Monday, July 28, 2014

Changes in the Dark

I'm like most people.  Every now and then I like to change around the furniture, try a new decorating idea, or try a new recipe.  But, when it comes to big things, like houses and jobs, change can be frightening.  It can be especially daunting when we know change is around the corner, but we can't see the details, like the where and the when of it all.  That is kind of where I'm finding myself right now.  I feel like we are walking in the wilderness sometimes, or out in the back yard at midnight without a flashlight.

As a team, my husband and I feel called to ministry; him to preach, teach, and disciple a flock; and myself to mentor women in the faith, while sharing our daily lives with believers and nonbelievers alike.  In our first years of marriage, he completed his Masters of Divinity at Southeastern Seminary. His plan was to find an avenue for college ministry.  However, that wasn't God's plan, so he began working in the computer world, working his way up the corporate ladder, continuing to teach whenever the opportunities would arise in the church.  It wasn't until a few years ago, that he felt the pull to figure out what God wanted him to do with his life in terms of ministry.  At a Together for the Gospel Conference, it became clear to him that God had called him to ministry, but to teaching and preaching within a church body.  I was not surprised because I'd felt for many years his education, vision, and gifting were best suited to ministry within the local church.  We set a timeline for pulling back from secular work, as we were getting our finances in order, and to pursue ministry opportunities.

We are now at that point in our timeline.  In addition to pursuing the where of ministry, he returned last fall to Southeastern for an additional degree, a Masters in Theology (Th.M.).  Until he comes close to finishing this degree, we will need to remain in the general area.  We know we can't make up for lost time, all those years before he had this direction in ministry, but we are both in our forties and ready to feel settled.  Hmm, feeling settled, that is a human desire.  So, we are waiting, and waiting.  We were so excited for the first door, until it was only open a crack, and then it closed.  Then there was the second door, which we soon realized had to be why God had to close the first door.   Wrong.  Door number two closed as well.  One dear friend said to me, "Wonder what He (God) is up to!"  That brings us to door number three, a transition and somewhat temporary door.  Is that what God wants for us while we wait?  There it is again, so much change, and it is within the unknown.

I was thinking how I'm a terribly skeptical person about all the latest nutritional and medicinal advice out there in the news and most prevalent in social media.  You see, the reason I'm so skeptical is that these rules are always changing.  Studies will prove that x, y, and z are the best foods for you and next year new studies will tell you those same foods might kill you.  Similarly, science and technology are ever changing as well.  The only print we have that we can truly rely for direction is God's Word.  His Word will never change nor its meaning ever change.

I've been spending a lot of time working algebraic equations with one of my sons.  (An aside from this post, is that it is nice bonding time!).  We were working the other day on graphing inconsistencies, indeterminate, and determinate equations.  I won't try to explain all three of these linear equations in depth.  However, with an indeterminate system, two equations can be satisfied by an unlimited number of pairs.  The equations are consistent because the points lie along the same line.  An inconsistent system yields two lines that do not intersect in any way.  While a determinate system has one pair of number values in common, in which the two lines intersect.   I was thinking God's ways are like the consistent system.  They never veer from that line.  The line is ongoing on both ends, meaning it is far reaching for us, but it never goes off track.  We can be filled with hope when we plot our points on His system, we know we can stay the course.  We might not know where we are headed, but our consistent and constant God knows the next set of points.  Yes, there is change but with God as the flashlight there is order.

To sum it up, we might have to walk into Door A all the way to Door Z, but we will be faithful to what He has called us to do, and He will be faithful to accomplish His purposes.  Philippians 1:6 says, "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  That is good news for us, when we aren't so sure about the details, when we find ourselves waiting and unable to see.  I remind myself often that the difficulties and unknowns of this life are no surprise to our unchanging God.  He tells us in James 1:17, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."  We might feel like we are walking around in the dark, but did you catch that ---- We have a Father of LIGHTS!  Furthermore, He is constant, no variation whatsoever to who He is.  His guidance is unchanging, as are His promises, and very nature.

There are others whom I love that are walking, step by step, without a clear picture of what is ahead. Take comfort today in the fact that God who guides, sees the whole picture, and doesn't need glasses or a flashlight to do so.  We can trust Him, because He is the Father of lights, whom we can trust with our every need.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I sincerely hope our study of God’s attributes is helping you in your spiritual growth. It is important for us as women to have an accurate picture of who God is. If your picture of God is faulty, then whom are you serving, the true God or a God of your imagination? We won’t ever figure all there is to know about God this side of heaven, but He does expect us to be diligent students of the Scriptures. We have to know who he is to adequately and appropriately respond to Him and his Word. And with so many glorious attributes, our God is far more intricate than even the most detailed Faberge egg.

