Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I AM WHO I AM: There is No Other


I AM WHO I AM: There is No Other
Exodus 3:11-15
July 28, 2013

Introduction
It has been quite a week for the royal family across the pond.  Over last weekend and into the early days of this week the question was when the royal baby would be born and whether or not it would be a boy or a girl.  I don’t’ know what the big deal was.  I know the baby is now third in line for the throne, but it just seemed silly to watch serious news anchors gush over the royal birth.  I rolled my eyes more than once during the news coverage until I could no longer take it.  Even after the prince was revealed, the world waited – or at least some did - for the revelation of his name.  Why all the fuss and the waiting.  We had our kids named even before they were born.  Then again, neither of my kids was destined to rule a nation.
           
Evidently, the naming of babies is a big deal – at least in England.  In a story dated April 17, 2008, Rueters wrote:

British parents spend 30 million hours a year picking the names of their newborn children, a survey showed…And choosing the right name can be crucial -- if you want your child to get on in life.  The survey by Abbey Banking showed that parents agonize for up to 45 hours over the name of their child -- a combined 30 million hours annually in Britain.  One in three parents believed the right name can give a child confidence while up to two million thought it could help their child's career prospects.

"There is no doubt that children's names reflect people's aspirations and parents believe names can affect career prospects," said Abbey Banking director Steve Shore.

That may be true.  The wrong name can certainly get you lots of trouble.  Remember the song by Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named ‘Sue’?”  And what about this poor little guy?



Proverbs 22:1 tells us:   “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”   A powerful name on your list of references can land a job for you.  A letter over the right signature can get things done.  The right name will open doors.

Scripture – Exodus 3:11-15
That’s what Moses was seeking when he was asked to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. 

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.
  
God is Self-Existent
Forty years prior to this incident, Moses had fled Egypt into the desert, scorned by his own people as a murderer and pseudo savior.  Moses needed credibility so that the people would listen to him.  So God gave him his name.  The founding fathers of Israel had all called on the name of the Lord.  But the specific name that God gives to Moses at the burning bush had never been revealed before in the biblical narrative.  I AM WHO I AM reflects the very nature of God.

Virtually every child, when they become aware of the existence of God asks the question, “Where did God come from?”  It’s a fair question because we all come from someone, from some place.  But it is this very point that distinguishes God from his creation.  He has no beginning and he has no end.  The heavenly hosts, in never-ending chorus cries out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” 

Because we ourselves are creatures, it is nearly impossible for us to conceive of One without a beginning.  But if God were to have a beginning, His source would then be greater.  Such an idea is inconceivable.  If God had a source, he would then be subject to it and no longer sovereign and supreme.  Such a god would not be the God of the Bible. 

But Yahweh – the name that means I AM WHO I AM - exists within Himself and is subject to no one and no thing.  Because God is self-existent he is also self-sufficient.  God does not need anything or anyone.  He is not, nor can he ever be, needy.  Fanciful and romantic notions that suggest, “There is a place in God’s heart that only you can fill” are nonsense and have no relation to the God of the Bible.  That God desires us is fantastic…and true.  But it flows from his love for us, not his need for us. 

Because God is self-existent, he is also unchangeable.  I’ll have more to say about this in a couple of weeks.  But a God who is evolving and ever changing – like the god of the Mormons – is a god of diminished glory.  If God could evolve, then it would mean that he is now less than perfect – a concept completely foreign to the Scriptures.  Since before time began, He was perfect in his holiness.  He remains the same, today and forever. 

Made in His Image
‘All well and good,” you say, “but what bearing does God’s name and his self-sufficiency have to do with me and my problems today?”  Everything.  By understanding your Creator, you will begin to understand yourself. 

A philosopher once said, “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan: The proper study of mankind is man.”  He could not have been more wrong.  While the study of man and of all creation is a worthwhile endeavor, such a seeker will lie frustrated on his deathbed because he will not understand the source of his own nature.

