God Is Not Silent


I want to say, “God is not invisible or silent,” but I know that will immediately be misconstrued by those who don’t believe in God. But the truth is, Jesus came to earth as the manifestation of God. So the reality is, though God is a Spirit, He is not invisible. Jesus told His disciples that those who saw Him, saw the Father. Paul explained it this way in Colossians: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (2:9).

God also shows Himself in what He has made. The natural world is a great way to see God. He’s the One behind the beauty and majesty and grandeur and power and complexity in this world.

In addition, God has shown Himself through His prophets and through the Scriptures He inspired. He continues to show Himself through His people as they serve one another and as they care for the least and the lost and the excluded.

I’m reading a book by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes called When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty. In the opening chapter Joni describes an encounter she had with a group of Christians in Ghana. They were homeless paraplegics or worse. Yet the joy of the LORD was so evident in their lives. Here’s a short excerpt.

Out of a shadowed alley crawled two teenagers dragging their twisted legs. Polio survivors, I thought as they joined our group. We overtook a woman in tribal dress inching along in her rickety wheelchair. An eighty-year-old man, legless and no more than three feet high, hopped up on the curb and flashed a smile my way. I stopped. He waddled over and extended his stump of an arm to shake my hand. I leaned over to press my paralyzed fingers against his stump and we grinned at our odd handshake. We were pulled on by the singing and clapping up the street. As our group approached, the orphaned and homeless parted to welcome us in under the glare of a neon light. We had arrived in the center of a sidewalk worship service.

We westerners sat upright on benches, facing the ragtag crowd. “And now, Christian brothers and sisters,” shouted the pastor, “let us give a warm welcome to our most gracious friends from America…” Cheers erupted; then, a welcome song. The full rich drone of African harmony twisted my heart, and tears fell freely as we listened to the disabled people applaud each other’s testimonies and to the readings of Scripture. A half hour of constant praise passed easily …

The amazing thing here is that while Joni and her companions went to give to people in need, they ended up giving to her in ways that can’t be quantified. How so? By the joy that their lives showed, despite their circumstances. Yes, their hope is in heaven, but their joy today is anchored in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Their circumstances are horrible. They live in places most of us don’t want to even walk through. They have medical needs. They don’t all have wheelchairs or prosthetics. They don’t all have Bibles. They don’t all have the basics like food and clothing. But their joy is undeniable.

The world can’t understand such a thing. It makes no sense. Why would such poor people who are so disadvantaged, be joyful?

There is no answer apart from the fact that God’s love infuses their hearts, and they bubble over with gratitude for what they have.

Their Christianity is real, and because it is, others can see Jesus in their lives. God is visible, and He is not silent.

You can hear from Joni yourself. There’s a portion of this clip from Ghana which starts around the 13:30 mark. The whole video, though, speaks to the truth that God is not silent. “It’s worth anything to be His friend. Anything.”

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Published in: on November 8, 2017 at 6:11 pm  Comments (6)  
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Who Is God But The LORD?


Idols were everywhere when David wrote these words from Psalm 18:

As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the LORD is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God,
The God who girds me with strength
And makes my way blameless?
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me upon my high places.

Idols are everywhere today, too, but they come in different guises. Mostly what Americans worship today is the human spirit or human ingenuity or strength within or however it’s phrased. In short, many worship human ability. Consequently, the thinking goes, humans are right to judge God for heinous things like killing off the people in Noah’s day. He should have told the people Himself that a flood was coming. He should have had Noah build a bigger boat. He should have kept the door open so that all the people who came to the realization that this flood business was serious, could get on board. In other words, God, not the people who turned away from Him was at fault for all those deaths.

Because after all a) ignoring God is not a capital offense; and b) everyone deserves a second chance.

So ironic. Ever since Adam sinned, all humans, all life, was under a death sentence. By ignoring God, those people were ignoring the one chance they had for safety. They were turning their backs on the only refuge in the storm that could save them.

