Archive for February, 2012


For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by,

or as a watch in the night.

(Psalm 90:4)

Recently, I listened to a sermon by George Grant that was based on Genesis 8. In that chapter, we read about the end of Noah’s experience in the ark. For more than a year, Noah and his passengers endured all the trials and tribulations that you might imagine would arise in such a situation. Dr. Grant emphasizes, however, that when the day came for the door to be opened so that Noah could lead everyone out into the new world, his first inclination had nothing to do with himself. He did not think it was the time to walk around and relax, nor did Noah conclude that he had just accomplished some great feat; he did not heave a sigh of relief as if some tremendous burden had been lifted from his back. As soon as Noah left the ark, as Dr. Grant notes, he built an altar and offered sacrifices to God.

Noah’s initial concern was the recognition of God’s hand in that journey. The timing and extent of Noah’s ordeal are never mentioned as issues that troubled him. And this is in spite of the fact that God had not revealed His entire intention regarding the flood that covered the earth. Nothing was said about the duration of that adventure. When it was over, the primary thought in the heart of Noah was God’s worthiness to be worshiped.

As Dr. Grant stated in his sermon, this was such a fitting act given the circumstances. After that extended time of uncertainty, danger, and challenge, the worship of God was the most appropriate thing that could have been done. God had preserved Noah and all those with him in the ark. God had cleansed the earth of sin, as it were, and gave man a new beginning. Noah realized that he was part of a monumental work of God, the full implications of which were dawning on him, no doubt, as he stepped through the doorway and gazed upon the good earth.

Month after month, Noah remained faithful and carried out his duties waiting for God to accomplish His purposes. It was not a series of questions spoken by Noah that dominated those first moments after he stepped onto the dry land. Noah’s act of veneration captured the moment and Noah worshiped God because he believed that God had orchestrated all that had transpired. God had preserved all the occupants of the ark and had done so according to righteous purposes; and Noah was humbled and thankful to be involved in this display of God’s compassion and power.

How many times do we find ourselves passing through a challenging period during which we have little or no comprehension of what God is doing? And how many times are we tempted to think that no end is in sight? One of the most difficult obligations we face as Christians is accepting without question or alarm the timing of God. During challenging episodes, the weakness of our flesh and the limitations of our discernment can create barriers that prevent us from resting in God. But as the story of Noah teaches—and many other examples could be cited—God always has a purpose for whatever He ordains for us. Just because many days or weeks or even months pass, there is no reason to conclude that God has lost control or that He has been distracted. There is no justification for concluding that whatever it was that God planned to accomplish has been interrupted.

The key to confidence during our trials is trust in God’s promises as we fortify ourselves with the many wonderful examples of God’s merciful conduct that we find in the Bible and throughout history. We must remember that God’s timing is not subject to our perceptions. God only appoints and accomplishes that which is perfect. We will have no peace dwelling on the question of “how long?” Our peace will come from our conviction that all of our hours, days, years, and circumstances are held with tenderness and love in the hands of our heavenly Father for whom a thousand years is as a day.

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Our redemption, according to God’s design, rests upon His willingness to provide a Substitute to pay for our sins without requiring any works or merit from us. Salvation, as the Bible teaches so clearly, is a gift of God. We are not required to earn it, nor are we able to contribute to it. We are saved apart from our absolute lack of merit (John 5:24; Rom. 3:23, 24; 6:23; Eph. 2:8-10; etc.). Throughout the history of Christ’s Church, however, this pure gospel has been opposed, misrepresented, and misinterpreted. Various efforts have been made to destroy the message that salvation is by grace, through faith alone, by which God receives all the glory. Fallen man seems determined to invent a system by which his labors contribute to our salvation.

