Thursday, October 29, 2009

Empowered By Hope

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
2 Corinthians 5:6-10 ESV
At some point in modern Christianity believers began to listen too much to their critics, and in doing so, we denied ourselves one of the greatest treasures our faith produces in us--the joy of living physically in the present while cherishing the heavenly rewards of eternity.

I dare say that in order to engage in the dialog of modern materialism and existential philosophy (that is, our personal experience as ultimate truth and the consequent ethics of this position), in a meaningful way, Christians have been sheepish about announcing the anticipated treasures of eternity and everlasting life. We allowed ourselves to be sucker-punched by other debaters who insisted that to engage in a real dialog our discussions must pertain to present relevance because it is the material (what we see and what we can touch) that matters in the "real world."

Because we have removed much of the talk about heaven and heavenly treasures from our dialog, it should not be surprising that more and more of us do not believe in heavenly reward, or if we do, we don't really count on it with any assurance, and this is to the detriment of our present happiness as Christians, especially during tough times.

While we have doggedly striven for relevance, we have given lesser attention to the demands of what Paul calls "transformation," as in Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind....
Instead of transforming the debate into one about eternal relevance, we have tried to win it without our complete aresenal--the joy of living in the present while cherishing the promise of future reward. By debating on the terms given to us, and because we have lost our focus on eternal reward, we have unfortunately proven our critics' points.

Paul says twice in our lead passage today, "we are (always) of good courage." He goes on to say that whether we are "at home or away" (that is, in the physical body or in the future spiritual body with Christ), we make it our aim to please him. This is relevance of eternal significance.

Believers should allow themselves to be empowered by this hope which Paul expresses and not allow the debate to be shifted to subjects which are temporal and of little significance for eternity.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Truest Mark of a Child of God

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Romans 8:13-14 ESV
A line is drawn in this passage between life and death. "Life" refers to eternal life, beginning in the present and lasting throughout eternity, for those who are the spiritual children of God. "Death" refers to the spiritual death of those who refuse to give up the "deeds of the body" and live by the Spirit of God.

An unfortunate modern philosophy has taken root, even within the church, which says that all of humanity are children of God by virtue of creation. Indeed, God is the Creator of all that is. While this is true in the general sense of physical creation, it is not true in the spiritual sense.

Sin has separated us from God in our natural state, a condition we inherited from the first man and woman whom God created after they fell to temptation in the garden. Our nature is to do what we want to do, regardless of what God has commanded. The Bible is clear about our natural condition--spiritual death--as Paul states several times in Ephesians:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world...among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus...For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV
Humanity is afforded a great opportunity to be once and forever restored to our Creator through Jesus Christ. The Bible refers to this as adoption. Continuing the lead passage from Romans 8:
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"
Romans 8:15 ESV
The unfortunate mistake of modern Christians is that many are relying upon a false belief that simply because they have been baptized, or have at some point in their lives made a one-time declaration that they believe in Jesus Christ, that they have a right to expect the privileges of adoption and eternal life. Many, many Christians are relying on the mistaken theologies of preachers who have sold them this bill of goods without expounding upon the rest of the story.

It is clear in many places in the scriptures that authentic Christian faith is that faith which results in obedience and a life in pursuit of holiness, or the process of sanctification. It does not mean that a Christian is a person who lives a perfect life--far from it--what it does mean is that a true Christian is one whose faith is more than a one-time public declaration, or baptism, and his/her life is marked by denial of the "deeds of the body," sincere repentance for sins committed, and an earnest lifelong attempt to worship God and to obey him.

While the scripture is clear that our works of obedience do not save us, it is just as clear that the faith that saves is a faith that proves itself in good works.

My interest is not in theological argument, or to win debate points, but it is to help those like me who lived too much of his life holding naively to an inadequate faith, not fully understanding the importance of living one's faith.

What I see now is that I was taught this hard doctrine correctly, but it was too complicated in light of what the pressures of growing up and the philosophies of modern life were teaching me. I recall hearing this doctrine taught correctly from pastors and Sunday school teachers I had while growing up, but because I didn't have the longer view in mind of what sanctification really involves, I chose instead to believe what was simple.

