His Unsearchability

It was a conversation after our small group meeting this past Sunday night. One of our group was talking about the struggle it is to read the Bible . . . especially those parts that simply don’t make sense. A few tips and techniques were swapped on how others sought to read intentionally and consistently through the bible, but, at the end of the day, there was an acknowledgment that sometimes making sense of God’s word is kind of hard.

Something I read this morning brought that conversation to mind. Something that says to me, “Ya’ think?”

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

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?”

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be glory forever. Amen.

(Romans 11:33-36 ESV)

Now this spontaneous burst of divine declaration by Paul comes at the end of a discussion about God’s purposes for Israel, but really, it is an uncontainable response of wonder at all Paul has penned so far concerning the power of God for salvation, the gospel. Indeed, pick almost any place where you might be reading the Scriptures and having such an “Aha!” moment is probably appropriate.

No wonder the Bible can be a bit mind boggling at times. We’re searching the unsearchable and scrutinizing the inscrutable. We’re seeking to plumb the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. Say that again, we’re trying to take in the depths of what God knows and how God thinks!

Incredible? No. Unsearchable! Inscrutable!

For a people who are used to everything being searchable, we’re just not accustomed to encounters of the divine kind with things that are beyond our ability to comprehend. After all, we can explore the inner workings of the atom. And we’re able to take pictures of galaxies far, far away. All very awe-inspiring but, let’s face it, it’s kind of common place, too. But when it comes to what’s at the bottom of our oceans, that’s still somewhat of a mystery . . . hasn’t been as easy to do. Thinking that’s why the Spirit moves Paul to talk about the depth of the abundance of God’s wisdom and knowledge. You can’t fully plumb the depths. They cannot be searched out. They are past finding out.

To quote one of my favorite songs, it’s like “trying to fit the ocean in a cup” (“Three Minute Song” by Josh Wilson).

No wonder that sometimes reading the Bible–the inspired word of God, the revelation of the mind of God–can be a bit difficult. What would we expect?

Sure we have the mind of Christ (1Cor. 2:16), but we still “see in a mirror dimly” (1Cor. 13:12). At our best, we know in part. We’re only putting together some of the pieces. After all, we’re trying to explore the dimensions of a God who is love and know the love of God which “surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19). Did I mention the ocean in a cup thing?

Praise God the Bible is hard to understand sometimes. Do we really want a God that we can fully figure out? A God who fits within our cognitive capabilities? A God of our understanding is a God cast in our own image. Instead, our God is unsearchable. And His ways are inscrutable.

But we have the Word. And we have the Spirit. And so we open the Book with the expectation that we’re going to increase, at least a bit, in our wisdom and understanding of our God, and that we’ll grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior.

So, let’s not be surprised when the going gets a little tough. Instead, let’s sit back and praise Him for His unsearchablity.

And then, let’s search some more.

Because of grace. For his glory!

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No Angels Required

You gotta love him! One moment he’s sleeping, the next, he’s swinging a sword. Though there’s no doubt his “flesh was weak”, there can equally be no doubt that his “spirit was willing.”

Willing to be a lone warrior, he draws his sword, ready to defend his master and stand against “a great crowd with swords and spears.” He tries to level a head shot against one of the high priest’s servants, perhaps one of the first to lay hands on the Master, but unaccustomed as he was to taking off a man’s head, he instead manages a glancing blow which take’s off the servant’s ear.

Matthew, in his gospel, doesn’t identify the would be defender of the Messiah. But years later, writing his account of the life of Jesus, John would identify the disciple who would be a swordsman as none other than Peter (Jn. 18:10). And like I said, you gotta love him!”

But Jesus tells Peter to put way the sword.

Jesus had already settled the matter with the Father in the garden (if Peter had been able to stay awake in the garden, he might have known that). This was a cup He must drink. It was the Father’s will.

And Jesus had come to do the Father’s will.  No sword required.  No angels required.

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

(Matthew 26:52-54 ESV)

Ok, imagine that. The mob advances upon Jesus and His disciples, swords and spears in hand. Judas walks up to Jesus and delivers his kiss of death. And then Jesus flashes the sign and, BAM!!!, the crowd is staring down a football stadium of angels arrayed around the Son of God.

