Margin notes special: Sermon for Ivan Kellogg’s funeral.


A number of you have asked for a copy of the sermon I preached at Ivan’s funeral – and so here it is.

It was a Sunday evening service – more than 20 years ago.

The Spirit of God was moving in a particularly palpable way that evening.

And Ivan – who was always sensitive to such seasons of God’s moving, was especially stirred in his own heart and mind.

That stirring gave way to an extemporaneous exhortation to all of us present.

None of us there will ever forget it. It was one of those unique experiences that perpetually live like glowing boundary makers in our memories.

BUT GOD!! he roared.

He repeated it, over and over.

And in each place he connected it to the realities, the trials and difficulties of life – both explicable and inexplicable.

From the most inconsequential and merely irritating – to the most extreme and even life threatening – He exhorted us over and over again that there is nothing in this life that considered simply in and of itself – we fully know the truth about – until we have accounted for God’s hand on it, purposes in it and sovereignty over.

Or, as in his own case at the time – Yes, I have kidney failure – BUT GOD!!

We do not have the whole story – EVER – until we have reckoned with – BUT GOD!.

For Ivan – the only way to live in reality as God knows it – is to live with the knowledge that reality is dependent upon, and the truth is not fully known until, we reckon with the “BUT GOD!” aspect of it.

Now this was no flimsy hope or self-generated concept.

This is not some pie-in-the-sky happy happy joy joy groundless philosophy…

The idea itself permeates God’s revelation through Scripture from the very beginning.

In fact, the phrase itself “BUT GOD!” – set as a counterpoint to some perceived reality is utilized nearly 50 times in Scripture, not to mention the countless times is implied or tacitly assumed.

For example –

1. After God had judged the wickedness of mankind in Noah’s day and responded with the flood – it would have seemed as if all was lost – And it would have been – except the text of Gen. 8:1 begins – “BUT GOD! remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.”

2. When Abraham in Gen. 21 was in confusion over the status and relationship of Isaac and Ishmael to the covenant promise God had made in Gen. 12:3 that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” – what brought clarity was “BUT GOD! said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” (Gen 21:12)

3. Decades later when Jacob was suffering under the wicked machinations of his father-in-law Laban – as he contemplated fleeing with Rachel, Leah and the children he said to them: “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me…yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. BUT GOD! did not permit him to harm me.” (Gen 31:5 & 7)

4. And when that same wicked Laban thought to hunt down Jacob to seek revenge – even he had to confess: “BUT GOD! came…in a dream by night and said…“Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” (Gen 31:24)

5. When Israel was old and ready to die while the patriarchs and their offspring were still in Egypt with the promise of inheriting Canaan still unfulfilled: “Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, BUT GOD! will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers.” ( Gen 48:21)

6. And when Joseph’s brothers who had despised him and sold him into slavery groveled at his feet in their guilt and shame so many years later – Joseph could tell them plainly: “As for you, you meant evil against me, BUT GOD! meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

( Gen 50:20)

7. And when Joseph himself was about to die – showing them he was not the true Savior, but only a type of Moses who himself was only a type of the Messiah – with great confidence he tells those still left in Egypt: “I am about to die, BUT GOD! will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” ( Gen 50:24)

8. When David is being hunted like an animal by the murderous King Saul in 1 Sam 23:14 we read that: “David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, BUT GOD! did not give him into his hand.”

9. It is this all consuming trust in the God who must be accounted for rightly before we know the WHOLE truth that can put the words of Ps 49:15 into the mouth of David when he boldly declares: “BUT GOD! will ransom my soul from the power of the grave, for he will receive me. Selah”

Or when decrying his enemies can say: Ps 52:5 “BUT GOD! will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah”

Ps 64:7 “BUT GOD! shoots his arrow at them; they are wounded suddenly.”

Ps 68:21 “BUT GOD! will strike the heads of his enemies, the hairy crown of him who walks in his guilty ways.”

10. In like fashion, Asaph in Ps. 73:26 relies on the truth that “My flesh and my heart may fail, BUT GOD! is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

11. In Luke 12:20 when Jesus is warning His hearers that they cannot trust in possessions, He tells the parable of the wealthy man who in his wealth was occupied with protecting it and growing it – says: “BUT GOD! said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ ”

12. When Jesus was addressing the problem of people trusting in their good works or hard efforts to win God’s favor He warns them: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, BUT GOD! knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)

13. After the crucifixion, when the Disciples thought everything was lost, that Jesus had failed and that wickedness and death had won the victory – then comes the resurrection, and Pentecost, and soon after Peter tells a Gentile audience the greatest news to ever cross human lips: “BUT GOD! raised him on the third day and made him to appear” ( Acts 10:40), which then Paul makes the cornerstone of his own Gospel presentation and in Acts 13:30 puts as the epitaph to the crucifixion account: “BUT GOD! raised him from the dead”

Now Ivan’s exhortation that evening was fully in concert with all the life circumstances any and all of us face.

