The Bible uses the word “sovereignty” to talk about God’s reign as the King over our lives and over the world. God is the one true King. Colossians 1:16-17 refers to God’s supreme, sovereign place in our lives and the world:
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Since God is the Sovereign King, we should always submit to His authority. This calls for faith and obedience. Sometimes, our faith is challenged, but we should trust Him anyway. In today’s 15 Days of Faith video, I share some thoughts about the Old Testament story of three young men who were challenged to trust God even when it could mean their deaths.
As we consider the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is your understanding of total trust challenged? I mention in the video that these three young men showed total faith in God’s ability and total trust in God’s agenda.
We know that God is able, right? He’s God! What does it mean to trust God’s agenda? Well, it means that God is God and you are not. It means that since God is sovereign, and you’re not, that you will follow God’s agenda and not your own. Following God’s agenda can be challenging. It shouldn’t be challenging because we understand that God knows everything, and His ways are always right and best.
Why do we ever prefer our own agendas? Great question. The problem is that I don’t know the answer other than we’re stubborn and obstinate. Maybe I should throw in the word “sinners” as well.
I think this global pandemic is calling us to a closer walk with God. Will you choose to submit to God’s sovereign rule over your life today?
You can watch today’s video by clicking this link.
I preached the sixth message today in a seven-sermon-series on the seven I Am statements of Jesus in John (You can hear them on our church website, though today’s probably won’t be up until maybe Wednesday: http://www.sonrisebaptist.org/sermon-archive/) . Today’s focal passage was John 14:6: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
If you have studied the “I Am” passages of John, you know that the Greek text used for each statement is an emphatic, exclusive statement. To say otherwise is to ignore the Greek language and the construction of the text. You should translate any of these “I Am” passages as emphatic: “I myself am.” It’s as if Jesus was saying in John 6:35, for example, “I am and only I am the bread of life.” In John 14:6, Jesus underscored the exclusivity of the Gospel and the way to salvation with his follow-up statement as well: “No one comes to the Father but through me.” The two little Greek words translated as “but” are the two words “if not.” That part of the verse could be translated, “No one comes to the Father if not through me.”
I’ve had conversations with some people lately who struggle with an exclusive Gospel. In other words, they think Christians are narrow, bigoted, and arrogant for saying that salvation or eternal life is only possible through Jesus. Much of the world wants to embrace a universal message of salvation that says, “All roads lead to God. It doesn’t really matter which road you choose.” Do all roads really lead to God?
Christianity says that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again. Islam says that Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the world, but rather, someone died in his place. Both positions can’t be true. Either Christianity or Islam is right, not both. You see, truth by definition is exclusive.
Christians are criticized for being exclusive, but if you think about it, if someone says the Bible is false, he is making an exclusive statement. He is saying that he is right and everyone who believes the Bible is wrong. For example, Hindus teach we are reincarnated after we die. Therefore, anyone who believes in heaven or hell is wrong. That position makes Hinduism exclusive. Every time you open your mouth to say what you believe, you are being exclusive. Every time you say something is “true,” it means everything opposed to what you just said is false. You are being exclusive.
I came across an article written by Dr. Steve McSwain (I hesitate to offer the link because it’s pure heresy, but here it is: https://bit.ly/2SvOb5A). I don’t know who Steve McSwain is, and I have no clue what field of study gave him a doctorate, but it’s clear that his method of Bible study is flawed, and he approaches the truth of Scripture from an agenda-laden position. His byline says he’s a “counselor to congregations” and a “spiritual teacher.” I’m not sure what spirit motivates his teaching, but it’s not God’s Spirit.
Here’s part of his reflective comments on John 14:6 and the exclusivity of the Gospel:
Jesus said “I am the way…no one comes to God but through me” (John 14:6). But what does that really mean?…Today, I realize that what Jesus was really saying is this: “I am the way,” as in, “I know the way.” “I’ve discovered it” which, by implication means, “you can, too.” Elsewhere, he put it like this: “I and the Father are one” and he prayed that we would discover the same as well (John 17). Which is precisely why he said continually, “Follow me.” In other words, it’s as if Jesus was saying, “If you believe anything, believe not WORDS but the WAY to Life itself. My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal. In fact, you cannot separate the way to God from God herself. The way to God IS God.”
