Category: Theology

Predict the Sunrise?

It’s unclear whether certain events in the Bible happened through miraculous intervention or by natural causes.   

I am not talking today about clear-cut miracles like Jesus turning water into wine. Rather, I’m talking about when people who do believe in miracles have a difference of opinion about whether a particular event in the Bible had natural or supernatural causes. Let’s look at one of these.

Today’s episode happened just before a key battle between the Israelites, led by David, and the Philistines. David received his marching orders from God:

 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army (2 Samuel 5:24)

There are two possible explanations for the sound of marching described here.

  1. God made a marching sound supernaturally to scare the daylights out of the Philistines.
  2. The rustling noise in the trees came from a normal gale wind which just happened to be at the right time and was noisy enough to provide a cover for the Israelites to stealthily advance on their enemies.

I used to think that there was an enormous difference between the two choices. But now I don’t think whether it’s #1 or #2 makes any difference. Why?

 Obviously, #1 describes a clear cut supernatural miracle. But now let’s look more closely at #2.

If a strong gale hit just when Israel’s enemies were ready to attack, was that a coincidence?  No, it was God who synchronized and directed the weather patterns so that that a gale would show up at the exact needed time.

There are no coincidences with God. Indeed, since God synchronizes all events, there’s not even such a thing as a random occurrence.  

We think we see unchanging laws of nature. But it is stunning to realize that these “laws” are only “laws” because Christ directly sustains them:

 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.    (Colossians 1:17)

So sometimes God is actively using his usual laws of nature to achieve his purposes, and at other times he overrides them to accomplish his will. Thus I see no difference between “natural” or “supernatural”: Either way, it’s still directed by God.    

Some folks think God set the universe to run like a timepiece and took his hands off. But what may appear to be a timepiece is sustained moment to moment by God!

Try this thought experiment: What if the time the sun will rise tomorrow were as unpredictable as exactly what the weather will be tomorrow?  Is the predictability of sunrises a “law of nature” that will never ever change — or is it what God has nicely set up and actively sustains for the time being? He did promise:

 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

For now, it suits God’s purposes of grace and mercy to keep the seasons consistent, allowing us to plan, to have agriculture, and to not face total famine and chaos. But it’s an error to assume that it will always be so.

Those who deny that God can sovereignly overrule his natural laws at his good pleasure are in for a big shock. We aren’t told all the details, but I take seriously that the Bible says that various laws of physics/astrophysics/astronomy will undergo major changes.

The earth will not endure as is forever.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1).

We will get a revamped earth with new laws. We can only guess at exactly how these will work but something will never change: we will always have a good omnipotent loving God who is always working to achieve his purposes. Now and forever. He invites us to join in this now and forever adventure by believing in his son Jesus!

“They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from god.” Elwood Blues

Today’s title is a quote from Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers. The mission from God for Jake and Elwood was to save the Catholic orphanage where they were raised from foreclosure.

Luke 4:40-43 shows how Jesus was focused on his mission. The folks in Capernaum were begging him to stay in their town because of all the healing that he was doing. They were amazed to see how he was curing people with high fevers and sickness.  Their attitude was “Please stick around. We can’t get enough of this! Don’t leave!”  But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent. (Luke 4:43)

Though the townspeople in Capernaum pleaded, Jesus could not let himself be distracted from his own mission of spreading the good news to all the towns in the area.

Sometimes we need to clarify just what our mission is….and stick to it.

The organizing expert Marie Kondo asks, “Does it bring you joy?” She’s talking about whether to keep or discard material things, but joy can be a key in our own mission. We believe in the Holy Spirit and we know that one of his fruits is joy. So we find out which activities are bringing us joy, and especially those which bring others joy, as a way of seeing whether they fit into our mission from God.

Here’s two tests of whether it’s the Holy Spirit talking. If you’re feeling led by guilt into doing something, accompanied by a definite lack of joy, it’s probably not the Holy Spirit!  But when what you’re going to do fills you with joy, even when you know it won’t necessarily be easy, there is a good chance that it is the Holy Spirit.

When we are pursuing our mission from God and seeking what God is sending us to do, we have the privilege of walking in God’s favor:  

 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.
(Psalm 90:17)

Then, today’s opening quote activates in our lives:
“They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God.”  

Before Easter: How ticked off did Jesus get?

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:67-68)

In our men’s Bible study we wondered whether Jesus would have felt seriously ticked off at those clowns who were hitting him. Was he furious? How badly would he want to retaliate?

Or was Jesus so far above all our own normal reactions, so ethereal, with a beatific look on his face, that he blessedthe spitters without one second of hesitation, even as the saliva dripped down his face?

We know that Jesus was a real man who underwent the same temptations we did. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

 So there was something real about Jesus resisting the temptation to bust their heads when he had the chance to retaliate. He had real gut reactions to things. Yet he did learn how to control his reactions: Picture him learning to handle the situations he faced while working as a carpenter — like how to ask for payment from someone who had not paid their bill on time without blowing his top and screaming at them and getting red in the face and yelling “Don’t you realize who I am ??”

His training consummated with being able to deal with the people who wanted him dead. He knew ahead of time that he would get outrageous, lying, unjust opposition. Yet he knew that death was an important part of God’s plan for him and for the world. So he was thoroughly convinced that the spitters and mockers were part of God’s will. Because of that deep conviction, he could take what they dished out without lashing out and busting their heads.

  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9) His obedience led all the way to Jesus’ death on a cross. And this life of submission and restraint is our rescue.  We are thankful that Jesus put up with beating and mockery without taking revenge into his own hands. For on Easter he was raised from the dead bringing us eternal salvation!

Can we slice God up?

The slices on this pizza correspond to the attributes of God. The most popular, of course, is love.

 But God’s attributes also include holiness, justice and righteousness. We all have fallen so far short on any of those three that we deserve to be doomed.

That’s why I am glad that love is the most vital attribute of God.   

Because think of what we deserve. We deserve justice and falling under wrath because of our rebellion. Thankfully, God’s love in Christ frees us from judgment. Jesus paid the debt we each owe for our rebellion. Indeed, our rebellion carries a high price. It’s higher than the national debt, which is $27 trillion as I write this. Yet for each of us who believes, we know that Jesus paid the price. God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Forgiven, we are free to enjoy a life that is on the safe side of God’s holiness, justice, and righteousness.

But there’s a danger nowadays. All God’s attributes on the pie together make up what he is like. But people try to cut God up into slices.   And when they do, the only slice that they take is love. Now, the scripture does say God is love but it most definitely does not say God is only love.

When that slicing happens, we end up with a marshmallow love! All squishy with no firmness or character. This kind of love says that whatever feels right to us….is good.

If God has a marshmallow love I can be a monstrous whiner and complainer and filled with lust and not care in the least about changing.

But since God’s love is inseparable from all his other qualities, this means that God has a lion love. There is something quite fearsome about the love of God. God’s lion love is a jealous love. We smile when we think how that means he is protective of his people, but we are filled with reverent awe when we think of God’s fierce anger when we love other things more than he!

Jesus is the lamb of God but he is also the lion of Judah. When we grasp both God’s fierceness and  his compassion, then we can rejoice and be secure in knowing that our passionate God loves us with an unwavering love.

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31b)