THANKSGIVING. It’s finally over. The food was cooked, everybody is still full from Thursday, and there are enough leftovers to carry us into 2021. Perhaps, as you sat around the table, you may have partaken in the tradition of going around the room as each person shared one thing he or she is thankful for. If you’re anything like me, that’s one of the most stressful parts of the entire day. I always wonder if my answer will sound too shallow or if I’ll forget something important. Heaven forbid someone else take my answer and leave me scrambling for a new original answer! Okay, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but the point remains. Why is it often so difficult to give thanks? As I think back on hearing the prayers of my daughter when she was just a wee thing, I think about how innocent she was. She would spend several minutes just thanking God for everything…and I mean everything. She’d thank Him for family, our pets, fresh air, cars to drive in, sidewalks to walk on so we don’t get hit by cars, the random rock she saw and kicked, the dirt for earthworms to live in, etc. It just came so easy and, best of all, it was a heartfelt and genuine thankfulness for all that God has made.
Perhaps innocence has more to do with it than we would think. In the garden, Adam and Eve were truly innocent and all was good (Genesis 1:31). According to Scripture, everything that has breath is to praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6). Yet, as soon as sin entered the world, instead of joyful innocent and a heart of thanksgiving, we see shame and blame taking center stage (Genesis 3:8-12). Instead of thanking God for His goodness, Adam blamed Him for giving him Eve. Imagine standing around the dinner table taking pot shots at everyone instead of giving thanks. It sounds like a miserable gathering. Why, then, do we often find ourselves treating our gathering to God in such a way? Have we lost our joy (Psalm 68:3)? Have we forsaken our innocence (Matthew 10:16)?
Just because the holiday will soon fade away to the previous page of the calendar, that doesn’t mean our season of thanksgiving should fade away into obscurity as well. We have so much to be thankful for! There are two passages in particular that, when used in conjunction, should invoke a sense of pure thankfulness that never ceases.
The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 13:41-42, NASB
By this the love of God was revealed in us, that God has sent His only Son into the world so that we may live through Him.
1 John 4:9, NASB
God owes us nothing. He created us, charged us with a heavenly charge, and we utterly failed. He would be perfectly to simply destroy us. However, in His mercy and love, He glorifies Himself in a way that benefits us greatly. By the Father sending the Son to suffer a gruesome beating that culminated in His death, Christ’s blood was shed for the remission of our sins (Hebrews 9:22) that we may spend eternity giving honor, glory, and praise (Revelation 7:12). As believers in the risen Christ, that eternity begins now. As the stressors of daily life seek to hold you down, remember who it is that has promised we can be content in all things (Philippians 4:11-13). As difficult as earthly circumstances may become, be mindful that we possess a joyful Hope. The Spirit dwells within and provides us with joy (Galatians 5:22) even if we’re not always promised happiness. In time of turmoil, we still have peace (Ephesians 2:14). When we are weak, He has promised to be our strength (Isaiah 41:10). When we feel alone, He has promised to always be with us (Deuteronomy 31:8). When we are weary, He has promised us rest (Matthew 11:28). Truly, we have much to be thankful for!
As you go about your day, continually meditate upon the Word (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2). Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and in all things give thanks, as this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Thanksgiving is more than just a holiday. It’s a lifestyle and a worldview. In all things, give thanks!
HOLLOW. It’s a term that conveys a sense of emptiness. I remember, when I was a kid, my parents bought me a large chocolate Easter bunny. I was excited as I bit into the ears (don’t we all?) only to be met with instant disappointment. While expected a thick chunk of milk chocolate, I was met with a thin layer of cheap chocolate and a mouthful of hollow center. While that may not be the best example of gratitude toward a free gift, it is a prime example of how unexpected hollowness makes one feel. Oftentimes, those suffering from depression will liken their low points as a feeling of hollowness. Not only does being hollow represent emptiness, but it also can imply a state of deadness. For instance, think of a dry tree in the woods that has been hollowed out over the years. It is completely dead, bears no fruit, and yet remains standing alone in the woods.
5 Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? 6 When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?
Zechariah 7:5-6, NASB
In the above example, we see rigid fasting and acts of worship. However, they were empty. They were hollow. Far from being an acceptable form of worship, later in the chapter, we see that God did not hear them. He had spoken His law to them and they received it not. Similarly, God did not receive what they brought to the table. It was not true worship meant for Him. Everything they did was for themselves. As Matthew Henry puts it in his commentary, “There was the form of duty, but no life, or soul, or power in it. Holy exercises are to be done to God, looking to his word as our rule, and his glory as our end, seeking to please him and obtain his favour; but self was the centre of all their actions.”
