God Is Patient

John Martin, The Last Judgment, 1853

The goodness of God raises a classic problem about the existence of evil. If God is good, then why does He permit evil and suffering in the world? This highlights one of the popular criticisms of Christianity throughout history—God’s permissiveness toward evil appears to violate God’s goodness.

It’s important to understand that suffering and evil are byproducts of sin—rebellion against God’s attributes, character and intentions for the world. We have already seen that when God created the world, it was all very good. But that changed when humankind rebelled against God. Genesis 3 describes how the first man and woman, named Adam and Eve, whom God created rejected His instructions and lived their own way. When they made that choice, acting as representatives of the entire human race, they chose lives of hardship and death as the consequences for violating God’s created order.

Suffering and evil exist in the world because humankind rejected God’s created order; but suffering and evil do not have the final word in either the physical or spiritual world. God turned our failure into an opportunity to demonstrate His goodness by showing His patience toward us. As the Bible explains in 2 Peter 3:9,

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

God’s patience shows us His goodness by giving us many opportunities to choose Him. He doesn’t give up on us or write us off the first, seventh, or fiftieth time we reject Him. Like a master chess player meticulously planning every move, God sovereignly oversees and arranges events to bring about His good purposes, including opportunities for us to trust in Him.

But because God is good, He also will not allow suffering, evil and sin to continue forever. The Bible promises that one day God will judge the whole world with righteousness and justice. As Psalm 72:3-4 says,

The mountains will bring peace to the people,
And the little hills, by righteousness.
He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy,
And will break in pieces the oppressor.

God is especially concerned with justice for the poor and oppressed, including orphans and widows (see James 1:27). He also promises special blessings of comfort the afflicted, such as healing every pain and comforting every sorrow. As Revelation 21:4 says,

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

So, for the Christian faith, the problem of evil is not a problem of if, but a promise of when. And waiting for the fulfillment of the promise requires faith—faith to wait on God’s perfect timing and faith to live as a witness to these promises in the waiting (see James 5:7-8).

San Diego Holiday Half 2019

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Tomorrow morning, Lord willing, I will run my first half marathon race. Last winter I wasn’t quite ready for the distance and this year has been a very rough whirlwind of events. But the Lord is faithful. I’m excited for this next milestone in the journey of healthful living that the Lord started me on a little over two-and-a-half years ago, on February 27th, 2016. As long as the Lord keeps me healthy, I know I can go the distance. But my two hour goal is going to be a bit of a challenge.

This race is also very special for me because one of the reasons I run is for my family. I signed up for this race back in August knowing my goal time would be to hours. But I didn’t know then how meaningful those two hours will be for me. Exactly two weeks ago today, on December 6th, 2019, at 6:05pm, my second little girl, Graciana Jane Northup, was born. She had already been quite sick for several weeks and the doctors didn’t hold out much hope for her to survive delivery. Nonetheless, the Lord graciously gave our family two precious hours with her to pray and sing praise over her before He took her home.

Gracie, this race is for you.

Undy RunWalk 2019 Fundraiser

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Colorectal Cancer is a terrible disease that is on the rise in America. I personally have seen a family member and a friend suffer with this disease. Thankfully, if treated early, colorectal cancer is often curable. Still, it takes a tremendous toll on the person diagnosed as well as their loved ones who care for them.

Saturday, March 2nd, I have the opportunity to run to support families affected by colorectal cancer and to fund further research. Will you please join me in supporting the Colorectal Cancer Alliance by donating a couple dollars? You can donate through my Facebook fundraiser here: https://www.facebook.com/donate/567468763765855/10106408852545089/

Be Anxious for Nothing

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Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV)

Pardon my bluntness, but sometimes life just sucks, doesn’t it? You make these plans and they seem so important, but as the time approaches one thing after another just starts tearing them down. You have these people in your life, people you care about so deeply, that you’re ready to do almost anything for them, but when you need them, they seem to let you down. Maybe it’s your job, or you just can’t seem to find or keep a job. Maybe it’s a loved one who has fallen on hard times, illness, or death. Or maybe your own health burdens you on a daily basis. Whatever your situation, I am confident that each of us, whether presently or in times past, has experienced these kinds of discouraging situations.

