blind

The events of the past week have left our nation hurting, skeptical of one another and even more polarized on the topics of police brutality and social injustice.  As in the wake of all tragedies and disasters, the question is being asked “Where is God in all of this?” and “If there is a [good] God, why is there suffering in the world?”  The Old Testament Law painted a picture of cause and effect for sin.  We learn much about the character and purposes of God in the Old Covenant, but we gloriously have records of the person of Jesus and His explanation for many misunderstandings and misconceptions of God developed by looking at that Law (and from basic human logic).

One such misunderstanding that the Jews carried throughout the generations was that all suffering and misfortune was a direct consequence of sin.  This worldview and belief is still prevalent in many religious and basic worldviews today.  It is exemplified in concepts like karma and “balance” in the universe.  We also expect our social and political systems to respond to evil and sin with punishment to enforce the balance of good and evil where the supernatural fails.

We see brief examples of God’s sovereignty over suffering and troubles throughout the Old Testament with people like Job and the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt, but by in large people prefer to be autonomous and attribute their blessings and successes to their own efforts and character, and thus are left asking “why me” when inexplicable suffering occurs.  Thankfully, Jesus explains suffering clearly.

“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’  Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'”

– John 9.1-3

Jesus had been teaching in the temple about His identity, the bread of life, and made the Jews angry by claiming to be God.  Thus, Jesus hid himself from them and slipped out of the crowd because they were trying to stone Him to death.  On His way out the door, He saw this man who had been born blind, begging.  His disciples noticed Jesus taking notice of the man, and they piped up to ask Jesus whose fault it was that this man had been born with such a terrible disability.

The prevailing worldview of the day was so dominant that the disciples were unashamed to boldly speak out in the presence of this poor man and ask Jesus if he had somehow sinned in the womb or if his parents had sinned so terribly that he was doomed to an entire lifetime of blindness.  Can you imagine?  There are occasions that we cry out to God or doubt Him because of our current situations, but would you ever dare to approach someone with a handicapped child and speak to him about his sin or the possible sin of his child in utero which led to this situation?  If you can, or ever have, you need to repent.

The disciples were clearly asking the cause.  Whose fault was the blindness?  And Jesus responded simply and profoundly: the cause was not sin.  The cause was God setting up this very situation in which His works could be mightily displayed.

One of the most beautiful promises that Christians (and non Christians alike) claim is that God knitted us together and formed us while we were still in our mothers’ wombs.

“For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.”

– Ps 139.13

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

– Jer 1.5

God pieced each one of us together in exactly the manner He wanted us.  This promise is true for all people.  God has created us each for a specific purpose, for a specific life, and with an abundance of unique traits and characteristics.  Even the handicapped.  Even the blind.  Even the broken.  And God utilizes the ways He forms us for His own glory and honor.

Sometimes that glory and honor is exceptional service:  vast wisdom, bold preaching, faithful obedience.  And sometimes that glory and honor is through God’s dynamic intervention:  healing of blindness, dramatic conversion testimonies, undeniable miracles.  And sometimes that glory and honor is through God’s sustaining power and faithfulness when we are not healed or changed.

This blind man whom Jesus encountered was created without the ability of sight, in his mother’s womb, so that Jesus could heal him and so that Jesus could teach both the disciples and us an invaluable lesson.  Not every bit of suffering is the direct consequence of our personal sin.  We do understand from Genesis 3 and Romans 1-3 that all of creation is indeed under the curse because of sin and all of suffering is the result of the reality of sin in our world.  But we must also understand that all who are in Christ have been forgiven for their sins and pardoned from the wrath of God as retribution for their sin – therefore while some suffering might be a consequence of their sin, no suffering of the believer is punishment for sin (Rom 8.1).