Is “hollow” a term you would use to describe your spiritual life? Is your worship hollow? I think it’s safe to say we’ve all felt hollow at times. From my own personal experience, I’ve found myself simply reciting lyrics to a worship song. I’ve found myself tuning out during a sermon. I’ve found myself silently hoping the worship leader wouldn’t ask everyone to stand for the next song. While it may be the case, I don’t think I’m alone in this. There are times in my life where I just don’t feel like it. What is it? Exactly! “It” is literally anything having to do with worship. In those moments, I just don’t feel like it. So, what makes me any different than the casual atheist who is only at church because his parents want him there? While there is no remorse among the atheist, by the grace of God, I am convicted of this every time “it” sneaks up. Our bodies are temples. While the unbeliever’s temple is hollow, void of any real god (Psalm 115:4-7), believers have the indwelling of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). It’s the Spirit who drives us to worship in joyful faith (Galatians 5:25). It’s also the Spirit who convicts when we may lapse into the draw of the flesh (John 6:18). While there is no hope in the life of the atheist, we have a great hope (2 Corinthians 3:12).
There may come times where we feel hollow. It’s during these times that we must rest in the promises of God, trust the prompting of the Spirit, and put our belief into practice. I’m convinced we fall into these moments when we begin to think of God as an academic topic, and worship becomes another action that we’re supposed to do. However, God is no mere topic for a textbook. He is a great and mighty God (Isaiah 9:6). He is the Creator of all things (Colossians 1:16) and is worthy of all praise (Psalm 145:3) and glory (Psalm 115:1). If you are currently in a place where worship is a struggle, let this serve as an encouragement. We not only owe it to God, but He has given us the joyful privilege of doing so. He has called us out of darkness and into the light that we may proclaim his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9).
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 6:1, NASB
On the flip side of feeling hollow, there is the equal danger of being hollow while feeling fulfilled. This comes in the form of self-righteousness and pride. People tend to desire acceptance and approval among their peers. This is a natural desire for us. Recognizing this can greatly help avoid falling into the trap of merely appearing holy. After all, we’re warned that pride goes before the fall (Proverbs 16:18). It would be a bitter irony to go from feeling hollow while being filled, to feeling filled while being filled, to feeling filled while being hollow, only to go to feeling hollow while being hollow.
As you work out your faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), remember who it is that is worthy of glory and honor and power (Revelation 4:11). Enjoin yourself to the church in fellowship with the saints (Hebrews 10:25), submitting to the teaching of your elders (Hebrews 13:17), and abide in Christ (John 15:4), lest you be taken captive by empty and hollow deceit (Colossians 2:8).
CHOICE. It’s such an enticing word. For most, it implies a sense of freedom. Yet, at the same time, it can be one of the most burdensome words to ever exist, as it can also imply responsibility and accountability. The primary theme of this article is going to be the sovereignty of God. In particular, we are going to go over man’s role in regard to the sovereignty of God. There are three basic positions on the subject:
1) If man has free will, God cannot truly be sovereign
2) If God is sovereign, man cannot be held accountable for his actions, as he has no free will
3) God is sovereign, yet man is still accountable for his actions
I adhere to the third option (I know, quite the shocker!). It’s my hope that, by the end of the post, all who read this will feel the same way. Before we get into man, we must begin with God. We know God is sovereign because the Scriptures tell us so. Before we go into the Scriptural backing, let’s define sovereign. Dictionary.com defines sovereign as “having supreme rank, power, or authority.” Scripture fully supports this idea when it says God sovereignly rules over all (Psalm 103:19) and works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). He rules over all the kingdoms of the nations (2 Chronicles 20:6) and no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2). We can clearly see that God is in control at all times. He is sovereign!
It is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things but that He does so always and without exception.
This sovereignty flows into all areas. Nothing escapes it. As Psalm 103:19 said, “His sovereignty rules over all.” In this case, all means all. This isn’t about all types of things or all of a certain category. This is about all of creation. Every facet of creation is intricately controlled by God. From the casting of lots (Proverbs 16:33), to the sparrow that falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29), to the vapors of the earth and weather conditions (Psalm 135:6-7), He controls all. Even Paul writes of being set apart from his mother’s womb and called to preach among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16).
Most people don’t take issue with the teaching of God’s sovereignty so long as it is spoken of in these terms. Up until now, all the verses have been describing God and leaving man out of the picture. Man naturally likes to live a guilt free life. Nobody likes a buzz kill. It is unfortunate that, even by many in the Church, God is viewed as sovereign so long He doesn’t interfere with our own free will. Such a concept is entirely unbiblical and is to be rejected. Not only does heaven and earth fall under the sovereignty of God but so do we as people. The Lord rules over all things; even mankind. This becomes no clearer than in the predetermined plan of the cross.
this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (Acts 2:23, NASB)
Even the crucifixion was ordained by God. Notice what is taking place in the verse above. It says that godless men will put him to death. Godless men will nail him to a cross. Both of these things imply man will make the choice to perform a wicked act. However, take note that it only takes place because of the predetermined plan of God. It also speaks of His foreknowledge. Don’t be confused. God didn’t ordain His plan based on choices He knew man would make. Rather, He knew the choices man would make because He foreordained it to be so.
