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Without Parallax or Shadows

Below is an article that I wrote recently for Together Magazine.  I hope you enjoy it; and more importantly, gain some insights from this little study in the Word.

Blessings,

Pastor Connell

 

Without Parallax or Shadows

 

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.                                                                  

James 1:17

 

Our God is consistent.  He is steady, unchanging, solid and dependable—a reliable, unmoving Rock upon which we may anchor our soul.  He said, “I am the LORD, I change not.”  He is, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

 

In this regard—and in every other regard—He is unique; for people around us are given to change: circumstances change; political figures change; governments change; popular culture, and fashion and worldviews change—but the Lord does not change!  He is not arbitrary or fickle!

 

In the text above, James likens our God to the king of celestial bodies in our solar system—he calls Him “the Father of lights.”  That is, literally, “the Father of the lights”—speaking of heavenly bodies[1], and there is a reason for his use of the term.  He likens God to the great heavenly bodies that have captivated humanity since our creation—yet illustrates how He is unlike them in the splendor of His divine attributes! 

 

He is, in James’ epistle, not merely likened to the Sun[2], but is said to be the Father of the lights, their source and maintenance.  Indeed, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”[3]  He is, that “true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”[4]  Yet James ascribes to our Lord attributes that, rightly, go well beyond the attributes of created heavenly bodies—great though those bodies may be!  He says that with our Father of lights, that there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning!”  These terms, in the Greek, do not speak of the fact that there is no “hint of change” in Him, but they go beyond such meanings.  When James said that in Him “is no variableness” he is stating that it is impossible[5],[6] that there would be any variation in Him.  The word used here is parallagē.  This comes from a root parallassō from which we get our modern term “parallax.”  Parallax is the apparent (not actual) displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer.[7]  You can see a sort of “parallax error,” as it is called, by closing one eye and then pointing at an object.  Keep pointing at the object, and then switch eyes—you’ll notice that you are now no longer pointing at that object.  Your finger did not move—and neither did the object, but your line of perspective changed making it look as though either the object, or your pointing finger moved.  Nothing changed but your perspective.

 

Parallax error can occur when people try to make judgments from a faulty perspective.  A camera may have a “parallax view finder”—but if you use it on an object that is too close to your camera you may cut off a part of the object you want to photograph because the view finder does not have the same perspective as the lens!  Not only does God not change—He is without parallax error.  Many people try to change the nature of God by viewing God and His Word using their perspective!  Though they may see an altered view of God—this does not change God in the slightest, and the Lord is not subject to such whims of mere creatures!  Yet the lack of parallax is not referring here to our perspective of God—but to His perspective of us!  Our point of view does not change God at all—yet it does, through parallax, change our perspective of God—and our perspective of God affects our salvation!  We can have a faulty view of God and His Word—and it will lead us into error, it can easily affect our eternal destiny.  We, as human beings, are subject to parallax error!

 

Not so with God!  He is a God without parallax!  That is, His judgments are always right, and true and just.  His perspective is never in error!  He never gets things wrong!  Circumstances, prayers (sincere and insincere), man-made dogmas, fads and traditions have no effect whatsoever on the Lord’s perspective.  He always gets things right!  The Scripture says, “the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.”[8]  The Lord is not fickle, vacillating, capricious, inconsistent, or unpredictable in His judgments and His dealings with man.  This is why His Word is consistent from Genesis to the maps—it is His very nature—there is no variableness, no parallax in Him.  He is not moody. He does not change.  Upon such certainty we can stand—and we can know where we stand with Him—for He records His Word, His nature, His Gospel in the Scriptures.  The Scripture IS His Word to us!  His consistency is seen in the order of His universe so that even the heavens declare His glory[9] and His creation speaks—so that sinners are left without excuse.[10]

 

I count it as an unspeakable comfort being able to know—without any doubts—where I stand before my Creator.  Some people in your life may like you one day and give you the “cold shoulder” the next—all without any valid reason for their change in attitude or disposition.  God is never like that with anyone.  He changes not and His perspective is never manipulated into a wrong point of view.  His judgment is always based on the way things are—not just how they are perceived to be.  He is without parallax!  This is why so-called preachers who attempt to soften the clear lines of the Word of God, are not doing you any favors.  They muddy lines that God meant to remain clear and unambiguous.  They are “blind leaders of the blind.”  They offer a “perspective” of God that is not consistent with the clear Word!  A man (whether he is a “preacher” or not) has no authority to soften the clear lines of the Word of God.  We need preachers who will continue to preach it straight and clear—and people who will hear and heed the clear direction from the Word!

 

James continues his analogy to heavenly bodies when he says that God is “without shadow of turning.”  The word translated “turning” means “a turning of the heavenly bodies,”[11] a “revolution.”[12]  The late Dr. Marvin Treece translated the phrase as “shadow cast by orbital turning.”[13]  God is not affected by the dark.  Shadows that are cast by the revolution of planets within our solar system such as eclipses or even the earth’s shadow against our moon can obscure what we are able to see.  A full moon may hang in our sky but, due to the shadow cast upon it by our own planet, we may see only a quarter of the side of the moon facing us.  High-powered telescopes can do little to allow us to see the craters and “seas” that lay in the murky blackness of the shadow.  Details are lost to our eyes of all that lay in the shadows.

