Monday, November 26, 2018

Sovereignty Pt 2

I’ve heard people say: If God is so loving, why is there cancer? If God is so powerful, why doesn’t He stop poverty? If He’s so all-knowing why didn’t He intervene on 9/11? If God cares, why am I suffering? If God exists, why doesn’t He do this or change that or fix this or stop that? All of these questions are asking one thing: If God is sovereign, why doesn’t He act like it?

Which is a backdoor way of saying: If I were God, I could do better than He is doing. Isaiah put this in perspective when He wrote: Isa 55:8-9 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. 

God doesn’t need to justify anything. Here we are on earth and He operates in the stratosphere of understanding. What He does or doesn’t do fulfills a purpose. His decisions or actions come from a higher source of understanding than we can reach. But people still feel they have some right to challenge Him. David told us why: Ps 50:21 "These things you have done and I kept silence [and you think you are justified in reproving Me for how I chose to act?]; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes. 

The people were judging God based on how they would have done things – what they thought He should have done. Instead of silence, they would have acted. But He is not like us. He has understanding and perspective we don’t have, which we might only gain when we look back and see what He has been doing all along.

That’s why He is God and we’re not. He is sovereign. He has the right, the authority and power to do whatever it takes to accomplish His desires in our lives or in the world. We pray to a sovereign God and yet trust Him to do or not do according to what He knows fits His good plans. He is the God in whom nothing is impossible, who can do all things. Our God is a great and awesome God!

And yet He has given us Free Will to choose our responses. The Bible contains the story of God working around and through the choices made by His people as He completes His plans. Yet God remains undiminished by what choices they make. Nothing can thwart God’s purposes. Does Free Will take away from God’s sovereignty. Not at all. We take nothing away from God. We only take away things from ourselves when we choose poorly.

Some think there is only a certain amount of money in the US. It’s called the Scarcity Mindset. It says there is only so much money to go around and for you to have more I must have less. It leads to the thought that some have too much and others have too little. That’s where redistribution of wealth comes in. Because some have so much more, it should be taken away from them and given to those who have less. That would make things fair. No, you’re not trying to make things fair, you’re trying to make things equal. Do that and within a short amount of time there will again be some with more and some with less.

If we’re divvying up a pie and don’t cut it proportionally, sure, someone might get more than others and giving one person more does take away from someone else. But we’re not starting with only X amount. There’s not a grand total of money to go around.

Now, it’s easy for that Scarcity Mindset to creep into Theology. We think because of Free Will we share power with God. No. We don’t. No one does. He rules from a category of One.

But also, because there is evil in the world, and an enemy in charge of that evil whose objective is to steal, kill and destroy, we think he shares power with God. That there must be a limited amount of power available and the more Satan uses the less God has to use.

Like batteries. We’re used to working on iPads, Laptops and Cell phones that hold only a certain amount of battery charge. We look at how much energy we have left to know if we have enough to operate before we recharge.

In life we use words like: worn out, used up, depleted, exhausted. We often look at life like we do batteries. It’s not hard to become overwhelmed with how much evil we see or overcome by the turmoil in our lives. It drains us. What we are feeling – our pain and fear – grows large because it is consuming too much of our lives. What happens, as problems grow large in our minds, God grows small.

When God grows small, we lose confidence in His ability to be in charge. We begin to doubt His sovereign reign in our lives because of how big or continuous our problems seem. We feel abandoned and lose hope of Him doing anything.

Mark 9:18-24 I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it."  And He answered them and said…”Bring him to Me!" They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" And Jesus said to him, " 'If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes." [Believes in what, impossible things being done? Or believes in the God who accomplishes the impossible?] Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief." 

Truth didn’t matter. Perception had taken over. Nothing else had helped. If you can do anything shows more doubt than faith. His turmoil had grown larger than Jesus’ reputation as healer. I believe you can. I just don’t think you will. I’m be-doubting. Trying to straddle the fence of faith, with one foot in belief the other in doubt.

That can happen to us. We say we believe, but when we feel abandoned, we deny God’s promise never to leave nor forsake us. We feel hopeless, so we doubt His plans He has for us, plans for our welfare, not for calamity, to give us a future and a hope. We feel our problem is bigger than God, so we forget Job’s confession: Job 42:2 I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 

The problem is: when all we look at is the problem, all we’ll see is problem. When we can’t see what God is doing, we imagine He can’t do anything. We doubt He’s enough to handle what we’re looking at. We throw sovereignty out the window.

