Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Only God Knows

You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Psalm 139:1-6

"Only God knows." Have you ever said that? "Only God knows what is going on in that boys head?" Or maybe, "God only knows why I can't seem to catch a break." It's an expression that we sometimes use but when was the last time you really stopped to think about it. What is it that only God knows? And if there isn't anything that only He knows, is He still God?

According to Scripure God knows everything. I John 3:20 says, "If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything" (emphasis mine). The $5 theological term for this is omniscience. God is all-knowing. But that still doesn't answer the question. Is there something that only God knows? Although, it is true that God is the only one who knows everything, Scripture points out that God takes particular pride in the fact that He knows the future. In fact, it seems that it matters to God that He knows the future when others do not. Throughout Isaiah chapters 41-48 God makes it clear that knowing the future is a perogative for Him alone, something that marks Him out as unique and authentic over against the false gods of the pagan nations (see Isaiah 41:21-24, Isaiah 42:8-9, Isaiah 45:20-21, Isaiah 46:5,9-10, Isaiah 48:3-11, 14-15.) Over and over again in Scripture God sends prophets to reveal to His people what the future holds. Often His people didn't listen, but never, not once, did His word fail to come to pass.

Okay so God is omniscient. He is a super-genius, and His knowledge is far beyond what we can know, but why does that matter? It matters for many reasons, but let me highlight just two. First, it matters because it means that God is trustworthy. Can you imagine giving your life wholly to a god who might lead you down the wrong path because He didn't know exactly what would happen? I am able to follow God with confidence because I know that nothing in my future will surprise Him. Though there may be unpleasant things on the road ahead, God sees them coming. There are no divine uh-ohs. He is prepared, and as long as I follow Him obediently, I can make it through any challenge ahead.

Second, not only does God know everything but He knows everything there is to know about you. Hebrews 4:13 says, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." God knows you completely. He saw you when you were formed in the womb (Psalm 139). He knows what you need before you ask for it (Matthew 6:8). He even knows the very number of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30). God knows more about you than you do. To me, the fact that God chooses to love me, knowing all that He does about me, is dumbfounding. I am reprehensible in so many ways. I am weird in so many ways. I am still sinful in so many ways. And God sees them all. He knows all of my warts, all of my shortcomings. He knows all of the reasons why I don't deserve His love, yet He still loves me! What a wonderful God we serve! God knows you completely, and He has chosen to show you His love by sending His Son to die in your place on the cross. Isn't it time that you got to know Him a little bit better?

For further reading... 
*It should be noted that much of this talk and this series draws information from Wayne Grudem's textbook Systematic Theology. I am also leaning on notes taken from my Systematic Theology I class taught by Dr. Bruce Ware at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

God the Father Almighty

Then Job replied to the LORD: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.
Job 42:1-6

I know a young boy who is completely in love with superheroes. He watches all the cartoons, and owns almost every superhero toy on the market. He loves to talk about Spiderman, and he thinks Batman is “awesome!” I’ve even heard him claim to have super powers himself once (namely the power of super-speed). Understandably, this little boy’s infatuation with superheroes filters over into his understanding of God. Having learned about the miracles of Jesus at a young age, he conceptualizes God as some type of superhero. For a four year old this may not be a bad metaphor, but I hope that his understanding of God will grow with him over the next ten or twenty years. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case for all of us. Maybe it’s because we haven’t been taught. Or maybe it’s because we weren’t paying attention. Either way, we have an excellent chance today to return to the essentials of the faith and to look at God’s all-powerful nature with fresh eyes.

Genesis 18:14 asks the rhetorical question, "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?" The implied answer is, "No!" Christ says that with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:25-26). God even chooses to refer to Himself throughout Scripture as "God Almighty" (Gen 17:1 et. al.). The fancy theological term for the idea that God is all-powerful is omnipotence. Now it isn't uncommon when you start talking about this aspect of God's nature to have someone drop a weird scenario on you like the following..."If God is all-powerful then could He create a rock so big that even He couldn't move it?" In reality this question and all of the others like it reveal a misunderstanding of both what it means to be all-powerful and the rules of logic. The first problem with the question is that it contains an error in logic. It is logically impossible for this task to be completed by an all-powerful being. That is not a limit on God's power, it is a limit on logic. But secondly the question also shows a misunderstanding of what it means to be omnipotent. The question implies that if God is omnipotent then He ought to be able to do ANYTHING that we come up with (no matter how absurd). That is not the case. Dr. Bruce Ware defines God's omnipotence in this way- "God is able to perform anything that is consistent with His nature as God."* In actuality there are plenty of things that God can't do. He can't lie. He can't break promises. He can't steal. He can't do these things not because He is too weak to do them but because they are incompatible with His nature. The fact that God can't lie does not reveal a limit on his power but an excellence in His character.  

