Tag Archives: The Sovereignty of God

Returning to Joy

 

Returning to joy

What is Joy?

Joy is defined as gladness of heart.  It is listed among the top five things[1] people desperately want in life yet “never seem to be able to get”.  Joy’s allusiveness, in many cases, is the result of our tendency to define joy as external to ourselves.  We believe it is a person, place, or thing.  Once we have “it”, we’ll have joy.  Wrong!

Joy under Attack

As we survey the world we live it, gladness of heart is under attack.  Our attempts to navigate 21st century living seem more daunting and challenging with each new day.  Financial worries served as a significant source of stress ranking higher than three other causes of concern: work, family responsibilities, and health concerns.

Work, family, and health concerns have exploded with the advent of COVID and its variants.   So how can we find joy?   The Apostle Paul shares the secret of not only how to find joy but also how to return to it in spite of the pressures we might face.

Source of Joy

In Philippians 4:4, Paul exhorts the Church at Philippi to holy joy and delight in God.

Delight yourselves in the Lord, yes, find your joy in him at all times.  (Phillips Translation)

God has furnished us with joy even in the worst of circumstances.  Nehemiah in the midst of hostility and threats, said that “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Neh. 8:10).  David acknowledged that “in God’s presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).  Jesus instructed His Disciples “to live in The Vine”—in Jesus’ holy presence (John 15:5-11).  By living in the Vine, Jesus’ joy would remain “in them and be full.”  These same offers of joy are extended to you and I who live in the 21st century.    Jesus is the source of our joy.

Returning to Joy

It is God’s desire that we return to joy regardless of life’s circumstances or difficulties.  Jesus describes these as “tribulations” (John 16:33).  Tribulations and trials are “natural outcomes” we suffer as a result of living in a fallen world.

We experience the effects of fallenness every day.  They include death, disease, and difficulties.  However, in Christ and as God’s children, we have been provided with God’s Presence (The Holy Spirit), God’s blessings (Eph. 1:3-17), and God’s inexhaustible grace to sustain us (Phil. 1:6).

Returning to joy strengthens our resolve and helps us to continue the purpose God has set before us. Such strength can only come from Eternal God Who helps us through the worst of circumstances.   When we come into the presence of the Lord, we connect with His great and eternal power.  God’s power exceeds anything we can do in our own strength (Phil.  4:13).

We are invited to return to the joy that comes from serving God who is sovereign and who has overcome the world (Ps. 119:89-91).  As we close the door on 2021, let us prepare to follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition to find our joy in the Lord.

May the joy of Jesus fill your heart.

May His joy be full and complete in your life.

Have a blessed Christmas!

[1]  Top 5 include:   Happiness, Money, Freedom, Peace, Joy

Looking beyond what we can see

Looking Beyond what we can see

Anatomy of the human eye

As we consider looking beyond what we can see, it might be helpful to review how we see physically.

The human eyes work very similarly to a camera. When you look at an object, the light it generates enters your eyes. The light first passes through the corneas, which begin focusing the light. It then passes through to the pupils. The size of the pupils changes to regulate the amount of light entering the eyes.

 The light is then focused through the lenses and onto the retinas. The retina is a light-sensitive layer in the back of the eye that contains highly evolved cells called rods and cones. The retina then changes the image into electrical and chemical impulses, which are transmitted along the optic nerves and into the visual center of the brain. It is when the image reaches your brain that vision occurs.[1]

Man is a remarkable creation of God. He is made physically perfect for the lifetime God has designated for him (Ps. 90:10).   However, as remarkable as Creation is, God’s work of salvation has resulted in our ability to see spiritually, the things we would normally overlook.

Seeing supernaturally

I love the Old Testament because of its value in capturing the wonders and works of God.  As I prepared for this series, the scripture text that came quickly to mind was the account of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 6:8-23.  This passage shares the incident in which the King of Syria, enemy of Israel, sent raiders to capture Elisha.  You will enjoy reading the entire text as it shows the confidence of Elisha as he prepares to meet this great army that surrounded the city of Dothan.

2 Kings 6:15-17 is most relevant to our discussion on seeing with spiritual eyes.  We may find the advice Elisha offered his servant relevant to us as we face the challenges of 21st century living.

