Is God On Trial?

Have you ever doubted God? Who hasn’t? It’s in our nature to question what all this means and evaluate how our lives will seem to be a random set of events that amount to nothing. We agree with Solomon’s wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes that “all is vanity” and “striving after the wind.”

But do we realize what we’re doing when we entertain those doubts? Essentially, we’re listening to the flesh, which veers quickly to the words of Satan, “Did God really say?”

Worse, we begin listening to worldly wisdom that tells us we are the architects of our future, or we make our own luck.

Some Christians will say, “God doesn’t drive parked cars!”

Is this true? Does God need us to get moving before He can use us?

Others say we need to follow the rules of Karma, and that if we are one with the positive forces in the cosmos, then things will turn around to our favor.

Maybe you’re wondering, is God even real, or is it just “the Universe” like so many like to say.

There’s a movie out, The Case For Christ, following Lee Stroble’s research that convinces him of the ‘proof’ that Jesus was a real man, and thus, Christianity is true. The title suggests a trial of sorts, and it is a compelling story. It captivates us because we like trials and arguments. A large number of TV shows involve lawyers and trials. We enjoy parsing through the evidence to see what really happened.

This is also the topic of Isaiah chapter 40 and 41. God puts himself on trial against the idols. Actually, the idols, and the world corridors of power are on trial against God, just as Pilate was standing before the judgment bar of Christ, not the other way around.

In chapter 41, in particular, God challenges the people and their idols to tell the future, explain the events of the past … do good, do evil, show power.

Of course, the idols and the rulers cannot do any of this. Through Isaiah, God has already declared what will happen, despite people’s attempts to secure themselves against the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians. None of these great nations can do anything to God. They actually serve His purpose.

We often think that our lives are filled with meaningless suffering or unjust turns of events. Yet, God is sovereign in every aspect of what happens. When we doubt this, we’re actually being tempted to trust in our idols. Granted, we don’t have little statues made of wood and metal or shrunken heads of our ancestors, or bones plastered into the walls of our house (I’m assuming most of us don’t!) But, our idols are just as much “less than emptiness.”

We trust in the politics of today. Many trust that Donald Trump will protect Christian morality through Supreme Court nominations. Many trust in a job with the right company to provide for their needs.

It’s not immediately wrong to read the paper and make evaluations on a Presidential nomination, or seek to be gainfully employed. But, it is wrong if we start assigning God’s hand to things that we think are fitting into some plan or design of our own making. In other words, some people have determined that one way is God’s Will, and then begin constructing a path of likely scenarios that will accomplish it.

That’s worldly wisdom. That’s actually sooth-saying. We want to know the future, and we attempt to read the tea leaves or look into the crystal ball to declare the outcome. Some use the Bible to do this. They assign numbers to the letters and try to unlock secrets about the future (this is called Numerology).

God tells us not to do this. It’s witchcraft. It’s attempting to do what only God can do.

Only God directs events. Only God can tell the future. Only God can explain events that happened and what they mean.

Sometimes, God reveals the good reason for some tragedy to us in our personal lives. We come to realize the good that God was working. But other times, God simply asks us, as He did to Job, “Where were you when I created the universe?” God repeatedly says through His writers in Scripture, “Who counseled me with wisdom and taught me justice?”

The answer is obvious. No one  did.

God may leave us waiting for an answer, showing us enough light for one step at a time. And we should respond in thanksgiving for that light, and that step.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

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Why We Shouldn’t Fear

Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 

Isaiah 40:21-31

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.

You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.

Isaiah 41:8-13

A Useless Message?

Isaiah wouldn’t be considered a successful minister. Despite his prophecies, kings did what they wanted, repented only when it seemed they had to, then returned to their selfish, prideful ways.

Isaiah is remarkable because his prophecies pointed down the vast corridors of time to Jesus Christ, our Lord. He reminds us of God’s sovereignty over all matters of life. He reminds us that we don’t even have a frame of reference to interpret God’s ways.

That could be frightening. Imagining God looking down on humanity, regarding the lofty princes and powerful nations as “less than nothing,” and the people as grasshoppers, dust on the scales. We make no impact at all to God.

We don’t like that idea. We like to think that we have a purpose and make our mark on history. We want to be somebody. We want to make a name for ourselves. We believe we can reach the stars or build a tower to heaven. We prefer to think that we can know the deep things of knowledge both of good and evil, and that in that pursuit, we’ll become like God.

It’s all absurd. It would be like the comedy sketch Jim Gaffigan did about the toddlers who try to run away. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Only, with God, it’s even more absurd.

Who Is Like God?

