Tag Archives: Knowing God

Time for analysis  

In my past life as a business consultant, I was engaged to help clients develop strategic plans to accomplish their organization’s mission and business goals.  As part of that process we often included an analysis of the “environment” in which the client operated.  It was called a situation analysis.

A situation analysis refers to a collection of methods .  They are used to analyze an organization’s internal and external environment to understand their capabilities, customers, and competition.   These methods of analysis helped to identify not only opportunities but also potential threats to the business.  These analyses often served as informative warnings of potential dangers.

The epistle of Hebrews, a letter to Jewish Christians of that day, includes warnings that are much like a business situation analysis to help its readers see potential threats to their spiritual well-being.

The Audience

The writer of this Hebrews’ letter knew the needs of their intended recipients.  Unlike the recipients of Paul’s letters, they were not a church (Rom. 1:7; Eph. 1:1; Gal. 1:2).  They were a specific group of Jewish Christians–men of some intellectual ability. They had been established for a good many years (Heb. 2:3; 13:7), and had a history of persecution. They should have been mature Christians by this time, capable of teaching others (Heb. 5:11-6:2). Instead they were withdrawn and inward-looking.

The audience was seen as negligent in good deeds (Heb. 13:16).  They were sloppy in their approach to attendance at worship service (Heb.10:23-25).  They showed evidence of “cooling” in their faith.  Most importantly, this group was wavering between Christianity and Judaism. The author of Hebrews needed to rekindle the readers’ commitment to Christ.

Their problem did not involve sin in its most obvious sense. They were not openly and willingly breaking one or several of God’s commandments, like stealing, lying, adultery, or murder. But regardless, they were falling short of the glory of God through wrong attitudes—things that we might consider today as being “matters of the heart.”

The writer of Hebrews’ challenge was to contrast the achievements of Jesus with that of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system.

The Environment

Like the authorship of Hebrews, the exact location of this audience is unknown.  There is no opening salutation typically found in New Testament letters.  No city is identified to indicate where these Jewish Christians resided.

We do, however, get a hint as to where the author of Hebrews was located.  Included in the closing, the writer advises their readers to salute “those that rule over you and all the saints” just as “they of Italy salute you” (Heb. 13:24). Commentaries identify this reference to Italy as possibly pointing to Rome.

Written in Rome (before A.D. 70), Hebrews may provide valuable insight into the “world” these readers may have lived in. It may also help us understand what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ during that time.

The early converts to Christianity in Ancient Rome faced many difficulties. The first converts were usually the poor and slaves as they had a great deal to gain from the Christians being successful. If they were caught, they faced death for failing to worship the emperor. It was not uncommon for emperors to turn the people against the Christians when Rome was faced with difficulties. In AD 64, part of Rome was burned down. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and the people turned on them. Arrests and executions followed.

The Warnings of Hebrew

The warnings of Hebrews have been the focal point of many commentators and biblical scholars. There are many reasons for this intense scrutiny.  Most importantly, these warnings emphasize behaviors that seriously damage believers’ faith in Jesus Christ.  These warnings are more than indicators of possible problems, or other unpleasant situations but extreme spiritual “dangers”.

Warning1:    Danger of neglect (2:1-4)

Warning 2:   Danger of unbelief (3:7-4:13)

Warning 3:   Danger of spiritual immaturity (5:11-6:20)

Warning 4:   Danger of drawing back (10:26-39)

Warning 5:   Danger of refusing God (12:25-29)

Comparison with today

This series is intended to help us examine where we are in our individual walk of faith.  Are we helping or hindering our journey?  Therefore, I will offer “more questions than answers” for our consideration as we move through the book of Hebrews.

We begin with these.  First, where are we in our current faith walk?   Secondly, what would motivate us to seriously consider the five (5) warnings?  And finally, where does Jesus Christ fit in our life today?

Our examination of these questions will act as the backdrop for this study series.  It is our hope that at the conclusion we will better understand the current threats to our faith and our spiritual growth.  This includes the current 21st century worldview of Jesus Christ and Christianity.

We begin next week with an analysis of the first two warnings–the danger of neglect and the danger of unbelief.

God is speaking

The epistle of Hebrews opens with a grandiose statement expressing how eternal God chose to communicate with man (Heb.1:1).  It sets the stage in teaching the Hebrews why following Jesus Christ was the best choice versus Judaism.  The old ways of communicating were over.  Jesus Christ was the new and better way to convey the mind and the will of God.

God spoke in the Old Testament

When did God speak?  God spoke at sundry times (interpreted as “several parts”).   God spoke as was fitting for that particular Old Testament dispensation or administration of His purpose.

