Category Archives: God

Trustful worship for puzzled believers

At the end of his discussion of the God of the psalms, Geoffrey Grogan mentions those psalms where the psalmists come to God with their deeply troubling problems. It is noteworthy that they come to God with them, and that their troubles do not cause them to lose their faith.  “To be puzzled and to give up belief are not the same thing,”\1/ he says. I really found his conclusion heart-warming and helpful:

Christians too may be puzzled by the ways of God, but he has given us such affirmations of his holiness, grace and wisdom in the cross and resurrection of Jesus that faith is constantly renewed as it contemplates these wonderful facts in a spirit of trustful worship. \2/


Geoffrey Grogan. Prayer, Praise and Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms. Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor (Christian Focus), 2001. \1/ p. 75, \2/ p. 76.

Genuine spiritual experience

James Montgomery Boice tells of two stories recounted by contributors to a radio programme about spiritual experiences:

The first was a girl who explained how she had felt a sudden urge to leave her home in the northern part of the state [of California] and hitchhike down the coastal road. Halfway to Los Angeles she sensed that “this was the place.”  So she had the driver stop the car, got out, and went down the hill to the shore where she found a cave and camped out for a couple days. Then — because she thought God (or something) was leading her to do this — she went down into the water and mingled with the rocks and seaweed as if she were at the dawn of creation. Finally an animal came by, and she took this as a sign that it was time to go. She climbed the bank and hitchhiked back to northern California. That was her “spiritual experience.”

The other person I listened to seemed to be an older woman. She said she had her experience quite recently — on Election Day. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were running in that election. She said, “I have always been a Democrat, and when I went into that voting booth I was planning to vote for Jimmy Carter. But something happened. A strange feeling came over me and I pulled the lever for Reagan.” She did not say whether the influence she had felt was benign or demonic, but I think she believed it was the latter. \1/

A few pages later he recounts a biblical spiritual experience:

In 2 Peter 1, where Peter spoke about his special experiences as an apostle, he described the things he had that we do not have. He listed them beginning, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (v. 16), that is to say, Our eyes actually saw Jesus Christ; and furthermore we did not only see Christ in the flesh, where his godhead was veiled, as it were, but rather in the moment of his transfiguration. He appeared before us clothed in light. And not only did we have this vision. We also heard a voice from heaven, and the voice from heaven said clearly (we heard it with our ears), “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (v. 17). \2/

This passage Boice refers to makes an important point, though it is not the point of his chapter, so he does not comment on it. But yet it illuminates a deficiency in his opening accounts. In both, there was a sense or feeling recounted, and in one there was something seen. Peter (and his companions James and John) certainly saw something very unusual on the Mount of Transfiguration. But the one component of their experience that sets it apart from many ‘spiritual experiences’ recounted today is the voice they heard. It was not a voice in their head, they were not mad. God pointed them audibly to his Son as the focus of that experience, and communicated to them his love for and pleasure in Jesus. What they saw was not enough. Nor what they felt. What they heard was vitally important. It was what set their experience apart from all others as an authentic, genuine experience of the Living God.

There are relatively few similar experiences in Scripture where people of God saw God’s glory or had an angelic visitation. Never was that the sum total of their experience. They never simply saw, or simply felt a presence. Always God, or his messenger, spoke, either to explain the experience, or to give clear and unambiguous instructions.

This was so from the first recorded meeting of man and God in the Garden after the fateful fruit had been eaten. When Moses saw the bush, he heard the voice. When Israel saw the smoke atop Mount Sinai, they heard the voice. When God displayed his glory to Moses, he spoke and explained who he was in simple, yet profound, terms. He did not simply show Moses a great sight. He communicated great truth verbally. Moses was not free to assign any meaning he liked to the experience. God explained the significance.

Genuine spiritual experience will always be accompanied by God’s explanation. Even today that will be the case. We will not normally hear his voice audibly, but our experience will be in accordance with the Word of God if it a genuine spiritual experience, and experience of the true and living God. It will not necessarily mimic an experience recorded in Scripture, though it may, but Scripture will make clear the meaning and significance if we submit to it. God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.


Quotations from: James Montgomery Boice, Standing on the Rock: Biblical Authority in a Secular Age (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994). \1/ pp. 27-28. \2/ p. 30.

Redeeming Power

Donald Macleod gives a marvellously clear and tremendously encouraging summary of God’s power in redemption.*

He distinguishes it from providence with which it is closely intertwined simply to make clear what it is. He sees it manifested in 3 ways:

  1. Christ’s virginal conception.
  2. Christ’s resurrection (which he points out is ascribed in various Scriptures to each member of the Trinity in turn).
  3. The application of redemption to believers.

This application to believers he develops in 4 ways:

  1. It is definite and irreversible, yet involves a progressive sanctification.
  2. It operates through the Word of God, which is ineffective by itself unless accompanied by the power of God.
  3. It is demonstrated in preserving power that does not rob us of our responsibility while being specially available in times of great need.
  4. It will culminate in the resurrection of believers.