My hope is that those who have shared this inadequate view of faith, like I have had most of my life, will spend some time in earnest consideration of how convincing their faith really is to those with whom they share their lives. Is it a convincing faith? Is it growing in holiness? Does it render sincere worship of God? And, does it identify you accurately as a child of God?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Last Laugh

The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.
Psalm 37:12-13 ESV
I wonder what the Psalmist was thinking when he penned these words. I wonder if he was growing weary of his critics, or suffering from the weight of constant public ridicule for believing in an unseen God, or perhaps, from his own inner turmoil which comes when our critics begin to make more sense than our faith does.

It is a serious challenge when we strive to hold onto faith when we are under the duress of our own doubts. Our critics' voices start to make sense, and we are less likely to speak up or to stand against them, lacking confidence in our defense and in God's protection.

Churches are prone to softening the blow of critics by adopting secular themes, methods, and verbiage which will be non-offensive. Hoping to capture a larger audience, the Christianity they purport is one with a dull edge, incapable of transforming a culture at its roots.

Credibility for many churches is gained by how well they can cozy up to the culture while maintaining just enough religion to save their non-profit status. Unfortunately, the gospel doesn't do it for them. They measure success by numbers, not by radical adherence to biblical doctrine and orthodox Christian faith.

So, to speak as the Psalmist does about the Lord who "laughs at the wicked" is to speak of those both outside the church and those on the inside who devise their own plots for dulling the edge of the sharp, two-edged sword, which is the word of God (Heb 4:12; Eph 6:17). His laugh is not one of comic relief, but one of scoffing judgment upon the foolishness of the wicked.

I suppose the goal of the passage today is to comfort those who suffer from the devices of the wicked, the critics of true faith. However, it should only be comforting to those who are in the end to be found faithful to God. To find comfort otherwise is to count on something from God that his justice will not allow him to give.

Let us be found faithful in word and deed, not counted among the wicked, knowing that in the end, the last laugh will be God's.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sneaking Into Heaven

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their God is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Philippians 3:18-19 ESV
I hope never to lose my sense of humor, such as it is, but I have to acknowledge that much of what captures the imagination of our culture are the negative influences of TV sitcoms. Yes, I enjoy them myself, but I'm increasingly aware of how their influence is harming us.

In the past decade or two it has been increasingly popular to portray men in particular as mindless, carefree, and immature, enjoying only sports, beer, cheeseburgers, and busty women other than their wives, while embracing a simplistic morality which says, As long as I'm not hurting anyone, just let me live my life as a little boy.

The reason this portrayal is so humorous is because to a large extent it has become more and more true as men have neglected the harder things in life while embracing those pleasures which gratify them the quickest. We laugh because Hollywood has captured a side of human nature that in former days would have been disdained, but by bringing it to light with likable characters in funny situations, it has provided us with a defense mechanism against slothfulness, gluttony, and greed.

I say this not because I am a snob about TV, but simply to point out how well it portrays a problem which Paul addresses in today's passage.

Paul's immediate audience was that of a church he dearly loved, the believers at Philippi. One needs only to read his extended passage of thanksgiving in the early part of the letter to know that his love for them was deep and sincere. So, he is addressing believers, not a group of people who had never heard the gospel.

He says, I "tell you with tears" that I have heard that many of you are walking "as enemies of the cross of Christ." And then, he defines their behavior more specifically. Note:

their end is destruction
their God is their belly
they glory in their shame
with minds set on earthly things
What he describes are those at Philippi who are Christians "in name only." He is saddened to the point of tears for their lack of maturity, their willingness to walk down known paths of destruction, not only denying the cross of Christ but by declaring in their own shame that they are indeed enemies of Christ.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to draw the parallels with modern culture. Not only do we have the humorous and unflattering portrayal of human nature as depicted on our sitcoms, but we also have to look at the easy targets like Wall Street, Madison Avenue, etc. But, it's even worse.

Ready to hear what the most disturbing problem is? It's the same as it was with Paul -- it's the church itself.

Paul's beef wasn't with the world outside; it is understandable that outside of Christ such behavior might be rampant. No, Paul's tears were due to the failure of those who come to Christ casually, that is, without first considering the price Christ paid ("enemies of the cross", he says), nor the cost of discipleship implicit in one's decision to become a follower in the first place.

Who hasn't seen this? As far as that goes, who hasn't behaved this way themselves as a believer?