In the opening verse, the writer of Hebrews explains how God communicated to men in the Old Testament.  God used the prophets. These men were chosen and qualified by God.  No man took that honor to himself unless called by God.

How did God speak?  God spoke in divers manners. It was God’s choosing as to the way He would communicate His mind to His prophets. Sometimes God chose to speak through the entrance of his Spirit (Ezek. 2:2), in visions or dreams (Daniel 7:1-14)–even an audible voice.  God even chose to use legal characters under his own hand as when he wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablet of stone.

God Himself gave an account of His different ways to communicate with His prophets in Numbers 12:6-8:

Then He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house.  I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD…”

And who did God speak to?   God spoke to the fathers (generator or male ancestors).  They were Old Testament saints who were living within God’s specific administration during their lifetime. God favored and honored them with more understanding and insight as to who He was.  These saints included the patriarchs–Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Others are listed in the “Faith Hall of Fame.” (Hebrews 11)

God speaks through Jesus

God has spoken in these last days to us by His Son (Heb. 1:2).  He has appointed Jesus heir of all things.  No more prophets or priests.  With Jesus’ arrival, God has chosen a better way to not only save man but also, a better way to communicate with man.

Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death, man is now “acceptable in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6) and “reconciled to God” (Col. 1:19-20).  In our new position in Christ, we regain access to the Father, just as we had in the Garden of Eden.  We can come “boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy” (Heb. 4:16) without the need of mediators like the prophets or priests.

Last days, in this text, could be interpreted as either the end to following Judaism by the Hebrews or the end of time as we know it.  While there are several views as to when the last days began, we know that Jesus is Alpha and Omega (Rev.1:8).

Barriers to hearing God speak

Barriers to hearing God speak can be either external or internal.

Externally we are confronted by the “noise” of the 21st century.  The challenges and stresses of everyday living battle for both our time and our attention.  With the advent of the coronavirus, our homes are the new marketplace for live streaming, social media platforms and video gaming.  Technology and innovation are our new distractions.

Internally, we have developed habits of behavior that often hinder our ability to hear God speak.  These include busyness, unbelief, and sin.  For some of us, COVID-19 has interrupted our ability to “assemble together” (Heb. 10:25).  This adds to our difficulty in hearing God clearly.

Ears to hear

Be assured, God continues to speak today!    “Are we listening?”  As we begin this study in Hebrews with its spiritual warnings for 21st century living, let us pray for ears to hear.  Why?

Because of the excellence and superiority of Jesus Christ.   Having received the gospel of salvation, we, like the Hebrews, “ought to give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard (Heb. 2:1).

Time for a New Thing

Is it time to do a new thing?  Can we maintain status quo in the wake of the coronavirus, a shrinking economy, and social unrest?   These realities have changed each of our lives.  This new normal appears to be here for the long haul dictating our daily routine and our future plans.    Is it time to change?

It is human nature to resist change.  Change is hard especially if it is the result of something we had no say in.  As we attempt to move to some sense of normalcy in this nation, we are being asked to do something new.

“Hell no!  We won’t go!”

Local and state mandates have been issued in order to guard public health.  These instructions are not only being challenged but most often totally disregarded.  This is especially true among our young people.  I wonder who they learned that from.  Even when we’re told lives can be saved and the economy restored, we refuse to change.   Is it time to do a new thing?

From the head of this nation to the head of church congregations, resistance is seen as a rallying cry and badge of honor.  But is it?  Or is it really evidence of our inability to accept change?  Is resistance to exercising safe distance, wearing masks, and avoiding large crowds symptomatic of our unwillingness to do a new thing?   

God’s “new thing”

In the Old Testament, the use of “new thing” is cited in only three (3) texts:  Isaiah 43:19, Numbers 16:30, and Jeremiah 31:22.  Here they describe situations where God’s greatness and sovereignty is on display.  God invites man to join Him in accomplishing His divine purpose.

I will not conclude that the challenges we face are part of God’s divine purpose.  I do believe, however, that God throughout man’s history continually exercises His sovereignty and His authority.  This time in history, 2020, was viewed long before today.  God saw it from eternity (Is. 46:9-10).  Pandemics, politics, and problems in this world never catch God by surprise.

In the New Testament this concept of a “new thing” was manifested in the fulfillment of the Messiah who came to save us and to restore man to God’s original purpose. God was unable to fulfill His purpose through families, tribes or kings; through prophets, mediators or priests.  God brought salvation to earth through Jesus Christ—“God’s new thing”.

God’s new thing resulted in:

  •     The Kingdom of God coming to earth. (Matt. 4:17)
  •     Mercy, grace, and truth. (Ps. 85:10)
  •     Man becoming a “new creation”.  (2 Cor. 5:17)
  •     Freedom from the penalty and power of sin.  (Rom. 8:1)

God’s new things always result in our good and His glory.   As we seek stability during these tumultuous times, know that God is more than able to sustain and keep us (Ps. 46:1-3; 7-10).