A perversion of the gospel that is prevalent in some contemporary evangelical circles is clearly works-oriented, although its proponents insist that their perspective is not the “same old heresy” that has troubled the Church down through the centuries. In this more modern corruption of the gospel, the idea of “formula” dominates. By this I mean that some believers maintain that the salvation of our children is virtually guaranteed if a particular pattern (or formula) is followed. They insist that the Christian household must be characterized by a particular set of beliefs and practices in order to produce believing offspring.

Moreover, those who hold this idea that the salvation of children is largely a matter of parental obedience are ferociously defensive of their views to the point that non-conforming families are ostracized and considered to be in rebellion against the Scriptures. And if a Christian family should include a rebellious teenager or young adult at some point, blame is immediately and confidently placed on the backs of the parents who obviously failed to maintain a consistent application of all the necessary elements of the model.

Rigidness and intolerance are the chief attributes of this mechanical approach to raising children. As a result of this perspective, proponents maintain that all Christian households should basically function the same way, follow the same rules, and employ the same approach with every child regardless of differing personality traits or abilities or interests. It is certainly true that God assigns an incredible responsibility to parents, which includes certain principles that should, indeed, be found in every Christian home. But the Bible does not teach that the salvation of the child is in any way assured based upon the conduct of the parents. In fact, this would be contrary to the notion that salvation is of grace.

Every parent should desire to train a child to live in the fear of the Lord with thankfulness and humility. The crucial element involved in such an endeavor, however, is not within the realm of potential accomplishments for any parent. This is because salvation requires a renewed heart and only God can bring that the pass. It is possible, therefore, for parents to be consistent and diligent in raising their children according to the teaching of Scripture and still have a child who eventually refuses to continue in the faith or who conducts himself in ways contrary to the teaching of the Bible. This does not necessarily mean that the parents failed.

We should be very careful when assessing the relationship between parent and child when the child exhibits signs of rebellion. It may very well be that the parents have been negligent and allowed the fallen nature of the child to go unchecked, but we cannot allow ourselves to put confidence in a particular model of parenting when it comes to salvation of our children. We must not even approach the thought that we can obligate God to save our children based on our efforts as parents.

There are many dangerous consequences if such thinking prevails. I already mentioned the condemnation that is often heaped upon parents with disobedient or unfaithful children. Beyond that, there is also a genuine risk that the child will come to think in terms of reward or merit for pleasing behavior. The gospel, however, will not accommodate a belief that God may be required to reward parents with the salvation of their offspring. Grace is blessing apart from worthiness; grace is divine favor in spite of imperfection. Parents should endeavor to live in holiness and teach their children to do the same. But they should also constantly remember that salvation is God’s gift and should, therefore, prayerfully seek His mercy for their little ones every day. Simply put, grace is not an equation.

“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)

Last week, I wrote about the difficulties that we face in life. Using a statement from the book of James, I talked about the benefits of the trials God appoints for us. The Bible provides a perspective on our trials that helps us understand why God allows them and what is accomplished through them. That devotional went out on Friday morning. On Saturday evening, my son and I were involved in a serious car accident. We were struck from behind while stopped in an intersection waiting to make a left-hand turn. The impact left me groggy for a few seconds, but one of the first thoughts that came to mind as my head began to clear were those words to which I referred last week: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

The verses above from Matthew 10 were spoken by Jesus as He encouraged His disciples with the assurance that God was constantly and comprehensively watching over them. No matter what they faced, no matter what threats were made, no matter what they might need, God was fully knowledgeable. To emphasize the significance of this truth, Jesus declared that God is aware of the fate of every sparrow that falls to the ground. By implication, therefore, God will certainly show even greater concern for the creatures made in His own image. That is, in essence, what the Savior said after mentioning the birds: “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

Obviously, this passage teaches that God is always aware of us and, of course, there is a wonderful measure of comfort and encouragement to be taken from that fact. But I want to stress something in addition, which is the love of God. This aspect comes out clearly in Christ’s expressions. As He spoke to the disciples, Jesus referred to God as “your Father.” This designation reminds us of the familiar relationship we enjoy with God. By grace, we are His sons and daughters; we have been adopted into His redeemed family. (cf. Gal. 4:4-7)