When we look to God, we’ll see answer. Which brings us back to faith – that ability to trust God and entrust to God all the issues of life, knowing He is: Eph 3:20 able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us 

When Israel was at Sinai waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, the people grew restless and demanded a golden calf be made for them to worship. Why? They thought they needed to see something tangible in order to believe.

Satan has used that lie ever since – What you can’t see can’t help you. God is out there somewhere but disconnected from and disinterested in your problems. You’d better keep your eye on that problem. Faith is telling us the truth – God is right here, intimately connected to what’s going on.
A farmer is never closer to his soil than when it’s being churned up.

Ps 34:18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and delivers those who are crushed in spirit. 

1Pe 1:6-8 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 

Faith reminds us God is our Almighty, Sovereign King. As sovereign, He reigns over all His creation. Did you hear the word ALL?

His method is Providence – the ability to foresee and attend to – He can sustain and guide us by looking long-range and affecting circumstances to coincide with future plans.

A child of God is never lost from Him, nor His plans, no matter what choice the child of God makes. Our lives never lose value in God’s eyes just because we experience turmoil. Not even when we’ve caused the turmoil ourselves. Why? Because whatever is meant for evil, God can turn it to good.

Why is the story of Joseph so detailed? God devoted thirteen chapters to tell how Israel got into Egypt, but more so the necessity of Joseph already being there. We learn more about Joseph than almost any other Bible character. Why? So God can have Joseph make the most significant statement about Providence there is in Scripture: Gen 50:19-20 But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” 

But I see way more bad than good. I see way more evil than righteousness. It looks to me like Satan is winning and God is losing. Then change your focus. Quit looking at life through eyes of flesh and look through eyes of faith. Faith says: My God will accomplish what concerns me – that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with me – that nothing is impossible with God. Because greater (always and at all times) is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

How does He do all of that? I don’t know. I just know He does. Deut 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law. 

We’ll never understand completely how God operates as God. We’ll never fully grasp the magnitude of the word sovereign, or explain providence, or figure out free will. But we can live within what God has revealed to us. Which is why we’re going to take our study into the history and purpose of the Temple in Jerusalem. You will be amazed what God did to keep that Temple in place until Jesus came.

  1. When it comes to Sovereignty, God is in competition with no one.
  2. When it comes to Free Will, we are competing against God by our own worldly desires and by giving in to Satan’s interference.
  3. When it comes to Providence, nothing can stop God from fulfilling His purposes.
  4. When necessary, in order to fulfill those purposes, He has the right to take over completely and do whatever it takes to complete His plans.
  5. The bottom line is: believe absolutely in sovereignty, trust completely in providence and make wise choices.

The Sovereignty of God Pt 5

Like Cromwell, when we limit our perspective to only the present, we become short-sided and gain no value from the past to prepare us for our future.

The guiding principle of God’s providence is context. He is able to manage the present because He knows the past and future.

Without that understanding, we react much like Habakkuk: God said: Hab 1:6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs. 

Habakkuk’s response? Hab 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously?

He didn’t ask: God, how are you going to You use dirty rags to clean up Your people? He asked: God, why on earth would You use dirty rags to clean up Your people? In other words, God, you’re not handling this problem correctly. But we read on and God’s plan was right on target for the outcome He intended.

But to get there, required bringing the history of other nations into Scripture.

When we read the history section of our OT, we rarely, if ever, consider what God is doing in the rest of the world. But remember, Prov 21:1 The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. God is not just God of the spiritual world, but God over all. Lord of lords and King of kings. The whole universe is His. And He has authority to do with it whatever He chooses.

Especially when He wants the history of those other nations to intersect with Biblical history.

The Northern Kingdom is gone, so let’s just follow the Southern. God’s promise was that the Babylonians (Chaldeans) would take over Judah. Now at the time that prophecy was made, Egypt and Assyria were in control of the middle east. Egypt up to Jerusalem and Assyria from Jerusalem north. For Babylon to fulfill the prophecy, they had to defeat both Egypt and Assyria.