And a second chance? They had all those years that Noah was building, building, preaching, and building. They undoubtedly had more chances then a second or a third. The thing about saying no to God—you forget how to say yes. I heard Christopher Hitchens in a debate once and read an interview with him shortly before he died. He clearly stated that he had no intention of making a deathbed conversion, that he didn’t want to spend eternity with a God who would always call the shots.

His view of God was so thoroughly different from David’s.

I find that to be true today. People who believe in God see Him through the lens of His revelation; people who do not believe in Him see Him through the lens that Satan passed on to Eve. Basically the deceiver told her that God wanted to keep all the good things for Himself. He didn’t want her to enjoy the wonderful tasting and pleasant to look upon fruit. More than that, He didn’t want her to have the capacity to judge good and evil, because then she and Adam would be like God. And above all, God didn’t want to share His throne, His glory.

What Satan missed was that no one can share in God’s sovereignty, for the simple reason that no one but God is sovereign. So I can get on the throne and I can claim glory for myself, but that does not make me sovereign.

Because who is God but the LORD?

Thanks And Another Shooting


I’m starting to lose track of all the mass shootings, but I think the massacre in the church yesterday makes three in the last two months.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Oh, sure, we still have a few weeks to pump ourselves back into the “holiday spirit.” You know, when we celebrate Family, Food, and Football.

And what’s happened to Thanksgiving? You know, the one with historical roots that grew out of gratitude?

I try to imagine what those early Americans thought when they held those early feasts. I suspect it was relief as much as anything. They had withstood. They had enough food to make it through the winter. They were going to live.

Today, we so seldom have our backs to the wall like that. Our greatest vulnerability is not the uncertainty of supplying food for the table. Generally our issues are less certain: hurricanes or tornadoes in their season, wild fires, drive-by shootings, gunmen in concerts and churches, hit-and-run drivers.

But I wonder. Though the circumstances are very different, should our reaction be? Yes, tragedy struck—in Texas and Florida and California and New York and Nevada and Texas. But today we can thank God that He has seen fit to give us life.

We are all, after all, destined to die. Though we often forget it, each day is a gift from God. We tend to get that notion reversed. We believe we “deserve” to live, and anyone who dies has had a tragedy foisted upon them.

So why would people who feel entitled then feel grateful? Are you thankful if you receive what you believe to be rightfully yours?

I find it ironic that so many who don’t believe in God still think life is their right. They believe they are an accident, that they have no eternal purpose, that they are doomed for annihilation, and that they exist only because of chance.

But yowsers! They are quite certain that life ought not be snatched from someone for any “unapproved” reason. God certainly can’t condemn wicked people to die in a flood (see the people in Noah’s day) or to die in battle against His people (see the Amalekites).

But I’m getting far afield.

Thanksgiving. I wonder. Has life become so meaningless in the twenty-first century that whenever someone asks us what we’re thankful for, we don’t automatically think first and foremost that we’re grateful for another day of life?

Here in America, the tradition was to sit down as a family for meals, always offering thanks first. Thanks became “grace” and then it faded away (along with family meals, I suppose).

I don’t think thanks should be relegated to a tradition, and apparently that’s part of what Thanksgiving Day suffers from. But I suspect it also suffers from a change in our hearts that steals gratitude and replaces it with a sense of “deserve.”

Of course, I suspect for those who do not believe in God, it’s hard to be grateful for a new day of life. After all, to whom are they grateful? It seems to me that gratitude is a two way street. You are responding when you express gratitude. And if all we have is only because of chance . . . well, then, it kind of reduces Thanksgiving to the three F’s.

But the truth is, God does give life, and more so, He gives abundant life and eternal life. He pours out His love in countless ways that we’re often too preoccupied to recognize. Sure, we maybe bought our food in the grocery store instead of growing it and harvesting it, but does that make it any less a miracle, any less a provision from God’s hand? He provides the growth, the harvest, the preparation, the packaging, even though it might be out of my sight. He provides the money to pay for it all.

And that’s just one aspect of our lives. What about the air we breath? the knowledge we now have about how to care for our health? the sleep we enjoyed that gives us needed rest? And I haven’t even mentioned the things we get to enjoy in this life.

