Saturday, June 20, 2015

God's Immutability

(Message Preached November 9th, 2008 at the Community Bible Church)
Let’s go to the Lord in prayer. 

          It sure is neat to go home.  I love to see the Northwoods.  For my kids this is a trip someplace new, but for me, it’s kind of a coming home.  But WOW has everything changed!  I heard about a lot of the changes over the years, yet to see them…   It’s takes you back a bit.  I know some of the changes aren’t changes at all, for example, the size of the streets and number of houses on them haven’t changed.  But my remembering of them was faulty.  They all seem smaller & shorter than I remember them. 

          For those of you who haven’t really gotten to know me, I grew up all over northern Wisconsin & the UP, but the lions’ share of it was right here in ER.  We moved to the area when I was in 6th grade. We stayed for 6 years, moved away to the UP for 4 years and then moved back for a number of years.  My brother & I became friends with the Bagwell boys and so began attending here. 

          In 1980 Pastor Len led me to the Lord. Every Sunday after his message (Rev. Len never gave a Sermon, he called them messages) he would ask to pray for anyone who was not really sure where they would go if they were to die.  I always raised my hand.  So at some point in the summer of 1980, after church Pastor asked me to stay awhile to talk to me. It was then that Pastor led me to Jesus.  I remember after that, racing home on my bike and hurrying inside to get all my money.  I only had $7.00, but I hurried back to church with it, and asked to buy a Bible if I could.  I remember reading of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31, and also picked one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”

In 1983 I was confirmed in the faith by Pastor Len.  I still remember the things I shared during the promotion service.  Then we moved to the UP.  But I was already straying.  During my 4 years away I moved out of the house twice and would end up falling into many sins.  Praise the Lord for his steady hand with me.  I remember praying twice during that time, once for my brother, who had a medical problem, and once when I became overwhelmed by amphetamines. 

          In God’s providence, I began seeking to rid myself of these newly acquired bad habits.  After 3 years of drinking and drugging, I wanted to leave that lifestyle.  So during the last year in the UP (1987) I would in my own strength seek to quit.  It was a process I had to repeat a number of times.  But I knew I needed to get out of this lifestyle.  It was during this last year in the UP that I became friends with my Dad.  He was no longer my father only, now I could seek advice and friendship with him!  But I was still not reconciled to God. 

          I remember one man, Ron Hefner, during my escapade who in his tremendously gentle spirit, witnessed silently to me.  On my Birthday in ’86 he bought me a small pocket Bible.  He had known I was a reader, and used this opportunity for the Lord.  I remember how he wrote in the front cover, that the Bible was a book of drama & adventure.  He had no idea how that both encouraged and convicted me!

          Then we moved back to ER in 1988.  I felt sooo guilty walking in Sunday morning three days after moving back.  No one seemed to notice my extreme guilt.  They were so glad to see me again.  But I knew it wasn’t right.  I needed to make it right with God, and just because the church didn’t know, I couldn’t hide it.  So that Sunday I asked Pastor Len to come over after church.  I did so the next Sunday and the next.  Finally he came by 3 weeks afterward.  And with my parents, and 2 of my siblings he led me to reconciliation and them to our glorious Lord!

          The next year was one of the most wonderful times of growth I ever had.  I was going to Nicolet College and Dave & I would carpool to Rhinelander 2-3 days a week.  Our talks on those rides were part of the strong foundation which was laid in me.  Then in 1989 I went on to the Moody Bible Institute.

          So what specifically have I been doing since moving away?  In 1991 Julie and I were married.  We joined our church, the Forest Glen Baptist church of Chicago.  In 1992 we moved in to an apartment in the home of Art & Sue Eggen, an older Christian couple who we became close friends with.  They were in their 80’s and yet were so active you’d have thought they were in their 60’s.  For a time my wife and I were raising support for the mission field, which for us was Mexico.  But God’s plan was different. We put ourselves to work in a local Hispanic church plant.  While working there, we began attending a Plymouth Brethren congregation.   In 1995 I began working for many years in a large Chicago law firm.  While working there we started our family.  I Graduated MBI in 1996.  By 1997 we acknowledged God’s will not to go to the mission field.  We returned to Forest Glen Baptist church. 