In 605 B.C., at the battle at Carchemish, the three powers came together. With Nebuchadnezzar leading the Chaldeans, they defeated the Egyptians and the Assyrians for world domination. Then the Babylonians turned their attention toward Jerusalem. They took control of the Southern Kingdom, took many captive (Daniel among others) but left the city intact. This began a 70-year captivity as prophesied by Jeremiah.

Jer 25:11-12 This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,' declares the LORD. 

Nebuchadnezzar set up a subservient king in Jerusalem, but that king rebelled against him, so, in 586, they returned and wiped out the city, broke down the walls and destroyed the Temple.

Now, it was the habit of the Babylonians that when taking over a country, they stopped the religious practices of their captives, obligated the people to worship the Babylonian gods, and changed their lifestyle to fit into Babylonian culture. Even to changing names to reflect their gods. (Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego in the book of Daniel were originally Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.)

At the end of the 70 years, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar had taken the throne.  At a feast, Belshazzar saw a hand write on the wall. He called in Daniel to interpret what it meant. The answer was: you have been weighed and found wanting, and your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Persians. What it meant was: God was done using Babylon and was moving to the next phase.
God had used the Chaldeans for a strategic purpose, which was, to take Judah captive and destroy the Temple. But this would be temporary. The next step was to bring in the Persians. The very night God wrote on Belshazzar’s wall, the Persians broke into the city and overtook Babylon. Now, a different nation was in charge, led by Cyrus.

Two very important things happened for God’s people when Cyrus took over.
  1. It answered the prayer Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple: make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them. 
  2. It ended the 70 years of captivity: Ezra 1:1-3  Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. 

In answering Solomon’s prayer, God brought in a more compassionate people. Where the Babylonians’ objective was to convert the captives to Babylonian culture and religion, the Persians were not interested in the worship or culture of people they took over. Much like the Romans who come in later, have your gods and your culture just serve the Empire.

Cyrus and the Persians were part of God’s plan and not just the product of one nation dominating another nation, a random event in the history of nations at war. They were unknowingly fulfilling the will of God. David said: Stuff like this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.

The Lord, speaking for Himself in Isa 44:26, 28 Confirming the word of His servant and performing the purpose of His messengers. It is I who says of Jerusalem, 'She shall be inhabited!' And of the cities of Judah, 'They shall be built.' And I will raise up her ruins again. It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid.'" 

Written over a hundred years before Cyrus was even born, God wanted the people to know when it happened, it was His plan, so He named the man who would set up the restoration of His people. Again: The sovereign activity of God fits into the marvelous category!

In a statement found from Cyrus: "I am Cyrus. King of the world. When my soldiers in great numbers peacefully entered Babylon... I did not allow anyone to terrorize the people... I kept in view the needs of people and all its sanctuaries to promote their well-being... Freed all the slaves... I put an end to their misfortune and slavery. The Great God has delivered all the lands into my hand; the lands that I have made to dwell in a peaceful habitation... "

Cyrus ordered the return to Jerusalem for all who wanted to go and issued the decree that the Temple be rebuilt. This was in 538 B.C. and is covered in the Book of Ezra. Many, but not all the people returned at this time. That would come later.

Following Cyrus was Darius. Darius affirmed and added to the decree by Cyrus to rebuild the Temple: Ezra 6:8 Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God: the full cost is to be paid to these people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the River, and that without delay. 

Now, step out of the Biblical story and let’s see what’s going on elsewhere with Darius. To expand the Persian Empire to the West, Greece became the next target for conquering. But in the battle of Marathon, in 490 B.C., Darius lost and the Persians pulled away. Defeat left a sour taste in their mouths.

Darius’ son, Xerxes took over from his father in 486 B.C. with a plan to go back to Greece and conquer them. In 480 B.C., in a strategic land and sea battle at Thermopylae the Persians were again defeated by the Greeks. The Greeks mustered 7000 troops to the Persians hundreds of thousands and won. The movie The 300 tells this story.

Why bring this up? Greece was an insignificant country to invest so much effort to destroy, but sometimes past wounds drive us to fight unnecessary and unwinnable battles. Why was it unwinnable? The Spartans were tough – the Navy SEALS of ancient times. But more so, look at how instrumental Greek culture would be in the future.