Twelve legions of angels. If we’re using a Roman legion as the metric, then that’s more than 72,000 awe-invoking messengers of God. And we’re not talking some winged fairies in diapers floating on clouds, but divine warriors mounted on horses and chariots of fire (2Ki. 6:17). Talk about your guardian angels!

If Jesus had any inclination of being rescued from His present danger, he had no need of Peter’s sword.

But Jesus had no such inclination. He had set His face toward Jerusalem. He had a baptism to be baptized with. He would not turn back. He would give His back to those who would strike Him, His face to those who would pull out His beard, and hide not from those who would deride and spit upon Him (Isa. 50:5-6).

He would be lifted up–lifted up on a Roman cross. He would endure the wrath of God for the sins of the world. He would endure the darkness, forsaken of the Father. He would endure it all for the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2) — the anticipation of souls rescued from death, and a kingdom established for eternity.

Jesus would trade the legions of angels in the garden for a “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10).

Jesus came to do the Father’s will. No angels required.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

What amazing grace. To Him be all the glory.

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The Heart of God

I’m sure there must be other places where God speaks with such longing, but I can’t think of any right now. And, it occurs to me, my first thoughts of God tend not to be of what He passionately desires but more often of what He has powerfully done. I don’t tend to think of God as sighing with a certain angst, but usually of Him speaking with an unmatched authority. My God speaks things into being. Not often do I consider Him yearning for something to become a reality.

I’m thinking that’s why this verse in Deuteronomy has caused me to pause and reflect this morning on the heart of God.

“Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!'”

(Deuteronomy 5:29 ESV)

Moses is making his final appeal for obedience. Soon the people will go up to take the land promised to them. He’s explaining to a generation that has grown up in the wilderness the law they received at the foot of Sinai when they were but children (Deut. 1:5).

In my reading today, again and again Moses appeals to the people of God to listen to the “statutes and rules” he is teaching them and to “do them, that you may live” (4:1). He warns them to “take care, and keep your soul diligently , lest your forget” (4:9). He reminds them of the ten commandments given that day when they drew near to the base of mountain and “heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire” (5:23).

What’s more, he reminds them of their response to such an encounter of the divine kind.

“And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire. . . . Now therefore why should we die? . . . . If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?'”

(Deuteronomy 5:24-26 ESV)

And so they ask Moses to go and receive the full revelation and then to come and teach it to them. Then, they declare, “We will hear and do it” (5:27).

That’s the heart God longed for. The heart that knew holy fear and responded with a desire to obey. A heart that was bowed by His presence and was determined to live by His promises.

“Oh,” says the LORD, “that they had such a mind as this always . . . “

But that isn’t the way of the natural mind. It’s not the inclination of the natural heart. At best, the spirit might be willing, but the flesh is weak. And so, while the heart of God greatly desires a people who would always fear Him and keep His commandments, the heart of man, in and of itself, is unable to do so.

And thus, God provides the means for a new heart and a way for a heart transplant. For people to receive the heart of God through the finished work of Christ. To be awakened to the holiness of God and enabled to walk in the power to obey. To fulfill the desire of God by accepting, by faith, the provision of God.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.

(Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

What God desires, God enables. The heart of God is that His people would walk in holy fear and obedience. And the heart of God, received by faith and unleashed through the Spirit within us, can know such abiding awe and desire to delight.

Oh that His great desire for us would be our great desire for Him.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Vessel of Mercy

This morning I’m chewing on the sovereignty of God. That God’s will is accomplished not because we comply, necessarily, but simply because it’s His will. That what He determines is done. What He promises He performs. Kind of a mind stretching concept. The implications raising all kinds of questions.

Seems to me, that when it comes to the Divine determination, ours isn’t to try and fully comprehend how it works (we can’t), but to acknowledge that’s how things work and to be in awe and wonder that we are part of it.

I was reading in Deuteronomy 2 this morning. And what hit me was the realization that not only had God decided where Israel would hang their hats, but He had also reserved land for others. Three times I notice that God had told the people of Israel who NOT to contend with as they approached the promised land. They were not to encroach on the territory around Mount Seir because God had “given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession” (Deut 2:5). What’s more, the Israelites were not to harass Moab, their land was also off bounds, because God had given it to Lot “for a possession” (2:9). Same with the people of Ammon, none of the land was up for grabs because God had already determined it for another people (2:19). Though these ancient people may have thought they had laid claim to the land for themselves, the God of all the earth had determined their addresses in advance and for His purpose. Though they may not have acknowledged Him as God, nevertheless He is Landlord over all.

