Taking a leave of absence

It’s been a great few years blogging but the time has come for me to continue my studies. I’m in my final few months and I have so much to prepare for. Perhaps next year I will find my own church and a congregation to shepherd.

The Lord is good all the time. All glory to the One who called me !

The Name of God

There was a moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God what his name is. God was gracious enough to answer, and the name he gave is recorded in the original Hebrew as YHWH.

Over time we’ve arbitrarily added an “a” and an “e” in there to get YaHWeH, presumably because we have a preference for vowels.

But scholars and Rabi’s have noted that the letters YHWH represent breathing sounds, or aspirated consonants. When pronounced without intervening vowels, it actually sounds like breathing.

YH (inhale): WH (exhale).

So a baby’s first cry, his first breath, speaks the name of God.

A deep sigh calls His name – or a groan or gasp that is too heavy for mere words.

Even an atheist would speak His name, unaware that their very breath is giving constant acknowledgment to God.

Likewise, a person leaves this earth with their last breath, when God’s name is no longer filing their lungs.

So when I can’t utter anything else, is my cry calling out His name?

Being alive means I speak His name constantly.
So, is it heard the loudest when I’m the quietest?

In sadness, we breathe heavy sighs.
In joy, our lungs feel almost like they will burst.
In fear we hold our breath and have to be told to breathe slowly to help us calm down.
When we’re about to do something hard, we take a deep breath to find our courage.

When I think about it, breathing is giving him praise. Even in the hardest moments!

This is so beautiful and fills me with emotion every time I grasp the thought. God chose to give himself a name that we can’t help but speak every moment we’re alive.

All of us, always, everywhere.
Waking, sleeping, breathing, with the name of God on our lips.

  • Unknown Author

Is your device controlling you?

A great article by Jeff Mingee

Against the backdrop of God creating humanity to exercise dominion, consider the man who misses his son scoring the winning goal because he’s distracted by the vibrating phone in his pocket. Or the young employee who browses social media but with the mouse cursor hovering over the “x,” ready to close it should her boss walk by. Or the student who ignores his body’s cry for sleep and instead strains his tired eyes to scroll for a few more images. They are not in control.

Paul warned about those who weren’t in control. He described one controlling factor of enemies of the cross as “their god is their belly” (Phil. 3:19). Idolatrous passions or earthly concerns governed them. In contrast, Paul exemplified the importance of control in the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:27).

We’re to exercise control because we believe God deserves our active obedience and not merely our accidental praise. Yes, he will ultimately be glorified even if we rebel against him. But he’s worthy of our lives—even our digital lives.

God created you to have control over creation. He didn’t intend for you to be controlled by your device.

Rather than being passive, reckless, and undisciplined in our digital behavior, what if we exercised digital control in obedience to the greatest two commandments? What if you took control of your devices as an act of love toward God and your neighbor?

Digital Control and Love of God

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). If you want to process how to steward your digital devices in obedience to Jesus, this is a pretty good place to start. Take control of your digital devices because you love God.

Without digital control, we’re drifting—aimlessly scrolling and passively swiping. And no one drifts in the right direction. Rather than drifting recklessly, into behavior and words that can dishonor God, we practice digital control for the glory of Christ. In our actions online—as with every other sphere of life—we want others to see Jesus.

We exercise dominion ultimately to fill the earth with image-bearers and to glorify God. David Mathis explains, “Christian self-control is not finally about bringing our bodily passions under our own control, but under the control of Christ by the power of his Spirit.”

We’re not seeking control over our digital devices merely for productivity or for our own fame but to make much of Christ. Christian men and women are gladly under the rule and reign of Jesus. His commands are never burdensome (1 John 5:3). Obedience to Jesus brings joy, even in the digital world.

We’re not seeking control over our digital devices merely for productivity or for our own fame but to make much of Christ.

In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul lists evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Among this list he includes “self-control” (Gal. 5:23). Self-control is not mere effort. Christians, as we pursue self-control in our digital habits, recognize that such a fruit is a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. This affects both how we understand self-control and the means we use to pursue it.