Things are changing

As we move through the challenges we face as a nation, know that God is still doing new things.  The world we knew a year ago has changed.  The life we cherished 6 months ago will never return.  Our reality this week may be different than it was last week.  Things are changing.  How can we prepare for change—the new thing?

  • Trust God—believe in His ability and willingness to guide us to a new thing.
  • Position yourself to hear God—pray and read His Word.
  • Look for areas needing change in your life—be honest.
  • Identify and confess sin in your life—what’s interfering with God’s new thing?
But God

God is the key to change.  Most importantly, God can do a “new thing” even in the midst of change.  This includes COVID-19, financial downturns, and social injustices.  He invites us to join Him as we do a “new thing.”  When we trust God with our life, we can look forward with purpose and not fear (Jer. 29:11).

Is God really in control? Man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty

Last week we discussed man’s responsibility in light of God’s sovereignty.  I put forth the thought that although God is all powerful, everywhere present, and knowing all things, we are expected to act prudently and biblically responsible (Titus 2:11-12).

We, as believers, are to use the resources available to us to accomplish the purpose and plan of God.  This includes our gifts and talents.  This mindset of acting responsibly begins with the conscious choices we make through our free will (Gal. 6:7-8).

While mindful of the theological discussions on the relationship between God’s sovereign plan of salvation and man’s free will, they will not be addressed in today’s teaching.  For those interested in pursuing this area further, I have included this reference to begin your personal study and for follow-up discussions with your pastor.

What is free will?

What is free will and how does it fit with God’s exercise of sovereignty?   Free will simply put is having the “freedom to choose”.  When God created man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27), He empowered him with a gift that no other creature possessed. Man could operate under his own volition (the faculty or power of using one’s will).

Webster defines freedom as not under the control or in the power of another.  It denotes one’s personal sovereignty with the right of self-determination and self-expression.  Will in the Hebrew language is most often used to define the inner man.  It includes the soul—mind, will, and emotions (heart).

Adam and Eve chose to exercise their personal sovereignty and pursued their soul’s desire.  It is here that the core of sin began in the independent use of mind and will to choose what was good and what was evil (Gen. 3:5,22).

It is not surprising (and with intention) that God included these core elements of the soul in His great commandment (Deut. 6:4-5):  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  Isn’t it remarkable that love for God had to be “commanded”?

Free will—not force

God does not force us to follow Him.  However, God’s plan will be accomplished either with us or without us.  God may even choose to use another means by which to accomplish His plan.  But His plan and purpose will be achieved (Is. 23:9).  Remember the icebergs?

While we are working in the external realm, God is exercising His authority, in both the external and eternal realm to bring into fruition His plan resulting in His glory and our good (Is. 14:27).  As the noted writer and theologian A.W. Tozer noted, “God’s plan will continue on God’s schedule.”

Choice not coercion

God’s placement of His image in man demonstrated His great love for His creature.  Mankind was the apex of His creation.  The result of this unique relationship was to have been God living in unbroken fellowship with man and man loving God.

However, “The God-who-Sees” must have known that with the gift of free will would also come the risk of a “divided heart” (1 Kings 18:21; 1 Sam. 7:3).  Adam and Eve chose “free will” over God.  The reality that began in the Garden is the same reality we must acknowledge in 2020—alignment with God’s sovereign will is really a matter of choice.

Our Free Will-Our Choice

After contrasting man’s free will with God’s sovereignty, my takeaway is to be more intentional and prudent in the choices I make.  My choice—large or small—is a reflection of how much I love and trust God.  It is my acknowledgement of God’s wisdom, love, and sovereignty.

Abdicating my will to God is not based on coercion or fear.  It is “freely given” to the one whose image I bear (1 Cor. 15:49) and who gave His life for me (John 3:16).

As in every area of our life, Jesus is our supreme example of perfect obedience to the will of God without the lessening of personal choice.  Although Jesus was fully aware of His purpose and the outcome of His life, He still prays in Gethsemane, “Father, if thou art willing remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)   Let all the redeemed of the Lord follow Jesus’ example.

Is God really in control? Man’s responsibility versus God’s sovereignty

God's sovereignty vs Man's responsibility

What is man’s responsibility in light of God’s supreme authority and power over everything?  Does God’s predetermined plan and purpose negate man’s responsibility to move forward with his own personal plans?  Where does God’s sovereignty end and man’s responsibility begin?