Many historians believe that a Persian victory would have crippled the development of Ancient Greece, and by extension western civilization, and this has led them to argue that these two battles were among the most significant battles in human history.

Consider the Greek language. English is imprecise. We have words that cover way too much territory. Like the word love. The Greek’s had five. So, if you planned on writing something you wanted to be understood and studied very specifically, Greek was a much better language. That’s why God used it to write the NT. Do you think God was working to preserve the Greeks for a project He had planned down the road?

An even greater reason God wouldn’t let the Persians defeat the Greeks is that the Greeks play into the next phase of God’s plan. Nebuchadnezzar had had a dream of future events. It involved the nations that would rule the world. Babylon, Persia, the Greeks, then the Romans. The Greeks were being protected for future plans.

Back to the story. When does this happening in Bible history? Well, let me change the name Xerxes to his more familiar name, Ahasuerus.

Ahasuerus is the king of Persia we find in the story of Esther. Let’s try to fit this into the context of the Book of Esther. At the first of the Book of Esther, the king had a grand feast and wanted to present his beautiful wife Vashti. [Now, Vashti is a nickname meaning: The Beautiful One. Her real name was Amestris.]

Vashti refused to display herself, so she was removed as queen. When does this happen? Before this battle with Greece. What’s recorded in Persian history is, after the loss: he withdrew into himself and allowed himself to be drawn into harem intrigues.

Est 2:1-2  After these things when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king's attendants, who served him, said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king. 

After these things – the war with Greece – the search for Esther began. The war ended in 480 B.C. There was a year of beautification for the young girls. Esther 2:16-17 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus to his royal palace in the seventh year of his reign. The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 

Ahasuerus became King in 486. War was in 480. The seventh year was 479.
But in the primary story in the Book of Esther, there was a plot to kill all the Jews who lived in Persia. Without Esther being Queen, the whole population of the people of Israel would have been wiped out. The most famous line in Esther was from her uncle Mordecai: Esther 4:14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" 

Mordecai was placing the decision for her to go before the King and plead for the life of her people into a context. Who knows if this is not why you are now Queen? Maybe all of what had gone on was to get you into a position to deliver your people.

So, look at all God did to answer Solomon’s prayer, fulfill Jeremiah’s promise, respond to Isaiah’s prophecy. Working through wars to accomplish even greater purposes. Bringing a marriage together to keep His people alive.

A sovereign God accomplishes His purposes. He has the right to use whatever means or circumstances or people He chooses, to work His plan. We never know what He is doing at any given time, so, we are to be thankful people who know He’s doing what’s best and what He’s doing will work all things together for good.

  1. For God to be able to accomplish His purposes, He must be in charge of whatever it takes to do so.
  2. Though we don’t always see what He is doing, we know He is actively engaged in working all things together for good.
  3. Our definition of good may not be the same as His.
  4. So, we are to live convinced He is able to keep what we have entrusted to Him as He handles the matters of our lives with love, purpose and perspective.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sovereignty of God Pt 4

Most of us are accustomed to Wills or Contracts. In these documents, items are spelled out that the signers expect to be fulfilled in the future. These are legal agreements made to connect desire with application.

Many times there are contingencies written in, that unless these contingencies are carried out, the agreement will be changed. Maybe there is a statement included that says if a person mentioned in the will seeks to sue the estate for more than was granted, he or she will be removed completely. Or in a contract, if payments are not made on schedule, the contract becomes null and void. What is stipulated must be carried out.

God used the contingency approach to present many of His promises. If you do this, I will do that. Meaning, the fulfillment of the promise may be attached to the people’s behavior or response. It’s where Free Will enters the equation.

When Solomon had built the new Temple, God placed contingencies on his future and the future of the nation: 1Kings 9:4-5  As for you, if you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and will keep My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, 'You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.' 
Do you hear the contingency? If you will, then I will. I make you a promise with the outcome based on your choices.

By using the word IF, God was actually preparing His people for the downfall He knew was coming. 

Why would He make a contingent promise? So that the people coming down the road would recognize their adversity was the result of rebellion against Him. He was telling them in advance, so when it does happen, they would know why.

