The Unchanging Good God

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:16–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created with the YouVersion Bible app.

Do we believe this statement? Do we really believe that whatever God gives us is good? Do we really believe that every good thing we have comes from Him?

This passage appears in the midst of teaching on temptation and sin. That is not an accident. Elsewhere, Scripture tells us that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Unbelief and sin walk hand in hand. Believers are often tempted and fall into sin when they think the pleasure of sin is somehow better than the blessings of God. People commit adultery, fornication, or other sexual sins because they feel that God is depriving them of something good. Some steal because they do not believe God will provide or think He is not giving them all that they deserve.

We do not trust God when we do not believe He is Who He says He is. In recent months, articles on this blog have reminded us that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, eternal, always present with His people, etc. Do we really believe that?

Do we believe that God is unchanging? Malachi 3:6 says, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” We can place our faith in Him because He is the same God who sent His Son to die for our sins. If He was willing to give His Son for us, and His Son was willing to give His life for us, we can trust Him to give good things to us. He has not changed.

Do we believe that God is incorruptible? Not only is He unchanging, He is devoid of impurity or evil. He will always be holy and loving.

Do we believe that God is unlimited? Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. He is not going to run out of blessings anytime soon.

James 1:17 tells us that God is the Father of lights. In Him there is no variation or shifting shadow. He does not change course. He does not distort. We can design prisms to diffract light into its various component wavelengths. This even happens in nature, giving us rainbows. However, God Himself is never distorted.

Think of every good thing you have ever received. James 1:17 tells us that it comes from God. Receive it with gratitude. Accept it as a gift from Him. Consecrate it to Him. Accept it as something that you can use to bring Him glory.

The good things that come into our lives should remind us to look to God with gratitude. Bad things, or things that seem bad to us, should also draw our attention to God. Has our commitment to Him waned so that we sought joy and happiness outside His will? Have we started to doubt His love and thought we could grab better things than He gives? Perhaps He gave us something good, but we do not see the good in it yet.

Perhaps something bad even came into your life. Maybe you have experienced illness or some other major life crisis that turned your world upside down. God can bring good out of that:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Even if something has been horrible, God can find a way to bring good out of it. My wife recently read an autobiography by Joni Eareckson Tada, a Christian artist/author who was paralyzed in an accident as a teenager. Due to her injuries, she had to learn how to paint while holding the brush in her mouth! Her ability to create art in this way gained recognition for her, and she has been able to share the Gospel with thousands of people who would probably have paid no attention to her if she had normal mobility. She has been an inspiration to many who suffer from disabilities or debilitating diseases. Was her accident a good thing? Not really: Perhaps one could blame it on the devil. Would it be easy for someone in her circumstances to lose faith and hope? Absolutely. It may have been evil or a tragedy, but God empowered her to use her circumstances for good. Few people can serve God in her capacity.

No matter what happens, let us look to God. If good things come, let us give thank to the Father of lights, from whom we receive all good things and every perfect give. If tragedy or trials come our way, we can seek God to bring good out of our circumstances. God is good all the time.

Can you share times when God has brought good into your life, or has even brought good out of bad things that have happened to you? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is With Us Always. V: Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:6–9).

Moses anoints Joshua (holding spear) as his successor. Image by illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The previous few articles in this series looked at worship as one of our responses to God’s continual presence with us. However, God does not want us to merely sit in church singing hymns or kneel in a corner reading the Bible and praying. As important as these are, God wants us to go where He leads us. He is with us always because He is everywhere. It is up to us to walk with Him. If we practice the presence of God wherever we go, He is still with us.

He wants us to go. He wants us to advance His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He commanded His apostles to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), not to sit around together reminiscing about their time with Him. They were to bring His message to those who did not meet Him.

Centuries earlier, Moses had led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Near the end of his life, he commissioned his servant, Joshua, to complete the work of bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. In Joshua 1:6–9, God gave the same command to Joshua three times: “Be strong and courageous.” Moses had given that instruction to Joshua earlier (Deuteronomy 31:6–7), along with a similar injunction: “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Fear is the opposite of faith. It keeps us silent. It discourages us from doing what God commands. It may tempt us to commit other sins. Sometimes, it disguises itself as another emotion, like rage or anger.

God’s command to Joshua was grounded in His promises to the Israelites and His presence with Joshua. Joshua had served Moses for many years: as a personal assistant, military leader, spy, etc. Eventually, Joshua and another man, Caleb, were the last two men alive who had escaped Egypt as adults. (See Numbers 13 and 14 to see why this happened. Joshua and Caleb were part of a 12-man mission to spy out the Promised Land. The then other spies believed that the Israelites would be destroyed if they tried to enter the land. Joshua and Caleb believed God would give them the land. Since the Israelites sided with the pessimistic spies and did not trust God. they were sentenced to 40 years of wilderness wandering until only Joshua and Caleb were left.) Joshua and Caleb had endured 40 years of God’s discipline because of the faithlessness of their 10 colleagues.