For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. (Acts 4:27-28, NASB)
This just drives home the previous point. Both Herod and Pontius Pilate had gathered together to go against Christ. In fact, they were not alone. Scripture says the Gentiles and people of Israel had gathered as well. There were countless people rising up against Christ. This was of their own doing and their own choices. They had made the decision to put Jesus to death for his claims. Again, however, notice that it says they were only doing whatever God’s hand and purpose had predestined to occur. While they were making their own choices in life, there was only one way it would play out. God had decreed it to be so and that was the end of it.
Another example in Scripture of God’s sovereignty mixing with man’s choices is in the story of Joseph, in Genesis 37:18-22. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the passage. It’s the part where Joseph’s brothers are conspiring to kill him. This was a free and open dialogue between siblings. Their discussion wasn’t being coerced or pushed in any direction. It wasn’t being moderated. They were freely coming up with a plan to murder Joseph. At the same time, Reuben took it upon himself to talk them into sparing his life and throwing him into a ditch, or pit of some sort, instead. On the surface, it appears they are free to do as they wished with nothing else to lean on other than their own desires. While it’s true that they were coming up with this plan on their own, there is more to the story.
Joseph was rescued, sold into slavery, and eventually took on a prestigious position under the pharaoh. None of this was by accident. Scripture is clear that God had a plan and that plan was good (Genesis 50:20). After all, we’ve been given the promise that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
While Joseph’s brothers were free in the choices they made and the actions they took, they only made these choices because God had decreed it to be so. God is always in charge. Sometimes He actively takes part in an event such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah whereas most times, He allows man to freely make decisions and choices. However, even when left to freely make decisions, they are always within the constraints of God’s sovereign plan and purpose. Why then do so many cling to the false premise that God is limited in His sovereignty when it comes to matters of salvation?
To argue that God is “trying His best” to save all mankind, but that the vast majority of men will not let Him save them, is to imply that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent.
A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God
While I firmly believe salvation falls under the sovereign decrees of God, and I believe Scripture when it says all who are appointed to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48), I don’t intend on getting into a lesson on God’s Election. While it is true that only those whom God has called unto Himself will respond to the call of Christ, I want to focus on those whom He does not call unto Himself. Are these men condemned because of God? Should they be given a free pass? Can they possibly be guilty if they were never given a fair chance or opportunity? No, no, and yes!
While they are indeed condemned, it is certainly not because of God. These men will never choose Christ because God has ordained that they will not but this does not mean God is responsible. Each man is still held accountable for his actions, as we saw earlier in the cases of the crucifixion, as well as in the example of Joseph’s brothers. There is no free pass to be given because each man is guilty to begin with. Compatibilism is the term used to describe man’s responsibility as it meshes with God’s sovereignty.
One would be remiss to think man has no responsibility for his actions. God has made very clear that the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, as is the wickedness of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:20). Just as our words justify, so do they condemn (Matthew 12:37). Throughout the totality of Scripture, there is a clear distinction being taught between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. While there is no doubt that God is sovereign, and all things only come to pass because He ordained it to be so, it is equally as true that man makes his own choices without being forced or coerced. Man’s choice will always be the outcome that God decreed, but man will gladly make it. This is because man is bound by his nature and that nature is wretched and fallen. Our hearts are evil from our youth (Genesis 8:21) and are more deceitful than all else (Jeremiah 17:9). The unregenerate love darkness (John 3:19) and hate the Light (John 3:20).
If it sounds totally depraved, that’s because it is. That’s the state of the unregenerate natural man. We simply follow our nature. Before salvation, we were slaves to sin (Romans 6:17). We had no choice but to give our all to sin. However, this was not done in a begrudging manner, as we did it with pleasure. Our hearts were evil. Our hearts were deceitful. Our deeds were evil and we hated the Light. We hid from the Light lest our evil deeds should be exposed (John 3:20). Our natural inclination was to sin. We were in bondage to sin but we enjoyed every minute of it. This is why we are still found guilty for our sins despite following God’s sovereignly decreed plan.
While once enslaved to sin, we are now enslaved to God (Romans 6:22-23). The unregenerate man, despite being in full accord with God’s sovereign decrees, is still found guilty and deserves death. He works as a slave to sin and, as a result, he will be paid death for wages. It is what we all deserved as we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, God chose us and called us unto Himself. This does not make us perfect but it does make us His own. When we sin, we are covered by the blood of Christ. It’s the blood that justifies and saves (Romans 5:9) in accordance with God’s calling and election (Romans 8:30).
We still sin daily in our battle with the flesh but we will not see Hell for it. We have been justified by the blood of Christ. His blood alone has fully atoned for our sins. There is no more debt. The blood was not merely hypothetical, but actual. In Christ’s sacrifice, there was a substitutionary atonement taking place on behalf of all who would put their faith in the death, burial, and resurrection. However, just because we are covered by the blood does not mean we are to abuse our justification. Paul makes it very clear that we are not to sin so that the grace we fall under may increase (Romans 6:1-2). We are now free of the chains of the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). This is where we differ from the unregenerate man. We have a new nature in Christ whereas he does not.