Although Scripture speaks clearly about the fact that God has all power, in many ways it is His creation which best helps us to understand how powerful God is. Psalm 19 begins with the following, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." This is no less true in the age of science. In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning offers the following "If you were to hold out a dime at arm's length, the coin would block out 15 million stars from your view, if your eyes could see with that power." When you pause to think about how awesome our world is, the fact that it was made simply by the word of our God is dumbfounding. And in an age that focuses almost exclusively on the nearness of God, it is nice to be reminded that at times we should "be still, and know that He is God" (Psalm 46:10). 

I challenge you today take five minutes of your lunch break, go outside and listen to creation declare the power of your God. Every leaf on every tree, every blade of grass, every animal, every tiny insect is a testament to God's power. He can do all things! Nothing is too difficult for Him. So let me remind you of what Christ said "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). This is the God we serve!

For further reading...
*It should be noted that much of this talk and this series draws information from class notes taken from my Systematic Theology I class taught by Dr. Bruce Ware at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I am also leaning on Wayne Grudem's textbook Systematic Theology

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How do I deal with the death of a loved one?

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants. 
Psalm 116:15

JD Yopp (pictured above) passed away on Monday night around 9:30. Now that may not mean much to you, but JD was my grandfather. We called him Pop. With only an eighth grade education, he taught me more about life than almost anyone else. He taught me about hard work, family, how to drive a tractor (and a stick shift), how to split wood, and how to die gracefully. Which brings me to the topic for today's post, death. How do we deal with the death of a loved one?

Scripture has quite a lot to say about death, yet the most basic truth that it conveys about the topic is also one of the least known. If we are to come to terms with death we must understand first that death is the result of sin. Romans 6:23 says "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." And Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned." We are often told that death is a "natural" part of the life cycle. All of nature experiences death in some way or another. While it is true that death is "natural" in that it occurs naturally and is a part of our now fallen human nature, that does not mean that it was "natural" before the Fall. Scripture teaches quite clearly that human nature and the earth itself went through dramatic changes as a result of sin (see Romans 8:18-25), so it should not surprise us that things are different now than they were before the Fall.* (A footnote for those who want to go deeper.)

But why does this matter? What difference does it make that death is the result of sin? Well, first of all, it helps us understand why the death of a loved one can be so hard for us to accept. We were not built to cope with death. We were not intended for death. Thus, whether we are dying or mourning the loss of someone we loved, we can expect death to be hard for us. However there is good news. When God chose to do something about man's sin problem, He determined that He would undo not only the stain of sin but the effects of sin as well. This is why Jesus rose from the dead. Since death is the result of sin, by conquering death Jesus conquered the power of sin and death in our lives (Hebrews 2:14-15 & I Corinthians 15:54-56). More than that, the Bible calls Jesus the firstfruits of resurrection (I Corinthians 15:20-23). He was the first one to be resurrected to eternal life but He will not be the last. He opened a door that those who believe in Him will also walk through. That is why Scripture says that we should not mourn as those who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13). For Christians, death is leaving this world and going home. Christians are called to live as foreigners and exiles in this world (I Peter 2:11-12). We are supposed to be looking forward to the home that Jesus has been preparing for us ever since He rose from the dead (John 14:1-4).

That does not mean, however, that we do not mourn. Sometimes, Christians lose sight of that. We still mourn, but we do not mourn for the believer who has gone on to be with His Lord, we mourn for ourselves. We mourn the loss that we experience because that person is no longer around. But we mourn in hope. Hope that our believing loved ones are in a better place, hope that they will receive their full resurrection bodies like Jesus at His second coming, and hope that we will one day be reunited with them. And those believers who die, die in hope. Our great hope is to go be with Christ now (II Corinthians 5:8) and then to be resurrected physically like Him at His return (I Corinthians 15 especially verse 19). It is much harder to cope with the death of a loved one who rejected Christ. Then we truly mourn without hope. For Scripture teaches that it is appointed to man once to die and then to face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Those who die apart from Christ are also resurrected but not to eternal life (Revelation 20:13-15). They are resurrected to eternal judgment. It is a truly awful thing to to consider their fate. The one hope in that situation is not for the deceased but for the living. We can only pray that their passing will serve as a warning to those who have yet to bow the knee to their Savior.