I believe these kinds of situations can, depending on the circumstances, qualify as what the Bible calls “anxieties,” or “cares.” The Greek word has a long history and it has a double-meaning, very similar to our English word “cares.” In the positive sense, it can refer to any kind of heart-felt motivation to help someone else, “caring” for someone else when they are sick, weak, or in some kind of need. In the negative sense, it can also refer to any kind of heart-felt need that goes unsatisfied, like if you are sick, weak, or in need, but you feel as though you’re alone and no one is helping you. Both kinds of “cares” are strong enough to demand our full attention. And therein lies the problem—for when we fix our eyes on the situation, we take our eyes off Christ.

But there is a remedy for that feeling of discouragement and despair. You see, that feeling comes from a false perspective. You may feel alone, but you aren’t alone. God is with you. So, Paul says, the remedy isn’t to focus more on the situation, but to fix your eyes of the Lord. And prayer is the single most effective strategy for doing just that. And if you are willing to go to God in prayer, Paul gives a promise—the Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say might or probably. He says will. That’s not just a style of translation—that’s the literal rendering of the Greek. When we fix our eyes on the Lord, we can be absolutely sure that His peace will guard our hearts and minds from the efforts of the Enemy and the world to discourage us.

During the Last Supper, I think the disciples were feeling some anxieties. For at least a few days, Jesus had been telling them about how he would be betrayed and killed. He was going to leave them. In my mind I can imagine reclining at the table among the disciples, thinking, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Aren’t you supposed to be the King of Israel? But you say you’re going to die. And what’s this business about rising in three days?”

While Jesus and the disciples were talking after the meal, Jesus instructed them about many things, including peace. As John 14:27 says,

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

The peace of God is a gift given to us by Jesus. It was made possible by the death of Jesus, which paid the debt for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. In this way, Jesus made peace for us with the Father (see Rom 5:10-11). And now, the peace of God can rule our hearts. But God does not force his peace on us. As Colossians 3:15 says, we have to let his peace rule our hearts. How? By fixing our eyes on the Lord through prayer. And how is this possible? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Do Not Fear, Little Flock

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Then He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?

“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:22-34, NKJV)

Psalm 23:2 begins, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Sheep are timid, fearful creatures. They aren’t strong or smart, they’re always looking for food and water, and they’re easy pray for predators. So, sheep are typically restless animals, rarely feeling sufficiently provided for and secure enough to lie down and rest. Instead, they wander about on edge, easily spooked and rarely satisfied with where they are.

A responsible shepherd meets the needs of their flock to address these issues. Such a shepherd ensures that the pasture land is well cared for, providing nourishing food and having ample water for the flock. They also protect the sheep from predators, fighting them off in defense of the sheep. And sometimes shepherds use music to sooth the sheep, drowning out strange noises and helping the sheep relax so they can lie down and rest. But, of course, the sheep have to recognize the shepherd’s protections and provisions and then choose to rest in the shepherd’s presence.

In Luke 12, Jesus instructs his disciples not to fear because the Father is such a good shepherd. He promises His Kingdom to every sheep in His sheepfold. God protects us from our Adversary—Satan and his servants—as well as the forces of the world that threaten to overtake us. The Father also provides for our every need. He created us, after all, and He knows that we need food, water, clothing, and so forth. So, Jesus tells us, we can rest in the protection and provision of the Father.

But, as Jesus explains, our ability to find spiritual rest depends on our intentional seeking for God. Jesus gently rebukes his disciples with the phrase, “O you of little faith.” God made the universe in such a way that our spiritual rest depends on us focusing our hearts on Him. If we focus our hearts on the physical challenges of this life, we are restless, wandering on edge, searching for safer, greener pastures. But when we focus our hearts on seeking our loving Father, He promises that we will find spiritual rest in Him as He provides for our earthly needs.