Paul also directly ties self-control to our salvation. In explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ to Felix and his wife Drusilla, Paul thought it necessary to reason about self-control (Acts 24:24–25). Self-control is an essential part of us working out our own salvation. Like an athlete developing self-control in the pursuit of a win, Christians develop self-control in the pursuit of our ultimate salvation (1 Cor. 9:25). We cannot take our sanctification seriously while dismissing the need for self-control, not even in the digital world.

Digital Control and Love of Neighbor

What is your lack of digital control doing to those you love? Do your kids feel unheard? Does your spouse feel neglected?

If I want to love my wife well, I need to control myself. If I want to serve her by making her a smoothie before she heads to school with the kids, I need enough control to put my phone down. If I want to love my son by playing football or a board game with him, I must have the self-discipline to close the app or computer. Our failure to develop self-control stifles our love for others. Our digital devices are not helping.

Our failure to develop self-control stifles our love for others.

We’ve all felt the sting of neglect as someone chose to pay attention to a device instead of us. Perhaps they didn’t mean to hurt us. But we asked the same question multiple times and got no response—their face tilted down at a screen, lost in another world. We tried to move closer to them, but couldn’t get their attention. We sought intimacy, but only got isolation.

May it not be so with you. Develop control as an act of love toward others. Exercise digital dominion as a display of affection toward those you cherish. Don’t hand over control of your life to a digital device. Take control and love others well.

How to Help Teens Who Are Anxious and Depressed article by Jared Kennedy

In 2016, Susanna Schrobsdorff published an eye-opening article in Time that told us preteens and teenagers are more anxious, overwhelmed, and depressed than the generations before.

When her article was published, over 6 million teens in the U.S. had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder—25 percent of the teen population. After several years of stability, Schrobsdorff reported that depression among high school kids was rising. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 4.6 percent of adolescents, ages 12 to 17, had at least one major depressive episode in 2006. That number was up to 12.5 percent by 2015.

Those numbers were reported five years before the COVID-19 pandemic. A more recent report by the Center for Disease Control found that 44 percent of the high school students surveyed said they’d “felt sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row such that they stopped doing some usual activities.” These numbers are higher both among girls and among teens who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

Preteens and teenagers are more anxious, overwhelmed, and depressed than the generations before.

Schrobsdorff observed that, while not universal among kids with depression and anxiety, non-suicidal self-harm “[appears] to be the signature symptom of this generation’s mental health difficulties.” She told the story of Faith-Ann, an eighth-grader who first cut herself in the middle of the night while her parents slept. She sat on the edge of the tub at her home and sliced into her ribs with the metal clip from a pen: “There was blood and a sense of deep relief.”

Youth ministry leaders in local churches know these stories all too well. Kendal Conner serves on staff at Redeemer Fellowship in Kansas City, Missouri. She says, “I’ve ministered to middle and high school girls after suicide attempts and cutting, through mental health crises and paralyzing anxiety. What once felt like an auxiliary part of youth ministry is now at the center of all you do.”

The stats and stories raise questions for parents and youth ministry leaders. Why has teen depression risen so sharply over the past decade and a half? What can we do to prevent kids from hiding depression? What should I do if I discover my child is cutting?

Mental Health and Technology

Schrobsdorff’s article focused on potential causes. She was particularly interested in links between teenage mental health and their use of technology: “Conventional wisdom says kids today are over supervised. . . . But even though teens may be in the same room with their parents, they might also, thanks to their phones, be immersed in a painful emotional tangle with dozens of their classmates.”

Getting your first smartphone is a rite of passage in our culture. Kids have them at earlier and earlier ages. Experts warn against the addictive distraction from schoolwork and the danger of exposing kids to online bullies, child predators, and sexting. Such realities call for the same vigilance with internet safety we’ve demonstrated in baby-proofing our homes. Parents should know how to set up a phone’s restrictions and find a plan that allows for monitoring text messages. And parents must teach skills for navigating the world of social media by first limiting access, then giving increasing freedom as their children demonstrate growing responsibility.

But even with these precautions, a subtle danger in children having smartphones is exposing kids to a deep experience of their own feelings before they have the skills to process them.

A subtle danger in children having smartphones is exposing kids to a deep experience of their own feelings before they have the skills to process them.

