Why We Can’t See God

Sin is what blocks us from seeing and hearing God. He calls us to holiness, but we disobey, especially, although not exclusively, in the area of sexual purity and love toward others.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 59-61; 1 Thessalonians 4

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2 but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.                                                        Isaiah 59:1-2

7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.                                                                            1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

The problem is sin. It has been the problem since our first parents listened to the serpent and ate of the forbidden fruit. What did they get? They got the knowledge of good and evil. And we got it, too, along with death! We all find evil attractive, even irresistible. It may be as subtle as a snarky put-down or as grotesque as murderous rage, as imperceptible as a flirtatious glance or as devastating as serial adultery. Sin comes in many colors and shapes, all of them tempting and soul-killing but none of them truly satisfying. Worst of all, it results in our not seeing or hearing God. We tend to conclude He is not there.

Isaiah wrote to ancient Israel telling them that their sin was what was blocking their eyes and ears from seeing and hearing God. It was not God who was hiding from them. He is there in plain sight, seen and heard in His acts of Creation and Providence. Seen and heard in His revealed Word.

Paul admonished the church in Thessalonica with the words, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (vs. 3a). He then specifically mentions abstinence from sexual immorality for the next 5 verses, topped off with a paragraph about brotherly love.

In case they don’t see the urgency of this, he turns to the subject of the return of Christ, His descent from heaven, the cry of command, the sound of the trumpet, and the resurrection of the dead.When Christ returns, all eyes will see Him. There will be no vacillating. We will be exposed at last. The shouts of rejoicing will mix with the cries of remorse.

Is there hope for sinners? Yes, indeed! For God has done what no human being could do. “His own arm brought him salvation…” writes the prophet (Isaiah 59:16). In the end, “…nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3). The dead in Christ will rise first followed by those who are still alive and “so we will always be with the Lord.” But the time is now. Do not assume there is no God. Assume that it is your sin that blinds your eyes. But He may be found because “all who call upon the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8-13). Call on Him, today.

The God of Wisdom and the Wisdom of God

Today’s reading: Psalm 109-111; Romans 16

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!                                                                        Psalm 111:10

27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. Romans 16:27

True wisdom is from God and of God. We will not find it apart from Him or without Him.

Psalm 111 praises the works of God and tells us there is value in studying them. It seems that the work of scientists and historians are both included here, not to mention educators who train students to do these kinds of work (vs. 2, 4). If God’s glory is seen in what He has done in creation and in providence, then it stands to reason that He is glorified when His works are studied, remembered, and discussed.

The Christian need not hesitate to follow professions which can bring glory to God, but he must beware of careers where he is forced to reject the very basis for wisdom, which is the fear of God. There can be tremendous pressure to conform to the status quo, the assumption of a Godless universe self-created by a combination of time and chance.   What would be the purpose or benefit of studying such a random cosmos? Can it even be done?

Here is where the godly man or woman, one who fears the Lord, has an advantage. The believer understands that God is wise, that is, He selects the best means to accomplish the highest ends. The Christian researcher can pray for wisdom, praise God for the order and beauty of His works, and, as Johannes Kepler is quoted as saying, “think God’s thoughts after Him.” [1]

All good and honest work done well glorifies God and benefits mankind. Seek to use whatever profession or vocation you have to serve Him wisely.

 

[1] http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Johannes_Kepler

Do We Need the Old Testament?

Today’s reading: Psalm 105-106; Romans 15:1-20

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
3 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!                             Psalm 105:1-3

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.                                                                                                 Romans 16:3

The Old Testament plays a key role in the life of believers in Jesus Christ giving them instruction leading to endurance, encouragement, and hope.

Paul makes his case to the Christians in Rome that the Scriptures that they had from the former days had a crucial place in their lives. It is hard to find a stronger passage in the New Testament urging the careful and continual study of the Old. After all, the Old Testament was the Bible that Jesus knew and frequently quoted. He relied on it when confronted by Satan and while dying on the cross (Matthew 4:1-11; 27:46; Psalm 22:1; Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:5). It was the Bible from which He taught the disciples about Himself (Luke 24:27).