Knowing that our culture accepts, and even celebrates, people who establish their own morality and flaunt it, defend it, and reverse it when expedient to do so, it is even more incumbent upon Christians to distinguish themselves as lovers of Christ and his cross.

We don't sneak into heaven the back way. We don't receive forgiveness without repentance; we don't love Christ except that he has loved us first; we don't unite with him in heaven unless we live with him, acknowledging him in our words and behavior, on earth.

Believing is not enough; indeed, the Bible teaches that even the demons believe and shudder. Belief that doesn't yield obedience, even to the point of cultural separation when necessary, represents the belief of a Christian "in name only." Paul calls such Christians enemies of the cross of Christ.

It is a hard thing to accept, yet it is most certainly true, that a daily duty of a Christian is to honor the cross of Christ in our behavior in all things.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Honor Your Parents": Evidence of the Wisdom of God

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12 ESV
I am struck again with how important this commandment is. My grandmother passed away at age 99 a few weeks ago, and at her side during the last months of her life were her three remaining sons, all of whom are in their seventies and eighties and dealing with their own health issues.

While tempted to pay a long tribute to them in today's blog post, I will refrain, though they certainly deserve the praise, and I will simply say that their love and innate understanding of this commandment has become a fresh example of the wisdom in God's word.

When Paul cited this passage in Ephesians 6, he reminded his readers that this is the first commandment with a promise: that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

I am not certain why there is a connection between honoring parents and longevity of life, but I suspect that the real intent of the promise is to the family of faith (Israel of old, and to include the Christian family today) so that we may continue to exhibit the eternal love of God within the family structure, thereby passing it to future generations, and giving greater honor and glory to the Lord our God.

It makes sense, doesn't it? Within the family of faith, the design of God is to pass on his covenantal grace within the family structure, father to son, mother to daughter, parents to children. When there is a disruption in this preferred flow of generational teaching and tradition, whether through death, separation or unfaith, then the danger is losing the next generation. When this happens, God mercifully uses other means to rescue those whom he has chosen as his children.

Within the families of faith, the believing son or daughter ministers to his/her parents, not simply out of necessity, but as a very real and tangible mercy of Jesus.

There is great wisdom in this commandment. While old age is a blessing from God, it doesn't come without some hard work. There comes a time when the real exercise of one's faith is required in caring for those who are no longer able to care for themselves. A son's or daughter's response to this requirement is all at once both a test of his love for the parent AND a test of his love for God.

And, the accompanying blessing to the next generation is great as well. The believing caretaker says to his own children and the generations that follow: Even though you have known me to be harsh, unforgiving, and sometimes unloving, in the end I am but a humble servant of the Lord, here only because of his mercy, and not on my own strength.

When my grandmother passed away she had been suffering from dementia, but she had retained much of the self-reliance which exhibited as stubbornness. She used to tell me that she was ready any time to go and meet the Lord. She joked with me many times that she attributed her long life to the "scotch in my blood." She meant Scottish blood; I, of course, made comments about not knowing she drank scotch. It was an old joke that we laughed about many, many times. But, as my sister said, she had had her bags packed for years. But, her good health had allowed her to be with us for a long time, and this was indeed a blessing.

In the end, she was not an easy patient. If a son, or daughter-in-law, or grandchild, were to be looking for reasons to be offended in her last days, they could have found it and thrown up their arms and left her to her own suffering. However, nurtured through 99 years of a hard and trying life, her faith and service were successfully transmitted to the next generation as evidenced in the love and compassion her aging children showed to her.

If ever we are tempted to think that God's wisdom is irrelevant in this particular commandment, let us think again. Only he fully understands the way faith is transmitted, because after all, he is the giver of it:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8 ESV

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Tempting Deception

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Colossians 2:8 ESV
I'm not concerned here about such things as political philosophies and ideologies, because it should be obvious to most observers that such things as these can often change due to personal circumstances and the failings of those who champion such ideas. It's funny how that works -- a grand idea is subject to the perfection of those who promote it -- it hardly seems fair.

However, this may be one of the main reasons that the "philosophy" of Jesus is so appealing, even to those who do not believe in Christ alone for their salvation. It is the perfection of Jesus that ultimately validates his sacrificial death. Or, as Paul puts it:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
The point I want to emphasize in the lead passage today though is that we must be cautious about the ideas to which we fall prey as Christians. It's easiest to identify "alien" ideas that are blatantly unChristian (atheism, as an example). The more challenging task is to identify those ideas which carry Christian labels or those which seem to run parallel with the more obvious Christian traditions and theologies.

