An Anchor for Our Souls

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While visiting family over Christmas, I drove past my old family home. We moved in when I was six months old; I was newly married when my parents sold it and moved away. Now someone else’s Christmas lights are in the windows, someone else’s cars are in the driveway. The outside looks the same, but it no longer feels like home – as though a total stranger had put on your dad’s favorite suit. It’s just a house…but it’s still a bit disorienting to have something be so familiar and yet so different at the same time. As they say, constant change is here to stay.

Have you ever had that experience, a moment of recognition that familiar things don’t remain familiar for long? Friends age. Hometowns become cities, or ghost towns. The founding pastor moves away, or passes away. Nothing ever stays the same. “Only death and taxes never change!” we say. Some of us thrive on change; others feel profoundly disoriented if the coffee shop changes their house blend. But all of us want something to stay the same in life. We need, even crave, an anchor for our inner world, what one poet called a “permanence amid all that’s passing.” Where is such an anchor to be found?

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed,” says the Lord in Malachi 3:6. There is one permanent reality in our shifting world: our faithful, covenant keeping God. Theologians use the term “immutability” to describe a precious truth about the Lord: he remains, eternally, the Unchangeable One.

God is who he is, eternally transcendent over space and time and far exalted above every creature. He rests within himself and is for that very reason the ultimate goal and resting place of all creatures, the Rock of their salvation, whose work is complete. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. II, p.158)

But wait. Passionless stoicism in our heavenly Father’s heart isn’t a comforting thought. If God is unchanging, does that mean that he isn’t affected by our changing circumstances? If nothing changes him, is he capable of feeling grief over our losses, compassion for our fears?

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14)

A parent, knowing full well that there is no monster under the bed, can still be moved by their child’s fears, entering in and comforting them with genuine compassion. So the Lord, unchangeable in himself and knowing fully how every wrong will be righted and every sorrow turned to joy, still binds himself to us in covenant love, sharing our fears, griefs, and burdens. What Isaiah said of Israel is, and will be, true of us in Jesus:

“And he became their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:8-9)

All created things change. Under the sun, there is no permanence amid all that’s passing. Until the unchanging One entered the shifting sands of human existence and became our Rock and our Redeemer. In him, and in him alone, our souls find rest.

Photo by Beverly Goodwin

By The Time You Read This I Will Have Changed My Mind Map 7 Times

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By the time you read this I will have changed. I?ll probably have decided to not organize my basement today after all. I may decide to jog instead. No it?s too cold. I think I?ll head to the donut shop. My To Do List says Call Accountant re: Taxes. Yeah, I need to do that. Oh, I can do it tomorrow.

We all change in so many ways. Our bodies change. Our desires change. The Plymouth Fury I drove when I was single was replaced by a minivan when I had kids. Tim Keller says that his wife has lived with 5 different men throughout their marriage, all of them him. We change from Atkins to South Beach to Paleo to McDonald?s. We change our minds, our opinions, our goals. Churches change. ?I remember when I knew everyone here. Now I don?t know half the people. I used to just drop my kids off at Children’s Ministry; now I?ve got to get a number, show a photo ID and submit dental forms.? If there?s one thing that?s constant it?s that nothing stays the same.

Most things in life are uncertain. We have ideas and dreams of how things are going to go, but many times they don?t turn out like we imagined. We are fragile creatures with no control over our lives, no matter how much we think we have. That?s why James tells us not to boast about tomorrow but say ?If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that? (James 4:15).

A constantly changing, unpredictable universe is scary. That?s why I?m so glad God assures us he doesn?t change:

For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)

The Lord doesn’t evolve. He doesn?t grow in knowledge or wisdom, but is eternally infinitely wise. It?s not like he knows how to run the universe better now than when he first created it. Nothing surprises him. He didn?t need to recalibrate when Adam sinned. He didn?t say, ?Oh man, I didn?t see that coming. Let?s switch to plan B.? God doesn?t increase or decrease in power or in his infinite goodness.

He never alters his perfect plans and purposes. From all eternity he determined to send Jesus, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth, to redeem us. He won?t relent from his plan to make us like Christ, no matter how slow we are to change or how beset with weakness we are.

He won?t turn back from his plans to do us good.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (JE 29:11)

I often make plans, then forget to do them. I?ve made mind maps and lists of goals only to find them months later and realize I?d completely forgotten about them. I get distracted or decide to go after what seems to be a better plan. I know I decided to eat only healthy foods, but that sausage is screaming for me to eat it. I?ll make an exception just this once. God isn?t like us. He made the ultimate best plan from eternity and will bring it to pass. He won?t think of a better plan, get distracted or forget his plan.

This means he won?t forget to be faithful to you. He has a perfect timing for everything in your life. He?ll make sure you meet the people you need to meet. He?ll make sure you get where you need to be. The Faithful One will be faithful to you. Nothing can stop him from completing the good work he has begun in you. Hell itself can?t stop Jesus from fulfilling his good plans for your life.