Reader, do you love God? If so, do you feel as if you are being forced to love Him against your will? Just as we love God and desire to serve Him with all we have, so does the unregenerate man hate God and desires to hide from the Light. Even if an unsaved individual says he is not at war with anyone, his refusal to submit to the authority of God proves otherwise. A man cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). He is either for God or he is against God (Matthew 12:30). Both sides serve their masters willingly yet both sides do so only because God has declared and ordained it to be so. God is sovereign yet we are responsible.
…we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined.
WARFARE. It’s an ugly thing with very real consequences. Far too many soldiers have been brought home under the cover of the flag. Some never made it home at all. Having spent 20 years in the military, and four deployments to the Persian Gulf, I understand what goes into preparing for war. A service member isn’t just given a weapon and told to go to work. There’s months, sometimes years, of training involved. My first two years in the military were spent in training. As with all service members, I started off in boot camp. Over a period of eight weeks, we were broken down and rebuilt in a military culture. For the remainder of these two years, I was dedicated to learning the intricacies of the AEGIS weapon system, including the capabilities, limitations, and technical details of how to operate and repair it. Even after reporting to my first ship, there was still more training. There’s safety, basic seamanship, damage control, etc.
I’m reminded of my first deployment in 2003. We were still in the recent aftermath of 9/11. President Bush had just given an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein saying he could either leave Iraq, or that his refusal, “will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.” That time came in the middle of the night as my ship was ordered to send several Tomahawk Cruise Missiles into Iraq. The remainder of that deployment was spent with a heightened awareness that we were living in a time of war. We were required to carry our gas mask kit everywhere we went. Each kit contained atropine and 2-PAM chloride in case we encountered a Chemical/Biological/Radiation (CBR) environmental attack. I vividly remember waking up in the middle of the night hearing the alarm for General Quarters (a condition that is set when the ship is either under attack or is in need of all hands to man their stations to save the ship). I went from being sound asleep in my rack to hearing everyone yelling to ensure nobody was still sleeping. Sailors were flipping on lights and running through passageways, boots still in hand and only being halfway dressed, in an effort to get to their GQ station. We went from most Sailors being asleep in their racks while the night watch held things down, to being fully manned and the ship’s material condition being set for watertight integrity, in what I seem to recall being roughly seven minutes. Thankfully, it was all just a drill set in motion by our Commanding Officer. We had been routinely taking over 15 minutes during our previous drills and he wanted to see what we would do when we thought we were truly under attack.
By now, you might be wondering what all of this has to do with Christianity. Why am I taking us all on a trip down memory lane? It’s because, all too often, Christians live their lives as if it’s all just a drill. Far too many have the approach of “let go and let God” instead of having a spirit of diligence (2 Peter 1:10), on the alert (1 Peter 5:8), standing firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). I remember being told I study things to death and that I should just love Jesus. While there is certainly a danger in treating God as an academic topic, searching the Scriptures is commendable (Acts 17:11) and is our primary way of coming to know Him, while also equipping us to identify and flee from error.
If you were told you were going to be dropped into the Middle East as part of a convoy, I think it would be safe to assume you would want to know everything you possibly could. You would suddenly be an expert on geographical topography, statistics of attacks in the region, proper body armor, convoy movements, weapon familiarization, etc. Any knowledge which might increase your chances of making it home alive would be welcomed and valued. Why, then, do we not treat our daily lives the same way? Scripture is very clear that we’re in a very real warfare environment (2 Corinthians 10:4). Instead of fighting against earthly forces, we’re fighting against the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and the spiritual forces of wickedness (Ephesians 6:12).
Just as with military preparation, we need to prepare ourselves for the spiritual battle that we will be waging our entire lives. It’s an ongoing battle that would lead any to the point of fatigue and failure if left to their own devices. But God has not left us ill-equipped. In the military, the responsibility of leadership is to man, train, and equip. To apply that analogy to our Christian walk really isn’t that far of a stretch. In fact, there are many similarities. I’d like to take a moment to review each point.
MANNED: No Christian is called to walk alone. God has given us His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it (Matthew 16:18). We are a band of brothers and sisters in arms who are called to sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17). It’s through the encouragement of fellow saints (Hebrews 10:25) and holding one another accountable (Matthew 18:15-19) that we can count ourselves as properly manned in this fight.
TRAINED: It’s this point that I’ve been harping on since the beginning of this article. No service member gets dropped into war without being thoroughly trained beforehand. However, just because one is trained doesn’t mean there is no longer a need for continual training. Toward the end of my career, while I was the one training my Sailors, I was continually learning as well. The same goes for our combat readiness when it comes to spiritual warfare. Just because we may consider ourselves to already know about something doesn’t mean we can’t use the reminder (1 Peter 1:12-13). On a practical level, how often have you found yourself tuning out of a sermon that’s on a passage you’ve been over a thousand times? This is absolute arrogance and serves as evidence as to why we need to continually be in the Word. If the threat were bullets flying into your chest, you would never approach training in such a way. Yet, when the threat becomes eternity in hell, there seems to be an attitude of complacency. Perhaps this is because hell seems like an academic topic and the actual threat is taken lightly. Then again, maybe it’s because we have security in Christ and feel it’s not that important. If even the apostles refused to hold such a position, I highly encourage anyone who may be entertaining it to rethink where they stand on such matters. Do you know better than Peter or Paul? Our manual is the bible and we’ve been called to study it with diligence while accurately handling it as the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Submit to your church elders and be involved in the body of Christ. Through this, you will not be relegated to training in isolation. You’ll be afforded the joyful privilege of training as a cohesive unit, joined together in the power of our risen Lord!