For starters, Mr. McSwain (as if he’s going to read this blog), Jesus did NOT say “I know the way.” You can’t change Scripture. You can’t make it say something you want it to say or prefer it to say or something that’s more politically correct in our culture. Jesus said, “I myself am the way. No one comes to the Father if not through me.” No matter how you analyze that passage, if you are honest with yourself and use proper biblical interpretation, Jesus said He is the ONLY way to salvation. It doesn’t really take too much analysis or interpretation to see the cold facts staring you in the face. You can call Jesus a liar if you want to, but you can’t say Jesus was really saying “I know the way.” He said, “I am THE way.”
If I made an exclusive statement, you could debate it and reject it. After all, who am I to make an exclusive statement about much of anything. I’m flawed and my perspective is limited. Jesus, however, claimed to be God. If Jesus is God, then He has every right to create a salvation plan that offers only one path: Himself.Mr. McSwain said, “My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal.” My first thought was that this statement is also totally flawed. It is flawed from the way he was trying to project it, but in the end, he’s actually right. Jesus’ way will lead to eternal life. The “many other ways” he’s writing about will also lead into the eternal, eternal damnation. I didn’t say that. Jesus did.
Elevation Church Worship Band recorded a wonderful song about God’s mercy entitled Mercy Reigns. Here are a few of the lyrics:
My God is strong enough to raise me from the grave Your love is great enough to take away my shame Your mercy reigns My God is making new the wreckage of my heart Your hand is reaching down to pull me from the dark Your mercy reigns; Your mercy covers me Your grace sustains; Your grace is all I need
Mercy is an important theme in the Bible, and the word is used a number of times throughout Scripture. It’s difficult to get an accurate count of a particular English word in the Bible because the Bible was not written in English. You may find several different words in the original text that could be translated mercy or another word that is similar. For example, Lamentations 3:22-23 are some of my favorite verses about mercy: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Henry Morris mentioned in one of his articles that there are four Hebrew words and three Greek words associated with the word “mercy” and these words are used a total of 454 times in the Bible. Wow!
Often times, grace is used synonymously with mercy, but they’re two different concepts. Grace is often thought of as undeserved favor. I once heard someone say that grace is getting something we do not deserve. Mercy, however, is more connected to withholding judgment. If grace is getting what we do not deserve – forgiveness, mercy is not getting what we do deserve – condemnation. Here’s an interesting thought. God mentions mercy more than grace in the Bible. I don’t really think that means one concept is more important than another, but it does make us pause to think about the significance of God holding back the judgment we deserve. We deserve death and hell. It is only because He is a God who is willing to withhold condemnation that we have hope for eternity. God’s mercies indeed never come to an end.
I recently shared some thoughts on Facebook and enjoyed various comments made by my friends. I thought I would carry the discussion on absolute truth over to my blog. Here’s some additional thoughts in response to some of the discussion.
Homophobia is not my problem. Sinophobia is. I am afraid of what sin can do in me, in you, in our culture, and in our world. I’ve seen it at work in my life for 52 years, and I see it unleashed in our culture. It is destroying us. One problem is our tendency to ignore sin in our lives. I’ve done it with the best of them. One way we try to ignore it is to justify our actions, ignore our actions or redefine our actions. We justify our actions often times by comparing ourselves to other people. I can always find someone worse than me; therefore, my sin doesn’t look so bad. The problem is that other people are not the standard – God is. Our culture is working to justify actions through talk or predispositions. Some scientists and media personnel are determined to justify an action that is contrary to the Bible by trying to show that a predisposition to a sinful lifestyle is pre-determined by an inborn quality. To say someone has a female brain in a male body justifies homosexual behavior. To say someone is naturally oversexed justifies a promiscuous lifestyle or an addiction to pornography. First of all, there has been no real evidence that someone is born with a predisposition toward homosexuality. The fact is; however, we are all born with a predisposition to sin. Homosexuality is not the only issue. Sin is the issue. The problem is that we do not want to call it sin. If we call our actions sinful, there must be a standard of righteousness. If sin exists, God must exist. If God exists, then we are accountable for our sins. It is easier for me to justify my behavior, whatever kind of sinful behavior that might be, than to be accountable for it.
I will hasten to say that Christians feel much better talking about someone else’s’ sinful behavior than their own. It feels more comfortable being critical of homosexuality while ignoring lust. The fact is that sin is sin. Jesus had to die for all of sin. I am grateful that God loves the sinner and meets us where we are, but if we are going to deal with our sin, we must first acknowledge that we are sinners. To acknowledge sin means that we must recognize a standard of moral truth. Is truth relative or absolute? Can something be wrong for me but not wrong for you?