These are questions that have been debated for centuries among many great theologians and dedicated scholars.  Today we will begin to explore how to better operate (cooperate) within the sovereign rule of God.

Defining man’s Responsibility

How we define our responsibility in light of God‘s sovereignty is often shaped by one of two common views.  One view holds the belief that man has no role and therefore, no responsibility.  This belief contends that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable regardless of what man does.

This is seen as a somewhat fatalistic view with a submissive outlook.  Man is seen as a mere “puppet” in accomplishing God’s sovereign plan and purpose.  If this were true, why then would God created us with free will?  (Next week’s discussion)

Another view of responsibility

Another view is the belief that although God is sovereign, man does retain responsibility for his life.  Through use of our gifts and talents, by our response to trials and tribulation, through the choices we make, we are continually (perhaps unknowingly) participating with the Creator as He executes His plan and purpose.

This partnership can be illustrated by how icebergs move.

In the frigid waters around Greenland are countless icebergs, some little and some gigantic. If you’d observe them carefully, you’d notice that sometimes the small ice floes move in one direction while their massive counterparts flow in another. The explanation is simple. Surface winds drive the little ones, whereas the huge masses of ice are carried along by deep ocean currents. When we face trials and tragedies, it’s helpful to see our lives as being subject to two forces—surface winds and ocean currents. The winds represent everything changeable, unpredictable, and distressing. But operating simultaneously with these gusts and gales is another force that’s even more powerful. It is the sure movement of God’s wise and sovereign purposes and the deep flow of His unchanging love.[1]

Sovereignty and Pray

While we may feel incapable of fully understanding God’s plan, He has revealed what we need to know to move forward in our lives.  While the secret things belong to God, the revealed things belong to us—to guide our behaviors and actions (Deut. 29:29).  One of the areas God has revealed to us is our responsibility to pray.

Believers are biblically instructed to pray (Rom. 12:12).  We are even directed for whom we are to pray—our leaders, our enemies, and the unsaved.  We often close our prayer recognizing the sovereignty of God with the pronouncement, “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10).

Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God.  If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers.  It is in our prayers that we proclaim the power and ability of God to accomplish that which we are praying (1 John 5:14-15).  Prayer is the expression of our trust in God’s sovereignty.  It is our responsibility to pray.

Sovereignty and Prudence

We as believers are also responsible to act with prudence. I never fully appreciated this word until I understood its use in the context of God’s sovereignty.  Though not frequently highlighted in the biblical text, its application is noteworthy in both the Old and New Testament record.

In the framework of God’s sovereignty, prudence is the “use of all legitimate, biblical means at our disposal to avoid harm to ourselves and others AND to bring about what we believe to be the right course of events.”[2]

In the King James translation, prudence is used on three occasions.  Prudence—good sense and insight—is attributed to Solomon for his ability to accomplish the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  (2 Chron. 2:12).  In Proverbs 8:12, wisdom is said to dwell together with prudence—both important for knowledge and discretion.  The Apostle Paul includes prudence—knowledge and holy love of the will of God—as one of the spiritual blessings received by believers as a result of being in Christ (Eph. 1:8).   It is our responsibility to practice prudence.

Do Our Part

Although we recognize the reality that we operate within God’s sovereign purpose and plan, it does not negate our responsibility to “do our part”.  It is with the knowledge of God’s sovereignty that we are to take action with the specific means provided to us to address the situations in our life.   This includes both prayer and prudence.

    • Peter and John though directed by Jesus to “preach to all nations” when threatened by the Jewish Sanhedrin prayed that God would “enable then to speak with boldness” (Acts 4:24, 28-29).
    • Nehemiah saw God sovereignly position Israel to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, yet he posted guards day and night (Neh. 4:7-9) and insured his workers were armed as they worked (Neh. 4:16-20).
The Bottom-line

As believers, we cannot use the sovereignty of God as an excuse not to actively engage in the challenges and opportunities God presents in our lives. God’s sovereignty by no means negates our responsibility to use every means at our disposal to promote the right outcomes.  Those outcomes should be based on what God reveals to us through His Spirt and His Word.  These are proven principles by which we can align with and serve the purpose of God. 

Lastly, when we feel as though we are drifting without purpose and direction, remember the “icebergs”.  They operate simultaneously with gusts and gales AND with another force that’s even more powerful.  We too operate simultaneously—by God’s sovereign purpose AND by our moral responsibility as He works in the ordinary circumstances of our lives (Rom. 8:28).

[1]   Contributor unknown

[2]  Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control:  Trusting God in a World of Hurt

Is God really in control? Knowing the God who sees

 

knowing the God who sees

Knowing God (theology) is central to our faith and our hope of salvation.  It fuels our trust during times of adversity and hardship.  Our view of God provides the framework on which we as believers live our life.  In knowing God we can better understand His sovereignty—His rightful position of supreme authority and power.