May we seek God and His Kingdom with our whole hearts, that we may find He will not only supply our earthly needs, but He will also give us rest.

He Goes With You

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Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them: “I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also the LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’ The LORD your God Himself crosses over before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over before you, just as the LORD has said. And the LORD will do to them as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites and their land, when He destroyed them. The LORD will give them over to you, that you may do to them according to every commandment which I have commanded you. Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. (Deut 31:1–6, NKJV)

In Numbers 13, we read that the LORD brought the children of Israel to the Wilderness of Paran, on the southern border of the Promised Land. From here, Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan, 10 of whom feared the inhabitants and instigated the Israelites’ refusal to enter Canaan. Moses interceded for the people and the LORD forgive Israel’s sinful disobedience, but as a consequence, none of that adult generation were permitted to enter the Land except Caleb and Joshua, the other two spies who brought back a good report. Even Moses and Aaron were not permitted to enter the Land because of their unfaithful representation of the LORD at Kadesh (Numbers 20). Our passage today begins Moses’ farewell speech to the second generation of Israel before Moses’ death and Israel entered the Land.

The children of Israel, including Moses and Aaron, suffered severe consequences for their unfaithfulness to the LORD. However, while God prevented the adult generation from entering the Land, He did not forsake His promise to Israel as a nation. The LORD raised up Joshua to lead the second generation of Israelites into the Promised Land. God always keeps His promises. We may not always understand the terms, and we often forsake many potential blessings because of our sins of unfaithfulness and unbelief, but God is always faithful.

I want to you notice two details about this promise that Moses recounted to the second generation of Israelites. First, notice that God promised that the children of Israel would go to war. The Canaanite tribes were strong, numerous, and many would not leave the land willingly. But because of their sinfulness, which included ritual human child sacrifice to the gods Baal and Molech, God dispossessed the Canaanites and promised the land to the children of Israel (Deut 12:29–31, c.f., Jer 32:25). But Israel would have to take possession of the Land by force.

But notice also how God promised to go with the children of Israel. Not just to go with them passively, watching the battle from the sidelines. But actively going before Israel, weakening the hearts of the Canaanites, as well as going behind Israel, protecting the rear ranks which included noncombatants—women, children, and livestock—the weaker, defenseless ranks. Thus, the LORD tells the Israelites not to fear, because the all-powerful presence of Almighty God is among them, fighting for them and protecting them in and through the war.

For me, the daily grind of life is filled with uncountable battles with mixed results—many failures, a few victories, and many stalemates promising to revisit us again in the near future. But, in a similar way that the LORD promised to go with Israel through the war, fighting for her and protecting her, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ makes us a similar promise in our war against sin and death. Food was one of my battlefronts. But praise be to God who has given me the victory over gluttony and enabled me to better lead and care for my family in the way I eat, exercise, and prepare meals for our household.

Christ goes before us in our salvation experience and in the daily struggles throughout our lives. Indeed, Christ went before us in death (1 Pet 3:18–20); He went before us in resurrection (1 Cor 15); and He has gone before us into heaven to prepare a place for us (John 14:1–4). So then, we do not fear the final judgment, nor its servants—sin, flesh, and Satan—because the live of Christ has rescued us from the fear of judgment by delivering us from death and giving us eternal life (1 John 4:17–19).

God Our Good Shepherd

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For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 34:11–15, NLT)

Earlier in the chapter, Ezekiel prophesies against the leaders of Israel, whom the LORD rebukes for being “bad shepherds.” These bad shepherds are guilty of (1) feeding themselves instead of their flocks, (2) taking the best food and clothing while the people starve, (3) forsaking the weak, sick, and wounded, (4) ignoring the wayward and lost, and (5) ruling harshly with cruelty. This is a picture of Israel’s political and religious leaders. But when we look long and hard at what’s going on in our country and in the world, I think maybe we can relate.

