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8.15.2018

The Unity of the Bible

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought" will take some thought!  It's not your typical, casual, quickly processed quote.  It will require you to think. Hopefully you are up for the challenge!  It is the response I often give to those who say ask: "What proof we have for the existence of God?   Where did God come from?  And, "Did God create because He needed someone to love, or because He was lonely?
     The following quote seeks to address these three questions and explains why it is that God did not create out of a sense of need within himself.  Part of the answer to question 3 is taken from Daniel Fuller's book, "The Unity of the Bible" -- a must read, in my opinion, for any earnest believer.  Enjoy!

















The God Who Has No Needs
     1.) "What Proof Do We Have for the Existence of God?" The best proof for the existence of God goes something like this:  Being cannot come from non-being.  That is, something cannot come from nothing.  Yet, most all scientists agree that at some point in the long-distant past the space now occupied by the physical universe was empty and void and consisted of "nothing."  But its precisely because something cannot come from nothing that helps us see that the creation itself is the greatest proof of the existence of God.  Since being cannot come from non-being, our existence as beings proves His existence.
     2.) "Where Did God Come From?" To answer this, we can take the previous argument a step further.  Because being cannot come from non-being, our existence as beings proves His existence, and His existence proves He always existed.  If God is, He must always have been.  Most all theologians have tended to agree on this, and Malachi 3:6 confirms it where it says, "I am the Lord, I do not change."  Change is part of that which is limited, lacking, or finite. A God who changes would be finite and limited and could not by definition be God. To be infinite is by nature to be changeless, immutable and everlasting -- none of which would be true of God if He had a beginning.  If being is, it must always have been, since being cannot come from non-being.  Even the fact that God is all-knowing demands that He must have existed forever, for if He was not an eternal Being, or came into being at some point in time (which is an impossibility since being cannot come from non-being), then He could not be omniscient, for He would not know what transpired before He came into existence.
     3.) "Did God Create Because He Needed Something to Love, or Because He Was Lonely?  The Christian answer, based on the fact that God is a Trinity, is best given by Daniel Fuller in his book "The Unity of the Bible," in the section entitled, 'Why Did God Wait So Long to Create the World?'  In this section of his book he points out: "The declaration in Psalm 90:2 that, 'Before the mountains were born or you (God) brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God,' indicates that vast eons of time elapsed before God acted to establish the earth so it would reflect His glory.  But Irenaeus, Augustine, and Calvin -- some of the church's greatest leaders -- have sternly warned people not to ask what God was doing before he created, or to wonder why he waited so long to create...  I believe, however, that it is both lawful and expedient to ask why the Triune God waited a long time to create the world.  For from the very fact that God waited, we know that he did not create out of the necessity involved in need-love. [That is, he did not create because he was lonely, or needed someone to love, as many often suggest].
     Since God the Father found infinite happiness in Jesus, the Son, then it becomes clear that from all eternity God has enjoyed his Son's love and companionship, showing the creation of the world was NOT a necessary act that God undertook to overcome loneliness, but an act that flowed from the freedom involved in benevolent love. It would be threatening to our future happiness to know that God created us to meet some need in himself... Yet the moment we understand that all of God's need-love was met in being a Trinity, then we see that he was free to act toward us, his creation, solely in terms of the freedom of a benevolent love.  A striking way to represent the difference is to say that if God were to have created us out of need-love, it would be like inviting us to a banquet, only to inform us that we were one of the courses for the meal!  But when God invites us to a banquet out of benevolent love, he wants us to join with him as guests at his table, to enjoy the feast along with him – as the psalmist put it, to drink from the river of his delights (36:8).  So, God's having delayed creation for a long while makes it unmistakably clear that he created us not out of need, but in the freedom of his benevolent love – out of mercy and grace.”
     What a different view of God we have when we consider his eternality in light of his Triune nature.  If God created out of a "need" that was unmet for all those many millions and trillions of eons before He spoke things into existence out of nothing (as the Bible does state), then the only picture one can draw is of a God who was sad, frustrated, or unhappy until He created, due to the long-standing unmet need in himself.  But when we consider God as Trinity, and the love and delight that existed between the Father and the Son from all eternity, we see that the fellowship and love between the Father and the Son resulted in a God who was eternally contented and happy!  A God who created, not out of need, but out of the overflow of delight, love and happiness that existed within Himself.  To put it in human terms, the best of all scenarios is not when a husband and wife seek to have a child to meet a need in either one of them, or out of an attempt to "save the marriage," but when they so love each other that they choose to bring a child into the overflow of love and delight that already exists between them. Not when they create out of need, but out of a desire to share their overflowing love with another.  And not only does it give us a different view of God, but a whole different ground for relationship!  For when we know we were not created to meet a need in God, we are freed to walk and share in the overflow of God's infinite Self-adequacy and Self-completeness!
     At any rate, just something to think about!

Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff

7.24.2018

Extravagant Grace

Greetings All!

     Today's 'thought' could have been written by me (the first part at least)!  For it sounds very similar to conversations I've had with people who see the God of the Old Testament as somehow being different from the God of the New Testament -- as if God's nature changed between the Testaments!  The extreme example of this was Marcion (85-160 A.D.) who not only deleted the Old Testament from his Bible, but all the verses from the Old Testament that were quoted by the authors of the New Testament! (By the way 25.5% of the material in the New Testament is quotations of the Old Testament.)  He had a very small Bible!   This particular entry is found in the book, "Extravagant Grace" edited by Traci Mullins. It was written by Marilyn Meberg.  I offer it for your consideration.  Enjoy.
     "Not long ago a woman named Betty corralled me after a conference and confided: 'You know what I just love about the God of the New Testament?  He's just so much more pleasant than that one in the Old Testament.  What I mean is, the modern God is so much more liberal...  I mean liberal about the sin stuff and everything. You know that woman at the well that Jesus was chatting with? You know, the one who moved through husbands like cheesecake?  Well, Jesus was so nice about all that.  And then of course there's that woman doing you know what right in the middle of the day.  And Jesus didn't even have a fit about it!  I love that about him!'
     I wonder if Betty's sentiments are more common than we might think. Quite frankly, I understand right where she's coming from. Sunday school, church, and vacation Bible school were all a part of my life as I grew up, and I can vividly remember thinking that the stories I heard about how God wiped out whole cities, including women and children, was scary. I was convinced he was powerful, but never in a million years would I believe he was pleasant.  As I grew older I decided not to read the Old Testament at all.  If I were to be perfectly honest, I thought God was arrogant, narrow-minded, and barbaric. Of course, I never admitted that to a living soul, and I certainly didn't tell God!  I didn't want to risk being struck by a plague!
     During my junior year at Seattle Pacific University I had one of those 'aha' moments in the middle of Dr. Demaray's class on evangelism. He pointed out that in the Old Testament God was graphically illustrating his utter intolerance of sin. That's why those people who lived in total disobedience were wiped out. The law was: You sin, you're warned, you don't heed the warning, you die!  Dr. Demaray went on to explain that when Jesus became the embodiment of the world's sin, God, who cannot tolerate sin, turned momentarily away, thus provoking the anguished cry, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' It wasn't that God's heart was indifferent to the death of his Son; he simply cannot compromise his holiness by even looking upon sin.
     It began to make more sense to me why God seemed so inflexible about sinful people, but it still made him a bit scary. It took a few more years for me to finally fit the Old Testament God and the New Testament God into one integrated, harmonious whole. That all happened when I joined a Bible study on the book of Romans and finally learned the meaning of justification...  Romans 5:1 states, 'Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.'   Chuck Swindoll clearly defines this extravagant gift of justification through God's grace.  'It is the sovereign act of God whereby he declares righteous the believing sinner while still in his sinning state. It doesn't mean that the believing sinner stops sinning. It doesn't even mean the believing sinner is made righteous in the sense of suddenly becoming perpetually perfect. The sinner is declared righteous. God sovereignly bestows the gift of eternal life on the sinner at the moment he believes and thereby declares him righteous while the sinner still lives a life marked by periodic sinfulness.  God takes the guilty, believing sinner who says, 'I am lost, unworthy, guilty as charged, and undeserving of forgiveness' and extends the gift of eternal life because Christ's death on the cross satisfied His demands against sin, namely death. And God sees the guilty sinner (who comes by faith alone) as righteous as He sees His own Son."