EQUIPPED: Just as a military leader can hold the knowledge and training experience, if he neglects to properly equip his Sailors, he has failed them. God has taken care of everything from start to finish. He has given us His Church to be manned. He has given us His inspired Word that we may be trained. He has also given us his Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16) that we may be properly equipped. It’s only through the Spirit that we can truly understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) and be guided in all truth (John 16:13). By the Spirit revealing the truth to us in accordance with Scripture, we are thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3:17) to perform every good work that is pleasing to God (Colossians 1:10).
Throughout my career, we had a saying: Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train. Through the continual drilling of ourselves, we can be ever ready for the real battle. Paul ran the race in such a way that he would win (1 Corinthians 9:24). He fought, not as if he were shadow boxing (1 Corinthians 9:26), but as if he were truly fighting the enemy. How do we prepare and train? It’s through the reading, memorization, and meditating on the Word that we can prepare ourselves for battle. This is exactly how Jesus overcame Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Each time, Satan tried to tempt Jesus that he may lure Him into sin. Yet, in each desperate attempt of the evil one, it was the authoritative proclamation of the rightly divided Word (2 Timothy2:15) that he was defeated.
May we continually press on and fight the good fight of faith and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12). If you feel you may be neglecting your spiritual training, I hope you’ve found encouragement in this reading. I exhort us all to take seriously the charge to assemble with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25), that we may remain steadfast in times of trial (James 1:12), and persevere until the end (Matthew 24:13) that we may one day be with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4) and know Him fully as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
NOT TO US. We live in a world that screams, “US!” Whether it be our job success, latest toys, or life experiences, the world says to always look out for #1. The sheer number of lawsuits in the headlines proves this. We live in a world of self-entitlement where we expect to be treated the same, if not better, than everybody else. If we do something well, we want our praise. If we mess up, we want to be thanked for at least trying and giving it our best shot. To us be the praises. To us be thanks. To us be the glory!
Yet, Psalm 115 opens up with a distinctly different wording. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory. This is a recurring theme throughout the Psalms.
“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.”(Psalm 29:2, NASB) “Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name;”(Psalm 96:8a, NASB)
God’s glory is not to be shared with anyone. It belongs to Him alone.
“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.”(Isaiah 48:11, NASB)
From a very early age, we’re taught to share with others. Yet, God is not some child being taught how to interact with other children. God is the Creator of the universe. Colossians 1:16 says all things were created by Him, both in the heavens and on the earth. Psalm 115:15 states the same.
“God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.”(Psalm 47:8, NASB)
How can we expect our Ruler to share His glory? How can we expect anything from God at all? Are we worthy enough to lay claim to even the smallest inheritance? What does Romans 3:23 say? Does it say that all have sinned but still deserve credit for their efforts? No! It says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God! God owes us nothing. We have zero right to claim what is not ours. By nature, we are fallen beings who deserve nothing more than death and eternal damnation. We deserve outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Our God is in the heavens. He sits on His holy throne and rules over all of creation forever and ever. If all glory belongs to the Lord, it stands to reason that anything we might boast of is actually us attempting to rob God. Instead of giving honor and praise to the King, it is our attempt to play thief to the very One who gave us life. How arrogant can we be?!?!?! Yet, this is exactly what we see in Psalm 115:2. We see men taunting, “Where, now, is their God?” We can see the same in Psalm 42:10.
“As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”(Psalm 42:10, NASB)
Can such behavior and attitude really be excused by a holy and righteous God? Can a man go so far as to mock God and get away with it?
“Then my enemy will see, And shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the LORD your God?” My eyes will look on her; At that time she will be trampled down Like mire of the streets.”(Micah 7:10, NASB)
If we plan to go before God with such great audacity, be prepared to pay the price. Such a man may see death sooner rather than later.
“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker”(Isaiah 45:9a, NASB)
The question that begs to be asked is, “Is this really fair?” Would a loving God really care if we mess up? Won’t He forgive somebody in His love so long as that person tries to be good? After all, if we have already fallen short of the glory of God, shouldn’t such behavior be expected? To this I respond with questions of my own. Is it fair that we take God for granted in times of peace? Is it fair that we neglect to thank the very One who blesses us day after day? Even more so, is it fair that the Father would send His Son to die a brutal death on the cross so that guilty men could be reconciled to Him to spend eternity basking in God’s glory in heaven? No, fairness is hardly the question at all. Psalm 115:3 very plainly states that our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
The sovereignty of God is as much a part of His glory as any of His other attributes. God doesn’t need to consult man before acting (Ezekiel 36:22; Isaiah 40:13-14).
