Archive | October, 2012
A “Pitcher” of Grace

A “Pitcher” of Grace

What is God’s grace?  How do we define it?  Grace is how God saves us. One of the most recognizable passages in Scripture is Eph. 2:8-9- “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  This is well known for good reason- it tells how a person gets saved.

Donald Grey Barnhouse was a pastor of yesteryear whose sermons and books I love to read.  He published a small booklet on these verses in which he illustrated the meaning of grace.  He began by commenting on the difficulty of forming adequate definitions even of common things, like a chair, let alone theological concepts.  Therefore, rather than give a theological definition of grace such as “God’s unmerited favor” or “the kindness and love of God toward sinful men and women,” he told this story.*

During the last century in the worst slum district of London, there was a social worker whose name was Henry Moorehouse.  One evening as he was walking along the street he saw a little girl come out of a basement store carrying a pitcher of milk.  She was taking it home.  But when she was a few yards from Moorehouse she suddenly slipped and fell.  Her hands relaxed their grip on the pitcher and it fell on the sidewalk and broke.  The milk ran into the gutter, and the little girl began to cry as if her little heart would break.  Moorehouse quickly stepped up to see if she was hurt.  He helped her to her feet saying, ‘Don’t cry, little girl.’  But there was no stopping her tears.

She kept repeating, ‘My mommy’ll whip me, my mommy’ll whip me.’

Moorehouse said, ‘No little girl, your mother won’t whip you.  I’ll see to that.  Look, the pitcher isn’t broken in many pieces.’  As he stooped down beside her, picked up the pieces, and began to work as if he were putting the pitcher back together, the little girl stopped crying.  She had hope.  She came from a family in which pitchers had been mended before.  Maybe this stranger could repair the damage.  She watched as Moorehouse fitted several of the pieces together until, working too roughly, he knocked it apart again.  Once more she began to cry, and Moorehouse had to repeat, ‘Don’t cry, little girl.  I promise you that your mother won’t whip you.’

Once more they began the task of restoration, this time getting it all together except for the handle.  Moorehouse gave it to the little girl, and she tried to attach it.  But, naturally, all she did was knock it down again.  This time there was no stopping her tears.  She would not even look at the broken pieces lying on the sidewalk.

Finally Moorehouse picked the little girl up in his arms, carried her down the street to a shop that sold crockery, and bought her a new pitcher.  Then, still carrying her, he went back to where the girl had bought the milk and had the new pitcher filled.  He asked her where she lived.  When he was told, he carried her to the house, set her down on the step, and placed the full pitcher of milk in her hands.  Then he opened the door for her.  As she stepped in, he asked one more question, ‘Now, do you think your mother will whip you?’

He was rewarded for his trouble by a bright smile as she said to him, ‘Oh, no, sir, because it’s a lot better pitcher than we had before.’”

This is a picture of God’s grace in salvation.  God created us in his image, but when Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world that image, like the pitcher, was broken beyond repair.  As James Boice notes, that doesn’t mean there is no value to humanity.  Even a broken pitcher can have value.  Archeologists are always finding pieces of broken pottery that tell us about ancient civilizations.  Broken pottery is not worthless, but it’s useless for carrying milk.  In the same way, human nature in its sinful, broken state is useless in terms of pleasing God to earn our way to heaven.  Rom. 3:10-12- “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;
no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good not even one.”

And yet, we keep trying to please God and think we can earn our way to heaven by making sure our good deeds outweigh our bad.  We are like Moorehouse trying to put the pieces of the pitcher back together.  We try to put together the pieces of our broken righteousness, but they never match God’s standard of perfect righteousness. We see parts of our character that are good from our perspective and we try to make that work.  But God rejects the patchwork of shards.  Spiritually speaking, it can’t hold the milk.

But here is where God’s grace comes in.  Jesus came into this world, which was hopeless and desperate in sin and unable to save itself, and he became the means by which hopeless humanity could be transformed.  Nothing in the Bible ever indicates that Jesus came to patch up the broken pieces of humanity.  Instead, Jesus said you must be born again (John 3:3) and Paul told the Corinthians that anyone who in in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).  The belief that you need to be good to go to heaven says you need to just get better, but we need to be delivered.  We don’t need a to-do list, we need a Savior.  Jesus came into this world to do for us what we could not do for ourselves- fix the pitcher as it were.  He does this by giving us a completely new pitcher- a new life.  As the girl in the story said, “It’s a lot better than the one before.”