1Kings 9:6-9 But if you or your sons indeed turn away from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them, and the house [which house? – the Temple] which I have consecrated for My name, I will cast out of My sight. So Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by will be astonished and hiss and say, 'Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?' And they will say, 'Because they forsook the LORD their God, who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them, therefore the LORD has brought all this adversity on them.'

If you are wondering why the adversity, look at the other side of the promise.

God’s intentions were to bless and sustain His people. But if the conditions for those blessings were not kept, the promise of the blessings would be changed.

Staying with Solomon a few more minutes, we know what happened. 1Kings 11:1-6  Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, "You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods." Solomon held fast to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. 

How did God respond? He divided the kingdom into Southern – Judah and Northern – Israel. Israel He gave to Jeroboam: 1Ki 11:31, 33 He said to Jeroboam, "Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribesbecause they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the sons of Ammon; and they have not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and observing My statutes and My ordinances, as his father David did. 

And like He did with Solomon, God gave Jeroboam his same contingent promise: 1Kings 11:38 Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 
God had laid out His statutes and commands over 400 years before: Lev 26:1-2 You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God. You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the LORD. 

But here’s what happened. Jeroboam panicked: 1Ki 12:27-33 If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah." So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt." He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi. Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; thus he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made. And he stationed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. Then he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart; and he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel and went up to the altar to burn incense. 

To keep the people from going back to Jerusalem to worship, he built the high places for sacrifice and brought offerings, but God wasn’t there.

And for those in the South, though they had the Temple they lost the meaning of all they did in it – empty religious ritual. One lost God, the other the value of God, what was He left to do? Bring on the consequences of their actions – the captivities.

In 722 B.C. the Assyrians came into Israel and took the Northern Kingdom captive. The Southern Kingdom managed to stay afloat until 586 B.C. when the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar came into Jerusalem and destroyed the city, the walls and the Temple.

God had warned both kingdoms of the consequences of idolatry and neglect. He had laid out His contingent promises. His prophets had even gotten in the faces of the Kings and leaders to tell them judgment was coming if they didn’t turn things around. But they rejected the warnings and the people of God were swept away.

Did God see this coming? Of course. Why didn’t He stop it? Context. We’re following a plan that has eternity as its backdrop and, from God’s view, providence requires the ability to manage past, present and future. So what God does today may not make sense until tomorrow.

·       Did God know that Adam and Eve would sin? Sure. Then why did He put the tree in the garden they weren’t supposed to touch?

·       Did God know He would destroy the earth through a flood? Yes. Then why did He let things get so bad before He had to step in?

·       Did God know Israel would end up as slaves in Egypt for 400 years? Of course. Then why did He let them go there in the first place?

·       If God knew His people would reject Him, why did He pick them?

It’s all in the plan. Everything works together for good according to God’s design.

You can see it foreshadowed in the prayer Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple. You’ll hear some of God’s plans laid out even in that prayer 400 years before.

1Ki 8:46-53 When Your people sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; if they take thought in the land where they have been taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land of those who have taken them captive, saying, 'We have sinned and have committed iniquity, we have acted wickedly'; if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name; then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You, and make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are Your people and Your inheritance which You have brought forth from Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace), that Your eyes may be open to the supplication of Your servant and to the supplication of Your people Israel, to listen to them whenever they call to You. For You have separated them from all the peoples of the earth as Your inheritance, as You spoke through Moses Your servant, when You brought our fathers forth from Egypt, O Lord GOD. 
Why did Solomon pray that? What did He know? Probably nothing, other than the nature of people to reject god. It could have been God interjecting His words into Solomon’s mind. Remember, He often forewarned folks so when something happened, they’d know it was He who did it. What better way than preserved through the words of a King?

Now here comes an even more interesting part? It was Solomon who wrote: Prov 21:1 The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. Had he seen that in his own life or was God providing insight?

A king feels he is making wise decisions, what’s in his or his country’s best interest. And yet God is saying He will use those decisions to accomplish His plans. God allowed Free Will and yet by His Sovereignty directed that Free Will. Whether they were with Him or not, either way, He could still turn their hearts as He wished. No king can operate beyond that sovereignty.

So, God really can direct any king’s heart toward whatever He pleases? Of course. Even when that king rejects His authority? Even when that king is a pagan king from a foreign nation. Why should that matter? Often, we forget God is not just God of the spiritual world, but God over all. Lord of lords and King of kings. The whole universe is His. And He has authority to do with it whatever He chooses.

