I stood at the edge of the mat at my first karate class, observing the flurry of action before me. There were about twelve people out on the mat, all performing the same movements of a kata (a choreographed series of blocks, strikes, and kicks), all at the same time, yet at different speeds and levels of ability. I wondered how on earth the teacher kept track of it all. I crossed my arms and leaned against the wall as I watched. In a couple of minutes, Sensei stopped what he was teaching for a moment to speak across the room. “Diana, one of the only things you can’t do in a traditional karate dojo is lean against the wall. It’s just to be respectful,” he said kindly. I pushed off the wall and made sure I didn’t lean against it again.
The theme of respect became more prominent as I learned about the dojo. The etiquette of the dojo is also built around showing respect to one another, with emphasis on showing respect to the teacher and others in authority. Before you do pretty much anything in class, you wait for instructions from Sensei, and when he tells you to do something, you “hustle” – meaning you don’t saunter over at your own pace. You get there as quickly as you can and do what he tells you to do. You don’t argue with Sensei or the black belts when they are teaching you. When you bow to another student, you keep eye contact, but when you bow to Sensei or to the front of the dojo, you look down at the floor. At the end of every class, you shake Sensei’s hand to thank him for teaching. Truly, as the student creed says, “…martial arts begins and ends with respect…”
God holds much more power and authority than a sensei in a dojo, and yet we often treat Him with much less respect than we would a human leader. I think that a large part of this is because we don’t know God well enough. The good news for us is, He tells us a great deal about Himself in His Word. Here are just a few verses that give us a key starting ground for understanding who God is:
He is the Sovereign ruler of the world.
“Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all.”
1 Chronicles 29:11
“He said, ‘LORD God of our ancestors, are You not the God who is in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can stand against You.”
2 Chronicles 20:6
“Today, recognize and keep in mind that the LORD is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.” Deuteronomy 4:39
He gives life to everything that exists.
“You alone are the LORD. You created the heavens, the highest heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them, and the heavenly host worships You.”
He is eternal.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8
“Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation. Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God. You return mankind to the dust, saying, “Return, descendants of Adam.” For in Your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that passes by, like a few hours of the night.” Psalm 90:1-4
He is all powerful.
“’Oh, Lord God! You Yourself made the heavens and earth by Your great power and with Your outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for You!'”
“‘Look, I am Yahweh, the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for Me?’”
Jeremiah 32:17 & 27
“Our Lord is great, vast in power; His understanding is infinite.”
He created the world and everything in it.
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
He is the source of all the knowledge and wisdom in the world.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”
“For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
He is truth, and He cannot lie.
“In the hope of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” Titus 1:2
He is love.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. ”
1 John 4:7-11
He is the source of everything good.
“Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning.”
He knows everything about us.
“Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up;
You understand my thoughts from far away.
You observe my travels and my rest;
You are aware of all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue,
You know all about it, Lord.
You have encircled me;
You have placed Your hand on me.”
It’s quite a list of information about who God is, isn’t it? And it has far-reaching implications for you and I. If God is who He says He is, He created the world and everything in it, and He keeps our hearts beating and lungs breathing. If God is who He says He is, He has every right to make the rules about how we should live. If God is who He says He is, then His Word is true, because He cannot lie and He is powerful enough to preserve an accurate record for us. If His Word is true, then there actually is a heaven and hell, Jesus actually died for our sins and rose from the dead, and we actually have to make a choice to accept or reject His free offer of salvation.
(If you’re still not sure why you should take the Bible’s word for truth about God, I suggest you read this article, and for a deeper discussion on the topic, I recommend the book The Ultimate Proof of Creation by Dr. Jason Lisle. Despite the name of the title, the book’s focus is not as much on presenting specific proofs of creation vs. evolution as on how to evaluate worldviews to see if they are logically sound and therefore worthy of belief.)
When you are in the dojo, you can choose to believe what Sensei instructs you about martial arts or not. If you don’t, you will be continually challenging and second-guessing him, and you won’t get very far in your training. In the same way, if you are constantly doubting the truth that God puts forth in His Word, you won’t get very far in your relationship with Him. Like Sensei says, “If we don’t have respect for each other, we don’t have anything.”
It takes humility and trust to admit that no, we don’t get to make the rules, and yes, that is actually a good thing. Only a perfect God who knows everything from eternity past to eternity future is wise enough to know what rules to set in place to govern the earth for our best interest. It’s really simple, yet, especially in today’s culture, we are easily offended by the idea that someone else has the right to tell us how we should live. We like to pick and choose what we decide to believe about God based on how it fits into our lifestyle. Yet in reality, that is as absurd as a white belt trying to tell a sensei how to teach class.
This struggle to submit to God’s authority is not new to mankind – in fact, it’s the very trait that led Adam and Eve into sin. We all know how that worked out, so it’s wise to constantly remind ourselves that God is in charge, not us. Obedience is not innate to human nature, but after we accept Jesus as our Savior, He gives us the Holy Spirit within our hearts to help us want to obey Him.
Just like I didn’t know it was disrespectful to lean against the wall until I was told otherwise, we don’t know how or why to show respect to God until we study the Bible for ourselves. The more we look at God and who He says He is, not who we think He should be, the easier it is to give Him the respect, worship, and love that is appropriate. This is something I am working on in my own life, because it is too easy to live like I’m in charge. But that mindset makes God small to me, and I want to experience the abundant life that living in obedience to a gigantic, all-powerful God who can do more than I can imagine brings. So, this week, let’s choose two of those verses written above, write them down where we can see them every day for the next week, and let the freeing, comforting truth of who God really is seep into our hearts.
As we come to understand how much of a right God has to rule the world as He sees fit, the more we understand the depth of His love and mercy towards us. This is what we’ll talk about next week in Part 4: Badge of Honor.