In this genre of philosophy lie such values as self-reliance, tolerance, democratic rule, and so many other ideas upon which our American society is based. I am not suggesting that we ought to abandon any of these values; rather, I am simply pointing out that while any such thing might look good, and indeed be foundational in civil society, these do not rise to an equivalency to Christ.

Idolatry has many forms, and as it has always been, idols do not let us know that that's what they are. Instead, they relish the attention they are able to draw from us, so why should they want to give away their little secrets?

The work of our intellect can be surprisingly insidious. While we grapple for our cherished cultural ideals, even to the point of hating those who oppose them, we willingly ignore some of those patently Christian teachings -- this one, for instance:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven."
Matthew 5:43-45a ESV
It is most important that Christians understand that the philosophies of this world are incapable of creating a utopian society (The story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 comes to mind as one of the earliest attempts to do so.).

It can easily be argued that neither is the Christian philosophy capable of it. A utopia in which there is no strife, no poverty, no illness, no death, etc., is not the chief aim of Christ, even if our philosophy would have it be so.

The chief aim of Christ is to bring to faith those whom God has chosen, and this being accomplished, the hand of God's justice will come down in judgment. This hardly seems utopian.

So, while Paul warns us in our lead passage not to be deceived by the philosophies of this world, it is really a warning against taking that which seems good to us philosophically and giving it ultimacy in our lives.

What is most important is that we engage in a tenacious search for the truth of God, knowing that the Truth of God is found only in God Incarnate, Jesus Christ.

While civil society may require imperfect and incomplete principles in order to exist peacefully, we are not to be "taken captive" by them, for they fall far short of the requirements of living in the kingdom of God.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Comfort in God's Omnipresence

The eyes of the LORD are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Proverbs 15:3 ESV
God keeping his eye on everything ALL the time, rather than being something that evokes shame or fear, should, in fact, give the believer great comfort.

Conventional wisdom often says that God is not concerned about minutiae such as the details of our lives that cause us worry or anxiety. "Certainly, God has bigger things to deal with than a little squabble you might have with a coworker," is an example of this sort of wisdom. It is often used as a discouragement to praying for godly solutions to everyday issues in life.

The trouble with this mindset is that it wrongly encourages us to seek solutions apart from God, utilizing our own wisdom, or in many cases the advice of others, and it discourages us from taking our troubles before the Lord God. Needless to say, what this does to one's personal faith can be devastating.

In time, it erodes a life of prayer by encouraging radical self-reliance. While personal strength, wisdom, intelligence, and courage are admirable for people of faith, radical self-reliance represents a heart of unbelief.

Then, what is the "happy medium" for those who would pray?

We should keep in mind one of the teachings of Jesus:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Matthew 10:29-31 ESV
It is not that we should pray about every single decision in life (which shirt to put on, what to cook for dinner, etc.), but that we should be aware that there is nothing that we face, or think, that is outside the view of God's eyes.

A person who prays regularly and devotes himself to growing in faith will recognize those decisions and situations for which specific prayer should be made to God. For those who would not want to "trouble" God, I ask, just how much trouble is it to one who keeps account of every sparrow and the hairs of every head of every person who has ever lived?

In an effort not to "trouble" God, we should always keep foremost in our minds, there is nothing that God has not already seen, nothing at all. The more we are aware of this, the less likely we are to consider anything to be trivial with God, much less those things which trouble our hearts.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

God Looks at the Heart

But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7 ESV
A lesson for anyone who would make choices between individuals, whether it is for a future spouse, a business partner, or even a pastor, is to approach the decision with a desire to do the will of God and not to be caught up in the external qualities which are often deceptive.

This passage in the first book of Samuel is the opening scene in the account of the selection of David to become king of Israel.  Samuel bore the responsibility, as priest, of anointing a new king.  Provincial wisdom would have dictated that among the sons of Jesse (David's father), Samuel would have selected the eldest.  If the eldest were to be unsuitable for the appointment, the next best thing would have been the selection of the one with the greatest stature.  David was neither; instead, he was very young and apparently of modest stature, and Jesse had never considered bringing him before Samuel for consideration. 

