Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Presents

We naturally associate Christmas with gift-giving, and while we’d probably all agree that Christmas has gotten far too materialistic, we all enjoy receiving a gift or two. 

When we think of gifts on that first Christmas the image that might come first to mind are the gifts presented by the Magi; gold, frankincense and myrrh.  However we are fairly certain that the ‘wise men’ did not appear on the scene until maybe a year or almost two years later.  So were there really any gifts were given on that first Christmas morning?  I would suggest to you that there were gifts given- but not of the type we might think.  They were not tangible items to be opened or unwrapped, but they were gifts that undoubtedly moved and blessed the heart of God.

Let’s consider the familiar passage found Luke 2:15-20 (NIV): 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

It is hard to fully capture the emotion of this great moment with the written word.  We can’t hear what they heard, or smell the smells; we can’t feel the breeze on our faces as the shepherds rushed from the fields into Bethlehem.  They just had to see for themselves the wonderful event the angels had declared to them.  Searching through the darkened streets the shepherds finally found the child.  What a sight it must have been, these rough men, smelling of sheep and open fields, huddled around a feed box gazing at a baby.  There is delight and excitement among this group as they get up and go with great haste to find this child.

~The shepherds gave gifts of excitement and joy in response to God’s promise.

17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

How hard it must have been to leave, but as they went, these simple shepherds became the first ‘evangelists’ of the New Testament.  An evangelist is one who proclaims good news…and that is what the shepherds did.  Their message was simple, but breathtakingly powerful.  They told of the fear that gripped them, of the words that the angel had spoken, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11 KJV)  They told of the stillness of the night broken by the host of Heaven consumed with worship, praising God.  And people listened with amazement and wonder. 

~The shepherds gave the gift of witnessing to the truth of God’s promise.

19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Mary’s gift was different; her gift was reflective.  The word used for ‘treasured’ has the idea of remembering with the added intent of obedience.  Mary knew that all these things that had happened came as a result of her obedience and the years ahead of her would require her to continue in obedience to the God who had so blessed her.  Mary’s life was forever changed

~Mary gave the gift of remembering all that God had done and prepared to continue in a life of obedience to God.

20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

As they left, the shepherds gave the glory and praise to God.  It is important to realize that they based their praise on what had been revealed to them.  They did not manufacture any other story; they did not add to it or take away from it.  What they had experienced, they rejoiced in.

~The shepherds gave the gift of praise and worship to God.

These gifts that were given were not anything that could be handled or put up on a shelf.  They do have one thing in common: the gifts given on that first Christmas were all gifts that came from gratitude to God.

What can we give to God?  We can give God our material possessions, and so we should be generous with what God has given.  But, consider these words from Chuck Swindoll: 'Some gifts you can give this Christmas are beyond monetary value: Mend a quarrel, dismiss suspicion, tell someone, “I love you.” Give something away--anonymously. Forgive someone who has treated you wrong. Turn away wrath with a soft answer. Visit someone in a nursing home. Apologize if you were wrong. Be especially kind to someone with whom you work. Give as God gave to you in Christ, without obligation, or announcement, or reservation, or hypocrisy.'  (Charles Swindoll, Growing Strong, pp. 400-1.)

The best gifts we can give to God are those that come from gratefully changed lives 

Be blessed

Friday, September 1, 2017

Five Things God Cannot Do: #5

[The following post is based on a sermon series presented in January-February 2006 while I served as pastor at Exeter Area Christian Fellowship in Newfields, NH.]

People love to get their own way.  A popular and well known slogan used by Burger King was ‘Your way, right away’.  America is the champion of individualism; of having things done our way, right away.  This individualistic thinking played a big part in the development of American Christianity and is also a significant reason why so many churches and Christians are doctrinally flawed.  Somewhere along the way, we came to God and said, in essence, ‘that’s nice, but we want things our way.’ 

Here we come to the final entry in this series, Five Things God Cannot Do.

God Cannot Accept Us Unless We Come On His Terms

The first issue we need to settle is whether or not God is God, meaning this: If God is God then His is the final word on every matter.  This is a premise that this post affirms.  If you accept, at least in the broadest sense, that God is the only God, then you either submit to His Word or live in rebellion against Him. 