     Do you realize what that means?  Even though we still sin and often can''t seem to stop, God declared us righteous when we believed and received Jesus. And because the sin thing stays with us like onions after lunch, we desperately need God's grace. We deserve to be overtaken by locusts, but instead we're embraced by forgiveness and miraculously accepted as righteous by the very God who will not tolerate wrongdoing of any kind!  I realize now that without knowing God's utter intolerance of sin, I could never begin to appreciate how incredible is the grace with which he embraces me.  The God of the Old Testament is the same God who ordained the Cross of forgiveness and grace. Someone needs to explain that to Betty."
     As a pastor I too have wrestled with some of the things God commanded in the Old Testament. They do seem harsh. And I have struggled seeing Jesus ("who is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of God's being" - Hebrews 1:3) carrying them out.  Yet I have never embraced the Marcion heresy of thinking there were "two different God's"  -- the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New.  Few truths stand out with more clarity than the declaration of God in Malachi 3:6, where He says, "I am the LORD, I do not change."  In fact, given the biblical understanding of God as Triune (one God indivisibly manifest in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) the same truth is stated by the author of Hebrews when he states that, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever"  (13:8).  The issue is not whether God in His essential nature changes (an impossibility according to God's own declaration in Scripture). But whether the God who is consistently and unchangeably the same changes His approach to sinners in light of the Cross.
     We live now in the Church age, or the epoch of grace, where mercy is being offered to the nations through the proclamation of the Gospel.  But we must remember that it's mercy offered in light of the wrath to come. For the Bible makes it clear that after the Gospel has been preached to all nations the end will come, and then God's wrath against sin will be exercised upon all who have not sought the shelter from it that He offers in Christ (Isaiah 61:2, I Thessalonians 1:10, I Thessalonians 5:1-3, II Thessalonians 1:5-10).  After all, if there is no coming day of wrath, there is no reason to seek shelter in Christ, and nothing that anyone really needs to be saved from. Such a belief would make the Gospel completely irrelevant.
     The Bible makes it clear that all sin will be punished. For believers it was punished in Jesus on the cross, but for those who reject Christ, it will be punished in them.  For the Gospel offer is not simply, "grace from now on, for all, forever."  It is, "grace for all who will come to Christ now, for the day of wrath (or judgment) is coming"  (Isaiah 61:2, II Corinthians 5:16-6:2).  People sometimes forget that the book of Revelation, which brings the New Testament to a close (and speaks of what will happen when the time of God's favor is finished), looks very "Old-Testament-like."
     So, it is true: God has not changed.  As a Holy God He always has, and always will, oppose and punish sin. And as a loving God He offers Christ to rescue from the coming wrath all who will trust in Him.  For those who are in Christ by faith their sin has already been punished. They are saved from the wrath to come (I Thess. 1:10). But for those who persist in their unbelief and refuse God's loving offer of grace in Christ, each day that passes draws them closer to the day (when if they continue to persist in that unbelief) they will experience His wrath in themselves. That's why we pray, and preach, and share the Gospel. As Marilyn Meberg writes: "The God of the Old Testament is the same God who ordained the Cross of forgiveness and grace.  Someone needs to explain that to Betty."

In the Service of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff

7.17.2018

Little Faith

Greetings Everyone!