Psalm 105 gives us a good example of why we need the Scriptures written in former days, if we are to fulfill our calling to glorify God (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Revelation 4:11). It includes both a call to praise (vs. 1-6) and content for praise (vs. 7-45).   Like several other psalms, this one focuses on praising God for who He is and what He has done in history for the people of Israel. It is easy to see God’s wisdom, faithfulness, power, and glory. Well, at least, it’s easy to see when you read this psalm. My experience personally and by observation of others is that it’s not easy to think of words with which to praise God. It is easier to look at the problems of our lives and our world than to spend more than a few minutes giving praise to God. We need the Old Testament, in general, and the Psalms, in particular, to instruct us and encourage us to praise the Lord.

Make it priority to know the Old Testament as well as the New. It will instruct you, sustain you, encourage you, and give you hope to finish the race.

 

Purpose in Life

Today’s reading: Psalm 103-104; Romans 14

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.                                         Psalm 104:33

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.                                                                                     Romans 14:6-7

For the believer, there is one clear lasting purpose around which everything revolves, to honor the Lord in life and in death. Circumstances change; that purpose never does.

The Psalmist’s heart overflows in praise to God. God is due all honor for His being, His attributes, and His endless acts of kindness and love to His people. There is not enough time or words to express it all. As the song writer put it:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.  (from “The Love of God” by Frederick Lehman)

Paul brings up some touchy matters that, apparently, were causing divisions between believers in Rome. There were genuine differences of opinion about the propriety of keeping Jewish feast days or not, and of eating meat previously offered to idols or not. The Apostle points all of his readers to a place of common ground. They are all concerned about honoring the Lord, or, at least, they should be. That is the purpose of their lives. They have been redeemed to glorify God. The kingdom to which they have been called is not about what you eat but about “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (vs. 17).

Are you focused on what really matters, honoring God? We, who trust in Jesus Christ, can certainly agree that what matters most is His glory in and through our lives till He calls us home. That should help us get along even when we don’t see eye to eye with each other on minor points.

The Role of Government

Today’s reading: Psalm 99-102; Romans 13

6 I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless
shall minister to me.

No one who practices deceit
shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies
shall continue before my eyes.                                                          Psalm 101: 6-7

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good.                                                                Romans 13:3-4a

The authority of government comes from God, so those who govern are responsible to Him to punish bad behavior and encourage good and those who are governed are responsible to submit and obey as to God.

In Psalm 101, David sets high ideals for his reign. He says he will praise God, a necessary activity for one who could easily lose sight of the One who is over all the earth. He acknowledges his need for the Lord’s help and presence. He vows to bring justice to those who do wrong but create a favorable climate for those who do right. He will not suffer deceivers in his cabinet. He promises to act quickly in dealing with crime. These sound like noble goals and describe a kingdom any upright person would love to live in.

Paul continues addressing the Christians in Rome moving on to the issue of their relationship to the government. The Old Testament era of theocracy in Israel is no more. God’s people, since then and up to now, live under secular authorities, who are under God’s authority whether those authorities recognize Him or not. Often, they do not, yet Christians are commanded to submit to these authorities, pay taxes, and show proper respect and honor. The government is to encourage those who do good and punish those who do not.

We know from other Bible passages that this general teaching of submission is limited to those situations in which the government does not command citizens to do what God prohibits or prohibits them from doing what God commands (Acts 4:18-20;5:29).

What is your understanding of our responsibility to the government? Remember a ruler is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Pray for your leaders, those who govern, and seek to encourage them when they fulfill their roles properly before God (I Timothy 2:1-4).

Love God; Hate Evil

Today’s reading: Psalm 96-98; Romans 12

10 O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 97:10

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:9-10

The true disciple will bring his or her whole being to God as a living sacrifice and be transformed by a renewed mind.