We are blessed every day we open our eyes and put our feet on the ground, and we have every reason to praise and thank God for seeing fit to give us another day.

Life is pretty much a miracle. Even if we didn’t have wicked men and women doing wicked things, even if we didn’t have natural disasters that interrupt the regular aspects of life. We live on a planet that is as fearfully and wonderfully made as is each of us with our coded DNA that makes us who we are.

In short, God made life and He made life possible, and what He made was good. We are right to thank Him for it. Every day.

Published in: on November 6, 2017 at 5:26 pm  Comments (6)  

Hope And The Here And Now – Reprise


westcoast sunsetWhile I acknowledge that this world is filled with disappointment, I also recognize the beauty of God’s handiwork. Yes, there is sadness, but there are also joys. People get married, and babies come into the world. People get promotions and book deals and raises. People go on vacation and spend an evening with friends.

There are so many joys, I can’t help but be hopeful about today.

There are friends, too, bringing laughter and acceptance and companionship. How about family and loved ones—people who don’t care what our hair looks like in the morning and aren’t afraid to tell us if something is hanging from our nose. They love us in such everyday ways we sometimes overlook them, but when we list what we’re thankful for, they come to mind first.

snow_road-winter-xsYes, the joys and the people are part of God’s handiwork, but of course the natural world can’t be left out. Which of the beautiful things tops the list—the white-capped Rockies, the sunset over the Pacific, the snow-dressed forest, the green and golden fields, the woods clothed in autumn finery, the dew-kissed rose, the yellow-breasted song bird . . . the list is endless.

Joy, people, creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, and each one brings hope. If things are this good today, can’t tomorrow be just as good? Or better?

The greatest present hope is God Himself. The amazing truth is that God IS, though all else fails. God is the greatest treasure, so I may be poor in this world’s estimation, but if I have Jesus, I am rich. I may mourn, but joy comes in the morning. I may feel defeated, but Christ is the victor. I may be grieving, but not without hope.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19a)

God, in His great mercy, gives us memorials so that we don’t lose sight of hope. He gives us sun after the rain, spring after winter. He gives us comfort in the midst of sorrow, kindness from unexpected places.

He tells us to remember Him in the broken bread and shared cup at Communion. He established His Church as the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” He gave us the Lord’s Day and reminded us to continue gathering together then.

He gave us His word that is sharper than any two-edged sword—the perfect weapon against the false teaching our adversary throws at us. He taught us to pray and gives His Holy Spirit to interpret when we don’t know what we ought to say.

This is the same Holy Spirit that lives in us—which is why we can truthfully say we are never alone. He is the One Jesus sent when He left earth, promising that it was to our advantage that He go.

God’s presence in the form of His Spirit, His communication with me through prayer, His word, His fingerprints all over the world—these are things I have now that fill me with hope.

Though our society is far from God, why not revival, I think. God changed my heart. He can change anyone’s heart, even atheists putting up anti-church billboards—Nebuchadnezzar was just such a man, and God brought him to his senses. Even people killing others in some mistaken view that they’re doing God’s work—the Apostle Paul was just such a man, and God opened his blind eyes.

With God, there are no limits.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power. (Isaiah 40:28-29)

To him who lacks hope, I daresay, He gives that, too.

This article originally appeared here December 2014.

Published in: on November 3, 2017 at 4:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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God And His Mysterious Ways


Joni Eareckson Tada is celebrating an anniversary this year—a personal one. Fifty years ago when she was 17 she had a debilitating accident that left her a quadriplegic. In her honor I’m re-posting this article, with a few minor edits and revisions.

– – – – –

Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here is one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations that Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years—thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarite from birth, but more than once he broke the parameters that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-forever story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

Corrie ten Boom

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-age, all the way to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of a once athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for fifty years as a quadriplegic and who continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

– – – – –

This article is an edited reprint of one originally posted May 2011.

Happiness And Holiness – Reprise


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So says a portion of the Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776. Sadly, those lines too often have become twisted and confused.

Twisted because the right to pursue happiness is understood by many to be the right to demand happiness. It is my right, therefore, to have whatever I believe I need to make me happy.