There is a such thing as cultural truth. Cultural or geographical truth can be relative. For example, if you live in Great Britain, it is against the law for you to drive down the right side of the street. You are required to drive on the left. In the U.S., we are required to drive on the right. Obviously location is going to determine right and wrong in regard to that particular traffic law. I do believe there are some cultural issues addressed in the Bible, and for that matter, there are some cultural issues not addressed in the Bible. For example, God did not address the morality of slavery in the Bible. Though the practice of slavery was different in the N.T. times than it was in the 19th century, God doesn’t really address the moral issue of right and wrong regarding owning slaves. I have wondered if polygamy in the Old Testament fell into this category. Was it a cultural truth that was descriptive for that time but not prescriptive for all of time? There were more women in that culture than men. Is it possible that God allowed it as a means of taking care of women, but it was not His ideal? We do know that there were some cultural truths related to certain laws. The N.T. helps us to understand that there were some cultural laws that related to just the Jewish people in the O.T. that did not apply to N.T. believers. Peter had been taught not to eat unclean animals, but he then had a dream saying that all things were clean. Circumcision was required for Jewish males, but the N.T. makes it clear that it is not a law for every culture.
When I speak of absolute truth, I’m not talking about cultural issues but rather moral issues. Mistreating people is wrong for all people for all of time. Mistreating others is never justified. This is a moral absolute. In a recent Facebook note, I shared a statement about a transgender youth. Sadly, some people responded to her YouTube post with venom and hatred – even to the point where someone said they wanted to kill this youth. That is ridiculous and inexcusable. It is an absolute truth that mistreating people is always wrong. The Bible speaks to many moral truths, and the Bible sets a standard for absolute truth. Does this mean that Christians always have the right attitude about people and sin? No. Do Christians always act in a Christ-honoring way? Absolutely not! Just because a Christian acts ungodly does not mean that it is okay to ignore absolute truth. For that matter, just because a Christian acts wrongly toward you does not justify putting all Christians in the same category or dropping out of church or ignoring the teaching of the Bible. It’s funny that church is one of the few things in society we apply those standards to. For example, I’ve been treated badly at Walmart before by employees and customers. I still go to Walmart. When that happened, I acknowledged that a Walmart employee had a problem or a customer I confronted had issues (or maybe even I had issues), but I didn’t stop going to Walmart. Just because a Christian acts ungodly, I cannot write off the truth of God’s Word. The fact is a Christian’s misbehavior does not cause Romans 6:23 to be any less true for me or you: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The real issue here has to do with whether or not moral truth is absolute. Regardless of what our culture says, I say that it is. I’ll share some more on this later, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts?
We are by nature selfish people. I hate to say that because I would rather not think of myself as selfish, but there is a very natural bent in all of humanity that can lead us to a self-centered life. Thankfully, our relationship with Jesus and the fruit of the Spirit (agape love) helps to overcome this natural tendency in us. This natural move toward self is evidenced many times by the content of our prayer life. If we could somehow sift through all of our prayers, I believe we would find that many Christians spend the vast majority of their prayer time in asking for help, deliverance, provision, or victory over a struggle. Though there is no way for me to know for sure, I think we might find that most of our prayer life focuses upon ourselves instead of upon God. Do you think that is true?
First of all, we must come to the conclusion that prayer is not ultimately about us. God did not provide for us the wonderful avenue of personal conversation with God just so we would have a means to get our needs met and our happiness quotient filled. For one thing, prayer is the means by which God accomplishes His work on earth. Remember in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” There is one type of prayer that is so overlooked by many Christians that will help us get our prayer life into proper perspective. It is called the prayer of praise.
The prayer of praise is a prayer that simply focuses upon the character of God. We are quite familiar with prayers of thanksgiving, which thanks God for what He has done. Prayers of praise declare who God is. Praise causes us to focus our attention upon the nature of God and remove our gaze from ourselves. Consider the opening words of Psalm 90: “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” Do you see how the focus of this prayer it totally upon God? It is not a prayer asking God for anything, not that asking is wrong (we’re actually commanded to ask in Matthew 7:7). This prayer does not focus on any personal benefit we receive from knowing God. It is a prayer that declares God’s nature.
As you pray this week, read through the Bible (especially the Psalms) and find examples of prayers of praise. Pray them back to God as your own declaration of His nature. I think we will find that the more we focus upon God, the more we realize His greatness and power. This leads to greater trust and deeper love. It moves us to more consistent obedience and total dependence. Try spending some time in prayer where you only praise God. You may find it difficult but ultimately refreshing.
