Thursday, September 25, 2014

God's Ever-Present Love

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. (Psa 139:7-10)

Think about you would have felt if you were in Joseph’s shoes. His brothers sold him into the hands of foreigners, who took him to a land he did not know and sold him to an Egyptian officer. The initial language barrier, the realization of permanent servitude, and the finality of his separation from his loved ones must have made him feel a loneliness that few people ever know.

And yet the narrative of Joseph’s life in Genesis 37-50 demonstrates that he most certainly was never alone. From the time of his being sold into slavery to the time when he comforted his brothers with “what you meant for evil, God meant for good,” Joseph knew the blessings of God’s presence, provision, and love. A statement in the story of Joseph’s imprisonment is thematic for his entire time in Egypt: But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison (Gen 39:21, cf 39:2, 3, 5, 23). No matter where Joseph went, the Lord was present with him, loving him.

To the idolatrous culture of the ancient near east, the notion of an omnipresent god was unthinkable. In their minds, gods were territorial. They lived in temples made by the hands of their worshipers and did not venture beyond these boundaries. It is with this concept of localized, “kept” gods that Yahweh contrasts Himself in Isaiah 66:1-2a:

Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be,” declares the LORD. 

Man can make no habitation for this God because He cannot be contained (2 Chron 2:6; Acts 17:24-25). He is everywhere present at all times. He knows no boundaries.

And His omnipresence means wonderful things for His people, not the least of which is that they cannot be separated from His love. David marveled at this truth in Psalm 139:7-10, noting even if he was buried in the uttermost parts of the sea, “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”  

God’s love for His people becomes an constant comfort when we understand the omnipresence of our Father. There is nowhere that we can go that we will not know the provision of His love. No earthly barrier can prevent our fellowship with Him. Truly nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39).

Have you felt alone recently? If so, be reminded of the truth: as a believer, you enjoy the constant presence of the Father and you are the blessed recipient of His ever-present love. You’re never alone.  Think on these things.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

God's Self-Sufficiency & Love

(In considering the great love of the Father for His children, I've spent some time thinking about what His various attributes demonstrate about His love.  I'd like to share some of those thoughts with you in a series of articles here.)  

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24-25)

…the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD. (Psa 33:5)


As created beings, we are inherently needy.  There are things we must have in order to survive - air, water, food, clothing, shelter, etc.  Most people would agree that we also have lesser needs that are necessary in order to live fulfilled lives.  We need to be part of a community.  We need relationships.  We need love.  Because our various levels of needs, our relationships with other people are in some measure governed by our neediness.  Our affection for one another is usually at least partially tied to how we meet one another’s needs.  Why do I love the people I love?  They benefit me in some way. 

My family has a Valentine’s Day tradition of taking turns telling why we love each member of the family.  Almost invariably, the reasons we give are related to something that each person does.  Certainly, we love each other for the simple reason that we are family, but additionally we have affection for each other because of how we benefit each other. 

Truly unconditional love among created beings, if it is even possible, must be extremely rare.  We love because of what we get from one another.

Consider then that God has no needs whatsoever.  A.W. Tozer wrote, “Need is a creature word not worthy of the Holy.”  That is a truth duly supported by Scripture.  Paul told the Athenians in Acts 17:24-25, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”  God needs nothing.  Rather He meets the needs of all His creatures. 

This quality has been referred by theologians as the self-sufficiency of God.  Dr. Bruce Ware defines it this way: “God possesses within Himself intrinsically and eternally every good quality in infinite measure.”  That He possesses all good qualities intrinsically means that they are part of His essence.  That is, He has not acquired them, but they are part of His being.  That He possesses these qualities eternally means that there was never a time and never will be a time when He lacked or will lack any good quality.  He has always been completely self-sufficient.  That He possesses these qualities in infinite measure means that they are not finite, not limited, not measured, not restricted, and without boundary.  God never runs low on mercy, justice, truth, knowledge, or any other good quality.

It follows from God’s self-sufficiency that nothing can be added to Him.  He lacks nothing.  He needs nothing.  There is nothing that can be done to benefit Him in an absolute sense.  That is, He has nothing to gain from anything or anyone.