Man stands alone atop of all creation as the only one made in the image of God.  The doctrine of us being made in the image of God (Imago Dei) is foundational to both the Jewish and Christian faiths.  I do not know if the earth is millions of years old.  Bible believers differ in their opinion as to whether the earth was created in six twenty-four hour periods or longer days.  But the biggest stumbling block to embracing the modern theory of evolution is that in so doing, we forfeit the doctrine of being made in the image of God.  We cannot give that ground.

The image of God is stamped deeply in our souls and is manifested in countless ways in contrast to the animal kingdom.  While there are many social animals, none have the capacity and complexity of human relationships.  For example, sexuality is a necessary phenomenon throughout the natural world.  Human sexuality, however, transcends mere mechanical reproduction and forges spiritual and emotional bonds reaching to the depths of our souls.  “And the two shall become one” is more than a physical act.

But the realm in which God’s image is perhaps the most evident is in our capacity to make a moral choice.  Unlike any other of his creation, except angels, God gave Adam and Eve the ability to choose between right and wrong. 

There’s a saying, “there are no bad dogs; only bad dog-owners.”  Though I hate to admit it, it is true.  (Where does that put me?)  My dog has no capacity to make a choice between right and wrong.  The “choices” she does make are a result of her inbred instincts.  If I want to change her behavior, I have to appeal to those instincts.  If I don’t want her to mess on the rug, for example, I have to make it unpleasant for her to do so.  If I want her to “come” when I call, I have to make it pleasant for her to do that.  Usually that means bribing her with a treat.  But she isn’t making a “choice” between right and wrong.  She’s just responding to a stimulus to her instinct.  And so it goes throughout the animal kingdom.

But we are different.  We are made in the image of God and given the ability to exercise moral choice.  And beginning with Adam and Eve, we’ve all made the choice to be self-sufficient apart from God.  We, like Eve, have all fallen for the Devil’s lie, “You will not surely die…you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  We have asserted our own selfhood against God’s eternal being. 

The Kingdom of Self
The fallen nature of man has taken upon himself the holy name of God, “I am who I am.”  We laugh at Popeye who slobbers, “I yam what I yam” but we all suffer from the same malady.  Popular culture has exalted this self-idolatry to a place of virtue.  Self-worth and self-esteem are the highest and most valued of personal qualities in our land.  Professional athletes and performers leverage self-worship into a profitable business practice.  We don’t even notice that the worship of ourselves is our own undoing. 

Tozer offers this insightful description of the essence of our deadly problem:

Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, “I AM.” (Knowledge of the Holy, p. 29-30)

The Gospel’s Demand
When the Gospel begins to resonate in the heart of a man or a woman, their little self-centered universe is deeply shaken.  God is God and we are not.  The Good News releases us from the burden of propping up our pitiful little kingdoms and abdicating to the Lord of All.  It is at that point – when we surrender our lives and trust the great I AM for everything – we finally discover our destiny as glorious creatures made in the image of God. 

In what universe do you exist today?  Are you the sovereign of your own little world, making all the choices and bearing all the responsibility for your destiny?  Are you finding real peace and fulfillment in that?  You never will until you give up control of your life to the One who made you.  Jesus said, “Come unto me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  It is when you allow God to be God that you will finally discover the fullness of life that you are searching for. 

Removing ourselves from the throne of our universe and coming under God’s rule is a life-altering decision.  But it is also a behavior – counter to our selfish instincts – that must be learned and implemented over and over.  Israel struggled to learn that God was indeed God – and that he controlled their destiny and would take care of them.  They wandered for forty years in the desert trying to learn submission and obedience.  For four hundred years they had lived under the yoke of slavery in Egypt.  While they certainly had some sense of God’s covenant with their fathers, they did not know him as I AM WHO I AM.  Through a forty-year long process, they had to learn trust and obedience.  When they needed water in the desert, they panicked and whined about going back to Egypt.  When they grew tired of the bread God was miraculously providing, they grumbled.  So God gave them so much meat that they got sick.  When they blatantly disobeyed, God disciplined them – sometimes severely. 

Are we so different?  We run short of money, so we panic and whine.  Has God ever failed to provide for you?  When something doesn’t go the way we think it should, we get impatient and take matters into our own hands, making it even worse.  When we really want something we connive and push good judgment aside to get what we’re after. 

We get back up on our puny little throne and stake out our universe.  And we’re miserable. 

A lot of you live in that unhappy state.  But you’re just stubborn enough to stay there and maintain sovereignty in your own little world.  There is only room for one sovereign in your life.  It’s either you…or God.  This morning, God is ready to reassume lordship, if you will let him.  Why will hang on to your anger, bitterness, and misery?  Let it go.  Step off the throne and let God be God.

Most of us don’t really have it that bad.  Most of us don’t wrestle with questions that shatter our world.  Some of you do.  Many people of faith have experienced devastating disaster in their lives.  In the depths of despair and deep questioning, they found peace in letting God be God.  The spouses of martyred missionaries to the Auca Indians of South America experienced that.  The film, “The End of the Spear” tells the story of the aftermath of the murder of five men who were attempting to reach a remote tribe of Indians in Ecuador in 1956.  The little film clip that I want to show here features the tribe fifty years later after they have responded to the Gospel.  The singer, Steven Curtis Chapman, also experienced horrendous tragedy when their teenage son backed the car over his five-year old daughter and killed her.  The song he sings is no mere performance.  It is his life experience that we can learn from as well.


Song of Response – “You Are God Alone”

Benediction

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Where Angels Fear to Tread


July 21, 2013

Introduction
During the last week, reaction from the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case has dominated the news and has also triggered demonstrations in some cities around our nation.  Regardless of how you feel about the verdict, the whole story is very sad, resulting in the destruction of many lives.  A seventeen year old boy did not have the chance to grow into a mature and responsible man.  The one who shot him has found his life completely disrupted and he remains in hiding, fearing for his life.  All of this is wrong.  We should be shocked.

Moral shock is the condition in which we react to circumstances that are so far out of kilter – so wrong – that they offend us to the deepest core of our being.  Tears of grief and angry rage are common manifestations.  Most of us experienced moral shock on September 11, 2001 when thousands of people lost their lives in the twin towers of New York as terrorists crashed two jetliners into them.  I remember being unspeakably angry as I watched thugs beat innocent truck driver, Reginald Denny, nearly to death on the streets of Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots in 1992. I wept as I watched on TV while no one would help him, including bystanding policemen.  For the modern world, there has probably been no greater moral shock than the discovery of German concentration camps at the close of World War II.  Such unspeakable atrocities sickened the liberating soldiers and the world as images of the cruelty and carnage of the demon-inspired Nazis became known.

Moral shock.  It’s deeply upsetting because things are terribly wrong. 

The human race lives in a perpetual state of moral shock.  Only, we don’t know it.  Ever since sin entered the world thorough Adam and Eve things have been terribly wrong.  It is our “new reality” and we have learned how to deal with it.  We recognize that we are naturally bent towards evil. So we write laws to restrain our evil inclinations in order that we may co-exist in a society.  We put locks on our doors and install security systems on our computers.  In this broken upside-down world, only the most heinous of crimes shock us anymore. 

We can cope with everyday evil.  We’re used to it.  It’s the holiness of God that will shake us to our core.