So then when we come to God, whether in worship, prayer, the reading of the Bible or, most importantly, for salvation and forgiveness of sin, we need to always remember that we must come on His terms or we shouldn’t come at all.

An episode from the Old Testament book of Leviticus helps us understand this (text is from the ESV unless otherwise noted).

God had brought the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom at the base of Mt. Sinai (more likely in modern Saudi Arabia by the way, not the Egyptian Sinai peninsula).  God has given the ‘legal code’ (including the Ten Commandments) as well as the patterns for the Tabernacle where worship would take place.  Numerous times God directs that all the items are to be made “according to all that I have commanded you”. (e.g. Exodus 29:35)

In Leviticus 9:22-24 Aaron, the High Priest, initiates the sacrificial worship of God.  It is a momentous moment in the life of Israel as God responds with a display of glory: “and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.  And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar…” (9:23-24)

Then we are given an odd and troubling scene: “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.  And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” (Leviticus 10:1-2)

What in the world is going on?  We have to jump back to Exodus 30, where God gives the instructions for the Altar of Incense.  As part of the ministry at this altar, the priest was to burn special incense, the make-up of which is given in Exodus 30:34-37.  In the case of Nadab and Abihu, they “offered unauthorized fire”, namely a different type of incense than that which God commanded.

It is probable that as God’s glory appeared and the people celebrated they were caught up in the moment.  Yet even with what might have been ‘noble’ motives, Nadab and Abihu stepped outside the bounds that God prescribed and took it upon themselves to determine how God was to be worshipped.  God would not, and could not accept these men on their terms.

Was it ‘fair’ of God to judge these two priests so severely?  Throw out your human conceptions of ‘fairness’; God’s concern is righteousness and holiness.  In the case of Nadab and Abihu, at the very outset of Israel’s formal religious worship of the Lord, God needed to show the people that He was serious about being approached on His terms.

Moses defends God’s action: “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'’  And Aaron held his peace.” (10:3)

Aaron’s heart must have been breaking for the loss of his sons, but he knew God was right.  They needed to approach God on His terms.

The late J. Vernon McGee notes, “God will not accept worship in our own will, no matter how sincere…note…that the high position of these men offered them no immunity.” (J. Vernon McGee Through the Bible vol. 1 p364)

Coming to God in our way and on our terms is known as ‘will-worship’; “a way that seems right to a [person], but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) 

We can all fall into the trap of ‘will-worship’, but we can guard against this by remembering that true worship recognizes God as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures and gives Him the respect due to His greatness (see Psalm 2:11).

God has set His boundaries for us that we may find life.  To think that we can operate outside those boundaries is a belief and practice that can only lead to death.

God cannot accept us unless we come on His terms. 

This is especially important as we consider how a person can find forgiveness from sin, be made right before the Holy God and enter eternal life.  The pathway to these blessings is not a matter of our decision, but is completely dependent on the terms God has set.  And what are those terms?

~“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

~“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31)

~“ If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

God has provided salvation…but on His terms: Jesus Christ and Him alone.

People outside the church call Christians narrow and extremist for holding to this view of salvation being exclusively found in Christ.  They have that right.  Our loving response needs to be simply this: ‘I believe God is God and His Word is final.  This is what I am convinced God has said; and I choose to come on His terms.’

God cannot accept us unless we come on His terms.  Come ever and always on His terms and you will know joy and peace and life.

It has been enjoyable for me to revisit these messages, streamlining them for this format.  I hope you have found them challenging and helpful.  As always, your feedback is eagerly welcomed.

Be Blessed. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Five Things God Cannot Do: #4

[The following post is based on a sermon series presented in January-February 2006 while I served as pastor at Exeter Area Christian Fellowship in Newfields, NH.]

In this post we are going to consider yet another thing that God cannot do.  I have to warn you, however, that this will probably be the least enjoyable of the five areas we are covering.

God cannot let sin go unpunished

In the broader culture in which we all live, sin is a topic that is either watered down or avoided altogether.  Pop-psychology has done a good job at renaming sin.