Tonight we will cover the two attributes of justice and goodness. Most people like to ponder God’s goodness, while leaving God’s justice for a later date. In fact, some think the two are contradictory attributes rather than complementary. Alistair Begg argues they are complementary in that justice demands love, while love demands justice. Furthermore, he explains that love makes the cross possible, but hatred of sin makes the cross necessary. Similarly, R.C. Sproul argues that God’s justice is what is at the heart of the cross. He says, “Thinking of the cross and of Christ’s atonement, we assume that the thing that most strenuously motivated God to send Christ into the world was His love or His mercy. As a result, we tend to overlook the characteristic of God’s nature that makes the atonement absolutely necessary- His justice.” God’s justice is part of his very nature. It involves his righteousness and character which form the basis for what he does. God’s character is eternally the same and He cannot go against it. A.W. Tozer compares God and His justice to gold when he says, “As gold is an element in itself and can never change nor compromise but is gold wherever it is found, so God is God, always, only, fully God, and can never be other than He is.” Furthermore, he says, “Everything in the universe is good to the degree it conforms to the nature of God and evil as it fails to do so.” However, although justice requires a payment for sinners, God’s goodness and love provide a way through His Son. 

 Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” The Hebrew and Greek words for “justice” are the same as “righteousness” and “righteous.” The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines justice as the practice of giving to others what is their due. It lists equity, fair-shake, and right as synonyms for justice. God’s justice though involves a rightness and equity according to God’s holiness. What is due others is not at the heart of God’s justice, but rather what is due Himself. We as sinners, are alienated from God. We owe him righteousness instead of sinful actions, attitudes, and hearts. Romans 3:10 says, “None is righteous, no not one.” Also, Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the kingdom of God.” So, as you can see we were utterly without hope. Our sin separated us from God because he is just. We broke the rules. R.C. says, “Though God pardons sinners and makes great provision for expressing His mercy, He will never negotiate His justice. If we fail to understand that, the cross of Christ will be utterly meaningless to us.” There had to be a remedy acceptable to our just God so that we could be reunited with him. Spurgeon explains how God in his justice could pardon us once Christ made the sacrifice of taking upon the sins of the world. He says, “The same Justice that just now stood with a fiery sword in his hand, like the cherubim of old keeping the way of the tree of life, now goes hand in hand with the sinner. ‘Sinner,’ he says, ‘I will go with thee. When thou goest to plead for pardon I will go and plead for thee. Once I spoke against thee: but now I am so satisfied with what Christ has done, that I will go with thee and plead for thee.’” The debt has been satisfied, in other words, paid in full. The sins were never excused, but because of Christ’s death on the cross, taking upon our sin, we have been imputed His righteousness. For there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)

R.C. Sproul, in his book, The Truth of the Cross, gives three illustrations of how the Bible characterizes sin. He says that even the smallest sin violates God’s holiness, glory, and righteousness. Every sin is “an act of treason against the cosmic King,” according to R.C. First of all, sin is classified as a debt, man is the debtor, God is the creditor, and Christ is the surety. See Matt. 6:12, Matt. 18:21-35, Heb. 7:22. Secondly, sin is seen as enmity, we are the enemies, God is the violated one, while Christ is the Mediator. See 2 Cor. 5:19a and John 3:16a. Thirdly, sin is seen as a crime, we are the criminals, God is the Judge, and Christ is the Substitute. The fact that the Creditor, Violated One, and Judge will accept payment, retribution, and substitution is sheer wonderful grace.

We know that God is all-knowing. Therefore, as Ryken says, God does not judge in ignorance. He knows all evil, and every sin we commit before we even admit our wrong to ourselves. The good news that if we are in Christ, He has satisfied the wrath of God for our sins- past, present, and future. Sometimes, we feel so bad about our sin and have difficulty forgiving ourselves. {Romans 8:31-34}The cross has paid it all, so we should confess it and go forth and sin no more. Spurgeon says, “He has punished Christ, why should he punish twice for one offence? Christ has died for all his people's sins, and if thou art in the covenant, thou art one of Christ's people. Damned thou canst not be. Suffer for thy sins thou canst not. Until God can be unjust, and demand two payments for one debt, he cannot destroy the soul for whom Jesus died.” Jesus has paid it all, and God has accepted that payment, paid on Calvary. The question was posed of Bob Kauflin, worship leader and song writer for Sovereign Grace Ministries, “Should we sing songs about God’s justice?” A lot of the Old Testament speaks of God’s justice where the Israelite’s enemies are trampled for their evil. Kauflin writes in the affirmative, “The point of all this isn’t that we should always be focusing on God’s judgments, nor to sing about them in a cold-hearted way that minimizes the tragic consequences of sin. The point is to magnify the greatness of God’s holiness, justice, righteousness, sovereignty, power, mercy, kindness, and grace in his judging evil, and especially in the judging of the Savior in our place at Calvary. His undeserved kindness has enabled us to be forgiven, to be adopted as precious children, and to anticipate unending joy at God’s right hand in the new heavens and the new earth.”

The session on God’s justice and goodness have fallen at just the right time in our study, as we just celebrated the risen Savior on Sunday. The resurrection gives us much to ponder in considering both God’s justice and God’s goodness. To close out this time before we go to our discussion questions, I’ll leave us with words from a new hymn written by Eric Schumacher and David Ward.

The Lord is righteous in all things; His works and ways are perfect. 

Enthroned as Judge of earth and heav'n and just in every verdict. 

The Lord has fixed a day 

When men He will repay: 

The wicked He will smite, 

And wrongs will be made right; 

None can evade His justice. 

The Lord has shown Himself as both the Just and Justifier: 

The Christ has died to satisfy what Justice did require. 

The guiltless One was slain 

For guilty sinners' gain— 

Through faith His work is theirs, 

The righteous Judge declares; 

And none can stand against them. 