And then, it got real personal as I read Romans 9, Paul’s explanation of God’s sovereign choice of a people. People not of a particular bloodline, but a people purchased through a blood-stained cross. Not natural descendants by birth, but supernaturally determined children through faith. Not those who could claim they had worked their way to God, but those who’s sole testimony was that they were wooed to Christ. Not because of self-determination but only because of Sovereign delight.

Paul calls us “children of promise” (9:8), “sons and daughters of the living God” (9:26). But what’s evoking awe, wonder, and worship this morning, is the reminder that we are “vessels of mercy.”

What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory–even us whom He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

(Romans 9:22-24 ESV)

Honestly, I find it hard to connect the dots between “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” and a God who is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2Pet. 3:9). But God is God and nothing less. And I am but a man, nothing more. And “who are you, o man, to answer back to God?” (Rom. 9:20)

But what I do get, God’s Spirit bearing witness with my spirit, is that I am a vessel of mercy. A sinner called to respond to God’s great love shown for all sinners in the giving of His only Son to pay the wages of their sin. A lost soul who was invited by divine invitation to be found. Someone given ears to hear, and new heart to respond. A broken jar of clay called into service to carry the light of the gospel “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2Cor. 4:7). And this, for no other reason, than that He is God.

Why me, Lord? Because You are Sovereign.

A vessel of mercy saved by grace alone, to make known the riches of Your glory alone.

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Under the Influence

A bit overwhelmed this morning. Awestruck, as a truth I’ve known for most of my Christian life hits home with a renewed clarity. I am under the influence.

Paul’s pretty clear in my Romans 8 reading this morning: if I belong to Jesus then the Spirit of God dwells in me.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. . . . If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

(Romans 8:9, 11 ESV)

Reading that one word three times in those two verses was like hearing a great tower bell clang resoundingly over and over and over. The Spirit of God dwells in you. The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you. “Yes,” a still small voice says, “in case you didn’t hear it the first two times, I dwell in you.”

So guess what? I’m under the influence. Literally!!!!

I’m sitting here and chewing on the idea of God dwelling in me. That by His Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, He has taken up residence. He has moved in. And more than being that unbreakable seal guaranteeing my future inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14), more than being the One who will give life to this mortal body after mortality has passed, He is the One who, right now, is ready, willing, and able to lead me (8:14) . . . and that, from within.

No cloud of smoke hovering over me by day.  No pillar of fire going before me at night.  Rather, the 24/7 presence of God within me, . . . by His Spirit. Can anyone say, “Unreal!!!”

I did a bit of Greek lexicon work and notice that it’s not exactly the same original word used for each of the “dwells.” The first two “dwells” are the same word and are pretty straight forward. They carry the idea of occupying a house, or residing in a residence. The implication being that my spirit cohabits this body with the Creator of this body through His Spirit. That’s pretty amazing!

But then the third use of the word looks like a Greek compound word. Beyond just having moved in, it carries the idea of cohabiting with the intent to direct . . . or influence. And that’s even more amazing!

Not only is He the Regenerator, the One who gives new life, but He is also the Illuminator, the One who brings new light. Not only is He the Attester, Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16), but He is also desires to be the Influencer through the dynamics of His active agency as Helper, Intercessor, and Sanctifier. Ultimately, He wants to be the Transformer, conforming me more and more into the likeness of the Son.

Noodle on it for a bit. Look in the mirror and say to yourself, “I’m looking in the face of someone within whom the Spirit of God dwells!” How awesome is that!?!

He is ever present, mine is to never forget it.

He is longing to lead, mine is to seek to follow.

He is ready to influence, mine is to long to be under the influence.

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Need for Deliverance

I have used the analogy repeatedly throughout the years — worse than being in a minefield, is not knowing you’re in a minefield. At least if you know it, you can do whatever you can to try and step carefully . . . and lightly . . . to find your way out of it. But not knowing, and you’re oblivious to the danger and have little regard for where, or how, you walk.

And, there’s something, in my mind, even worse than not knowing. It’s being told you are in a minefield and not believing it. Being warned of the danger and disregarding it or, worse yet, seeking to disprove the warning by carelessly making light of it. The tendency then is to recklessly stomp around just to prove others wrong. Can anyone say, “KABOOM?”