Some suffering is governed by God for the purification of our faith.  We read throughout the New Testament that God utilizes suffering and trials to teach us perseverance and to refine our faith as through fire (1 Peter 1.6ff).  We also see examples of suffering which God does not relieve for the sake of growing faith, like Paul:

“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

– 2 Cor 12.7-10

Paul had some sort of physical ailment which caused him great distress.  So much so that He begged God three times to heal him from it, and God refused.  God used Paul to preform many miracles as a missionary and apostle, including bringing back a person from the dead.  But yet, when Paul felt a need in his own body God refused to heal him for the sake of exemplifying His own strength through Paul’s weakness.  Thus we learn that there are times that God will knit together a person in his mother’s womb with blindness and never heal him so as to glorify Himself in this specific weakness.  God will allow us all to suffer a variety of weaknesses and trials without delivering us from them so that we will be forced to rely on Him and His strength and He receive the glory for His power through our weaknesses and trials.

As we continue to process the difficulties in our nation today, let us remember that God is not shocked or surprised by our situations.  In fact, He is orchestrating our circumstances and situations for His glory.  It might be through a radical transformation of our society as a whole, through a mighty miraculous work of God, or it might be to test and grow our faith as individuals.  The greater problem might remain, but we as Christians in a weak and sinful society will need to rely on the strength and guidance of God to live loving, purely and rightly before God.  This will strengthen and refine our faith.

If you can be talked into it, you can be talked out of it.

convince

Salvation is a mystery.  Pretty much everyone would admit that the story of Jesus, being fully God and fully man, living a perfect life and dying to save the world, then raising from the dead and returning to Heaven sounds pretty fantastical.  Like a fairy tale.  Absurd perhaps?  C.S. Lewis called it the “true myth”, because of its moral affect on our lives like myths – however having the glorious aspect of being true.  Almost too good to be true.  Most people at some point in their Spiritual journey will doubt the faith – either in light of life circumstances or because the story just sounds too story-like.

In spite of the mystical nature of the Gospel story, the historical reliability of the Bible has been proven throughout the ages.  Nothing in Scripture has ever been disproven, and continued research such as archaeological digs and finds have regularly confirmed facts about the Bible that were doubted as truth beforehand.  Thus we have disciplines like apologetics – studying logic and fact to systematically answer questions of those who would doubt the reliability of Scripture and the truth of the Gospel.

Apologetics are extremely helpful.  They can offer logical explanations to normal doubts, they can silence critics, and then can explain truths that are interwoven.  Logic, fact and reasoning, however, are not enough to lead someone to salvation.  The simple fact is,

Anything you can be talked into, you can be talked out of.

We might bow up at the idea, thinking our scientific fact and experience will never change our perception of reality.  But philosophy, our interest in the unexplained supernatural world and experience have taught us that even those things we believed unalterable at times are disproven, i.e. the world is not flat, the smallest particle is not the atom, and the sun does not rotate around the world.

So what is it, then, that sets Christianity and salvation apart?  Is the evangelist not trying to convince people that we are all sinful, we all are condemned to Hell, but we can be saved by the grace of Jesus?

Yes.  And no.  The evangelist (all Christians) do in fact believe all of those things and [should] set out to proclaim the Gospel to all people and make disciples.  Jesus has commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 128.18-20), Paul shows us by example the proclamation of the Gospel and tells us to share at all times (2 Tim 4.2), and Peter tells us to be ready in every  circumstance to talk about and explain our faith (1 Peter 3.15).  However, while we are proclaiming the Gospel to every person we meet, we recognize the fact that God alone causes growth.  He softens hearts, he awakens the dead, He gives “New Birth”.

Salvation happens fundamentally when we are born Spiritually.  Before we meet Jesus, before we recognize our sin and confess it and repent from it, we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1).  We, as Christians, cannot look at a dead person and tell them to come to life – try though we might.  We, as Christians, cannot breathe life into a skeleton.  We, as Christians, cannot change the nature of a being.  Spiritually dead people are physically alive, but have no Spiritual life.  Thus, Jesus teaches us that in order to be saved we must be born again (John 3):  the first birth is physical and the second birth is Spiritual.

We have no say in our birth.  It just happens.

Before we meet Jesus, and before we are born again, we are enemies of God and we hate the things of God (Rom 8.7, James 4.4).  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to love Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to submit to Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to turn to Him.  There are none righteous, there are none who seek after God, and there are none who will turn to Him unless God breathes Spiritual life into them and transforms the desires of their hearts (Rom 3.10-12).