The Word – Isaiah 6:1-5
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

How do you speak of the unspeakable?  How do you describe the indescribable?  How do you imagine the unimaginable?  Our minds and our spirits are so distorted by the effects of sin that we cannot conceive of the holiness of God apart from the intervening work of the Holy Spirit in us.  God’s holiness refers to his moral perfection.  Think of the most upright person you know – perhaps a Mother Teresa or a Billy Graham - and multiply their wholesomeness out to infinity.  You would still fall infinitely short.  The holiness of God is entirely other than what we are and what we know.  Holiness is the way of God.  Every characteristic of God is holy.  His Word is holy.  His actions are holy.  His love is holy.  His judgment is holy.  Even his anger is holy.

God’s Holiness Reflected in the Old Testament
God’s dealing with his people in the Hebrew Scriptures reflects the awful holiness of God.  As Moses was receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai, the people could not approach the mountain. Those that did would surely die.

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”                                              
                                                                                                Exodus 19:16-22

When the people offended God by making a golden calf which they believed represented him, many died as a result.  Nadab and Abihu were priests who ignored specific worship instructions given by the Lord.  They were consumed by the very fire they offered at the altar (Leviticus 10:1-4).  The entire Hebrew Law reflects the holiness – the otherness and the moral purity – of God.  Israel knew this first hand.  When they finally came into the Promised Land their army was soundly defeated because of one man’s disobedience.  A holy God is not to be trifled with. 

No wonder the prophet Isaiah was terrified by his vision of the Almighty God.  He was undone.  Throughout the Scriptures we find Isaiah’s experience replayed by those who encounter God in his holiness. 

·         Moses took off his shoes and hid his face at the burning bush where God’s presence was manifested. It was “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5-6)
·         When the prophet Ezekiel had his fantastic vision of God, he fell face down in the dust (Ezekiel 1:26).
·         When Peter saw the glory of God manifested in Christ at a miraculous catch of fish, he said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).
·         When the Apostle John encountered the ascended Christ, he fell at his feet, the Scripture says, “as a dead man” (Revelation 1:17).

How We Perceive God’s Holiness
What is this awful quality of God that causes his creatures to tremble and become undone in his presence?  Theologians and mystics have tried to label is as “the numinous” or the Mysterium Tremendum.   We struggle.  It transcends language.  It cannot be adequately described by words.  It cannot be intellectually conceived, only felt and sensed in the deepest part of the human soul.  And this perception is universal among men.  Tozer puts it this way,

It remains a permanent religious instinct, a feeling for that unnamed, undiscoverable Presence that “runs quicksilverlike through creation’s veins” and sometimes stuns the mind by confronting it with a supernatural, suprarational manifestation of itself.  The man thus confronted is brought down and overwhelmed and can only tremble and be silent (Knowledge of the Holy¸ p. 104-105).

That was Isaiah’s experience.  This awful Presence that reflects the holiness of God is behind every religion in the world.  Men – made in the image of God – have an inbred intuition that senses our obligation to a Holy One.  Every religion pursues this Presence in order to satisfy our obligation to It.  But it is never enough.  The Scripture says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

The Holiness of God is Foreign to Us
All of this seems so foreign to us.  Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t like this; it seems so negative.”  Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon that launched the First Great Awakening, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is repulsive to us.  Contemplating the holiness of God is too painful, so we turn away.  Our popular taste in religion has imprisoned us into hearing only that which is “positive and encouraging.” 

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” 

If we have no comprehension of the holiness of God, sin is no big deal.  We don’t grasp the greatness of grace until we understand the depth of our depravity.  Social research shows that there isn’t much difference today between the way Christians and the world live.  Is it any wonder that the church is powerless?  Should it surprise us that we tolerate sin and have no real peace and joy?    