I’m reading in Romans 7 this morning and being reminded of a minefield.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

(Romans 7:21-23 ESV)

There is a battle going on. A battle between the redeemed inner being which delights in the law of God and the flesh, the old man lingering on in our natural bodies, still susceptible to the temptations of sin. While the things of God might permeate the mind which, through regeneration, has been made alive to what is spiritual, sin still dwells in my members, that which is prone to the sensual. While I long to be under the influence of what is holy, there is something working in opposition which seeks to make me captive again to sin.

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

(Galatians 5:17 ESV)

As my daughter would say, “It’s a thing.” It’s real. Better believe it or we risk carelessly stomping around in a minefield.

And avoiding the danger isn’t found in what I can do but in what Christ has done.

Paul talks about how ineffective Vitamin “I” (a term coined by William MacDonald) is in dealing with sin.

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. . . . For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. . . .

(Romans 7:15, 18b-19 ESV)

To think I can win the battle is to be stomping around in the minefield. To rely on my effort, to count on my discipline, to gut it out with my resources is only to eventually hear “KABOOM!”

Paul knew it. He knew the frustration of the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak. Of wanting to walk in a manner worthy but repeatedly finding himself heading down the wrong path. “Wretched man that I am!” he cries out. And then he asks,

Who will deliver me from this body of death?

(Romans 7:24b)

Paul recognized his need for deliverance. An on-going deliverance. An ever present, help me to remain faithful, rescue. The power to put down the flesh. Strength outside himself to say no to the old man.

Where is that daily rescue found? Where is the power produced? Where is the strength sourced?

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

(Romans 7:25a ESV)

God has effected the deliverance for which Vitamin “I” will never be enough. There is a way of rescue, and that not of ourselves, but through Jesus and the finished work of the cross. What my best efforts can never do, the gospel has accomplished.

Mine is to believe it. Mine is to bow to it. Mine is to recognize the battle and arm myself with it.

There is a need for on-going deliverance. And we can be more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Spirit Songs

Let Psalm 57 stand on its own, and it’s an amazing song. Put it in its context, and it is almost unbelievable.

Praise songs most often stem from prosperous times. God’s goodness most often the theme of a song when things are good. But not this song. It’s singing amidst the storm. A song lifted up when the soul was bowed down. A chorus from the cave.

And while I know that it was inspired by the Spirit of God, this morning what hits me is the manner in which the song reveals the Spirit’s active agency with an individual without even a mention of Him.

It’s a song of David “when he fled from Saul, in the cave.” David is cornered in a cave because the king is out to get him. What’s more, he’s holed up in a tunnel though God’s promised him a throne.

As he sits hiding in the dark he assesses the situation. He is in “storms of darkness.” He is “in the midst of lions” and “lying down amid fiery beasts” whose “teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” Situation desperate.

But while in that desperate situation he breaks forth with a surprising song.

My heart is steadfast, O God,
   my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples;
   I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
   Your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
   Let Your glory be over all the earth!

(Psalm 57:7-11 ESV)

How does someone in such a situation come up with such a song if not by the Spirit of God?

Naturally, how would someone forced to hide in a hole sing of steadfast love that is greater than the heavens? How does someone, fleeing for their life, declare faithfulness that reaches to the clouds, if not as a result of a direct encounter of the divine kind?

Read the psalm and it’s evidence of how a gracious God can answer a desperate prayer without the circumstances changing one iota. He ministers to the bowed down soul with His own presence as made known by His Holy Spirit. He gives strength for the day through the One Jesus calls “the Helper” (Jn. 16:7). He brings to remembrance the assurance of promise and infuses hope through Him sent to lead God’s people into all truth (Jn. 14:26). And He supplants the lament of uncertainty with a song of praise penned by the blessed member of the Trinity tasked with making known the Savior (Jn. 15:26).

It’s nothing less than the Spirit of God bearing witness with our spirit which enables us to offer sacrifices of praise from the depths of the cave. Nothing less than a visitation of heaven when we sing amidst our sorrow . . . when we awake the dawn with thanksgiving though the storm continues to rage around us.

Praise God for Spirit songs. Melodies and lyrics which transcend situations because they are composed by God Himself. Symphonies of worship conducted by the Spirit Himself who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26).

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
   Let Your glory be over all the earth!

By His grace. For His glory.

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