“We fell in love with Jesus. Then we had to decide what to do with God.” In Transcending Mysteries: Who Is God, and What Does He Want from Us? Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens take readers on a journey to answer the question: is the God of the Old Testament the same God we relate to and worship today?
As the most definitive written revelation of who God is, Scripture has always been vital to the stories of the Christian faith. The Old Testament has proved especially tough for those who have been persuaded by the gracious gospel of Jesus but also desire to surrender to a God they don’t fully comprehend. We adore the Son of God, but what about God the Father?
Using Old Testament stories Andrew and Ginny help Christ-followers reconcile a New Testament Redeemer with an Old Testament God and understand what God really wants from His people. They dialog back and forth as they share their own stories of struggle and surrender. Their comments are separated by speaker identifiers that are used throughout.
- Old Testament stories that are completed in Jesus' message
- Dialog between Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens
- Music lyrics from Andrew and Ginny that illustrate biblical truths
- Thought-provoking questions for reflection or study
About the Author
A three-time Dove Award winner, and the Gospel Music Association’s 2000 New Artist of the Year recipient, Ginny Owens has sold nearly one million albums and has been a top performer on the Christian radio charts with hits like “If You Want Me To,” “Free,” and “I Wanna Be Moved.”
Andrew Greer is a Dove Award-nominated singer/songwriter and co-creator of the innovative "Hymns for Hunger"
Tour. Andrew’s musical works include All Things Bright & Beautiful:
Hymns for the Seasons and Angel Band: The
Christmas Sessions. His writings have appeared in publications like Christianity
Today and Parenting Teensmagazine.
Refraction books speak to the most troubling issues we face today in a candid dialog that interacts with our culture through a biblical lens, utilizing a holistic approach of intellectual engagement, emotional vulnerability, and spiritual challenge for the next generation.
Read an Excerpt
Who Is God, And What Does He Want From Us?
By Andrew Greer, Ginny Owens
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens
All rights reserved.
MIDNIGHT OF THESE THINGS
Andrew: I am the youngest of three boys. I asked my mom if she ever wished one of us had been a girl. She diplomatically replied, "No. Boys are easy." Fair enough. Watching my oldest brother chart his life's path always looked easy. Decisive, rational, and organizationally bent, Trey is a natural leader. I He graduated from college, got married, bought a house, and had children—in that order. And when discussing the gray areas of life, Trey is often ready with a decidedly black-and-white solution. But his seemingly obstinate opinion is merely a catalyst for igniting meaningful debate. And I've personally observed his deep faith in action as he and his family's experiences have been muddied with not-so-soluble circumstances.
In July 2010, at age thirty-two, Stephanie, my brother's wife of eleven years, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Home research, doctor visits, and analyzing treatment options followed. Because of her family's harried history with the disease, the diagnosis was even more serious. Every precaution was taken. With three girls under the age of five—their youngest only four months old—Stephanie, with the support of Trey and the girls, was now fighting cancer.
My sister-in-law's surgery recoveries required her to abstain from lifting any substantial weight for several weeks. Simple tasks like changing Lily's diaper; consoling Carley after a tumble, or lifting Avery into her car seat were now impossible. On two different occasions, Trey and Stephanie invited me to visit Texas to help my sister-in-law with the toddling trio. And though I was a twenty-seven-year-old bachelor and touring musician with poorly refined skills in braiding hair, setting up a tea, and being sensitive, I gladly accepted the opportunity to supply the roles of preschool shuttle, cul-de-sac campsite tent builder, and Sonic "Happy Hour" chauffeur—where our confused hearts remembered that sometimes comfort is simply one slush away.
Late one night after Stephanie and the girls were in bed, Trey and I jumped in his Ford pickup for a drive. It was the first time since her diagnosis that we had some time alone. Growing up sons of a therapist, we learned early how to "throw up" our emotions, which is actually more restorative than it sounds. Tough questions were a part of our family's everyday conversations. So I opened our car-ride chat with a simple question: "How are y'all really doing?"
Trey explained to me that cancer was the hardest thing he and Stephanie had experienced together or individually. Though neither of their histories is without trauma, when they received the malignant news from Stephanie's doctor, Trey said that they felt they had two distinct options: they could distance themselves from God and use every human resource available to control the outcome and heal Stephanie, or they could press in to God.
"Andrew," he said, "we're pressing hard."