O that God would give us a vision of his holiness!  It is revealed in the Scriptures, but our hearts are too hard.  O that he would give us a spirit of mourning for our un-holiness.  Shatter our complacency and break into our spiritual boredom, Lord!  Holy Spirit, condition our open hearts that we may resonate with the eternal music that flows from heaven’s throne room:

…before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.”
                                                Revelation 4:2-11

God’s Amazing Grace
You don’t know how good the good news is until you know the fullness of the bad news.  The bad news is that God is holy we stand condemned in his presence by our sin.  The Scriptures say that we are, by nature, “children of wrath.”  And God’s wrath towards us is holy and perfectly justified.  His creation was to be holy. But sin diminished its glory.  God is justified in his holy wrath to preserve his creation and restore it to its original state.  His wrath toward sin is a manifestation of his love for the world.  What is amazing is that this holy and demanding God is also a God of grace.  He provides a way back to him.  When Isaiah encountered God in the Temple he was undone.  He believed that he was doomed.  Do not miss the drama here.  You cannot appreciate the grace unless you fully understand Isaiah’s sense of utter demise.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:6-7).

The modern gospel is impoverished and powerless because we have diminished the holiness of God.  But the glory of the full Gospel is that this God who is awful in his holiness has condescended to us through Jesus Christ that we might come confidently before him. 

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, … But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).

That, my friends, is amazing grace!  If, however, you’ve never placed your faith in Christ, then you remain under the wrath of a holy God.  It is only by his mercy that you are not consumed today so that you might have the opportunity to place your faith in Christ. Now is the time to respond to him.  Do not wink at your sin.  A holy God is not to be trifled with.

God has not changed.  The God of the Scriptures whose presence terrified holy men of old still remains the same.  His holiness is not diminished.  But his grace has been magnified.

There was only one day a year in which the Jewish high priest could enter into the inner sanctum – the holy of holies.  If anyone else entered they would be killed.  There was no access to God’s direct presence except by one designated person and then, only once a year.  But on the day that Jesus died, the thick curtain that kept everyone out of the holy of holies was torn in two and access was granted to all who believed.  God’s holiness was not diminished on that day.  But his grace was extended and magnified.  So then, the writer of Hebrews can say,

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Let us, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.”  Let us not turn away from a holy God, but repent from our thoughts that are not worthy of him and of us as his people.  May phrases like “the Man upstairs” or “the Big Guy in the Sky” deeply offend us.  Let us learn reverence once again.  Let us acquire the discipline of silence in the presence of the Holy once more. And let us not wink at sin, but repent of our wickedness so that we may we be a people who are holy because our God is holy. 

The Te Deum,  an ancient prayer of the church:

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord; we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
    Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
    heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you;
    Father, of majesty unbounded,
    your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
    and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not shun the Virgin's womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God's right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come and be our judge.
    Come then, Lord, and help your people,
    bought with the price of your own blood,
    and bring us with your saints
    to glory everlasting.




Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Who's Really in Charge?


July 7, 2013

Introduction
My pathway to become the lead pastor of this church was very convoluted.  And I’m grateful for each and every twist and turn.  For the first ten years of my professional career, my full-time job was as a music specialist for kindergarten through middle-school aged children.  Later I would also teach first and fourth grades in the public schools during a season of disillusionment with the church. 

Though teaching is one of my natural gifts, I had never intended to become a school teacher.  In fact, during the first seven years of my teaching career, I never signed a contract because I wanted to be in full-time church ministry.  I’m amazed now that my principal put up with me.  His patience is all the more amazing because for the first two years I could not control a classroom.  Everyone who has taught pre-school through high school knows that classroom control will make or break a teacher.  Many leave the profession because they cannot control their children.  It was a tough journey for me.  It was when my principal assigned lunch duty to me alone with ninety kids that I finally gained the confidence to make them do what I expected.  It was “sink or swim, baby.”  It was a turning point in my teaching career.

Every effective teacher is the unquestioned sovereign in their classroom.  Nothing happens without a consequence unless the teacher wants it to happen.  It is in that kind of environment – where there is unquestioned authority – that children thrive and learning takes place. 