Confused because God has been evoked. The assumption clearly is that God wants us to be happy.

I had a dear friend look me in the eye once and tell me she would not obey Scripture because she believed God wanted her to be happy, and doing what the Bible said, would make her unhappy.

I’m pretty sure she’s not alone.

Does God want His people to be happy? There are lots of things that He promised and gave that are recorded in Scripture, and certainly those things would seem to have made the recipients happy. The woman whose dead son Elisha brought back to life was undoubtedly happy. When David didn’t kill all the people in Nabal’s household, I imagine Abigail was quite happy. When Peter and John cured the lame man, his leaping about and praising God makes me think he was pretty happy.

In addition, God promised Abraham that He would bless him and multiply his descendants. He promised Solomon He would give him wisdom and riches and long life. He promised Gideon that he would give him victory in battle.

God’s generosity and faithfulness do generate happiness. But the truth is, by focusing on happiness, we are settling.

It’s a little like the psych test I just read about. Apparently one study had the examiner bring in kindergartners one at a time, show them a trick-or-treat-size candy bar and tell them they could have it, but if they waited until the examiner came back, then they could have a large size candy bar. Seventy-five percent of the kids opted for the one bite they could have right then and there.

You might be wondering if this is where I’ll bring in holiness—if we’re only willing to live holy lives instead of worrying about happiness, then some day in heaven we’ll have the whole enchilada.

No, actually that’s not it. Holiness is the whole enchilada. Holiness is a result of right relationship with God—not something we can achieve on our own.

By being in right relationship with God, the things of God become the things we desire. It’s the truth of Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

If I delight in the Lord, many people think, then God has to give me what I want. What those thinking along those lines don’t realize is that true delighting in the Lord realigns our desires.

No longer did Paul want to successfully hunt down Christians and throw them in jail. What had once given him satisfaction and a sense of success was something he abhorred after his desires were realigned.

Did God keep His promise and give Paul the desires of his heart? Absolutely—the new desires of his heart.

Holiness, I suggest, will become our new desire as we align our hearts with God, as we learn to delight in Him.

I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do if we’re caught up in the pursuit of happiness, however, and probably impossible if we’re caught up in the demand for happiness.

This post originally appeared here in July 2011.

Published in: on November 1, 2017 at 4:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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It’s NOT The Holiday You Think


Happy anniversary, Christianity. Today commemorates the beginning of the Reformation. Some might think only Protestants can celebrate this anniversary, but as the name Reformation suggests, the idea Martin Luther had was to bring needed change to the Church, not to divide it.

What resulted was eventually what he hoped: the Catholic Church has reformed. But other denominations have also developed, each emphasizing something a little different from the others. As a result, I say, Happy anniversary, Christianity, because the Reformation called believers, Catholics and Protestants alike, back to things the Church in the first century emphasized.

In recognition of this special day, I’m re-posting an article (with some editorial changes) from 2011 that discusses Reformation Day.

– – – – –

October 31—what holiday is the first that comes to your mind?

In all likelihood, it’s Halloween, with it’s spooky traditions and candy goodness. That is completely understandable because it’s the holiday that gets all the press. Who hasn’t seen scary commercials and trailers for the latest horror movie or store displays luring customers to buy this goody or that accessory?

But in truth, October 31 marks something vastly more important.

Nearly 500 years ago, God moved across Europe through courageous men and women to restore to the church the truth of the Gospel, the primacy of the Word of God, the importance of expressing faith in great songs and music as well as a renewal of the personal walk of a believer with his Lord. This is the REFORMATION! (First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, Newsbreak, 2011)

And the holiday has become known as Reformation Day, most often celebrated as Reformation Sunday on the Sunday prior to October 31.

In part here’s what Wikipedia says:

912u_Luther's_95_Theses,_Schlosskirche,_Wittenberg,_GER,

According to Philipp Melanchthon, writing in 1546, [Martin] Luther “wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517”, an event now seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation.

According to an article at the web site Sunday School Lessons, Luther’s concerns emphasized two key points: justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.

