God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
"Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind."
(1 Samuel 15:19)
I'm trying to wrap my mind around what I am reading.
This Sunday we will be discussing the end, the of end of Second Peter, and at the same time we will be considering the end of the world. So as I prepare my message, I am trying to take in the words of Peter and let them soak into my heart and mind. I just can't seem to do it. It doesn't make sense.
Maybe one of the reasons for this is because the weather outside of my window is perfect: 70 degrees, a slight breeze is blowing, and I can smell a faint fragrance of lilac blowing into my office. Birds are chirping. A soft gentle sun is sending warm rays on the canopy of green leaves that shade the squirrell running underneath in the freshly cut grass. And then I read these words from Peter:
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed...the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!" (2 Peter 3:10 & 12)
Am I suppossed to believe this?
It all depends on how I treat God's word. Is it the truth or just beautiful poetry that is meant to move the heart? Peter says in 3:16 that how we handle God's word makes all the difference in the world. Listen, "There are some things in them (scripture) that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to thier own destruction." In other words, be very careful how you choose to understand and teach his word. How you treat the word is how God will treat you.
For me, when God says something, it is so. Even Jesus says "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)" So before the end comes, God the Father will make sure all he ever said will be accomplished. For me, that is a certain fact. That means...
- The earth will be burned up for sure. Not annihilated, but sent fire to clean the dirt and dross off. We are moving out of our old church right now, and it is amazing how much stuff has been accumlated since 1955. There are boxes of papers and casset tapes and frames that are useless, molding and old. Why hold on to a past that does not contribute to the beauty of the future? Before heaven can come God needs to gut this place called earth, and he will do it with cleansing fire. He says...
- The heavens will melt. So we will get some new skies, new heavenly bodies. God must be really powerful if he can melt Jupiter?
- Jesus will come when we least expect him. A thief. A theif never lets you know his plans, his work is meant to be discreet, he wants to surprise us.
So, as I sit here watching a young oak leaf dance in the zephyr of a new spring day, faith asks me to wrestle with my belief about the end of all things. Are these three things really going to take place? From my modern American mind I can't buy it. I have a track meet to go to today, some Netflix series I have wanted to watch, a Memorial Day weekend to enjoy. I can't worry or bother with fire, death and the final judgment of all mankind. God can't melt the Milky Way, can he? It is too mentally overwhelming to grasp.
BUT IS IT TRUE?
The best way for me to answer this is to look back in history, when days were darker, and humanity was really suffering for the wages of their sin. I think that is why World War 2 fascinates, because the reality of the carnage makes God's promises more dreadful and realistic. From 1941 to 1945 God stayed his hand, he let the dam of sin break out in real time. Man was, for a short time, given what they collectively deserved. He definately had people's attention through the judgment of Romans 1:24 when "God gave them over to their passions, desires, lusts and hatred." But on a calm spring day it is easy to laugh the seriousness of his word off. Especially when the judgment that is to come is more direct, not just giving man over, but sending consuming fire on the deeds of all mankind. He will expose our works for what they are.
Listen to Zephaniah 1:14-18, and try to believe this, let faith enhance your imagination, stay silent, close your mouth, and listen...
The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
I will bring distress on mankind,
so that they shall walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
shall be able to deliver them
on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy,
all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
For the life of me, I can't take this in. But faith tells me it is true. How do I preach this? How do we consider the end as we get ready to go camping, and many people preparing to engage in secret sins over the three day weekend? How does this make sense in a culture that goes to Las Vegas to get lost? Does God even have the right to spoil our fun with such serious talk?
It all depends on how we answer one singular question: Will the New Heavens and New Earth really be that good? "But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." (3:13) Ah, righteousness. Clean. Pure. People who actually love and don't break the hearts of others. No more lies, no more deciet. My bones won't ache anymore!
One last thing: I try to imagine how the reader of this blog will take my writing. Probably the same way I normally read the bible, with a yawn, a smirk and rolling of the eyes. I am too important and have too many important things to worry about to take God serious. May God help me.
My three neighbors and I were terribly bored one summer, so we decided to box. We didn't have gloves, but we did have striped white tube socks that we took off and used for boxing gloves. So there we stood, in our bare feet on the green grass of our neighbors lawn and we began to box.
The two oldest kids decided to go first, Jim and Mike. Mike was wirey and fast, but Jim was a big, strong, muscular athlete. After they put their socks on over their hands and arms they faced each other with fists ready in fighting position. The rest of us watched egging them on. One kid not in the match gave the countdown, "Ready, set, fight!" Jim and Mike circled each other and Mike took the first swing hitting Jim right on the chest. It landed softly causing Jim to laugh, "Is that all you got?" Mike swung again hitting Jim on the arm. Again, resulting in laughter. Mike circled around Jim taking swing after swing, landing one here and another one there, but all Jim could do was smile and giggle.
And then after allowing a few more punches, Jim wound up and swung a large righthanded roundhouse hitting Mike square in the face. Splat! Jim's fist landed on Mike's nose causing it to gush a red river of blood. Mike dropped his hands down and said, "No more, I am finished. Jim punches too hard." Jim said, "Anyone else want to box me?" There were no takers, and that was the end of boxing with socks on in the backyard.
I feel like my words of late have been landing on the hearts and minds of people like a flurry of Mike's soft punches landing on Jim's chest. A lot bluster and fuss but no power. I work hard to make my words land hard, I try to use interesting illustrations, or while in my office during counseling sessions I try to use logic to make a point, or even with my kids I try to be passionate and compelling with my reasons for godly living. But I feel like my words have been landing like Mike's punches. A lot of bluster and fuss but no power.
It is easy to give advice, or great counseling or well crafted sermons that may even draw some laughter and tears - - but life-change is a different matter altogether. I don't want my audience to merely listen, or laugh, I want people, who after they hear my words, they want to quit fighting. I wish my words landed like JIm's fists. Where warnings caused repentence, and promises resulted in faith.
Maybe Zechariah was right after all, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts." (Zech. 4:6)
Does change in life come from good arguments and find sound sermons, or the Spirit of God? Does repentance occur because someone gets mad? I wish I could talk people into heaven and right living. I wish my passionate pleading could stop someone from sinning. But mere human words are like a small fist in sock, nothing too impressive nor powerful.
I want to see some bloody noses!
"Eureka! That's It!!!" (I found a piece of the Gospel puzzle that has been hiding from me...and I'll bet it has been hiding from you too!)
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,
WHO IS THE IMAGE OF GOD."
(2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
It was a rainy summer afternoon, large drops of water were softly beating on the window pane, distant thunder was rumbling and tumbling, and puddles on the pavement were growing large, I remember it well. I couldn't go outside to play with my friends and all the baseball games were cancelled because the fields were muddy, so I was bored. "Chris, why don't you read a book or put together a 1,000 piece puzzle?" My mom always had a 101 boring ways for a 11 year old kid to not be bored. I definately didn't want to read a book, so why not try a puzzle?
I went to our game closet where we had a large stack of well used game boxes sitting one on top of another: "LIFE", "Monopoly", "RISK", "Sorry!" and I also found sitting on the bottom of the closet about 10 assorted puzzles. I took my mom's advice and picked a puzzle that had a nice mountain scene with a pristine blue lake and a field of wild flowers rolling gently up the mountain's slopes. I went to our large living room table and poured out the pieces, spreading them flat across the wooden surface. I then set to work: look for the flat edges, seperate by color, and use the picture as a guide as I started fitting and attaching piece by piece.
There is something calming about sitting in a room by yourself on a rainy day doing a mindless task lost in your thoughts. I miss those simpler days, as my dad would say, "Sometimes you need to find a way to iron the wrinkles out of your mind." Well putting that puzzle togther sure did the trick. All in all it took me about 3 hours for the picture to come together, the mountain formed the fastest, than the field of flowers and the last to be put together was the lake because each blue puzzle piece looked the same. Eventually my patience was rewarded, the lake was coming together. But to my astonishment and horror, two lousy pieces were missing. Two lousy pieces! Arggh, I needed to find those pieces to finish the puzzle. You can't be content when pieces are missing. Everyone knows that.
I went on a life or death hunt, "Where are those pieces?" I searched the living room carpet. Nothing! I followed my path through the kitchen to the game closet. Nothing! I looked down my shirt, in my pants, under the chair, in the bathroom, by the snack pantry, in the cat litter. Nothing! I was desperate.
My mom told me to just let it go and put it away because I finished most of it. I should be happy with that. But I couldn't. I left the puzzle with the two missing pieces on the table and I made sure my sisters didn't wreck it. There is sat for the rest of the day, I had to find those pieces. Believe it or not, the next day, was another rainy day, I went to the closet to get a game for my sisters and I to play, and there in the bottom of the closet, sitting silently in a dark corner, were the missing pieces! Two blue pieces, I found them, and in joy I ran to the dining room table and put them in their proper places to complete the picture. I did it, it was finished! I told my mom and made her come into the room to see, and sure enough the picture was complete. I was happy. No one else cared, especially my sisters. But I was happy.
Two days ago I found some more missing pieces that have been missing my whole life. It probably won't sound like much to you, but I cannot tell you how happy I am to finally find them. These two pieces concern the Gospel.
I have been studying the Gospel most of my adult life, the picture on the box for me is clear, I get it. I know the Gospel means "Good News." I know the Gospel is about the life, death and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-5). I know the Gospel "is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. (Romans 1:16)" I get it, I have sold my life to it. But like the puzzle I put together as a kid, there were a couple pieces missing that I have recently found which has made the Gospel more complete for me. To be honest, there will always be pieces missing because full knowledge of the greatest subject is never fully attainable on this side of eternity. But I did find two pieces that have really helped me go deeper and understand more fully why the Gospel is so important for every person on earth. I will tell you how I found them and then I will tell you what they are.
(1) How I found the missing pieces: My comrade and colleague, Jared Doty, has been hounding me to read a book called, "The Whole Christ" by Sinclair B. Ferguson. I didn't want to because it has a dull green cover, and I can barely pronounce the author's name. It sounded boring, I thought to myself "I would rather put together a 1,000 piece puzzle than read that book." He kept telling me, "Chris, you will love it." He even picked me up a free copy of it at the T4G Pastor's Conference he went to last month. So I knew sooner or later I would have to give in and read it. Last weekend I gave in and started to read it. All I can say is "Wow!" I wish that book was written when I first became a pastor, it is terrific, profound, clear and it contains two missing puzzle pieces I have been looking for my whole life.
(2) The Two Pieces: Before I tell you what these pieces are, I must admit that I always knew this. But the way Sinclair Ferguson put it, the pieces became clear and they helped me put the Gospel message into more of a complete integrated whole. You may be like my sisters and not be too impressed with what I found, but if you listen closely, I think they will blow your mind away like they did mine.
Piece One: IT ALL STARTS IN THE GARDEN
We must start at the very beginning. I learned that as a kid from "The Sound of Music." And likewise, with the Gospel, we must start in the beginning, the Garden of Eden. You may be saying, "Yeah, yeah, I know what you are going to say, 'Adam sinned, so did all of mankind in his failure." Theologians call this the 'Federal Headship of Adam', which teaches we are all sinners because Adam represented all of us, and when he failed, we all failed. Romans 5:12-14 makes this abundantly clear. That is true, but it is not this truth of Adam's sin that Sinclair points out; but rather it is the nature of his sin. Understanding this small insight can make all the difference in the world. Let me show you what I mean (Page 68-69 of "The Whole Christ"):
"The Lord had given Adam and Eve an entire cosmos of good gifts to enjoy. In turn he provided them with a single 'positive' law. They were to show thier love for him by refusing to eat the fruit of only one tree, on the basis that their loving Father said so, and that whatever he commanded must be for their good. The lie by which the Serpent deceived Eve was enshrined in the double suggestion that
1) this Father was in fact restrictive, self-absorved, and selfish since he would not let them eat from any of the trees, and 2) his promise of death if they were disobedient was simply false.