I found his concluding remarks on its demonstration in times of need particularly clear and encouraging:

“There is nothing greater in the life of the church than to see men and women, temperamentally and constitutionally weak and fragile, enabled to endure what would make strong men quake: able to be patient in affliction, content whatever their circumstances, and making melody in their hearts always and in all things (Ephesians 5:20). That is the acme of Christian achievement and one of the most moving accomplishments of omnipotence.” (pp. 57-58)

I am sure we can all think of men and women who displayed this divine demonstration of preserving power, and who, like Macleod, gave all the credit to Him whose power enabled them to display His glory in their lives. The daily challenge is to be one of their number.


* Donald Macleod, Behold Your God, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 1990, pp. 53-58

A true love story

Reading Genesis 24 recently I was struck by the ending. Not the way Hollywood, or the BBC, would have portrayed it. We see Isaac take Rebekah, but not quite in the sense the movies use the phrase. This is quite a different taking. It’s the same taking, if not done in quite the same way today, as is done by every man and woman who desire marriage — “Do you take . . . to be your wife/husband?”

Isaac took Rebekah into the tent, but the camera stays outside. We do not need to enter the tent. Indeed, we ought not to enter the tent. What happens there is neither for us to share, or imagine. What is important is not the entering of the tent, or what happens there, but that Rebekah became his wife, and that Isaac loved her. Here is marriage as God intended, with all that those two phrases entail.

As divinely told, the story is as tender as when God introduced Adam to his wife. Yet, these are no Hollywood fantasies, endearingly romantic, but utterly unreal. The whole story is one of God’s careful and marvellous providence, not just the ending. How else could it end: “he loved her”? How could he not? Did we not love her the moment she stepped up to the well?

But more than that, we bowed our heads with Abraham’s servant and worshipped with him, did we not? For, as tender as the love Isaac had for Rebekah, more tender was the love that planned it all. That wise old servant saw it clearly when he said, “Blessed by the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master.” (Gen. 24:27)

This is the whole point of the story, is it not? With what relish and excitement must he have related everything to Isaac on his return, before Isaac took Rebekah. How could this not have been the highlight of his story? And what a perfect beginning to their marriage, to see and to know the hand of God so clearly in all the detail.

And as perfect as the story we read is, much more perfect is the providential love God still has for his people. Ought we not to stand by the well ourselves from time to time, and bow our heads and worship that selfsame God. Edith McNeill put it well in her paraphrase of Lam. 3:22-23:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning, new every morning:
great is Your faithfulness, O Lord,
great is Your faithfulness.

The glory of undeception

It struck me this afternoon as I returned from worshipping with the Lord’s people that there was a tremendous difference in the volume of traffic then with that earlier when I had been walking the short distance to where we meet. A couple of hours earlier the number of vehicles I saw was in single digits. The road was quiet, the local Presbyterians were already gathered for worship, and the local Anglicans had finished — Baptists get a lie in before worship!

Once I turned the corner onto the main road the roar of traffic greeted me. And the focus was the local petrol (gas) station and convenience store where evidently the lure of mammon was greater than the attraction of the Almighty. How different a Sunday the undeceived spend from the deceived — it put Revelation 20, which was the passage of this morning’s sermon, into a contemporary context. It is the business of Satan to deceive the whole world. But what blessing there is when the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4) shines in the heart. How grievously were our first parents deceived by the deceiver of the whole world — that single deception affected the whole world, for that “one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Rom 5:18). But, conversely, “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”

May we who are undeceived truly know “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6) this day, and every day, and be drawn closer to the Almighty and living God.

God of the second chance?

Recently I heard someone say that our God was the God the second chance. In fact, they said he was the God the the second, third, fourth and fifth chance.

I’ve heard such things said before, but this time I wondered if it were true. Somehow I didn’t feel it was.

My problem is this. If I think God is like that, might I not come to presume on him being a soft touch? I know I fail him, and I don’t like it, but it is a fact.  I’ve repented many times of failure, and I know I’ve been forgiven for my sins (1 John 1:9). But is that the same as saying God gives me another chance?

Gos is a God of grace — dealing with me not as I deserve, but in mercy, and totally undeserved favour. To my mind that’s in a whole different league from chances. Chances are finite. Chances keep a tally. Chances keep the score. Grace is abundant, immeasurable and unfathomable. It’s more than a matter of semantics. I think it is a totally different mind set. Somehow grace breeds responsibility for my actions, which thinking of chances could generate a carelessness.

Peter’s questions about forgiveness (Mat 18:21) and Jesus’ answer (Mat 18:22-35) illustrates the difference in mindset. Peter’s question came from the mindset of chances — how often? how many times? Jesus’ answer, though initially couched in terms of times clearly moves us beyond keeping score. His parable shows mercy and grace in operation. And it also shows the necessity of responsibility on the part of the forgiven. The first debtor had not grasped the implications of his master’s grace and mercy.

Yes, grace may be abused, as Romans 6 also implies. But I will only abuse it if I do not understand it. “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (v 2) When I have grasped grace I will relinquish my grip on sin as surely as a toddler releases the dangerous knife when his mother proffers a favourite toy.

