Monday, June 29, 2015

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”  The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.  So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.  And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline:  Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord’s demands.  Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last.  Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them and accept the insults of their enemies.  For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.  Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love.  For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.   Lamantations 3:22-33 (NLT)
For the second half of last week I woke up to the sights and sounds of Lake Junaluska, sometimes known as Methodist Holy Land!  The serene backdrop of mountains, lake and God’s wonderful creation is a blessing.  It always leads me to reflect on the goodness of God in sharing this beauty with his created beings.  I am always strongly moved to worship.

There is something about worship that demands we should have our entire beings focused on God, thankful to God, and submitted fully to whatever God wants to do with us in this moment and for a lifetime.

I believe Great Is Thy Faithfulness[1] is one of those worship songs that truly helps us move in that direction.  The words and heart-reaching music reflect the thankful heart of one who is ready to surrender to the God of Heaven, and serve Him forever.
As we sing this hymn today, place your worries and thoughts of all you have to do this week on hold; give yourself fully to the worship of our covenant God who died for us that we might be the redeemed people of His flock.

This, after all, is the God whose mercies are new every morning, and has provided everything you’ve needed since before you were born. 

And isn’t that part of the “Great” in Great is thy Faithfulness?
Stanza 1. The Eternal and Unchanging God

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Shadow of turning is a phrase that speaks of the passing of time.  Our God is eternal; He is above time.  As Creator, God would have to be greater than what is created.  The one who created time, space, and every molecule in the universe has no time passing Him or before Him – there is no shadow of turning.

Our God holds eternity in His hand…unchangingly.
“For I, the Lord, do not change.  Malachi 3:6a(NLT)

God is the only one whose character and actions are entirely and eternally consistent.  It is not so with us – or the things we “create”.  We change, come unglued, and eventually come apart altogether.  So does our stuff.

Our air-conditioner coughed, sputtered and gave up the ghost a week ago.  That’s not a good thing when the temperatures are nudging towards 100°!  It’s also not very fair; the warrantee was supposed to be for 15 years. 

But the one thing that I can say was right on schedule with that machine is that it was entirely predictable; a machine will break down and disappoint you at the moment you need it most!  It’s that way with cars, boats, and certainly air conditioners.

But it is never that way with God.  His character, love, and promises are faithful to us…eternally and unchangeably! 
Stanza 2. The Sovereign and Omnipotent God

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

To be “sovereign” means nobody else is in charge; “omnipotence” means one possesses all power.  Frankly, not everyone is pleased that only God is sovereign and has the power to back it up.

A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God’s omnipotence.  She asked, “Is there anything God cannot do?”  There was silence.  Finally, one little guy held up his hand.  The teacher, disappointed that the lesson’s point had been missed, asked resignedly, “Well, just what is it that God cannot do?”  “Well,” replied the boy, “He can’t please everybody.”[2]

The reality is that not everybody needs to be pleased.  Every aspect of nature is witness to the sovereignty and ultimate power of God.  Consider the examples

     ·        The Creation testifies of God’s control and power.  Psalm 90 declares that before the mountains were created, God is sovereign.

     ·        The Exodus: Egypt’s ruler, Pharaoh was the most powerful man on earth, keeping God’s children in captivity; God declared through Moses, let my people go.  Pharaoh objected, but in so doing brought judgment down on his own head.  The people left anyway!

     ·        The Cross displayed the ultimate power of God’s sovereignty as Christ claimed in resurrection victory over death for all who believe!

The Apostle Paul’s doxology as he signed off his letter to the Ephesian church brings together glory and power, the sovereign God’s character and omnipotent power:

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever!  Amen.   Ephesians 3:20-21(NLT)
Stanza 3. The Gracious and Present God

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Can you imagine a life with the very presence of God cheering and guiding you, providing strength as the day demands, and hope for your tomorrow that is bright?  That should give anyone a disposition to grin from east to west! 

But that’s not a reality for everyone!  Some people (even quite a few Christians) go through life with a sour look that announces they were raised on lemon juice and never got over it.

There was a Peanuts cartoon with Lucy saying to Charlie Brown, I hate everything. I hate everybody. I hate the whole wide world!
Charlie says, But I thought you had inner peace.
Lucy replies, I do have inner peace. But I still have outer obnoxiousness[3]

A peace that endures…lasting peace, strong peace, an indestructible peace that passes all understanding…how rare is that?

It may seem rare, but it is readily available in Christ.  Genuine inner peace comes from being forgiven of our sin, and having the assurance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The cross provides a pardon for sin; that’s grace.

God’s presence is His promise to us because, when we’re forgiven, we are also received into the daily relationship that is the reality of the Kingdom of God on earth. 

He walks with us, and talks with us, and tells us we are His own!

What this all means

When you consider what Thomas Chisholm, a Methodist Minister was thinking in 1923 when he wrote the words to this song describing an eternal, unchanging, sovereign, omnipotent, gracious and ever-present God, you can only come to the understanding that Rev. Chisholm had a picture in his mind of God’s Kingdom here on earth – and an unconquerable God who reigns in love and desires fellowship with every one of His creatures.

He sees God as the critical missing piece in our hearts and souls; that which fills-up our longing and emptiness, and makes us whole and complete.

He sees the great faithfulness of God as the assurance Mr. Wesley met on May 24th at Aldersgate, when God broke into a questioning, seeking heart that needed God-arms wrapped around him for comfort and strength.

This is that great faithfulness – God promises us…Himself!

And when we have HIM….we need nothing else.

Dr. Tom Dooley was a young missionary who organized hospitals, raised money, and literally poured out his life in the service of the afflicted peoples of Southeast Asia in the mid part of the last century.  

Here was a man whose deep relationship with God motivated him to abandon a soft career in the United States for a desperately difficult ministry overseas.  In the end that relationship [with God] enabled him to die victoriously at the age of thirty-four.

Here is the letter which on December 1, 1960, he wrote to the president of Notre Dame, his alma mater:

Dear Father Hesburgh:

They’ve got me down.  Flat on the back, with plaster, sand bags, and hot water bottles.  I’ve contrived a way of pumping the bed up a bit so that, with a long reach, I can get to my typewriter.…

Two things prompt this note to you.  The first is that whenever my cancer acts up a bit, and it is certainly “acting up” now, I turn inward.  Less do I think of my hospitals around the world, or of 94 doctors, fund-raisers, and the like.  More do I think of one Divine Doctor and my personal fund of grace.

It has become pretty definite that the cancer has spread to the lumbar vertebra, accounting for all the back problems over the last two months.  I have monstrous phantoms; all men do. And inside and outside the wind blows.

But when the time comes, like now, then the storm around me does not matter.  
The winds within me do not matter.  
Nothing human or earthly can touch me.  
A peace gathers in my heart.  
What seems unpossessable, I can possess.
What seems unfathomable, I can fathom.
What is unutterable, I can utter.
Because I can pray. I can communicate.

How do people endure anything on earth if they cannot have God?[4]

This is the gracious and present God, Sovereign, omnipotent, eternal and unchanging in His love and promises.

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
  Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
    “Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Great is His faithfulness.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

[1] Thomas O. Chisholm, ©1923, renewed 1951 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.  United Methodist Hymnal #140
[2] Omnipotence Questioned, A Treasury of Bible Illustrations © 1995 AMG INTERNATIONAL, INC. (adapted)
[3] Barbara Brokhoff, New and Improved Jesus? C.S.S. 1991, p. 53).
[4] COURAGE IN THE STORM, Illustrations Unlimited © 1988 James S. Hewett. All Rights Reserved. (adapted)

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