Teenagers are wired for stimulation. The emotional reactions of a teenage brain can feel urgent and overwhelming. With a rise in hyperconnectedness, even rural youth are increasingly exposed to what Schrobsdorff described as “a national thicket of Internet drama.” She wrote, “Being a teenager today is a draining full-time job that includes doing schoolwork, managing a social-media identity and fretting about career, climate change, sexism, racism—you name it.”

Conner says, “Students are giving the deepest parts of themselves—feelings, emotions, passions, desires, dreams—to thousands of people online who cannot offer much, if anything, back. This leaves them confused, tired, and with less to give to their closest relationships.”

Help Teens Work Through Their Feelings

It shouldn’t surprise us when kids who are more socially connected gain a greater awareness of the world’s brokenness and feel deeply about it. Brent Bounds, a clinical psychologist who served as director of family ministries at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, says it’s important to create a culture where it’s safe to talk about these emotions when they come. Parents and youth leaders can’t force vulnerability, but we can model it. And we can let kids know that it’s not wrong to feel deeply.

Our goal shouldn’t be to change how they feel but simply to recognize our kids’ emotions and affirm our love. Bounds told me, “Sometimes parents feel that they have to have all the answers to make their child feel safe. But one of the most freeing answers a parent can give their child is, ‘I don’t know. But I love you and I want to support and help you any way I can.’”

When conversation is open with a teen, parents can simply reflect back what their child may be feeling—“You seem really angry right now. I wonder if you’re angry with me and don’t know how to talk about it?” or, “Wow, that’s a really hard situation. I can imagine you feel overwhelmed.” Using this same reflecting technique, a parent can help build a child’s emotional vocabulary from an early age. This will prepare kids to face more complex feelings when they enter their teen years.

Helping our children grow in self-awareness about their emotions is a pathway to helping them grow in self-care as well. A teen must identify how social media triggers his anxiety before he’ll understand his need to manage that anxiety in a healthy way—perhaps by putting down his phone and going for a jog.

What If My Child Has Hurt Himself?

When a child does report he’s hurt himself, parents or pastors should first acknowledge the risk the teen has taken to be vulnerable. Acknowledge the teen’s courage and then listen. It’s hard to do. Bounds observes, “Most parents are understandably concerned when they find out a child is cutting, but they tend to react in ways that don’t draw out the teen but instead shut them down.”

Know that it’s not out of the norm for a teen to cut themselves at some point. The important questions to ask are, Where did he cut? (Alarming areas are inside wrists, forearms, and the inner thigh.) What did he use to cut himself? And how often has this happened? While we want to respect our child’s privacy, if you have knowledge that a child has been harming himself, take it seriously and seek help immediately from your local physician.

Most parents are understandably concerned when they find out a child is cutting, but they tend to react in ways that don’t draw out the teen but instead shut them down.

Sometimes self-harm comes from a sense of helplessness and a desire for control. Teens like Faith-Ann say self-harm relieves internal pain by “letting the feelings out.” The desire may come from a child’s deep belief that she’s not big enough to contain the feelings she is experiencing. The desire to cut may even be a deep emotional witness to the truth that growing social awareness or social advocacy will not atone for the world’s sins. Our brokenness is only healed with the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22); but it’s the Savior’s, not our own.

Scott James, a pediatric physician and researcher, and an elder at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, cautioned me that it’s not absolutely necessary for us to come to a full explanation of why this is happening:

I’ve learned as a doctor that when it comes to mental health, I need to disabuse myself of the notion that I will always be able to pop the hood and get to the bottom of what a patient is feeling and doing. Empathy is important, but it’s hubris to think we should always be able to correctly identify and address the exact motives of each person.

Instead, we can confess, “I don’t understand where my child is coming from or why she is viewing life the way she does. But I’ll be here for her regardless.” That’s a position of compassionate engagement that puts aside trying to be the hero and savior. From that place of humility, we can point to Christ, the true comforter and healer. Jesus understands. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:15–16, NIV).

Editors’ note: 

An earlier version of this article was first published at The Ethics and Religious Libert

The Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence of God

AN ESSAY BYJohn M. Frame 

DEFINITION

The three “omni” attributes of God characterize him as all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present. Each of these involves the other two, and each provides a perspective on the all-embracing lordship of the true God.