There is nothing to which we can compare God. He is intimately involved in his creation, including all the stars in the galaxy, which he calls by name, not missing a single one.

Think about that when you think you’ve been forgotten by God. He doesn’t regard people the way we do. Pomp and status in our society means nothing to Him. When Jesus stood before Pilate, it was actually Pilate who stood before Jesus, his soul on trial.

With all our striving, we grow tired. Even when we are young, we do not possess the strength to go on forever. There comes a time when we are exhausted, hemmed in on every side.

True Hope of Deliverance

But if we look to the Lord, He renews our strength. He gives power to the faint. Though we be as lame, weak people, we’ll be more than conquerors by His might.

The promise that continues in chapter 41 is to God’s people, not to people in general. It is only the repentant who have put their faith in the absolute justice and holiness of God’s nature, have renounced all claim of control on their life that can then rest in the declarations that follow.

Our enemies will be as nothing at all. We’ll look for them and not find them.

The Lord holds us in His right hand. We need not fear. He is our Lord.

How Many Times Do We Die?

Heb 9:27  And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

Heb 9:28  so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

—“die once” is linked to Christ dying … “judgment” is linked to “save those..”

It’s possible this passage has often been misinterpreted as describing the fact that we each are appointed a time to physically die. While nothing in our lives is a surprise to God and we certainly do not die apart from His will, we have some paradoxes with which to contend:

-Lazarus. He died once, then was raised, and we presume he died again.

-Prophets and people from the tombs that rose from the dead when Christ died on the cross. We don’t know how many or any other circumstance, but we can safely say they died later on and were re-buried.

-Elijah. He was translated to God, so he didn’t experience a physical death.

-Enoch. Also translated to God, not a physical death.

-The boy raised to life by Elijah.

-The boy raised to life by Peter.

There are probably more instances that I’m missing, but the point is, we cannot interpret a verse as “doctrine” if the word of God would be in obvious conflict with that doctrine.

So, this passage likely refers to a spiritual death to which each is appointed. It is appointed for man to die once … after that comes judgement. While it is possible to die physically and come back through a divine miracle or a miracle of medicine, it is not possible to die spiritually more than once. That type of death is pretty permanent. Nothing will bring back that type of death. And just like we would never haul in rotting corpses to a banquet, God will declare judgment on the dead and have them removed from His presence.

But, for those who have been saved through the One Death of Christ, they will not need to be removed in judgment. They will be saved and kept in the Presence of God, whom they eagerly await.

The Heart of Unbelief

Heb 3:10  Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’

Heb 3:11  As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”

Heb 3:12  Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.

Heb 3:13  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Heb 3:14  For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Heb 3:15  As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Heb 3:16  For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?

Heb 3:17  And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?

Heb 3:18  And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?

Heb 3:19  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

—Here again we have the paradox of Salvation: God’s choice, mankind’s responsibility. Grace vs. works (obedience). The best way to make sense of it is to say that if God has chosen you for Salvation and you’ve been drawn into humility to the Cross where you accepted Christ’s payment for your sin and His resurrection for new life, you also surrender fully to His Kingship over you. Subjects to a King do as they are told.

If, on the other hand, you go to the cross and believe, but do not accept the payment as wholly Christ’s—but assume some part of the cost yourself—or reject His Kingship over your life—deciding to pick what to obey and not obey based on worldly thought—then you have not been chosen and have not received God’s Grace and will not enter His Rest—i.e. the new life.

The people addressed are Hebrews, Jews. They had a grand, national culture of worship—we might think of it today as a grand church building with lot of great programs. There was a culture, not just religion, that defined them. We have the same thing. There’s a “Christian culture” that middle America has. It includes things like buying all the Left Behind books, or jumping on the latest topic or trend, like the Word Faith movement, or the Prayer of Jabez, or the Purpose Driven Life. There are grains of truth mixed in with these Christian pop culture events. But they create a symbolism over substance condition that causes people to believe that they are not pleasing to God unless they are card-carrying members of an organized “church” or in “good standing” with some group of self-appointed elders (also known in Scripture as Pharisees).

All the Christians who embark on going to church on Sundays, participating in food drives, mission trips and book studies would be analogous to the Hebrews who followed Moses (a type of Christ) out of Egypt (the pagan life). And they were found to have a “heart of disbelief” or “disobedience” because of the “deceitfulness of sin.”

Take care BROTHERS! – The writer is talking to fellow-believers! They might be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

What is sin? Not obeying Christ.

How was it shown by the Hebrews of Moses’ day? By refusing to trust God to deliver the Promised Land to them.

