ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – SOVEREIGNTY

Unlike centuries ago, we no longer have many sovereigns in our world today.  When we visited England, we stayed in London and went to Buckingham Palace, one of the homes of Queen Elizabeth II.  It is in downtown London and it takes up significant acreage with the palace, gardens and grounds.

2011-04 England 139

Looking at Buckingham Palace from across the grounds you can get a glimpse at the magnitude of the Queen’s residence. 

2011-04 England 152

Standing closer, we could see the guard making his route securing the sovereign, as we were on the other side of the gate looking in with a throng of others.  

We in the United States have a hard time with the concept of “sovereignty”.  Our whole corporate psyche is centered on freedom.  We believe that we were born free, to live as and where we choose while doing whatever it is that we want to do.  No caste system.  No one dictating what profession or job we must take.  No one telling us where we can or cannot live.  

Having a person over us who is sovereign is exactly what our forefathers rebelled against and it was the springboard for the Revolutionary War between our country and England.

So, when we come to the attribute of God that is titled “Sovereignty”, we have a hard time comprehending all that such term entails.  It is easy to speak the words that “God is in control of everything.”  But the reality of a Sovereign God is much more far-reaching than a platitude.

In Exodus chapter 18, we have a beautiful vignette of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro:

“And Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and [how] the LORD had delivered them. Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the LORD had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, “Blessed [be] the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, [and] who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.  Now I know that the LORD [is] greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, [He was] above them.“”

Exodus 18:8-11 NKJV

Jethro was glad for the deliverance of Moses and the children of Israel and, after Moses had described all that God had done in Egypt, Jethro rejoiced and praised the LORD who is sovereign over all.  Nothing that some people may attribute to a god is outside His sovereign control.

The Psalmist says this about God’s sovereignty:

“Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”

Psalm 115:2-3

God is sovereign over all mankind or anything that he worships, nothing compares to our God and Lord.

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

Proverbs 21:1

God is sovereign over other monarchs on earth – while the king might be making plans, the Lord God controls that which happens.

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

Proverbs 16:33

As with kings, even the common man is subject to the sovereignty of God.  Men cast lots and then make their decisions based on that result, but God is the One who controls the decision that the lot mandates.

In fact, God is even sovereign over the actions of animals.

Recall what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Matthew 10:29-31

Now, remember Jonah’s free transportation in the belly of the great fish, and then, at the word of the Lord, his being catapulted from the fish onto dry land.  Jonah 2:10.   Also, remember how God gave Balaam’s donkey the power of speech when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the street, but his master did not.  Numbers 22.

There is nothing outside the control of God’s loving hand.

  • Not the plans of the wicked even if they are dictators or despots.
  • Not the way our physical world works which sometimes seems to be in opposition to mankind such as when there are earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, or droughts.
  • Not the actions of demons or even Satan, remember how Satan had to get permission to test Job and could only take action within the confines established by God.
  • Not even my own free will. Regarding salvation, we may believe that we accepted Jesus through our own free will, but even then, it is God Who quickens our heart to become aware of our sin and our need of His grace. 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:28, 38-39 

God’s sovereignty is a tremendous comfort to the believer because it enables him to have confidence that he does not need to fear, God is still on His throne and He is still sovereign – in charge – in control, no matter what might be going on in this temporal world.

We must remember that when sin entered the world, man had turned himself into a headlong catapult toward sickness, illness, pain, sorrow and death.  God intervened in Genesis 3:15 where we learn of a Redeemer, a Savior Who will pay the price of sin and redeem God’s children for Himself.  We all must die physically because of the curse of sin on our mortal bodies.  But, we don’t have to die spiritually if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.   

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37

Beloved, God’s sovereignty is an attribute that is hard for us to comprehend but it is the basis of God’s providence.  We know that God’s will, His providence, shall prevail because God’s sovereignty mandates it.  Nothing can defeat God’s will.  Praise His Holy Name!

God’s sovereignty + His love for His children

=

Unassailable confidence and comfort for the believer.

 

Father, there are no words available to express my praise and love for You and for Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Lord, I cannot comprehend Your sovereignty and all that such attribute entails, but I do have confidence in You and Your sovereignty brings comfort to my heart.  Thank You, Lord.

 

ADVENTURES IN TILLAMOOK COUNTY

On one of our trips out West, we drove up the Oregon coast and found that there is much to see and do in Tillamook County.  For example, you can take a tour and taste incredibly delicious cheese at the Tillamook Cheese factory. 

Oregon 2009 456 (C)
Tillamook Cheese factory – tour and taste testing of marvelous cheeses awaits.  Be sure you are hungry — enjoy!

A marvelous sampling of their cheeses prompts purchases of the goodies, as well as investigation into the stores at home where we can acquire the cheese without traveling across the country!  In fact, I would love to enjoy God’s creation right now by having some Tillamook cheese! 

A real treat awaits the traveler because the Oregon coastline itself provides beautiful images of the ocean with the waves breaking upon rocky shoreline.

Oregon lighthouse 2009 422
Oregon coastline shows waves pummeling the shore.

Another place to visit in Tillamook County is the Cape Meares State Park which boasts the Cape Meares Lighthouse.  A wide asphalt trail goes from the parking area, through the forest, into the clearing with the lighthouse directly ahead.