SUMMARY 

Omnipotence means that God is in total control of himself and his creation. Omniscience means that he is the ultimate criterion of truth and falsity, so that his ideas are always true. Omnipresence means that since God’s power and knowledge extend to all parts of his creation, he himself is present everywhere. Together they define God’s lordship, and they yield a rich understanding of creation, providence, and salvation.

Introduction

The prefix omni means “all,” so the three divine attributes in our title can be paraphrased by saying that God is “all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present.” Let us look at these individually.

Omnipotence

Scripture affirms God’s omnipotence by saying that God does whatever he is pleased to do (Psa 115:3; cf. Isa 55:11 and Jer 32:17). Nothing is too hard for him (Gen 18:14). His word is never void of power, so when he speaks, everything in creation obeys him (Isa 55:11). Of course, creatures do disobey him in one sense; that is the essence of sin. But God has control even over sinful actions (Psa 105:24-25Gen 45:5-8Exod 4:21Psa 105:24-25Rom 9:18Acts 2:23, 4:28). He ordains sinful, disobedient actions for his good purposes. So his word always prevails, and we can trust that His prophecies always come to pass (Deut 18:21-22).

Often we infer from these passages that God “can do anything.” But that doesn’t quite reflect the full biblical teaching. There are things that God cannot do. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2, cf. Num 23:19), nor, similarly, can he perform any immoral action. Since God is perfectly holy and good, he cannot do anything evil. And, since he is perfect truth, he cannot do things that are logically contradictory, like making round squares. His truth is a perfect consistency of thought and action. Nor can God do things inappropriate to his nature as God, like buying shoes or celebrating his birthday.

So how should we define God’s omnipotence more precisely? I think the most helpful definition of God’s omnipotence is this: that he has complete and total control over everything. This includes the smallest details of the natural world, like the falling of a sparrow or the number of hairs that grow on your head (Matt 6:26-30, 10:29-30). Even the events we call random, that we ascribe to chance, are really God at work (Prov 16:33). That includes not only the small things, but also the big things (which, after all, are accumulations of small things). He determines what nations will dwell in which territory (Acts 17:26). He decides what king is to rule, and when, and where (Isa 44:28). He decides whether the purposes of a ruler will stand or fall (Psa 33:10-11). And he decided, once, that wicked people would take the life of his dear Son, so that we sinners might live (Acts 2:23-24).

God rules not only the important events of human history but also the lives of individual people. He knits us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psa 139:13-16). He decides whether we will travel or stay home (Jas 4:13-17). He controls even the decisions of wicked people, as we saw above. But he also exerts his power to save sinners, to bring forgiveness and new life (Eph 2:8-10). Our salvation is entirely the work of God’s power, not at all our own work. We believe in Christ because he has appointed us to eternal life (Acts 13:48) and because he has opened our hearts to believe (Acts 16:14-15; cf. John 6:44, 65Phil 1:29).

So his power is universal: it controls everything in the universe (Lam 3:37-38Rom 8:28Eph 1:11Rom 11:33-36).

Omniscience

Now let us look at God’s omniscience. God’s power is not a blind power. Everything God does has an intelligent purpose, a definite goal. And since, as we’ve seen, God’s power is universal, so also is his knowledge. In knowing his own intentions, God knows everything in himself, in his creation, and throughout history. Scripture often refers to the universality of God’s knowledge (Psa 147:5John 21:17Heb 4:12-131Jn 3:20). It often mentions that God knows detailed happenings on earth, even in the future (1Sam 10:21Kgs 13:1-42Kgs 8:12Psa 139:4Acts 2:23, 4:27-28).

Some theologians1 have referred to passages like Gen 18:20-21 as teaching God’s ignorance. But Scripture assumes God’s omniscience pervasively, and it is far more likely that such passages should be interpreted consistently with that assumption. In Gen 18:20-21, for example, God does not admit ignorance, but declares that he is gathering facts for an indictment, preparing the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for judgment.

Indeed, God’s omniscience is based on his authority, for he is the supreme judge of all things, and he is the ultimate standard of what is true and false. Not only does God know what is true, but he is the very nature of truth. Truth is what he is (as John 14:6). So it is inconceivable that he could be wrong about anything.