Joshua accompanies Moses down Mt. Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments. Image by illustrators of the 1890 Holman Bible. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Joshua had followed Moses through the Red Sea. He had seen all the miracles God wrought throughout their journeys. But, he had also endured decades of disappointment. After 40 years of trusting Moses to hear from God and give them direction, suddenly everybody was looking to Joshua for guidance. He had seen how often the Israelites rebelled against God and Moses in the wilderness. Would they rebel against him? Would God change His mind and not lead the Israelites into the land He had promised to give them? Joshua could be guided by God’s promises or by past difficulties.

It takes courage to break free from the past. It takes courage to embrace second and third chances when God gives them. It takes courage to serve God. It takes courage to trust God’s leadership, wisdom, and power when the situation looks impossible. Joshua would need that courage.

To build courage and strength, Joshua would need to remind himself continually about God’s presence, promises, and precepts. This is why God repeatedly juxtaposed His commands to be strong and courageous with injunctions regarding His Word:

  • “{B}e careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Know God’s Word so that you can do God’s will.
  • “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth….” Keep speaking God’s Word every chance you get.
  • “{Y}ou shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it….” Let God’s Word fill your mind so that you know what to do in every circumstance.

God calls us to be strong and courageous. If we want to receive God’s blessings and see His perfect will in our lives, we must obey His will. We have to be strong and courageous to do so. If we want to gain strength and courage, we must know that God is with us, that He has promised us abundant life in Jesus’ name, and we must know what He wants us to do. Boldness, wisdom, courage, and strength are all necessary if we wish to experience the blessings of God’s presence and power in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer, which is recited at many Twelve-Step meetings, says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Let us seek courage from God so that we can change the things He is calling us to change.

Do you have any thoughts about God’s command to be strong and courageous? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is With Us Always: IV. Sacred Space, Sacred Time

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Solomon dedicates the temple. By James Tissot (1836-1902), public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Our previous post reminded us that God is everywhere and that we can worship Him everywhere. Some people find locations that have strong spiritual significance in their lives, which become “thin spaces” where they encounter God in a powerful way.

Jacob’s thin space, where he had a dream in which God promised to be with him throughout his journey, eventually became a prominent place of worship for his descendants, Bethel (Hebrew for “the house of God”). We can indeed meet God anywhere, but sometimes God’s people are inspired to set a sacred space apart specifically to worship Him.

Centuries later, one of Jacob’s descendants, King Solomon, built a temple in Jerusalem. This became the place to worship God. The Scripture verse above is part of the prayer he said while dedicating the temple.

Solomon acknowledged that his building, no matter how grandiose it was, could not contain God. The Lord is bigger than the universe. If the universe cannot contain Him, neither can a building that was only about 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high.

Artist’s rendering of ancient Jerusalem with the temple. Public domain, from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

So, why would God have commanded Solomon to build a temple? Why would He want us to gather in churches now? Should we have church buildings?

First of all, we need to worship together:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23–25).

The Christian life is best lived in community. When life gets difficult and the entire world seems to be turning against the believer, we need each other. We need to stimulate one another to love and good deeds; we need to be challenged; we need to be encouraged. We need reminders that our God is real. Without fellowship—without recognizing that my God is the same God my brothers and sisters in Christ worship—I can easily begin to worship a figment of my imagination, a god that I have created in my own image.

We need each other. We need sacred time and sacred space to worship together. Ideally, a church building will be a sacred space that God’s people have set apart to remind ourselves that He is always present. We can indeed worship God anywhere, but those who have met God in a church setting will be more likely to seek His presence outside church.

It will be a sacred space, set apart specifically for His worship. A sad feature of much modern worship is the way it can resemble a concert or a lecture. Many churches, in an attempt to seem “relevant” to the culture, replace the altar with a stage. The worship band is front and center. The pastor takes the microphone and takes center stage after the lead singer is finished. They are the stars. Other churches are set up to look like a lecture hall, well-suited for an introductory psychology course in college. One is a concert where the audience is entertained; the other is a lecture where the audience is instructed and informed. A person is the center of attention. There is no cross, no altar. The minister has claimed the central focus that should belong to God alone.