The Lord will vindicate His saints when He comes in His Kingdom 

And they, dressed in His righteousness, will share in His dominion. 

This promise makes us meek— 

No vengeance do we seek; 

Since Jesus we possess, 

We flee self-righteousness 

And rest in His perfection.

By Eric Schumacher & David L. Ward

© 2010

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

God's Holiness

        In the days of billboard messages signed from God, warm-fuzzy books about God flooding Christian and secular bookstores, proponents of “cheap grace theology,” and a host of other problems in the evangelical community, it isn’t really a wonder that Americans are confused about their faith.  The Barna Research Group conducted a survey in 2006 regarding the concept of holiness.  Only 35% of Americans believe God expects the individual to be holy.  Of those professing to be Christians, 46% believe God has such an expectation.  Although a higher percentage, even among Christians, such a belief sadly falls in the minority.  How can this be for believers?  God doesn’t just expect us to be holy.  He demands it in his holy word, “Be holy, because I am holy”  (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Holiness is one of God’s attributes.  It does refer to that fact that God is morally perfect.  He does not sin.  However, there is more to this attribute.  Holiness is the very essence of who God is, his nature.  A. W. Tozer says, “Holy is the way God is.  To be holy He does not conform to a standard.  He is that standard.”   As he is holy, so are all his attributes.  A. W. Pink helps us think what it would be like if God’s attributes were not holy, “What is wisdom and knowledge without holiness, but craft and cunning?  What is power without holiness, but tyranny, oppression, and cruelty?  The Lord our God is glorious in holiness.  Holiness is the glory of his Being and the beauty of his nature.”
To truly understand God’s holiness is to be brought to the cross.  It is there that the God of glory allows his one and only son to pay the penalty for sin.  Perhaps if holiness were missing from the attributes of God, the God of love could have erased, excused, or dealt with the sin of mankind in some other way.  But because he is holy, there would never be true communion with him if sin was left unpunished.  God hates sin so strongly that he sent Jesus.  Jerry Bridges in The Pursuit of Holiness, says that God’s holiness is the freedom from all evil.  He uses the illustration of a garment being clean when it is free of any spot.  Likewise, he says gold is pure when all the dross has been refined from it.  From these illustrations, Bridges goes on to say we can think of God’s holiness as the “absolute absence of any evil in Him.”  1 John 1:5 says, “God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all.”            
It seems to me there is an interesting contrast here.  Just as God cannot tolerate darkness, we cannot see his brightness.  Remember Moses asking to see God’s face, and God mercifully allowed him to see him from the back from the cleft of the rock.  Just the brightness that reflected from that encounter onto Moses was almost too much for the Israelites to bear.  One day, we will see Him as he is, face to face (1 Cor 13:12) , but until that day no one can see God’s face and live.
Isaiah 6 is an excellent place to look to get a grasp on holiness.  Isaiah was a great prophet of God. He served God during the the time of Uzziah’s death.  Uzziah, king of Israel, ruled fifty-two years.  The background on King Uzziah can be found in 2 Chronicles, Chapter 26.  He was known as a fantastic leader and strategist in battle, second only to King David in terms of military significance.  God blessed him while he was in obedience to him.  However, with Uzziah’s rising power, came a pride and disregard for God’s laws. Thinking he could change the rules, he went against God and eighty priests in the temple to burn incense, resulting in his downfall with leprosy for the remainder of his days.  
R.C. Sproul points out that the reference to King Uzziah’s death in Isaiah 6:1  accounting Isaiah’s vision is important because, “But Israel’s throne was not vacant.  The Lord was seated there.”  What Uzziah did was an unholy act against a most holy God.  In a sense it was an attack particularly on the holiness of God.  Isaiah the prophet, has a most remarkable encounter with God through a vision.  It is through the antithesis of Isaiah’s sin nature that we are shown the holiness of God.  Isaiah sees the majestic, glorious, splendor of God through the vision.  He is struck with fear and awe at the “train of his robe filling the temple.”  Even the seraphim, created for God’s glory, must cover their eyes and feet.  In the blink of an eye, Isaiah is brought low by the great contrast of the great God on high.  He is struck down by the revelation of who God really is.  Because in seeing who God really is, Isaiah also sees himself for who he really is-- a sinful prophet with sinful lips.  Isn’t it ironic that a prophet would realize his greatest sin problem was with the same mouth that he was using in service to God?  R.C. Sproul expounds on this revelation,

“He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed—morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.”