And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

The chariots of fire that the servant saw were heavenly hosts primed to do battle with the Syrian army on behalf of Elisha.  Elisha saw the heavenly army and recognized that there was no need to fear.  He saw past the potential danger and saw God at work. After Elisha’s prayer, the servant, through God’s enablement, saw that the mountain was full of God’s presence.  He looked beyond what he could see.  He looked from God’s perspective.

Kingdom reality

Seeing with spiritual eyes begins with understanding who God is and our position in the Kingdom of God.

Broadly speaking, the kingdom of God is the rule of an eternal, sovereign God over all the universe. Every authority that exists has been established by God (Romans 13:1). So, in one sense, the kingdom of God incorporates everything that is.  More narrowly, the kingdom of God is a spiritual rule over the hearts and lives of those who willingly submit to God’s authority.[2]

 God is the Almighty Sovereign who manages the affairs of the world from heaven. Through His providential will, God orchestrates every event in our lives. Our position in Christ elevates us to God’s children and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17). We are the recipients of His promises, His privileges, and His presence (Eph. 1:3-5).

Kingdom reality does not deny the presence of sin and its outcomes on the world.  We are sadly aware that we live in a fallen world.  However, we know three things.  First, Jesus Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).  Secondly, we are overcomers, too. (Rom. 8:37; 1 John 5:4).  Finally, we know how history will end.  WE WIN! (Rev. 21:1-8)

Looking beyond what we can see

Looking beyond what we can see allows us to “reframe” our experiences through the lens of kingdom reality. Closed doors are seen as God’s protection.  Waiting is seen as God’s time of preparation—either of us or our desired end.

Seeing this way equips us to move forward in the midst of trouble versus being overwhelmed.  We do not lose hope.  Instead we look past what we see physically.  We see God (2 Cor. 4: 17-18).

It’s not that we spiritualize everything that happens to us, but we truly believe what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome: “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord who are called according to His purpose.”  (Rom. 8:28)

Seeing with spiritual eyes is not “mystical” like a third eye.  Nor is it “recreational” like fortune telling or a Ouija board.  It is “relational”. Just as the light helps the physical eye to focus, so our focus on kingdom reality helps the spiritual eye to see from God’s perspective and power (Luke 1:37; Jer. 32:17,27).  Just as the retina physically changes the image we see into sight, the Holy Spirit informs us as to what is truth and what is error (Acts 26:18).  Bottom-line is this.  Looking beyond what we can see is dependent on the Source of Light who is Jesus Christ.  “In His light we see light” (Ps. 36:9)

[1] www.ceenta.com/

[2] Gotquestions.com, “The Kingdom of God”

 

Don’t get it twisted!

 

Don't Get it TwistedWe love superheroes.

I love to watch movies about superheroes. Whether it’s Wonder Woman or Iron Man, I like to see them in action.  They offer themselves unselfishly as they battle intruders from space, another dimension, or the giant mushroom that mutates into some incredible threat.

I am especially drawn to those who band together to save the world. The Marvel superheroes including the Avengers and the X-men hold my attention for hours. Every month it seems a new movie is released highlighting new superheroes who appear to save the world from some horrific ending.  This month’s offering is The Eternals. 

We often seek ways to escape the stress of everyday living. We retreat to a world where “superheroes” share our humanity yet possess mystical abilities to overcome the monsters that threaten the world. Unfortunately with superheroes, we must be careful not to believe their “hype”. It is important to keep reality separated from fantasy.

Health pandemics, economic uncertainties, and erosion of social consciousness leave us longing for someone to “fight our battles”.  If we aren’t careful, we may be misled to believe that superheroes will appear to save the day. But “don’t get it twisted”. Translation:  don’t mistake fantasy for reality. There are no superheroes. But there is, however and more importantly:  The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God. (1 Timothy 1:17)

Who is God?

To avoid getting it twisted, it is important that we first possess a correct understanding of who God is.  This can be accomplished through learning about His attributes.

Attributes are a window through which we can think about who God is. God’s attributes are first introduced in the biblical record through His mighty act of Creation.  Triune God banded together to create the world!

God ultimately reveals Himself through Jesus who was made, “a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death…that He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).  Jesus came to save the world from a horrific ending!

Understanding God is more than “head knowledge”.  God desires that we have a personal relationship with Him.  As we experience the challenges of 21st century living, we learn more about who God is.  Through His presence and His power, we learn to trust and depend on Him (Ps. 89:13).

Eugene H. Peterson writes in Practicing Resurrection, the importance of keeping our focus on the reality of God and His work in the life of the believer.