Interior of St. Patrick’s Church, a small church in Kickapoo, IL. A church does not have to be elaborate to be a sacred space to worship God. Photo by Arthur Greenberg, Environmental Protection Agency. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I would encourage all pastors and worship leaders to look at their worship space and ask, “Is God really the center of attention?” Let them pray like John the Baptist: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Let that sacred space be a reminder that we worship a God Whose glory far exceeds all that we can imagine, One Who is worthy of all our attention.

We need sacred time as well. Yes, we can and should worship God anytime—not only on Sunday morning. In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to hold several “holy convocations.” Some were annual, including the first and last days of Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets), and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). However, every Sabbath was also a holy convocation. While the Sabbath was a day of rest, it was also a time for God’s people to gather together.

God’s children still need space and time. Corporate worship serves several important purposes for our daily lives:

First, it reminds us that God is holy. He is not to be taken lightly but deserves all of our devotion.

Second, it reminds us that all of our lives belong to Him. My worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, in the house of the Lord, begins my week. It also propels my life for the rest of the week. It sets the tone for my everyday life.

Third, it reminds us that everything else belongs to God as well. A church building is sacred because God’s people have set it apart for His worship. God’s children can set aside other parts of our world as holy ground.

Your living room, including its television, can be holy ground. Your computer can be holy ground. Your desk at work can be holy ground; even if you cannot pray or read your Bible there, you can do your work “as unto the Lord.”

Let our daily walk with Jesus be grounded in worship on holy ground with His people in such a way that our worship in church guides our lives throughout the week.

How has holy ground and holy time shaped your daily walk with Jesus? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is With Us Always: III. Holy Ground

“He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’” (Genesis 28:12–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version).

Have you ever experienced God in such a powerful way that the location seemed to be holy ground? A popular worship song of the 1970s and 1980s rejoiced that “We are standing on holy ground, and I know that there are angels all around.” Early in my relationship with Christ, I assumed such holy ground was always a house of worship. Since then, I have found other “holy ground” locations.

One particular location was a Catholic retreat center in the Hudson Valley, where my church held several retreats. Mount Saint Alphonsus had a magnificent chapel and incredible places of worship. However, the grounds around the building were where I would most meet God. I would often refer to these grounds as “the New York annex of heaven” because I always seemed to meet God there: particularly sitting by the river. There was nothing particularly unique about the location, but people came there expecting to meet God, so He did not disappoint them.

The retreat center at Mount Saint Alphonsus, Esopus, NY. Photo by the author.

The ancient Celts had a term, “thin spaces.” They believed there were places where the veil between the physical world and the spiritual realm was very thin and supernatural spiritual experiences could be expected there. For me, Mount Saint Alphonsus was a thin space. Was the place inherently holy? Maybe not; but the property had been set apart for the Lord’s service in 1907, people went there expecting to meet God, and He will honor an expectant, receptive heart wherever He finds it. For those of us who devoted a weekend to meet with God, that land became holy ground. (Sadly, the retreat center closed in 2012 due to very natural-world-type financial difficulties.)

The entire earth belongs to God (Psalms 24:1). Any ground can be holy when we acknowledge Him there. Any space can be thin. Perhaps at least part of the reason why so many Christians feel God’s presence when they visit Israel is that they come expecting to meet Jesus in His earthly homeland. For those of us who may not get that opportunity, any place can be holy ground: a favorite campground; a quiet place along a shoreline; or any location where a significant moment in your life occurred. The spot on the boardwalk where my best friend and I accepted salvation through faith in Jesus may have been just a nice place to take a walk in the summer for most people, but to this day, I cannot go there without remembering that I met God in a powerful way there. For me, that part of the boardwalk becomes holy ground, no matter how other people approach it.

The Book of Genesis recounts several occasions where the patriarchs built altars to remember an encounter with God. One such case was the story of Jacob. He had tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing he had intended to give to Jacob’s fraternal twin brother, Esau. Now, Esau was furious and intent on killing him. So, Jacob was fleeing from his family’s home to seek refuge with his mother’s family in Haran, about 400 miles away. Along the way, as we read in the scripture passage above, God met him in a vision while he slept.

An artist’s rendering of Jacob’s dream, from Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In that vision, God reminded Jacob that He would be with him always. Even though Jacob was now isolated from his parents—in fact, from everybody and everything he had ever known—he was not away from God. The God he worshiped was not restricted to Beersheba. He was not limited to the shrines or altars where Jacob’s ancestors had worshiped Him. God assured Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” The covenant God had made with Jacob’s grandfather Abraham stood secure, no matter where Jacob went.