God’s knowledge is a precious blessing to God’s people. Psa 139 emphasizes how deeply God knows us, wherever we are. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (v. 6). God’s knowledge of us pursues us wherever we may go: to heaven, to the grave, to great distances, to dark places (vv. 7-12). He knew us when he was forming us in our mother’s womb (vv. 13-16), and he knew, even back then, every day of our lifetime on earth (v. 16). Wicked people should well be terrorized by this doctrine; but to the Psalmist God’s knowledge of us is wonderful and good (vv. 17-18), and he prays that God will draw on this knowledge to lead him to repentance and forgiveness of sin (vv. 23-24).

Omnipresence

Now, God’s omnipresence—his presence in every place and time. To say that God is “present” is to say that he is here with us, really here, not absent. Sometimes we connect a person’s presence with his body, as when a teacher takes attendance and says that Jimmy is “present” because his body is in his seat. But God does not have a body; he is immaterial. So how can we tell when God is present or absent?

Scripture’s answer is that God is present everywhere, because, as we have seen, his power and knowledge are everywhere. If every event, everywhere, takes place by God’s power, and if he has exhaustive knowledge of everything his power has brought to pass, then certainly he is not absent, but present in each event, though his presence is not quite the same as the presence of physical beings. So God’s omnipotence and omniscience imply his omnipresence.

His omnipresence is a presence both in place and in time. Psalm 139 indicates that God is present in every place. He is the creator of the heavens and the earth, and so he is in every location. He is also the creator of time,2 the one without beginning or end. So he has been present in the world since its creation, and there will never be a time from which he is absent. In Scripture, he freely enters history and interacts with creatures. Supremely, he entered human history in Jesus Christ, where he died and rose again to save us from our sins.

So God’s omnipresence is not just a theoretical conclusion. It is a precious truth of redemption. Although we have sinned and deserve God’s judgment, God comes to his faithful people and declares to them “I will be with you.” This means that God is here, wherever we are, but also that God is on our side. He is with us, not to destroy us, but to forgive and to save us from sin. So this “with you,” this redeeming divine presence, is found often in Scripture as his gracious promise. To Isaac, God said, “I will be with you and will bless you” (Gen 26:3) and that language often forms the basis of God’s redemptive covenant. The heart of the covenant, God’s redemptive promise, is that “I will be your God, and you will be my people,” a precious togetherness of God with his people (Exod 6:72Cor 6:16; cf. Gen 17:7Exod 6:7, 29:45Lev 26:12Jer 7:23, 11:4, 24:7, 30:22Ezek 11:20, 14:11, 36:28, 37:27Heb 11:16Rev 21:3). It should not surprise us that a biblical name for Jesus is Immanuel, God with us (Isa 7:14Matt 1:23). As the Old Testament tabernacle was a place for God to dwell with his people, so Jesus, the Son of God, “tabernacled among us” (John 1:14).

Of course, God also can be said to be present to the wicked, and that is a fearsome and awful thing (Rev 1:7). But whether for good or for ill, God is present throughout heaven and earth, to carry out his own purposes.

Unity of the Omni-Attributes

We have seen that the three omni-attributes of God are quite inseparable. Since God’s power is purposeful and universal, it implies his omniscience. And since God’s omnipotence and omniscience are universal, we must conclude that he is omnipresent. We could note further that since God is omnipresent, all his attributes are omnipresent as well—his power and knowledge, as well as his truth, love, grace, eternity, infinity, and so on.

So the omni-attributes are like the other attributes of God, inseparable from each other and from him. As theologians say, God is “simple.” His attributes are not separable parts of him. Rather they are ways of characterizing God as a whole, ways of describing his nature.

Therefore, the omni-attributes are ways of speaking of God’s Lordship. “Lord” is the word that Scripture uses over 7,000 times to name him. The theological term “sovereignty” is equivalent to lordship. I have argued elsewhere3 that Scripture typically defines God’s lordship as his “control, authority, and presence.” As we have seen, this triad is equivalent to the three omni-attributes. God’s omnipotence is his control over all things. His omniscience is his authority to declare what is true. And his omnipresence is his real existence in every time and place. So when we talk about God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, we are talking about his lordship.