 

Even our nighttime is the product of a shadow cast by orbital turning.  People stumble in the darkness of night. Color is lost in the night—and every object takes on a dim “sameness” when we are in the shadow cast by the very land upon which we stand.  Fears are more pronounced in the night when sounds from the blackness bring a myriad of thoughts that cannot be dispelled with a simple glance in the direction from which the sound came.  Nighttime is the time when imaginations run wild, boogiemen lurk, owls screech, unseen branches slap at faces, incidents of violent crime rise, insecurities are magnified and truth is sometimes hidden in the cloak of darkness.  Yet with our Lord, our “Father of lights,” there is no shadow cast by orbital turning.  It is not daylight with Him sometimes and nighttime around the corner.  As the Apostle John said, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”  Darkness, they say, is merely the absence of light; and in Him—in His light is the absence of darkness!

 

Everything is clearly seen by Him.  Things done in secret—He knows!  Things said in dark corners—He hears!  There is no place to hide from an all-seeing God! 

 

Look with me at this poignant Psalm of Israel’s King David:

 

O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee… How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!

—Psalm 139:1-12;17

 

To those who make the futile attempt to hide their sin from an Holy God—who wish to cover their transgressions in a sheath of darkness—the very idea of a God who sees all is a disconcerting thought!  The Scripture says that “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment;”[14] and however much you may wish it away, or deny its inevitability, or stick your head in the proverbial sand and say that it won’t happen—judgment day is a certainty that has been “forever settled.”  An all-seeing “righteous Judge of all” is a terrifying thought to someone who wishes to walk in their sinful ways.  Yet to David the thought was a comforting thought! How precious,” he said, “also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!”

Why would this be a comfort to David?  Perhaps it is because he had already learned from experience that you cannot hide your sins from God. “…be sure your sin will find you out.”[15]  Sin that you attempt to hide cannot be properly dealt with, cleansed, and forgiven.  David tried to hide his adulterous affair with Bathsheba—and resorted to sanctioned murder, under the pretense of military battle, to do it.  Yet the sin ate David alive! 

 

When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.

—Psalm 32:3-4

 

It was not until David acknowledged his sin that he could be cleansed from his sin.  The prophet Nathan waxed bold and brought David’s sin to his attention with his famous, “thou art the man!”[16] and David felt, no doubt—first fear—then relief, as he knew that his sin was already known to God (how else would Nathan have known?), and that he no longer needed to try to hide in darkness.  David’s repentance was complete:

 

I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

—Psalm 32:5

 

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

 

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

—Psalm 51:1-4; 7-13

 

The man of God, Nathan, following David’s acknowledging of sin and repentance told him rightly, “The LORD…hath put away thy sin.”[17]  There would still be consequences of David’s sin that he (and his family) would have to face all his life—yet his soul could be clean before his God once he stopped trying to hide his sin from a God from whom shadows hide nothing.

 

It is part of our fallen human nature to want to hide our sin from God.  Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves from God when He came to Eden’s garden in the cool of the day[18].  Achan tried to hide the forbidden spoils of Jericho’s battle—a wedge of gold, 200 shekels of silver and a Babylonish garment—among his stuff, under his tent.  But with the Lord, there is no such thing as a shadow in which to hide.  God saw, even when men did not.  The progression of his sin is typical of what men do to this day.  His sin was hidden until judgment came to him and his family (yes—others are hurt by our sins).  When his sin came to light, he revealed the progression:

 

When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.

—Joshua 7:21

 

He saw, he coveted, he took and then he hid.  Yet God saw when he saw, saw when he coveted, saw when he took and saw when he hid!  God watched it unfold.  Behold “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”[19]

 

He sees every sin—every dark sin—every black sin—sins that you don’t want your parents, or your kids, or your spouse, or your church, or your pastor to know about!  He sees it all!  Yet He is the very One who wishes to save you from your sins and their consequences!  He is the One who came “to seek and to save that which was lost.”  He is the One who is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  He is the One who calls to those who are weary in the hiding of their sins, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[20]  He sees your sins without parallax.  He sees them clearly though you may seek to hide them in nonexistent shadows—and He reaches out with tender mercy and grace—with pardon to all those who would repent and obey the Gospel’s good news.

 

What a wonderful Savior is our Lord Jesus Christ!



[1] Marvin R. Vincent , Vincent’s Word Studies (e-sword version 9.8.3 edition, 2011)

[2] Adam Clarke, LL.D., Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible (e-sword version 9.8.3 edition, 2011)

[3] I John 1:5

[4] John 1:9

[5] Marvin R. Vincent , Vincent’s Word Studies (e-sword version 9.8.3 edition, 2011)

[6] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (e-sword version 9.8.3 edition, 2011)

[7] Dictionary.com, Unabridged.

[8] Psalm 19:9

[9] Psalm 19:1-6

[10] Romans 1:20

[11] Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 631

[12] James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries (e-sword version 9.8.3 edition, 2011)

[13] Dr. Marvin Treece, Lecture notes from a 1991 discourse.

[14] Hebrews 9:27

[15] Numbers 32:23

[16] 2 Samuel 12:7

[17] 2 Samuel 12:13

[18] Genesis 3:8

[19] Hebrews 4:13

[20] Matthew 11:28-30