Saturday, June 16, 2018

God's Works

Plenty of evidence points to God's existence, especially creation itself, but so many do not believe in God at all (even though he has placed knowledge of his existence in the hearts of all people). With all the obvious evidence, still many do not believe. We try all kinds of proofs, all kinds of brain exercises to logically infer God, and yet those techniques still do not work. I read CS Lewis' Mere Christianity and was convinced of the truth of the Christian God, but I know of many who have read the same book and were not convinced at all. What we need is not a brain-knowledge of God but a heart-knowledge. Striving to understand God's essence is not effective, but contemplating him in his works is very effective. God will seem true and near to us when we study his deeds.  This is why the Bible is mostly about what God DOES in history, and even what he SAYS is about what he DOES.

David tells us that we should meditate on his works in Psalm 145. God is too vast to adequately grasp, but if we look upon his works, we will grasp him sufficiently for salvation. We can look at creation itself, the impossibility of all this happening by accident. We can look at the miracles of the Old Testament: the flood and rescue of Noah, the Tower of Babel, the providence of Joseph, the exodus from Egypt, the preservation in the wilderness. We can look at the miracles of the New Testament: the incarnation and wonders of Christ, the resurrection, the salvation of Paul. We can look at the deeds of God in history, like the reformation. Finally, we can look at the wonders of God in our own lives, like the healing of my daughter's eyes, or his saving even me from destruction.

What does such knowledge do? This heart knowledge of God's works leads us to worship and hope of the future life. All of his works on earth point to something greater to come after this world passes away. The persecution and suffering of the pious and the success and prosperity of the wicked also points to an afterlife of perfect justice, where the pious are rewarded and the wicked get their just desserts. So, in the end, we cannot look at each of God's works individually and then stop looking.  We must look at ALL of his works as a whole, as if looking at a massive painting, to see where they all fit together. When we focus on one thing, like say the conquest of the promised land, we tend to get mired down in God's essence again: who is God at his core? When we look at all of his works together, we see God's work in the salvation of his people, the righteousness, goodness, justice, and mercy for his people. We see an heroic epic.

In Psalm 40, David says that evils beyond number surround him, and even his own sins have gotten the better of him, and he is unable to see his savior clearly. The heart love that he has for his Lord seems empty and insufficient. God is far away. But he looks at the big picture.  He looks at the way God has saved his church from destruction. He has saved the bride of Christ by saving Christ from destruction. His church is wed to him, and so the church gets saved, too. We are in Christ and Christ in us.

See the big picture. See the salvation of the Lord. Are you hung up on trying to understand a presence more vast than all of humanity put together? Are you nitpicking God's individual deeds in order to find fault with him? Or are you looking at the big picture, seeing the face of the Son who died to save us all? Are you looking at the fullness of time and seeing God's intercession in history through Christ the savior, who saves his people from their sins by his death on the cross? Do you see in all the Old Testament the foreshadowing of the big picture? Do you see in the New Testament the description of the big picture itself? Is knowledge of the Lord present in your heart by meditation on his mighty works?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Three Psalms on God's Glory

I want to look at three Psalms on God's glory. One is about how we can experience God's glory from creation itself. The second one is how we can discern God's glory from man's stewardship over nature. Finally, the last one is on how we see God's glory in his sovereignty over man's salvation. What we have is an increasing pull-back from nature to man's place in nature to God's rule over all things, all of which glorify God.

Psalm 104

What we have here is a description of what mankind has been doing since the beginning: assigning physical attributes to the invisible God using nature as descriptors. God clothes himself in light, stretches out the sky like a tent, and uses the waters as a housing structure. He rides on the clouds like a chariot (do you see how man corrupted these images into false gods like Zeus?), stands upon the wind, and uses the elements to communicate with humanity. No true Christian thinks of God as an old man in the sky, despite what the ungodly tell us what we believe, but when we know that God is sovereign over all of nature--even the unpredictable elements--it's hard not to imagine the power of the almighty God behind a chaotic thunderstorm and realize that he is communicating his glory to us. In fact, this is what we should do. We should think of God as all-powerful and potentially destructive to the evil that man has brought about. If we live in awe and fear of God, we will respect him and put our faith in him. Read the rest of the Psalm and know that God is in control over all the seemingly random things in nature:

He established the earth upon its foundations,
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters were standing above the mountains.
At Your rebuke they fled,
At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.
You set a boundary that they may not pass over,
So that they will not return to cover the earth.
He sends forth springs in the valleys;
He waters the mountains from His upper chambers;
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
He made the moon for the seasons;
The sun knows the place of its setting.
You appoint darkness and it becomes night,
O Lord, how many are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all;
The earth is full of Your possessions.
There is the sea, great and broad,
And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.
They all wait for You
To give them their food in due season.
You give to them, they gather it up;
You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
You hide Your face, they are dismayed;
You take away their spirit, they expire
And return to their dust.
You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the mountains, and they smoke.

Psalm 8

Here is where we see the glory of God through mankind. He made man's mouth for singing his praises, even from infancy. The Psalmist tells us that with all the works of nature that we read about in Psalm 104, there is no need for God to even create man in the first place.  So much glory of God lies in nature, that it almost seems that mankind is an afterthought. But no! Man is God's crowning achievement, and God has made him to be a steward over majestic creation, representing God as like a regent, taking care of the kingdom until the true king can step into the role. All of creation is put under the dominion of man, and our job is to glorify God by taking care of such. Do we succeed? No, which is why we need to read the 107th Psalm.

Psalm 107

Finally, we have the ultimate Psalm of God's glory--God being glorified through the redemption of mankind. He put us in charge and we botched it. We let the enemy in through the gates, and we have no life in ourselves. God created nature, then he created a reasoning creature to take care of it--both for his glory. Then the reasoning creature fell into sin and death, and now God gets to be glorified by recreating all things, beginning with the reasoning creature.

Man has starved himself by cutting himself off from God's life. He cries out to the Lord who delivers him. Man is in the desert. God steers his way to a majestic city of eternal life. Mankind consists of rebels in chains, prisoners in misery, lost laborers. Mankind cries out to the Lord who saves them. God sets man free from his bonds and brings him out from under the shadow of death. Man lives under a self-imposed plague, and the Lord heals man with his word. Mankind has made shipwreck of our faith. We plunge deeper and deeper in misery. The very nature we were commissioned to subdue has overtaken us. We failed in our stewardship and nature has ruined us. But the Lord stills the storm and hushes the waves. He guides us to the desired haven.

God created everything. He sustains all things. He controls all things. He will recreate all things. He has already begun recreating all things, beginning with you. You dwelt in desert places, because of your sin. God delivered you from sin though Jesus Christ's death on the cross. Your faith in this particular deliverance determines your re-creation. Are you being recreated into the likeness of his son? Are you being recreated for the new heavens and the new earth? Are you being recreated for everlasting life? Or are you still under the shadow of death? Are you still sinking into the dark of the deep, drowning in sin and misery? Have you embraced the son? Or are you to wander in the desert for eternity?

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Importance of the Trinity

It is very important for our salvation that our God is a trinity.  The word "trinity" is not used in the Bible, but that God is three in one is everywhere in its pages. The Father creates us, the Son redeems us, and the Spirit sanctifies us.  All three of these things are necessary for the Christian life.

Matthew 3:16-17. When Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan, he comes up immediately from the water, and the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on him.  He has been "christened" for his office as redeemer.  A voice out of the heavens--the Father--says that Jesus is his beloved son, in whom he is well pleased.  The Father is the mastermind behind the plan of salvation, and he is pleased with the human vessel to carry the plan out.  Jesus is the redeemer of the world, the Word of God made flesh, who dies for the sins of believers.  The Holy Spirit applies redemption to the believers and carries out the cleansing of our sins, making them white as snow, like a dove.

Matthew 28:18-20. The Father has given the Son all authority in heaven and on earth.  Jesus, the Son, takes that authority and passes it down to all believers, giving us the power to preach the gospel to all nations, making disciples.  Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit begins the regeneration process.  Believers are preached to and become sanctified.  The act of discipling is conceived by the Father, enabled by the Son, and impossible to accomplish without the Spirit.