When we squander life on anything less than the God revealed in Jesus, and made present in the Spirit, we miss out on life itself, resurrection life, the life of Jesus.

Keeping it Real

Once we know who God is, it is then critical that we develop a Christian worldview. The term worldview is used to describe a core set of values and principles through which the world is understood.  It is our reality. 

Our worldview consists of our beliefs (what we view as true) and our values (what we view is good).  Our worldview impacts every decision.  It will ultimately determine our behavior (what we will do).

As Christians, our worldview is seen through Jesus’ eyes (John 14:6).  It is the determining factor in all we do, how we live, and how we react to life.  We form our worldview based on His life and teachings.  It is the only way to navigate through this world.

Don’t get it twisted

When we know who God is and develop a Christian worldview, we are less likely to “get it twisted.”

God’s Word, His promises, and His Spirit help us keep it real.  While we love superheroes we never are confused “where our help comes from” (Ps. 121:1-8).  The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God is our real Superhero.

Assurance for Difficult Days

Assurance for Difficult Days Good Life = Good Circumstances?

In his book, The Secret Things of God, Dr. Henry Cloud shares this thought on happiness: “A good life doesn’t depend on good circumstances.”

Dr. Cloud’s statement finds agreement with the Apostle Paul who wrote to the church at Philippi, “I have learned to be satisfied regardless of my circumstances” (Phil. 4:11-13).

Paul’s contentment was based on his knowledge and relationship with The Source of all circumstances. Those times when circumstances are “not good”, we have an opportunity to hold firm to assurance in God.

A Psalmist’s View

The Psalmist captured this reality in the 16th Psalm as he writes of the faithfulness and assurance that can only be found in God.  He writes in verse 8:

I have set the LORD always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.

I have set the LORD always before me…

The focus of the Psalmist is Jehovah God, the Existing One, who is the source of his confidence. Jehovah has always been and will always be. As Alpha and Omega, God operates as Divine Integrity—true and faithful.

“To set” means “to put”. Oh that we would only stop in the midst of our challenges and put our focus on God. We need not fear the paths that are set before us. That’s because those paths or experiences have been sovereignly “allowed” in our lives.  Success or sickness, excess or lack, solitude or inclusion—they all flow from God’s hand of grace.

Because He (God) is at my right hand…

The Psalmist expresses His special relationship with Jehovah as he describes God positioned at his “right hand”. The “right hand” is the preferred one in patriarchal blessings (Gen. 48:17-20). Solemn oaths are made via the uplifted right hand (Is. 62:8).

The right hand is also used figuratively to emphasize God’s person and actions. God’s right hand is said to be filled with righteousness (Ps. 48:10) and might (Ps. 80:15-16). Like the Psalmist, we can find God positioned “at their right hand”, ready to provide help, strength, and security.

I shall not be moved

To be “moved” in this text means to totter or shake. It is typically used of the foundations of the earth (Ps. 82:5) and almost always negatively. However, “I shall not totter”, in contrast, is used of an intrepid unwavering person (Ps. 10:6).

In review the current events in our world, it is easy “to totter”.  The progression of the pandemic variances, economic uncertainties, and growing division in our nation, “shake us”.  And rightly so.  In our attempts to manage our family needs and crisis, we are continually “moved”.

In spite of the challenges, we can become “non-totters” by placing our assurance in God.  That’s because we serve a God Who “neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Ps. 121:4).   Let us, also remember His love for us as evidenced by His protection and provision (Ps. 16:5-6).

A response of assurance

Where are we placing our faith and trust in?  The challenges we face provide an excellent opportunity to evaluate our spiritual endurance and maturity.  Our response to these difficult times can provide a strong witness to those in need of God’s salvation and God’s hope (Rom. 15:13).

Our Eternal God is greater than any circumstance we may face. He is the Creator and Sustainer of our life, ever present, and always acting on our behalf.  Let us continually set God before us knowing that in His presence, we can live confidently and with joy (Ps. 16:11).

Resurrection Understanding, Part 1

Resurrection Understanding

Resurrection hope

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the foundational tenets of our Christian faith.  If Christ had remained in that darkened tomb, preaching the message of the gospel would have been in vain.  (Imagine all the revivals you could have skipped).  Our faith would be in vain (1 Cor. 15:14).  Worst of all, we would still be dead in our sins (1 Cor.15:17).  Just imagine!  Guilt, shame, bondage, spiritual death—all these would still be at play in our lives.