The perfect classroom environment is a very poor reflection of God’s rule and sovereignty over his entire Creation.  But the effect is instructive for us.  When heaven and earth submit to God’s good rule, there is peace and blessing.  It is when God’s authority is refused that everything falls apart.  The sovereignty of God runs through both the Old and New Testaments like a golden thread.  We read this morning what is repeated throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, “The Lord is king!  Let the earth rejoice!”  After his resurrection, Jesus claims the sovereign scepter before giving his final commission, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me…” (Matt. 28:18).  Indeed, the assertion that “Jesus is Lord!” is the first creed of the church.  At the unveiling and conclusion of time, Jesus is called the “King of kings and Lord of lords.”  The sovereignty of God – the idea that he is the unquestioned authority in the whole cosmos - is the re-bar that ties the whole foundation of our faith together. 

The Book of Job stands as a masterpiece in the ancient annals of writings about wisdom and suffering.  Job probably lived around the same time as Abraham.  He loved God and lived a righteous life.  He was blessed with a large family and many material possessions.  You may know the story.  In a great cosmic drama of good vs. evil, God allows Job to be severely tested by Satan.  All of his possessions are destroyed and his children are killed.  His dignity dissolves with oozing boils that cover his skin.  His wife emotionally deserts him, telling Job to “curse God and die.”  But in all of this, he is a man of integrity.  He refuses to curse God and still praises God in the depth of his loss.  Most of the book is a dialogue with his so-called friends who insist that Job must have sinned to have experienced such difficult suffering.  Along the way, Job becomes increasingly embittered and begins to accuse God of treating him unjustly.  When all have had their say, God confronts Job.  Here is just a portion:

Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:

2 “Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
3 Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much.
5 Who determined its dimensions
    and stretched out the surveying line?
6 What supports its foundations,
    and who laid its cornerstone
7 as the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 “Who kept the sea inside its boundaries
    as it burst from the womb,
9 and as I clothed it with clouds
    and wrapped it in thick darkness?
10 For I locked it behind barred gates,
    limiting its shores.
11 I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come.
    Here your proud waves must stop!’
12 “Have you ever commanded the morning to appear
    and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
13 Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth,
    to bring an end to the night’s wickedness?
14 As the light approaches,
    the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal;
    it is robed in brilliant colors.
15 The light disturbs the wicked
    and stops the arm that is raised in violence.
16 “Have you explored the springs from which the seas come?
    Have you explored their depths?
17 Do you know where the gates of death are located?
    Have you seen the gates of utter gloom?
18 Do you realize the extent of the earth?
    Tell me about it if you know!
19 “Where does light come from,
    and where does darkness go?
20 Can you take each to its home?
    Do you know how to get there?
21 But of course you know all this!
For you were born before it was all created,
    and you are so very experienced!
22 “Have you visited the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of hail?
23 (I have reserved them as weapons for the time of trouble,
    for the day of battle and war.)
24 Where is the path to the source of light?
    Where is the home of the east wind?
25 “Who created a channel for the torrents of rain?
    Who laid out the path for the lightning?
26 Who makes the rain fall on barren land,
    in a desert where no one lives?
27 Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground
    and make the tender grass spring up?
28 “Does the rain have a father?
    Who gives birth to the dew?
29 Who is the mother of the ice?
    Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens?
30 For the water turns to ice as hard as rock,
    and the surface of the water freezes.
31 “Can you direct the movement of the stars—
    binding the cluster of the Pleiades
    or loosening the cords of Orion?
32 Can you direct the sequence of the seasons
    or guide the Bear with her cubs across the heavens?
33 Do you know the laws of the universe?
    Can you use them to regulate the earth?
34 “Can you shout to the clouds
    and make it rain?
35 Can you make lightning appear
    and cause it to strike as you direct?
36 Who gives intuition to the heart
    and instinct to the mind?
37 Who is wise enough to count all the clouds?
    Who can tilt the water jars of heaven
38 when the parched ground is dry
    and the soil has hardened into clods?
                                                            (Job 38:1-38 NLT)

God’s challenge goes on for two more chapters, in eloquent language describing the beauty, power and complexity of God – the Creator’s – world.  Humbled and overwhelmed, Job replies in our text for this morning…

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”
                                                (Job 42:2-6)

The Nature of God’s Sovereignty
OK.  Put on your thinking hat.  We’re going to contemplate things that must be true about God.    Remember what we said last week: “what comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  And this will take some effort on your part.  But let us worship God with our minds as well as our heart and our bodies.