I think I am more likely to be misled by chances. Accepting and understanding grace will make my expectations more realistic. Chance is such a worldly concept. There is great danger I will let the world shape my concept of God. Grace is divine and unworldly. I’d prefer to have my concept of God shaped by him and his grace.

Buíochas le Dia

I only heard about the Boeing 777 crash landing at Heathrow last last night. Undoubtedly the pilot’s skill in landing the plane so safely is to be commended. The lack of serious casualties stands in stark contrast to many plane crashes in recent years. One ITN reported concluded his news report with words like, “tonight the passengers have much to be thankful for.” Indeed they do, but to whom?

Perhaps comments like, “Thank God we’re down safely,” were made by some of the passengers. But I wonder if they were mere expressions of relief rather than genuine thankfulness to the living God.

To be thankful must imply someone to be thankful to. It is not possible to be truly thankful without someone to whom that thanks is addressed. There is a world of difference between exclaiming, “Thank God!” and “Thank you, God!”

As the news report ended, my wife noticed her mother sitting with eyes closed. Thinking she had dozed off in her chair, my wife thought she would waken her as it was time for bed, only to be told she was thanking God for the safety of the passengers and crew. That is the difference between “Thank God!” and “Thank you, God!”

Before I went to bed myself, I read another few pages from G. K. Chesterson’s Orthodoxy, where I came across these words:

The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt grateful, though I hardly knew to whom. Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts or toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to Santa Clause when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs? We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth? (p. 52, Image Books 1959 reprint)

It’s a common Irish expression, “Buíochas le Dia,” or “Thanks be to God!” When we say it, may we direct it intentionally to the one who deserves it.

Frustrated plans

This morning in the Tenth Presbyterian service, Marion Clark prayed that when our plans are frustrated we might not assume God’s plans are similarly frustrated.

It can be easy to follow that false line of thinking because we often forget that the timescale of eternity is not that of time. We can also make this fundamental mistake because we imagine God to be in our image.

But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways his ways (Is 55:8). The immense gap should warn us of the danger of attributing our frustration to God.

How foolish it seems in retrospect to attempt to judge one whose judgments are unsearchable and whose ways inscrutable. We rightly ask, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” When our plans are frustrated we can and must say, “for from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen” (Rm 11:33-36)

God on the box

Yesterday was the first time I ever saw “God TV”, simply out of curiosity. I must say, it has put a whole new complexion on “missions”. I never knew the principal thing about missions was money — I thought it was Jesus. How naive could I be?

Still, if you can make $12 million from gullible people in the name of religion you must be doing something right. Balaam would certainly have been broadcasting on the channel — he loved the gain (2 Peter 2:5; Jude 11). But sadly it wasn’t the “great gain of godliness with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6), more the great gain from gullibility.

OK, I’ll come clean. I’m miffed because the Holy Spirit didn’t tell me I was one of the twelve instant millionaires Mike Murdock was praying for, or even of the twelve millionaires within a year. (I’m not sure whether the odds were better than the lottery.) Strange how the Holy Spirit told him he would be one of the twelve!

It’s really strange how the Lord never tells me things like that. Maybe it’s my bad theology. I thought God’s way of supplying our physical needs was though daily provision, not money in the bank. I thank God for my daily bread which he provides (Matthew 6:11). I revel in fresh strength (Isaiah 33:2), and fresh mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:22,23). That’s how God supplies. The manna came daily to God’s people in the wilderness. It couldn’t be hoarded. And grace doesn’t come in battery packs — it’s mains only.

And if I want to be like Abraham or Job, I don’t want to respect them because of their special “financial anointing”, I want to emulate their faith. Abraham wouldn’t take a shoelace from the king of Sodom, and Job didn’t cry when God removed his wealth. The only account that interested Abraham was the one he had with God, denominated in righteousness (Romans 4:3-5).

I suspect that the lord doesn’t tell me about the great financial blessing he’s going to give me because he just doesn’t tell anyone that — ever! Not that I’m not thankful for his financial provision. But the greatest blessing he has ever bestowed, or ever will, is the priceless blessing of redemption that, though it cost me nothing, cost God dearly. It was paid with the currency of heaven that never can be devalued, and is never traded on the stock markets of earth, for its value is incalculable. The price he paid was reckoned in blood, the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18,19). That’s the greatest transaction ever made, or ever can or will be made. And in the ledgers of heaven it cleared my debt to God, and credit my account with righteousness, so I join with David to sing,

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.

(Romans 4:7,8; Psalm 32:1,2)

The blessing simply doesn’t get any better than this. Oh, there’s great gain in godliness with contentment.

Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me;
There’s love, and life, and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee.

Soli Deo Gloria (2)

Reformation Sunday ended as it began, with thoughts of soli deo gloria. We tuned in to the evening service from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA. The music was uplifting (as ever), but the overwhelming sense of the service was that it was all soli deo gloria. That was so clear from lance Lewis’s exposition of Romans 3: “A Theology for the City”. We sang James Montgomery Boice’s hymn Give Praise to God, and Philip Ryken gave Romans 11:33-36 as the benediction.

The challenge today (Monday morning) is how to continue living soli deo gloria.