They had seen God’s wonders, tasted the sweet deliverance from the pagan life of Egypt. They’d been fed on the manna in the wilderness and drank of the water from the rock … They’d followed the Spirit’s leading through the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire … Yet they shrank from believing that God would overthrow the fortified armies that occupied the Promised Land.

What is the Promised Land to Christians in the Spiritual sense? The soul. Our entire being is the promised land. It is occupied and fortified by the hoards of the flesh. We left the trappings of paganism behind when we passed through the Red Sea, but we face a new fortified land that seems impossible. On the one hand, we left the land and were delivered as we headed the opposite direction. But now, we must head into the fray with nothing but some farming tools for weapons. We see the wicked fortresses of our flesh and we question whether God will truly destroy them and fully occupy the Promised Land of our heart. Ultimately, we’re tempted to believe that God can’t do this. He has only the power to help us escape, but not to drive out the sin that has nestled in our lives. The rival, the bitterness, the fits of rage, the selfish ambition, the lust, the envy, the strife … those Canaanites are too powerful … they are giants in the land. We were better off living in blissful ignorance in Egypt than to be faced with the work that needs to be done to purify our lives! We wish we had never embarked on this journey of faith.

This fatal unbelief proves those that shrink in that way never shared in the nature of Christ. They didn’t make Christ their Lord, but merely hoped to have Him as Savior. They, like Demas, love the world too much. They would rather defer to the metal-pated warriors of the flesh than to believe that God will crush them. In truth, they find they enjoyed being around the lavish society of Egypt, even if it was as a slave. They enjoy the idea of being like those who are successful in this life and indulging in the pleasures of sin.

Disobedient = Unbelieving.

Take care, Brothers, Sisters … exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today.”

If someone exhorts you to humility, to meekness, to poverty, to gentleness, to kindness, to faithfulness, to self-control, to love … If they warn you of a root of bitterness or fits of anger or an unforgiving spirit, or envy and strife, showing specific examples of where that is coming out … you should repent and pray that God will overthrow those walled cities and drive out every remnant of them.

If the response is “I don’t have that problem and I don’t need to listen to you!” then be on guard: there may be the deceitfulness of sin at the heart there. And we don’t want to cross out of Egypt, be baptized through the Red Sea, eat the manna, drink the water and then be told “You will not enter my rest!”

Mat 7:22  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

Mat 7:23  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Talent on Loan From God!

Mat 25:30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Talent

Rush Limbaugh is fond of saying that he has “Talent on loan from God!” I suppose there’s no doubt that the man has talent. Even his adversaries will admit that he has a unique talent for making them angry, stirring the pot, or being a lightning rod for controversy.

I happen to believe that I have a talent for writing. My Grandma Jones always praised me for having a “good imagination.” At the same time, she wanted me to become a lawyer when I grew up. Come to think of it, lawyers often have pretty good imaginations, so I can kind of see the logic there.

I digress!

I firmly believe that we all have talents. Humans are remarkably talented! We’re always looking for ways to do something more efficiently. Our creativity and aptitude is seemingly unstoppable at times. What was once science fiction has become science fact!

And so, I think about the parable Jesus taught in Matthew 25, The Parable of the Talents. The common interpretation is that God gives talents to people and he expects them to use them for Him.

No argument there, really. I certainly don’t advocate using talents for evil purposes.

It’s also good to note that the parable actually refers to currency. A talent was a wage, or money. In fact, in the story, Jesus tells how the two worthy servants invest the talents and they grow.

It’s further good to notice the context of the parable. The one before it is about the virgins awaiting the groom’s arrival. The one after it deals with the final judgment on the world. In the parable about the virgins, they are given lamps. Five take along oil, while the other five do not. During their watch for the groom’s arrival, the five foolish ones run out of oil and their lamps go out. They’re not ready for the arrival of the groom. They ask for oil from the five wise virgins, but they cannot give them any oil. The foolish women rush to the vendors to buy more oil. Then, while they’re trying to buy the oil for their lamps, they miss the groom’s arrival and are not allowed in to the wedding feast.

The final judgment is portrayed as God separating His people from among all the nations of the world:

Mat 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

Mat 25:32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

In Jesus’ words, God will note that when He was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, sick and in prison, the righteous fed Him, gave Him water, welcomed Him and visited Him. On the other hand, the unrighteous didn’t feed Him, give Him water, welcome Him or visit Him.

While the righteous are welcomed in to His Kingdom, the unrighteous are banished to eternal punishment.

But there, in the middle of those two parables sits the Parable of the Talents!