To say that God is sovereign is to say that he is the absolute ruler of his entire creation.  To be sovereign, God must be all-powerful and all-knowing.  If there was anything that God could not do, then that thing would be the sovereign ruler of the universe.  Of course, there are things that God won’t do and those are the actions that would make him inconsistent with himself.  God will not and cannot lie.  He is the source of all truth.  God will not and cannot be unjust.  He is the righteous judge.  God will not and cannot act in an unloving way.  His very nature is love.  God cannot condone any sin.  He is perfect in his holiness.  But within the consistency of his Divine Character, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that God cannot do.  If it were otherwise, he would not be sovereign.

God must also be all-knowing.  If there were some small speck of knowledge somewhere in the universe that God did not know – in the past, in the present, or in the future – that bit of knowledge would leverage power against God.  He would not be sovereign.  A.W. Tozer says it so much better than me:

Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point.  To be Lord over all the creation, He must possess all knowledge.  And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign. (Knowledge of the Holy, p. 108.)

To be sovereign, God must also be totally free, free to do whatever he wills to do in any place at any time to carry out his eternal purpose without any interference.  If that were not so, He would not be the sovereign Lord.  In other words, God cannot be manipulated or forced to do anything outside of his will. 

Of course, none of us possess or can even fully contemplate that kind of freedom. The most capable classroom teacher does not command that kind of absolute freedom and power.  No military ruler, no president, no king could ever make that claim.  Only God is absolutely sovereign. 

God’s Sovereignty and the Problem of Evil
But God’s sovereignty presents real challenges for us as we try and make sense of our world.  Like Job, we wonder how a sovereign good God could allow evil in this world.  If he is the absolute ruler of everything, does that not also mean he must be the author of evil?  The question has existed since the beginning of time.  And the answer will be the same that Job and his friends received.  God, in his eternal decrees, allowed a free moral choice to men and to angels.  That some have chosen evil rather than good does not invalidate God’s rule and reign in everything.  God is still working out his purposes.  In fact, he will even cause the evil moral choices that men and angels make to eventually accomplish his purposes.  The power and blood-lust of ancient nations often brought the discipline necessary to bring the people of God to repentance.  The greed of Caesar Augustus brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.  The demon-inspired hatred of Jewish religious leaders led Jesus to the crucifixion hill where he would conquer evil once and for all and purchase our salvation.  God is not flummoxed.  God is not frustrated.  God always wins.  God is sovereign.

God’s Sovereignty and Free Will
There is another question regarding this issue that has vexed the church during the last five hundred years. You know it well.  It is the seemingly contradictory biblical concepts of God’s sovereign election of the saved and man’s free will.  Scripture affirms both.  They must both be held in tension with each other.  When we emphasize one over the other, we fall into error.  Like Job, we must surrender our efforts and belief in the sovereignty of human reasoning before the mystery of God’s eternal purpose.  It is not mental laziness.  It is godly wisdom.

Tozer offers this helpful, if limited, illustration.  The sovereign will of God is like an ocean liner passing from New York City to Liverpool, England.   The liner will arrive as scheduled.  But along the way, the passengers have the freedom to rearrange the deck furniture, eat whatever they choose, and set their own schedule.  Though it is only a feeble attempt to explain, both sovereignty and freedom are present in the picture.  In the same way, in God’s world, he retains full sovereignty while giving a free choice to man.