In His sovereignty, He created the angels, even those who fell. In His sovereignty, He created man and even decreed the Fall. In His sovereignty, He ordained to send His Son in a beautiful plan of redemption. Christ was no mere afterthought. Every last detail of life is because of God’s sovereign rule from the throne. In a sermon on Matthew 20:15, Charles Spurgeon stated:
There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation — the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands — the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne.
Charles Spurgeon (cited in “The Attributes of God” by A.W. Pink, pg. 34)
Arthur W. Pink said that:
Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things “after the counsel of His own will”.
Arthur W. Pink (The Attributes of God, pg. 34)
It is not in spite of all of this truth that we give God glory but BECAUSE of it. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. While God is righteous, holy, just, jealous, and wrathful, He is also love. It is because of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and truth that we proclaim His name to the masses and declare of His goodness. Our God is so vastly different than any other god (lowercase g). He is true. He is all knowing. He is sovereign. He is eternal. He is unchanging. He is holy. He is patient. He is good. He is merciful. He is gracious. He is faithful. He is loving. But most of all, He is alive.
In Psalm 115:4-7, we see a clear distinction between our God and the idols worshiped by the world. There could’ve been any number of ways in which to describe the idols but we see a very specific description being used. Ears that do not hear. Noses that do not smell. Hands that do not feel. Feet that cannot walk. Throats that remain silent. Imagine how insulting this would’ve been to the one who worshiped such an idol. After all, we don’t take too kindly when we hear people blaspheming our God. Honestly, I can fully understand how one would be insulted. That said, I care more about not insulting God than I do about insulting man. The Scripture is plain. I love the passage in 1 Kings 18 where we see the prophet Elijah challenging the worshipers of Baal. In verses 25-29, it says:
“25 So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” 26 Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. 27 It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” 28 So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. 29 When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:25-29, NASB)
The ESV actually translates verse 27 as “Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself…” When we look at this, we see some serious smack talk. While Elijah meant all of it as a taunt, to those worshiping Baal, it wouldn’t have been too far off from a very real possibility. In some ancient texts, Baal was known as one who would travel and fight wars. He was even reported as dying and coming back to life, hence the need to be awakened. Chances are, Elijah’s taunts would’ve gone right over their heads. Nevertheless, he mocked them with a purpose. He mocked them to show that there was no voice and no god to pay attention to them. Yet, they continued to plea for their god to answer them. They leapt around and began cutting themselves in an attempt to get Baal to answer. What happened next is nothing short of amazing!
“30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32 So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. 33 Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. 34 And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. 36 At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”(1 Kings 18:30-39, NASB)
God answered Elijah upon his first request. Not only did God accomplish what Baal could not but He accomplished even more. Whereas the Baal worshipers simply had to get him to consume the meat, Elijah had them completely drench the sacrifice in water before it was his turn. No, our God is far more powerful than a little water.
“21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”(Romans 1:21-23, NASB)
Mankind made idols in every fashion you could think of including images of other men. I’m reminded of when I lived in Japan. In Kamakura, there was a giant statue of Buddha. Further down the street, there was a temple with a golden Buddha. As you walked through the gardens, you could see little statues that were dressed in various articles of clothing. These statues represented the lost children of the individual worshipers. They would go and dress these statues in winter to keep them warm. It was sad on many different levels. I remember another temple where people were fighting to get close to the Buddha idol. They wanted to drop their money into the giant box in front of the statue. You had people in the back who were literally throwing money to the front hoping to be able to give to the idol. As I looked upon the Buddha statues, you could see they came in a variety of forms ranging from a peaceful chubby guy to a fiery warrior to a demon. However, they all had one thing in common: they were all depicting a man. They had reduced God to nothing more than an image of a man. Psalm 115:4 tells us that all who make them become like them. What does this mean? The idol is empty. It’s useless. It has no voice. It’s dead. All who worship idols become just like them. Idols may be made in the image of whatever form man concocts but man is ultimately just as dead as the idol they create. They have eyes but cannot see God. They have ears but cannot hear the gospel of Christ. They have noses but cannot smell the fragrant aroma of Christ’s sacrifice. They have hands that will never be cleansed. They have feet but do not run after God. They have throats but do not praise God. Then again, Psalm 115:7 tells us as much.
Many Christians read through these texts and wonder how a man could worship something he made with his own hands. The Scriptures address this same concern.