SURRENDER: FEAR AND FAST
READ 2 CHRONICLES 20:1–12.
After Jehoshaphat had solidified his throne by fortifying the nation and appointing regional judges, the Moabites, Ammonites, and some Meunites decided to attack him. 2 Jehoshaphat heard about their plans.
Messengers: A huge army is quickly approaching Jerusalem. They are coming from Edom beyond the Dead Sea, but they have already reached Hazazon-tamar (that is Engedi on the shore of the Dead Sea, about two days southwest of Jerusalem).
3 Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he sought the Eternal and required all Judah's citizens to fast. 4–5 Everyone gathered together in Jerusalem from cities all over Judah to seek help from the Eternal. Jehoshaphat joined the assembly in the newly restored court at the Eternal's house and 6 prayed before the people.
Jehoshaphat: O Eternal One, the True God of our ancestors, You are the True God in the heavens and the ruler over all the kingdoms and nations! You are so strong that none can survive when they oppose You. 7O our True God, You demonstrated that power when You exiled inhabitants of this land for Your people, Israel, and gave it to Your friend Abraham's children forever. Please demonstrate it again, now, as we are attacked. 8 We have lived here and built a sacred house honoring Your reputation. Now we will remind You of Solomon's words: 9 "If we encounter disaster or disease from wars, judgment, pestilence, or famine, then we will come to this house where You are and where your reputation is honored and beg for Your help. You will hear our cries and rescue us."
10 Now is the time to ask for Your help. Men from Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir (the region in Edom which You stopped Israel from destroying when they left Egypt) 11are rewarding our ancestors' mercy by coming to steal our inheritance, which is Your land and which You gave to us. 12 Our True God, won't You judge them? We can do nothing to stop this huge army from attacking us; we don't know what to do, so we are asking for Your help.
Andrew: Before we hear God's answer to King Jehoshaphat's collective cry for Judah, let's give Jehoshaphat's kingdom career some context to help us better research his interaction with God in 2 Chronicles 20.
Scripture compares King Jehoshaphat's leadership of Judah to David's exemplary spiritual reign of Israel less than a century earlier (2 Chron. 17:3–4). Instead of being persuaded by the people's repeated periods of pagan practices—often motivated by fickle emotions and an impatient need for instant gratification (sounds like my justification for my own unhealthy practices, also known as sin)—Jehoshaphat sought guidance from the Eternal, the True God. As a result of the authenticity of his Spirit-convicted leadership, he enjoyed good relations domestically and internationally, and Judah became a strong economic and military might in the Middle East (2 Chron. 17:5–19).
So Jehoshaphat's God-honoring response to the news of the attack against Judah is not surprising. But he is still human. And surrender is always a process. Scripture says, "Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to Inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah" (2 Chron. 20:3 NIV). Other translations describe him as having "feared" (NKJV) and being "terrified" (NLT). His first reaction is gut-driven. In the face of unpredictable danger; Jehoshaphat, a king, is visibly afraid.
When my brother and his wife first received Stephanie's devastating cancer diagnosis, they responded humanly: shock, fear, and sorrow. Before tackling the logistics of treatments, doctors, hospitals, insurance, and family, they grieved over the results with questions for the Eternal. Why us? Why now? What next?
In fear's segue to surrender, Jehoshaphat also questions God. And why shouldn't he? Judah is a God-focused nation ("We have ... built a sacred house honoring Your reputation" [v. 8]) whose forefathers extended mercy to the very people who are now planning to pillage Judah ("Men from Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir ... are rewarding our ancestors' mercy by coming to steal our inheritance, which is Your land and which You gave to us. Our True God, won't You judge them?" [vv. 10–12]). Jehoshaphat's doubts are human. His questions are fair. His search for clarity from God in an unexplainable scenario is simply honest.
Ginny: Jehoshaphat is alarmed by the threat of attack. And his questioning is justified. But despite their unknowable circumstances, many translations recount how he and his people "seek the Lord." "Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord.... And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD" (2 Chronicles 20:3–4 ESV).
The phrase "seek the Lord" is a familiar one in church circles. We find it often in Scripture, sing it in hymns, and even use it in conversations, particularly about discerning God's will. However, "seek" is not a word that we often use on its own. When I think how Jehoshaphat and Judah were quick to seek the Lord after receiving the terrifying news of impending attack, I stop to ponder what "seek" actually means.