In order to be born Spiritually, however, we must hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God has decided to utilize Christians in His plan to bring salvation and new life to the world.  He does not need us, but has decided to allow us the blessing and honor of serving Him.  Thus He commands us to share, and through that obedience He gives the gift of faith:

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

 – Rom 10.17

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [faith] is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 – Eph 2.8-9

God gods us the gift of faith after we hear the Gospel.  We get to play a beautiful part in the salvation experience, but we neither affect someone else nor ourselves.  Thus Paul clearly says,

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.6-7

It has been said that our role as Christians and evangelists and even apologists is to get out there and find the Corneliuses.  Cornelius was the first non-Jew that God started drawing and had Peter lead to faith.  Cornelius was a Roman who had taken on many of the Jewish teachings, and God was stirring in his heart such that he was giving alms (money) to the Jews and prayed to the Jewish God.  He was not yet saved, however, because he had not heard the Gospel – so God revealed his intention to save Cornelius and his family to both Cornelius and Peter.  Thus Peter went with Cornelius’ servants to meet him, he preached the Gospel to the entire household, and they all believed (Acts 10).

God does not always tell us who He is planning on saving, or in whom He is already working, so we must obey His command to preach the Gospel boldly and at all times, and trust Him for the Spiritual birth, transformation and growth.  We go out and look for those people in whom God is working, and we do that by sharing with everyone.

This should give us the highest of hopes.  No matter how good of an apologist we are, not matter how good a preacher, friend, evangelist, or debater, the results are ultimately no in our hands.  If the results were in our hands, a better friend, debater, or speaker would be able to talk that person right out of the faith.  Because there will always be someone smarter, someone more clever, or facts (or theories) twisted in such a way as to change someone’s mind.  But God transforms us from the very nature of our being, and once we have been born Spiritually, we cannot be UNborn.  The growth, the fruit, the results are all in God’s sovereign hand, and of those He has chosen and given birth, He will loose none.

“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

 – John 6.39

Therefore, we have no reason to fear.  God will keep secure those to whom He has given life.  If you are alive Spiritually, you cannot die Spiritually.  And when we share the Gospel with our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers or whomever, it is not our responsibility to save them and cause growth – it is only our responsibility to share and follow up with discipleship after God brings new life!

When there’s nothing to say.

gloves

Sometimes you have said all that you can say and done all that you can do, and the outcome seems murky at best.  Few times in life is the battle anything short of a thousand-year war, rarely is the race documented by splits.  Yes, splits are important, and yes battles ultimately win the war, but the reality is that more often than not, even the minor victories can be be overshadowed by the ongoing struggle.  You might kill one mile, but the task of many more ahead can damper your spirit.

“…and he said, ‘Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s”.'”

– 2 Chro 20.15

We certainly play a role in the big picture.  But our role is obedience.  We hear the Word of God and we submit to it.  We fight sin.  We are active in the Church.  We share the Gospel with non believers and we train up new believers, holding them accountable and helping them to obey God.  But the battle is already won.  The end has already been written.  And God causes the growth.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to keep silent.”

– Ex 14.14

Sometimes we need to get out of the way for the Lord.  We can beat a dead horse but it will not run.  But God is sovereign over salvation, maturity and everything that happens on this Earth.

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.7

And quite frankly, the reality is that before growth can occur, the seed must die.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

– John 12.24

God causes growth through dead seeds.  This is a mystery, both in agriculture and in Spiritual matters.  Scripture teaches us that we are all dead, spiritually, until God gives us a new birth:  a Spiritual birth.  And the outplaying of that Spiritual birth is our surrender, when we die to ourselves and let God take over to bring about new life.  Spiritual life.  Life that honors Him and is life in the fullest.

We will never persuade someone to follow Christ.  And if we do persuade someone, then they have been won on a superficial level only.  Only God gives true life, and true growth.  So let us not be surprised that the World acts like the World; that Spiritually dead people disobey the mandates of God.  Let us say all that God has to us to say, let us fight the good fight, but let us rest well in the fact that God has every step of this planned.  Jesus promises us that the world will devolve into chaos ad tribulation before the end will come.