What does this mean about His love?  It is truly unconditional.  It is given without thought for how it will benefit Him since He is incapable of being benefited.  This has huge ramifications for the believer.  There is nothing we can do to cause God to love us more.  More good works will not curry more of His favor.  Greater devotion will not earn more of His affection.  He loves us because He loves us.

God is not like a half-empty cup that we fill up with our love.  Rather, as C.S. Lewis noted, “God’s love is bottomlessly selfless.  It has everything to give and nothing to gain.”  God’s love fills us; we do not fill Him.  In the cross of Jesus, we see the gift of a God who needs nothing but who gives everything because of His great unconditional love. 

Are you trapped in a cycle of thought that pushes you to perform in order to gain or retain God's love?  You did nothing to gain it in the first place and you can do nothing to retain it.  His self-sufficiency indicates that He loves you for nothing that you have added to Him.  He loves you unconditionally.  Think on these things.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Want to Understand the Bible?

 Are you struggling to spend time in the Word?  Do you lack motivation?  Does your time in the Scriptures seem stale and lifeless?  It is a common part of the Christian life to go through periods where it is difficult to get into the text and where time in the Word feels mechanical and even boring.  We don’t really want to be in the Word, though we want to want to.

There are many reasons why we find ourselves in those seasons, but one reason is that the Bible seems very difficult to understand.  For most of us, the Bible remains a big, foggy enigma.  Not only is it a very long book, but it is composed of 66 diverse books from numerous genres, all written a long time ago in languages foreign to us.  For many Christians, the Bible is a large, confusing book composed of smaller, confusing books. It just doesn’t read like the books we read for pleasure today.

Because of its size, most of us never read the whole thing with the entire storyline in view.  Instead, we read through it slowly and/or sporadically, which makes it very difficult to get a sense of how everything fits together.  For that reason, there doesn’t seem to be any unity to the various parts.  In a way, it’s just a big pile of words. 

What if we were given a way to understand the Bible that would render it unified and understandable in our minds?  What if we were given some kind of organizing principle or broad storyline through which we could see how each part functions in the whole?  To put it more simply, what if we could read and interpret the Bible the way that the biblical authors did?  The objective of this year’s Bible Conference is to achieve that very thing. 

We are very excited to have Dr. James Hamilton as our guest speaker for the PBF Bible Conference on October 3-4.  Dr. Hamilton currently serves as Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as Preaching Pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Lousiville, Kentucky. In preparation for ministry, Dr. Hamilton achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Arkansas in 1996, a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2000, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003. He is the author of numerous books including God’s Glory in Salvation though Judgment: A Biblical Theology, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments, and a children’s book, The Bible’s Big Story

His theological resume looks great, but let me give you my personal take on James Hamilton.  He is one of the most gifted, brilliant, and dynamic Bible teachers I have ever heard.  His topic for the conference will be “What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns.”  I spent a week under Dr. Hamilton’s teaching on this material and I came away with a red-hot passion to get in the Word and stay there!  I felt like I was able to read the Bible with new eyes.  And as I listened, I was thinking, “Our congregation MUST hear this.”

In a nutshell, Dr. Hamilton teaches that the objective of biblical theology is to understand the worldview of the biblical authors in order to read the Old and New Testaments the way those authors intended.  It’s about reading and interpreting the Bible the way Jesus, Paul, Peter, Isaiah, and Solomon did. 

And it doesn’t take a PhD to be able to understand the Bible this way.  You will come away from this conference having a firmly crystallized understanding of the broad message and storyline of the Bible.

And you will find that you want to read it.  And read it.  And read it.

I am extremely excited that Dr. Hamilton is able to be here.  If there is any way you can make, MAKE IT.  Even if you can only come to a few of the sessions, you will benefit greatly. 

The conference will be Friday, Oct 3 6:30-8:15 and Saturday, Oct 4 1:00-4:45.  As always, the conference is FREE and childcare will be provided.  We simply need you to register at www.providencebiblefellowship.com.  Tell your mommas, tell your daddies, tell your neighbors, and everybody else! 

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