I have to admit, I take for granted those tenets of the faith. After all, Scripture makes them so clear … except, the common ordinary people of Luther’s day didn’t have Bibles. They depended on their church leaders to tell them what was in God’s word.

A corrupt church and priests interested in lining their own pockets weren’t concerned with trivialities such as what the Bible actually said, so salvation by faith alone was not a concept widely known. The idea of “no distinction [between believers] … but Christ is all and in all” was for all practical purposes unheard of.

Chaplain R. Kevin Johnson explains it this way in his article “Reformation Day”:

Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._(Werkst.)_-_Porträt_des_Martin_Luther_(Lutherhaus_Wittenberg)

[Martin Luther’s] aim was to protest the assertion by the Church that God’s favor could be gained by the purchase of indulgences. Luther taught that salvation and the remission of sin are available by grace through faith in Christ alone and that no monetary offering or good deed would or could achieve the same result. With this bold act of conviction, Luther set in motion a full revolt against the Church known as the Protestant Reformation.

Luther challenged church doctrine by teaching that all Christian believers have both the right and responsibility to carry forth the gospel (a principle we call “the priesthood of the believer”). To prove his point, Luther looked to the scriptures and cited 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries;” Revelation 5:10, “you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth;” and 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Luther also taught that no extra-biblical means was necessary to obtain divine truth.

in 2011 Justin Taylor wrote a great post chock full of resources for those who wish to learn more about Martin Luther and his part in the Reformation, but most powerful I felt was his closing paragraph:

Luther—like all of us—was a flawed man with feet of clay. He didn’t see or say everything right. But God used him to recover the gospel and to reform the church, and it is fitting to thank God for this remarkable man and God’s grace to him and through him.

Perhaps Reformation Day is the most pivotal holiday ever that few remember or celebrate. Not that churches don’t acknowledge it or perhaps even do something special on Sunday to commemorate it. But it doesn’t quite crowd out Halloween, now, does it?

Not that I’m suggesting Christians should have “our holiday” and non-Christians, “theirs.” But it seems pretty clear, if Christians don’t celebrate the Reformation, no one else will.

To Accept Or Not To Accept God’s Correction


father-and-daughter-1064479-mNot many of us like to be corrected, even when we were children. In the book of Hebrews the writer agrees. He says the correction we received from our parents wasn’t joyful, but sorrowful (Heb. 12:11).

Nevertheless it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

The people of Israel, under Moses’s tutelage, experienced God’s correction from time to time. Most notable was His response to their rebellion when they reached the Promised Land.

At God’s direction, they sent twelve spies into Canaan to see what they were up against and what kind of land they’d be taking over. When they came back after forty days, ten of the spies concluded, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us” (Num. 13:31b). Because of this report, the people decided it was a mistake to try and take possession of what God had promised to give them.

All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” (Num. 14:2-4)

Things got worse as the other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, tried to reason with them that God would bring them into the land, no matter what the obstacles. The people took up stones to put them to death. At this point God told Moses He’d had enough of their rebellion. However, Moses pleaded with God—not for the sake of the people, interestingly, but for God’s sake. He said, the Egyptians would hear of it and the nations around would hear of it and conclude that God simply wasn’t strong enough to give them the land. He made one of the great declarations of God’s character, then concluded with a plea for the nation:

“‘The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Num. 15:18-19)

Moses had it right—God would by no means clear the guilty, though He would, and did, pardon their sin. In other words, there were consequences for what they did. God, by way of correcting them, gave them what they wanted. Those adults who said it was a bad idea to go into Canaan would not step foot in the land. Instead they would wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day the spies were in the land.

The punishment had its desired effect. The people mourned and recognized their sin, but they didn’t accept God’s correction. Instead, they apparently thought, since they’d finally gotten with the program, God should cancel their punishment:

In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.” (Num. 14:40)

Nice try, Israel. But no, it’s too late, Moses said. Don’t go up aiming to win a battle because God isn’t with you.

You guessed it: they went anyway. The result was a good sound defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and the Canaanites on top of the forty years in the wilderness God had determined as their correction.