John 14:16. Jesus tells his disciples that he, the Son, will ask the Father, and he will give his disciples the Spirit of truth to help us. Once again, the Father is the mastermind, Christ is the agent of change, and the Holy Spirit is the substance of enlightenment.  In this case, he will lead his children in all truth, teaching all things, opening the scriptures to understanding, and testifying about Jesus to the world (John 15:26).

John 16:5-11. The Spirit also keeps in our minds the trinity. Not only does he convict the world of sin, but he alerts the world to the righteous solution for sin, because Jesus is with the Father, interceding for us. The Spirit also promises a day of judgment and that there is only a short time left, time enough for us to receive faith in God.  Faith is not just believing in God, but a thorough understanding of the gospel, and that understanding involves knowing the trinity. The gospel doesn't make sense unless the roles the trinity plays make sense.

Salvation involves the complete trinity. If you don't have the Spirit, you don't have the Son.  If you don't have the Son, you don't have the Father.  Not believing in one means you don't believe in any of them.  Not being aware of the work of one means the other two are not working in your life, either.  How do you know if God is active in your life? The Holy Spirit bears fruit in the believer's life.  If you can see the fruit of faith, then you know the Holy Spirit is sanctifying you, and you know that the Son is interceding for you, and you know that the Father has elected you.  If you practice the deeds of the flesh, then you are outside the trinity.  The deeds of the flesh, according to Galatians 5, are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing. The fruits of the Spirit are love (as Christ loved us), joy (even in persecution), peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Examine yourselves.  These fruits are not difficult to discern.  Is the trinity at work in your life? Has the Father created a new person?  Has the Son spilled his blood on your behalf?  Is the Holy Spirit sanctifying you? Are you bearing the fruit?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Denying Eternity

As Christ says in his prayer in John 17, Eternal Life is knowing God.  Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God has set eternity in mankind's heart.  Essentially, God has put the knowledge of himself in all creatures, so that we might grope for him and discover him in this life.  However, all men and women, to various degrees, bury him in the conscience, piling over top of God idol after idol as a substitute.  As we read in Romans 1, we suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because even with all the evidence in creation, we do not seek God.  We tend to seek only our own pleasures and self worth.  Some merely don't seek him, while others actively hate him. Either way, not honoring God or giving thanks to him for life, we devolve into futile speculations about the nature of things. We are fools and worship the creature, because men and animals are manageable.  God himself is so vastly superior and awe-inspiring that it would crush us to nothing to acknowledge his glory.  Such are all of us, but some travel far down the path of unrighteousness, whereas God has snatched others out of such futile thinking, as if brands from a fire.  He has saved some.

The unsaved continue down the path far, burying God beneath so much idolatry and self-conceit, that they do not even believe that a God exists.  Psalm 14:1 reads, "the fool has said in his heart, 'there is no God.' "  Although the ungodly one does not fear God, he makes an idol of his own sin, and he elevates himself as God.  God allows the unrighteous to pursue this course, and as a result, they never linger around the cusp of belief.  They sprint toward deeper and deeper depravities until they cannot return to possible redemption, it seems.  Jesus himself tells his disciples that this is the reason he speaks in parables.  Those who are on the cusp of belief will understand the parables, being nudged in the right direction by the Holy Spirit.  Those who have cast themselves away from God's grace cannot hear the meaning of the parables, and they sound like nonsense and foolishness to them.

All of this is best summarized in the words of Psalm 36:

Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart;
There is no fear of God before his eyes.
For it flatters him in his own eyes
Concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it.
The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;
He has ceased to be wise and to do good.
He plans wickedness upon his bed;
He sets himself on a path that is not good;
He does not despise evil.

Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like a great deep.
O Lord, You preserve man and beast.
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.

O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You,
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.
There the doers of iniquity have fallen;
They have been thrust down and cannot rise.

