Three Questions

“Am I in the place of God . . . ?”

“. . . am I in God’s place?”

“Am I God . . .?”

These three questions asked by biblical characters sound much alike, but the circumstances provoking them are quite different.

A recognition of limitations

Desperate for a child, Rachel blurted out to her husband Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” Knowing how powerless he was to fulfill her demand, Jacob became angry with Rachel and replied, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (Genesis 30:1-2).

Now that their father Jacob was dead, Joseph’s brothers feared that Joseph would revenge the harm they had done to him some 39 years before. Grieved that they would even think this, Joseph replied, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” (Genesis 50:19).

The king of Syria sent word to the king of Israel, “. . . I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” The king of Israel “tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?’” Elisha then sent this message: “Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:6-8). By following God’s instructions through Elisha to dip seven times in the Jordan, Naaman was healed by the power of God.

A lesson in humility

Both Jacob and the king of Israel realized they could not do what was asked of them. Joseph, however, could have misused his great power to have his brothers’ heads, but he rightly deferred to the One who said, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

Occasionally we all need a refresher course in humility: to admit that God has His place and we have ours—and they are not the same!

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

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Skewed Views of God

The Book of Psalms records several wrong views of God:

1) No God

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds . . .” (Psalm 14:1).

How can someone say there is no God, in view of all the evidence to the contrary? “Design demands a designer.”

2) A God of limited knowledge

“They slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans. They have said, ‘The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob pay heed . . . . He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see? He who chastens the nations, will He not rebuke . . .?” (Psalm 94:6-7, 9-10).

3) A God of limited power

“Then they spoke against God; they said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out, and streams were overflowing; can He give bread also? Will He provide meat for His people?’” (Psalm 78:19-20).

In other words, God took care of us yesterday, but can He do it again today?

4) A God in man’s image

God expresses His displeasure with those who choose evil companions and who engage in evil talk, lies, and slander. “These things you have done, and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you . . .” (Psalm 50:21).

Psalm 139 serves as a needed corrective to all the above. The psalmist presents God as the Exalted One who knows all, who is everywhere, who made us, and who cares about how we think.

Now that’s God!

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

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“I am with you”

Comforting assurance

By using a Bible computer program you can type in the words, “I am with you,” and in just moments the screen displays every passage where this phrase is found. If you count all references to “I am with you” plus “I will be with you,” you will discover more than 20 occurrences altogether.

A study of these in context is impressive—and reassuring. Over and over God pledges His presence and His help to His people. Among those who received this assurance (and who really needed the encouragement) were Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Jeremiah, and Paul (Genesis 26:3, 24; 28:15; 31:3; Exodus 3:12; Deuteronomy 31:23; Joshua 1:5; 3:7; Judges 6:16; Jeremiah 1:8, 19; 15:20; Acts 18:9-10). God also encouraged Israel with this promise through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Haggai (Isaiah 41:10;  43:1-2, 5; Jeremiah 30:10-11; 42:11; 46:28; Haggai 1:13; 2:4).

In time of crisis

God promised to be with them in view of their facing tremendous difficulties and challenges. The normal human reaction to such hurdles would be discouragement and fear. In fact in several of these passages God says, “Do not fear,” along with the promise, “I am with you.” In other words, Since I am with you, therefore you need not fear. And so we can say with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me . . .” (Psalm 23:4).

The promise of God’s presence and help is conditional on our cooperating with His will (1 Kings 11:38; 14:7-11). Let’s so live that God can always be with us.

God’s presence may be invisible, but it is real. His promise “I am with you” may be ancient, but it isn’t dated. We need to hear those words today as much as those in earlier times. We too face great trials as we obey Christ. But as Jesus said in giving us the Great Commission, “. . . I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

To the end of the age.

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

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The Other Love Chapter

Beyond the familiar

Bible students call 1 Corinthians 13 the great Love Chapter of the Bible. It is well named.

Less familiar, however, is another chapter on love. Although not all of 1 John 4 is devoted to the subject, about two-thirds of it is.

While there are nine occurrences of the noun “love” (agapē) in 1 Corinthians 13, the word is used 12 times in 1 John 4. The verb for love (agapaō) is not found in 1 Corinthians 13, but it occurs 14 times in 1 John 4. If you add the noun and verb forms of love in 1 John 4, it comes to a grand total of 26!

What love from above should lead to

Statistics aside, what does 1 John 4 teach about love?

  • It all starts with God: “. . . love is from God . . . . God is love” (vv. 7, 8).
  • God loved first: “. . . not that we loved God, but that He loved us…” (v. 10). “We love, because He first loved us” (v. 19).
  • God proved His love: “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (v. 9).
  • We are to reflect His love: “. . . if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11).
  • Hatred toward others prevents fellowship with God: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (v. 20).

Love in two dimensions

First Corinthians 13 will always remain one of the very greatest of all passages. And yet a study of 1 John 4 along with it gives us a fuller picture. While Paul focuses on the horizontal dimension of love as expressed toward one another, John emphasizes the dynamics of how the horizontal affects the vertical–loving God–and vice versa.

The two dimensions cannot be separated.

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

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Having the Heart of God Toward Sinners

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The main character of the book of Jonah is not Jonah, but God. Jonah tries to escape God’s order to preach to Nineveh by heading the opposite direction. By means of the storm at sea and the fish that swallowed Jonah, God compels the reluctant prophet to carry out his mission.

Like and unlike

Like Jesus, Jonah was from Galilee (2 Kings 14:25). Also Jesus compared His time in the tomb with Jonah’s “three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster” (Matthew 12:40).

Jonah may have been like Jesus in some ways, but how different his attitude! God sent both Jonah and Jesus on a mission. Jesus went willingly and yearned to see people turn from their sins. Jonah was keenly disappointed when the Ninevites repented, because now he wouldn’t have the pleasure of seeing God punish them!

Jonah’s problem was not that he misunderstood God’s compassionate nature. He understood it very well: “. . . for I knew that You are a gracious God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness . . .” (Jonah 4:2). This proves that one can have orthodox theology while harboring a rotten attitude.

Learning from Jonah’s experience

We don’t know what happened to Jonah after this, but it is God who has the last word: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than   120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:11).

Both Jonah and the Ninevites needed to repent. If we humble ourselves in penitent obedience, we too will enjoy the benefits of His grace–and we can begin to reflect toward others His great compassionate heart.

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

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The God of Happy Endings

What God can do

Jacob thought his son Joseph was dead, but 22 years later they were happily reunited (Genesis 37:31-35; 46:28-30).

With Egyptian chariots in hot pursuit and the Red Sea in front of them, Israel panicked. But God opened an escape route through the sea—then brought the walls of water crashing down on their pursuers (Exodus 14-15).

After losing her husband and sons, Naomi thought God was against her—until she realized He had been working out His wonderful plan all along (Book of Ruth).

On Friday Jesus’ enemies had Him nailed to the cross. But on Sunday His tomb was empty! (Luke 23-24)

And He’s still doing it!

God’s promises to those who suffer for His sake may seem too good to be true (1 Peter 1:3-9).

But just wait!

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Not Far

Closer than I thought

Many years ago we were at an airport to see some friends off on their trip.

It dawned on me I hadn’t seen our four-year-old Andy lately. I looked in every direction, only to realize he was standing right beside me—and I had been unconsciously patting his head all along!

Ever near

God wants people to “seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

“Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet” (Tennyson).

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).

He truly wants to be found.

But we must seek Him.

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

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