I notice a couple things in this story. One is how gracious God is. Because of their rebellion, the people of Israel deserved death. But God withheld His hand because of Moses’s mediation.

As he does throughout these chapters containing his story, Moses serves as a type of Christ. It is He who stood in the gap for us as our Advocate when we deserved death for our rebellion.

Third, the people responded incorrectly to correction. Sure, they were sorrowful—they didn’t want to wander in the wilderness for forty years! Who would? But a genuinely repentant heart would have responded with obedience, not more rebellion!

Today, God’s grace is poured out on His people so that we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Our sins are forgiven. And yet, we may suffer the consequences of our rebellious ways. Or not. Because of His mercy, God can and does stay His hand. But not always, and not forever.

Either way, God’s correction or His forbearance is not reason for our continued rebellion.

As He did for Israel, God may use circumstances to correct us today. Back then He told Moses what He was doing. Today we have the Holy Spirit to prod us to repentance when we go our own way.

Of course, the ideal would be not to rebel in the first place. 😉 If only! I would so much rather I didn’t have to face God’s correction, and yet, as Hebrews says, it yields the fruit of righteousness.

What’s more, it’s a sign that God is our Father:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (Heb. 12:7-10)

In the end, holiness is the issue. God wants us to be like Jesus more than He wants us to have a rockin’ good time here and now.

Our response to His correction, then, should be quite different from that of the people of Israel. Sorrow, sure, but not because we’ve been caught or we don’t like the discipline facing us. Rather, it should be sorrow and acceptance, knowing that it comes from the hand of our Father:

When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand (Ps. 37:24)

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in September 2014.

It’s Not About US


This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the iridescent interior of one of the most active galaxies in our local neighbourhood

I’ve written another post which I titled “It’s Not About Us,” so maybe I should fish around and come up with something different for this one. But it seems like the most fitting summation of the fifth “Sola”: soli deo gloria or God’s glory alone.

So many people miss the fact that creation and salvation alike point to God as excellent. That’s what giving glory means. It’s a way of shining a spotlight on the star of the show. It’s a way of saying, without Him, this wouldn’t work, it wouldn’t be good. It’s a way of saying, Here’s the one who gets the credit.

And what should God get credit for? All that He’s done, because all His works are good. So God deserves glory for creation—everything we can see with the naked eye and all that we can only see with a microscope or a telescope. In other words, all that we have only recently discovered, is cause for us to glorify God. All of creation reflects who He is, though sin has even had an effect on the natural world. How so? I’ll save that discussion for another time because it deserves a much more complete answer than I can give in passing.

Besides creation, God deserves glory for what He does personally and individually. Psalm 139 tells us that God “formed my inward parts,” that He “wove me in my mother’s womb.” So we can start with the very life He gives.

Of course He sustains that life. He provides, protects, sustains.

He also cares for each of us emotionally. His Spirit comforts, for instance, and gives peace. He Himself is cause for joy. He makes our spirits glad.

Which takes us to God’s work which involves the spiritual. of most importance, He provides salvation for all who believe. Salvation is far more than the hope of heaven, though there certainly is that. But in the here and now, those who believe in Jesus Christ have His Spirit within.

This might be one of the most confusing truths for those who don’t believe. At the same time, for those who do believe, it’s one of the best aspects of salvation. We simply are no longer alone. We have God with us and available to us—to give us strength or wisdom or counsel or any number of things.

I have an author friend who keyed in on this concept in his first series of books. Ever since he signs his notes “Never alone.” Because we aren’t.

God deserves glory for His presence in our lives.

Even more, He deserves glory for His character. He reveals who He is through what He has made, what He did for the nation Israel, what His prophets said, the words His spirit inspired, and most especially in His Son who shows us the Father. So even though we have not seen God, we know about Him and we can know Him personally because He made a relationship possible.

When He reveals through Scripture that He is merciful, we don’t have to scratch our heads and wonder if God is merciful. He said He is. What grounds do we have to say otherwise?