          Our family was growing so fast we had to move, so in 1999 we moved to the middle apartment in a 3 flat owned by Augie & Thelma Mosco, a couple from our church.  It was at this time that my parents moved to Galesburg, IL and all our family ties to ER were severed.  In 2002 I got a much better paying job and left the law firm.  In 2003 we we’re fortunate to be able to purchase a home, so we moved from Chicago to Woodstock, Il.  Due to this change, we also changed churches.  For those who don’t know Illinois geography, Woodstock is 53 miles from the northwest side of Chicago.   After 3 months we felt that we had found the church, Grace Fellowship Church. 

          In 2004 my Mom died. I had such overwhelming grief.  I cried for 1st time in years.  I hurt so bad I discovered the difference between crying and wailing.  I wailed.  In fact, after the funeral at home that evening, with my Dad & brothers & sisters, I got drunk for the 1st time in 14 years.  I was in a crisis for some time after that.   In 2005 I lost 37 lbs. in an effort to both change my lazy lifestyle, and to win a weight loss contest.  I began running again.  I was interested in running as a younger man but didn’t pursue it.  So in 2006 I ran my 1st Marathon.   I’ve run several other races and love to compete.  My oldest loves to run also.  Ask him about his longest races…

          And so here we are.  Back to visit after all these years.  So I wanted to share all this for 2 reasons.  One is to simply inform you all of our whereabouts as well as to introduce myself and my family to those of you who are new, but secondarily, to show how God is merciful and steadfast.

          There are several ways Scripture teaches of God’s immutability.  Immutability is simply a word to describe how God does not change.  I like to use the word steadfast to describe God.  God’s immutability is described for us in various ways in the Scriptures. 

          He does not change:  Job 23:13, “But He is unique, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does”.  In Mal 3:6, “For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.  In Psalm 102:27 we read, “But You are the same, And Your years will have no end”.  James tells us this in chapter 1 verse 17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”  And one of my favorites is written on the back wall of the Moody Church in Chicago, Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

God’s Promises are sure.  We read this in many places in the Scriptures, but is best illustrated in his relation to David.  Please turn to Psalm 89:24.  I’ll read to verse 37:

 24     “But My faithfulness and My mercy shall be with him, And in My name his horn shall be exalted.
25     Also I will set his hand over the sea, And his right hand over the rivers.
26     He shall cry to Me, ‘You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation.’
27     Also I will make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth.
28     My mercy I will keep for him forever, And My covenant shall stand firm with him.
29     His seed also I will make to endure forever, And his throne as the days of heaven.
30     “If his sons forsake My law And do not walk in My judgments,
31     If they break My statutes And do not keep My commandments,
32     Then I will punish their transgression with the rod, And their iniquity with stripes.
33     Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, Nor allow My faithfulness to fail.
34     My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.
35     Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David:
36     His seed shall endure forever, And his throne as the sun before Me;
37   It shall be established forever like the moon, Even like the faithful witness in the sky.”

          Though he may chastise or punish us, it’s always a corrective action.  He never changes.   God declares his promise, and then strongly assures us he will not change!  Look at verse 33-37 again.  One of the greatest encouragements is God’s firm stand on his promise.  We are not so.  When wronged, we seek to break fellowship, move away, or change in some way as a result.  God does not fail in respect to his promises toward us.  Look at Ecc. 3:14, “I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. 

          His calling is irrevocable.  We read this plainly in Romans 11:29, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”  We should not fear that though we fail him, he will likewise turn from us.   He will never turn from us.

          His Word does not pass away.  Jesus tells us this in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” 

          He is not a man.  This is the boldest of contrasts.  And I think that here is where we frequently fail in our understanding.  The mere fact of his using this contrast shows us how easily we fall into the trap of thinking that he is like us.  We simply cannot get our heads around this idea.  Look at Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?  It is this idea that somehow we can understand Him that gets in the way of truly believing this.  If we really could understand Him in the fullness of who He really is, would he be God?  Job in chapter 9, verse 32 said, “For He is not a man, as I am, That I may answer Him, And that we should go to court together. 

          This contrast of God & man does have some difficulties however.  Look at 1 Sam. 15:28-9, “So Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.””  Now  look at Jonah 3:10, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”  Some of you have it written differently in your Bibles.  The King James states, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.  So we have a seeming contradiction here, does God repent, or does He not?  How should I answer this? 