Second chances. I’m a big fan of the mulligan in golf, the “do over” in front yard football, and the “undo” button on my word processor. I’ve always liked having a second chance. There are some things in life where second chances are not an option. For example, once a first impression is made, there are no do overs. Once you hit send on an e-mail, you do not have a second chance at expressing your heart about a matter in that e-mail. God, however, is the God of the second chance. Grace by definition allows do overs and mulligans in life. God’s grace does not excuse sin or make rebellion insignificant, and it doesn’t remove the consequences of our sin. It does offer us a chance to start fresh through forgiveness giving us the opportunity for a different outcome.
While God offers second chances, it does require repentance in our lives. The word “repent” means “to turn around.” When we repent of our sin, we are not only sorry for doing something wrong, but we also turn and go in a different direction. King David expressed repentance in his prayer he penned in Psalm 51. I encourage you to read the whole Psalm, but consider the first three verses: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” While this passage does not mention his specific sin, he obviously had something on his mind and knew that God was fully aware of his transgression. He prayed the prayer indicating that grace was an option and compassion was offered. He knew that cleansing was a possibility even though his sin was hideous and shameful. Even though David knew that he had blown it, he also knew that God was compassionate and gracious. He knew God offered second chances, and David was imploring God for such an opportunity.
I think it’s best David doesn’t mention his specific sin, even though scholars believe it was his sin with Bathsheba. The reason it’s best is because we can fill in the blank with our own transgressions. All of our sin is shameful leading to the sacrifice of our Savior on the cross.
As we move toward our 4th of July celebration, I am mindful of the condition in our country and believe strongly that we are weaker nationally today because the Church is weaker spiritually. It is time for believers to pull out Psalm 51 and cry out to the Lord for forgiveness. God is merciful and compassionate. I have experienced God’s grace so many times in my life that I cannot count it. Second chances are God’s specialty.
Here’s part of a chapter in a new study/devotional book I’m writing on selected Psalms entitled Songs from the Heart. Hope to have it out by late May, 2014. Be blessed.
Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?”
Have you ever really been afraid? It’s one thing to experience the childhood fear of monsters, but how do you overcome adult fears? Even as adults, some of our fears are totally unjustified, but there are some adversaries out there who are real and formidable. You may struggle with the fear of looming financial disaster or irreversible, terminal illness. It is possible that the uncertainties of the future have created great concern in your life, and your fear is really not for yourself but for what could happen to your children. Your fear could even be a ridiculous phobia – that is ridiculous to others but very real to you. What do you do with debilitating fear? David faced this kind of enemy, and conquered it with the Lord’s help. In the opening verse of this Psalm, he made three declarations that give us a clue as to how David dealt with potential fear: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” This declaration is key to how David dealt with fear in his life, so let’s consider each statement individually.
“The Lord is my light.” You could take this statement literally simply because God gives evidence to His physical radiance in a variety of places in the Bible (consider the Shekinah glory in the Old Testament and the pillar of fire for the Children of Israel in the wilderness). Deuteronomy 4:24 actually calls God a “consuming fire.” Jesus even said, “I am the light of the world” (see John 8:12). Though we could take this description literally, I believe that David is speaking figuratively. He could have been referring to God as being a guide to his life. In Psalm 119:105, God’s word is seen as a “lamp” to our feet and a “light” to our path. David could have been referring to times of potential darkness in which he had lived in the past. It could have been the darkness of despair and depression or the darkness of sin, but in the midst of these times, God always came forth to illumine his way. So, the light may have been beams of hope or rays of encouragement. It is also possible that the Lord acted as light in David’s life by illuminating sin during times of rebellion. Nathan, the prophet, came to David after David had committed sin with Bathsheba and actually insured the death of her husband. God used the prophet to confront the king and to call him to repentance. There is nothing quite as chilling as Nathan’s words “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel” (see 2 Samuel 12). All of these thoughts are true, and maybe David had one particular application in mind. The fact, however, is that God is a light to us.
The Lord is also our “salvation.” It is easy to imagine David’s train of thought with this declaration. As he wrote these words, he could have thought back to his short, but very impactful, battle with the giant, Goliath, in the Valley of Elah. It is possible he was thinking of the times God delivered him from the bear or the lion, or maybe he was thinking of his narrow escape from King Saul. Regardless of the circumstances, David had been in serious trouble at various points in his life, and God had saved him from impending doom. To say that “the Lord is my salvation” indicates that we stand in need of a Savior. I think it is significant the Psalmist didn’t just say that God gives salvation but rather God is salvation. Saving is as much a part of His nature as creating or loving. God is your salvation because you need saving. God is your salvation because there is no other means by which you can be saved (see Acts 4:12).
