GOOD AND BAD TOGETHER?

We found this interesting vehicle on display when we visited the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.  See the post PUSHMI-PULLYU – INDECISION IS HARMFUL! that was posted April 26, 2016 for more information about our visit to the Museum and this interesting vehicle.

Lane Motor Museum double car
Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

At first glance, I thought it was interesting that it seemed to have front headlights on the back end as well as at the front.  Upon a more focused look at the vehicle, I realized that it was two front halves put together.

Lane Motor Museum double car inside
Close up view of the two front ends of the Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

Fairly odd looking, I have to say.  Obviously, this would be impossible to drive if both “front ends” were engaged at the same time.  Yet, on a spiritual basis, this is what we do all the time in connection with the irreconcilable contrast between “good and evil”.

We affirmatively state that God is good.  Indeed, we know that goodness is one of God’s attributes. 

“And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” 

Exodus 33:19 ESV

For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!.”

Zechariah 9:17 ESV

The Apostle Paul even notes that goodness is part of the fruit of the Spirit which we are to grow in our own hearts and minds as we allow Him to transform us into the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

Galatians 5:22 ESV

The reality for us, however, is that goodness is not what we see on a daily basis in either ourselves or our world.  Rather than goodness, we see evil, selfishness, pride, injustice, violence, hatred, and hurt.  In short, we see sin, disobedience to God’s Word, in both our own life and in the life of our community and the world.

It is the height of arrogance to think that mankind is good.  A review of the daily headlines shows that this is not the case.   That same arrogance produces the thought that we are good at any time … even our best “good deeds” are described in Scripture as “filthy rags”.   Isaiah 64:6 [KJV].

Dr. R. C. Sproul says:

Sin is cosmic treason.  Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign.  It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.  Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo?  What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God.  We are saying “God, Your law is not good.  My judgment is better than Yours.  Your authority does not apply to me.  I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction.  I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.” 

The slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority.  It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act in which we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything.  It is an insult to His holiness.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 115-116 (Emphasis is mine)

So, we know that we are not good and that sin and evil abounds in and around us.  But we then argue that if God is good, it would appear that God is not watching, He doesn’t care, or He is incapable of helping us in a world that is so full of evil.  While some feel this way, I suggest that the opposite is true.  Turning to Dr. Sproul’s comments again, he says:

… He [God] is so slow to anger that when His anger does erupt, we are shocked and offended by it.  We forget rather quickly that God’s patience is designed to lead us to repentance, to give us time to be redeemed.  Instead of taking advantage of this patience by coming humbly to Him for forgiveness, we use this grace as an opportunity to become more bold in our sin.  We delude ourselves into thinking that either God doesn’t care about it, or that He is powerless to punish us.  … The supreme folly is that we think we will get away with our revolt.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 117 (Emphasis is mine)

When it appears that God is not working in our world, the reality is that He is waiting.  He is exercising His patience.  He is allowing evil to continue because there are those who have not yet recognized the Spirit’s conviction of sin and who have not yet received the gift of salvation through faith in Christ alone. 

Can evil/sin exist with good/holiness?  The answer to this inquiry is an emphatic “no!”   Sinful mankind cannot appear before the Holy God who is the essence of goodness.  But through Jesus Christ, God has made a way for us to be forgiven of our sin and washed in the righteousness of His Son. 

christ-of-the-ozarks-missouri-1968-3
Christ of the Ozarks, Missouri, USA (circa 1965)

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6 ESV

If God were to wipe out all evil, those who have not yet received Jesus Christ as their Savior would be lost forever.  Thus, God waits patiently until all His children have come to Him.  .  Paul says in Romans:

“Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2:4 ESV

For a time, it may appear that people are successful in their revolt against God and His Anointed One.  For a time, it may appear that evil has won the battle and that God is helpless to give aid or comfort to His people. 

Beloved, this is a delusion, a fiction of the highest magnitude.

When God slams down His gavel in judgment of all mankind, there will be no time then for people to confess their sin and to receive the gift of salvation.  The time of God’s mercy will be over.  His patient waiting will be completed.  At that point it will be the time of judgment. 

“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.