“9 Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. 10 Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? 11 Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. 12 The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. 13 Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. 14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.”(Isaiah 44:9-17, NASB)
It almost sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yet we see this taking place all the time. It may not look like what that passage is depicting but we see idolatry all the time in the form of worshiping celebrities. It may be in the form of wealth. Perhaps it looks like a desire to be in control of all things at all times. Yes, idols exist today and they are just as dead and powerless as they were back then. Why then do we fall before them time and time again? Why do we repeatedly turn to the vices of this fleeting world? Ask yourself if there is anything you place before God. Ask if there is anything you might run to with more excitement than you get at the thought of being able to come before the very presence of God in worship. I’m not saying it’s wrong to enjoy other things. I’m not saying you have to move into one of the rooms at your local church to ensure you never miss a meeting, service, or opportunity. In fact, it’s very possible to be doing everything the “textbook Christian” should be doing and still be wrong. I’ve seen people who appear to be as Godly as they come and that turned out to actually be the case. I’ve also seen people who turned out to be cleverly disguised. Though it appeared both were giving glory to God, one was just a wolf out to seek his own glory, while attempting to lure as many Christians away as he could. True knowledge. Discernment. Increased love. Approving of excellent things. Being sincere and blameless. Having the fruit of righteousness. This declares how the Christian should live. With all this in mind, I would urge such a person to continually check himself or herself, as it’s easy to become haughty and prideful. However, it all has a purpose. It’s meant to bring all glory and praise to God. When those feelings of pride may begin to sneak in, I’ve found Roman 9:22-26 helps snap things back into perspective.
“22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Romans 9:22-26, NASB)
As I began before, I’m simply asking you to quietly ponder if there is anything that excites you more than the opportunity to worship with other believers in the presence of God. There is only one God and He is alive! He has called us out of darkness and into the Light. He has removed our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. He has given us sight to see. He has given us ears to hear. He hears our prayers and answers them in the form of His grace. He preserves our hearts and keeps us in Him when we would so easily drift away otherwise. He planned, orchestrated, and carried out His redemptive story in Christ. He has saved us from eternity past, continues to save us from ourselves as we follow in obedience, and will one day save us from all forms of suffering and sorrow. Our God is alive and is worthy of our praise. Not to us, not to us, but to His name give glory! The Reformers held to a Latin phrase as should we all: “Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone!” Let us be as the psalmist as we say:
“I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Your name forever.”(Psalm 86:12, NASB)
Fame. Money. Popularity. Comfort. Peace. Tranquility. Recognition. Awards. All of these have something in common. They are some of the many different things people have a tendency to chase after. We live in a world where we’re told to chase our dreams. From our mothers telling us we can be anything we want to modern prosperity teachers touting the “name it, claim it” gospel, we’re constantly being indoctrinated into a world where we are chasing after something. Unfortunately, unless we have the right focus, all we wind up doing is chasing our tails.
Ecclesiastes 1:14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.
Solomon was intimately familiar with the concept of striving after futile things. He had everything he could ever want. He was the richest man in the world. Yet, amidst every worldly pleasure one could ever ask for, he was saddened. There was no joy to be found. It was all in vain. He was striving after the fleeting things of the world. He was chasing his own tail and going nowhere fast.
Scripture clearly guides us on what we are to pursue. We are to pursue peace and sanctification (Hebrews 12:14). We’re to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11). Indeed, the Christian has a calling to pursue a great many things but they can really all be wrapped up into two words: pursue Christ! While being extremely simple, it is anything but easy. Even Paul recognized the fact that he continued doing the things he hated (Romans 7:15). His nature had been changed but the spiritual warfare was very real. Though he knew he was not yet made perfect, he had a duty to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-13).
Will we struggle in this life? Of course! However, we can take great hope in the fact that the Spirit of God dwells within us (1 Corinthians 3:16). He has not left us alone! God has a plan for our lives and he will see it through. The responsibility of each and every one of us is to know what that will is and it can be found in the pages of Scripture and through prayer. Meditate upon the truth of God which has been set before you. Study the Word so that you can be made adequate, equipped for every good work (1 Timothy 3:17). Diligently work to be obedient children in the presence of the Father. Flee from what the world calls earnest desire and begin earnestly contending for the truth! Stop chasing your tails and start pursuing Christ!
There exists a world where disease is spreading rampantly. Daily, it claims its victims and ravages them from the inside out. Neighbors and friends fall prey to the devastating effects of this war while the vast majority does nothing to stop it. It’s slowly taking over loved ones and won’t stop until it overtakes the children. There is a form of resistance but, when compared to the general population, they are in the minority. Will the battle ever end, or will the denizens of this world ultimately be destroyed? Sadly, this world being described isn’t hypothetical or imaginary. Nor is it a distant land yet to be discovered. No, it’s the very world we live in and, as it stands, we are slowly destroying ourselves. Thankfully, there’s hope in the form of a cure. All we have to do is stand up.
You may be scratching your heads right about now, wondering what I’m talking about. Please read on and allow me to clarify. The world I’m referring to is called the church. It’s filled with people who call themselves Christians. The purpose of this post isn’t to differentiate between false converts and genuine Christians. Instead, I’d like us to focus on what I feel to be an even more pressing issue. After all, it’s to be expected that local church attendance will spike around Christmas and Easter. It’s even expected that some of the people in the pews may not really know the Lord regardless how long they’ve been going to church. What isn’t expected is that those who truly know Christ would sit down and forget to stand up. We’re called to teach all nations of Christ (Matthew 28:19). In a world that hates us (John 15:18) and is at war with God (Romans 8:7), we’re called to be the resistance (1 Corinthians 1:23). As for the final outcome, we know that not all will believe and that there will be an ultimate, eternal darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth for all who don’t know Christ.