Man calls it an accident; God calls it abomination. 
Man calls it a defect; God calls it a disease.
Man calls it an error; God calls it an enmity. 
Man calls it a liberty; God calls it lawlessness.
Man calls it a trifle; God calls it a tragedy.    
Man calls it a mistake; God calls it madness.
Man calls it a weakness; God calls it willfulness.      (Moody Monthly)

If I may add a final line…Man says it’s no big deal; God says it is deadly serious.

25 times in the OT God declares outright that He will punish sin.  Additionally we read that wicked will “not escape” punishment (cf. Job 15:25-30), that God will “inflict” His wrath (cf. Ezekiel 17:19); that He will “sweep” away the wicked (cf. Psalm 58).

Without doubt or exception, God takes sin seriously and will deal with it.

In the first chapter of the prophecy of Nahum we find two key truths.  First: God will punish sin in the harshest possible way.  Second: Through the mercy of God, there is a refuge from this punishment.

Sometime around 630bc, God called Nahum to declare His judgment against the city of Nineveh.  This city had been visited by the prophet Jonah, but the repentance we read of in Jonah 3 was short lived.

Genuine repentance is evidenced by a shift away from sinful behavior towards a life that honors and pleases God.  To say we are sorry for sin but continue in that same sin demonstrates that our sorrow is not authentic.

God is, at the core, a loving God; but this does not nullify His righteous anger.  God demonstrated His love and grace to the sinful people of Nineveh by sending Jonah.  They proved, however that their repentance was not genuine and so, through Nahum, God declares a message of His judgment on sin. 

“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” (Nahum 1:2 ESV- and so throughout)

In this one verse we read three times of God’s vengeance.  God has the perfect right to exact due justice on those who oppose Him.  The literal Hebrew describes God as furiously storing up His wrath.  Although this is a picture of God which contemporary ‘pop-religion’ wants to wish away, we must see that God is no pushover!

Neither, however, is God just waiting to ‘drop the hammer’: “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power.” (Nahum 1:3a ESV)  God is patient, giving people time and opportunity to repent of sin; yet His patience is not limitless.  For those who refuse to repent, “the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.” (1:3b)

This is a critical verse.  Nahum’s generation watched in horror as the Assyrians rampaged through the ancient world with a brutality to rival the Third Reich or ISIS.  There was no way that God could allow such brutality to go unpunished!

Nahum’s assurance, then and now, is that God will not let evil have free reign.  Wickedness and sin will be punished…count on it.

Nahum goes on to describe the power of God in His judgment (1:3-5), and then asks a key question: “Who can stand before his indignation?  Who can endure the heat of his anger?” (1:6)

If the natural world (tall mountains, mighty seas, thick forests) cannot stand up before this raging storm of God’s anger, who can stand?

The answer, thankfully, is given: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” (1:7)

God provides a way to escape His wrath- and that is to take shelter under His mercy.  He is a ‘fortress’ into which people can run; a stronghold where the storm is stilled and the rage of God’s wrath becomes the light of His loving care.  How is this escape to be realized?

“Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace!” (1:15)  For the people of Nahum’s day, this was the news of Assyria’s downfall.  The Apostle Paul saw in this verse a foreshadowing of the preaching of the Gospel of God’s salvation through Jesus (see Romans 10:15).

Assyria is a literal historical example of a universal spiritual condition: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  Therefore, because God cannot let sin go unpunished, all are under the sentence of God’s wrath (see Ephesians 2:3)

Our choice is plain: we either stand guilty before God’s wrath or run into the stronghold of His grace in Jesus where we are pardoned of all sin.

The most important thing we can do is to accept God’s offer of refuge in Christ.  To reject Christ is to invite disaster on ourselves.  Jesus Himself declared, “unless you believe that I am the Messiah, the Son of God, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24 TLB)

God will not rest until the enemy is defeated.  There is no cease-fire in the war on sin, no peace treaty.  Anything that sets itself up against God must, in the end, be broken down and cast away.  God will accept nothing less than sin’s unconditional and total surrender.