“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.  But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.  Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.  At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

– Matt 24.6-13

But the one who perseveres until the end will be saved.  Push on.  It will all be worth it in the end.  Be on guard lest your love grow cold and lest you be led astray.  It will all be worth it in the end.  And the battle belongs to the Lord.

Whose fault is it?

horse

The horse is prepared for the day of battle,
But victory belongs to the LORD.
 – Prov 21.31

The sovereignty of God is such a difficult topic to apply to our daily lives.  Scripture teaches us from beginning to end that God created us out of nothing, He rules over creation fully, He planned redemption’s story from before He created the world, and He has chosen His bride and works in her sanctification to His glory.  And while we can understand cognitively that God causes all things to work together for good, that He provides victories and places kings in power, it is difficult to walk daily processing this truth, because we do not see His hand orchestrating events (Rom 8.28, Prov 21.31, Dan 2.21, Rom 13.1).

Some people respond to God’s sovereignty with indifference and think, “It doesn’t matter what I do, God will accomplish His purposes with or without me”.  And while that is true that “God is not served by human hands” (Acts 17.25), we will still stand before Him on the last day and give an account for all of our deeds – both good and bad (2 Cor 5.10).

Some people reject the sovereignty of God because they cannot comprehend that God is in control of and ordains everything that happens on the Earth.  But the theme of Scripture from beginning to end is that God is in control and is working out His perfect plan.  And sometimes that means He ordains things to happen that He commanded not to happen.  Consider the cross.  God gave very clear instructions about murder:

“You shall not murder.”

 – Ex 20.13

And yet, we see throughout Scripture that it was God’s plan for Jesus to be murdered, and not only that, but it pleased Him.

“…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”

 – Acts 2.23

But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

 – Is 53.10

So what we are left with is what theologians call “mutual responsibility”.  God, when He considered creation and formed the Earth, already had history – in its entirety – completed.  That is why when Adam and Eve fell, He spoke of Jesus and redemption.  God exists outside of time and can see everything in its fullness, while we are stuck in time, seeing God in part as He reveals Himself and His plan.  That is how Luke can say that Jesus was predestined to die before He ever came to the world, and yet “godless men” put Him to death in the same phrase.  It was God’s plan and purpose, but yet those who actually nailed Jesus to the cross will have to give an account for their choice and actions.

Judas was prophesied and chosen to betray Jesus, but yet he is still guilty of betraying Jesus.

“’Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.  For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.’  (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.  And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms,
“LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE,
AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT”;
and,
“LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.”’”

 – Acts 1.16-20

So what does that mean?  What is the application?  How do honor God in our actions and yet understand His sovereignty over everything?

We focus on Jesus.  We keep our eyes on Him, we live in a spirit of thankfulness, and we do our very best.  Paul says that we should obey diligently and keep a watchful eye over our souls to prove to ourselves that we are in Christ, but to observe the fruit of our obedience as the mark of our salvation.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

 – Phil 2.12-13

It is God who is at work within us.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

 – Phil 1.6

God started the work of salvation in us, and He will complete it.  Therefore, get busy about living for God and fulfilling the things that He has commanded us to do.

We make ready the horse for the battle, but God gives the victory.  We reason in our hearts and consider our thoughts, but God orchestrates the very words that come out of our mouths.  We plan our steps, but God directs our paths.

The plans of the heart belong to man,
But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.

 – Prov 16.1

The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps.

 – Prov 16.9

The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the LORD.

 – Prov 16.33

When does “all” mean “all”?

bride

Christians like to philosophize about the nature of salvation and argue over the question of free will verses the will of God.  Do I choose God or does God choose me?  Are we inherently good creatures who are seeking after God or an answer, with a “God sized hole” in our lives that we are trying to fill?  Or are we by nature evil, enemies of God who do not seek after Him, and are stopped in our tracks by His unmerited grace?