Ask yourself when the last time was you were presented with an opportunity to preach Christ crucified. Did you take advantage of the opportunity or did you remain quiet? Did you stand up for Christ or did you sit down? What about the time before that? In fact, when was the last time you stood up at all? There are a number of reasons why we may remain quiet when opportunity presents itself. Some may get nervous. Others may have a fear of public speaking (SeeTHIS POSTfor related thoughts). While both of these are valid concerns, where do they stack up in the grand scheme of things?
Life isn’t lived inside a bubble in complete isolation from the outside world. For every action taken, not only does one need to accept the consequence for his life, but he also needs to accept responsibility for the impact it has on the lives of those around him. What will it take for you to see the importance of this subject matter? How many people will miss hearing the gospel unnecessarily? How many will die of the disease called silence? How widespread will the pandemic have to be before you become aware? If you are already aware, who will have to die before you care? Our nation has gone into lockdown over the deaths caused by COVID-19. Why, then, is the threat of eternal death not even on the radar of most?
Sadly, evangelism has steadily been reduced to the other guy’s job. It’s taken a back seat to the struggles of daily life and the already tight time constraints. As the bride of Christ, my fear is that we’ve simply lost our evangelistic fervor. How can this be when Scripture tells us the very souls of men are at stake? I love the way Charles Spurgeon had a zeal for evangelism. He understood God’s sovereignty, yet he also understood God’s natural method for bringing new saints to Himself. Spurgeon said,
“We believe in predestination; we believe in election and non-election: but, notwithstanding that, we believe that we must preach to men, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved,’ but believe not on him and ye be damned.”
There will come a day when the unsaved will hear of their inability to save themselves. Would you rather they hear it from you first or from God Himself on the day of judgment? Evangelism is a joyful privilege that encompasses our entire lives. It’s an opportunity to preach Christ crucified and extend the offer of eternal life to all who will believe. Is there no sweeter encouragement?
I’m at work and lunch has come. I’m reheating my Spanish rice in the microwave and can practically taste it already. It smelled like it had been prepared from scratch. Little did anybody know, I made it from a package that required nothing more than a little water and a heated pot. This thought had me reflecting on how it must’ve been before food came prepackaged. Nowadays, it seems everything comes in a box, can, or bag. The frozen foods section is stacked with everything you could imagine. How did people live before this innovation? What happened to the days when cooking was an art? What happened to the days when your every day household cook knew exactly what oregano or paprika tasted like and how much should be added? Sadly, they are gone forever. In our day and age, we have truly lost the art of cooking. We’ve lost the art of compiling all of the individual ingredients, slaving over the stove, and producing a delicious meal as the fruits of your labor.
Isn’t theology much like this? I’ve never seen more self-proclaimed theologians than I do today. Facebook and the rest of the internet are filled with them. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. In fact, I find it exciting that more and more people are gaining a hunger for biblical truth. However, just as we’ve lost the art of cooking, it seems as if we have also lost the art of theology. Just as grocery stores have made products readily available, the internet is a repository of a nearly infinite number of theological resources. After 5 minutes of searching, you can have a library filled with more sermons that you could listen to in a lifetime. There are entire websites dedicated to commentaries, frequently asked questions, sermons, e-books, and more. In fact, there are even sites dedicated to providing ready-made sermons for pastors who haven’t had time to prepare their own. It’s almost scary how readily available theological content has become. It’s all prepackaged nowadays. Gone are the days of pouring through the Scriptures and matching up the cross references. Gone are the hours, days, and weeks of meditating upon the Word of God and allowing the Spirit to move and change you as an individual throughout the course of your studies. The days of the Christian allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, piecing together the entire truth of Scripture, slaving over the pages of Scripture, and topping it off with the wisdom of those who have gone before all with the purpose of producing a convicting and exciting sermon are seemingly vanishing rapidly. Gone is the art of theology.
Just as prepackaged food isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I do not believe prepackaged theology is inherently evil. In fact, it can often be quite convenient and efficient. That being said, both can lead to weakness if not kept under control. Just as continuous use of prepackaged food will eventually lead to an individual lacking cooking skills, continuous use of prepackaged theological resources will lead to a weak theologian. Theology is more than having the right URL. It’s more than having the right answer. Theology is having a proper reverence for God while being changed in the course of your studies. If you find yourself rushing straight to your favorite commentary upon being asked a question you don’t immediately have an answer for, I urge you to take a step back, breathe, and crack open your bible first. Let the Spirit speak to you as you meditate on the Word. After you’ve gathered all your ingredients, by all means, top it off with a dash of commentary and serve the Gospel to all who will hear.