     Today's "thought" addresses the question: "How much faith is necessary?" 
     On two occasions I have heard preachers speak on Jesus' words that, "faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains."  And in each case both of those preachers went on to speak of wanting to exercise a far greater quantity of faith than Jesus said is necessary.  One of the preachers even said, "some people are content with a thimble full of faith, I want a swimming pool full of faith -- faith I can swim in!"
     Yet, I believe both of them missed Jesus point.  For Jesus tells us that faith the size of a mustard seed is far more than anyone will ever need!   With that much, says Jesus, "Nothing will be impossible for you."  In other words, we don't need tons of faith to see impossibilities become possible, we simply need that small amount and we will see miracles happen.  As R.T. France says in his commentary on Jesus words: "It is not the 'amount' of faith which brings the impossible within reach, but the power of God, which is available to even the 'smallest faith.' " 
     That's what today's thought is about: "Little Faith."   It comes to us from a book entitled, "Day by Day with the English Puritans" by Randall J. Pederson.  This particular entry was written by John Rogers, a Puritan pastor from Essex, England, back in the 1620's.  I trust you will find it helpful and encouraging. Enjoy.

Little Faith

"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say unto this mountain,
'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Matthew 17:20b
     "Little faith is true faith, as well as great faith.  A little man is just as much a man as a large man; a little water is just as truly water as the ocean seas. The disciples had true faith, yet very weak faith, weak in knowledge. Though they believed that Jesus was the Messiah come to save the world, yet they did not know how.  They were ignorant of His death, for when He told them of His coming sufferings, it is said that they did not understand what He was saying (Luke 18:31-34). Peter took Jesus aside and counseled Him not to go to Jerusalem to die (Matthew 16:22). They were ignorant also of His resurrection also, for when Mary told them of it, they did not believe her (Luke 24:11).  And of His ascension, when He spoke of going away, they understood it not, neither did they know where He was going, or the way to get there (John 14:1-31).  Their knowledge was very weak to be ignorant of such important things...
     But weak faith may prove strong in time. The most learned clerk was once in school studying his grammar book. The greatest giant was once in swaddling clothes. The tallest oak was at one time a twig. And faith grows from a grain of mustard seed to produce a tall tree.  As from a child to a man, so corn grows from a weak blade, to a stalk, to an ear with ripe corn therein. The disciples who were so weak before, afterwards, when the Holy Spirit was sent among them, were exceedingly strong and feared not in the face of tyrants."
     It was not unusual for Puritan pastors to affirm the words of Jesus that even little faith (faith as small as a mustard seed) was sufficient faith.   Thomas Watson, also a Puritan pastor, once said: "Though your faith is weak, do not be discouraged -- a weak faith may receive a strong Christ."   And Richard Sibbes, yet another Puritan pastor, once said: "A spark of fire is fire, as well as the whole element. Therefore we must look to grace in the spark as well as in the flame. All do not have the same strong faith, though they have the same precious faith (2 Pet. 1:1), whereby they lay hold of, and put on, the perfect righteousness of Christ. A weak hand may receive a rich jewel.  A few grapes will show that the plant is a vine, and not a thorn.  It is one thing to be deficient in grace, and another thing to lack grace altogether.”
     So, we are, as Peter says, to, "make every effort to add to our faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control...." (II Peter 1:5-9).  We are called to exercise and add to our faith. Yet, we must also remember that a mustard seed sized degree of faith is more than sufficient to "move mountains" and make "nothing impossible for (us)."   No one needs a swimming pool sized degree of faith!  Who needs more than a faith that is able to do all things?!
     In fact, if Jesus rebuked the disciples for not being able to cast out evil spirits, "because they had so little faith," and then went on to say "faith the size of a mustard seed" was enough to do anything that needed to be done, one must question how much the disciples could have had?  Maybe the tiniest speck of a mustard seed that had been ground to powder?  I suppose it really doesn't matter. Little faith in the infinite God is enough! The aim, after all, is not to focus on our faith, but the immutable, great, loving, and all-powerful object of our faith.  For faith grows as we look away from it, and seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.  The greater we understand Him to be, the greater our faith will become -- and that without even needing to focus on faith.

Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff

7.10.2018

Spiritual Inebriation


Greetings All!

     I have always contended that who we become in life has to do, not only (of course) with the direct input of God into our lives through His Word and His Spirit, but the guidance, influences, and input of other people whose wisdom and counsel and insights we have sought out. This is one of the reasons I always check out the libraries of other people!  I want to see who they have turned to for guidance and inspiration, and have thus, in some way, helped form them.  James Stuart Bell also understands this principle. And therefore he sought to inquire who the authors were that influenced the life of someone he admired -- A. W. Tozer.


























     This selection, therefore, comes from his book, "From the Library of A. W. Tozer -- Selections from Writers Who Influenced his Spiritual Journey."   This particular excerpt (only one of hundreds in his book) is from a book in Tozer's library by Jan Van Ruysbroeck's (or John of Ruusbroec, born in 1293 A.D. near Brussels, Belgium) called, "The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage."  In this selection he speaks of one of the joys of being the Bride of Christ -- "Spiritual Inebriation."  Enjoy.
Spiritual Inebriation

"The joy of the Lord is our strength."
Nehemiah 8:10

"Do not be drunk with wine, with leads to debauchery, 
but instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Ephesians 5:18
     "Spiritual inebriation is this: that a man receives more sensible joy and sweetness than his heart can either contain or desire.  Spiritual inebriation brings forth many strange gestures in men. It makes some sing and praise God because of the fullness of joy, and some weep with great tears because of the sweetness of heart.  It makes one restless in his in all his limbs, so that he must run, jump, and dance, and so excites another that he must move and clap his hands.  Another cries out with a loud voice and so shows forth the plenitude his soul feels within, and another must be silent and melt away because of the rapture which he feels with all his senses.
     At times he thinks that all the world must feel what he feels; at times he thinks that none can taste what he has attained. Often he thinks that he never could, nor ever shall, lose this sense of well-being; at times he wonders why all men do not become God-desiring.  At one time he thinks that God is for him alone, or none other as much as him; at another time he asks himself with amazement of what nature these delights can be, and whence they come, and what happened to him.
     This is the most rapturous life (as regards our bodily feelings) which man may attain upon earth.  Sometimes the excess of joy becomes so great the man thinks that his heart must burst. And for all these manifold gifts and miraculous works, he shall, with a humble heart, thank and praise and honor and reverence the Lord, who can do all this, and thank Him with fervent devotion because it is His will to do all this.  And the man shall always keep in his heart and speak through his mouth with sincere intention: "Lord, I am not worthy of this. Yet I have need of Your boundless goodness and of Your support." In such humility he may grow and rise into higher virtues." 
     On the day of Pentecost unbelievers accused the disciples of being drunk (Acts 2:15).  Why?  Surely it was because of the sheer joy they felt, and the glow on their faces that attested to it (similar to what is described above) when the Holy Spirit came and fell upon them on that day.  After all, it was only 9:00 o'clock in the morning and they were obviously full of intense joy and energy (or the Spirit's "power" - Acts 1:8 - or dunamis in the Greek, the same word from which we get our English word "dynamite").  Of course, speaking in tongues (or languages they had not learned) may have played into it as well!
     Though some fear the intense emotions that can often attend centered prayer, joyful worship, or the experience of the Holy Spirit, it did seem to be part of the experience of the early disciples and apostles. Have you experienced such times? Have you ever found your heart so full of joy it was hard to contain?  Ever been moved to sing, praise, clap, cry or dance, touched as you were by the overwhelming sense of God's grace, goodness and love?  Ever sensed the presence of God's holiness and complete otherness in such a way that it moved you to feel that to even speak a word, or simply move, would have been inappropriate and irreverent?   Have you ever become so conscious of the reality and presence of God that it altered the way you viewed everything happening around you, and made even the most common things beautiful and sacred?
     Such experiences are not uncommon in Scripture. And dare I suggest that if we pursued God with the intensity of many of those in Scripture, we might find such experiences more commonplace too? 

Living in the grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff