I don’t know if anyone noticed, but last week’s sermon was shorter than normal. Good news for those of you who prefer briefer talks…this one will likely be too.
The kids are probably praying it becomes the norm. 🙂
Either way, assuming you all were in the area this past Thursday, what did you think of the lightning storm we had? Michelle got a great picture of the menacing clouds that she posted on the Monadnock Region – NH Facebook page…and if you check out my Facebook page, you’ll see a short video of how the winds were mercilessly whipping the trees just before the rain became heavy. Talking to our neighbors, we actually had what seemed a bit of tornado-like activity…trees behind our house were being blown one way, trees behind his the other. To give you an idea of just how wild it was, a large piece of metal that covered the front edge of our home just below the roof was ripped off and was deposited in the dog pen on the other side of the house. That either means up-and-over or…tornado-like…around.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
The storm also knocked out power for more than half of Antrim—we lost it for about 12 hours starting around 4:30 in the afternoon…did anyone lose theirs longer?
One of the advantages to a power outage is that once the laptop’s battery is drained, I am basically forced to be “unplugged.” Yes, I have an iPad and an iPhone, but the former’s battery was already unexpectedly low, and I needed to conserve power with the latter in case I wasn’t going to be able to charge it again for a lengthy period.
There something to be said about the silence no electricity allows…and for just breaking out a book and reading by candlelight…or small camping lantern in my case.
Which is exactly what I did cyber-silent night. Although I was too tired to get far (you can see why in today’s bulletin article) I read a portion of James…and I ran into verses that had “sermon fodder” written all-over them. 🙂
But before we turn to those, let me talk about an incident that happened when I worked for a company called ProTix (which ultimately became a part of Tickets.com). I apologize to those who have heard this story before…
ProTix hired me from the Hopkins Center Box Office at Dartmouth to run the ticketing system for the Atlanta Olympics. Between those Games and the ones in Sydney I did a bit of travel for special projects, including renting a minivan and driving the Olympic ticketing computers from Atlanta to Grand Rapids to set them up for a client who purchased them. (Of all things, the Atlanta Olympics had traded those boxes and a van for some more of my time.)
The servers were up-and-running and I had installed the Prologue ticketing software…although I did it in a more secure manner than ProTix normally did—mimicking the set-up I had in Atlanta. (Basically, you lock-down the program directory to keep people from being able to do nefarious…or careless…things in it.)
That difference in configuration led to a call from a friend back in company headquarters in Madison. She was someone I had appreciated both my years (at that point) with ProTix…someone who was competent, kind, and always there to help. I’m not sure if I considered her a mentor or not…but she did seem to be someone who had my back.
Either way, she was ringing because the unique set-up was confusing the support people…and she wanted me to change it to the norm. I explained to her the reasons for the layout, but she was being inflexible…saying that the configuration she wanted was the way it was done at every other client. I replied…asking her to please not take it wrong wrong…but we seemed to be saying that because we do it wrong everywhere else we should do it wrong there.
To which she got flummoxed and said she was going to have so-and-so call me and tell me to just do it. She then hung up.
So-and-so was #2 at the company, and sure enough…shortly after so-and-so called and…with no room for discussion…told me to make the change.
I know you may think it illogical, but I can’t tell you how much negative impact that incident had on me. Her behavior was totally unexpected to me…I felt like our friendship had been betrayed…like I had been betrayed. Instead of being a coworker who would be there through thick-or-thin, she was just another employee who would support me when it suited her…and who would have me slapped down to get her way.
This is but one of multiple instances in my 47 years where someone totally caught me off-guard…where someone who seemed the epitome of dependability and trustworthiness proved, under certain conditions, surprisingly undependable and untrustworthy.
Have you had similar incidents?
For some people it happens in such a way it permanently shatters all their confidence in mankind…and…to protect themselves…they move forward as a loner…never trusting anyone again for fear that their fragile heart will not survive the next great betrayal.