God cannot let sin go unpunished.  Let God’s love deal with your sin now and there will never be cause for you to fear, for “perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

Be blessed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Five Things God Cannot Do: #3

[The following post is based on a sermon series presented in January-February 2006 while I served as pastor at Exeter Area Christian Fellowship in Newfields, NH.]

Say Anything is a love story of two teenagers on opposite ends of the social spectrum.  Lloyd Dobler is your classic nice guy.  Everyone likes Lloyd.  He is one of those rare people who mixes with people from many different groups.  Diane Court is brilliant, beautiful and, it appears, unreachable.  Happily Lloyd finally succeeds in winning Diane’s heart.  Things get ugly when Diane’s father Jim, is convicted of embezzlement and the once tight-knit relationship between father and daughter is broken.  Visiting Jim in prison Lloyd gives him a letter from Diane,  As Jim brokenheartedly reads of his daughter’s shame and embarrassment, Lloyd says, “It gets better; it gets better if it’s the version that ends with ‘I still can’t help loving you.’”  Sadly it isn’t.  Lloyd says, “Just knowing that a version like that exists, that for a moment she wrote ‘I still can’t help loving you’, just knowing a letter like that exists…that has to count for something.”

Human love is fragile.  Even at its very best, human love can endure only so much pain and hardship before it reaches a breaking point.  Love is demanding, hard to maintain and likely to bring hurt and pain.  We long for a love that endures; a love that goes through thick and thin, bearing even the most extreme pain.  We long for a letter that ends, ‘no matter what happens, I still can’t help loving you.’

We have just such a letter.  The Bible is God’s ultimate love letter, telling how much He loves us, and all we have tried to do to throw that love away.  It is the record of what God has done to maintain that love relationship; and stamped from cover to cover are the words, ‘I can’t help loving you.’

No matter what happens, no matter what we do to run from Him God cannot help loving us.

The Bible tells us that God is love (see 1 John 4:8).  Philip Yancey writes that God cannot help loving us because love defines His nature. (Reaching For the Invisible God)  Love is an absolute essential quality of the character of God.  It is the “glue” that holds God together.  His mercy, justice, righteousness, wrath, and every other quality flows out of His love.

There is no specific verse that says, ‘God cannot help loving us’, but we realize this is true when we consider the way God treats His creation in general…

“You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly.  The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it.  You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.  You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.” (Psalms 65:9-11 NIV see also Acts 14:17; Psalm 104:27-28; 145:9, 15-16)

…and His people in particular.

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3 NIV see also Isaiah 43:4; 54:10

It is in His relationship with His people that His radical love shows through.  Many of God’s promises to Israel, mentioned just above, can be drawn out to include His people throughout the ages.  His people can be sure that God’s love will never falter or fail.  

Friends, God is crazy about us!  He cannot help loving us!

However, it is one thing to say you love someone; another thing entirely to show it.  Christ is the great example of how much God cannot help loving us.  He didn’t just say it…He did something about it.  He is so passionate about us that He sought us out when we were running from Him; He came after us. 

“For thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out...I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick.’”  (Ezekiel 34:11, 16 NASU)

In the person of Jesus, God took on human flesh and, as the Scripture says, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them  to the end.” (John 13:1 NASU)  The word for ‘end’ is the Greek word telos which means ‘fullness’ and ‘completion’.  Jesus gave, and continues to give, every ounce of love He has because God cannot help loving us.

In a tavern, Ivan and Peter sat together, the warm happiness of too many drinks upon their faces.  Arms around one another, they were protesting how much each loved the other.  Suddenly Ivan said to his friend, “Peter, tell me, what hurts me?”  Stunned, Peter sat back into his chair and blurted out, “How do I know what hurts you?” Ivan's response cut through the drunken stupor:  “If you don't know what hurts me, how can you say that you love me?”

Because God cannot help loving us He knows all about us; our joys, our sorrows, our fears, our pains…and through it all, He keeps loving us.

Where have you been in your life?  Maybe you’ve been down roads that you wish you had never traveled?  Maybe you’ve done things that you are ashamed of…that you know God disapproved of.  Maybe you’ve thought, “There is no way God could ever love me.” 

God is crazy about you!  He cannot help Himself.