And God gives us new life completely through his grace.  Look again at the story.  The girl did nothing to deserve Moorehouse’s favor.  She didn’t pay for the pitcher or the milk.  She didn’t even prevail on his sympathies because she was pretty or miserable or pathetic.  Moorehouse did what he did completely because it pleased him to do it.  He didn’t expect a reward from the girl and she had nothing to pay him with.  Jesus died for us and saved us solely because of his good pleasure.

I’m grateful for God’s grace!

 

*Told by James Boice in his commentary on Ephesians.

 

Growing in the Word podcast: 10-28-12

Growing in the Word podcast: 10-28-12

Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK 74804.  “How is a Person Saved?” Ephesians 2:8-9.

Growing in the Word podcast: 10-21-12

Growing in the Word podcast: 10-21-12

Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from October 21st, 2012.  “Overcoming Obstacles in Sharing.” Colossians 4:3-6

The Argument for the Existence of God in 550 Words

The Argument for the Existence of God in 550 Words

I have put together an attempt to summarize some of the classic arguments for the existence of God.  Yes, we believe in the existence of God through faith and must do more than just assent to God’s existence, but embrace His invitation to us to know Him in a personal way.  That said, we live in a culture that more and more thinks belief in God is a sign of ignorance.  That is not the case.  I hope this summary may be helpful to you personally or in talking to others about God.

First, why is there something rather than nothing?  Why is there a universe at all?  If God didn’t exist, then nothing would exist.  Nothing comes from nothing.  Matter is not eternal and cannot cause itself to exist.  The origin of why anything exists can only be explained by the existence of God.  Evolution does not explain the our origins.  Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, says not one single thing about the origin of life.  It is a book about mutations, not origins.  Evolution is like the ancient fable that the world rests on the back of a turtle.  A skeptic once asked a sage, “If the world rests on a turtle, what is that turtle resting on?”  “Why, another turtle, of course,” said the sage.  “And what is beneath that turtle?  Surely not another turtle?” asked the skeptic.  An exasperated sage replied, “Look, it’s turtles all the way down!”*  Only the existence of an eternal God can explain where the first “turtle” came from.  There must be a First Cause that is self-existent to logically explain the origin of the universe.  The Big Bang cannot explain origins because there is no sufficient explanation where the egg of cosmic dust/particles came from that exploded.  There must be a non-contingent entity that started life and that entity by definition is God.

Second, the universe displays a dizzying array of the evidence of careful design.  The anthropic principle- that the constants present to accommodate life are so infinitesimally small they could not be the product of random chance- is a powerful reminder that the presence of life is no accident.  The size of the earth and moon, the distance of the earth from the sun, the orbit and axis of the earth, the chemical mixture of the atmosphere, etc. are all on such a razor thin margin of error for life to exist that it is mathematically difficult, in reality impossible, for such margins to have occurred on the basis of random chance.  There must be an intelligent mind that has carefully created the universe.  Even the most ardent, atheistic scientists admit that the evidence of design is all around us.  Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker writes, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”  He then argues that the appearance of design is just an illusion.  The evidence begs to differ.

Third, how can humans have objective moral values apart from the presence of God?  How is it that we know, instinctively, right from wrong?  How is it that we can have a troubled conscience about some action we have taken?  The answer is that a moral lawgiver must exist who, as Rom. 2:15 declares, has written the requirements of moral law on the heart of man.  The presence of objective morality and conscience does not exist if we are highly evolved animals.  At the end of the day, we are still animals.  Some state their opposition to the presence of morality being the result of the existence of God by arguing moral relativism.  However, moral relativism is never enough to declare something right or wrong.  Morals are not relative.  Ravi Zacharias illustrates that by saying, “Some cultures love their neighbors while other cultures eat them… which culture do you prefer?”

These evidences of the existence of God are given merely to show that belief in God is something not irrational, but plausible.  I have always found it interesting that the Bible never tries to lay out an argument “proving” God exists.  Rather, it always treats His existence as self-evident.  As Philip Ryken notes, “God is not someone to be proved; he is someone to be assumed.  God is the starting point for all human thought.  You cannot even argue that God does not exist without employing the reason God has infused into the universe.”*  I hope you will be encouraged to grow in your faith in God and lovingly encourage others to do the same.

*Philip Ryken, Discovering God in Stories from the Bible

Growing in the Word podcast: 10-14-12

Growing in the Word podcast: 10-14-12

Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from October 14th, 2012.  “What Motivates You to Share?”  Philippians 1:3-11.

Growing in the Word podcast: 10-7-12

Growing in the Word podcast: 10-7-12

Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from October 7th, 2012.  “How to Share.” Acts17:16-34.

