a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 54
In this issue:
Perspective 1 - By His Pleasure
Perspective 2 - The Rights of A Free God
Perspective 3 - Faithfully Abiding
There isn't time to reach out for God's hand when the ground falls away beneath you. If you're not already in His grasp when it happens, you're too late.
We have wept over the senseless loss of life in Oklahoma City We have gasped at the scenes that have illuminated our living rooms with their images of bloody carnage. We have searched for answers, for anything that might explain the lunacy that precipitated this horror.
And people all over the United States--possibly around the world--have done what they always do when such things occur. People have gathered in churches to pray and hold each other and to look longingly to their spiritual leaders to tell them why.
Some have drawn strength from a faith that was in place long before a Ryder van pulled up to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, but many have, belatedly, searched for a faith to console them in their grief. And some of their spiritual leaders have sought to comfort by telling the mourners that God's heart was the first to be broken when the bomb went off--suggesting that surely a benevolent God could not have personally had a hand in such a terrible event, that He may even have gasped in surprise at the concussion.
Ladies and gentlemen, our God is not a spectator. Jehovah God is either Master of everything that is, or He is not. You can't have it both ways. The God who gives life can just as well take it away; the God who heals sickness can also cause it to linger. He was still on His throne
- in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar's army destroyed Jerusalem, and the major part of the remaining Israelite community was taken to Babylon;
- in AD 60, when Nero was lighting his patio with Christians dipped in tar, or tossing them to the lions;
- in 1933, when the Nazis began their systematic persecution of the Jews resulting in, by 1945, over 5 million exterminated;
- in 1988, when Saddam Hussein ordered thousands of Kurds to be killed, some by chemical weapons, and hundreds of Kurdish villages destroyed.
Tragedy is not reserved only for those who deserve it. By human standards the ancient Job did not deserve to lose all of his livestock, his servants, every one of his children; he did nothing to deserve the festering boils that covered him from head to toe. Indeed, the story begins with God declaring Job's righteousness.
Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." Job 1:8
Yet, for all his innocence, tragedy struck, and while one could debate interminably the semantics of whether God "permitted" or "allowed" or "caused" these events to take place, one thing is clear from the narrative: God was not just a spectator.
When tragedy strikes, our sorrow must be informed by an understanding of God's sovereignty. There is no lasting hope in the search for faith; there is only hope in the faith itself--faith in a God who can do as He pleases.
"God's sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free.Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point. To be Lord over all creation, He must possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign. Furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means simply that He must be free to do whatever He wills to do anywhere at any time to carry out His eternal purpose in every single detail without interference. Were He less than free He must be less than sovereign."
Even more frightening than the tragedy in Oklahoma City is the prospect of a future in which God is not sovereign. If we worship a God who is all-knowing, then we worship a God who was not surprised by the events of April 19; if we worship a God who is all-powerful, then we worship a God who could have stopped them if He so desired.
"See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand." Deut. 32:39
Faith is not simply believing that God is able to heal; real faith is continuing to believe even when He doesn't.
Job had more advice than any one man could need. The first--and possibly the worst--of this advice came from his good wife. Her counsel to the grieving Job was
"Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" Job 2:9b
Job's response to his mate is something that should be forever stenciled on the backs of our hands, always available as a reminder when we pass through difficult--even tragic--times.
good from God, and not trouble?" Job 2:10a
It is far too easy to proclaim our faith in a sovereign God when He has just filled our life with pleasant blessings. When the job is going well the praise comes easily; when there's money in the bank our allegiance is never a stretch; when the family is in good health we never question His wisdom.
But let our lives become hard, and it is often far too easy to change our tune. When we've lost that comfortable job we cry out, shaking our fist toward the heavens: "How could He do this?" When bankruptcy looms we declare: "God can't be in this!" And when disease and sickness and death attack the family we question: "How could a loving God stand by and permit this to happen?"
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. Isaiah 45:7
"Only the God of the Bible is revealed as a personal Creator who can act independently of the cosmos and its space-time dimensions. The God of the Bible is neither subject to nor contained within the limits of our space and time. He is the one who brought these features of the cosmos into existence.And no other God besides the God of the Christian Bible claims attributes that defy explanation in the context of four dimensions. For example, only the biblical God is simultaneously singular and plural (a tri-unity) and simultaneously accommodates both humanity's freedom of choice and God's sovereign choice (that is, predetermination)."
Some people, in an honest effort to know God, fall into the trap of trying to define who He is by standards familiar to them.
We are encouraged to know God by acknowledging His holy attributes: He is Truth, He is Majesty, Great, Changeless and Eternal. It is a righteous occupation to spend time meditating upon these attributes and using them as the raw material of our worship and praise.
But never should we seek to know Him by the attributes of humanity. We can, at best, use humanity and nature to illustrate for our better understanding; these things were created by Him and, thereby, are related, and are profitable as illustrations when our small minds fail in grasping the scope of His grandeur.
Everything around us, however, is imperfect--including ourselves--when compared to God. We must not try to limit His abilities and rights by the rather limited abilities and rights of His creation.
Into the WordDeut. 4:32-39 ______________________________ Deut. 10:14 ______________________________ Deut. 32:1-4; 36-39 ______________________________ 1 Samuel 2:6-8 ______________________________ 1 Chron. 29:11-12 ______________________________ Job 41:11 ______________________________ Psalm 22:28 ______________________________ Psalm 29:10 ______________________________ Psalm 50:10-12 ______________________________ Psalm 89:11 ______________________________ Psalm 93:1-2 ______________________________ Psalm 95:3-5 ______________________________ Psalm 113:4 ______________________________ Psalm 115:3 ______________________________ Psalm 135:5-6 ______________________________ Eccles. 9:1 ______________________________ Isaiah 40:22-23 ______________________________ Isaiah 44:6 ______________________________ Isaiah 45:7 ______________________________ Jeremiah 18:1-23 ______________________________ Lament. 3:37-38 ______________________________ Ezekiel 17:24 ______________________________ Daniel 2:20-21 ______________________________ Daniel 4:3 ______________________________ Daniel 4:25 ______________________________ Daniel 4:34-35 ______________________________ Daniel 4:37 ______________________________ Matthew 6:10 ______________________________ Matthew 20:1-16 ______________________________ Luke 1:53 ______________________________ Acts 17:24-26 ______________________________ Romans 9:19 ______________________________ Ephes. 4:6 ______________________________ James 4:12 ______________________________ Rev. 4:11 ______________________________ Rev. 19:6 ______________________________
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
"The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this. -- "There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God." -- By the MERE pleasure of God, I mean his SOVEREIGN pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God's mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment."
"As long as a man is thinking of God as an examiner who has set him a sort of paper to do , or as the opposite party in a sort of bargain--as long as he is thinking of claims and counterclaims between himself and God--he is not yet in the right relation to Him. He is misunderstanding what he is and what God is. And he cannot get into the right relation until he has discovered the fact of our bankruptcy."
Making it Personal
What, if anything, is the difference between "belief" and "faith"?
Has anything traumatic or tragic ever happened in your life where you questioned God's purpose in "permitting" it to happen? What was it?
Did there come a time, later, when you finally understood God's purpose? What was something positive you took away from the event?
If you never did learn God's purpose, did you accept the situation anyway?
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. James 1:2-3
Into the Word
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? Romans 9:14-21
God is not wise only when He agrees with us. His wisdom need only agree with Himself. He need not explain Himself to anyone else.
On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, aircraft of the Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in an attempt to cripple the United States Pacific Fleet, thereby minimizing the ability of the U.S. to prevent the Imperial navy from taking over most of the Pacific.
The attack was wildly successful. Just before 8:00 am they struck. During the next two hours, the Japanese navy destroyed or heavily damagedShips Aircraft ----------------------- -------------- 8 battleships 4 B-17s 3 light cruisers 12 B-18s 3 destroyers 2 A-20s 4 auxiliary craft 32 P-40s 20 P-36s 4 P-26s 2 OA-9s 1 O-49
For the people of a country officially neutral in the expanding world conflict, the most alarming numbers were those itemizing the lives lost.Killed or Missing Wounded ----------------- --------- Navy 2008 710 Marine Corps 109 69 Army 218 364 Civilians 68 35 ------ ----- Totals 2403 1178
Over a period lasting just two hours, almost 2,500 innocent people were killed by bombs, bullets and torpedoes rained on them by planes from a country that had not even declared war. In other words, these were not war casualties; these were people who were murdered.
Four years later, the United States, in an effort to draw the world war to an end, dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The Supreme Allied Headquarters reported that 129,558 persons were killed, injured, or missing and 176,987 made homeless by the bombing. Worldwide, as a result of World War Two, 55 million people--military and civilian--lost their lives.
And our sovereign God was still on His throne.
Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? Lament. 3:37-38
Why did God "permit" all those people to die? 55 million people. Why? There is no answer for that, because God does not need to explain Himself to us. Those are the rights of a sovereign; He may do whatever pleases Him, at any time and in any way, and He need not explain His actions to anyone.
A sovereign's logic does not need to agree with the logic of His subjects. We betray the smallness of our faith, and the smallness of our God, when we expect His actions--or inaction--to agree with our reasoning. Could God have prevented World War II? Absolutely. Was He under any obligation to do so? Absolutely not.
Why did over 100 people die in Oklahoma City because of a madman's bomb? Could God have prevented the deaths? Absolutely. Was He under any obligation to do so? Absolutely not.
Ancient civilizations worshipped a veritable catalogue of gods--each god responsible for only one area of the peoples' life. There were gods for the weather, for the crops, for fertility, for war. The list would be endless. All the gods were specialized and a man would not, for example, pray to the god of war if he wanted his wife to bear a child. That wouldn't do any good; the husband or wife would have to pray to the god of fertility.
But our God, the one God, is in charge of everything. He is not sub-divided, neither does He work in concert with any other gods. He does as He pleases, and only has to agree with Himself.
Into the Word
Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? Job 38:1-5
The Lord said to Job: "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!" Then Job answered the Lord: "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer--twice, but I will say no more." Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. "Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Job 40:1-8
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
"When Christian theology declares that God is wise, it means vastly more than it says or can say, for it tries to make a comparatively weak word bear an incomprehensible plenitude of meaning that threatens to tear it apart and crush it under the sheer weight of the idea. 'His understanding is infinite,' says the psalmist. It is nothing less than infinitude that theology is here laboring to express.
There is, indeed a secondary, created wisdom which God has given in measure to His creatures as their highest good may require; but the wisdom of any creature or of all creatures, when set against the boundless wisdom of God, is pathetically small. For this reason the apostle is accurate when he refers to God as 'only wise.' That is, God is wise in Himself, and all the shining wisdom of men or angels is but a reflection of that uncreated effulgence which streams from the throne of the Majesty in the heavens."
Making it Personal
Take some time to compile a list of those attributes or behaviors of God that are troublesome to you. Be honest with yourself; everyone has questions and doubts. God doesn't hate you for the questions that may be in your mind. Look at how graciously Jesus treated His disciple Thomas:
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." John 20:24-27
What is the best way for you to address these questions and doubts?
Into the Word
What does " ... have their being" mean to you in this verse from The Revelation (Rev. 4:11)?
"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."
What does it mean, in practical terms, that we belong to a sovereign God who is free to do as He wills?
O, what freedom! What sweet inner peace, knowing that our Lord is a true, unconquerable God--a God who is never surprised by the events of our world.
There are those who question the value in knowing world or national history. Their typical retort is "But what does that have to do with me?" Yet a knowledge of history, among other things, can give one a comfortable context within which to place events more contemporary. The person with a working knowledge of the ebb and flow of civilization will rarely panic at the morning's headlines.
Just so our knowledge of God. There is a wonderful peace to be found in the knowledge that no matter what happens, God is not taken by surprise. God is never alarmed by the morning's headlines, and since He is our Master, in charge of our lives, this means that we need never be.
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8
Is it possible? Is it really possible to have this kind of contented faith? It was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?" Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Daniel 3:13-18
All around these Jewish men were people only too happy to bow down and worship whatever the king erected to his own honor. But these three would not. They had a quiet, yet firm knowledge that their God was quite capable of keeping them safe from whatever torture or death Nebuchadnezzar devised. And--more to our point--they were content to place themselves in God's hands, even if He chose for them be killed.
These three men had not read the end of the third chapter of the book of Daniel. They had no foreknowledge of how this drama would be played out. Many Jews had been killed before them, and many would after. They had no assurance that their names would not be listed as simply three more who had lost their lives at the hands of another foreign despot.
But even without this knowledge, they placed their faith in their God. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose to live for their Lord--even if it meant their death.
What many people have today is a relationship with God that bestows on Him "conditional" Lordship--lordship with a small 'l'.
Many people are quite content to call Him Lord--so long as there is no discomfort or disappointment involved. They're happy to obey Him--so long as He doesn't ask anything of them too inconvenient or unpleasant. It is a very thin relationship that is based on those terms. Lordship (with a capital 'L') means that we obey and honor God even when He does something we don't understand--or even like. He does not ask that we agree with every decision He makes; if He did, He wouldn't be a God--He would be a partner, an equal.