Now…in fairness to that woman formerly with ProTix…she wasn’t a bad person…a very nice one by human standards…but I couldn’t help from that point forward always wondering what the next situation might be that she would “turn” on me. Since I never imagined the first episode would happen there was absolutely nothing I could do to convince myself that it never would again.
And that’s why a breakdown of trust is so very, very damaging…
Now, I know it’s hard to believe this sermon is going to be shorter than normal given I’ve been speaking this long…but it will…”trust” me 🙂
At this point, let’s go ahead and look at the verses that caused a bunch of strange mental connections to kick of in my brain…James 1:16-18:
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
“The Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Our God does not change….I especially like the combination of that fact with the word “shadow”…as in “no shadow due to change.”
My coworker did change…and a shadow arose…that remained over her and my relationship from that point forward.
Some might argue that she didn’t actually change…that she was always that way…and I just didn’t see it before. They have a point…but the fact is that almost all humans…me included…have two faces…the question is what the catalyst is that will cause us to show our bad side. And, I’m sure if you think about it you can think of people who have literally changed over time. Usually it seems for the worse…but sometimes it is for the better (especially when the genesis is them turning their lives over to the Lord).
But our God never-ever-ever-ever changes. He is always the Father of lights…there is no variation…no shadow.
Since “doesn’t change” isn’t impressive enough to use in scholarly theological circles, there is another word I’ve previously mentioned that is used to describe this facet of God’s character. Does anyone remember it?
My Mac’s dictionary defines immutable as “unchanging over time or unable to be changed.”
And that reference in James isn’t the only one that speaks to the doctrine of God’s immutability. For instance, let’s turn to Numbers 23:19:
19 God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
- God does not lie.
- He does not change His mind.
- He does what He says.
- His actions match His words.
How many people do you know who you can say that of 100% of the time?
How many people can say that of you?
In Malachi 3:6, we hear of God’s immutability…and why the Israelites, up to that time, should have been thankful for it:
6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
If God was actually fickle, the Jewish nation would have been long wiped off the face of the earth…but…lucky for them…”the Lord [does] not change.”
And I could share more verses as “proof texts” that God is immutable…but…as we’ve learned in life…actions speak louder than words.
Stop for a moment.
Can you think of a single time that God acted out of character?
- You know, a day when He was extra tired?
- Or someone had been mean to Him at work?
- Or He was fighting a bad cold?
- Or when He just reached His limit?
You can find scriptures that say God “regretted” something (which implies changing His mind)…or where He seemed to run out of patience…but it is natural for human writers to use anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics to something non-human) or anthropopathism (attributing human feelings to something non-human) when describing God.
First…those characteristics and feelings are what we “know” (“anthropos” means human being in Greek) …and second, there is no perfect way with finite words to describe an infinite God….so why not use word pictures we can easily understand?
How God is
Perhaps that explanation isn’t satisfactory, so let’s look at God’s succinct autobiographical statement in Exodus 34:5-7:
6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Yes, our God is:
- Slow to anger
- Abounding in steadfast love
- Abounding in faithfulness
- He also “will by no means clear the guilty.”
We may describe it as Him regretting a decision or losing patience…but the reality is…
- He has always promised justice just as surely as he has promised compassion.
- He has always promised punishment as surely as reward.
- He has always promised disaster as surely as protection.
But not in a fickle “which side of the bed I climbed out of” way like us humans…
And with plenty of warning when it comes to negative outcomes…
As Numbers 23:19 said…He always does what He says…and sometimes He said chastisement was coming—although He also has said He will relent if people will turn back to Him.
When we change then His actions and judgment can change. He does not change…
Which brings us to God in the person of the Son. Let’s wrap up with some verses from 2 Timothy 2:11-13…where we learn one more thing about God’s immutability:
The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
No matter how faithless we humans are…God remains faithful…we cannot change Him…
He remains faithful to all His characteristics…
- Whether it be judgment: “if we deny him, he will deny us”…
- Or it be mercy: “if we have died with him, we will also live with him.”
If we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we have died with him, we will also live with him.
He has said it, and will He not do it?!