Samuel inquired of Jesse if these present were all of his sons, to which Jesse replied that the youngest, David, was out tending sheep, not even a part of the action.  Samuel requested that David be fetched and brought before him.  The LORD said to Samuel, "Arise, anoint him, for this is he."

In God's purposes, traditional human wisdom is not sufficient.  God's purposes require searching the heart of those who would be leaders.

It is obvious from the life and kingship of David that moral perfection is not a necessity, though the ability to repent sincerely from moral failure (sin) IS important.  Qualities from which leadership is to be drawn are qualities deriving from the heart, that is, they derive from the driving forces within one's life: his motivations, his leanings, his loves and passions.  An honest appraisal of these attributes must be made if one is to seek the same qualities God seeks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Walking Out the Will of God

For this is the will of God, your sanctification.
For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
1 Thessalonians 4:3,7-8 ESV

Earnest Christians actively seek the will of God for their lives.  It is common for sincere believers to pray fervently for God to reveal his will to them, to guide them through tough decisions, hard times, and for direction in the living of their lives daily.

Humans are prone to complicate the issue.  Efforts to seek the Lord's will rise to such heights that the obvious revelations are overlooked.  It is a characteristic of modern do-it-yourself religion for Christians to expect God to provide a special revelation at their beck and call.  Seeking such special revelations when God has already laid down his will in the scriptures and in the life of Jesus amounts to a rejection of his will, not a withholding of it.

Just listen to the prayers we make, both publicly and privately.  How many of our words are words of praise and adoration of God, his majesty, and his holiness?  How many of our expressions are echoes of our thankful hearts as we express ourselves to God?  Probably, not as many as we would want.

When I pray, especially when I'm in a hurry, I tend to cut to the chase.  I want to get something off my chest, or make a special request of God.

If the truth were really known, our vocabulary of prayer is very limited.  We find many ways to ask God for something, and like a child selling his desires to his parents, we are not shy about building our case as to why we need that for which we are asking. 

As I listen to prayers, I have also noticed that we do a fair job of thanksgiving for the blessings he has given us.  I fear however that our vocabulary for thanksgiving is broader than our sincere gratitude, but at least we make the effort to be thankful.

But, to sit still long enough, and to focus on our adoration of God, our praise of his holy attributes, is very difficult.  Concentrating on his holiness, his grandeur, his sovereignty, all of these take enormous effort.  It requires us to think of God as Other, not as God in relationship with us.  Yet, is this not the chief aim of prayer, the worship of God?  I fear this is one of the chief sins of the church, a failure to recognize and worship God as God alone, holy, in all his mystery and glory. 

Getting back to the subject of knowing his will, God has provided enormous resources for this knowledge -- prayer is just one of them.  The scriptures are filled, from front to back, with the will of God.  We also have a record of the life of Jesus, God in the flesh, and not only do we have his words, we have his actions.  Are not these excellent sources for our counsel in the will of God?

Jesus, Paul, and others in the scriptures also tell us that the Holy Spirit -- God as Counselor, Teacher, Friend -- provides us with the knowledge of what we are to do by enlightening us in the word of God, that is, in the counsel of the scriptures themselves.  Also, Paul teaches in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit makes intercession on our behalf, meaning that he pleads with the Father even when we are unable or unwilling. 

The biblical record is consistent -- God wants us to know his will, and he has made the knowledge of his will accessible to us in many ways, and from many places.

Why then is it one of the chief struggles of many Christians to come to grips with the will of God?

Some obvious reasons may be that it requires time to study the scriptures, to pray, and to discern the will of God through the means he has provided.  Certainly, this is at least part of the problem.  It may be deeper than this however.

It may also be difficult because we entertain doubts about the scriptures and whether or not God's word applies directly to us in our day and time.  In other words, it may not make sense to us to accept the Bible as the word of God, having authority in our lives.  This has certainly been one of my excuses over 55 years of faith.

However, I think the most probable reason for our struggling with the will of God is not that we do not know his will, but that we really don't want to do it

Was not this also the experience of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane?  It wasn't that he did not want to do the will of the Father in an ultimate sense, but that if there were any other way than to face the public ridicule, the trial, the death and separation from the Father for a time, he would rather have done it another way.  But, the will of the Father was not to be changed, and Christ was obedient, suffering the humiliation, pain, death, and separation, in order that God's plan to save us from our sins would be completed.