We are not God's equal. There is freedom and sublime peace in acknowledging that our Lord is a God who behaves according to His own rules--even when more than 100 innocent people might lose their lives.
Into the Word
A psalm of David. Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, "Glory!"
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. Psalm 29:1-11
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
"There may be many Christians like young sailors, who think the shore and the whole land move when their ship sails and actually they themselves are moved. Just so not a few imagine that God moves, and sails, and changes places, because their giddy souls are under sail, and subject to alteration, to ebbing and flowing. But the foundation of the Lord abides sure."
Making it Personal
Abraham and Sarah waited decades for God to fulfill His promise to give them a son. Finally, when Abraham was 100 years of age, God gave them Isaac. Then, one night a few years later, God ordered Abraham to so something that made no sense whatsoever.
Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." Genesis 22:2
Read and study this story in its entirety (Genesis 22:1-19; Hebrews 11:8-19)--along with John 3:16.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
Into the WordPsalm 4:8 ______________________________ Psalm 17:14-15 ______________________________ Psalm 25:12-13 ______________________________ Psalm 29:1-11 ______________________________ Psalm 37:37 ______________________________ Psalm 73:25-26 ______________________________ Psalm 85:8 ______________________________ Psalm 119:165 ______________________________ Psalm 125:1 ______________________________ Psalm 125:5 ______________________________ Proverbs 3:13-18, 21-26 ______________________________ Proverbs 14:14 ______________________________ Isaiah 9:6 ______________________________ Isaiah 12:1-2 ______________________________ Isaiah 25:9-26:4 ______________________________ Isaiah 26:12 ______________________________ Isaiah 30:26 ______________________________ Isaiah 32:17-18 ______________________________ Isaiah 48:18 ______________________________ Isaiah 54:10 ______________________________ Malachi 2:5 ______________________________ Luke 2:14 ______________________________ John 7:38 ______________________________ John 14:27 ______________________________ John 16:33 ______________________________ Romans 8:6 ______________________________ Romans 14:17 ______________________________ Romans 15:13 ______________________________ Galatians 5:22 ______________________________ Philip. 4:7 ______________________________ Philip. 4:9 ______________________________ 2 Thes. 3:16 ______________________________
Issue No. 54
[1.] For those readers unaware, and/or residing outside of the U.S., on the morning of April 19, 1995 a rental truck packed with over 4,000 pounds of explosives was parked in front of the Federal office building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, and detonated. This massive explosion (which caused damage for miles around) reduced over half the building to twisted and pancaked rubble and (at this writing) resulted in the deaths of over 100 people, at least 14 of which were children who had been inside the building's day-care center. Arrests have been made and the indication is that this bombing was accomplished by one or more people vehemently opposed to the federal government. (return to footnote 1)
[2.] Job 1:13-2:7. (return to footnote 2)
[3.] A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in The Christian Life (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), p.169f. (return to footnote 3)
[4.] Hugh Ross in his article "Cosmology's Holy Grail," in Christianity Today (December 1994 issue; Copyright (c) 1994 Christianity Today, Inc./CHRISTIANITY TODAY Magazine). Hugh Ross, an astronomer, is the author of "The Fingerprint of God" (Promise, 1991), "The Creator and the Cosmos" (NavPress, 1993), and "Creation and Time" (NavPress, 1994). Dr. Ross is president of Reasons to Believe, a ministry founded to develop new tools for demonstrating the factual basis for faith in God and confidence in the accuracy of the Bible. (return to footnote 4)
[5.] Isaac Watts (1674-1748). (return to footnote 5)
[6.] Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), from his July 8, 1741 sermon in Enfield Connecticut, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." (return to footnote 6)
[7.] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, as cited in A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C.S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), p76. (return to footnote 7)
[8.] All figures, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl\ Harbor by Gordon W. Prange (McGraw-Hill, 1981), p539. (return to footnote 8)
[9.] Figures, Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1993 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1993 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation. (return to footnote 9)
[10.] Walter Chalmers Smith. (return to footnote 10)
[11.] A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in The Christian Life (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), p92. (return to footnote 11)
[12.] Martin Luther (1483-1546); translated by Frederick H. Hedge (1805-1890). (return to footnote 12)
[13.] Samuel Rutherford, cited in The Quotable Spurgeon (Shaw, 1990), p10. (return to footnote 13)
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