One of the hardest things to do, even for believers to do, is to just accept God’s passionate love.  Sure, we fail, but that doesn’t take God by surprise.  It’s not as if He watches us fall and says, “Well maybe they don’t deserve My love after all.”  No kidding we don’t deserve His love!  That’s the point!  He loves us anyway.  He can’t help it!

Take heart! Delight in His love; relish it and return it with as much passion as you can muster.  God Cannot Help Loving Us.  Thank God!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Five Things God Cannot Do: #2

[The following post is based on a sermon series presented in January-February 2006 while I served as pastor at Exeter Area Christian Fellowship in Newfields, NH.]

Heaven: it is a place most everyone aspires to reach, but comparatively few will attain.  Why is that?  Why is it that of the numberless people that have ever lived, only a percentage will spend eternity in the presence of God?  The reason lies in another thing that God cannot do.

God cannot allow sin into heaven.

Let us allow Psalm 15 to instruct us in this (NIV text in italics throughout).

David begins with the key question: 1Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?

Rewording this for today, the question would ask, ‘How can a person get to heaven?’  The terms ‘sanctuary’ and ‘holy hill’ are literally the tabernacle and Mt. Zion (Jerusalem).  Symbolically they represent ‘heaven’ (refer to Psalm 2:6, 9:11; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 14:1).

David lived in the city of Jerusalem in the days in which the Ark of the Covenant sat in the Holy of Holies.  He had access to the literal objects, so his question delves much deeper.

No one actually lived in the Tabernacle or could permanently dwell in the sanctuary because it was where the Holy Presence of God was manifested.  David desires to know what it would take for someone to be worthy enough to actually and permanently live in the Presence of God.

He therefore begins to list what he understands to be the pathway to this desire.

~He whose walk is blameless- someone perfect; without defect or error.

~One who does what is righteous- one who is perfectly just.

~One who speaks the truth from his heart- a person with no double motives; integrity; what is said and done are in line with truth.

~One who has no slander on his tongue- one’s words are never evil or false.

~One who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman- one who lives in perfect harmony with all people.

~One who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord- a person who always perfectly discerns good from evil and responds correctly to them.

~One who keeps his oath even when it hurts- someone who perfectly keeps their promises.

~One who lends his money without usury- a person who is perfectly generous with no hint of greed; who gives with no thought of gain.

~One who does not accept a bribe against the innocent- someone who never acts unjustly.

He who does these things will never be shaken.  A person who can pull all this off will never have cause to worry about their place before God.  This is the person who can dwell on God’s Holy Hill.

Does this describe you?  No.  Nor does it describe me.  David’s question and answer is a glimpse at the harsh reality that no one is or can be perfect; no one is worthy to dwell in God’s sanctuary or live on His holy hill.

Well let’s be fair.  Won’t God applaud our efforts, even if we miss one or two of these?  How good do we have to be?  How close to perfection do we need to get?  Think on this: the Baseball Hall of Fame favors players who have a batting average of .300 or better, but that average represents a success rate of a mere 30%; basketball players and teams are happy if they shoot around 50%; the very best football quarterbacks complete around 65-70% of their passes.

So what if we reach 80% or 90% perfection?  Would 99.9% be good enough?  Let’s consider…If 99.9% is good enough, then it is okay that:  

~Two million documents will be lost by the IRS this year
~1,314 phone calls will be misplaced by telecommunication services every minute
~12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day
~268,500 defective tires will be shipped this year
~103,260 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly this year
~2,488,200 books will be shipped in the next 12 months with the wrong cover
~Two plane landings daily at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago will be unsafe
~3,056 copies of tomorrow's Wall Street Journal will be missing one of the three sections
~291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year
~20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written in the next 12 months.

Would we say 99.9% is good enough in any of these worldly instances?  So by what right do we insist that a Perfect and Holy God should settle for less than perfection?!  It is 100% or it doesn’t count.  If we could be perfect, we would have no problems; God would be obligated to let us into His heaven.  But that will never happen. 