The Hebrew word is nacham and is translated 41 times as repent in the KJV and 57 times as comfort (or be sorry, to have compassion) .  I looked it up in 13 different translations, and 4 of them had repented.  Four other times it was translated relented.  In the English, the difference is apparent.  To relent is to be less severe.  To repent, is usually in respect of sin, to turn from it and also a change of mind about it.  Since God has nothing to do with sin, we have to look elsewhere for resolution.  The Hebrew definitions are the place to look.  There are 2 choices, that is for God to have pity and change his mind, or to have God repent.  As I see it, we have a seeming contradiction that we cannot easily understand.

          I can soften the contradiction some, but I cannot thoroughly explain it.  I have no problem with this idea of an unexplainable contradiction, however, because earlier I stated that God is not a man.  If He was completely within our grasp, would He be God?  Or stated otherwise, is our desire to understand Him motivated by a desire to know Him, or to say we have conquered this intellectual battle and we understand God?  Have we not then simply made Him in our image contrary to the commandment?!  

I simply state that God in His character does not change.  His promises do not fail.  His plans are sure and sound.  Does this mean that he might not be able to change his mind?  Remember how Abraham bargained with God over Sodom & Gomorrah and his nephew Lot  Did God change his plan?  What if there would have been 15 righteous in the city…  Would God have changed his mind about it’s destruction?  The Scriptures clearly state so.  Yet we cannot argue in “what if’s” What is written is written.  Let’s turn now to man.

Part of our great comfort in knowing God does not change, is our state of constant change.  Mankind is in a frenzy of change worldwide.  We as individuals are changing all the time.  Sometimes for the better.  Sometimes for the worse.  How is it that for us to repent and turn to God is a blessing, but for God to repent strikes us as odd or difficult? For 1 reason.  We sin.  God is perfect and holy and in His holiness he does not change. For us, to become more holy is a good thing.  God cannot become more holy.  He is already in perfect holiness and has always been so.  Let’s look at some passages on our propensity to change.

          In James 1:5-8 we read, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  Here we are encouraged to pray in faith.  We need to trust in our faithful God and He will answer, according to the good plan of His will toward us.  Heb. 13:9 says, “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.”  We are so easily swayed from the truth.  Is it not a blessing that God’s word is true steadfast and unchanging?! 

          Paul shares much with us in the new testament about our condition.   He tells us in Ephesians, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting  Without His word we will be tossed and driven into shipwreck.  In Galatians He says, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?  Here we have an example of a whole assembly of people who were taught by the apostle himself, falling into bondage once again.   Paul was surprised at this.

In Galatians 1:6-7 we read, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”  Sometimes it’s not us who change but someone among us.  We can easily be convinced contrary to the truth.  What measure do we take to examine something taught?  How does it stand against God’s Holy Word.  What does His revealed will say to the matter.  Sure, we may not have all understanding, but God’s character does not change.  His promises are not new.  They are from of old. 

Here are a few more passages to chew on.  Jer 2:36, “Why do you gad (go) about so much to change your way?  Proverbs 24:21, “My son, fear the Lord and the king; Do not associate with those given to change.  In 1st Kings 18:21 we read of the challenge Elijah placed before the people, “And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.”” 

          Let me place a challenge to you.  Everyone of us is a sinner.  We all need to change daily toward God.  Not one of us ever gets there.  It’s not as though we will ever arrive, while we live on in this world.  We change.  We all need to change.  Some of us more than others.  Some of you know areas of your life that you have not yielded over to the Lord.  Some of you know what you need to do right now.  Turn from that sin.  Turn from that rebellious attitude.  Seek again to serve God with a whole heart.

          Let me also say this.  It may be that someone here has never turned their life over to God.  All I have shared about God’s steadfastness and his promises are true.  And if you do not know Him, they ought to scare you, because he will not bend to change toward you. Will God tolerate sin?  How could He?  Yet his patience is toward you, that you turn toward Him in contrition.  Repent of your sins and turn to God before it is too late.

Here is a challenge for all of us found in Psalm 15: 
1    Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?
     Who may dwell in Your holy hill?
2     He who walks uprightly,
And works righteousness,
And speaks the truth in his heart;
3     He who does not backbite with his tongue,
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;
4     In whose eyes a vile person is despised,
But he honors those who fear the Lord;
   He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5     He who does not put out his money at usury,
Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
     He who does these things shall never be moved.

And as a benediction let me read 2nd Peter 3:14-18, “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

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