Consider again what the Savior says. Our Father’s love for us is comprehensive, particular, and ultimate. God is all-seeing and all-knowing, which means He is cognizant of everything at every moment. But the Lord’s point goes beyond a simple consequence of God’s nature. As noted, He draws attention to the relationship we have with God, that of child to Father. From experience, we know this is one of the most personal and essential relationships that exist in this life. God not only controls what we experience, but He also cares about what we encounter. This assures us that whatever He allows or appoints for us is grounded in His love and, therefore, must be for our good.

A number of questions occurred to me as I stood beside our vehicle last Saturday evening waiting for the police to arrive. Did the other driver, who was at fault, have insurance? If so, would his insurance company be cooperative and truly helpful? Will our car be fixable or is it totaled? What kind of medical consequences were we facing? As important as these questions were, the knowledge of God’s Fatherly love as the foundation for our trials dominated my thinking and it was, without question, the one element that gave encouragement during a stressful and upsetting episode. In love, our Father was with us and was looking upon us as His treasured sons.

Every believer may rest in and count on God’s love as our heavenly Father throughout life and in every circumstance. This is the one truth that will sustain us during the most painful and demanding trials we endure. We are never without the loving embrace of our Father in heaven. We will never be cast out of His household. Fear may be overcome and worry may be subdued because our Father in heaven loves us—forever.

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

In the Hebrew mind, the heart was the control center and the condition of the heart determined how a person lived. The heart is what we are in reality, as opposed to what we sometimes appear to be or want others to perceive. The heart is where information is processed and decisions are made. This is where self-control begins—it begins with giving attention to our motivations and desires. What does it mean, therefore, to “watch over” my heart?

The word used here (natsar) means “to keep, preserve, guard.” This word is used often to describe God’s behavior. He keeps His word, He preserves His people, He prevents something from happening. In the same manner, the word is sometimes used in reference to people. The main idea is that of maintaining something—making sure the object, whatever it is, remains in the desired condition.

In our Proverb, the word translated “heart” (leb) means “the inner man, the mind, understanding, that part of a man where contemplation takes place.” This proverb tells us to preserve our mind and keep it free of contamination because it is the source of our actions and communications. If the mind is polluted, actions and communications will reveal it. If the mind is well-kept, on the other hand, actions and communications will show that, as well.

Self-control begins with how we think, what concepts we allow into our head, what thoughts we dwell on and so forth. This immediately points to the Word of God as essential to self-control. As sinful creatures, we need a sure source of morality and direction. Self-control is not just a matter of subduing ourselves at the moment when an angry outburst, for example, seems to come so readily. It is a matter of keeping our minds free of those ideas and beliefs from which anger springs by filling our minds with the holy Word of God.

Let’s consider two matters in which self-control is crucial:

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise. (Pro. 10:19)

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. (Pro. 16:32)

In the first verse, the writer does not say “when there are many bad words…” but just “when there are many words…” So the person who is exercising self-control will be the one who, as the writer says, “restrains his lips.” Our tendency is to talk and to talk too much. Self-control manifests itself when we stop talking even though the issue hasn’t been entirely settled.

In the second verse, the writer states that control of anger is a more desirable quality than power. Self-control is viewed as a more useful asset in the eyes of God than tremendous strength, which implies it takes more to control anger than to unleash great physical power. In parallel fashion, the writer goes on to say that the ability to rule one’s spirit is to be valued more than the ability to capture a city.

Establishing self-control is one achievement that brings with it manifold blessings to ourselves and others. It is not easily done because our flesh resists any type of restraint. By nature, we are inclined to declare whatever is on our minds and expose whatever emotion happens to be rising up inside. Filling our hearts with the Word of God, however, is the only truly effective correction we have at our disposal.