Anyway, Israel’s leaders bore a significant amount of the blame for Israel’s sinful ways. Israel’s kings, queens, prophets, and priests, for the most part, instead of leading the people in worshipping the LORD, led the people in worshipping idols. And instead of turning to the LORD in times of need, like invasion of foreign armies or famine, they turned to foreign nations, especially Egypt and Babylon, and many others. This is in addition to all of the previous ways we mentioned about how they amassed their own wealth while exploiting the people.

But at the end of the day, that’s what we do. We’re all sinful. Even as believers, while we wait to receive our eternal bodies and heavenly abode, we wrestle with our sinful flesh and it’s ugly selfishness. That’s why it’s so important for us to seek the LORD daily, dying to ourselves moment-by-moment, so He can live through us, especially those of us who are leaders, in our church, in our workplaces, in our homes.

We are like sheep, easily distracted, not very smart, and biting, kicking, screaming, when we don’t get our own way. When that doesn’t work, we run aimlessly to the world. That’s what Israel did. And that’s what we do, too.

But the LORD is a good shepherd. He is not like Israel’s leaders or our world leaders today. He is holy, righteous, and true. He is always good, whether in dispensing justice or mercy. When we run, He comes after us. When we bite and kick and scream, he lets us throw our fit, then He sets us right again. Sometimes he bops us with His rod, other times He holds us down until we listen. And always He’s calling to us, gently beckoning us to come back to Him.

In these verses, the LORD promises Israel that He will bring them back to their land, make them prosper in the land, and give them peace. These are special promises for God’s chosen nation Israel. Not because Israel deserved it. The entire Old Testament shows us that they didn’t. But because Yahweh chose them.

The land promise was specific to Israel, but our Lord Jesus Christ makes us a similar promise about our eternal inheritance. In John 10, Jesus says,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:14–16)

And in John 14, Jesus says,

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (John 14:1–4, NKJV)

We are those other sheep, not of Israel’s sheepfold, but of the same spiritual flock, following the same Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. And though Israel’s land promise, may not be for us, the LORD promises us eternal life abiding with Him, if we will only trust in Him.

So, when your life is going great, trust the LORD. Don’t be like Israel’s bad shepherds, hoarding your wealth, ignoring those who are suffering, and exploiting those around you. Instead, generously share whatever blessings the LORD has given you with those around you. And when your life seems like it couldn’t get worse, know that if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ, this world is the closest to hell you’ll ever get. Because we have a Good Shepherd who promises us a future of eternal glory abiding with Him.

God Our Mighty One

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Though the LORD is very great and lives in heaven,
he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness.
In that day he will be your sure foundation,
providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
The fear of the LORD will be your treasure. (Isaiah 33:5–6, NLT)

The LORD will be our Mighty One.
He will be like a wide river of protection
that no enemy can cross,
that no enemy ship can sail upon.
For the LORD is our judge,
our lawgiver, and our king.
He will care for us and save us. (Isaiah 33:21–22, NLT)

These verses emphasize God’s transcendence. Transcendence is a fancy word that refers to God’s greatness compared to the natural world. God transcends time and space—He is not bound by the natural laws of the universe. He has no beginning, no end. He has always existed, always does, always will. He is Spirit. He is not composed of matter and is not restrained by physical dimensions. He exists everywhere, at every time, always in full measure of Himself.

For us to know God, or to know anything about God, we need Him to reveal Himself to us. We cannot fully understand who He is, but He has revealed much of Himself to us, and His revelation is to us our wisdom, our knowledge, and our salvation. He has revealed enough for us to acknowledge that He is greater than anything we can imagine. And this idea should fill us with awe, wonder, humility, and reverence at the mere thought of Him.

These verses emphasize God’s immanence. Immanence is a fancy word that refers to God’s presence in the world and nearness to His people. He is not a dictator who ruthlessly governs us from afar. He is a loving shepherd who compassionately meets us where we are and invites us into a personal relationship with Him. He transcends time and space, He enters the physical world and works to win the hearts of wayward souls and welcome believers into His family of faith.