I have shared recently in Sunday morning messages that “glory” is translated in the Old Testament from a word that means “weight” (as in the total weight of something or the full expression of something). In the New Testament it comes from a word that means the shining of an object that is brilliant. I have compared the N.T. thought to the rays of the sun. The sun is brilliant, and we see evidence of that brilliance through the rays of the sun that provides heat and light. The Bible says that God is glorious. Moses asked God to show him His glory (Exodus 33), and God allowed Moses to get a glimpse of Him from the back. This offer of glory was not a one-time thing for one superstar Old Testament patriarch. God offers us His glory on a regular basis. I was recently intrigued by Christ’s prayer for us (John 17:20-26), and I taught on this text yesterday. Jesus actually prayed that we would experience His glory. He said in verse 24 that it is His will that we see His glory. This thought took me to 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” Think for a moment about these two Scriptures. Jesus said it is His will that we see His glory. God says that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us and answers our prayer. Do you want to see the glory of God, like Moses? All you need to do is ask and get ready. It is God’s will to show Himself to you. I think we should start our day, before getting out of bed, asking God to show us His glory. As we go throughout our day, we should look for “the shining that comes from Someone brilliant,” and we will see demonstrations of God’s glory all day long. Four years ago, I bought a Ford Taurus. I suppose I had seen them before I made the purchase, but after I bought this vehicle, I began seeing them everywhere. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen other cars that look just like mine. I believe that when we become aware of God’s glory and begin to anticipate seeing it, we will be overwhelmed with His glory that is all around us. This leads to worship and obedience as we begin to see that God is intimately and personally involved in our lives. Let’s join in with the prayer of Moses: “Show me your glory.” When we do, we will find we are immersed in the brilliance of God’s presence.
I am currently reading James MacDonald’s book Vertical Church. It contains a powerful challenge to be the kind of church that leads people to encounter God’s glory and not just man’s experiences. The fact is most of us have a horizontal orientation. It is interesting that in our quest for meaning and fulfillment, our focus usually leads us to focus on horizontal things – things that are beside us and around us like relationships, success, money, and experiences. Focusing on the horizontal things of life is very natural. The only problem is that the horizontal things of life are not the things that bring lasting fulfillment. God has made us to be vertical first.
When James MacDonald said that everyone is longing for transcendence, I had a sense of agreement deep inside as I knew that I too long for something bigger and more adequate than myself. That something is a Someone. As a pastor, I long for my congregation to encounter God’s glory as we meet on Sundays and to reflect God’s glory as we live throughout the week. One comment in this book that caught my attention is this: “God won’t do through me what He can’t do in me. It’s easy to sit back and wish my church was more Vertical, more powerful, more culturally penetrating, more glorious…but do I want this for my own soul? Will I let God do in me what I long to see God do through me?” The fact is my church can’t be vertical unless I’m willing to be vertical. This is true for every Christian. If we want vertical churches, we must be vertical Christians. We will find that when our vertical relationship with God is right, every other horizontal relationship and experience will be right. If we are not vertical first, then we become like King Solomon who said, “All is vanity.” All is not vanity if God is first.
Longing – We all have experienced it at one time or another in such consuming ways that we feel as if we cannot be contained. I remember the feelings deep inside of me on numerous Christmas Eves I faced as a child. I longed for the morning to come to the point where sleep would elude me. I can think of the longing for marriage, the longing for graduation, and the longing to see my children; none of these compare to the deep longing God has placed in the heart of every human being who has ever lived. As I taught this past Sunday, this longing is for something who is bigger and beyond us, and that something is a Someone. It is God alone. The otherness of God of which I spoke is called transcendence. A. W. Tozier is one of my favorite authors. He wrote of God’s transcendence in The Knowledge of the Holy:
“We must not think of as highest in an ascending order of beings, starting with the single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the animal to man to angel to cherub to God. This would be to grant God eminence, even pre-eminence, but that is not enough; we must grant Him transcendence in the fullest meaning of that word. Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite.”
God made us to long for Him, to yearn for him, as a deer pants for water. We only find fulfillment through knowing God. The deepest needs in our lives are met only through our personal experience and relationship with Christ. In my message on Sunday, I quoted from a book entitled The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning:
“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.”