The crucifixion had dashed the hopes of the disciples.  They had imagined how life would be as part of the promised Messiah’s entourage.  Plus, they would finally be delivered from the tyranny of Rome.  But what happened?  Jesus was dead.  They scattered and hid for fear of the Jewish leaders (John 20:19).  They returned to their old homes and their old lives–disappointed, disillusioned, and disheartened.

But God.  The Creator of heaven and earth, the Great Deliverer of Israel from Egypt, raised Jesus from the grave (Acts 13:30).  God made good on His promise to deliver man from sin’s grip and “begat man again” (Eph. 2:1, 5).  In Christ, man was a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17).  Resurrection was, and still is, definitive proof that God is sovereign with power over life and over death.

Resurrection promise

God’s plan of salvation has always included resurrection (Gen. 3:15). The Old Testament prophets and psalmists spoke of, not only the promised Savior’s coming, but also of his death and resurrection (Ps. 16:10; Ps. 53:11; Ps. 45:6-7; Ps. 110:1;  Is. 53:11).

Because of this, it is somewhat surprising that Jesus’ disciples initially disregarded the resurrection proclamation (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:11).

In the horror and grief of the crucifixion, the Disciples had forgotten that Jesus Himself told them that he must “suffer at the hands of sinners, be crucified, and be raised the third day.” (Matt. 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19).  The disciples were devastated by Jesus’ words.  Unfortunately, they missed the good news beyond the death of Jesus—resurrection on the third day.

On the other hand, it is ironic that the chief priest and Pharisees, who rejected Jesus as the Messiah, remembered Jesus’ statement that He would rise again after three days.  They requested from Pilate a Roman centurion to guard the tomb (Matt. 27:62-66).  Was it an empty tomb they feared or the risen Christ?

Resurrection confusion

In reading the synoptic Gospels and John, the followers of Jesus shared a common reaction to the resurrection.  They did not believe it.  Some scholars say Mary Magdalene imagined that grave robbers had stolen Jesus’ body (John 20:11-13).

Our four gospel writers all complete their narratives of the Gospel of Jesus with a story or stories of Jesus resurrection. They come at it from different directions and provide different details, but one element is common to each of them:  a sense of wonder, astonishment, and surprise. Despite the several hints scattered throughout the Hebrew scripture and Jesus’ three explicit statements forecasting his resurrection (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34), when it happened it turned out that no one–no one–expected it. The first people involved in Jesus’ resurrection were totally involved in dealing with his death. Now they had to do a complete about-face and deal with his life. [1]

Resurrection possibilities

Do we as believers “scatter” as we are daily challenged by unbelievers who reject Christ?  Do we “hide” from those who discount the resurrection?  Even after Easter Sunday, do we return to our old lives—disappointed and disillusioned.  Are we disheartened by the continuation of the health pandemic, financial uncertainty, and social unrest?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it is time that we believers expand our understanding of the resurrection.  As new creatures in Christ, victorious living awaits us as the Spirit that raised Christ from the grave, now indwells us (Rom. 8:11).

Eastertide, a fifty-day season on the Christian calendar, is dedicated to examining the deep and wonderful mystery of resurrection.  It is a perfect opportunity to reflect on what the resurrection means to us personally.  “It is a season of learning how to live a new kind of life called resurrection.”[2] 

Next week, we will continue our teaching on “resurrection understanding”.  The resurrection is key in strengthening our resolve to press forward through difficult times.  Most importantly, it enables us to live out our God ordained purpose. Let’s explore what it means to live each day in the light of the resurrection (Eph. 2:4-6).

[1] Living the Resurrection, Eugene H. Peterson.

[2] Living the Way of Jesus:  Practicing the Christian Calendar One Week at a Time, Michaele Lavigne.

Certainty in an Uncertain World: Epilogue

Certainty in an Uncertain World-Epilogue

We close this series by reviewing what we have learned and by identifying next steps that will bring us greater certainty in an uncertain world.

What have we learned?

#1 We do not like uncertainty.  “It is like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.”  Uncertainty makes us uneasy.  We feel it is something we need to control (Prov. 3:5-6).

#2 Uncertainty is as sure as death and taxes.  The sources of uncertainty will not go away.  Such is the result of living in a fallen world.  Uncertainty is a “sure thing” that we must learn to manage (Eccl. 9:11).