Reign in Me
Like the rule of a classroom teacher, the sovereignty of God is necessary for order and peace in this world.  Someday, when sin has run its course, there will be no more heartache, no more war.  What is ultimately true in the created order is also true in our personal lives.  Christians find peace only through surrender to God’s will.  This is the theme of countless songs.  Bill and Gloria Gaither have written:

            All of my conflicts, all my thoughts, Jesus is Lord of all.
            His love wins the battles I could not have fought, Jesus is Lord of all.
                                                Jesus is Lord of All by Bill and Gloria Gaither
                                                © 1973 by William J. Gaither

Earlier this morning, we sang:

            Over all the earth you reign on high,
            Ev’ry mountain stream, ev’ry sunset sky.
            But my one request, Lord my only aim
            Is that you reign in me again.
            Lord, reign in me, reign in your power,
            Over all my dreams, in my darkest hour;
            You are the Lord of all I am
            So won’t you reign in me again?
                                                Lord, Reign in Me by Brenton Brown
                                                © 1998 Vineyard Songs

It is always true.  The only pathway to peace is repentance and alignment with God’s will. 

Reflections on America…
Just a few days ago, we celebrated the 237th birthday of our nation.  Independence Day is always a wonderful holiday, full of family celebrations and good food.  It’s also a time for us to reflect on the founding of our country and the current state of the nation.  I don’t need to tell you.  All is not well with the good ol’ USA.  If the Scriptures are right in asserting that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34), then we are on the wrong path. 

The sovereign hand of God has been very evident in the founding and preservation of our nation.  From the beginning of Plymouth Colony in 1620 to the Great Awakenings that stirred and transformed the soul of our nation, we have been given many spiritual blessings.  We need to be aware of and affirm God’s providence in our nation’s history.
But we are not Israel. Americans are not the chosen people of God. 

Our founding documents put the power of governance in our hands.  We are a democratic republic.  In our political system, ultimately, “we, the people” are sovereign.  Of course, that truth flies in the face of what the Bible teaches.  Only God is sovereign. 

Along the way, we have been blessed with some very wise leaders.  Though his admonitions were not specifically Christian – he did not generally invoke the name of Jesus Christ in his public statements – the “father of our country,” George Washington warned us that we must rely on God and that religion and virtue must be promoted among the people or our republic will fail. 

During the Civil War, “In God we trust” was added to our currency.  The phrase, “under God” was added to the pledge to the flag in the 1950’s.  These phrases have been instituted in the spirit of George Washington and our founders and they represent critical wisdom if our nation is to flourish and survive. 

But such notions of reliance and acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty have come increasingly under attack in our courts.  We are told that we are a secular nation.  We cannot impose our faith and religion on others. Instead, it seems we are all forced into becoming practical atheists, except on Sundays, if we choose.  Friends, because of the inherent fallen nature of men, a truly secular democracy – one that will not acknowledge the sovereignty of God - will implode under the weight of its own sin.  As God is increasingly pushed to the sidelines, that is what we are seeing in our nation today.

The psalmist writes:

Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
    on Zion, my holy mountain.”
    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

…Therefore, you kings, be wise;
    be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear
    and celebrate his rule with trembling.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
                                                Psalm 2:1-6, 10-11

Our national folly does not escape God’s notice.  He has not lost control.  The President is not lord.  Neither is the Congress.  The Supreme Court does not have the final word.  Even “We, the people” are not lord.  Only God is Lord.  Though we loath it, the increasing wickedness of our culture presents an opportunity for us.  It is in the darkness that light truly shines.  We who live under the Lordship of Christ have the opportunity to demonstrate the power of the life-changing Gospel. 

Let us celebrate the many blessings of our land, but pray and work for repentance.  Recognize that it must begin with us.  But do not despair.  God is still on the throne.

Do you remember the words to the great hymn?

This is my Father’s world, I rest me in the thought:
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done,
Jesus who died shall be satisfied and earth and heav’n be one.