God’s Regret 

In the adult sunday school class at church we are working through the book of 1 Samuel. As we got into chapter 15 there was discussion of two statements that God regretted having made Saul king (15:11, 35), but also a statement in verse 29 that God is not a man that he should have regrets. This post is some of my thoughts on reconciling the two points. 
For me the key is to differentiate emotional terms as applied to a holy God, as opposed to how fallen humanity uses the term. I hold God’s regrets to be as like feelings, not that a poor choice was made but that the choice was necessary, yet grievous to watch play out (Luke 22:41-44). God’s providence is not detached from his character. He may have created the wicked for judgement (Prov. 16:4), and yet he can say this is not pleasing to his character (Ezekiel. 18:23). Although providential, He is not enjoying the judgement of Saul, in the same way Jesus/God can ordain Lazarus’ death, and fully know His intent to raise him from the dead, but be greatly grieved in seeing the death come to pass (John 11:5-42). 

In the case of Saul, the people demanded a king, so God gives them one knowing what the out come will be. Yet the giving of Saul and now his removal is not pleasing to Him. He must teach his people a lesson, yet it is still grievous to have to do so and watch it unfold. Scripture is full of the Roman 1:26 judgements of God giving people what they want, in opposition to wanting him. God installed Saul, to teach a point that hurt Saul, the people, and God himself (taking our iniquities on Himself). He does not sit back, like us, waiting for the “ah-ha” moment so He can yell, “I told you so”! Instead He is a God that knows perfectly what is necessary and can sympathize with us, not withholding from us, or Himself, any pain that must come to pass as part of His design. 

I think this teaches us to withhold judgment as long as possible, praying for the best in others, and not their swift destruction. Also we should be warned that what we demand of God, He may possibly give us in judgement. God is surely the great potter, making some vessels for honor and some for dishonor, but I believe the vessels of dishonor are wept over in their destruction. 
One anticipated question is that, couldn’t God have made the people wait for David, or appointed someone else, instead of suffering through all this and making David’s rise to power so hard? The simple answer is, No. As this is what happened, it must have happened as God’s perfect unfolding of His plan. Just the same we could ask if God could have destroyed the classes of Scribes and Pharisees prior to Jesus, so to make His days less confrontational. But He didn’t, and it served its grievous and glorious purpose. 

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All things for work for my eternal good. Romans 8:28-30

What Paul says:”And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (ESV)
Most segregate verse 28 from the rest, and without this context some common errors come up. 
It’s not saying Christians will have any less pain, suffering or general hard/bad circumstances in life than anyone else. The “all things” is simply that, all of life – the good, the bad and the ugly, are part of the Christian experience. Jesus didn’t die to lessen our hard times in this life. 
It’s not saying that because you did not get your initial dream job (bf/gf, car, college….) that the “working together for good” means that a better job (or whatever you’re after) is just down the road a few days or weeks at most. 
It’s not a negative version karma where I look at bad circumstances in life as something that triggers an equal and opposite positive circumstance. 
It’s not saying to look at bad circumstances as if they are good or come with silver linings. Bad things are really bad. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus was mad and wept, because death was real, and it was bad. He didn’t look past the pain of death and approach the situation as if He was looking to prove a point with a smile on his face. 

We so often tell people, who are in the midst of a tragedy that God will make it good, as in they will be able to comfort somebody else later on who befalls the same thing. That may be, but that’s not the promise here. 
It is saying:

* That all of life, for God’s children, is fixed and structured in a manner that it works to mold us, more and more into the image of Jesus (our greatest “good”). 

* That circumstances (good or bad) are the means/tools by which God molds us into Christ’s image. They are no less great or as bad as God intends, as He knows exactly what we need and can withstand. He never cuts off too much or too little. 

* That within this image bearing, God can refer to all Christians (men, women, children, Greeks, slaves…) as inheritors (“sons” as a position/title, not just gender). 

* That glorification is so fixed for the children of God, that it can be referenced in the past tense as already a part of what we are. 

* That, as Tim Keller summarizes in a sermon on joy, Christians have joy that transcends circumstances because these passages tell us 1) bad things are for our ultimate good, 2) the good (Christ) we can never lose, and 3) the best is yet to come.

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One interpretation, many applications 

Here is a new sermon/ lesson/ passage application grid. It’s borrowed in part from the Puritan model of sermon preparation for application, but modified. 

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Pascal’s Wager

Simply stated, the wager is that if eternal life and death are contingent on believing or not believing in God, then it’s logical to believe, Even if “just to be safe” because the risk of eternal damnation is too great.
To me it seems the wager is not an apologetic, appealing to natural reason in a fear/risk model as most cite. This then suspends (denies) the basic reformed position that in sinful depravity you could just logically convince someone to believe in God. Pascal does not attempt this tact in his other writings, so contextually as a writer, why would he start and even contradict other things he had written?
Now within the context of his other writings he maintains great descriptions of man’s depravity and its impact and cause of illogical reasoning’s of man. A famous quote of his places the motions of the heart against logic when it comes to love. This fits the moral rational view he holds that as man makes decisions there are calculations being made. You go to cross the street, and you mentally calculate your ability to accelerate against the speed and distance of on coming traffic. In anger you may ignore the calculation and just gun it and take your “chances”. I think this the observation being made in Pascal’s wager. He is not looking to apologetically convince someone to believe, but instead makes an acute observation that men make such an irrational choice with so much in the balance, that sin and depravity could be the only reason to not believe in God. It’s a proof observation that belief in God is a moral rational belief. One that man actively suppresses. If man approached the God question as he does other choices, the rational/logical conclusion would be to believe, because of everything at stake. I think this matches well with his “thoughts”, especially those on distractions and diversions.