Many argue that the most well known verse in all of the Bible speaks directly to the issue:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

– John 3.16

Whoever believes in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins will be saved.  Period.  This verse that children learn before they even understand the meaning of the words says it clearly.  However, does the statement that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish” mean that everyone has equal ability to believe?  If “God so loved the world”, does that mean that He loves, impacts, draws and works in every person’s heart the same?  Are we left as the determining factor in our faith?

Another verse that regularly leads to confusion on the topic is 2 Peter 3:9:

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

At face value, pulling this verse out of the paragraph and argument that Peter is building, it sounds like God is sitting up in Heaven wringing His hands and waiting to see everyone in the entire world believe in Him.  Removing it from context makes the promise ambiguous and, tempers His sovereignty by making it appear as though He is dragging His feet and waiting for more people to repent.

This is the danger of proof-texting.  Proof-texting is what people do when they approach Scripture with an agenda.  Have you ever heard someone say, “He backed Himself up with Scripture”, or have you ever asked someone to “prove it with Scripture”?  It is essential that our belief system be grounded in Scripture and when we are studying doctrines, disciplines and beliefs, there is a time and place for cross referencing passages and memorizing key verses.  John 3:16, for example, outlines the overview of the Gospel and can be quoted on its own.  However we must remember to never interpret a verse without understanding the full argument of the author and we must always weigh a verse against the full teaching of the rest of Scripture.

We must also the deep questions of exclusivity, to see if a truth claim made in one passages truly contradicts a truth claim made in another.  For example, we learn in Ezekiel 33, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked:

‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.  Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’

– Ez 33.11

It is impossible to devoid the instruction from the context of Israel in this verse, unless you quote only half of the verse (which some people do, sadly).  God is speaking through a prophet to call His people, Israel, to repentance from their sin.  But we learn a truth about the heart of God, that He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.  Does that necessitate that He is not the judge and not in control of the destruction of the wicked?  Some would argue that very point.  But if we believe the rest of Scripture, then we know that God wrote the moral and holy laws, He defines good and evil, He determined the only path to forgiveness, and those who do not walk the narrow path go to Hell.  He wrote the rules.  He enforces the rules.  He sends people to Hell who have not taken refuge in Jesus.  Does that contradict what Ezekiel says, that He takes no pleasure in it?  Of course not!  Do you take pleasure in everything you have to do?  Do you take pleasure in disciplining your children?

Now, let’s turn to Peter.  There are multiple levels to understanding this verse in its context and against the rest of Scripture.  What is the promise?  It is the promise of the second coming, the dawning of the New Earth.  Peter was encouraging the believers not to lose heart, that God will keep His promise to send Jesus back for them.  For us.  And he builds the argument that even though it feels long to us, God exists outside of time!  He sees history in its completion, He is not confined to our liner 24 hour day systems.  To Him, one day can be as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3.8).  So what then does he mean by, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”?  Let me ask you a simple logical question.  If God sees the end, if He can simultaneously exist in this moment, December 4th, 2014 and at Armageddon, at creation and in the New Earth, does He already know who will be saved?  Does He already know who will make it to the New Earth?  And if He already knows, does He gain or lose anyone by delaying His return?  No.  The end is already written.  God knows who will repent, and He is in control of the timeline.  So Peter is explaining that God has not yet returned because He has not yet finished His redemptive work in those who will believe.

But, someone might argue, Peter says “that all should come to repentance”!  Doesn’t all mean all?

Consider this.  When you call a meeting, and the keynote speaker says, “Is everyone here?” does he mean everyone in the entire world?  When you throw a big birthday bash and say, “I have invited all of my friends”, do you mean that you have invited everyone you have ever known and befriended throughout your entire life?  When you have a family reunion and send out invitation to the entire family, have you invited everyone who is in any way related to you?  Or do you invite first generation blood relatives?  Or just those ones who live in commuting distance?  I would argue that nearly every time you use the world “all” or “everyone” or even “the whole world”, your intended meaning is not every human being who is alive, or every human being who has ever walked the face of the Earth.