USED Oregon 2009 417 Cape Meares Lighthouse Ore
A stroll through the woods, down the paved trail, heads straight to the lighthouse at the coast. 

The lighthouse is 38 feet tall, not exactly stellar height for a lighthouse.  In fact, it is the shortest lighthouse in Oregon.  But, it sits at the coastline on the top of a cliff making its effective height 223 feet above sea level.  So despite its own short stature, when the light was operating, it could be seen for 21 miles.

USED Cape Meares Lighthouse short - not height but placement Oregon 2009 424
The lighthouse exhibits all her 38 feet in stature!

Beside from being an interesting place to visit, what does Tillamook County, Oregon have to do with me?  Or with you?

I think it provides us with an illustration and/or lesson for our life and our Christian walk, especially when we focus on Ephesians 2:8-10.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Ephesians 2:10 ESV

The lighthouse was built for a purpose – it was to warn mariners that they were approaching the shoreline and it was dangerous to come too close.  It was to provide navigational assistance, and it saved lives as a result of its light shining far out over the water.  

USED Lighthouse lamp Oregon 2009 419 (C)
Its purpose was to provide light to the mariner in a time when GPS did not exist.

Notably, it did all this while being only 38 feet tall.   Its effective height did not come from itself, rather it came from the terrain on which it was placed – the cliff was high and from that vantage point, the little lighthouse could be seen for 21 miles. 

Paul says that we have been saved through grace by faith alone.  We had nothing to do with securing our salvation from sin; Jesus Christ did that atoning work on the cross for us.  And, we did nothing to deserve the atonement that He provided.  It was a gift of grace – not based on our work, our reputation, our finances, our stature in the community, our anything. 

The reason for this gift is stated in verse 10 – we were created by God in Christ for good works that God had prepared for us to do long before we were born.  

God is sovereign.  He is in control of our world and all that is in it.  His will, His purpose, will be accomplished and mankind cannot thwart it.  In Concise Theology, J. I. Packer says:

“The assertion of God’s absolute sovereignty in creation, providence, and grace is basic to biblical belief and biblical praise.”  [Sovereignty, God Reigns at page 33.]

One of the best descriptions of God’s sovereignty came from a pagan king after a lesson God provided to him. 

“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;  all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?“”

Daniel 4:34-35 ESV

The little lighthouse had a job to do and it was able to do it because of strength that was not its own – it was based upon the strength of the mountain on which it was built.  We were created by God and saved from our sin by Jesus Christ so that we could do the work that God preordained for us to do all for His glory and His purposes through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5 ESV 

We have no strength in our own self to do anything of eternal, lasting value for God.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit to do God’s work in the world. 

Am I serving His purpose, the good work that God had preordained for me to do?  Am I working for the Lord through my own power and for my own reputation or am I relying on Him and the Holy Spirit to work through me for the glory of God? Am I refusing to shine because I am only of modest stature, or am I willing to shine my brightest for my Lord and let the Holy Spirit magnify the light so that it shines where He wants it to go?

Father, I give You honor and glory for Your sovereign love and mercy, grace and power that was shown by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.  I pray that You would give power to these words and that they would accomplish that which You desire, through Christ Jesus I pray. 

QUESTION — IS IT A POT OR PAN?

 

Often we have questions that seem insurmountable about things are so weighty that our head feels like exploding, but in hindsight the questions seemed irrelevant and trivial at best.  

Take, for example, the question “What is the difference between kitchen pots and kitchen pans?” 

pot-and-pan
A frying PAN and a stock POT.

One is supposedly a pot and the other is a pan.  So, which is which?  What, pray tell, is the difference?

According to Wonderopolis, a pot can correctly be called a pan, but a pan can’t correctly be called a pot. So if you ask a chef for a pan, you could get either a pot or a pan. However, if you ask for a pot and a chef hands you a pan, the chef would be wrong!  Is this really worth pondering at length?   And then there is the pot that can be used as a pan or is it a pan that can be used as a pot? 

pot-or-pan
I fry in this non-stick coated pan and I cook sauces in this pot. So is it a “potpan”?

For a non-chef kind of cook (like me), my response (I am afraid to admit) would be “who really cares?”  Isn’t that a tempest in a [tea]pot or pan? (Pardon the partial pun!)

But then there are other questions that are far more important, but even then we don’t always have an answer for difficult life questions that confront us. 

  • “What do I do for my career?” 
  • “Is this the right person for me to marry?”
  • “Is my church feeding me from Scripture or is it merely giving me warm, cozy thoughts to contemplate?”
  • “When I volunteer at the mission, am I doing it in service to my own ego or in service to my Lord?”

We can search counselors’ thoughts and life coaches’ theories but they fall short – well-meaning but insufficient. 

We can turn to Scripture and read until our eyes are blurry but sometimes even then the answer eludes us. 

Or, we can turn to prayer – and then commune with the One who loves us and who sent His Son to secure our salvation. This One does know the answer to even the hardest of questions, because He is sovereign.  I Timothy 6:15-16.  In fact, He knew the answer to the questions we were going to ask even before we were born! Psalm 139.

We still may not know the answer to the problem facing us, but if we know God as our Father who loves us and gave His son for our eternal life with Him, we can rest in His grace and sovereignty.

I married immediately after college graduation and then worked to put my husband through seminary.  Eleven years and two children later, I began attending law school, not only because my husband said I should, but because I believed that the Lord was directing me to this career.  After MUCH prayer, I applied, quite confident that I would be told that I was too old, I had two small children, and I was too stupid. I rather thought I would go through the motions and do everything I needed to do in application to the school and then God would close that door and I would be done with the “you should go to law school” comments from my husband and various co-workers. 

When the phone call came advising me that I had secured the one open spot to begin school in two weeks, September 1980, I was stunned.  I quit my job, and two weeks later found myself purchasing enormous books (none of which had pictures!).  I was terrified but determined to do this because it was clear the Lord had directed me to this path.

Three months later, my husband told me our marriage was not worth working on and he left the apartment.  Three months after that he left the church, the city and the state. I seriously began questioning whether I had misunderstood God’s plan.  I could not believe that He would have me in school with two preschool children, no means of financial support, no family close by to assist.

The children and I moved to federal housing and I completed my education through tears and questions about how we were going to live.  Needless to say, things were not easy for us and we did not have everything that our greedy little hearts ever wanted.  But when I began to falter and fears overtook my heart, the Lord would send someone or something to encourage me and remind me that He is God and in control and He had us in His Hands.  He did not give me answers, He gave me Himself and that was more than enough.

A quick glance at the First Century Christians belies the interpretation of Scripture that God will give us only good times in this world if we merely believe in Jesus. Simply put, Nero did not provide a good time for Christians!  Nope, can’t find any “prosperity gospel” there!  But, even during those horrific days, the Christians praised God and believed His promise of eternal life if they persevered and relied on Him. 

Jesus says in Matthew 6:31-33: 

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Jesus here is not promising all the goodies that this world has to offer.  No, He is telling his disciples that they should rest in God – seek first God and His righteousness … then everything else will fall in line according to God’s purpose. 

The details of life may be messy and hard and we may not know the answer to our questions now.  We may not understand the situation we are in, but we can remember that we are not God … we are temporal, mortal, dust.  He is omniscient, omnipotent.  He is not limited by time, indeed He created time for our benefit.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. 

“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.”

Psalm 90:4 ESV

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8 ESV

So, while we don’t know the answer to the questions we have, we do know the end result of our struggle is secured. God has given us Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and His Holy Spirit is our resident Counselor.  Our everlasting life and our presence with Him is satisfaction of our only real need.

Crazy questions may abound in our world.  But for the question that is the most important one of all, the question that transcends the here and now, the question that defeats mortality and the evil in this world, we can know the answer.  

The all important question is —  Where will you spend eternity?

For those in Christ, that answer is “With Him now and forever more.”     Matthew 25:36-40 and John 6:37-40. 

Praise His Holy Name!

Thank you Father for granting mercy and grace by sending Your Son to die the death that we deserve so that we can have eternal life with You.  Thank You for providing the answer to the only question that needs to be asked.  We praise Your holy name.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – PATIENCE, PART TWO

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Series Post No. 14

PATIENCE – SLOWING DOWN OF GOD’S WRATH

PART TWO

Last week we looked at patience/ longsuffering in our society and how it is defined in the Hebrew and Greek of Scripture.  Now, we will consider what Scripture tells us about how we are to exhibit this patience!

 

What does Scripture say?

 

  1. When we love God we want to imitate Him and, thus, we want to exhibit longsuffering because one of the attributes of God is patience/ longsuffering.

 

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness …”

Exodus 34:6

 

This longsuffering is shown in God’s bearing innumerable, continuous and abhorrent injuries, not just from men in the generic sense but from each of us individually on a daily basis.   In short, it is God’s mercy in being longsuffering and patient so that he is slow to exact judgment on people.

Jonathan Edwards expressed it like this:

“If we consider the wickedness there is in the world, and then consider how God continues the world in existence and does not destroy it, but showers upon it innumerable mercies, the bounties of his daily providence and grace, causing his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain alike on the just and on the unjust and offering his spiritual blessings ceaselessly and to all, we shall perceive how abundant is his longsuffering toward us.”

As children imitate their parents, so we as children of God should imitate our Father – as He is longsuffering, so we should be likewise.

 

  1. When we love God we will want to express our gratitude for His longsuffering that has been exercised toward us.

All the injuries that have been received by us from others pale in comparison with the injuries which we have done to God and for which God has forgiven us!  As we accept the forgiveness of God and His longsuffering on our behalf, we must show, as far as we are able, the same forgiving patience to others when they have harmed us.  We can do this because of our thankfulness and gratitude to God for His forgiveness to us.

 

  1. We are not bearing injuries from others if those injuries disturb our calmness of mind or if they put us into excitement and tumult.

We should continue to have love in our heart toward the one who injured us and refuse to let the injury interrupt or destroy our love for him/her.   We should not lose the quietness and repose of our own mind and heart over the injury we have suffered from someone else.

Remember who we are to imitate and into whose likeness we are being transformed – our Lord Jesus Christ.  No matter what evil he suffered, no matter what injury was inflicted on him, he bore them without retaliation or revenge … he loved the very people who inflicted the injury and he did not get flustered, angry or excited by it.

 

  1. We should be willing to suffer much in our interests and feelings for the sake of peace, rather than to take any opportunity and, perhaps the right, to defending ourselves.

The Christian spirit of longsuffering will refuse to take the advantage that we might have to vindicate ourselves when we are injured, especially if by taking that action we might cause harm to the one who hurt us.   Also, taking the advantage to address the harm will almost always lead to a loss of peace and will create hostility between people.

Paul admonished the Corinthians about this in 1 Corinthians 6:7 where he said:

 “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you.  Why not rather suffer wrong?  Why not rather be defrauded?”

Longsuffering may be required for the sake of peace as charity may direct.  This should be our first response to injury.

 

  1. The main root of a meek and longsuffering spirit is humility, and this humility is brought about by our love for God.

Pride or self-conceit is usually the foundation of an unforgiving and vengeful spirit.  Love to God leads us to remember our unworthiness of His mercy and grace because of the sin that we so easily commit.  There is no room for pride when we face the God who has given us so much – His Son.

 

  1. Our love to God enables us to recognize His sovereignty. In other words, God’s hand is in the injury that we suffer, not only the hand of the man who did the injury, and we will submit to God’s will in everything. 

When we love God, we will see His hand in everything as He is sovereign.  Remember agape love – one aspect of that love is that we acknowledge God’s absolute right to govern us in all aspects of our life.  Our response to the injury from another person should be to see that it actually came through God’s love and wisdom for our good and for His own purpose for our life.

Remember what Joseph said to his brothers when they came to him in Egypt seeking relief from the famine:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

Genesis 50:20

Joseph recognized God’s sovereign hand at work, even in the horrible treatment given to him by his brothers.  When he had a chance to retaliate, he declined and, instead, gave them a place to live and food for their families and flocks.

 

How does this apply to my daily life?

 

  • We meekly bear with the injuries received from others.

There is no eye for an eye or tit for tat.  Christ is the example.  Jonathan Edwards summarizes this eloquently in Lecture iv:

“And, at last, when he was most ignominiously dealt with of all, when his professed friend betrayed, and his enemies seized him, and led him away to scourging and the death of the cross, he went as a lamb to slaughter, opening not his mouth.  Not one word of bitterness escaped him.  There was no interruption of the calmness of his mind under his heavy distress and sufferings, nor was there the least desire for revenge.  But, on the contrary, he prayed for his murderers, that they might be forgiven, even when they were about nailing him to the cross; and not only prayed for them, but pleaded in their behalf with his Father that they knew not what they did.  The sufferings of his life and the agonies of his death did not interrupt his long-suffering towards those that injured him.”

 

  • The spirit of longsuffering is commended to us not only by the example of Jesus Christ, but also by the example of the saints.

Think of Stephen – Acts 7:59-60 when his persecutors were killing him by stoning, he kneeled down and prayed that the Lord would not hold this sin against them, and then he died.

Think of Paul – Although he was injured numerous times, 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, he exhibited a spirit of longsuffering when, after being beaten and chained, he was singing in prison so loudly that the other prisoners heard him and the jailer and his family were converted.  Acts 16.

Think of the 1st century Christian martyrs. We cannot ignore their example of longsuffering during the horrific persecution of Nero and the rulers who came after him, even in our modern age throughout areas of the world which do not touch the U.S. but of which we are aware!

 

  • This longsuffering on the part of the Christian is rewarded with the exercise of Divine longsuffering toward us.

 

We are often told in Scriptures that men are to be dealt with by God hereafter according to their way of dealing with others while here on earth.

With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

Psalm 18:25, 26

 

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15

 

If you are hurt by the action or speech of someone, before taking steps to get even or to set the record straight, pray that the Holy Spirit would enable you to be patient and longsuffering.  Pray that you would love the individual as God loves you and extend patient longsuffering toward the other person while you remember God’s longsuffering toward you on a daily basis.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.  

 

PERCEPTION/ILLUSION VS. REALITY

When we were in Oregon, there were so many beautiful places to take pictures, it was hardly possible to do the scenery justice through pictures.  There were the stark, seemingly dead places where volcanic eruptions had erased the vegetation, but even in the places where the trees had sustained incredible damage, there was beauty.

 

One such place was Lava Butte just outside Bend, Oregon where we came across this tree.

 

Bird in the Tree -- Oregon 2009 049 (C)
Tree outside Bend, Oregon at the Lava Butte.

 

The contrast between its barren limbs and the flourishing evergreens nearby made me think about the incredible strength of nature.  And then I saw a yellow bird on the tree’s limb.  I didn’t have any idea what kind of bird it was, but it appeared to be resting before going off to further exploits of this land.

 

When we got home, I looked at the pictures, again thanking the Lord for the beauty of His creation.  Trying to identify the yellow bird, I enlarged the picture above, and this is what I saw:

Bird in the Tree - 2 -- Oregon 2009 049 (C)
Was it a bird? No!

Apparently this “bird” is of the genus “Lady Taking a Picture”.

 

Perception/Illusion  versus Reality.

 

There are times when we think something is one way, when the reality is that it is quite another.   I perceived that a brightly colored bird was sitting on that branch, when the reality was that a lady in a bright shirt was standing beyond the tree taking a picture at the same time I was taking a picture of her.  My perception was certainly not reality, but it was harmless and funny.

 

But the difference between perception or illusion and reality is not always harmless or humorous.

 

We see people harming innocents and calling it justified because of their hatred.  We see people abusing others in the name of ambition.  We see the slaughter of babies that somehow becomes less offensive by calling it a “woman’s choice.”  This is our perception – but the reality is vastly different.

 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?  They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.  They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage.  They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”  Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise?  He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?  He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge– the LORD–knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.

Psalm 94:3-11.

 

God sees –God hears – God is fully aware of what mankind is doing.  He is sovereign and in control, even when it appears that things are out of control.  He knows the thoughts of man because He created man.  The fool is the one who dismisses God as irrelevant or of no concern.

 

There are times we feel powerless against the foes that confront us.  This too is a perception that we are led to believe – but it is not the reality for the Christian.  Elisha and his servant confronted the army of the enemy and we read the following about this encounter in the book of Second Kings where it says:

When the servant of the man of God [Elisha] rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

2 Kings 6:15-17.

 

Elisha was not worried about the forces against them.  The problem was that the servant believed the perception that they were defenseless.

 

In the book of Romans, Paul talks about perception and reality when he tells the Romans that God has revealed Himself through creation but man chooses to believe the lie Satan promotes.

 

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”   For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.   For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Romans 1:17-25.

 

  • Don’t believe the lie that if your good outweighs your bad, you will get to heaven.   In Romans 10:3-18 Paul states that “”None is righteous, no, not one”.
  • Don’t believe the lie that all you need is to get along, love everyone and do your best.
  • Don’t believe the lie that this world is all there is, so get all you can because God wants you to be wealthy and to have all that you desire.
  • Don’t believe the lie that since God is love there will be no judgment.
  • Don’t believe the lie that hell is not real and the concept of eternal damnation is ridiculous.

 

Both the Old and New Testaments describe God’s response to sin and disobedience, and it is powerful, fierce and just!   God’s wrath is upon sinful mankind … only His mercy is stopping His hand from executing judgment on sinful man this very moment!

 

While you are not righteous, and while you cannot wash your sin away, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection has paid the sinner’s debt and that freedom from sin is available through God’s grace.  Paul says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9.

 

Perception/illusion versus Reality.  In that battle, reality wins every time and Reality has a name – the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent triune God!

 

Father, forgive me when I have believed Satan’s lies that You do not care, or that You have no plan for me,  or that You do not love me.  Enable me to see the protection that You place around me, and grant me the grace to reach outside my comfort zone so I can extend your love and compassion to others, through your Spirit and in the power of the name of Jesus Christ.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, No. 5 LOVE, PART TWO

Continuing our consideration of LOVE, we are thinking about love from the Holy Spirit, therefore it is love as God loves … Agape love.  So we need to see what this love looks like, and then see if we have those characteristics in our life.

 

In Dr. R. C. Sproul’s teaching series Keeping in Step with the Spirit, CD Teaching Series; and Developing Christian Character, CD Teaching Series he identifies several characteristics of Agape love, the love that should be evident in our lives because the Holy Spirit is resident within us as Christians.

 

What does Scripture say?

  1. Agape love gives us the desire in our hearts to worship God.

 

Without the Holy Spirit’s involvement in my life, worship would be far from what I would want to do on a Sunday morning.  But the Holy Spirit changes all that.  The Christian wants to honor and worship God – why? Because God is living within her, the Spirit urges her to honor and worship God and she responds by doing so.   Jesus said:

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

John 4:23-24.

 

  1. Agape love believes and trusts God’s Word.

 

Paul says:

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” 

I  Thessalonians 2:13.

 

In Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, in John 17:17, he prays:

Sanctify them in the truth: your word is truth.”

 

Agape love reads God’s Word, loves God’s Word, believes God’s Word, and trusts God’s Word.  If God’s Word sets forth a standard that is difficult to follow, Agape love mandates that such standard should still be followed even if society cries out against it.  God’s Word is inviolate, and the Christian gives it full credit and trust.

 

  1. Agape love recognizes God’s absolute right to govern us.

 

Sovereignty – this is something we in the United States don’t really understand culturally, but it is grounded in our psyche – God put a desire for a sovereign in our very being – not for a physical king, but for HIM.

 

Indeed, in the Old Testament, God was the King of His people Israel, leading them through the wilderness and preserving them as they encountered enemies along the way.  But then we read in 1 Samuel 8:5-7 that the people came to the prophet Samuel and demanded a king  so they could “be like all the other nations around them.”  Samuel objected to this demand but he presented the request to God.

And the LORD said unto Samuel, “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.”  [KJV]

What a sad comment from our God — “they have rejected me”.

 

David says:

“Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.”

Psalm 74:12

 

In 1 Timothy 1:17, Paul says:

“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 

 

Of course, we also have the promise of Romans 8:28-30 that God will work in all things to our ultimate good, specifically that we will be with Him for all eternity through Christ our Lord.

 

Agape love says that God is sovereign and that He has the absolute right to govern His creation in all things, and that, Beloved, includes even you and me.

 

How does this apply to my daily life?

 

  • With Agape love in our hearts, we recognize that we are the creation, not the Creator. The Holy Spirit is in our heart and He is enabling us to worship and honor God as God.   We desire to worship Him.  We want to come into His presence and sing His glories, hear His Word and learn from His Spirit as it is preached to us.

The emphasis on our worship is God, not us.  With Agape love, I will not be saying “I didn’t get anything out of the sermon today” because I am not the one that is to be the focus of worship.  Rather, my prayer is that my worship has given God the honor and glory that He deserves.

 

  • With Agape love, we will want to read and study His Word. You would never fold a letter from your boyfriend or girlfriend and put it in your pocket without taking it out of the envelope and reading it.  Rather, you would virtually memorize it, not out of an obligation to do so but because you want to have the words in your heart to cherish for all time.

The Bible is God’s Word to us, a love letter, if you will, given for us to read and learn of God, what His character is like, what He desires for His people, what He wants in worship.  The New Testament continues the theme that began in the Old Testament, detailing the life of Jesus Christ, the fullest revelation of God that we could possibly ask for, the One who was fully man and fully God.  The One who revealed God and His nature to the fullest extent possible.  Jesus even explicitly saying:

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

 

  • With Agape love, we will acknowledge that God is Sovereign. He has absolute authority over us, to send us wherever He wants us to go, to have us do that which He desires.  He is not a tyrant that He should gain glee in hurting His children.  Rather, His plan for us is far better than that which we could imagine, with benefits that are eternal, not just for the here and now.

Listen to Isaiah 43:11-13 as presented in the song entitled I Am The Lord, sung by Ed Kerr on Integrity Music’s Scripture Memory Song Album entitled Hope of Heaven.  Let the reality of these words sink into your mind and heart and think of them as you go about your daily activities.  Agape love – the first fruit of the Spirit.

 

 

We will look at additional characteristics of this fruit in the next post.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.

 

 

CONTENTMENT – A BIBLICAL POSTURE!

We see something on television about a new product that makes us consider whether our older version of the same thing is still a viable alternative for use. Or, we see something that our neighbor has purchased and it appears to be better than what we have so we want to “upgrade”, shall we say!

 

You know the feeling … that discontent with what we have or with what we are doing?

 

We compare ourselves with others and, somehow, we way too often come up lacking.

  • If only I had that job instead of this one…
  • If only my hair would …
  • If only I had received that promotion …
  • If only I had that house, or car, or dress, instead of this one …
  • If only I was as slender as that lady …
  • If only my children were like theirs …
  • If only …

 

Our canine daughters, Cuddles and Snickers, illustrate this discontent quite often when they both vie for the same toy even though the toy box is filled with other playthings, sometimes even a duplicate of that which they are fighting over.

 

Cuddles and Snickers tug of war
This is mine! Get your own!

 

Don’t misunderstand me, there are times when people are mistreated and abused and there is a legitimate reason for the hurt that is felt. We must work to resolve those issues and/or injustices.

 

I am referring to discontent that is also known as covetousness. I can hear the voices now. “I know that the tenth commandment is ‘Thou Shall Not Covet’!  I don’t do that!”

 

Really?

 

That was my first response when I was reading an article entitled “Thou Shall Not Covet” by Jason Helopoulos in the June 2015 Tabletalk magazine from Ligonier Ministries.   His words were convicting in the first order. In speaking of the reason that coveting is so harmful, he states:

Coveting pulls the heart down into the pit of self-seeking and the muck and mire of envy, slander, adultery, pride, dishonor, murder, thievery, and idolatry. It has rightly been said that when we break any of the first nine commandments, we also break the tenth commandment.

 

For us to combat covetousness, first we need to follow Jesus’ commands in Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

 

As a youth, I sang a song  that said something like this:  “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”  When our eyes are on the Lord and His gracious gifts to us, the things of earth will begin to dim in our eyes.

 

Second, we need to follow the example of Paul:

I have learned in whatever situation to be content.

Philippians 4:11b.

 

Contentment is not something we can buy, fight for or grab – it is something in which we should rest. God is sovereign and He, therefore, knows exactly what we need and His grace is sufficient for every trial.   Quoting Rev. Helopoulos again:

If God thought it was good for us to have more, he would give us more. Every Christian rightly seeks to maintain this mind-set. And when this is the case, what joy contentment brings to the Christian life.

 

Third, we should be thankful. Thankfulness forms a hedge around us enabling us to focus on God rather than on the transient things that form our world.   It is hard to be thankful when you are coveting that which others have. Likewise, it is hard to be discontented when you are thankful for the blessings provided by our Sovereign God.

 

As a result of polio, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis (twisting of the spine) when I was 6 years old. When I was 9 years of age, I was put into a body cast and then had surgery to try to stop the twisting that would otherwise have taken my life by age 25.  Although I was in the body cast for over a year, I didn’t miss any school because I had a home-bound teacher from the Chicago school system.

Linda on hospital cart revised
This was me in the body cast. It began behind my head and then it encompassed my body all the way down to my hips and then to my left knee.   I could not raise my head, even to read a book or see television.  That is why I wore prism glasses so I could look through them and see what was in the room, rather than just the ceiling.

 

Rather than being thankful for the healing that was going on in my body, I was crying one day when she came into my room .  Rather than giving me a shoulder to cry on, she demanded “What’s wrong with you!” My response was a feeble, “Because I’m in a body cast!” She then taught me a lesson that I have not forgotten over the 55 years since she spoke these words:

“You are crying over a temporary thing. A child down the street has brittle bones and there is no cure … she breaks a bone when she turns in bed and she is constantly in excruciating pain. Now, what is wrong with spending some time in bed … you have a determined end to your procedure, she does not! So I ask you again, ‘Why are you crying?’”