Would You Root for a Guy Who Never Scored a Point?

Would You Root for a Guy Who Never Scored a Point?

Every follower of Christ, at the moment of his/her conversion, receives at least one gift of the Spirit.  These gifts are to be used for others in building up the kingdom of Christ.  There is great variety in the gifts and this means that not all will receive gifts that place them in the limelight. Paul, in multiple places in the New Testament, ingeniously compares the human body to the body of Christ- one body, with many different members, each of which have different functions.  Here is what Paul told the Corinthians on the subject:

1 Cor. 12:19-22- “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

What Paul is telling the church is that not all of us, based on our gifts, can be the eye, or the brain, or the mouth- parts of the body we deem to be important.  As a body, some members have to be the big toe, the ear lobe, etc.- parts of the body we deem to be unimportant or least not very glamorous.  The point of all of this is to say that your gift may not put you up in front of people.  It may not get you accolades and notoriety.  But your gift is important to the body of Christ.  Besides, your gift has not been given to you for your glory or benefit.  God has given it to you to serve Him and others.

Think about this: What is the goal of playing football?  The goal is to win games.  How does a team win games?  Score points. 
I’ve always been irritated by the sideline reporter that asks the coach before the game starts, “Coach, what do you have to do to win the game?”  Just once I want a coach to answer, “Uh, score more points than the other team!”

What if I told you of a man that played football 23 years, 15 of those years in the NFL, and he never scored a touchdown.  He scored not one single point his whole career.  This man would have to be a failure, wouldn’t he?  Especially considering that he played 245 games in the NFL.
 Why start a player in that many games that can’t score?  Well, let’s look at his stats.  He made 1,032 tackles, blocked 86 passes, intercepted 3 passes, and made 19 fumble recoveries (but still no touch downs).  Was he a failure for never scoring a point?

In a football game it seems that everything centers on the football and the goal line, but there is more to the game than that.
 Who is the man I was describing above?  It is Ed “Too Tall” Jones.
 He played in 16 playoff games, 3 Super Bowls, was All-Pro two times, and was a member of Dallas’ vaunted “Doomsday Defense.”  The reason he never made a touch down was his position- Ed was an all pro defensive end. “Too Tall” was a team player, he never 
played to make touchdowns, he played to help his team win.  Not everyone on a football team is playing to make touchdowns.  They are playing to help their team win the game.

So it is with Christians.  Not all of us have gifts that seem glamorous or “important,” but every gift is indeed special and important.  We must humbly embrace our gift, whatever it is, and use it for the good of the church and the kingdom.

Does God Ever Change His Mind?

Does God Ever Change His Mind?

Things change.  Businesses come and go.  Fashions and fads are always changing.  Technology develops at a pace faster than most of us can keep up with.  People change as well.  Their appearance changes, their attitudes change, habits, moods, even worldviews can change.  The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously claimed that it is impossible to step into the same stream twice.  By the time you step into the stream again, the water is different.  Most of us would agree that life is a constant stream of endless flux.

But what about God?  Does he change?  The Scripture clearly teaches that God does not change.  There are many passages that affirm this fact.  Perhaps the most well known and oft used is Malachi 3:6- “I, the Lord, do not change.”  Even though change is all around him, God does not change.  Theologians refer to this as the immutability of God.  This word comes from the Latin mutare meaning “to change.”  We get our English words mutate and mutation from this word.  Thus, God is not susceptible to any kind of mutation, alteration, variation, or fluctuation.  He is as the Puritan Stephen Charnock described “always is what he was, and always will be what he is.”

If you think about, it is logical that God cannot change.  For starters, God is perfect.  Something that is perfect never needs changing.  If God were able to change, he would by definition not be God.  A.W. Pink speaks to this point: “He cannot change for the better, for He is already perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse.  Altogether unaffected by anything outside Himself, improvement or deterioration is impossible.  He is perpetually the same.”

The Bible includes a number of illustrations regarding the immutability of God.  The psalmist compares the unchanging God to a universe that wears out like old clothes in Psalm 102:25-27, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.”  James compared God’s immutability to the changing appearance of the heavenly lights in James 1:17- “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Being immutable, God is unlike us.  He never has an “off” or “bad” day.  He is never in a bad mood.  Circumstances do not affect God.  He never makes a bad choice or has an emergency.  He never says “Oops!” and nothing takes him by surprise.  He never has a change of heart and his will never changes.  Psalm 33:11- “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”  Scottish minister Thomas Boston wrote, “He is the same in all His perfections, constant in His intentions, steady to his purpose, unchangeably fixed and persevering in all His decrees and resolutions.”

The immutability of God is something that has long been questioned (despite the biblical evidence) and recently has come under strong attack through proponents of Open Theism.  This belief says that God is growing, maturing, and learning like the rest of us.  Again, if this were true, God would not be God.  But the greatest challenge to the biblical assertion of God’s immutability comes from the Bible itself.  There are a number of references where God “repents” of something or “regrets” that he did something.  These include God creating man in the first place (Gen. 6:6), the decision to bring his people out of bondage in Egypt (Exod. 32:14), staying his hand of judgment on the Ninevites (Jonah 3:10), and making Saul king of Israel (1 Sam. 15:11).  These texts seem to imply that God can repent of something or, at the very least, change his mind.  What are we to make of these texts?

To begin, a number of scholars believe that when the Bible speaks of God “repenting” it is doing so in an anthropomorphic kind of way.  In other words, “repent” is a term we can relate to and understand.  For example, the Bible speaks of God’s mighty arm (Deut. 7:19) when in reality God is spirit and having no physical form does not have an arm.  Psalm 78:65 says that the Lord “awoke from his sleep,” which is interesting because another Psalm (121:3-4) says that God neither sleeps not slumbers.  To say that God has an “arm” or “awakes” is describing some action or characteristic of God in terms we can understand.  The same seems to be true when the Bible speaks of God’s “repentance.”  He is not repenting like we repent.  God, being perfect, makes no mistakes and never has to correct or apologize for anything he has done.

So, what is the “repentance” of God describing?  It is describing a change in the way God deals with us, but the change is not in God, it is in us.  For example, look at all of the citations of God’s repentance in the above paragraph.  In each one, the change is in the people.  God “repents” of creating mankind and freeing his children from Egypt because they have chosen to sin.  God “repents” from making Saul king because he chose to disobey God regarding the Amalekites and then tried to lie about it.  Conversely, God “repents” from destroying Nineveh because they turn from their sin and follow God.  In each instance, God deals in a different way with the people because of the change in their behavior.  There is no change in God.  His attributes, nature, essence, character, and will never change.

An additional thing to consider is when it seems that God has changed his mind, he is operating in accordance with his covenant which had certain conditions.  This is seen in what God said to Jeremiah in Jer. 18:7-10, “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.”  It may seem that God is changing his mind, but he is merely responding to the change in the people.  This can result in negative or positive outcomes: Negative in terms of God’s judgment for sin.  Positive in terms of people’s obedience and faithfulness (i.e. a person sensing that the prayers of fellow believers moved God to action).  Thus, the apparent “changes” God makes are in actuality him working within “the unchanging nature of his purpose” (Heb. 6:17).

Let me end this post with an additional question we often have concerning God’s immutability.  I have often been asked, “Why should I pray if God has already made up his mind?”  The fact that God does not change seems to make prayer unnecessary.  This is a misunderstanding of God and prayer.  I try to help people who have asked me this question think through another question- “Do you really want to change God’s mind?”  God is perfect.  He knows absolutely perfectly what is best for you.  His plan for you is perfect.  Is it not presumptuous of us to think that our plan is better than God’s plan?  We tend to gravitate toward a philosophy that the goal of prayer is to get God to change his mind about something.  However, the goal of prayer is not to get God to come around to our way of thinking or desires.  The goal of prayer is to get us to come around to his way of thinking.  Prayer is about our wills being shaped around his will, not vice versa.

Also, consider that of God were changeable, then we wouldn’t have any assurance that he could answer our prayers.  He wouldn’t know what the future holds anymore than we do.  If I could persuade God to change his mind/purpose, what says I could keep him from changing it back again?  Power in prayer depends on the immutability of God.  In addition, salvation is dependent on it as well.  Look again at that well known verse in Mal. 3:6- “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”  In other words, if we served a changeable God, he would have destroyed us all a long time ago.  Our sin and unfaithfulness would have evoked a mood swing and he would have wiped us off the face of the earth.  However, God will never go back on his promise to save us in Jesus Christ.

On his death bed, Oliver Cromwell asked his minister, “Tell me, is it possible to fall from grace?”  The minister replied, “No, it is not possible.”  “Then I am safe,” said Cromwell, “for I know that I was once in grace.”  He thought about this a while and then said, “I think I am the poorest wretch that lives, but I love God, or rather, am beloved of God.”  Our love and faithfulness to God ebbs and flows,  but his love for us is always the same because he is the God who never changes.

**Note: Much of this post is derived from a study I am doing in Philip Ryken’s book, “Discovering God in Stories from the Bible”