The Apostle Paul, quoting from the Psalms, wrote: 10There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12 NIV cf. Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3)

The fact of the matter is this: God cannot allow sin into heaven.  God is perfectly holy.  He cannot and will not coexist with sin (refer also to Psalm 5:4; Habakkuk 1:13).  Nowhere in the Bible do I read that this has changed.

The key, then, is to be sinless.  But we have already said that it is impossible!  Considering the qualifications of Psalm 15, is there any one of us who could ever live up to those standards? 

There is only One Who did meet all the standards that we read about in Psalm 15.  One for Whom that passage in Romans 3 does not apply.  His Name is Jesus Christ.  He is the perfect One.  He is the only One qualified to ascend the hill of the Lord, to dwell permanently in the presence of God.  In His mercy, God has graciously allowed Jesus to bring some friends along with Him.

Entrance to heaven is gained only through a person receiving God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Through faith, the perfection of Jesus is credited to our account (see Romans 5:12-19).  The essential qualities of Psalm 15 become ours by our association with Christ, the One who embodies those qualities.

God cannot allow sin into heaven.  We must seek entrance only through Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Five Things God Cannot Do: #1

[The following post is based on a sermon series presented in January-February 2006 while I served as pastor at Exeter Area Christian Fellowship in Newfields, NH.]

Perhaps you have heard this philosophical question: ‘Can God make a rock so big that He cannot move it?’

This question is often asked by skeptics and unbelievers with the aim of tripping up Christians.  I will freely admit that the question is intriguing and puzzling…but I will also tell you that this question is a logical absurdity; and for the following key reason.

God is infinite.  If such a rock were to exist, God would cease to be God.  No matter how large the rock was to become, God would always dwarf it.  Additionally God is Spirit.  While God entered into this ‘dimension’ by taking on flesh through Jesus Christ, He does not primarily operate on the same plane that such a rock would inhabit.  For a rock to be too big for God, it would need to have the same qualities as God, causing God to cease to be God.

So the answer to the question must necessarily be, ‘no, God cannot make a rock so big that He cannot move it’.  Does this ‘limit’ God?  Is it problematic a Christian to say that there are some things God cannot do?  Not at all.

Over the next few posts I want to share with you five things that God cannot do.

First out of the gate: God Cannot Lie.

As fallen people, we are very good at bending the truth to suit our purposes.  But God cannot lie.  Untruthfulness is sin, and sin is impossible for a perfectly holy God.  If God were to sin, He would cease to be God.

Numbers 23:19 sets God apart from man in that He does not lie [Hebrew kazab].  Titus 1:2 reveals that God is ‘anti-falsehood’ [Greek apseudes].  Hebrews 6:18 tells that God does not have the capacity [Greek adunatos] to lie. 

Of Christ we read that “He committed no sin, and no deceit [Greek dolos- guile, deviousness] was found in his mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22 NIV cf. Isaiah 53:9).  Fifty one times in Matthew, Mark & Luke, Jesus declares, “truly I say”; the word for ‘truly’ is amen and it means, ‘let these things be proven true and come to pass.’  So important is the truthfulness of Jesus’ words that twenty five times in his Gospel account, John records a double emphasis, “truly, truly I say to you.”

Multiple times in the Gospel of John the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of truth” [Greek alethia] (see John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13)

This truthfulness is also a quality of the Word of God.  “…Your law is truth [Hebrew emeth- ‘trustworthy’] (Psalm 119:142 NAS); “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth” [Greek alethia] (John 17:17 NAS).  In the final verses of the Bible we find the word amen as a seal of the veracity of God (Revelation 22:20).

God cannot lie.

Does it bother you that God cannot do this?  Do you feel that somehow God is less?  I would surmise the answer is ‘of course not’.  I would hope the opposite is your response; that you are glad God cannot lie; and that He is all the more worthy because of His absolute truthfulness.

So what does this mean for Christians?

Followers of Jesus should striving to be people of the truth as the God we follow is the God of truth.

Sometimes, lies sound like a good idea.  We imagine that a well crafted lie can keep us out of trouble.  Sooner or later we find that the lie has gotten the best of us and we end up in worse trouble than at first.  Why do lies do this?  Simply this: Lies and deceit are tools of the enemy (see John 8:44).  Satan loves to see Christians tell lies, because once we get into a lie, we get away from emulating the character of God.  But he is not content just to see us lie.  He then watches with glee as we try to justify our lying.  We tell ourselves that it is okay, that our situation supersedes the call to be truthful.