1 John 3:7-8 ESV

Don’t be double minded.  Goodness and evil/righteousness and sin/light and dark cannot coexist.   Look to Jesus Christ, confess your sin, receive His righteousness and live then in goodness and light, through His power alone.

Father, cleanse my heart from its sin and double-mindedness.  Enable me, through Your Spirit, to live my life in dedication to You and to Your will.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, my God and my Redeemer.

 

AN ACTIVITY BASED ON A RELATIONSHIP

For the past several years, I have been privileged to be included on a prayer list of concerns raised by some precious children in a nearby elementary school.  They participate in The Good News Club, an after school ministry for a couple of hours once a week, and part of that time is spent in prayer.  They then give the leader their prayer requests and it is sent to the various praying participants via email.

As an older adult, it is heart-warming, and sometimes humorous, to read some of their prayer requests. 

  • Praise that a child’s mom came back to be with her family.
  • Prays that his great-grandmother gets better.
  • Pray for her teacher’s daughter, that she stops coughing.
  • Pray that a fever blister in her mouth will go away
  • Pray that he can pay attention
  • Pray that the dog will stop barking

Each request, however, reflects a concern that these precious children have, either at home or at school.  In other words, these concerns touch their entire universe. 

As adults, we have learned to be a bit more obtuse when we pray.  Asking for some specific thing for our own selves might be too brash. So, we will phrase it in some other way so that we might be able to trick God into thinking we are praying for others, when it is actually our own desires at issue.  Even when intervening on behalf of someone else, most often we tell God what we want Him to do.

In the Canterbury Cathedral, as in the other cathedrals we visited in England, there were many tombs of various persons and heads of the church.  We found it interesting that the archbishops were, almost always, depicted with their hands clasped in prayer.

canterbury-cathedral-tomb
Ornate tomb of an archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury England

I don’t know if they were praying for their own soul or if they were praying for their congregation, but I do know that prayers of intervention for others are appropriate.  For example, Paul says:

We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong, and our prayer is for your perfection.

 2 Corinthians 13:9.

tomb-of-one-of-the-archbishops-of-canterbury
Tomb of Archbishop John Bird Sumner, 1780-1862, Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury England

In Colossians 1:3-4 he tells his readers that he thanks God for their faith when he prays for them.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…

Notice, however, that Paul’s prayers are not a laundry list of things that Paul wanted.  He certainly did not see the Father as a giant Santa Claus in the sky who would give out goodies for his personal benefit  … he didn’t even pray to be released from prison!  Read Acts chapter 16 for the incredible story of Paul in jail in Philippi, which was a leading city in the district of Macedonia.

Rather, Paul’s prayers related to strengthening the spiritual welfare of the believers, to the continued spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for healing to occur so that God’s power would be revealed and He would get the glory.

Paul understood that, fundamentally, prayer is a conversation between two parties … the believer in Christ Jesus and God.  But these parties are not peers:  they are not equal in any manner.   We are the creation, and we are mortal.  We are sinners and the best we have to offer God is likened to giving Him filthy rags. 

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Isaiah 64:6 [NIV]

But for God’s sending Jesus Christ, we would not be able to have any prayer life because we could not approach God due to our sin.  Christ’s life, death and resurrection defeated the control sin has over us when He clothed us in His righteousness.  That is what God sees … sinners clothed in Jesus’ righteousness who were saved by His Grace through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son and our Lord. 

Thank God for the righteousness that has been given to you through Jesus Christ.  Grow in your relationship with the Father, feed it with study of His Word, sit quietly and let Him speak to you so that your prayers are not a one-sided conversation that is a thinly veiled demand that God act in a certain way to satisfy your temporal desires. 

praying hands
Praying Hands.

While we can, and must, pray for the children and their concerns, our prayers must first be recognition of Who God is and we should give thanks for God’s gift of grace, His holiness, His attributes of love, patience, goodness, beauty, … the list could go on. 