Now, this is a logical and apologetical argument that holds no weight until it is considered against the rest of Scripture.  Let’s now return to John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.”

God so loved the world…so that whoever believes might have life!  This is a glorious statement.  Anyone who believes can have eternal life.  But we saw in 2 Peter that God already knows the end.  He already exists in the end.  He already knows who is going to believe.  This truth makes the next two verses abundantly more clear:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.17-18

John is stating that everyone who believes has eternal life.  No question about it.  But He also states that Jesus, as God, has already judged the unbelievers and they will spend eternity in Hell!  God, outside of time, knows those people who will not believe and they have been judged since before they were even born, because God can see the entirety of their lifespan in a single moment.  It’s over.  So the glory of John 3:16 is not humanity believing, it is Jesus dying on the cross.  Jesus is the redemptive path.  He is the Savior.  God so loved those who would believe that He sent Jesus, because those who would not believe are already judged and condemned.

Now, the final question that we must weigh as egalitarian Americans is, Does God try to call everyone in the same way?  Does He only know in advance how we will respond, or does He actually play a part in our belief and faith?

Consider Paul.  He was a Jew who hated and murdered Christians.  He ranked up there with Osama Bin Laden.  He hated Jesus, the Church and He made every effort to stop Christian progress.  But one day Jesus knocked him off his donkey, blinded him with a bright light and told him that He was the way to salvation.  Jesus Himself gave Paul instructions about a man to meet and then healed his blindness and called him to be a missionary.

Did Jesus do that to you?

Jesus sought out and called the twelve disciples personally to follow Him, but interacted with thousands more.  The demoniac at Garasene asked Jesus if he could stay with Him, and Jesus told him to go home and witness to his friends and family.  Jesus did not call those in His physical presence in the same manner, why would we assume that He calls us all in the same manner?

No.  Rather, the picture that Scripture paints is that Jesus calls His church as His bride.  Do you love your spouse the same way that you love the rest of your family?  How about your friends?  Or the rest of the world?  Jesus loves His Church and calls His Church in a special way, in an affectionate way reserved for His bride.  If we cheapen His love in our understanding to think that He loves those who hate Him and are going to Hell in the same way He loves us, it is no longer special.  It is no longer Biblical.  It is no longer the love of a groom to his bride.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

Faith itself is a gift of God.  He is taking His time to complete the work that He desires, to see all whom He loves as His bride come to repentance by giving them the gift of faith in due time.  He does not, however, take pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.  His heart is not inclined to evil, though He does have holy and righteous wrath against ungodliness and He will punish sin fully.  This is not a contradiction, but part of the beauty of the depth of grace.

Do you have faith today?  Then know that you are loved specially, as a chosen bride.  As the beloved.  You have been given a beautiful gift of faith, of salvation, of intimacy with Almighty God.  Consider the way in which you were called.  You probably were not knocked off your horse and blinded by Jesus’ light.  You were probably not approached by Jesus while you were fishing or collecting taxes and admonished to leave it all behind and follow Him.  But your calling is unique, in deep love.  Revel in that today.  Love Him more for it today.  And let’s be the mouthpiece by which He may call more people to repentance!

Would your God send a deceiving spirit?

God is good (Luke 18.19).  God is love (1 John 4.8).  God is kind (Is 63.7).  God gives to His children as a father gives freely (Luke 11.13).

These attributes are the ones which we find easy to believe about God.  If you asked Joe Schmo on the street, someone who does not even believe in the God of the Bible, to tell you about God these attributes would come up.

But who gets to decide what “good” is?  Or love?  Kindness?  The argument is, nowadays, that since evil and wicked things happen on the Earth, God cannot be sovereign, because a good force would not allow war or murder.

Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left.  The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that.  Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’  The Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’  Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’  Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you.”

– 1 Kings 22.18-23

Would your God declare destruction of a king and his army, and cause it to happen by sending a deceiving spirit out to lie to him and draw him into battle where he will be destroyed?  How can the only good being in the universe do this?  How can a loving God act in such a way?  Is not deception a sin?  We see quite terrifyingly that God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul (1 Sam 18.10).  How can this be?