When we do that, we doubt the truthfulness of God’s Word.  Isn’t that the path he led Eve down? (See Genesis 3:1-5).  Satan did not challenge the reality of God; he did not challenge the authority of God.  He challenged the truthfulness of God.  Satan would have us believe that God is dishonest.  It is a dangerous thing to call God a liar.

I do not understand how people can claim to be believers in Jesus and yet deny that the words He spoke have any weight or bearing; that they are good ideas, but not authoritative.  That is calling God a liar.  Or those who in one breath believe that God inspired the Bible, and yet in the next breath declare that the Bible is flawed.  That is calling God a liar.

God cannot lie; and because God cannot lie, everything He says is worthy to be believed.

So when He says people are sinners, we’d better believe Him (cf. 1 Kings 8:46; Romans 3:12, 23; 5:12).  When He says there is judgment coming, we’d better believe Him (cf. Romans 2:12; 14:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:12).  When He promises salvation through Christ, we should have no problem believing Him (cf. Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 5:11-12).

God cannot lie.  As His people, let us make truthfulness an integral part of our lives.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Hope for the Suffering

Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.  And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive.  But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 ESV)

The recent release of the book and film series ’13 Reasons Why’ has led to concern over the glamorizing of suicide.  Many who make the choice to take their own lives feel hopeless and can see no way out. 

The world is an oppressive place, filled with the misery of the many who suffer under the rule of the few.  If one has power, wealth and influence, they can carve out a comfortable existence for themselves—yet usually on the backs of the ‘least of these’.  The downtrodden have no advocate against the powerful and corrupt (see Eccl 3:16) while all power is on the side of the cruel and the oppressors.  Who wants to live in such a world!?  The author figures that it is the dead who are the ‘fortunate ones’, because they no longer suffer under such injustice and oppression.  But more fortunate still, so the author presumes are those not yet born, for they have not known the misery and sadness of such a life.

We who live in the developed West live a fairly good life.  We see injustice and oppression of the weak by the strong, yet for all this we have it very easy.  We in no way face the hardness of the world as millions know it and have known it.  In the developing world the corruption and oppression is more pronounced, more visible and tangible.  Let Christians in the developed West take heed of two very important things.  First, we have no idea what oppression and persecution is.  We may feel slighted and perceive a growing marginalization, but we shouldn’t be so quick to cry martyr.  Second, practically all of us will go to bed warm and fed and comfortable tonight.  We are not faced with lack or forced to do without.  The underdeveloped world, in which a majority of our brothers and sisters live, will face true hardship.  

Yet for all who feel in some way ‘under the heel’, might we at some point wonder of death is not preferable to such a life.  Are the dead truly ‘better off’?  Are those not born more fortunate? 

The Christian emphatically says ‘NO!’  Life is a blessing and a gift from God, and we recognize death as the Great Enemy (see 1 Cor 15:26).    As Christians we know that there is hope; that the evil of the world is not all powerful.  We see oppression and evil as symptoms of the great sickness of sin which infects the entire world.  We also see these as opportunity to bring the grace of the Gospel, the hope of Jesus Christ, to those who suffer in the world.  Christ knew oppression, privation, homelessness, abandonment and injustice.  He is the model for how to live under tyranny with hope and grace.

May you find hope in Him. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Revering the God of Purpose

“I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:14 ESV)

All things have their season (3:1-8); appointed by God, made "beautiful" and appropriate (3:11).  A person seeks to know God’s ways, what has been and what lies beyond, yet they cannot (3:11).  The author knows that God's purposes are settled from ages past to ages future; they are set and fixed, and no person can alter these purposes even in the minutest way.  God will ensure that His decrees and principles come to pass; as they have in the past so they will in days to come.   God has done this as a means by which humans will be driven to a sense of ‘fear’—reverence respect and awe.  Rather than life being an endless and vain repetition, the natural cycle testifies to the God of order Who purposed all things.  People should desire to seek Him and give Him honor and reverence.

