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Thursday, October 27, 2016

God Doesn't Need To Be Rescued

Have you ever read something about God in the Bible and thought, “wow, that can’t mean what it sounds like it means – God’s not like that”?  There was one verse that we read in our passage on Sunday that made a somewhat startling statement about the sovereign control that Yahweh exerts over His creation.  Some of us may have had a strong impulse to rescue God from that verse…but does He really need our rescue?
You’ll remember that one of the objections Moses raised to the Lord’s call was that he was not an eloquent speaker, to which Yahweh responded, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exo 4:11). 
Who makes the mute man mute?  Yahweh.  Who makes the deaf woman deaf?  Yahweh.  Who determines if a particular person is seeing or blind?  Yahweh.  We could extend that to other things as well.  Who makes the cancerous child cancerous?  Yahweh.  Who makes the stillborn baby stillborn?  Yahweh. 
In much of modern Christianity, people struggle with how to explain what some have called natural evil, which would include natural disasters and disease.  How do we explain tsunamis and earthquakes?  How do we explain that some people are born with extreme birth defects?  Some Christians would immediately begin to describe man’s fall into sin and the effects that sin has had on this world.  Those effects include natural evil and so when we see these kinds of things – hurricanes that kill and children born blind – we should be reminded of Adam’s fall into sin and how horrible sin is.  God doesn’t want these things to happen; man chose them when he chose sin.  In other words, some explanation is found that lays the genesis for these disasters somewhere other than at the feet of Almighty God.  “Man chose to sin.  Sin caused these things.  So in a sense man caused them and sin caused them, but God did not.  God is as bothered by them as you are.”
Others in the church, recognizing that the Bible claims more sovereignty for God, seek to accommodate that teaching while still absolving God of responsibility for natural disasters and sicknesses.  They explain that God selectively “allows” certain disasters to happen.  He “allows” particular illnesses to take shape in the womb; He prevents others.  So God is like a gatekeeper, not causing these things to take place, but allowing certain ones to pass.  I find this option attractive although the text of Scripture, including Exodus 4:11, the more I read it, persuades me that this is an inappropriate explanation.  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
We have an impulse to rescue God from responsibility for birth defects and illnesses and earthquakes where He seems to feel no such compulsion.  Being recognized as the creator of mute mouths, deaf ears, and blind eyes does not appear to be problematic to Him.  He claims responsibility with absolutely no apologetic explanation. 
In Exodus 4:11-12, Yahweh says, “I make mouths.  All of them.  I make them work well.  I make them work poorly.  I make eyes, too.  I make them see and not see.  I make ears, too.  I make them hear and not hear.”  And He offers no explanation to get Himself off the hook, even though we are so eager for Him to do so.  He appears to want us to understand that He is in control even of these kinds of things. 
But there is a “therefore.”  Yahweh wanted Moses to trust Him with his mouth and speech because He created it and was Lord over it.  Why was Moses not “a man of words” as the original more literally reads?  It’s not that God allowed this to happen to Moses.  God made him that way.  Why?  So that Moses would trust in Him and not himself. 
Paul finds the same thing at work in his own trials in 2 Cor 1.  The apostle describes his and his companions being burdened beyond their own strength, so burdened that they despaired of life itself.  They felt that they had received the death sentence.  But this burden came with a purpose.  “That was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:8-11).  The trial, horrific and terrifying, was from the hand of God for the purpose of God. 
I’m challenged more and more by passages like Exodus 4:11-12 to let the Bible teach me about God, to accept and embrace what it teaches, and to resist the impulse to rescue Him from what the Bible says.  Where He shows no desire to rescue Himself, He must want to be there, and I have no business removing Him. 
We’ll have more opportunities to consider these things as we continue in Exodus and as we continue our Wednesday night series, Walking in the Excellencies of God.  If you have questions, join us for both!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

His own did not receive Him...