Seeing God through His attributes

We learn about God by understanding His attributes.  Attributes are the qualities which characterize God’s nature.   Some believers define these attributes into two (2) general categories:  His goodness and His greatness

Others understand God’s nature viewed through:

  • His omnipotence:   God is all powerful. (Ps. 66:5-7)
  • His omniscience:    God knows all things actual and possible.  (Is. 46:9-10)
  • His omnipresence: God is everywhere present.  (Ps. 139:7-10)

In reading these brief samplings of God’s attributes, believers have reason to be encouraged and hopeful knowing that God is more than able to handle any of the problems we face today including health pandemics, social inequities, and racial discord.

God in Action

In the Bible we witness God’s sovereignty through His divine attributes.  God’s attributes are most often seen through nature (Ps. 19:1-3) and through His relationship with man.  One notable relationship was the one He established with Abram.

Abram, like Adam, would play an important role in God’s sovereign plan of salvation (Gen. 12:2).  It was from Abram’s descendants that Jesus, the promised Messiah, would emerge.  Through Jesus Christ, not only would Israel be blessed but the whole world would become beneficiaries of God’s divine grace (Gal. 3:6-9).

The LORD made a covenant with Abram to “give His descendants land” (Gen. 15:18). However, after ten (10) years in Canaan, Abram and his wife, Sarai had “no baby”.  Sarai, thinking she was barren (and that God needed some help), persuaded Abram to take her handmaiden, Hagar, to fulfill the promise God had made to them. (Gen. 16:3).

Did God see what was happening? God not only saw what was happening but He also knew the resulting effect of Sarai’s misguided plan. God in His omnipresence and omniscience saw and knew that there would be impacts from Sarai and Abram’s scheme that would reach even into the 21st century.

The God who knows and sees

The situation that had been engineered by man (or woman, in this case Sarai) was the perfect setting for Jehovah, the God Who sees, to exercise His sovereignty in redirecting the fate of not only Abram, but also the future of an Egyptian slave girl named Hagar.

While Sarai’s plan of offering her maid to Abram to bear him a child was acceptable within the social custom of the day, there were still consequences that Sarai and Abram had not considered.  More importantly, they were working outside the will of God and His plan for their life.

Is this not the case for mankind in the 21st century? God has given us instruction on how we are to live. However, many times we attempt to accomplish God’s purpose through counterfeit and fruitless efforts. We are guilty like Sarai and Abram of accepting society’s customs and values in making life decisions that often lead to disharmony and confusion.

Working outside God’s Sovereignty

After Hagar conceived, the relationship between she and Sarai began to “go south.” Hagar began to despise Sarai (Gen. 16:4, 5).  Sarai began to mistreat Hagar.  So Hagar fled to the desert, headed for her homeland. But the God Who sees had other plans for the runaway. It was here that the Angel of the LORD (the first reference to the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament) began to speak to Hagar, asking two questions that would frame God’s special message for her: “Where have you come from and where are you going?”

Often the God Who sees will ask questions for which He already knows the answers. The God Who sees recognizes our unique circumstance including how we arrived at this place in our life. Whether by mistreatment or reliance on our own efforts, God is there to redirect our path to His perfect purpose.

Knowing God in His Sovereignty

Hagar would have to stay there unless she “returned and submitted” herself again to Sarai. Hagar was “strongly encouraged” by the Angel of the LORD to “put herself back under the affliction” of Sarai (v. 9).

For her obedience, she was given a promised inheritance for her son, whom the Angel of the LORD named Ishmael, “the LORD has heard your affliction”. Hagar then called the name of the LORD Who saw and spoke to her in the desert: “You-Are-the-God Who-Sees” (v. 13).

Sometimes God puts us back at “square one” in order to bless us in His unique way. It may require that we acknowledge our part or culpability in the unfortunate circumstance we’re in, even asking forgiveness for offenses we may have inflicted. Obedience to His instruction is crucial. We trust that the God Who sees always has our best interest in mind, regardless of our perception of the outcome (Jer. 29:11).

Knowing God in all His glory requires that we also know Him in His sovereignty.  Because God is both good and great, we can trust our future with Him.  We have no need to rely on trends and forecast when we know that God is all powerful, that He knows all things actual and possible, and that He is everywhere present.  Such authority cannot be matched by anything or anyone in heaven or on earth.

The sovereign God who created heaven and earth, covenanted with Abram and Sarai, and contented for our salvation, surely sees us.  God sees us—He saw us in the past (Rom. 5:6), He sees us in the present, and we can trust, He will see us in the future (Ps. 31:15).   Now is the time to get to know the God who sees.