God is our king, sovereign and just. Anything true and righteous is found in Him. But He is a loving king who cares. He knows our limitations, our hurts, our weaknesses, and our desperate need to be delivered from our slavery to sin and death. He has always known these things, which is why even before He created the universe He made a plan to come and rescue us and to abide in our hearts to comfort us and lead us in His ways.

Verses 6 and 22 both mention how the Lord is our salvation, that He saves us. In context, God gave this message to Israel through the prophet Isaiah. Prior to chapter 33, God told Israel that He would send them into exile for their wickedness. But in this chapter, God describes how he would go with them and how he would one day deliver Israel from her oppressors restore her as a nation.

When we look at Israel, we are reminded of ourselves. Israel was wicked and God called them to account. Similarly, we are sinful people and God calls us to account. But God knows we’re slaves to sin and He knows we need a deliverer to rescue us. Jesus—God the Son—came to do just that. He became a man and died the death that we deserved to deliver us from our sinful fate. Now he gives us the choice to trust Him with our lives.

As believers, every day is a new day to walk with Him. Every day we can choose whether or not to trust and follow Him. So often we’re like Peter walking on the water, who, when he saw the storm raging around him, began to sink. Life’s storms capture our full attention so easily that we can forget about Jesus. But like with Peter, Jesus is right beside us, holding out his hand, inviting us to look to Him, let go of the world, and follow Him.

 

God Our Refuge

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5–8, NLT)

Psalm 62 is a psalm of confidence, with a central focus on placing trust in the LORD. David wrote Psalm 62 from the perspective of being in mortal danger from his enemies (v3). He felt outnumbered, worn-down, betrayed (v4). Some of the people around him, people he was supposed to be able to trust, were guilty of extortion, stealing, and selfishly hoarding wealth (v10).

The world we live in is cruel. At work, if you’re not crushing people on your way to the top, you’re the one being crushed by someone else. We read and watch news reports about how we’re not safe even in our own homes, whether from outsiders trying to harm us or steal from us, or, God-forbid, even from within, where our own sinful hearts ever tempt us to demand our own way and tear down our spouses, our children, and anyone else who gets in our way.

So where can we go? What can we do? Is there any hope to overcome this cruel world? Is there anywhere, or anyone, where we can turn for strength and refuge?

David says “yes.” Even facing death, we have hope. In our weakest moments, we have strength. In our darkest moments of despair, we have a fortress of refuge. But our refuge isn’t an underground, bat-infested cave, an ice palace in a frozen tundra, or a flying mobile super-fortress. When we are broken, surrounded by enemies, and filled with rage or despair, our refuge is Almighty God.

In verse 5, David says to himself, “let all that I am wait quietly before God.” If you’re like me, you want to see fireworks and explosions. We want to see God working, and we want to see it now. But remember how the LORD spoke to Elijah on Sinai—God wasn’t in the mighty windstorm, or the earthquake, or the great fire. He spoke in the gentle whisper to Elijah, only when Elijah was ready to listen (1 Kings 19:11–13).

David describes God as his rock 3 times; his victory, salvation, fortress, and refuge each 2 times; and hope and honor each 1 time. Victory, salvation, hope, and honor look ahead to the end-result, how God will prevail in all circumstances, and no matter what happens in life, whether by death or rapture, we will all triumph eternally with Him.

Rock, fortress, and refuge capture the never-changing, ever-enduring nature of our God who, in the midst of even the worst circumstances, holds us in his hands, sheltering our souls from the barrage of our enemies. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:38–39:

[N]othing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And this is how David concludes Psalm 62—reflecting on God’s unfailing love. Power and unfailing love belong to the LORD. Therefore, He will surely deliver justice. But not in our timing. In His own, perfect timing.

David began Psalm 62 with a bold proclamation about His confidence in the LORD. But only a few verses later, he had to remind himself to hope in the LORD. So when your life circumstances seem like they can’t get any worse, and when your enemies surround you trying to keep you down, and even your own sinful heart turns against you and everyone you love, turn to the LORD. He is our only hope. He is our only refuge. And His unfailing love is so strong that nothing—not even our own stubborn hearts—can separate us from Him. And where we fail, He will overcome.