We saw on Sunday a number of parallels between Moses and Jesus.  But there was one that we did not have time to develop.
When Moses came upon the two Hebrews struggling and said to the aggressor, “Why do you strike your companion?”, he answered, “who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exo 2:13-14).  We might have expected Moses to be received as a hero among the Hebrews but by this response it appears that he is unwanted. 
And this is but a taste of what Moses will receive from the Israelites once he is officially their leader.  They will complain about Moses’ interference before the exodus (5:20-21), just before the crossing of the Red Sea (14:11-12), and just after the crossing of the Red Sea (15:24; 17:1-7).  In Num 12:1-16, his own brother and sister will oppose him.  The people will refuse to enter the Canaan land (Num 13:1-33) and will threaten to choose a new leader to take them back to Egypt (Num 14:1-4).  All of this will take place in the midst of miraculous acts of salvation, preservation, and provision never seen before.  As Yahweh says to Moses in Exo 32:9, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.”
So we could say that Moses came to his own but his own did not receive him.  Contrast that with the reception he received after merely running off some bullies in Midian.  The priest of Midian brought Moses into his house, shared a meal with him, and made him part of the family, giving him his daughter for a wife (Exo 2:15-22).  His own people treated him as an unwanted nuisance, but when Moses went to those who were not his people, he was honored as a heroic deliverer. 
The parallel with Christ is obvious.  John 1:11 says of Jesus, He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him.  All four Gospels note the cool reception that Jesus received among the Jews.  In recent years, we found this to be a prominent theme of Matthew.  The Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the latter chapters show Jesus teaching via parables that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to another people, the Gentiles (Matt 21:41-44).  Certainly, there were those among the Jews who believed in Christ during His ministry and after His ascension, as recorded in the book of Acts.  But the Jews’ rejection of Christ is what provided for the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles.
As tempting as it may be to throw stones at the Jews for their blindness, and though they are culpable for their rejection of the Christ, we must recognize that this was part of God’s sovereign plan to bless all nations through Abraham (Gen 12:1-3).  Paul teaches that in making the promise to Abraham to bless all nations, God had in mind that He would justify the Gentiles by faith through the preaching of the gospel to them (Gal 3:8-9).  But the kingdom would not have been extended to the Gentiles had the Jews not rejected it.  This truth – that by the inclusion of Jews and Gentiles into the one church, God will save all His people – prompts Paul to revel,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?  Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)
Praise God for this and many other opportunities we’ll have to consider our great exodus in Christ as we study Exodus.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Father Knows Best What is Good for Us

Because the three Persons of the Trinity are identical in nature, what makes them distinct must relate to their respective roles.  One of the Father’s roles that we considered last night is that the Father is the giver of every good and perfect gift.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).
What good thing do you have that you did not receive from the Father?  Nothing.  From the smallest good to the greatest good, all good things comes to us from the Father.
And this includes the gift of the Son, whom the Father gave to save us from the wrath to come:
"For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1John 4:10).
The Father’s good gifts include the Spirit, as well, who teaches us, intercedes for us, and testifies to us about Christ:
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26).
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).
The gifts of the Son and the Spirit prove the Father’s benevolent heart toward us.  As Paul wrote in Rom 8:32, 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?  If the Father did not withhold the greatest gift, the greatest sacrifice, why would He withhold lesser good gifts?
Still, we may on occasion regard God the Father to be a stingy ogre, who only begrudgingly gives us good gifts when He is absolutely sure they won’t make us happy.  We regard Him this way because we perceive that He withholds from us things that we believe are “good” for us.  God certainly denies us things we want, but He does this because He knows better than we do what is good for us.  We tend to equate what will make us happy with what is good for us.  God is wiser than that.  The things that may make us happy for a moment are often the worst possible things for us. 
How many of us, in our fallen state, would have chosen the gift of the Son over our own idea of what is good?  None of us would have.  Paul teaches in 1 Cor 1:18 that the word of the cross – the gift of the Son – is foolishness to the world.  Left to ourselves we never would have chosen this greatest Gift.  And we only regarded that gift as a wonderful blessing after the Father opened our eyes and gave us repentance and faith.  Praise the Father that He knows better than we do AND that He did not leave it up to us to see the desirability of the gift of Christ.
If the Father knew better than we did regarding the gift of the Son, certainly we should trust Him with all lesser things.  If God withholds a certain thing from us, it must not be good for us, at least not at that particular time.  After all, if He did not withhold His Son, “how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”
The extravagance of the gifts of the Son and Spirit should indicate to us that God's great desire is to lavish His children with good gifts.  If He hasn’t given something to us, it is because He knows best what is good for us.  But the things He has given us, particularly in Christ and the Spirit, are of inestimable value.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Walking in Light of the Deity of the Spirit