For further reading...

*You might be thinking though, "How could we have life without death?" Well, this weekend my uncle, who is a pastor, commented to me that he thinks Enoch gives us a glimpse of what God's original plan for mankind may have been (Genesis 5:23-24). We wouldn't have died, we would have simply been taken to be with the Lord. I cannot be certain that is true, but I must say that it sounds good to me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Punishment and Praise

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

WoW's First Ever Guest Blogger! Bo Irvin

I was recently listening to a sermon on the book of Jonah. As I sat and listened, I tried to count the number of times I have been taught the story of Jonah, oh, and the whale.  While some of you may be unfamiliar with the story, I had the fortunate privilege of being raised in a church where we might hear the story once a month.  I’m continually amazed at how the book of Jonah, though small in size, continues to be one of the most relevant books of the Bible for the present day reader.  Two questions came to mind during the sermon that pricked my heart: Am I running from God’s will (Jonah 1-2)?  Am I running from God’s love (Jonah 3-4)?  Now, let us briefly dive into each of these questions.

Are you running from God’s will?
As I listened to the pastor read through the first few chapters of Jonah, the above question was a natural one to ask in relation to the calling God has given each of us.  Are you truly listening to God's direction for your life or are you attempting to lead life your own way?  In these first two chapters we see several key points in Jonah’s journey that are applicable to all of us: God calls Jonah to preach; Jonah flees from God; God catches up with Jonah; and finally Jonah responds to God with praise.  Sound familiar? How often do we, at least I, react like Jonah when God is attempting to guide us into the path that is most glorifying for Him?

What intrigues me the most about Jonah's story is not that he heard God’s message, or that he ran from God, or even that God caught up with Jonah to finish what He started, but that under these circumstances Jonah expressed praise to God.  Because of his disobedience, Jonah was being punished by God.  He was in the belly of the great fish, yet he responded to this punishment with praise to God.  God’s sovereign work is clear in Jonah's story. There is no other way he could have survived if God was not for him.  Much like Jonah, how many of us have been taken through the most difficult storms in life only to end up on our knees, praising the miraculous work of God?  Many of us have conquered some of the greatest challenges and difficulties life could bring, but we have done so only by the grace of God (not by our own strength).  We must shout praise to God as He, and only He, can save us like He saved and restored Jonah.

Are you running from God’s love?
As I pondered whether or not I was running from God’s will for my life, I also began to question whether or not I was running from God’s love.  What a difficult question for each of us to ask ourselves.  I've heard the question asked a different way: “Will you love those whom God loves?”  Jonah finds himself reacting to a group of people much like I have reacted to people before deep within my heart.  Once again several key points stick out during Jonah’s journey: God again calls Jonah to preach; this time Jonah obeys God and goes; God delivers Nineveh; and Jonah resents the Ninevites.

How many times does God have to tell us to do something before it sticks with us?  For Jonah it was twice (Jonah 3:1-2).  Fortunately for him and us we serve a God of second chances! While there is so much to explore in chapters 3 and 4, I was drawn to the idea that Christians have a responsibility to help unbelievers see that this God, who judges every sin, is also characterized by second chances.  Most acknowledge that this does not mean that we can take advantage of God’s grace and count on an endless number of second chances.

How many times do we run from the call of God on our lives leaving us to question if we truly understand the love that God has for us as His children?  The Ninevites were a hurtful people which is why Jonah felt so strongly that they deserved the punishment and destruction God was threatening.  There are people in our lives every day we may have these same kind of thoughts about, but our relationship with God and our knowledge of His unconditional love should drive us to show them the same unconditional love.  I leave you with three difficult questions I struggled with following the sermon:
  1. What person(s) do you want to share the Good News with because they have been very hurtful to you?
  2. What actions or attitudes do you need to change so that others can see Jesus more clearly in your life?
  3. If you have been disobedient and have been a bad example to others around you, will you confess that sin to God?
May all Christians fall at the feet of our loving, gracious, and merciful God daily to make a great impact for His eternal kingdom!

For further reading...
  • Jonah: Read the entire story.
  • John 3:1-21: God delivers His message of second chances to Nicodemus.