The author’s insight ‘beyond the sun’ continues.  He sees the fixed and set purposes of God standing as beacons of hope rather than despair.  These should cause one not to resent God, but to revere Him.  We must seek for God in the everyday, not just in the ‘big moments’.  In the passing of each day, the circling of the years, opportunity is present to find and honor God; to ‘fear’ Him.  In this way we may find meaning as creatures of God’s fixed purposes—not accidents or products of random change.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Now and the Forever

[God] has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11b ESV)

The author’s worldview accepted that there was some type of existence beyond the present life.  He believed that a person was born with an innate—God given—sense of ‘eternity’ (Hebrew olam ‘forever’ or ‘everlasting’).  This deep rooted feeling is accompanied by an uneasy sense, ‘disquietness’, at the inability to figure out or comprehend God’s ways.  There are certainly aspects of God’s nature and purpose that can be discerned, but human ability in this is limited (see Deuteronomy 29:29).  The quest of the finite for the infinite, unless aided by the Infinite, is bound to end in disappointment. 

Thus the author concludes that the course a person should set is not to give way to despair or disillusionment at what they cannot know, but to recognize what God has given that may be known and enjoyed—the simple pleasures of life as stated in 3:12-13—to “be joyful and to do good” and to eat, drink and enjoy our work, “this is God's gift to man.”  It isn’t that God doesn’t intend for a person to have or know more, but that these ‘basics’ are His gift to all.

Man always chases extremes.  On the one hand a person can become so caught up in the pursuit of eternity that they forego or miss the pleasures of life which God has given in the ‘now’.  Perhaps you know someone like this—someone who lives an ascetic or ‘Spartan’ lifestyle as they pursue piety or spirituality.  I think of Symeon the Stylite who lived on a platform at the top of a pillar in the desert.

On the other hand, one can become so consumed with earthly pleasures and pursuits that they lose sight of eternity completely.  Here I am reminded of the parable told by Jesus in Luke 12:16-21 in which a wealthy man focuses all his energy and attention upon his temporal life with no thought to his condition beyond life: “But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” (Luke 12:20 NIV).  In a sobering conclusion Jesus tells us that “this is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21 NIV)

God has given us this sense of something ‘beyond the sun’—something eternal—to remind us that life has a deeper, more significant meaning.  He has also given us pleasures in this life that we may enjoy our days and years.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the things of the world, just as there is no shame in the pursuit of the spiritual, but there must be balance as we seek eternity while living life now.  We must look for God, the giver of all and the hope for our significance.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

All Things ‘Beautiful’

[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11a ESV)

The author of Ecclesiastes has been seeking meaning and purpose.  He has considered many things in and of themselves as the goal of the search, but this has come up empty; ‘vanity!’ he cries.  Then he comes to see that everything has a time and a season; a purpose in the larger picture.  He is beginning to turn his thoughts to something ‘beyond the sun’, namely the work of the Lord. 

Everything a person experiences, listed in 3:2-8, has been given by God to the human race as part of the ‘business’ of life; and all these things God has ordained as ‘beautiful’ to their appointed time.  I believe a better rendering would be ‘appropriate’ rather than ‘beautiful’.  War, death and destruction are never ‘beautiful’, but they are still under the sovereign hand of God and therefore they are fitted into their appropriate place.

This seems to be an important pathway to making sense of life, although the following portion of the verse tells us that we cannot know everything (I will deal with this in the next post).  Yet as we see and accept God’s guiding had in all matters of life, we may begin to develop an understanding of His love, compassion and care.  In times of joy or happiness (birth, planting, healing, peace, etc.) this may be easier, because we expect and affirm God’s goodness.  But in times of hardship or trouble (death, war, grief, loss, etc.) we might lose sight of the compassion of God.  Yet these times are made appropriate, even if we don’t find them beautiful, to the season of life. 

I have used the analogy of our lives as a brick wall.  Each event is a brick that we must fit into our story.  Perhaps, as we grow and discover, we will learn more how the difficult pieces fit appropriately, and someday be able to step back and see the beauty in all things.