 

Although I could not articulate it then, through the decades since she said those words, I have found them to be true … when you are hurting, when there are problems and difficulties that are overwhelming, just open your eyes and look around and you will find others who have problems far more difficult than your own. This will put your burdens in perspective.

 

While it is tempting to keep your eyes on your own pain and problems, engaging in self-pity is never productive. Step back from the situation. Don’t become discontented. Rather, look to the Lord, rest in God’s unfailing grace and give Him thanks for His loving hand that encompasses you even when you are not aware of it and problems abound. Psalm 139 states that God knows our every move, word and action. And, nowhere in scripture are these verses revoked.

 

When things are difficult, when pain has set in and when your world is in a cataclysmic nose-dive, you can trust that your Lord has you in His hands and that God knows exactly what is going on.   I don’t mean that he will immediately fix whatever the situation is, but you can rest assured that His grace and comfort will be poured out to help you through the trial.

 

Discontentment – while it often is a reality, it is always sin. I must acknowledge that it is a sin and then repent, look to my Lord and give Him thanks for the salvation that He provides to me. Indeed, even the breath that I breathe is a gift from Him.  No matter how difficult our life is on this earth, it is for a short time – eternal life granted by our Lord is for, well, eternity!

 

Now, what about you?

 

Discontented? Confess, repent and allow His comfort to encompass you. Praise His Name and be thankful. Discontentment will vanish, and you will be able to live life to the fullest in His grace and love.

 

Father, forgive me for whining and crying about my circumstances when You have them in your control and your grace and mercy has lifted me above my circumstances.  Forgive me when I sink in the muck and mire of discontentment rather than realizing that You have already lifted me into your Courts through Christ my Lord and Savior.  May I praise your Name today.

WHEN GOING IN CIRCLES IS ACTUALLY GOING STRAIGHT!

When we were in England, one of the fascinating aspects of English life was driving. First, you drive on the wrong side of the street – or rather, you drive on the left-side lane of the street with the oncoming cars in the right-side lane. Not necessarily a problem once you get going, but trying to walk across the street can be deadly when you look to the left instead of to the right first.

 

Second, the traffic circles or “roundabouts”.   They are in use throughout the area and enable traffic to move smoothly, as long as you know how to read them. If you don’t understand it, however, you can go in circles for a good little while until the traffic thins and you can get to the lane you need to be in to exit the circular pattern of the roundabout.

 

Road signs in England
Roundabout road sign in England that is fairly easy to understand.

 

This one is fairly straight forward in directions … you are driving along and you will come to this circle to the left from which you can exit onto one of three roads, or you can go back in the other direction on the same road on which you are currently traveling.

 

There is one roundabout, however, that we heard of before we saw it. It is called the “Magic Roundabout”.

 

We came up to it at a stop light, and saw it up ahead. Here is the sign as we approached the roundabout.

Road signs in England another view magis roundabout
First glimpse of the sign for The Magic Roundabout in England.

 

Then we got closer to it and when my husband looked closely at the sign he said “Boy, is that a nightmare!”

 

Road signs from England the magic roundabout
The road sign shortly before entering The Magic Roundabout.

 

You truly do feel like you are going in circles, and the reality is that you are going in circles, at least for a time!   Going in circles does not get us very far very fast because we know that going straight is the shortest distance between two points. But in God’s perspective, going in circles may be the best route and the speediest way to do something may not be His better way.

 

In short, there are times in our lives when we are not to go straight. Instead, we have to negotiate the traffic circles as directed by the Holy Spirit so that we can be prepared to undertake the task that God has assigned for us. This diversion seems out of place, as if we are sidelined when we want to be in the thick of the fray. But, the circular route will teach things that we would miss if we took the direct route.

 

Think of Moses – he figuratively wandered in circles before he knew what God wanted him to do. He was raised in Pharaoh’s court, but he was not Egyptian. He killed an Egyptian and ran for his life to the desert in Midian. (Moses’ years 1 – 40) He took a job tending sheep for Jethro, the priest of Midian, and married Zipporah, Jethro’s daughter. (Moses’ years 41-80) Then he saw the burning bush and God told him what he was going to do for the next 40 years of his life!

Road signs in England with two roundabouts
Road sign in England showing connected Roundabouts.

 

Think about Joseph, one who had his circular route picked out for him, seemingly, by his brothers when they dropped him into the pit before selling him into slavery. Time in an Egyptian prison due to the fabrication of Potiphar’s wife, a fellow prisoner who forgot all about him once he was released, and lengthy time as second only to Pharaoh while he prepared the country for the famine that was going to afflict the entire region all made it seem that Joseph had morphed into the Egyptian culture pretty well.

 

And then it happened.   The famine came and suddenly his family stood before him asking for food. Joseph then understood his circular route and saw it as though it had become straight as an arrow.   In fact, he connected the dots for them when he said:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Genesis 50:20 [ESV]

 

I am convinced that no experience presented to us by God is a wasted experience. The route that seemed circular in retrospect was not unintended by God but was intended to teach you something that would be beneficial for your witness, if you allow it to be so.