#3 God is the only reliable source of certainty.  He provides us with divine certainty.    He alone has both the desire and the capability to address whatever may come our way.  And God never changes and is forever faithful (Lam. 3:22-23).  Because of God’s character, we can place our confidence and trust in Him.

Equipped with this information, how do we incorporate these realities into our lives?  How do we build spiritual muscle to contend with the uncertainties of life?

“Holdfast to your faith.”

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a point of reference to begin addressing uncertainty in our lives.  Our writer states in the opening verse: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”   This statement comes after an appeal to the readers of this letter to “hold fast.”   (Heb. 10:19-39)

It is here that the author begins to cite individuals in biblical history who earned a place in the Faith Hall of Fame.  While the object of what they hoped for was temporal, it was their faith that helped them to holdfast.  For our discussion, I will focus on one member of this notable group, Abraham.  Let’s examine how Abraham’s faith helped him deal with uncertainty.

“He hoped against hope.”

Paul used Abraham as an example for the church at Romans.  In chapter 4, the apostle continues to teach the point that it is faith—belief in Jesus Christ—that individuals receive salvation.  It is in the closing verses (Rom. 4:16-25), that the Apostle Paul, like the writer of Hebrews, testifies to the faith of Abraham.

Paul magnifies the strength of Abraham’s faith in several expressions used in this text.

“Who against hope believed in hope.”  Upon hearing God’s promises, Abraham had to “bring into captivity every thought” (2 Cor. 10:5) he had concerning ‘what was possible’ with God.  Every rational explanation of how parenthood and leadership of a nation was possible (human hope) had to become “subservient” to the supernatural reality of God (divine hope).  Such hope is reliant on understanding the power and sovereignty of God (Rom. 4:17).

 “He considered not his own body.”  When Abraham did consider his own body, he birthed Ishmael with Sarah’s Egyptian handmaid, Hagar (Gen. 16).  That was not God’s plan.  It was God’s plan for Abraham and Sarah to birth a child when both their bodies were considered “dead”.   Once Abraham accepted God’s plan, he “didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, ‘It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child. Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up’ “(Rom. 4:19, The Message).  Sometimes God does things “His way” so we understand HE IS GOD and we are not.  Translation:  God is sovereign.

“He staggered not…”

“He staggered not at the promise of God.”  Some translations use the word, waver instead of staggered to describe the resolve of Abraham’s faith.  To stagger means to be at variance with oneself, to hesitate, or doubt (James 1:6).   Such was not the case with Abraham.  To the contrary, his acceptance of God’s promise resulted in the strengthening of his faith.  Some translations also share that this strengthening of Abraham’s faith resulted “in bringing God glory” (CSB) or that Abraham’s faith grew stronger “as he gave glory to God” (NRS).   When we trust God, not doubting, we are strengthened, and He is glorified.

 “Being fully persuaded.”  The literal reading of this phrase is “being fully assured.” Abraham was convinced that God was able and willing to make good on all His promises.  Such faith can be described as “God-centric”, in that, the accomplishment of the promises to Abraham were totally dependent on God.  In this case, the promises of God would depend on God’s ability to perform them—not man’s capability.   Abraham’s role, like ours today is to exercise our faith and believe God.

The impact of unbelief

Unbelief can cripple our faith.  It can cause us to make bad choices and interrupt God’s purpose for our lives.  Remember Abraham and Hagar?  One commentator wrote this about unbelief: “Unbelief dishonors God by making Him a liar (1 John 5:10).  Faith honors God by setting to its seal that He is true.”[1] 

Our unbelief is often caused by viewing a problem or situation from our ability to resolve it.  Unbelief is “shortsighted” seeing only our own capacity or ability to resolve.  We seldom factor in God until our plans go awry.  Many biblical failures occurred because of unbelief.  Remember the Garden of Eden?

The old elders of the church were often questioned about their faith in God.  They never attended theological institutions nor studied with great scholars of the Bible.  They would humbly respond, “I just know what I know!”  Translation:  They believed without a doubt who God was and they believed that God would do ALL that He promised.  For these elders to “know” was synonymous with their “belief”.

Conclusion

As we look around and see our world in a state of uncertainty, it is easy to become anxious and fearful.  It is difficult to understand what is happening around us.  Pandemics, civil unrest, financial insecurity.   Uncertainty has become commonplace with little hope of eliminating it. Who are we to believe?  Who do we trust for the right answers?

