Isn’t That Just Like God?

Who would have thought?

Israel had been eagerly anticipating the long-awaited Messiah. But who could have imagined that His first bed would be an animal’s feeding trough! Or that He would grow up in a poor home in a small town with little to recommend it.

After Jesus began His ministry, Philip excitedly announced to his friend Nathanael, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth . . . .” Nathanael exclaimed, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” “Come and see,” Philip replied (John 1:45-46).

Respectable folks could not understand why Jesus would spend so much of His time with society’s rejects.

And the very idea that the Messiah, of all people, would be executed as a common criminal on a despised Roman cross! No, that was absolutely too much (1 Corinthians 1:23; Deuteronomy 21:23).

Why would God do it this way?

God was making a statement.

In explaining why God chooses that which is lowly and unimpressive to accomplish His purposes, Paul observed that in the Corinthian church “there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

Pride has no place in God’s kingdom.

Only the humble may apply.

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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Onward and Upward?

If you were a CEO, would you hire those who are goal-oriented, ambitious, hard-working, and who make definite progress toward their goals? The people described in Genesis 11:1-9 were like that. They had big plans, they were dreamers and doers, they were movers and shakers, highly-motivated, industrious. They knew how to make things happen.

Only one problem: God was not pleased.

Opposed by God

They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city . . .” (v. 4). God said, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language . . .” (v. 7).

They said, “. . . let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4). “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth . . .” (v. 8).

Verse 4 says, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city . . . .” Verse 8 says, “. . . and they stopped building the city.”

“Man proposes, but God disposes” (Thomas à Kempis)

Why did God bring their building project to a grinding halt? They had said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4).

“. . . for ourselves . . . for ourselves . . . .”

Today we know far more than the Babelites about how to get things done. If we have their attitude, can we expect God’s blessing?

“Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled . . .” (Matthew 23:12).

Ultimately, all human efforts apart from God will fail (Psalm 127:1; James 4:13-17).

Who always has the last word?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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How God Stretches Our Understanding

Moving beyond what we know

God designed our minds so that we can absorb new insights much more easily if we can connect it with something we already know. In other words, we move from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

So often Christ taught this way. He drew parallels between common things in everyday life and not-so-familiar spiritual concepts. He used figures of speech such as simile (“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . . .”) and metaphor (“I am the good shepherd . . . .”) (Matthew 13:31; John 10:11).

It’s remarkable how many different ways Jesus describes Himself. Jesus is too big for any one single comparison to be adequate. Jonah, for example, is quite unlike Jesus in some important ways, but in at least one narrow sense there is a parallel, and in that one respect Jesus draws an analogy  (Matthew 12:38-40).

The New Testament compares baptism to a birth (John 3:3-5) and to death (Romans 6:3-7). These are not contradictory but each comparison sheds light on a significant aspect of baptism. In one way baptism is an end (death to the old life of sin). In another sense it is a glorious beginning (a new birth).

Moving beyond what we’ve experienced

The Bible shows us how to have fellowship with the God who is both like us and not like us. The Bible prepares us for life beyond anything we’ve ever experienced. And so God uses His word to help us make that challenging transition from the physical world we are so familiar with to a life that far exceeds anything we’ve ever known.

God uses Scripture to develop in us a whole new way of seeing so that “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

What exciting vistas God lays out before us! Are we willing to move beyond the familiar here-and-now to the less familiar but far more wonderful then-and-there?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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“All Ye Fruitful Trees and Cedars”

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Made by God

Sara and I visited a remarkably well-stocked greenhouse in Deep East Texas. As we moved slowly down the narrow aisles between the pots and hanging baskets, it occurred to me how many different kinds of plants God has made!

We saw aloe vera, orchid, violets, airplane plant, corn plant, hen and chickens, Mexican heather, impatiens, begonia, ornamental pepper, bromeliad, bamboo, maidenhair fern, asparagus fern, rabbit’s foot fern, Swedish ivy, rubber plant, a wide variety of cacti, and on and on.

In spite of this impressive array, the foliage we saw was only a small sample of the thousands upon thousands of botanical species God has made.

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them’; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12).

It is still good! Plants beautify our world and cleanse the atmosphere. From far and wide our supermarkets import fresh produce to grace our tables. And trees are transformed into houses and furniture.

Praise to God

Jesus often drew spiritual lessons from the world of horticulture: wheat and thorns, vine and fig tree, lilies and grass. The Bible is a veritable greenhouse, with abundant references to plants, all the way from the small garden herbs, mint and cummin, to the mighty cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan.