  • That college class that you have never used … just wait. It will be important at some point in your life in your ministry for your Lord.
  • The illness that overtook you … you can testify to the healing that God provided in support of someone struggling with the same thing.
  • That untimely death that devastated your family … can be used by God to enable you to comfort someone who is going through the same experience and as evidence that healing does come even through extreme pain.

 

So, while the circular route may not be fun, and it may introduce events that are outside your plans for your life, trust God.   God may have a task ahead of you for which you would be ill-prepared if you had not learned the lessons taught during your circular travels.

 

Our God is Sovereign. His plan controls and will not be thwarted by anyone. His children are in His hands and He will guide them, even to the point of carrying His chilren home to be with Him in heaven. Trust Him – you can do so without concern because He is trustworthy, He is God, the great I AM.

 

Father, thank You for loving us and calling us to be your children. Thank You for having our lives in your control even when it seems that we are going in circles. Thank You for teaching us the lessons while we are in the circles that we cannot learn but for the diversion from the seemingly straight path. And, thank You for your Son whose life, death and resurrection enables us to be able to enter your presence so that we can even say Thank You!

The Bradford Pear Tree – the Rest of the Story!

Okay, I confess that I have a love/hate relationship with Bradford pear trees. I love the way they look in the spring, with beautiful flowers and the pyramid shape of the tree’s limbs illustrating praise to the Lord our God, and our Creator.   I hate the way the trees smell!

Even though I still hate the smell, I have become aware that the smell of the flowers has a significant role to play in the overall environmental scheme.

Indeed, we believe that God, the LORD, created all things and He created it so that all creatures’ needs would be met, even the Bradford pear tree’s needs, and it is all to His glory!

 

Bradford pear tree  in downtown Nashville (C)
Bradford pear tree in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.

 

The Psalmist says:

The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

Psalm 24:1 [NIV].

Now even though it has been a long time since I was in science class in school, I do remember that flowers and trees usually need fertilization to survive and procreate and, for the most part, that comes from pollen being transferred from one plant to another. What I have failed to recall (assuming I knew it in the first place, of course) is that flowers are one way that the plant communicates with insects for fertilization purposes. In short, the flower’s fragrance is a telegraphic invitation that is sent to, and received by, an insect a long distance away. In response to that invitation, the insect will come over and bring pollen with it, take pollen from the flower, etc.   All of this, of course, being in God’s plan so that His creation could thrive and renew itself on a continuing basis, for the blessing of the acme of His creation, human kind, and all to His glory.

Back to the Bradford pear tree – I have been informed that flowers with bad fragrances (shall I say “odoriferous flowers”?) will attract carrion insects, specifically, those flies and beetles that feed off feces, rotting flesh and other decaying organic matter. Granted, I had not really thought about how dead things disappear in the normal course of nature. But, it does not strain the mental capacity to think that if there were not “carrion insects” or other such creatures, the decaying corpses of numerous animals, birds, etc., would become overwhelming in a very short time. So they have a significant role to play in our world.

Specifically, blowflies are one type of carrion insects. They are so “skilled” in what they need, one expert opined that they can locate a dead carcass within hours, and they can smell the odor of a fresh or rotting carcass up to a mile away. [See: http://www.harnett.org/coop/March-7-2008-ask-the-hort-agent.asp?v=p ]

The connection with the Bradford pear tree is that the blowfly is the primary insect that pollinates the Bradford pear tree flower. The flowers of the Bradford pear tree smell like a rotting animal and that attracts the blowflies which are necessary to pollinate the flowers.  It reminds me of the adage that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Apparently, what I think is putrid, the blowfly thinks is wonderful.

It seems to me that bees might do just as well since I think that is one of the primary functions of bees in our gardens, woods and forests. But, the Bradford pear tree is one of the first bloomers in the spring and there are often “cold snaps” during the time the flowers are in bloom, so the blowflies could do that which the bees would have done if they were around when the flowers showed up.

This is not meant to be a science lesson. Rather, it is intended to point to just one of the gazillion, countless, ways that our LORD has established His creation by providing the creatures to pollinate the flower and by having the flower smell just right to entice the creature to come it.   Jesus talked about God’s love for His creation. In Luke he says:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Luke 12:6-7 [NIV]

Clearly, one of the lessons Jesus is teaching here is that God loves His creation including even the small birds of the air –sparrows which are bought and sold for less than 1/2 penny each are known and not forgotten by the Creator God.

Our God, Who created the earth and called it good, cares for the birds and flowers, and even provided the blowflies as part of the circle of life. Each one is part and parcel of the system so carefully established by God. It is not happenstance – it is not luck. Rather, it is the detailed, carefully ordained world that God ordained by His spoken Word.

And this same God has said that we, His children for whom Christ died, are worth more than the sparrows (and implicitly, the blowflies). He loves us and His Son, Jesus Christ, died for us. That is the ultimate proof of God’s love and care. (1 John 4:9-10)

Praise Him, oh my soul!

Father, your wondrous creation is beyond my ability to comprehend.  You have cared for all your creatures and have supplied all their needs.  May I remember that You have supplied all my needs as well.  Forgive me when I have confused my needs with my wants.  May my life reflect reliance on You in all things for You are Sovereign and I can rest in your loving care.  Thank You for the lesson of the Bradford pear tree and the blowflies.