Even then, all is not lost.  God can take the most vile of sinners and breathe life into him.  The reason is, in actuality, only Christ is saved, because he is sinless.  He is the one with whom the covenant between God and Man was made, and so his righteousness saves him.  We, however, can be saved by faith alone.  Just an ounce of faith--a mustard seed--can move mountains and can also move a man from the brink of everlasting destruction into Christ, our salvation, our ark.  Faith is all one needs, and with this faith, the Holy Spirit cleanses us to prepare us for everlasting life.  Our sins are removed, crucified with Christ on the cross, and his righteousness is reckoned to us.  Christ is saved, and we are saved with him, as long as we are in him by faith.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Man Before God

One of the greatest goals in life, if not the greatest goal in life, for anyone is to know oneself.  We try to attain this knowledge of self, but we live in a world that has rejected God, so our only object of comparison is the world itself, including other people.  When we compare ourselves to people, we think ourselves pretty good, and so we end up with a warped view of ourselves.  The Bible gives us a different object of comparison--God himself. When we compare ourselves to him, different things happen to us.

Calvin asserted two truths in chapter one of his Institutes, and they were, "without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God," and, "without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self."  This may sound like circular reasoning, but one can enter such a circle through an experience of God. Such an experience need not be a mystical vision or miraculous offering.  One only needs to understand oneself in relation to the God of the Bible.  One must rightly think of himself as unworthy of everlasting life because of the knowledge that God is perfectly holy, and unholy things cannot be in his presence.  This sounds simple enough, but the world's image of God and mankind are so corrupt that it seems nigh impossible today to get an accurate vision of ourselves and God.  For this we must turn to the pages of scripture.

Two examples from the Old Testament: in Isaiah 6, the prophet has a vision of God, sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple.  Even the angels that flew about him covered their faces and their feet, because he was so holy.  Isaiah's reaction is to fall on his face and scream, "woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5)  Our reaction to God's holiness is an acute realization of our uncleanness.

The second is from 1 Kings 19.  Elijah is fleeing into the wilderness, and at mount Horeb the Lord approaches him.  First there is a hurricane that rends the mountains, but scripture tells us that God was not in the wind.  Next comes an earthquake, and God is not in the earthquake.  Finally, there is a fire, but the Lord is not there, either.  Finally, a gentle breeze comes to Elijah.  We have heard this passage before, and usually the point is that the Lord comes to us gently at times, not in violence.  That's a nice message, but look at what Elijah does when he experiences the breeze: he wraps his mantle about his face to protect himself from the holiness of God.  Yes, God may be in gentle things and not violent things, but the point is that we are not worthy to face his holiness, no matter where it is found.  The holiness of God draws out our wretchedness.

Here is an example from the New Testament: Jesus tells Peter to let down his nets in the water after a night of catching nothing.  Peter obeys reluctantly and catches an enormous amount of fish. When faced with this sudden holiness of Christ, Peter falls down at Jesus' feet and says, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  Is it not clear that when faced with the truth of God--that he is perfectly holy--we end up with an accurate view of ourselves--that we are perfectly wretched?

So, do we wait for the unconverted to have a holy experience, so that they may be saved?  Well, we can pray for such a miraculous event to occur, but the best way for such a conversion to happen--if it is to happen--is to take the unconverted to the Word of God.  For an example of this, we look to Acts 17 and Paul's sermon in the midst of the Areopagus. His sermon is quite simple, but it brings out the two accurate views of God and mankind.  He notes that the people of Athens are so religious that they even worship gods they don't know.  He then proclaims that the god they don't know is the one who made everything, and the ones they do know are actually only false idols of wood and stone. He extols the holiness of God by describing his giving of breath and life to all people.  He essentially hearkens back to creation in Genesis 1 and hits them with the awesome mind of God, who not only made everyone but determined their birth locations and times. "In Him we live and move and exist."  He tells them that even their own pagan poets figured it out.  Therefore, as Children of the one, true God, when we worship manmade gods, we are idolators, wretched sinners, and we need to repent.  Why do we need to repent?  Because he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world through his Son, Jesus Christ, and he has proved that this will happen by raising said Son from the dead.  Paul, in few words, has hit the unconverted with the most succinct exposition of God's holiness.  Quick and to the point, within the limited amount of time a believer has--in this day and age, too--to get the truth of God across to the unconverted.

The holiness of God, when delivered accurately, not as genie-magic to help us in our day-to-day desires, but as the perfect goodness of a creator who will mete out perfect justice on all unrepentant sinners, is a way to get through the tough shell of worldly unbelief that permeates our culture today.  Many will resist, as they did that day in the Areopagus, but many may have their shells crushed by the truth and begin to turn to their savior with repentance and faith.