God told Habakkuk what He was going to do but notice how He prefaced His words: Hab 1:5-6  Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—You would not believe if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs. 
Habakkuk went ballistic! God, You can’t do that. They don’t even belong to You. They aren’t in the box.

God says, because I am God, I can fulfill My plan in ways you can’t even fit into your limited perspective. I’m reaching outside the box and bringing in people to affect my will that will astound you. Why? Because I can, and it suits my purpose.

How does that apply to us? God can use any and everything He chooses to accomplish His best in our lives. It may be an atheist doctor, a hedonistic airplane pilot, a wretched politician, a wicked spouse, a teenage granddaughter, an accident, an illness, a tragedy, a mistake, a failure, a pastor. Because He can and it suits His purpose, He is able to turn the hearts of kings toward whatever He chooses.
Wait till you see how He did that…next Sunday.

  1. It is amazing how capable God becomes when we let Him be God and don’t try to limit Him by our desires or opinions.
  2. Trust requires us to give Him the right to determine what’s best.
  3. The advantage of remembering the past is to gain confidence from what God did in order to anticipate what He can do today.
  4. The assurance we demonstrate today will encourage us to expect His goodness to continue into the future.
  5. If we are struggling with adversity, we may want to check to see if what we’re experiencing might be tied to a contingency we haven’t met.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Sovereignty of God Pt 3

My aunt was deathly afraid of snakes. Alive, dead or fake – it didn’t matter. You can imagine how much fun a kid can have with that. Most of us don’t like snakes but our fear changes when we hear it’s only a toy. What makes it change? Perspective.

When we don’t have perspective, we can only judge things as they appear in the moment. Perspective requires context. Within that context is past, present and future. All three play a vital role in God’s providence – His ability to adjust circumstances to coincide with future plans.

Our eldest, Cory, went to a Bible College where getting tattoos was the fad. He has always wanted to fit in, so, obviously, he wanted a tattoo. We weren’t so keen on it but one weekend he came home and there it was, carefully hidden across his upper back, under his shirt. Knowing we’d lost the battle and this one wasn’t the last, I told him to think ahead and realize it could present problems down the road. I said don’t get any tattoos you can’t cover up if necessary.

Having his first wife’s name emblazoned across this upper arm didn’t set well with Hannah. But more so, when he applied for his job at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, the first rule was no visible tattoos. He could have tattoos but had to be able to cover them up with a long sleeve shirt. He could, so he got the job.

Most of what goes on connects to the context of past, present and future. Decisions we made years ago may affect us today. Decisions we make today can affect tomorrow. They all connect.

To understand context, consider the Story of the Exodus. What had been intended as a sojourn to help Jacob’s family survive the famine, ended up as a 400-year settlement.

Now, as you can imagine, whatever customs or beliefs they had as a people, were, by now, indistinguishable from what Jacob’s original family came with. Egypt was a land of many gods. And even as careful as you might be to maintain a separation that would keep you from polluting your life with idolatry, compromise was inevitable. God had to get them out. But when?

The first obvious time was as soon as Joseph died, before the new pharaoh that didn’t know Joseph came to power. But God waited 400 years? Why? Timing. Lining up other peoples and places as well as waiting for Moses to come along. And then Moses had to be made ready: Dwight L. Moody: “Moses spent his first forty years thinking he was somebody. He spent his second forty years learning he was a nobody. He spent his third forty years discovering what God can do with that nobody.”

God gave Moses time to transform. Heb 11:24-26 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. 

He needed to discover the context to God’s call.  

In The Servant Leadership of Moses: “Moses chose to align himself with the God of Israel, thereby becoming associated with an entire nation of people who, though deeply flawed and at times downright wicked, were, in Moses’ eyes, children of a greater promise.”

Moses was given perspective. This people’s past, present and future all came together in him. The timing of all history was focused on this one particular man leading them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. God’s 400-year timer had gone off.

At Sinai, when Moses went up the mountain to receive the tablets of the Law from God, the people made the golden calf. God’s anger burned fiercely at this regression back into Egyptian idolatry. Ex 32:9-10 The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation." 

Could God have done that? Make a great nation from Moses? Yes. But would He? No. His promises were connected to this people and their heritage going back to Abraham. What did Moses do? He reminded God of those promises: Ex 32:13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" 

Did God need reminding? No. Did Moses? Yes. Because God was testing Moses’ ability to keep things in context.  Moses needed to hear himself say: 2Tim 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. 

Exactly the statement we need burned into our memory. When we find ourselves challenged by some failure, crisis or turmoil – a regret from the past or a doctor describing a dark future – we need to know what remains constant.

What did this moment do? It solidified that God’s Providence was at work, and would be at work in any and all situations, through any and all people, to accomplish His purpose with this particular nation.

What would have happened if God had done what He threatened? The whole timing of His schedule would have been thrown off. Remember, this was planned from the very beginning, not made up as we went along. God would have had to invent another beginning and a new time schedule. And all the people He had lined up to intersect with His plan down the road would have to be rearranged to make everything happen at the right time. God is working a plan that has specific time considerations built in.

So, the first challenge was accepting that God was working out His plans through this particular people. Another challenge was following God’s specific orders concerning the implements that would shape them, the primary being the Tabernacle. It would be the place where God would dwell with His people, meet with them and receive their sacrifices. It was also the training center for how to be the people of God.

Ex 25:8-9 Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so, you shall construct it. 

Ex 25:1-7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution. This is the contribution which you are to raise from them: gold, silver and bronze, blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, rams' skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 

Where did they get all this stuff out in the middle of the desert? There was no Dollar Store across the street. Ex 12:35-36 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. 

Remember, God’s working from a context. He planned ahead for the contribution for the Tabernacle through the Egyptians. Because He already had its design in mind, He knew what items they would specifically need to match that design.

Ex 26:30 Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain. 

Ex 39:32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did. 

Ex 40:9 Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and shall consecrate it and all its furnishings; and it shall be holy. 

God had a definite plan for everything connected with the Tabernacle. When all was completed, and the Tabernacle presented to God, He moved inside.

Ex 40:33-35 Moses erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 

This tent structure was now a holy meeting place for God and His people. It was the defining monument of Israel – the one place on earth where God would be acknowledged and from where He would carry out His divine work in behalf of His people. The people now knew where God was. That regardless of what may be going on around them, because of the Tabernacle, they had evidence God was with them.

This Tabernacle remained a part of Israel for the next 480 years. And, like the people, the Tabernacle had a context. This structure connected with a plan made in the past, acknowledged in the present but extended into the future.

Then David came along. Without knowing that plan, without having any perspective of what God was intending, David looked at the Tabernacle one day and compared it to his house. He decided he wanted to replace the tent with a palace more representative of the greatness of God.

Question: Did David just come up with the idea or did God give him the thought? Greater question: Did God add it to the plan or was it already in it from the beginning?

If you know the story, you’ll remember God told David he could not build the Temple but his son, Solomon, could. David then worked the rest of his life to gather much of the materials Solomon would need. You’ll also remember that David bought the actual plot of ground for the Temple from Araunah the Jebusite.

After it was completed, in response to Solomon’s dedication prayer, 1Kings 9:3-5 The LORD said to him, "I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually

Perpetually means forever. God’s intentions expressed were that He would abide with His people through His Temple. But that Temple is no longer there. And God would never make a forever promise without a context – past, present and future.

What did He have in mind? We’ve read the book. We know what’s coming. Something that David and Solomon had no idea of. God’s promise to perpetually dwell in His Temple, to write His name there with the focus of His eyes and heart being in that Temple forever would ultimately be fulfilled in us – His people.

1Cor 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 

2Cor 6:16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 

For us to understand God dwelling in and among His people, we needed a context that included an actual Temple in Jerusalem. Because of that context and that that context includes us, we are forever connected to the past, present and future of God’s personal involvement in our lives. But where we will experience that connection is in the present.

  1. Providence requires context – knowing the past, present and the future.
  2. When God is working out His purposes that context is always kept in consideration.
  3. Something that happened in our past can affect our lives in the present but cannot prevent Him from fulfilling His purpose in the future.
  4. We celebrate what God did in the past; we anticipate what He will do in the future, but we trust Him for what He is doing in the present.