Satan tries to make us doubt God?s faithfulness. He asks, ?Did God really say?.?? He tries to get our eyes off God and onto our circumstances. He?ll say, ?Look at this chaos. Look at this tragedy. How can God be good? Look – God isn?t caring for you. How can God be loving when this happens??

That?s why we need to constantly cling to God?s promises, to stand on the bedrock of his Word. God?s word is the one thing in this world we can count on. Even the most faithful of men change their minds. The most faithful of men make plans that go awry. We tell someone we?ll be there, but we get sick or forget. But when God makes a promise he keeps it:

God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Numbers 23:19

What security God gives us. What peace. What confidence. The whole universe may collapse beneath us, but God?s everlasting arms will hold us up. The economy may collapse or our health go down the tubes, but Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us. And he will never forget his word or change his mind. If he said it, he?ll do it. If he spoke it, he will fulfill it. The timing?s up to him, but he will surely bring it to pass.

Cling to God?s promises today. Put your hope in the unchanging One and his Word. Don?t put your hope in the government, or your own strength or wisdom, or your church or your family and friends as wonderful as they may be. Churches, friends and families change. Jesus Christ remains the same forever.

Now where did I put that list of 50 goals to accomplish before lunchtime? ?Oh well, maybe I’ll just watch a little TV.

God Is “I Am.” You Are Not.

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In the movie Hitch there is a scene where Will Smith?s character is making suggestions to another character of how he should dress for a date. The other character says ?I?m just not sure these shoes are me.? Smith looks at him and says ?Right now, you is a very fluid concept.? It?s a trite moment in a light-hearted movie, but that phrase ?you is a very fluid concept,? is actually profound and profoundly counter-cultural.

Too often we think of ourselves as ?me?, a static person, unchanging and unpliable. This is to limit ourselves to our own detriment.

?That?s just who I am.? We?ve all heard people say it and very likely said it ourselves. It?s that ubiquitous explanation (read: excuse) for an action or attitude that strikes someone else oddly or even offends them. Sometimes it?s innocent, like when we?re explaining our accent, clothing choices, or cultural peculiarities (hugging, being loud, talking fast, hurrying, running late, etc.). More often, though, we say it to justify ourselves when we are offensive or hurtful. We brush away our missteps by blaming them on our own identity. ?I can?t help it if you?re hurt by that; it?s just the way I am.?

?That?s just the way I am.? ?That?s not me.? Well, that?s just arrogant.

Thinking this way smacks of faithless fatalism. It assumes a certain achievement and superiority in the status of ?me? and ?I am?. We are created from dust; we are clay. Only God can rightfully be described as ?I AM?. The rest of us are becoming.

We ought never to be satisfied or limited with who we are. It should never remain the same for long. Yes, God did give us tendencies and personalities through our genetic code and our familial and cultural upbringing. But God also gives us grace to grow those in positive directions or overcome them. ?Who I am? is much less relevant and meaningful than who I am becoming.

If you are a person who hides behind the mantle of ?me? you are choosing conflict, disappointment, and frustration. You are risking alienation from those around you as you plant your flag in one place and they move on. You will be a stationary obstacle in their way as they travel on the path to who they are becoming.

Let ?you? be a fluid concept in the hands of God. Have the humility to recognize needed changes and to appreciate outside input. Yes, God gave you tendencies and a personality. But God is I AM. You should become.

Can I Borrow A Nail?

Because I just bought a car.

Though used, it’s clean and shiny, but I might as well drag a nail down the side because sooner or later it will get dinged, dented, or demolished.? If I don’t do it myself, I’ve got kids who drive.

Recently a friend from college informed me he’s now completely bald.? And my own once quarter-sized bald spot is now a medium-sized divot. Am I headed for a bad combover?? Spurgeon said that in 100 years we’ll all be bald.

One thing the financial crisis is revealing, as investments and jobs go up in smoke, is that this world is about as permanent as the crema on your espresso.

Moses wrote in Psalm 90, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (v1).

Moses and the Israelites zig-zagged around the desert for 40 years, longing to put down roots in the promised land.? Living in tents is ok for about 3 days when your kids are little, but after oh, 35 years or so, it gets old.? You get tired of checking your Chuck Taylors for scorpions every morning, sweeping the sand out of the tent, and brewing your coffee over a fire pit.

Moses saw a whole generation perish without seeing the promised land, because of their grumbling unbelief.? Moses locked himself out too, when he whacked a rock instead of ordering it to yield water as God had commanded him.

Moses realized that ultimately GOD was Israel’s dwelling place, not this world.

This fading world is not our true home.? We’re just camping here.? Aliens, renters.? GOD is our permanent residence, as D.A. Carson says.? Only God is everlasting and unchanging. Our eyes will dim and our hair will thin, but Jesus remains the same.? He alone is our security, our stability, our dwelling place.

Isn’t it wonderful how the gospel locates our joy in the one who said “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and not in this fragile, fleeting planet?

photo by bump4