Some people, to be sure, look at the sin-ravaged world and blame God. But all the wickedness and “inhumanity to man” that fill the world, are results of mankind going our own way—not something we can accuse God of doing. Just the opposite. He warned us not to go our own way, that to do so would lead to death.

God’s love and mercy often get a lot of attention, but He is just as deserving of praise for His righteous judgments. He doesn’t make mistakes. And for His sovereignty. For His omniscience. Psalm 139 again: He is “intimately acquainted with all my ways.”

That’s both comforting and frightening. How awesome that He knows me so well. But that also means there’s nothing I can hide from Him.

There are so many qualities that God has revealed about Himself, I know I could never present them all or do them justice. One that seems particularly significant to me is His transcendence. Another way to say that is that He is Other. He is above us, beyond us, better, able to do and be what we can never do or be.

Actually, God’s transcendence makes His Incarnation that more meaningful. In order to reconcile us to Himself He left heaven, yes, but He also became like us. He was greater in every respect, yet He became like the creature He had made.

So faith and grace and Scripture and even Christ Himself all give us cause to give God alone glory.

Published in: on October 27, 2017 at 4:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Nobody’s Perfect—Except One


When Martin Luther make his declarations that served as the catalyst to the Reformation, one of the key points focused on Christ—not His person. Not even His work. Luther didn’t disagree with the Church on those doctrines. Rather, his statement had to do with the sufficiency of Christ.

Evangelical Protestantism embraces that point while also declaring Christ’s person and work. Because, sadly, in our world many who claim the name of Christ, don’t hold fast to what the Bible says about who He is or what He has done.

Some say He was a good example, and we simply need to live the same kind of selfless life that He did. Some think He was created by God to carry out His plans. Some think “exercising faith in Jesus is vital to salvation” but they don’t see Him as God.

These positions are outside the teaching of the Bible. These false teachings use Scripture, pulled from its context, to explain what they believe, yet the essence of all these approaches is that Jesus is not God.

While the Bible doesn’t contain the words “Jesus is God,” in a thousand other ways it proclaims the divinity of Christ. The Church of old came to a settle view of Christ’s person—He is fully human and fully divine.

Any faith community that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ is simply not Christian no matter how they identify themselves. These false groups might recognize Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. They might even speak of His playing a part in salvation. But if they don’t accept that He is in fact God, they are teaching a different gospel than the one that the disciples preached.

But what was Luther on about, if not the person of Christ or His work? He was declaring that what Jesus did on the cross, needs nothing else. His work, and His work alone, paid the debt of sin. His work, and His work alone, satisfies the Father’s righteous wrath against sinners.

For centuries the Israelites took animals to the temple to make sacrifice for their sins. There were sacrifices when they knew they had sins, others when they didn’t know. There were peace offerings and thank offerings, offerings when they needed to be cleansed, others when they were celebrating. But all these sacrifices had one thing in common. They required a perfect animal, one without blemish and spotless.

In his first letter to the early Christians, the apostle Peter tied together the old sacrificial requirements with what Jesus accomplished:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1:18-19)

We could just as easily fit in other things from today’s culture: you were not redeemed with good works, with going to church regularly, with taking communion, with saying certain prayers, with ceremonial washings, with a word from a pastor or priest, with the laying on of hands. In short, we are not redeemed by anything we give or do or say.

Redemption comes from Christ alone.

There it is—the sola that Martin Luther preached. Through his extensive study of the Bible, he realized the truth that salvation comes through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, plus nothing.

The apostle Paul spelled out Christ’s work a number of times in his letters. To the church in Colossae he wrote

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (2:13-14)

In short, spiritual life comes from Christ’s work at the cross.

Because the new life has such a powerful and transforming effect on the believer, people can easily mistake the outer results with the inner cause. But what a person does because He’s received the gift of salvation, has nothing to do with how he received the gift.

Simply put, we can add nothing to the work that Christ already accomplished.

How could we? Like the sacrifices of old, only a perfect offering is sufficient. Nothing about us qualifies.

In conclusion, this fourth sola gives us this picture of salvation: “According to the authority of Scripture alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone . . .”

That leaves one more piece to the puzzle which we’ll look at next time.