So, what does it mean? Is it about cash that God gives us? Is it supposed to be about the talents that we’re given, like running, writing, preaching, fixing things, etc.?

I was thinking about this in the car on the way to work this week. And it hit me like a revelation: God’s not going to throw someone into “outer darkness” if we don’t use our individual talents. Can you picture it? Someone was gifted in writing, but never seeks publication or retains that talent to a personal journal. Then, “You are banished to outer darkness, you worthless steward!!”

I don’t think so.

So, what does it mean? How do we apply this parable in the context of the chapter?

The talents represent the Gospel, just like the oil represented God’s gift of salvation and repentance to those who accepted His Lordship. God has given the world the Gospel. He communicated it to the world through Adam, through Enoch, through Noah, through Abraham, through Isaac, Jacob and Moses. The world has been given His wealth of mercy and grace.

Each one of us is given the currency of God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice. Some seem to be given more understanding of it than others. Some may only get a very basic understanding of their sin and God’s grace.

But each one of us will be responsible for what we’ve done with that talent, or talents.

Maybe you think you haven’t been given much from God. But if you take the Gospel, then bury it, fearing God as some evil master to despise, then you’re, in fact, rejecting His love. You will be held responsible for mistreating the gift of God’s love and will be justly judged as a worthless steward of what God has given to you.

We all have talent on loan from God. It’s His love. But if we don’t esteem its value, we’ll find that we’re going to be judged with a righteous and harsh judgment.

 

The Reason for Suffering

coffee and note padThis is just an astounding message for today:

“He suffered thee to hunger.”—Deuteronomy 8:3

THERE was a Divine intention, then, in the hunger and thirst and weariness of the desert march. God suffered these hardships to come to the chosen people, in order to teach them dependence on Himself.

The daily gift of manna was a perpetual evidence of His loving thought and care for the pilgrim host; they came to learn that sin and backsliding could not alienate His compassions; they found that the Word of God was life.

But none of these lessons could have been acquired if the supplies of food had been as regular and plentiful as in Egypt. They were suffered to hunger that God might make them know:

You are suffered to hunger for human love, that you may know what the love of Jesus can be to His own. Open your heart to it, until it flood you as the sunshine does the south windows of a house.

You are suffered to hunger for recognition and gratitude, that you may know what the “Well done!” of Jesus is, and to lead you to look for that only. What do the words of men amount to unless He smile?

You are suffered to hunger for easier circumstances, for money, that you may know the tender provision which Jesus can make for those who are wholly dependent on Him. In the absence of all human help, you will learn the sweet taste of His manna.

Glory to God, to God, he saith, Knowledge by suffering entereth, And life is perfected in death. These seasons of hunger are necessary for the discipline of life.

But, thank God, He is able to satisfy us; and out of His riches in glory in Christ Jesus He can and will fulfill every need of ours (Philippians 4:19, R. V.).

Meyer, F. B. (2011-07-17). Our Daily Homily  (Sermon) Volume 1 (Genesis-Ruth) (Kindle Locations 2132-2144). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.

The Irreversable Blessing (Daily Homily by F.B. Meyer)

coffee and note padNumbers 23:20

He hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it.

BALAAM would have reversed the blessing into a curse, had he been able. Large rewards were depending on his doing so. But he was restrained. The current of blessing was running too strong for him to stem: the music was too overpowering for him to alter the air. Is not this also the despair of Satan? God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus, and he cannot reverse them.

The blessing of adoption.—When the soul believes in Jesus, it is adopted into the family of God; the new life begins to throb within; it is constituted an heir of God, a joint-heir with Christ (John 1:12). This position is irreversible. We may be tempted and overthrown, we may go for a season into the far country, we may even bring the family-name into contempt; but Satan cannot untie the knot with which God has bound us to Himself.

The blessing of acceptance in the Beloved.—We are in Him, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, risen and ascended and seated in Him in the heavenlies; and as our God views us in Jesus, He cannot behold iniquity or see perverseness in Him, and He accepts and blesses us as His well-beloved. This, too, is irreversible by the arts and machinations of the great Accuser.

The blessing of the covenant.—God has taken us to be a people for His own possession. His name is named on us, His character is implicated in our ultimate deliverance from evil, and glorification. If we could be cast away, He would suffer irreparable dishonor. Therefore, though Satan do his utmost to discredit us, as he did the patriarch Job, he cannot reverse the covenant in which God and we are forever and indissolubly joined.

Meyer, F. B. (2011-07-17). Our Daily Homily  (Sermon) Volume 1 (Genesis-Ruth) (Kindle Locations 1867-1879). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.