There is a solution for times of uncertainty in our life.   We can begin by embracing the divine certainty of God, His promises, and our position in Christ Jesus.  However, these certainties can only be realized through our intentional response of faith.

It is important that we as believers move past simply “intellectualizing” our faith.  We must “internalized” it.  Our faith in God must become “second nature” to us as we deal with our fears and our challenges.  Not pie in the sky but total reliance on the goodness and greatness of God.  This requires that we walk closely with Lord and practice His presence.

Let us rely on the power and sovereignty of God.  Don’t focus on your own impotency.  When we trust God, our faith is strengthened, and He is glorified.  Let us not stagger.  Let us be “fully persuaded” knowing God is in charge and the Source for all our needs.   God is our certainty for uncertain times.  God is our hope and our peace—our exceeding great reward (Gen. 15:1).

Closing Prayer

Father God, help us to trust You in all we face in these days of uncertainty.  Make our faith real and active.  Let us not walk by sight but by faith.  We praise You and glorify Your holy name.  We stagger not at Your promises knowing You are more than able.  And not only are You able, but You are willing.  We ask these things in Your darling Son’s name, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  AMEN

 

[1] Matthew Henry Commentary, Romans 4

A Message for Fearful Times

A Message for Fearful Times

Historical trauma

Last week we witnessed in our Capitol something that has left us breathless.  We’ve seen many horrible events in the tapestry of our nation’s history during the past century—wars, assassinations, and terrorist attacks.  January 6th, 2021 can now be added to that infamous list.

There is no need to add to the rhetoric that now fill the airwaves of the world and every corner of cyberspace.  The reality that our nation’s democracy is under siege is evident.  The trauma and fear associated with that day linger on after experiencing the event “real time” on our screens.  I daily ask Jesus to remove those terrifying images from my brain.

But I come today with a message of encouragement and hope from the God who sees and Who is in complete control of what appears to be “out of control.”

Keep Your Eye of God

It is important during these troubling times to keep our eyes on the Lord.  As believers, we are aware that in this world we will have tribulation and trials (John 16:33).  But we are also reminded to take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.  One writer reminded me, “it is the tension between ‘overcome’ and ‘taking heart’ that cause us problems.”

Our trust in the Lord is not the result of positive thinking or some new age approach to stress management.   Brian Morykno with Renovaré encourages believers during fearful times to follow King David’s example of magnification.

Imagine David, with the war cry of enemies rising all around, settled of soul and unafraid.  How was that possible?  It’s not that David was out of touch with reality; he was in touch with it.  David understood magnification.  He knew that what we dwell upon becomes large in our spiritual field of vision.  And David dwelled upon God (Ps. 95:3-5).     

Our reality is this.  God is sovereign and is moving forward with His plan of salvation God is not the cause of riots and rebellions like we experienced last week.  Such events come from “heart issue” of sinful men (James 3:16-18) and the work of Satan (Eph. 6:12; John 10:10).

For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.   But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

A Plan for These Times

To help us move through these times, I offer this, three (3) prong approach to help us navigate through these difficult times.

Prayer.  This should be our first response to the troubles we face.  We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).  The reason for this mandate is because our prayers connect us directly to God—the Power Source who can resolve our dilemma.  The “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) is there to guide and direct our steps, comfort our heart, and ease our stress (Phil. 4:6-7).

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  (Romans 12:12)  

Practice the Presence of God   We are never alone regardless of the situation we face.  He alone can make good on His promise that He will “never leave nor forsake us” (Gen. 28:15).  He is ever-present.  Regardless of external appearances, God is with us even amid our trouble.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 

If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (Ps. 139:7-8)

Praise.  Yes, I said praise.  Why?  Because it is the quickest way to experience the presence of God (Ps. 22:3).    Ruth Meyer, author of the book, 31 Days of Praise, offers this insight on the power of praise.

As you praise and pray, you make your circumstances and your life a test tube that demonstrates the existence of a personal God, a God who is present and involved and who controls the natural Universe. It turns your attention to spiritual and eternal values versus the pleasures and success mentality of our age, which resists all pain and discomfort and delay.

A Message for Fearful Times

As we continue our walk of faith, we will be faced with trials.  Although these may be difficult, we have the blessed assurance that we are not in these things alone.  Neither are we powerless.

Political and social upheaval will continue as long as man leans on his own understanding (Prov. 3:5-7).  I don’t know how these tumultuous times will end but I do know that God has the final word (Ps. 119:89-91).  God is and will continue to be the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col. 1:16).