My iPhone dictionary app defines seek as "to try to get or reach" or "to try to locate or discover" But if we cannot physically reach or locate God, what does it mean for us to seek Him?
After proclaiming a fast throughout Judah, Jehoshaphat stands in the temple courts before his subjects and prays. He doesn't begin this public supplication by laying before God the trouble at hand. Instead, he first acknowledges God's greatness. He prays, "O Lord, God of our ancestors, you alone are the God who is in heaven. You are ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth. You are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against you!" (2 Chron. 20:6 NLT).
In my own prayer life, I've been learning that seeking the Lord begins by acknowledging who He is. By recognizing Him as God before I get to my "please help" list, my anxiety quickly diminishes. My perspective changes from one in which I am in control and responsible for my own destiny to one where the Lord is in complete control of everything.
As Jehoshaphat asks God his questions and pleads for help, he also remembers the Eternal's history of faithfulness to the Jews for generations. "O our God, did you not drive out those who lived in this land when your people arrived? And did you not give this land forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham? Your people settled here and built this Temple to honor your name. They said, 'Whenever we are faced with any calamity such as war, plague, or famine, we can come to stand in your presence before this Temple where your name is honored. We can cry out to you to save us, and you will hear us and rescue us'" (2 Chron. 20:7–9 NLT).
I have to wonder if Jehoshaphat's recounting of God's faithfulness first gave him and his people courage—even if just enough courage to continue to cry out to Him for help. When I reflect on the evidence of God's history of faithfulness in my own life, it fuels the fire of my prayers.
Andrew: As Trey told me during our night drive, he and Stephanie were pressing in to God hard. Jehoshaphat's examination of God is fair. Trey and Stephanie's questions are fair. God's involvement before, during, and after our hardships is mysterious, and rarely do we get to connect the dots of the spiritual realm. All the more reason to suggest this: if we avoid our doubts, skip the questions, and numb the pain, we stunt surrender and miss discovering more of the Eternal, who exists and responds from an infinite (that is, immeasurably great; unbounded or unlimited) paradigm.
Andrew: Once Jehoshaphat allows himself to ask the tough questions, his limited understanding is confronted with God's eternal continuum and he asks for help. He also readies Judah and himself for God's response with a fast (v. 3). More than a last-ditch effort to summon help from on high, fasting was Judah's collective sign of surrender. By reserving for prayer the time usually spent eating and drinking, Judah was corporately saying, "You are God. We are not."
My brother and his wife practiced spiritual routines with their young family as a joint abandon to God's agenda. Their toddler girls' selfless prayers to God for "Mommy's" healing was an exercise in faith (complete confidence or trust in a person), not feel-good superstition. The girls' conscious trust in a power other than their own was led and echoed by Trey and Stephanie's preceding decision to "press in to God."
"'If we encounter disaster or disease ... You will hear our cries and rescue us.' Now is the time to ask for your help" (vv. 9–10). "For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You" (v. 12 NKJV). To learn what the Eternal has up His sleeve, I am convinced that we must confront Him with our doubts and questions, let go of control, and fast for His response. In short, we must surrender—perhaps the most difficult step in discovering what God wants.
WAIT: LISTEN AND POSITION
READ 2 CHRONICLES 20:13–21.
13 All Judah (men and women, children, and infants) were waiting in front of the Eternal's temple when Jehoshaphat asked this. 14 There, the Spirit of the Eternal descended on a Levitical singer, Jahaziel (son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite son of Asaph).
Jahaziel: 15 Listen to me, all Judah, citizens of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat. The Eternal has responded to your pleading: "Do not fear or worry about this army. The battle is not yours to fight; it is the True God's. 16 Tomorrow, they will travel through the ascent of Ziz. Meet them at the end of valley before the wilderness of Jeruel. There, I will be watching. 17 Stand and watch, but do not fight the battle. There, you will watch the Eternal save you, Judah and Jerusalem."
Do not fear or worry. Tomorrow, face the army and trust that the Eternal is with you.
18 Jehoshaphat bowed his head low, and all the assembly fell prostrate before the Eternal and worshiped Him with reverence. They trusted the Lord completely. 19 Meanwhile, the Levite families of the Kohathites and Korahites stood up to praise the Eternal One, True God of Israel, with very loud voices.
20 Early the next morning they went out to the wilderness of Tekoa. There Jehoshaphat's message to Judah was not about courage in battle.