Is God really in control? Why now?

God is sovereign

Why now?  Why are we studying the sovereignty of God?  Because we have questions!  What is the future of this nation?  Who is best equipped to lead us in this “new normal” world we find ourselves?  How are we to move forward through this health pandemic and social unrest?  Does anyone have a plan?

Because we have these questions, it is timely to share a truth that will encourage us during this period of uncertainty and turmoil.  It doesn’t seem like anyone has the answers nor is anyone able to guarantee success.

While all this may be true of humanity and our current institutions, the Creator of heaven and earth (Ps. 19:1-6) knows the answers for all our questions.  Who then is in a better position to provide us with the answers we need?  God is sovereign and He has always had a plan for mankind.  What we are experiencing right now is part of that plan.

Knowing God is the “why now”

It is important to continually reinforce our knowledge of who God is.  Knowing God is foundational in securing our trust and our confidence (Ps. 27:1-3).  This is especially true during difficult times when fear and doubt challenge our faith.  When that happens, we can stand firmly on what we know about God and those things which He has revealed to us.

Those things God reveals to us can answer persistent questions concerning not only our life but the lives of those around us, including our nation.   How we respond to things revealed become the entry point for God to provide His power, His provision, and His presence.

The Call for Understanding God’s Sovereignty

In his book, The Sovereignty of God, A.W. Tozer, pastor, author, and spiritual mentor, cries out for renewed understanding of God’s sovereignty.

Present day conditions call loudly for a new examination and new presentation of God’s omnipotence, God’s sufficiency, God’s sovereignty. From every pulpit in the land it needs to be thundered forth that God still lives, that God still observes, that God still reigns. Faith is now in the crucible; it is being tested by fire, and there is no fixed and sufficient resting-place for the heart and mind but in the throne of God. What is needed now, as never before, is a full, positive, constructive setting forth of the Godhead of God. 

 It is in the context of God’s sovereignty that we can manage our fears and minimize our anxieties.  The uncertainties and insecurities we experience today can now be transferred to God who is the only one who can do something about them (2 Cor. 12:9).

Moving from head to heart

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the sovereignty of God (and you know I love nuts and bolts), it is important to remind ourselves that what we learn about God is not to be reduced to “mere academics”.

We must apply this truth (as with all truth) not only to our minds but also to our hearts.  If we do the former without the latter, we might know that God is sweet but we will never taste His sweetness (Ps. 34:8).

Defining the Sovereignty of God

Sovereignty is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies.[1] In political theory, sovereignty is a functional term designating supreme legitimate authority over some political entity. It is the ultimate overseer, or authority, in the decision-making process of the state and in the maintenance of order.[2] 

The sovereignty of God refers to His position of supreme authority and power.  He rules over and owns everything because He made everything.  Much like man’s sovereignty, God has legitimate authority over His universe.  As the sovereign One, God has a predetermined plan and purpose for everything that happens in that universe.  Not only does He have a plan (Ep. 1:11) but God oversees and makes decisions which fulfill His divine plan.  God upholds all things and all things owe their existence to Him (Heb. 1:3).[3]

The Right to Supreme Authority

God’s sovereignty is a natural consequence of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.  God is described in the Bible as all-powerful and all-knowing (Psalm 147:5), outside of time (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2), and responsible for the creation of everything (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1). These divine traits set the minimum boundary for God’s sovereign control in the universe, which is to say that nothing in the universe occurs without God’s permission.

God has the power and knowledge to prevent anything He chooses to prevent, so anything that does happen must, at the very least, be allowed by God. When we speak of the sovereignty of God, we mean He rules the universe.  The debate begins when and where His control is direct and when it is indirect.  This will be explored at a later time.

God’s Plan Unfolding in His Sovereignty

With everything that is occurring in our nation and our cities, it’s easy to wonder if God really cares about us.  There are those who have a cartoonish view of God’s sovereignty.

God’s relationship with His creation is pictured as “a man viewing an ant in a fish bowl”.  He is seen as distant, detached, and disconnected.  That may be how we feel as we view the world around us today.  But as I stated at the beginning of this teaching, God has a plan.

The Triune God orchestrated their plan before the creation of the world.  That redemptive plan (Rom. 5:2) has been unfolding through the history of mankind and continues even today in the 21st century.

As chronicled from Genesis to Revelation, God has an eternal plan that restores man’s fellowship with God by the creation of an escape from death’s curse (Romans 5:2) and the rediscovery of the spiritual life.  It is God’s plan to bring mankind to Himself (Eph. 1:7-11) and ultimately to a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1).