God created the universe.  He created us.  He wrote the book.  Literally.  He is the one who got to define sin.  He wrote the ten commandments!  And He also inspired the writing of the truth that, “Anything done apart from faith is sin” (Rom 14.23).  Sometimes I fear we consider sin in a vacuum.  It is right and wrong, judged only by our moral compass and the culture in which we were raised.  There are easily definable wrongs like murder and some are more gray:  is it always a sin to lie?  But because God exists, and that unto His own glory; and since He wrote the definition of sin being anything apart from faith, we can understand that anything done unto His glory and according to His word is a good deed.  Anything else is sin.  It is not necessarily ethically or morally based, but God based.

Therefore, we can understand that God can and does do whatever He wants, as it is always unto His glory and according to His word!  He is God, after all.  He does not answer to us, but us to Him.

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— 
An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! 
Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ 
Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?”

– Is 45.9

Our awe and fear of God is waning.  Scripture solemnly warns us to not quarrel with God.  If I cannot understand how it is good and right that God chose to call a council of spirits and assign one to deceive Ahab in order to kill him and his army, it is best to trust His word that He has a perfect plan, that He is in control and that all things work together for good for those who love Him (Rom 8.28).  Perhaps destruction in life will lead to salvation in eternity (1 Cor 5.5)?

God is in control.  He is tender.  But He is not lovey-dovey, and our feeble protests will hold no place in the Heavenly courts.  We will give an account for everything we have said and done, and to protest what He reveals about Himself in His Word will merit us no treasure in Heaven (Matt 12.36).

So let’s trust Him.  Let’s love Him, and let us revel in the fact that He has blessed us and granted us an opportunity for salvation.  Let’s look to Him in trials and rely on the promise that He is in control, that He does have a plan, and that it is all to His glory.  Because His glory, after all, is all that matters – and is what will lead to our joy and satisfaction.

evil spirits

Not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from God.

When I was a little girl, my family lived on the edge of the city of Philadelphia.  Our yard was full of full grown evergreen and maple trees that towered over our house.  Every year the starlings would nest in our trees, and many times baby birds would fall out of the nest.  Being an avid animal lover and having a curiosity about pirates, I would rescue those baby birds.  I had found a robin’s nest that I kept on my windowsill.  I would go out and hunt worms to feed my baby birds, and take care of them until they were big enough to learn how to fly and return to the wild; my back yard.  I loved those birds!  As they grew, I would train them to sit on my shoulder and I would pretend to be a pirate, standing outside waiting for my dad to come home from work.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

– Matt 10.29-31

I vividly remember reading that passage one morning, and immediately going to visit a church with some friends in Cleveland, OH.  While we were standing and singing the first song of the service, I looked out of the window and saw a squirrel running down the trunk of a tree.  The reality hit me right then, God is overseeing and ordaining the movements and life of that fluffy brown squirrel.  My mind then raced back to those starlings falling out of their nests – God was sovereign over every single little bird that fell and giving me the chance to care for them.  He numbers the steps of even the animals that no one will ever see!  Not one sparrow or starling will fall to the ground apart from God.

And you are much more valuable than many sparrows!  God knows the number of hairs on your head.  He loves you, He created you, and He is in sovereign control of your life.  Whatever situation in which you find yourself today, God has established it for your growth and for His glory:

The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.

– Prov 16.9

There is no greater comfort for me than to know that God has everything under control.  Everything that has happened in my life and your’s is a part of His glorious, eternal and perfect plan.  And it is in this confidence and comfort that Jesus can exhort us,

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

– Matt 6.34

God knows our needs.  In fact, he gave us those needs.  And He promises to care for His children to bring about our sanctification (Matt 6.8, 32).  He may not give you what you think you need, and He may not give you what you want.  But He will cause your path to bring you to the end that He has foreknown and established for you before the foundation of the world (Eph 1.4).

Enjoy Him today.  Trust Him.  Let the words of this Psalm be your prayer back to Him as you relinquish your desire for control over your life:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

Psalm 139.1-16

starlings