He is broken because he has truly seen the standard and realized that he doesn’t even begin to come close to measuring up to this Holy God.  It causes him heart wrenching grief in that instant.  When he says, “Woe is me” in verse five, he is pronouncing a curse upon himself this time for sin, not others as before when serving God.  But God doesn’t leave him there to wallow in despair.  In his infinite mercy, he provides relief in a burning coal to synge his lips to cleanness, to rid him of guilt, and atone for his sins (verse 6).  It is in this newness, freedom from guilt, that Isaiah responds to God, “Here am I!  Send me (verse 8).
What should it mean personally to each of us when we read this passage of Scripture?  For starters, it should evoke a fear and reverence of God’s holiness.  The combination is sadly lacking in many Christian circles.  When we fear and revere God, we take his Word seriously.  His commands are not to be taken lightly.  Jerry Bridges makes the comment in his book on holiness that although there is truth in the old saying, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner,” we lean a whole lot more in our thinking to “but God loves the sinner.”  God absolutely abhors sin.  He cannot and will not excuse it.  To do so would be contrary to his character.  Remember, holiness is his standard.
As you grow, you should have an increase in praise and adoration of God’s holiness, while you have a decrease in your tolerance for sin.  Praise him as the seraphim, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory (verse 3).”  The mention of holy three times gives greater emphasis.  No other time is an attribute given in triplicate as the attribute holy.   Moses also praised God for his holiness in Exodus 15:11, “Who is like thee among the gods, O Lord?  Who is like thee, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?”  We should recognize his holiness and glorify him for it through praise.
Besides praising, we can meditate on God’s holiness.  The more your eyes are opened to his holiness, the more you will despise sin.  It is not really natural to hate sin.  As human beings and pleasure seekers, we instead are attracted to it.  The Bible confirms it in Romans 3:10-12, “No one seeks for God, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  It is only through God’s opening our eyes that we are able to see his holiness and in turn want to run from sin.  Pray that it would be so for you.  Ask for him to show you unholy attitudes and behaviors and flee from them.
What does it all come down to?  He requires holiness of the believer.  In reference to Isaiah 6:4, R.C. Sproul says, “If God’s holiness doesn’t turn you on, you don’t have any switches.  Even the dumb structures of wood and stone have the good sense to shake in God’s presence.”  If you view holiness grudgingly as a list of do’s and don’ts and boring, pious living, then perhaps you do not understand it.  Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  The command for holiness is given several times in Leviticus as well, such as Leviticus 11:45, “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God.  You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”  Can we become holy on our own?  Absolutely not.  Only God can make us holy.  A.W. Pink says, “If you would enter heaven’s glory and live forever with God, you must be as good as God.  You must be perfectly holy!  That means that salvation by the will of man, the works of man, or even the worship of man is an utter impossibility, because you cannot make yourself holy!”  So then, what are we to do?  We are to recognize him for his holiness, praise him for his holiness, and to walk in a path towards holiness.  In walking in a path towards holiness, we grow spiritually as we meditate and pray, learning to cling to what is true, hating that which is evil, longing for Christ’s return.  The key in pursuing holiness is found in these things and probably most importantly found in being subject to God, living a life of obedience to him.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Our All-Knowing, All-Powerful God

Charles Spurgeon once told the story of two children in their nursery.  Their mother came in with a plate laden with cupcakes.  Upon the mother's departure from the room, the little boy insisted to his sister they should take one, because after all there were so many and mother hadn't counted them.  Little sister disagreed to which her brother said mother wouldn't know.  However, little sister reminded him that God most certainly would know there were missing cupcakes.  They had been taught well about the God who sees.  Spurgeon reminds us that yes, God can see and in the case of cupcakes can count!  He was preaching on the omniscience of God.
Omniscience is from the Latin word omni meaning "all" and scientia meaning "knowledge."  It is a fancy word meaning God is all knowing and that knowledge is perfect knowledge.  He knows everything past, present, and future.  A.W. Tozer says, "Because God knows all things perfectly, he knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well."  Furthermore, nothing is ever new news to God.  You can never take God by surprise or amaze him, while he can certainly surprise us.

Job 34:21 says, "For his eyes are on the ways of man, and he sees all his steps."  God in his perfect knowledge knows every scenario, every path we could take, should take, and the one that we will take.  Essentially, our great God knows how every game, relationship, crisis, and any life scenario will play out.  There is not one tear shed on this earth that he doesn't know about.
Two major problems stem from inadequate study of this attribute.  First of all, sometimes Christians go through life as if God doesn't have all perfect knowledge.  Is he the last one to be consulted when the trials of life become too much?  Do we go about our days with little thought of God until there is a great big tree barring our way across the road?  Do we really believe he has the answers to everything?  Most certainly, he does.  He knows the answers before we even have the questions.  The God who knows the exact numbers of hairs on your head and the vast number of stars in the sky, is all-knowing beyond our comprehension.
The second problem arises from our own lack of knowledge of this concept of omniscience.  It is compounded by the unbeliever's lack of understanding of who God is as well.  The problem is one of judging God, so to speak.  It is often presented in a question regarding why God allows terrible things to happen to people.  People don't understand how if God is all-knowing why He doesn't stop those things from happening.  We have to understand that "all-knowing" sits in context of his power and his sovereignty.    Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  We cannot even begin to fathom the perfect mind of God.  Also, 1 Corinthians 2:11 says, "... no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."  How quickly we forget that God sees the whole picture.  Remember, there are no surprises for him.  One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."  In light of this, we must not forget that everything God does about what he sees is for his glory.  That doesn't mean we won't ever face painful times on this earth.  Romans 8:18 says, "For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us."  This isn't heaven yet.  We are in a fallen world where poverty, disease, and evil exist.  One day his glory will be revealed beyond our comprehension and he will make all things new as recorded in Revelation 21:5.  Until then we must trust him in how he chooses to orchestrate matters this side of heaven.  At all times, he sees and has perfect knowledge about each and every situation.  When we are certain we've done all we can do that would be pleasing to Him, we must let go and let God.
Just as God is all-knowing, omniscient; He is also omnipotent, omni meaning "all" and potens meaning "powerful."  The word is derived from Latin and means exactly the same thing as the term "Almighty."  Does God use his power to please us?  No.  He uses his power to work out his perfect will and to bring himself glory.  If you ask the average Christian if he or she believes in God's power, the answer would be of course a "yes."  But how often do we fully take in that not only is God powerful, but rather all-powerful.  Ryken explains that Mary and Martha did not fully comprehend God's power when Jesus came to the tomb of their brother, Lazarus.  He states "They had seen enough miracles to know something of his power, but they did not yet believe that he possesses all power.  They believed in his potency, but not his omnipotency."
In the Bible there are so many accounts of people who seemed to forget that God is all-knowing and all-powerful.  Consider Sarah in her scheme to have descendants.  She certainly took matters into her own hands when she gave her servant Hagar to Abraham.  Ironically, it is Sarah's servant, Hagar who in the wilderness realizes God can be trusted as the "God who sees."  We must never give up on God.  He is all-knowing and does not forget for a second your plight.  You may think he isn't at work
because you don't see the results you think are right and just.  However, have you ever thought about what goes on behind the scenes that you aren't even aware?  God is at work all the time in our lives.  He sees and uses his power as he sees fit.  Pray believing that there is nothing impossible for him.  That doesn't mean he will do ask you ask.  He may have something else in mind that fits within his perfect will and will bring more glory to him than you could imagine.
I'll close with the words from the hymn, "O God, Thou Bottomless Abyss" by John Wesley.
"High is thy power above all height,
Whate'er Thy will decrees is done;
Thy wisdom equal, to Thy might;
Only to Thee, O God, is known."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Our Faithful Unchanging God

L.A.C.E. Bible Study
RE:  Chapters 5-6 of Discovering God by Philip Ryken

At first glance, the attribute that God does not change, also termed “immutability” seemed fairly straightforward to me.  However, when I got further in my study of it, I realized the immutability of God is a rather huge concept.  It is vastly important, and should not be overlooked.   A. W. Pink says of immutability, “This is one of the divine perfections which is not sufficiently pondered.  It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures.”  A careful study of this attribute is important for the believer.  J.I. Packer writes, “The first and fundamental difference between the Creator and His creatures is that they are mutable and their nature admits of change, whereas God is immutable and can never cease to be what He is.
Just as we studied His eternality and its relationship to the other attributes, immutability is similarly connected.  We talked previously that if God was not eternal, then at some point His goodness, His promises, His glory, and so on would have an end.  Likewise, we can add to that that if God is eternal and is also immutable, then He is not just in existence forever but forever unchanging in His being as well.  Remember that eternality means God had no beginning either.  He is self-existent; proclaimed by God to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I AM, WHO I AM.”   Dr. S. Lewis Johnson says, “That which has no evolution and no succession is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Tozer explains that anyone who can change in the least little bit is not self-existent, self-sufficient, or eternal.  God does not change and is all of those things.  He further states that only those made up of parts may change, thus God being self-existent is not composed.  “There are in Him no parts to be altered.  And since He is self-sufficient, nothing can enter His being from without.”  Dr. Johnson illustrated God’s immutability with an object lesson used by the ancients.  If you look at a cube, no matter what way you place it, measure it, test it, it will be equal in all dimensions.  It is always in the same posture, thus illustrates God’s immutability.  

Another example to explain or describe the immutability of God that has been used by many theologians, also used in the Bible, is comparing God to a “rock.”  Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “The Rock, his way is perfect, for all his ways are justice.  A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.”  A. W. Pink says, “Therefore God is compared to a rock which remains immovable, when the entire ocean surrounding it is continually in a fluctuating state.”  We are like the ocean, constantly changing, and as Tozer explains, “Neither the man is fixed nor his world, and he and it are in constant flux” but not so with God.  In thinking about this illustration, I decided to look at the various scriptures in which the term “rock” is used in the Bible, besides the Deuteronomy 32:4 verse.  Interestingly, the term is used at least 115 times in Scripture (OT & NT combined total).  

Most of the time, “rock” falls into one of three categories:  referring to God Himself, a way of shelter or covering for His people, or the provision of water when God provided water it from a rock for the Israelites in the desert.    A look at these Scriptures brought two words to mind that go with all three categories- stability and constancy.  Most people we think of that are pillars of stability are constant in their character.  However, even the best of these dear souls are no match for God, whose stability of character is unchanging.    Our Lord God is our rock in the sense of being a fortress or stronghold. In medieval times, fortresses, many of which were castles and some even churches, provided protection from the enemy, a safe place equipped for an entire village for stability in times of turmoil, and a sense of permanency for the village as well.  A good king took care of his people in this way, outfitting his fortress or fortresses with the best equipment, provisions, and the strongest of building materials possible for the time.  

Biertan Fortified Church in Central Romania, first documented to be in existence in the 1200’s, and fortified in the 1500’s, boasts three tiers of 35 foot walls and a remarkable door with fifteen locks that could be opened all at once with the turn of one key.  Still standing today, it is on the list of UNESCO preserved historic sites.  Obviously, man-made things do change as they do eventually decay. However, just imagining the intricacies of these fortresses has made me marvel at how much greater and perfect our true fortress is, and how much greater and unchanging love and devotion our King of Kings has for his kingdom.  Scripture says in Psalm 18:12, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”  Consider the character of our King, the fortress and giver of good gifts in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  Spurgeon writes, “Perfect stability belongs alone to God; he alone, of all beings, is without variableness or shadow of a turning.  He is immutable; he will not change.  He is all-wise; he need not change.  He is perfect; he cannot change.”
Reading the teachings of J.I. Packer, A.W. Tozer, A.W. Pink, Charles Spurgeon, and Philip Ryken, I have found several points in which they commonly agree.  All would agree with Tozer when he says, “God cannot change for the better.  Since He is perfectly holy, He has never been less holy than He is now and has always been.  Neither can God change for the worse.  Any deterioration within the unspeakably holy nature of God is impossible.”  J.I. Packer, in Knowing God, in his chapter, “God Unchanging” outlines six aspects of the attribute of God’s immutability:  1)  God’s life does not change, 2)  God’s character does not change, 3)  God’s truth does not change, 4)  God’s ways do not change, 5)  God’s purposes do not change, and 6)  God’s SON does not change.  A.W. Pink in his book on the attributes outlines basically the same although termed slightly different:  1)  God is immutable in His essence citing Malachi 3:6, “I am the Lord, I change not” and Exodus 3:14, “I AM THAT I AM.”  2)  God is immutable in His attributes, 3)  God is immutable in His counsel in that His will never varies, and 4) God is immutable in His purposes.  There are many Scriptures used by these godly men to prove these important points.  I wish we had the time in this session to go through them all.  For more study and a better understanding of this complex attribute I highly recommend you read the seventh chapter of A.W. Pink’s, The Attributes of God, “The Immutability of God” available as a PDF online and the seventh chapter, “God Unchanging,” from the book Knowing God, by J.I. Packer.
What peace the Christian can have from studying God’s immutability.  God’s promises, commandments, steadfast love will not be altered, nor revoked.  A.W. Tozer, in The Knowledge of the Holy, says it best:  “Today, this moment, He feels toward His creatures, toward babies, toward the sick, the fallen, the sinful, exactly as He did when He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to die for mankind.”  How wonderful we have such a constant Savior whose plans and purposes for the world will never change. No matter what situations we may face we have a dependable righteous God that is always in control.  Praise be to God.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Let Him In (A Christmas Devotion)


It is the beginning of the Christmas season.  Have you thought about how you will spend Christmas?  

Two thousand years ago a Savior was born in a lowly manger.  Who was there?  Well, Scripture tells us the angels announced his birth to shepherds. The shepherds were filled with wonder as they made their way to Bethlehem to see the infant king.  Luke 2:17 indicates the shepherds told others what the angels revealed to them.  Interestingly, verse 18 says “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”  What I wonder is who were the “all who heard it.”  Perhaps the innkeeper, whether of a public inn or the host of a large family establishment, was among those who heard the shepherds glorifying and praising God for all they had seen.  Did he regret he’d made no room for Jesus?  Did he believe the news he’d heard?  
What about the townspeople of Bethlehem?  Surely, the shepherds’ news traveled quickly.  Were they too busy to hear it?  Perhaps, they were asleep as the group, Casting Crowns, sings:

“Oh Bethlehem, what have you missed while you were sleeping.  For God became a man and stepped into your world today.  Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history as a city with no room for its King, while you were sleeping, while you were sleeping.”  

If there were a few townspeople awake, did they acknowledge this baby as the King and consequently, did they allow Him to make a difference in their lives?  Did they take the key and let Him in?  

My dear sisters in Christ, Jesus’ birth is most worthy of celebration.  We do many things in the name of Christmas, some by obligation, others by tradition, and even some because we as a culture are materialistic.  May I suggest that we all reflect on the things that keep us so busy during the Christmas season.  Ask yourself this question in evaluating these activities and traditions- Does this allow my family and I to turn the key to let Him in?  Some things simply do not.  They serve to busy us into forgetting whose celebration this is anyway.  Every year, more and more of Jesus is stamped out of Christmas traditions in this decaying world we live in.  This is all the more reason we need to re-think how we celebrate Christmas.  We need to be light like Jesus in the midst of darkness.  Consider John 8:12, “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying ‘I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”  We need to be awake-- not asleep to turn the key and let Jesus in to our abodes.  

There are traditions that many in secular society as well as Christian circles celebrate that my family does not.  Some things are neutral while other things in my personal opinion take away from Christ.  Now, it is my firm belief that we as Christians should give grace to each other by of course allowing different opinions and practices occur in these somewhat grey areas.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Thus, we likewise should extend grace.  Therefore, I don’t want to address specific traditions.  However, I would like to point out one particular thing to ponder about Santa Claus.  Noel Piper, in her book, Treasuring Christ in our Traditions, makes a comparison of some of the attributes of Santa.  Have you ever thought about the fact that children are taught that Santa is all-knowing, giver of good gifts, and can pretty much be omnipresent  (he’d have to if he can deliver presents to all the children everywhere in the world in a single night)!  Jesus is all these things.  Noel goes on to say though that children don’t understand where Santa and Jesus are different.  She says, the major difference is that Jesus loved us even while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8), not like Santa because we’d been good.  Just think about that for a second.  It is really profound.  So, my friends, I am not going to say you should or shouldn’t include Santa in your traditions, but I would caution you to be extra careful in how you handle him in your traditions, being certain that your children and grandchildren are hearing a whole lot more of Jesus’ birth as central to this holy day.  

Our children and grandchildren need to observe an attitude of eager anticipation from us as we celebrate our Savior’s birth.  It is a most wonderful time to reflect on what God has done and what he has promised for the future.  I love the passages of Scripture in Luke that tell about the devout and most elderly man, Simeon, as well as the prophetess Anna.  When I read Luke 2:25-38, I get such a sense of grateful expectation from these beloved people of God.  They’d waited years for the Messiah’s birth and their reward was to cast their eyes on the Savior.  Simeon says in verse 34-35, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  That is what Christmas is all about, a remarkable birth for a very specific reason, to die and rise again, to save us from our sin that we might be reconciled to God. May we be like Simeon and Anna, eagerly waiting for Christ because we are promised He will return.

Three Christmas seasons ago, I was approaching Christmas in the midst of depression.  For my family, mental illness is somewhat rampant, so it is no big surprise that it manifests itself as depression from time to time for me. Anyway, it was a difficult time for me.  I was blue and my special needs child was having new symptoms of which we were greatly concerned.  All kinds of tests were being run.  Our adopted daughter was especially needy due too many years of institutional living, and there of course were two other children needing our love and care.  I was overwhelmed to put it mildly.  It was a time of crying out to God to be my ever present help in trouble.  I needed tangible ways to remind me of His closeness that Christmas.  I believe He spoke to my need and my heart that Christmas.  An idea was planted probably years before, and this particular Christmas I pulled out that idea and put it to use.  That year I asked my children what they thought of making our main tree a Jesus only tree.  They surprised me by an enthusiastic “YES” in unison.  So, with the oldest three in tow we went shopping--- I thought it would be easy, but oh was it hard.  You see, ornaments reflecting Jesus, are almost rare.  Maybe that is the way it should be as He is a “treasure” for sure.  We got out old Christmas cards, cut them up and made our own.  We bought a couple dozen glass balls and wrote the names of Jesus on them.  I explained to a friend when out shopping for ornaments that “We just need more JESUS this year.”  But, friends don’t we all.  

I tell you my story not to convince you to do the same.  Instead, I tell it to you because this is just one way we’ve found to help us have a Christ-centered focus for such a holy day and season.  Find ways, whether it is in the decorating, serving, family discussions, reading, activities, maybe even in simplifying traditions/activities that will reflect His love, the light we have in Christ, and most importantly the hope and the glory of His return.   The time passes quickly in our fast-paced society.  We must be intentional.  I encourage you to not let Christmas pass without time for Christ-centered reflection. 
Take home your silver key as a reminder to “Let Him In” this year.  May we not be like the innkeeper with no room for Jesus.  May we all yearn for still more of JESUS this Christmas and all the year through.  My oldest writes beautiful poetry.  I’ll close with his poem the “Key,”

It was a very long night
When this world got the light
And the sky did shine
When two weary people came to the door
Joseph’s eyes were tired
And Mary’s womb was worn
The Christ child to be born
So they stopped at an inn
Somewhere in Bethlehem
The innkeeper would not let them in
He would not turn the key
Little did he ever know
He rejected the key to Eternity.

-Evan White

Friday, November 22, 2013

Eternality of God

**I've decided to put my ladies' Bible study talks on this blog for now for the benefit of those who have to miss from time to time. We are going through Phillip Ryken's book, Discovering God In Stories from the Bible. Each chapter covers an attribute of God which we discuss together in our Bible study each month. We'd love for any local ladies to join us.