Our psalms for today are at the heart of a section in which God is worshiped and praised as King (Psalm 93, 95-100). We hear the exclamation, “The Lord reigns” several times. God is also portrayed as the Judge of all the earth. His rule is absolute. His laws are perfectly just and His judgments are flawless. Obviously, human kings have laws which can be and often are biased. Their judicial rulings are not perfect. But our God is just in every way and His laws and judgments are infallible. So it is not only safe but right to love the Lord and to hate evil, as He defines it by His law. The Psalmist exhorts us, who love the Lord, to hate evil. These are two sides of a coin, impossible to separate. If you love the Lord, you will hate evil. If you do not hate evil, your love for the Lord is in question. Can one’s love for God be genuine, if he does not hate what God hates?

Paul makes an exhortation to the recipients of his letter in Rome which similarly includes the words “love” and “abhor.” He raises the possibility, the danger, of phony love. One may pretend to love but not truly love. Loving action can be counterfeit, a setup for later betrayal, like Judas Iscariot. Check your love to be sure it is genuine, writes Paul. He goes on to tell them to “Abhor what is evil.”

The Christian faith and life is not only a matter of correct theology, although that is essential, but also a matter of attitudes and actions, the involvement of the will and emotions. The one who brings himself to God as a living sacrifice seeking a renewed mind will be transformed in thoughts, attitudes, and actions. That renewing will not be completed instantly. It is a life-long process called sanctification which culminates when we see the Lord face to face (I John 3:1-3).

Take one step forward in godliness today, by presenting yourself to Him as a living sacrifice out of genuine love for Him. Combine that with a hatred of evil, confessing the sin that lurks in your own heart. You will be transformed as your mind is renewed to love God and hate evil.

 

God Is…

Today’s reading: Psalm 93-95; Romans 11:22-36

4 Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!

5 Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore. Psalm 93:4-5

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33-36

God is too great and glorious to be described in human words, but we must try. When we have exhausted our efforts, we worship Him by ascribing to Him all glory forever.

How do you describe God? Psalm 93 uses an analogy to the highest human authority, the king. Admittedly, that comparison falls far short because God is a king whose reign always was and always will be. He is eternal. He rules, but not over some limited territory, over the whole earth.

How do you describe God? The Psalmist draws from the most powerful forces in nature: a flood, mighty waters, the sea. The waters roar. They sweep away everything in their path. But that is not an adequate description of the power of God for He is mightier than the sea. He is on high above it all.

How do you describe God? Human kings make decrees, but they cannot guarantee their fulfillment. Maybe the kingdom will be overthrown. Maybe the king will die suddenly. The king’s decree is only a statement of his intention. But God’s decrees are “very trustworthy.” He is holy, set apart, completely other. Forever.

Paul compares God to the wisest counselor or the richest man on earth. They could add nothing to the Lord’s understanding nor supply Him with anything He lacks. The Apostle seems out of superlatives as he cries out, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! …To him be glory forever. Amen.” We cannot adequately describe God, but give it a try. He is worthy and accepting of all our feeble, but heartfelt, efforts to praise Him.

Lifelong Fruitfulness

Today’s reading: Psalm 90-92; Romans 11:1-21

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
15 to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.                   Psalm 92:12-15

19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.                                                                                       Romans 11:19-21

In these readings, God gives His people a warning and a promise about their relationship to Him. Expect fruitfulness. Beware of arrogance.

Paul addresses issues that must have been bothering the Christians in Rome. Two of these issues are “how should we understand the relationship of the unbelieving Jews to God in this New Testament era?” and “how should believing Gentiles and Jews view each other?” There seems to be a problem (or, at least, a potential problem) of Christian Gentiles looking down on the Jews, in general, for rejecting Christ. The Apostle explains that this rejection was anticipated by the Old Testament, is beneficial to the Gentiles since they are now coming to Christ, and, ultimately, will result in a positive reaction amongst the Jews with a massive turning of them to the Lord. The warning to the Gentile believers is “Be humble about your acceptance before God.” That warning is enhanced by the picture of an olive tree in which natural branches have been broken off and wild branches grafted in. “You could be cut off and the natural branches restored,” warns Paul.

