will do with this powerful knowledge, lest we be judged by our same measure (Matthew 7:2), but we need not fear losing ourselves and losing that power in surrender to God. When we surrender our greatness (as the most glorious and pleasing of God’s creation) to the One who made us great, we will not need to hide any longer. We will not need to keep our greatness and our identity to ourselves nor protect it from God, but instead we will be free to reflect God’s true glory – to be loved and to love.

Bonus

Now there’s one more little note that I want to share with you about our greatness, though it may not directly apply to this story.  Consider it a bonus… The knowledge of good and evil gave us the ability to compare ourselves with those around us, and this alone can get us in a whole lot of trouble, leading to pride, insecurity, shame, fear, jealousy, anger, and all sorts of dangerous things. But as I was dealing one day with my fear and insecurity, brought about by comparing myself to those around me, the Lord told me something which I will never forget:

“Stop comparing your light to others and dimming it down so you won’t offend people. Rather, compare your light to Me, and let it shine.”

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Conclusions

So, I say again that God is not hidden. Certainly, in His magnitude we can search forever and always find more of God to discover.  But He has not covered Himself that we would miss Him. He is right before us, asking us, as He did Adam, “where are you?” It’s time to stop hiding and to surrender in worship to a God who is beyond all belief, beyond all understanding, and beyond all imagination. It’s time to surrender our time, our circumstances, our thoughts, our loved ones, our enemies, every blessing and every injustice to a God whose ways and thoughts are so much higher than our own. But to do that, we must come out from our own hiding place to be united with God and to know Him without reservation, just as we are known.

Finally, test all that you hear – all of this is my rambling, my “thinking out loud,” so to speak.  But as you see me search for God past my own hiddenness, I hope you’ll be led and inspired to search, beyond my wandering thoughts and unanswered questions, to find God wholly for yourself.  Test it, try it, and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions (of God, of the scripture, of other spiritual leaders, of yourself, and even of me using the contact page on this site).  I pray, as Jesus promised, that you will find everything you are searching for.

Posted: 7/11/2011 11:58:11 PM by Matthew Bauer | with 0 comments


Women in Ministry

Someone asked me a great question the other day, which I want to share with all of you.  A young woman asked me to explain to her 1 Corinthians 14:34 – one of the more challenging scriptures to interpret in our culture – which says, “Let women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.”  While so many people I’ve talked to like to dance around this one, either because they have no idea how to interpret it or because they don’t want to be offensive, I have no problem being direct or offensive, and I love to study and get to the bottom of these challenging scriptures.  So, here’s the answer that I sent to this question.  Ultimately I say a lot without saying much at all (which you all know I’m good at!), but I hope that it will help you to see the scripture in a new light and that it will give you a deeper revelation of the heart and meaning behind this scripture, while also revealing God’s release of women into His Kingdom purposes for the church.  And, if nothing else, I hope it raises the right questions in you to propel you on your own search for God’s truth surrounding the powerful role of women in ministry.  Enjoy!
 


1 Corinthians 14:34

iStock_000015742269XSmallThere is so much uncertainty surrounding this verse in the church today, but actually, that uncertainty has only come about in recent history, along with the advent of women’s rights and a push for social equality in western society (this equality clearly does not exist far outside of western society). 

In the time of Jesus and in Jewish culture, women existed for men, and men existed for God (as reflected in creation, when man was first created from and for God, and then woman created from man and for him - because it was not good for man to be alone).  Woman was created as man’s helper.  So, while women were a valuable part of the early church, it was unheard of for them to have leadership or influence except through their husbands.  Even today, in some parts of eastern society, women cover their faces for the reason of only being seen by their husbands (in complete and unquestionable devotion).  Of course, due to the corruption of man (and woman), this is never lived out as it was intended, and the early structures have become unrecognizable by today’s standard. 

We read in the scriptures that women are to obey their husbands, and that men are to honor their wives – a manner by which both put the other first and prefer one another over themselves (that is, they love each other) – justifying the spiritual equality and worth of both genders, while being clear about the societal hierarchy in place.  Godly hierarchy does not lord over its subordinates, however, but serves (as the greatest among us must first be the servant to all).  Therefore, the woman’s role in obeying her husband has everything to do with equipping him to fulfill God’s purpose for his life – making them both inseparable from that call, and making them most effective only when they are united as “one flesh.”

Also, understand that in the culture of Paul’s day (when he wrote to the Corinthians), women did not work outside of the home.  It was the man’s job to provide for his family, and the woman’s job to care for her family – and so men are more-often ‘wired’ to provide and women are wired to care.  Therefore, without a specific trade to work toward, women did not study.  They did not learn the scriptures or how to question them like men did.  So men, having that knowledge (as all boys were required to study the scriptures), were to provide spiritual leadership to their family.  Men learned from the Rabbis and women learned from the men.  Of course, women did go to church (synagogue), and so they heard from the Rabbis directly, but because they did not study the scriptures themselves, and because they did not formally learn how to interpret or analyze the scriptures, they were to ask their husbands for help with spiritual questions, and they were not allowed to teach (just as we would not allow someone to teach a masters course in physics who had never studied science).  The husbands would ask their questions of the Rabbis, and even bring to them questions that they were unable to answer for their wives (because the husbands and wives were in partnership – one flesh).

So as I said, due to the fallen nature of mankind, this is rarely the case in our culture, and for many centuries, men lorded over their wives, abused their wives, ignored their wives, and (contrary to the Paul’s command) dishonored their wives.  So, women rose up, took authority from their husbands, and demanded social equality (in addition to the unconditional spiritual equality and worth that they already possessed – which could not be taken from them).  They then began studying the scripture (and other things) for themselves, and in turn became quite knowledgeable about spiritual things – more so than many of the men in our culture, who had long since abandoned the societal requirement of learning the scriptures as a child.  In fact, all of this (the removal of biblical teaching and prayer in schools, and the establishment of societal equality among genders) has happened in the last 100-150 years, making this verse now very hard to interpret.

But, with these changes have come numerous women who have had great impact in the church and in the Kingdom of God – not that women did not have great impact before, but it was not through teaching or leading in these areas.  The signs are evident that God uses and moves powerfully through many bold women today who are leaders in the church.  God’s favor and blessing of their ministries is a sure sign that He honors the place of women in church leadership.  Still, whether He intended it this way, or whether He is simply redeeming the corruption of mankind (and how we have abandoned the structure of honor and submission and unity that He intended), only God knows.

So, while there is much cultural and scriptural evidence to support Paul’s instruction that women should be silent in the church (or rather, that they should not openly question the Rabbi or be allowed to teach), there is also much evidence that God approves of and uses women in church leadership today (at least in our culture).  Hopefully, this will help you interpret the scripture in the context of Paul’s entire letter, and in the context of our present society and religious system.

Praying God’s best for you,
Matthew

Posted: 7/7/2011 12:46:52 PM by Matthew Bauer | with 0 comments


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