In the Andean Highlands, near Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, an elderly man walks out of his dirt floor dwelling to dimly see the sun for another day.  This former sheep and cattle herder hasn’t had an education and cannot speak Spanish, the national language.  He has buried two of his three children, and lived to have forty grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren.  The remarkable thing about Carlos Flores Laura is that he is the oldest living person alive today, if the records are accurate in Bolivia.  Carlos is 123 years old.
Maria Esther de Capovilla, an Ecuadorian woman, a colonel’s daughter lived to see three centuries.  She was the oldest person living in the world in 2006.  Maria’s daughter indicated that her mother’s calm disposition was the reason for her long life.  When Maria was 100 years old, she was read her last rites in the hospital while suffering from a stomach illness.  She got better and lived another sixteen years, dying in 2006, just eighteen days before her 117th birthday.
I did some research about long-living folks.  Experts have given the term, “centenarians,” to those rare people living to their hundredth birthdays.  Even rarer still, are the “supercentenarians,”  individuals living at least 110 years.  Supercentenarians were common in the Bible, but in the modern world, it is highly uncommon.  When interviewing supercentenarians, reporters always want to know the individual’s secrets to long life.   Some people make it their life mission and vocation to study the mysteries of aging.  
One such case, currently under much study, involves a twenty year old woman by the name of Brooke Greenberg from Maryland.   Brooke brought much joy to her parents and three sisters although her life was anything but normal.  She was very tiny and at age five, she stopped growing.  She remained the size of a small toddler, being driven in a car seat, and strolled around in an infant stroller.  Her mental capacity did not extend beyond ten months.  Scientists are studying her DNA in hopes of finding ways to stall the aging process especially with patients succombing to age related diseases.  Brooke passed away of unknown causes just a few days ago.
No matter what discoveries researchers make, no matter what formulas nutritionists devise, no matter what claims people make to the fountains of youth, one thing is certain:  we will all die sometime.  No human being or any living thing on earth is eternal.  Eternality is one of God’s mysterious attributes.  We will do well to ponder and explore His eternalness.  
Merriam Webster’s full definition of the word eternal provides some food for thought if we consider it in the sense of relation to God.  The primary definition is threefold:  having infinite duration, everlasting; of or relating to eternity; and characterized by abiding fellowship with God.  Since God is everlasting, He has no beginning as well as end.  This concept is difficult for us time-conscious people to understand.  A.W. Tozer explains, “Because God lives in an everlasting now, He has no past and no future.  When time-words occur in the Scriptures they refer to our time, not His.”  God has always been and always will be in existence.  I like how Philip Ryken elaborates on this concept:  “He is not in time at all.  He cannot be timed.  He is never early or late.  He never clocks in, and he never clocks out.  He is outside of time altogether.  He is eternal by his very nature.”
The second definition given for eternal is continued without intermission and seemingly endless.  While an intermission through a lengthy musical might be welcome, I’m so glad to report our God does not take an intermission on His existence.  In fact He doesn’t even take a nap as Psalm 121:4 says, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”  Hallelujah that His existence in not just “seemingly endless” as the definition states but we know that it is completely endless.  The third definition is an archaic one relating to Shakespeare, thus no correlation there.  
The fourth definition presents an interesting perspective stating “valid or existing at all times,” also “timeless”.    What could be more valid than the truth of our God’s forever existence.  One of the things I enjoy is thrift shopping.  I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve run across something from my childhood.  In the past month I’ve seen the pale blue butterfly sheets I had as a child, a pillow with the exact same brown calico print of my parents’ comforter when I was in the second grade, and familiar clothing that saw better days in the 80’s.  While still in existence, the styles were clearly not “timeless.”  One day those things will cease to even exist.   Ladies, our God is timeless- in His very being, and in His very message for all the world.  Webster’s gives “temporary” as an antonym and several near antonyms for eternal, two being “outdated” and “obsolete.”  Think about it, He will never be outdated or obsolete.  He doesn’t swoop in as God in any sort of temporary way when he just happens to feel like it or isn’t too busy.  He is eternal in who he is and what he does.  I Timothy 1:17 says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.”
There are two main points that Philip Ryken makes involving the eternal attribute of God.  First of all, because God is eternal, his judgement lasts forever.  If He were not eternal, then how would he carry out the final judgement of individuals?  Hell would hold no weight.  Furthermore, since God is eternal he has the ability to guarantee salvation.  Everyone who believes in Christ will enjoy the riches of an eternity with Him.  The saints of God aren’t sitting around in heaven wondering when it will all end.  God will last forever, thus so will heaven.  This is so wonderful, we can hardly grasp it.
As is true of all the attributes, Jesus and the Holy Spirit possess eternalness as well.  Jesus conquered death to sit at the right hand of the Father, a “permanent priesthood,”  “living forever” as mentioned in Hebrews 7:24.  The Holy Spirit is “the eternal Spirit” as found in Hebrews 13:8.  
The attributes are all so closely woven and interconnected.  If you take away the eternality of God, what would God’s glory look like?  That would have to mean at some point an end to his glory.  What about his omnipresence?  God is always present everywhere would have its limits if He was not eternal.  The immutability of God would be affected as well, because to cease to be would in fact be a change in His being.  I could go on and on but you can clearly see that if He is not eternal, at some point each of these attributes would be void.  
In studying this attribute, I am most drawn to the fact that He will always be the righteous judge, always be our Comforter, always be our Sustainer, and the great I AM.  Because He is eternal, His promises don’t have an expiration date, His love is always lavished upon his children, His mercy never ends, nor does His extravagant grace ever come to a close.  While we may not be able to grasp this awe-inspiring attribute, we must embrace it and worship him for it.  
As King Nebuchadnezzar learned after God dealt with his sin of pride, God is eternal, but we are not.  All that we have is God’s, our time is but a vapor, may we constantly evaluate our abilities in the light of the giver of good gifts.  Being reduced to a grass-eating, crazy wanderer will have a way of humbling one.  Nebuchadnezzar proclaims in Daniel 4:37, “...for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”  The restored king learned his lesson well in seeing the contrast between the who and what God is---- “with an everlasting dominion, whose kingdom endures from generation to generation” to his own reality as “an inhabitant of the earth accounted as nothing”  (see Daniel 4:34-35).  James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”  Also, Psalm 144:4 says, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”  
As we focus on the eternal God, may we gain perspective in our time-driven lives.  Before we work on our discussion questions, I’d like to close this time with Psalm 90:12-17.  May this be the prayer of our hearts.  The psalmist says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.  Return, O Lord!  How long?  Have pity on your servants!  Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.  Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!  Amen.