Last evening in our study, Walking in the Excellencies of God, we considered again the triune nature of God, focusing on the deity of the Holy Spirit.  We have a dual emphasis in this study: knowing the excellencies of God and living in light of those excellencies.  So our discussion always turns to the practical benefit of believing true things about the nature of God.
In the case of the deity of the Spirit we discussed a couple of ways that belief in this truth should affect the way that we live.  First, we should care deeply about how we care for and use our bodies.  We know that the Spirit resides inside of us (John 14:17).  Paul takes this to mean that our bodies are temples and should be treated accordingly:  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1Cor 6:19-20).   
Apparently, in the church at Corinth, some were participating in prostitution.  So the context pertains to sins of the body.  Earlier in the passage, the apostle writes, Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! (1Cor 6:15). It matters what a Christian does with his or her body!
The prevailing attitude of our culture is that your body is your body and what you do with it is your business.  No one can tell you what to do with it.  If you want to engage in any manner of sexual behavior, that is your prerogative.  If you want to abort your baby, it’s your body.  If you want to use drugs or overeat or mistreat your body in any other way, that’s completely up to you.  It’s no one else’s business.
But if the Holy Spirit is God, those of us who are believers are walking temples of the living God and our bodies are not our own.  This is Paul’s point explicitly – you are not your own…so glorify God with your body.  This should be powerful incentive to care deeply about our bodies.  We can and should apply this to sexual ethics as Paul does, but we need not stop there because the principle is broader than that one area.  We ought not eat ourselves into poor health, nor starve ourselves into poor health.  We ought not over-exercise or under-rest ourselves into poor health.  Likewise, we ought not under-exercise or over-rest ourselves into poor health.  We ought not ignore signs that we are ill.  We should take care of our bodies – glorify God in our bodies – which are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Second, we should be comforted by the intercession of Almighty God on our behalf.  There is a wonderful passage in Romans 8:26-27, which teaches that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  When we don’t know what to pray for ourselves, “the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Many of us find comfort knowing that others are praying for us.  We are called to pray for one another, we are right to enlist the prayers of others on our behalf, and we are right to be comforted knowing that our brothers and sisters are interceding for us.  But how much more comforting should it be to know that the Holy Spirit – fully God – intercedes for us before the Father – fully God?  We often refer to certain saints who devote themselves to prayer as “prayer warriors.”  But whose intercession could be more efficacious than that of the Holy Spirit?
On top of that, Paul notes just a few verses later that the Spirit is not alone in His intercession for us, but He is joined by God the Son:  Christ Jesus is the one who died-- more than that, who was raised-- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Rom 8:34).
Are you beset by troubles? All three persons of the Trinity are engaged in intercession for you.  God the Spirit and God the Son intercede for you, and God the Father receives those prayers.  Find comfort in that supernatural prayer support!
Join us next Wednesday at PBF at 6:30p as we continue to consider how the truth of God's triune nature informs our everyday lives.  Teaser: Did you know that God submits to authority, and when we submit to authority we are being like God?