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Millennials, Gamers and the Christian Life.

“Millennials”is the stereotypical name given to those of the current generation who are typified by terms like entitlement, whiny and at times aggressively rebellious. I’d like to make an observation about them in contrast to gamers and true Christianity. I hope this widens the perspective of some so that they may go through the rest of life cherishing each day for what it is. 

I’m going to use “gamer(s)” in the sense of those who regularly grind through a game over and over, not just to win, but to improve upon their character’s stats, gear and/or level. 
To me the gamer is most like the Christian. They both enjoy the challenge of grinding out another seemingly monotonous day seeing only incremental improvements each day. Yet within each day there is the satisfaction of having completed more than there was to do the day before. The millennial, on the other hand, just wants the goal or prize. The day to day is pointless to them, a waste of time and even stupid because of a sense of chronological snobbery, if it’s old then there must be a better, more modern way. 
In life the millennial wants retirement asap, because years of the daily grind only prevent them from traveling and doing what’s supposed to be fun. Yet should you give it to them, they will likely tell you in about an hour that they are bored anyway. Why? Because they have nothing to make having gotten the prize worth it. 
So, too, in church, millennials get the end of the world benefit of salvation idea, but the day to day is boring or a waste of time. The spiritual benefits should be immediate because they want them and as a child of God they believe they are entitled to them now. Yet other millennials are more willing to sit on the end of time salvation benefit and just live the day to day as like the rest of the world. 
What they are missing is that like the gamer, the fun is in the details of grinding through the same levels/trials over and over. You build experience, friends and stories about these trials, and you learn not to rush into the next area of life, much less the end level of the game unprepared. There may yield few gains at the end of even a month of grinding, but the gamer knows they are making progress, and see encouragement in those who are ahead and along side them. They are even able to befriend those of weaker levels to show and help them conquer obstacles still too great for them to handle alone. 
Millennials need to both learn and hear from others that life is lived in the trenches, and that although you might want all the rewards now, they won’t be worth anything if just given. You may have the prize, but no experiences of what got you there, no friendships with people you fought and lived shoulder to shoulder with, no stories to share of close calls, rescues and setbacks. 
Life and especially the Christian life is hard. There is no quick fix or advancing to full spiritual enlightenment now. Each day is a grind, and although there many seem to be greener grass elsewhere and prizes you want, you need to be tested enough where you are to know if you’re at the right level to advance there. 
I think one of the reasons Jesus was told “No” in the garden, was because there was no skipping this level of difficulty. So when we are told “no” by God, we are to suck it up that this or that scenario just must be a level we need to complete or grind through again for His glory (not ours). There is no room for pouting or rioting, because that just sets you farther back. You just get up and play on. Breaking controllers and whining just delay the grinding you likely should be doing to incrementally see it to the next level. 

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You’re a normal sinner 

No one is a special class of sinner. We are all sinners in the same general way. This means that none of us should expect or need angelic visions or visits to help us put off our pet sins. Instead we should expect our general sin to be eradicated by the general means Christ gave us to take care of it, those being attending to the preaching and reading of Scripture, prayer, Lord’s Supper and Baptism. These are the simple prescribed means to build a heart and life for God, but like Namaan in 2 Kings 5, we are somewhat offended that 1) it should be so easy, 2) it is not accompanied by a face to face acknowledgement of our greatness 3) there was no payment allowed. 

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Apply the Word

Scripture regularly admonishes us to be not only hearers, but doers of the Word (James 1:22), just as some, maybe few sermons admonish us with notions of application, or how to work out in our lives a piece of what we just heard. Application in sermons is a dying art, yet its something crucial to the Christian walk. Many Christians are well aware of being delivered from sin, justice and wrath, but know little about how the rest of life is to now work. In the absence of true application the culture is ready to fill the gap with its practices and reasonings. Most sermon application seems like moral/ethical standards or doctrines to just be understood. Denominations push these extremes but rarely provide a healthy balance or more. 

Application should be like going to the store and actually buying something that you take home and make yours, as the possession of the product adds to your life. This illustrates the three levels of learning (I’ll call them facts, others and experience). In facts, you learn the details and doctrines of God. In others, you see how people work out those facts in their life. Then in experience, you take both of the above and incorporate them into YOUR life. You have in effect not just read about a product, window shopped, or merely watched an infomercial, but you see such a need for it that you invest in it and take it home with you. Now all three elements are key, because left to themselves or only two of the three, will create problems. For example to just learn facts and doctrine, without any change in heart or life may just make you an Athenian, just liking to know and hear some new thing. 

My application in this post is for you to focus on the next sermon you hear, and whether an application is given or not, ask yourself what will you take home from the sermon that you will seek to incorporate into your life, and make yours, and thus be a doer of what you hear. 

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