Thus the lie was an assault on both God's generosity and his integrity. Neither his character nor his words were to be trusted. This, in fact, is the lie that sinners have believed ever since - the lie of the not-to-be-trusted-because-he-does-not-love-me-false-Father."
You must let that quote sink in. Because when it did for me, the Gospel came into clearer focus. Even though I generally knew this, Sinclair made it incredibly clear. The main problem with man is we don't trust the person of God, especially his "GENEROSITY" and his "INTEGRITY." Or you could say this, the reason people don't follow God is because they don't really believe he is "FOR THEM." We think when he asks us to obey he is holding stuff back from us. At first, every human actually believes his commands are meant to make our lives miserable, not abounding in his generous wealth of joy. But the reverse is true, his commands are born from his kindness and generosity.
With that understanding, some verses in the New Testament now seem to carry more potency and power. Like 2 Corinthians 4:4, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the Glory of Christ." What does Satan blind us to: God's generosity and integrity.
Look at Hebrews 11:6, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Look at the second part of that verse, it is all about God's generosity and intergrity. Faith trusts that his word is true, and believes God rewards. A rewarding God is a generous God!
Piece Two: THE GOSPEL, JESUS ON THE CROSS, IS ABOUT GENEROSITY AND INTEGRITY
Generosity is all about God giving freely and abundantly before we ever did anything to earn it. For instance, Sinclair makes a big distinction in the way some people present the Gospel. Does God love me because Christ died for me, or did Christ die for me because God loves me? At first this seems like a matter of semantics, but it is a crucial thing to get straight in your mind.
If God loves me because Christ died for me then that means, at the core of my heart, I cannot really be sure that God loved me unconditionally. Something needed to be done for God to love me. Again, like the Serpent in the Garden, it places doubt on his generosity. I once knew a man who said, "I know that God says a man is saved if he believed the Gospel. I believed the Gospel, but I am not sure God really wants me. Yes, he must allow me into heaven because of his word, but I still wonder if he wants me because of his love?" Do you hear him doubt God's character? He may believe, but he is not believing in God's goodness. I wonder if then this is true belief? The full truth is God first loved me, so in response to that love he sent his Son to save me. And then when I truly believe he is for me, and is generous, I will be able to trust.
So you see, his generosity, also known as grace, is the basis of man trusting in God's character. People will only truly believe when they accept that God is first and foremost generous.
Why this Matters?
I think people sin because they believe if they don't sin God will hold back the good they perceive to be in the sin. Adam ate the fruit because he was led to believe that by not eating he was missing out on something. As John Piper once said, "Faith is a battle between the Promises of God and the Promises of Sin." A sinner believes the promises of sin are better than the promises of God. Or sinning is the only way to get what God is holding back from me. So when a person sins they are believing God is not generous.
The Gospel displayed in a the "Son who is Given" reveals a generosity that exceeds anything we could ever imagine. How do I know God is generous? He sent his Son to die. He gave everything he had for me. How do I know I can trust his word? Because for thousands of years he prophesied that he would send his Son to die. Jesus himself, in the book of Luke, said three times "that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
The cross proclaims both God's generosity and integrity. This truth for me is like finding two small puzzle pieces that were lost in the closet corner. They may not revolutionize my faith, but they sure do make understanding the Gospel more full. I feel like I did on the rainy day in summer. Joy!