“Let them praises give Jehovah,/For His name alone is high,/And His glory is exalted,/Far above the earth and sky” (“Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah!” by Wm. J. Kirkpatrick, based on Psalm 148).

Just as the starry heavens speak of God’s glory (Psalm 19:1), likewise the marvels of the plant kingdom demonstrate the wisdom of the One who made us all.

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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Facing the Future: How?

As I approached the tracks on Park Street I heard a train. My first thought was, if only I had left the post office a little sooner I would have made it across before the train arrived. Shutting off the engine to save gas, I prepared for the wait.

I watched as the locomotive rolled by, followed by a tank car, followed by another tank car, followed by . . . . But that was it! The entire train consisted of only one engine and two cars. I was delayed less than a minute.

Outcome unknown

Sometimes things do turn out better than we had expected, don’t they? Murphy’s Law doesn’t always operate. Hooray!

Life is an adventure. We never know what’s around the next bend. Since we don’t know, can we afford to make big plans without taking the Lord into account? James tells us that people who plan big while assuming they can definitely do what they intended are actually arrogant (James 4:13-17).

On the other extreme, do we tend to worry about how we’re going to have enough to meet tomorrow’s needs? This indicates a lack of faith (Matthew 6:25-34).

If we belong to Christ and if we keep our priorities straight, He promises we will have our basic needs met (Matthew 6:33). What an anxiety reducer!

Avoidable pitfalls

Looking to God as we face the future saves us from two errors. On one hand we’ll avoid pride in our planning—failing to remember that we can accomplish what we’ve planned only if it is the Lord’s will.

On the other hand, we’ll not forget we have a loving Father who takes good care of His children—as we seek His kingdom first.

These two errors have one thing in common: they both fail to take God into account. When we remember Him we’ll be neither arrogant nor anxious.

With Him beside us we can face the future with both humility and confidence—whatever may come down the track.

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When Blood Runs in the Streets

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Murder is satanic.

God warned Cain not to do it, but Cain went ahead and killed his own brother (Gen. 4).

Although Cain was the first human to commit murder, he was not the first murderer. Jesus said of Satan, “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).

“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother” (1 John 3:11-12).

Murder is against everything God stands for.

Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things God hates, including “hands that shed innocent blood.”

Murder, Paul says, violates the great second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8-10).

God told Noah that murder is a capital offense because “in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). Human life is sacred to God and should therefore be sacred to us. Why? Of all God’s creatures, only people are created in His image. Murder is sacrilege.

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).

Unrepentant murderers “will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8; 22:14-15).

Murder in perspective

Abraham explained to the Philistine king why he had said that his beutiful wife Sarah was his sister: “Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (Genesis 21:11).

As it turned out, there was some fear of God in that place, but though Abraham was wrong to lie, it is still true that a place where people don’t fear God is a dangerous place indeed!

How much fear of God is there in our nation?

Whether a mass shooting or a single homicide, Satan rejoices, but God grieves.

And God, by the way, knows what it feels like to lose a Son to murder.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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Overlooked Evidences of the Love of God

“God is love” (1 John 4:8), and the greatest evidence of that love is the gift of His Son for our salvation (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

Another way we know He loves is seen in the abundant blessings He showers on us every day (Matthew 5:43-45; Acts 14:17).

God’s love, however, has less obvious facets. The following evidences of His love may actually seem the very opposite—until we understand how His love works.

God’s discipline

“‘For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives’ . . . . He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:6, 10).

We can accept His discipline so much better when we realize what it does for our ultimate welfare, just as our children need to realize that we discipline them because we love them (Hebrews 12:7-10).

God’s jealousy

In connection with the command, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” God says, “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God . . .” (Exodus 20:3, 5).

The book of Hosea develops the theme of God as a rejected lover who yearns for a restored relationship with His unfaithful bride Israel.

As J. I. Packer has written, “. . . Scripture consistently views God’s jealousy . . . as an aspect of His covenant love for His own people” (Knowing God, p. 154).

God’s NOs

Sometimes God says No when we pray. When this happens, do we feel that God doesn’t care, or do we trust that He knows best? God said No to David’s prayer that his infant’s life be spared (2 Samuel 12:15-23). God said No to Paul’s prayer that his thorn in the flesh be removed (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). God said No even to His own Son’s plea to be spared the cross (Matthew 26:36-46).

If God said No to them, should we be surprised when He denies our requests?

God loves us so much . . . .

That “He disciplines us for our good . . . .”

That it hurts Him deeply when He is not first in our affections.

That He must sometimes say No when we pray.

God is love? Far more than we can know.

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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