A Final Word on the Sovereignty of God

 

This week we close our study on the sovereignty of God.  It is our hope that a better understanding of God’s sovereignty has expanded your trust and confidence in our “all wise God” (Jude 1:25).

Our appreciation of the sovereignty of God will also help us as we attempt to make sense of these tumultuous times.  We know that our future is not dependent on our past or current circumstances but it is based on Who we serve (Ps. 20:7).

We thank God for His grace.  Grace introduced at Creation when we were given God’s image.  We thank Him even more for salvation resulting in our righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).  All these are ours as a result of sovereign God’s fulfillment of His purpose for mankind.

The Challenge to God’s sovereignty

As a result of God’s grace and love, we are now invited to freely choose a lifestyle that will result in God’s glory and our good.  So why is it so hard for man to operate under God’s sovereign rule?  The challenge to God’s rightful position and authority boils down to a matter of sin.

Man’s resistance to God’s sovereignty is rooted in sin that began in the Garden of Eden and is still manifesting itself today on the world stage. Remember, the wisdom of God, revealed in His purpose and will are foolishness to the world (1 Cor. 3:19).  Such thinking leads to disobedience.  And disobedience to God is a fast track to sin and ultimately death (James 1:14-15).

God’s sovereignty or man’s sin

Unless led by the Holy Spirit, man, by nature, will most often choose to be wise in his own eyes (Prov. 3:5-6).  He is persuaded by his lust of the flesh, the lust of his eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) which satisfies his fleshly impulses.

However, when led by the Holy Spirit, man can more clearly see and discern the will of God  As it is only by the Holy Spirit who can reveal the sovereignty of God, it is not surprising that when the Spirit has been poured out in such an abundant measure, that this truth has been clearly known and loved.[1]

The biblical account cites many who chose their will over God’s with disastrous results. Yet God’s sovereign will was accomplished (Job 42:2; Is. 14:27).  Many of them were kings, prophets, and people of God.  They “should have known better” but they didn’t do better.  These accounts were written for our learning so that we might not make the same mistakes (Rom. 15:4).  Here are just a few to help illustrate man’s resistance to God’s will.

    • Saul (1 Samuel 10:8; 13:7-10)
    • The children of Israel (Exodus 32)
    • Jonah (Jonah 1)

Alignment with God’s Sovereignty

We can better position ourselves to align with God’s sovereignty when we recognize:  (1) God’s authority and plan, (2) man’s moral responsibility, and (3) believer’s relationship with God.

God’s authority and plan

    • His right—as Creator God, He is the only rightful ruler and authority over His universe.
    • His rule—it is God’s nature, His goodness and greatness that “qualifies” Him to rule.
    • His will—His divine plan of salvation and redemption of mankind is constantly at work.

 Man’s  moral responsibility

    • Our choice—how we exercise our “free will” is an indicator of how we respond to God’s sovereignty.
    • Our love—God is the object of our affection resulting in our loyalty and our obedience.
    • Our obedience—we are to submit to God’s will by actively participating in His eternal purpose.

 Believer’s relationship with God

    • Our reality—it is grounded in the belief that God can do what is needed to bring about His purpose. That belief fosters our trust in God.
    • Our partnership—it gives access to God’s will and ways. This opens up enormous opportunities to join with God in establishing His kingdom rule.
    • Our service—it is a natural outcome of our belief and partnership with God.
Final Words on God’s Sovereignty and You

We conclude this study with remarks from one of my favorite teachers, A. W. Pink.  He shares his “heart” on this matter of sovereignty so that we may grow strong in our faith and witness for the Lord.

The sovereignty of God is something more than an abstract principle which explains the rationale of the divine government: it is designed as a motive for godly fear; it is made known to us for the promotion of righteous living; it is revealed in order to bring into subjection our rebellious hearts.

 A true recognition of God’s sovereignty humbles as nothing else does or can humble, and brings the heart into lowly submission before God, causing us to relinquish our own self-will and making us delight in the perception and performance of the Divine will.

 When we speak of the sovereignty of God we mean very much more than the exercise of God’s governmental power. Truly to recognize the sovereignty of God is to gaze upon the Sovereign himself.  It is to come into the presence of the august “Majesty on High.”[2]

[1]   The Sovereignty of God,  A. W. Pink

[2] Ibid.

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