And, this is the critical issue -- our obedience, or as Paul says in the passage from 1 Thessalonians above, "this is the will of God, your sanctification."  What God clearly calls us to do is to become holy, just as he is holy, to be sanctified, that is, to grow in purity by becoming obedient in all things.

There are so many places in the scriptures to find the will of God.  Another excellent place to look is in Philippians 4, as I was reminded recently by a friend:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me -- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
As we make it our chief aim to know the will of God, it is important to recognize that we must be willing to do it. As we do the will of God, revealed to us in the scriptures, knowing his will becomes a matter of simply putting one foot in front of another and walking it out, occasionally stumbling, yet always putting our feet back on the path he has set for us in his word.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Comfort in God's Eternal Existence

Before the mountains were brought forth
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting
you are God.
Psalm 90:2 ESV

The Psalmist eloquently places before us the pre-existence of God.

It is comforting, even though it is unimaginable, to know that God has always been. He was not created, nor did he suddenly appear out of nowhere to start creating his masterpiece.

The scripture above is clear, God has existed from everlasting past into everlasting future.

When Moses asked God on what basis, and upon whose authority, he would lead Israel out of bondage and to a promised land, God's response was to say simply, "I AM."

God's pre-existence as well as his post-human existence is the basis upon which his supreme authority is determined. Not only will he be the ultimate Judge at the conclusion of our earthly existence, as we are often reminded in sermons and in scriptures, he is also the one who predetermined the creation of the earth and all its inhabitants. He is sovereign.

It is wrong-headed to think that God is engaged in some cosmic struggle for power against evil or any personification of evil in the form of a devil, or Satan. To think of this as struggle is to entertain at least two possible errors: one, that God's sovereignty is compromised by the presence of evil; two, that the one who personifies evil (Satan, "the devil," etc.) possesses a measure of sovereign power which rivals the sovereignty of God.

Neither of these errors should be allowed a foothold in our understanding of God and creation; however, to some degree, many Christians mistakenly conform to these, in part, because the concept of sovereignty is so radical that it is difficult for many Christians to acknowledge.

It is made even more difficult when churches and Christian authors engage in existential philosophies and seek to blend cultural tenets into the Christian faith in order to help God make more sense to humanity, as if our helping God in this way makes more sense than did the incarnation of Jesus Christ in whom God disclosed himself more fully to us.

If anything is true about God at all, it is that nothing exists in creation that is not subject to his creative and governing authority.

While it still does not make it easy for us to understand why evil exists, or why bad things happen to seemingly good people, nor why those who are evil and faithless prosper, it does in fact increase the Christian's confidence in God simply by knowing that he is the Author and Finisher and that, ultimately, those who have faith in him will someday join him in the final conclusion to live out eternity under his authority and love.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Studying Genesis

Rather than picking topics for study, a few weeks ago, I decided to start at Genesis 1:1 and take my time reading through the Bible. My format for studying the Scriptures has varied so much over my 40 year history of studying them that I have left many gaps in my reading, tiring of one method or another, and then setting the whole thing aside until the motivation strikes again, sometimes much later than what is good for a Christian.

Realizing that the study of Scripture is essential to learning the truth about God, and recognizing that the length of it alone is enough to be overwhelming, I have yielded to a study format which aligns with goals of a deeper understanding, progressing forward only as I have gained an adequate understanding of the passages I have read, and a fuller recognition of what God has truly revealed about himself in the words written.

So, using the Reformation Study Bible (ESV), along with Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, I proceeded with a passage by passage study in mid-September. My habit is to mark passages, read study notes pertaining to them, cross-reference passages suggested in both resources, and then to reflect upon the meanings of them. When the passage becomes clear using this method, it is then appropriate and useful to apply that which I have learned about God, my faith, my needs for repentance and acceptance of blessing. Committing these thoughts to prayer, I seek to apply the lessons learned, both in actions toward God and others as well as in my role as a teacher of believers.

This blog picks up only some of those experiences as I have inspiration to write and share. It is not intended to be a daily exercise in order that the blog will remain an outlet tool as opposed to becoming the full purpose of my study.