This is the true hope of the Christian.

But nowhere is this more importantly demonstrated to us than in God’s redemptive plan in Jesus the Christ.

Back in the Garden, after creating Adam and Eve, God had given mankind in Adam a set of primary commands. Among them:

1. Eat of all the trees of the Garden freely.

2. Do NOT eat of the tree that is in the midst of the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or in the day you do – you will die.

God had created the human being to bear His own image to the cosmos; but as glorious and perhaps even incomprehensible as that is – we were never meant to BE God.

Only God can be exposed to good without being added to, and to evil without being corrupted by it.

By this tree God revealed to us the difference between ourselves as creatures and Himself as the Creator.

A necessary revelation because we were created so high, that such a distinction could be blurred. It often still is to this day. It was Mark Twain who said “God created man in His own image, and we’ve been returning the favor ever since.”

But we, in our first parents sinned.

We rebelled against our Creator as a race – we committed cosmic treason in trying to seize for ourselves the authority to determine for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.

We sought God’s crown in our defiance.

And death came. Just as He had warned us.

So it is that Romans 5 (as we just had read for us a few minutes ago) carries the record – “as sin came into the world through one man, and death though sin, so death spread to all mankind, because all have sinned.”

And considered by itself, that would have – that SHOULD have – been the end of it.

Nowhere had God intimated that mercy could be had if we fell.

Nowhere had mention been made that there might be some basis of atonement for that sin…

That there could be forgiveness and restoration…

For the wages of sin IS death as the Scripture says. End of story.

BUT GOD!!

BUT GOD! came and sought out our first parents – naked in their guilt and shame, and told them that there was a means whereby He could remain absolutely and immutably holy and just – as His nature is – and still offer forgiveness.

That as Psalm 85:10 states, there is a place where “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. ”

He promised them a Redeemer.

The Seed of the woman He promised, would one day come, and bruise the serpent’s head.

He would be the God provided Lamb of atonement foreshadowed by the ram caught in the thicket provided on Mt. Moriah when Abraham went to offer up his own son of promise as commanded by God.

Isaac being rejected as a sacrifice, in favor of the one God alone would give.

He would be the one EVERY sacrifice in the Mosaic covenant would typify.

He would be John the Baptizer’s “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

He would be God incarnate – As deity, perfect in His righteousness so as to be blameless and without spot and to perfectly fulfill the righteousness we needed.

As man, fully human – He could truly be OUR representative.

Only He could meet the need – able to propitiate the Father’s just wrath against cosmic sin of infinite proportions on our behalf.

All would have been lost – BUT GOD!!

This is the focal point of the text we had read for us just a few moments ago –

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God

HOW? through our Lord Jesus Christ.

IS THAT ALL? NO – Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

WHAT ELSE? – More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

HOW IS ALL OF THIS POSSIBLE? – For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

THAT’S UNBELIEVABLE – YOU’RE RIGHT! For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— BUT GOD! shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? WELL FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE – Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Or, as it is written in another place: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. BUT GOD!!, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ” (Ephesians 2:1–9, ESV)

The truth that Ivan lived and preached – the truth you and I need today if we will stand in the final judgment, in the day of God’s wrath upon all sin and ungodliness – is the truth of the BUT GOD who showed us “His love for us in that while we were still sinners – Christ died for us” – even in the face of our sins and shame and humanly irreversible condemnation.

No one make can make himself “not guilty”.

Only the declaration of God on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice at Calvary for those who put their faith in Him and His death in their place and NOTHING else – can save us from that just wrath.

Are you still dead in your trespasses and sins?

Are you still hoping that your philanthropy or morality or goodness when compared to others will somehow meet God’s standard of perfect holiness on that day?

Know it for the lie it is – the damning self-deception of trust in anything but God’s free mercy and grace in Jesus Christ.

Except the “BUT GOD” of this passage is yours by faith, you too will perish in your war against God over who has the right of supremacy over your soul.

Run to Him in faith right now.

Confess your sin.

Acknowledge your guilt and shame.

Turn from your self-government to bow the knee to God’s appointed and soon coming Judge and King – Jesus the Christ.

Cast yourself upon His mercy and His death for sin.

You do not have to perish in a Christless Hell.

Oh, we all would have.

We all deserve it.

“BUT GOD!”

Christian – nothing you face today is beyond His power – Ivan in human terms is dead today BUT GOD – “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. ” (Romans 8:11, ESV)

If He can raise the dead, and WILL in the resurrection, how much more can He meet your needs today?

UnBeliever – Even your sin and Gods’ just condemnation of it is no final barrier – you have only to trust Christ. God can both forgive and you and pronounce you righteous with Christ’s righteousness AND remain just. BUT GOD!

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