The Psalmist also uses the analogy of God’s people to a tree, in this case, a palm tree planted in the house of the Lord. What is the function of this tree? It is to flourish, grow, and bear fruit. What fruit is expected? Not dates or coconuts, (it is an analogy, don’t forget!), but the fruit of a clear declaration “that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” This promise of fruitfulness is directed to the elderly, who are liable to see their physical abilities in decline, but, promises the Psalmist, their fruit will continue into old age.

We, who believe in Jesus Christ, are securely grafted into the Lord’s olive tree, but it is not our own doing. It is by grace, not by any merit on our part, so we ought to maintain a humble, grateful attitude. You are part of the tree in the house of the Lord, planted to bear fruit. By God’s grace, you will be sustained all the days of your life and keep declaring God’s righteousness. Flee all pride, and aim at lifelong fruitfulness.

God’s Faithfulness and Wisdom

Today’s reading: Psalm 88-89; Romans 10

30 If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my rules,
31 if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with stripes,
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love
or be false to my faithfulness.                                                    Psalm 89:30-33

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”                                                                        Romans 10:20-21

God’s wisdom reveals His ways of showing grace to those who are hopelessly lost, while holding under discipline those who know better but refuse to believe and obey Him.

The Psalmist laments deeply the loss to Israel of God’s apparent abandonment of His people. He reasons that God’s covenant with David was to maintain his offspring on the throne forever, conditional on the obedience of his descendents. Clearly the conditions were not met. David’s descendents were a sorry lot, for the most part. After Solomon, the kingdom was divided and Rehoboam ruled over Judah alone. Idolatry became the norm in both Judah and Israel. Eventually both kingdoms were defeated and overrun. The people were taken into captivity.

But God had promised “not to remove from [David] my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness.” How would God keep the Davidic line alive while punishing the rebellion of the kings in that line? What did His promise really mean?

As we know from the New Testament, God sent His Son through the Virgin Mary of the line of David to be the King forever. Jesus was also called the “Lamb of God.” He took away the sins of the world. He became the High Priest, whose offering was perfect never requiring another.

Paul longs for Israel to recognize their Messiah, Jesus, who is their King and High Priest. In another surprising move by God, the gospel had been sent to the Gentiles, and they believed it. Yet this move was, in part, to make Israel jealous of the blessing they would miss. And Isaiah had foretold this strategy, as Paul points out. Ironically, those who sought to be righteous by their own efforts, the Jews, did not obtain it, while those who did not seek to be righteous, the Gentiles, found true justification by faith in Jesus. Praise God that His ways are not our ways.

Agonizing over the Lost

Today’s reading: Psalm 85-87; Romans 9

Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.                                                              Psalm 85:6-7

…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.                                                                                            Romans 9:2b-3

Love for unbelieving friends and family members will drive the godly man or woman to great grief, but the best thing he or she can do is beseech the Lord who alone is able to revive the spiritually dead.

The Psalmist calls out to God for his nation to again experience the blessing of God. He remembers past days when they knew the Lord’s forgiveness and enjoyed His favor in the land.  Now, that favor has been withdrawn. God is indignant with them. What can be done? The writer calls on the Lord for restoration. Only He can bring revival to the people. The Psalmist calls on God and he is confident in Him. He recognizes their foolishness, but he knows that God’s love and faithfulness are greater than the waywardness of His people.

Paul also agonizes over his people, Israel. He also sees them foolishly ignoring all that God had given them. Look at the list of blessings they have uniquely received:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.                                                                                                         Romans 9:4-5

What have they done with what they have received? They have wasted it. They have turned away from their Messiah, who is God. Indeed, they crucified Him! Paul’s anguish is palpable. So much so that he would give up his own salvation if that would bring them to Christ. Of course, it would not, but we get the picture of the depth of his despair about the Jews.

What believer has not felt at least some level of despair over his or her unsaved loved ones? What can we do? Psalm 85 gives us the right approach in our prayer. Remember God’s blessings in the past. Confess any sins that need confessing in the present. Ask God for mercy and to revive those who are dead in their sins. Trust God to do what is right. Praise Him for His righteousness. Wait on Him. Repeat daily, as needed.