Jehoshaphat: Listen to me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Trust in the Eternal One, your True God, not in your own abilities, and you will be supported. Put your trust in His words that you heard through the prophets, and we will succeed.
21 Having addressed his people, Jehoshaphat asked those who sang to the Eternal to lead the army and praise His magnificence and holiness.
Chorus(singing): Give thanks to the Eternal because His loyal love is forever!
Ginny: I met Ronell when she was twenty years old. A Trinidad native, she came to the United States just after her eighteenth birthday, not to conquer the world, but to receive treatment for bone and soft tissue cancer. As time passed, her condition worsened, the cancer was deemed terminal, and Ronell lost a leg and part of a lung. She did not lose her hope, however; or her fervor for life or faith in God.
When I met Ronell, she was in the process of recording an album of her original songs and compiling a book of her own essays and poetry. All her writings were Inspired by her life In Trinidad and her battle with cancer From our first meeting, I was amazed by how much she could get done in a day in spite of being confined to a wheelchair and on ridiculously high doses of medication.
Ronell's dream was to travel the world, share her music and writings, and tell anyone who would listen how she had been healed. Yet she was very aware that her next breath could be her last and that she would find herself in Jesus' arms before any of her earthly dreams had been realized. She would always tell me, "Either way, I win."
And she believed it. During the time I knew Ronell, I watched her suffer, fear; and grow frustrated with the cards she had been dealt. In addition to her big dreams, she wanted the simple things—to be able to run again, to get married and have children, to not be in pain. But her hope was never far away. She poured out her heart to God and to others in her songs and her poetry. Her spirit of surrender was not only encouraging but contagious. I heard countless stories of how Ronell's journey encouraged many to reach out to the God they had turned their backs on or never known.
During our first afternoon together, Ronell and I sat at a piano and In twenty minutes finished writing a song that had been trying to finish for ten years. The title was "Say Amen." The lyrics were a declaration of surrender to the Lord, no matter the outcome. I'm certain that we were able to finish so quickly because Ronell learned during her battle with cancer what true surrender looked like.
Andrew: I tend to make decisions out of a need to control, fostering an environment of dizzying anxiety. Though I didn't know Ronell, I'm sure her instinct was to try to be healed, to find a solution, to exercise every treatment her body could handle. But through her traumatic journey, she learned to give up control and open her mind to the reality of her situation—perhaps thereby opening her heart to the reality of God.
I have noticed when I decide to stop manipulating things I can't master, when I try to surrender, outside observers with common convictions always show up as an oasis of comfort in my desert of incomprehension. Perhaps similar to how Ginny showed up in Ronell's life. Or maybe even vice versa.
Jehoshaphat, rather than freeze in panic over a predicament he could not control, makes a conscious effort to surrender And once he surrenders, God speaks through Jahaziel, a Levitical singer (see "Music Matters" sidebar): "Do not fear or worry about this army. The battle is not yours to fight; it is the True God's" (v. 15). Jahaziel's reassuring tune features my two greatest obstacles to surrender: fear and worry.
Jehoshaphat has cause to worry. His kingdom has few if any options to fend off an insurmountable alliance of militants who have marked Judah as the prize. He is in hardcore need of a solution. But Jehoshaphat's prior decision to surrender readies his mind and heart to listen before acting. And Jahaziel's delivery confirms that God has Judah's back, providing the spiritual sustenance Jehoshaphat needs to confidently lead his people into a battle calculated for catastrophic defeat.
"The battle is not yours to fight" (v. 15) resounded through community deeds of encouragement for Ronell and my brother's family—meal deliveries, car rides for my nieces, songwriting sessions for Ronell, and vulnerable private conversations from those who had experienced cancer—tangibly reiterating their daily decision to press in to the Eternal, and their fight against a disease with unpredictable outcomes was reinforced.
Excerpted from Transcending Mysteries by Andrew Greer, Ginny Owens. Copyright © 2015 Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: Midnight of These Things, 1,
CHAPTER 2: Say Amen, 19,
CHAPTER 3: Rescue Me, 43,
CHAPTER 4: If You Want Me To, 61,
CHAPTER 5: Mine Eyes (Look to the Hills), 89,
CHAPTER 6: What You Believe, 107,
CHAPTER 7: Hymn for Leaving, 133,
CHAPTER 8: Without You, 157,
About the Authors, 187,