It is by His divine power and gracious will that we live, and move, and have our meaning (Acts 17:28).  Knowing God is sovereign is enough to give us a good hope (2 Thess. 2:16).  It is enough to assure us of our future well-being (Jer. 29:11).

[1] Wikipedia

[2] Britannica.com

[3] Insight for Living Canada

 

 

Is God really in control?  Sure facts, overwhelming odds, and God

Is God really in control

Today is the first day of July and I’d like to welcome you to Wisdom Wednesday.  This is not to be confused with Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday but it’s a new phrase to represent a return to something good from the past.  In this case, it is a previous WordBytes teaching which emphasizes a “faith basic”.

I want to use Wisdom Wednesday to introduce a new series, “Is God Really in Control?—Understanding the Sovereignty of God.”   For the next few weeks we will peel back the onion of God’s nature, how God accomplishes His will on earth, and the believer’s role under God’s sovereign rule.

Why God is in control?

This study is important “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) as we face challenges that seem impossible.   Our fears can be quickly calmed by embracing the fact that God is the supreme authority over everything in heaven and on earth (Daniel 4:35; Is. 46:10).

In God we can place our confidence and our hope.  In the midst of gloom and crisis, we can trust in the supreme God who rules over everything.  And because God is sovereign, He ultimately controls all that happens in the world and in our lives (providence).   To introduce this series, I’d like to turn our attention to an earlier WordBytes entitled, “Sure Facts, Overwhelming Odds, and God” to open this study.

Sure Facts

What do sure facts, overwhelming odds, and God have in common?  These are factors which often determine a person’s chance of success in the world. While these may be actual considerations, they are not the final word. We must always factor in the sovereignty and providence of God to not only level the playing field, but also to become the obvious advantage.

Sure facts take into consideration those elements we are born with or born into.  They include our “family factors”—our race, our gender, family structure (i.e., parental influence, number of siblings, birth order) and socio-economic position.  We had little control over their selection.

In the case of Joseph, he was born into the family of Jacob as the second youngest of thirteen children.  Jacob had two wives (Leah and Rachel) and two handmaidens (Bilhah and Zilpah) who bore his children (Genesis 30) but Joseph was Jacob’s favorite (Gen. 37:3).  This created an unhealthy and toxic environment for child rearing marked with sibling rivalry and jealousy.

Overwhelming Odds

Overwhelming odds are circumstances that minimize the possibilities of success in life and relationships.  They sometimes affect one’s ability to earn a living, care adequately for one’s family, or to live safely and confidently.   Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver and was brought to Egypt.  Being a Hebrew slave, the odds of Joseph rising above his new found station in life were slim to none.  The odds became even smaller when he was thrown into prison as a result of the lies of Potiphar’s wife.  When it appeared release from prison was near, Joseph became the victim of the baker’s forgetfulness further obstructing any hope of freedom (Gen. 40:23).  But God was about to do exceedingly above all that Joseph could ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

God the Holy Equalizer

God was on the scene for Joseph as the Holy Equalizer and Change Master.  What appeared to be sure facts and overwhelming odds for Joseph soon became “biblical history.”   Genesis 50:19-20 declares the power of God’s sovereignty:  “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.”  God was the final authority.

God, the Holy Enabler and Way Maker, reversed the circumstances for Joseph whose journey began as a slave from Canaan but ended as a powerful ruler in Egypt.  He went from servant to savior for his people who would have perished from the famine in their land.  Joseph could have used the Psalm 16:5 as his personal testimony:  “O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot.  The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.”

What do you believe?

Succumbing to what we believe are “sure facts and overwhelming odds” in our life can only result in despair and hopelessness.  Belief and trust in our God becomes the refreshing promise of rescue and provision regardless of the circumstances we face.  God’s plan and purpose for our life supersedes indisputable facts and devastating odds (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Our future is not dependent on our family history or our personal past, but on Who we serve.  So the next time you’re weighing your options based on “facts and odds”, remember to factor in God.  God always has the final word.   “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” Ps. 20:7

Discovering God in the Psalms: Victory over Darkness

Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

Psalm 139:12 (NKJ)

Children are typically afraid of the dark. It is in the dark where “things go bang in the night” and where unseen dangers may lie. Darkness is defined as the absence of visible light. Darkness is changed only by the introduction of light. One can never fully appreciate the value of light until they have experienced the unsettling feeling of being “in the dark.”

Although children fear the darkness, there is one time when they ignore that fear—when it’s time to play “hide and seek.” Darkness provides the “perfect condition” for its execution; it is in the darkness that a person can remain unseen as they blend into the trees’ shadows and the surrounding houses. If, however, this game were to be played with God, one would find themselves at a marked disadvantage. Why? Because darkness and light are alike to Him—the night shines as the day. It is God’s omnipresence that provides the believer the “perfect condition” for victory over darkness.