Because of this encounter, Jacob recognized the place as holy ground. He assumed that he had slept at the very gate of heaven. The location, a town called Luz, may have been just an ordinary place. Jacob was resting his head on an ordinary stone. However, he had an extraordinary encounter with God.

There is only one reasonable response when God appears to us and hallows the ground on which we stand. We must worship Him. Jacob set up his stone as an altar. The ordinary rock became a place to worship God. Centuries later, his descendants, the Israelites, continued to worship God there. Luz became known as “Bethel,” the house of God. Centuries later, it was one of the most popular places to worship God before the temple was built in Jerusalem.

Perhaps we cannot force God’s hand and tell Him where He can give us our life-changing revelations. But, we can make ourselves ready to receive His presence and blessings. We can set aside sacred time and sacred places in our everyday lives to meet with Him. He will meet us wherever we choose to meet Him. Pick a time every day; find a place to worship Him in prayer and Bible reading; and consecrate that time and place. Choose holy ground, and God will choose to meet with you.

Do you have a particular “holy ground” or “thin space” where you encounter the Lord regularly? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Be a Barnabas

June 11 was the Feast of St. Barnabas on the calendars of many liturgical churches. Normally, I would have preferred to publish this article on that date. I trust that you will forgive me for the late post. After all, probably most of you have never even heard of the Feast of St. Barnabas. Some Christians may not even know who he was. Among the great men of God in the New Testament, he is easy to overlook. Yet, we cannot ignore his impact on church history and the daily Christian walk of most believers. The New Testament would be very different without him, even though he did not write any of its books.

Icon of St. Barnabas, from the Museum of St. Barnabas in Cyprus, by Gerhard Haubold, via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Without Barnabas, Paul would most likely have been ostracized by the church and lost to history. We would not have his 13 letters in the Bible. Many Bible scholars doubt that he wrote Hebrews (I agree with that view), but they will acknowledge that it was probably written by somebody who was connected with Paul; thus, we can thank Barnabas for the letter to the Hebrews. Without Paul’s input, we would lose the Gospel of Luke and Acts, as the author of those books was one of Paul’s ministry companions. Lastly, we would not have the Gospel according to Mark, since Barnabas played such an important role in his life.

Think about that: Barnabas plays a role in the origin of 17 of the 27 books in the New Testament. All Christians owe him a debt of gratitude. Maybe we should send each other “St. Barnabas Day” cards next June 11.

Barnabas first appears in Acts 4. While being persecuted, the early Christians in Jerusalem began living semi-communally. They held all things in common, and the wealthier disciples would sell property to help feed the poorer members. Barnabas was one of those wealthier Christians:

“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36–37; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

While his material wealth helped people then, it would be his birth in a Gentile nation and his gift of encouragement that would cement his place in church history. Shortly after Paul’s conversion, it was Barnabas who took the former persecutor under his wings and made certain he could worship with the other followers of Jesus:

“When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:26–31).

Barnabas did not hold Paul to the past. He believed God could change the worst sinner and was willing to offer a former enemy a chance to be welcomed as a brother in Christ.

Later, when “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” came to Antioch and began preaching the Gospel to Gentiles as well as Jews, the apostles sent Barnabas to look into the situation. (This was the first time Christians had made a significant effort to evangelize non-Jews.) Since he was a Jewish believer from their home country, he could discern the situation from both sides’ perspectives.

“Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:23–26).

After all this time, Barnabas sought Paul. He recognized Paul’s potential and knew he could play a vital role in building the church in Antioch. The rest is history: The two continued to minister together for several years. They eventually parted ways when Barnabas recognized that his nephew, John Mark, needed the same encouragement and second chance he had once shown Paul (Acts 15:37–39).

The church and the world need encouragers. We need people like Barnabas in our lives. You can be Barnabas to others.

A Barnabas inspires and influences the accomplishments of others, whether or not others recognize his or her behind-the-scenes contributions. There is no Book of Barnabas in the Bible, but as we saw earlier, he had a huge impact on the Scriptures.

A Barnabas does not harp on one’s past failures. He or she recognizes that God can forgive and transform anybody.

A Barnabas recognizes a person’s gifts and potential and helps them pursue God’s will for their lives.

Be a Barnabas. Be the person who encourages and inspires others so that they can achieve the great things God has planned for them. We need people who will help us let go of the past, pursue the future that God desires for us, and change lives and hearts by bringing the kingdom of God wherever we go.

Since Hallmark will probably not begin selling St. Barnabas Day cards any time soon, we can honor his life by speaking words of encouragement every day to those we meet:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, emphasis added).

How have you encouraged others or been encouraged in your walk with the Lord? Share your experiences or advice by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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