Psalm 99:3 Let them praise Your great and awesome name— He is holy. (NKJV)
The other day I was walking down a stretch of sidewalk and approaching me was a well known local Pastor whom I recognized, but he did not know me. We were the only two around.
I stopped him (or maybe more accurately, I slowed him down for a few seconds) and said, “aren’t you …….. the Pastor of …… Church?”; to which he replied simply, “yes, I am”. I then said, “I know one of your members, ………..; he really speaks highly of you.” The entirety of his communication with me was “Awesome. That’s cool,” said with a great smile and then walked away.
A couple of things before continuing. First, this was NOT a youth Pastor, and while somewhat young, he is the senior Pastor of a very large church in this area. And, I grant that I have no idea if he was in hurry to get somewhere, or if this was his normal way of responding to someone.
However, two things stuck in my mind about this encounter. One, we were all alone and I was a captive audience; he had no way of knowing my spiritual status. He didn’t witness to me, invite me to church or engage me spiritually in any way despite the fact that I had opened the door wide open for his inquiry. Second, (and this point is my motivation for this Devotional) it got me thinking about how even our spiritual leaders are falling into the trap of what I call “vocabulary disintegration“.
Okay, call me a “conspiracy nut”, but in my opinion it is NO accident many of our great words that describe God, and apply to God alone, have been hijacked and butchered into meaninglessness by pop culture. I think this is a deliberate tactic of our spiritual enemy.
If you were to describe God today to a
new believer or potential convert,
what words could you use that they would
understand and could define?
If you were to really think about it, I believe you would find this task much harder than you might realize. Let’s take a look at a few words which SHOULD describe God alone, but their meanings have been lost or watered down:
The word “awesome” is probably the most obvious example of this “vocabulary disintegration”. Practically everything is “awesome” today… the newest car models, a vacation cruise, new clothing lines, the latest sports champions. There is not a whole lot of anything that doesn’t garnish the description anymore of “awesome” – from finding a ten dollar bill laying on the ground, to a basketball dunk, to a top 40 music hit, to the 4th sequel of a movie series, to a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
The Church is hardly any better. Our leadership has succumbed to the culture around them utilizing the same marketing cliches and vocabulary as the world for the most part. A quick look at church ads and websites and you will discover “awesome” youth groups, “awesome” praise and worship, “awesome” facilities, “awesome” family resources and “awesome” Bible teaching. You hear “awesome” constantly sprinkled into the teaching and preaching describing events and people.
Everything is “awesome” nowadays,
effectively making NOTHING awesome,
I do not think this is an accident. “Awesome” is one of the primary words by which we can communicate in human terms the nature of God. It applies ONLY to God. And yet, we use it to describe a boyfriend or pepperoni pizza just as comfortably as we use it to describe the Creator of the Universe. What does “awesome” mean?
- It is translated from the Hebrew word, yare (yaw-ray), which is in the Bible as “fear” 188 times, “afraid” 78 times, “terrible” 23 times, “terrible thing” six times, “dreadful” five times, “reverence” three times, “fearful” twice, “terrible acts” once, and translated miscellaneously eight times.
- It means to fear, revere, be afraid; to stand in awe of, be awed; to cause astonishment or to make afraid, terrify.
Webster defines “awe” as:
- 1 : an emotion variously combining dread, veneration (profound fear; worship), and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime
- 2 : DREAD, TERROR : the power to inspire dread
See my point? An episode of “Friends”, a new pair of jeans or a well attended church event can hardly be described as instilling dread or terror, creating an emotion of profound inspiration or is worthy of the “fear” that only God’s nature produces. It’s one thing for the world to destroy this singularly unique word; it’s quite another to have God’s own Body (the Church) casually toss around something that can only rightly describe God.
We have PRECIOUS FEW words that can
communicate the nature of God to finite humans;
and we should not abuse them by casual,
inappropriate and worldly use.
Am I splitting hairs? Being picky? Making a big deal out of nothing? I don’t think so. How are we to teach our children about God when they hear us talk about an “awesome football game” on Saturday; then hear God described as awesome on Sunday? How can we effectively describe God to a lost and dying world when the car dealerships are making “awesome deals on new models” at the same time you are trying to tell them about the “awesome God who will judge the whole world someday”? How can we disciple new Believers when they are invited to an “awesome youth group” to then be taught about an “awesome Jesus”?
At this point in time, we can pretty much throw out the word “awesome” as a description of God until we can re-educate the Church about it’s true meaning. Let’s take a quick look at a few more words:
“Wonderful” is used pretty much as a lesser intensity of “awesome”. That’s a shame because it’s true meaning is quite appropriate in describing God. “Wonderful” originally meant something that was incomprehensible, that could not be grasped or understood in human terms. That certainly applies to God, however, it used very casually in modern terms to describe everything from a pleasing result to a piece of chocolate cream pie.
Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NKJV)
- It is from the Hebrew word pele (peh·leh) translated as “wonder” eight times, “wonderful” three times, “wonderfully” once, and “marvelous” once.
- It means to wonder or marvel; it is something extraordinary, a hard to understand thing
- Webster defines it as marvelous, astonishing, unusually good
It is very difficult to teach about our Wonderful Counselor Mighty God right after finishing that wonderful fellowship dinner in our wonderful new church in which we enjoy our wonderful praise and worship.
Biblically speaking, a miracle is when God intervenes in the course of events and something occurs which could NOT have occurred otherwise without God causing it. Sometimes this is the suspension of His own laws of physics such as making the sun stand still or making a missing leg reappear. Other times miracles are when God supernaturally accelerates or exaggerates natural processes. And yet other miracles are God’s providence where He “arranges” things to happen that, again, could not have happened without God’s interaction. In all cases, true miracles are things which point directly to God and could not occur unless the Lord caused it to occur.
The word “miracle” has been abused to death today by the world, and especially by the church. Finding a parking space at a busy mall is a “miracle”. Getting a $50 unexpected check in the mail is a “miracle”. Finally finding that new job is a “miracle”.
In reality, 99.9% of all the things we classify as “miracles” are really more appropriately described as God’s blessing, favor or providential care. These are not really miracles such as the dead being raised, blind eyes being healed or water turning to wine. These everyday “miracles” are the blessings of a Heavenly Father who cares for His children and loves to give “good gifts”.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (NKJV)
It doesn’t help matters when Christianity blatantly abuses the word. You can get your “miracles now” according to one TV evangelist’s show title. It’s described as a “miracle” when lots of money is given at church or to a ministry, when events are well attended or when an opportunity is realized.
The word “miracle” is liberally tossed about concerning money and financial blessings in a large segment of Christianity today.
It’s no wonder that the world takes no notice of our Miraculous God when Christians run around proclaiming “miracle” for every headache that goes away, every monetary blessing that is received or a host of other daily occurences that certainly mayl be a “blessing” from God, but they are NOT miracles. Yes, give God the glory and credit for His blessings and favor; but let’s quit calling those blessing and favors “miracles”. True miracles are rare, undeniable, obvious and always point to God.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
In an age of marketing and Madison Avenue, we have destroyed our vocabulary in a never ending cycle of “one-upmanship”. It started several decades ago when everything became “new and improved”. When that lost its marketing effectiveness we progressed to everything being “super” or “Number One”. Now everything is “awesome”, “outrageous” and “unbelievable”. I’m not sure where the marketing world can go from here, they have pretty much reached the Mount Everest of superlatives.
However, I do know where the Church needs to go. It’s needs to go back to the basics and begin to re-educate Believers about the definitions of words, and realize that our Enemy has hijacked many of the common words that should only be used to describe God. As individuals, we need to be ready to describe and explain God realizing that words like “awesome” have lost their true meaning.
It may be that we will need to improve our common daily vocabulary to include theological terms such as:
- Omniscient: God knows everything about everything; there is nothing He does not, has not, nor won’t ever, know perfectly
- Omnipotent: God is all powerful and unlimited in power; He has no restraint or limit except that which is limited by His own nature (ie, God is perfect, He cannot make a mistake; God is truth, He cannot lie)
- Omnipresent: God is everywhere in full, at all time, in all times, past present and future, simultaneously
- Immutable: God does not change; He exists in perfection and His attributes never waiver, lessen or change in any way, ever, for any reason
- Immortal or Eternal: God had no beginning and has no end; He is self-existing and uncreated; the source of all life
It would be hard to steal those words for phrases like “that’s a really omniscient outfit, dude!” or, “the praise and worship was really immutable this morning, wasn’t it?”. I doubt even car dealers could steal those words for their next “monster sale”!
If you always thought of these words as stuffy old theological terms, perhaps it is time to reevaluate that opinion in light of our need to be able to adequately communicate who God is to a world desparately in need of knowing.
Lord, Help us to communicate effectively in a world where words that should only describe You have been misused. Help us to learn about You and teach others using a vocabulary that is meaningful and appropriate. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Contemplation: Have you ever thought about this before? Do you use these words casually? If God is “one of a kind”, what words can we use today to describe that fact? How would you describe God to someone today in a way that sets God apart from everything else?
Application: Words are important. It is no accident that one of Satan’s schemes is to rob the Church of an effective vocabulary to describe God. We should be aware of this problem, and educate Believers about it, and teach them new ways to effectively communicate the truth about God.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?