Light and darkness are a natural phenomenon associated with day and night. People also use the terms metaphorically, especially in Scripture where the two are given theological significance. In the Old Testament, God acted at Creation to separate and distinguish between darkness and light, night and day (Gen. 1:4, 5, 18). Darkness was also associated with judgment and distress (Ex.10:21; Ps. 91:6), God’s hiddenness (Dt. 4:11; 5:23) and divine intervention (Isa. 9:2; Ps. 18:28). Darkness is a powerful New Testament image. While darkness is used as a moral metaphor to describe sinful acts and sinful life style (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11), it also used to describe the evil power, holding people in its dominion (Col. 1:13).

Darkness in our scripture text references the oppressive nature of darkness. “Hide” in Hebrew means to “to crush or bruise.” In the Old Testament it is used only here and in Genesis 3:15 and Job 9:17. Even believers feel spiritual darkness’ crushing power as it attempts to control them through their unredeemed flesh (Rom. 7:17-25). It is here that God’s omnipresence can lead believers to victory through darkness.

Darkness cannot hide. It is God’s presence (through His indwelling Spirit) that exposes and dispels darkness. Believers are rescued from the realm of darkness to become children of the light (Eph. 5:8, 14). They share a place in God’s kingdom of light (Col. 1:12) and even act as light in this dark world (Mat.5:14-16). The believer’s life reflects Jesus’ light and ultimately declare his praises (1 Pet. 2:9). It is in Christ that we have victory over darkness. Jesus Christ was the “change agent” that was introduced into darkness (Mat. 4:16) giving life and light to all who would receive it (Ps. 36:9).

The prophets promised that one day God Himself would live among men to replace the sun as their “everlasting light.” Isaiah 60:19-20 reads:

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the LORD will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, Nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the LORD will be your everlasting light, And the days of your mourning shall be ended.”

Praise God for His Light.

The Voice of the Good Shepherd

“When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:4 (NIV)

It is God’s desire to speak to His children.  As we’ve discussed, God speaks in a number of ways.  In the past, He spoke through the prophets.  In our lives, God speaks through circumstances, including closed doors and even in His silence.

Hebrew 1:2 states that:  “God has spoken to us in these last days through His Son Jesus Christ”.  Jesus’ incarnation became the anointed vehicle by which God would reveal not only His plan of salvation but also Who He was.  In His teachings, Jesus would disclose to believers that God not only listens to their cry but also speaks to them through both their expressed and unspoken needs. We complete this series, When God Speaks, by focusing on the believer’s need to listen for God voice as Jesus teaches about the “Good Shepherd”.

In John 10, Jesus launches a scathing charge against the religious leaders of that day.  Instead of caring for the people, like a true shepherd, they would perpetrate theft and abuse against the most vulnerable of the community. They are described in this illustration as thieves, robbers (John 10:1) and hirelings (John 10:1; 12, 13).  Jesus uses this familiar occupation to illustrate to His disciples, and us, an important fact about followers of Christ—they know His voice.

Followers of Christ know His voice.  He “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).  To call His sheep by name infers a personal relationship with the Good Shepherd.  As He approaches, the sheep “hear His voice” and prepare to respond to His lead.  We must be prepared to hear Jesus’ voice as we move through the busyness of our daily lives.  These activities, though necessary, often deprive us of important time to receive God’s guidance and instruction for the “sheep of His pasture” (Ps. 100:3).

Followers of Christ know His voice.  They know His voice through experiencing His love.  He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and gave himself as a ransom for all men (1Tim. 2:6). The hireling doesn’t care about the sheep—he flees when trouble (the wolf) draws near.  God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, He died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Followers of Christ know His voice.  They do not know a stranger’s voice (John 10:4, 5) and therefore, will not follow them. The voice of the stranger represents the world and its trappings.  The stranger attempts to lure followers of Christ away from the safety and the will of the Good Shepherd.  However, even if the sheep goes astray, they can be  assured that He will come to find them (Luke 15:4-6).

The Good Shepherd still calls out today. It is up to each of His “sheep” to listen for His voice.   This can be accomplished by reading His Word and spending time in prayer and meditation.  The 23rd Psalm is the most familiar and most popular of the Psalms; this is because of the reassurance and comfort individuals receive while reading it.  Jesus’ presence as the Good Shepherd promises provision, rest and restoration, and protection (Ps. 23:4).  Take a spiritual break and read the 23rd Psalm.  Listen for His voice—He’s calling your name.

SELAH:  Read the 23rd Psalm and visualize yourself as an actual sheep in God’s flock.  Write down the things God says to you as a result of doing this exercise.