Through prayer, we can have an intimate relationship with God, the Creator and Sustainer of all. But we must remember that we cannot just barge into God’s court with our demands even if they are camouflaged as requests.  We must have respect and reverence for the Almighty God.   So, start your prayer with time in adoration of Him.  Then, that adoration will naturally lead to confession of those times when we have fallen short of His desires for us.  This will flow into thankfulness for the forgiveness and cleansing from our sin that He gives to us through Jesus Christ.  And then, and only then, launch into a prayer of supplication.  This pattern of prayer is often referred to by the acrostic ACTS.

  • A – adoration of God
  • C – confession of our sins
  • T – thanksgiving for His cleansing of our sins
  • S – supplication for others and then, and only then, for ourselves

Offer God prayers of praise and thanksgiving multiple times per day.  Praise Him for His love and wondrous works on our behalf.  Praise Him for allowing us to come before Him in prayer. Thank Him and let your spirit be, first and foremost, one of gratitude in prayer.  Then see if your prayer life takes on new vibrancy when you intercede for others.

A singer from my youth was George Beverly Shea, who frequently sang at the Billy Graham Crusades.  On his album Echoes of My Soul, he sings a song entitled “Early in the Morning”.  Listen and think about what you can thank the Lord for today!

 

Father, I thank You for giving me the privilege of coming into Your presence through Your Son, and my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I thank You for promising to hear my petitions and I know that You will answer them according to Your divine will.  I praise Your name for Your grace and love, extended to all those to believe in the name of Your Son.  Strengthen us in prayer as we seek to serve you in our world.

The Bradford Pear Tree — and Me!

It has been unseasonably warm in our area of the country. As a result, some of the spring trees and plants are already in bloom, unaware that most of the time there is snow and freezing temperatures in March. In any event, they are blooming and, snow or not, it reminds me of spring and I am glad.

 

One of the flowering trees that I love is the Bradford pear tree – in spring, it is usually the first tree in bloom with its white flowers filling up the limbs of the tree. The trees are beautifully shaped and their limbs reach to the skies in homage to the Creator.

Bradford pear trees
Bradford pear trees with their flowering blooms and branches reaching up to the heavens.

 

Often, when I see the Bradford pear tree in bloom, I think about the beautiful things in this world, and/or what I perceive is good in myself.   You know, what I mean – the things that I did and which I perceive were good or the charitable activity that I performed recently, knowing that surely God will be happy that I did whatever it was! I smile as I drive past the tree, thinking that it reflects all that is good in my life and I am happy.

Book pictures Bradford pear- flowers 11
Flowering Bradford pear trees in our neighborhood.

 

But, if you live anywhere near a Bradford pear tree, and if you have a working nose, you will know that the “beautiful” flowers on the trees actually have a very unsavory aroma. Okay, to put it in the real world terms, they are beautiful as you drive past, but put your nose into the plethora of blooms and you will no longer be happy — the flowers stink.

 

And the analogy to my own life continues! The Bible says that all of our righteous acts, all the good things that we think we do — ALL of it stinks in God’s nose.   The prophet Isaiah describes our righteous acts in Scripture as follows:

 

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.   Isaiah 64:6.

 

Isaiah’s use of the words “filthy rags” does not mean a dirty dust cloth – rather it is, well, filthy rags that you certainly would not want on display anywhere!

 

Praise the Lord that this is not the last word for the Christian, however. Paul in his letter to the Romans, states:

 

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. Romans 8:10.

 

In other words, I don’t have to depend on my own righteousness (or good works) to satisfy my accounts with God. Christ did that when He died on the cross … and His Spirit gives life, both now and evermore, because of His righteousness which has been given to me through His amazing grace.

 

So, I come back to the Bradford pear tree. I still love that tree – it is beautiful with its flower-covered limb-arms shining before the Lord.

 

But, the fragrant aroma that is lifted to God by the life of the Christian is not my own stinking flowers, rather it is the aroma of righteousness granted to me through faith in Jesus Christ my Savior.

 

It is Christ’s righteousness that God sees when he looks at me. Praise His Holy Name – and let the gorgeous Bradford Pear tree and its beautiful flowers remind you of our glorious and gracious God!

 

Father, thank You for reminding me, through Your creation that my works are nothing, but Yours are eternal and good. Thank You for your Son, my Savior and Lord. Strengthen me so that my life will honor and glorify You.