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Posts Tagged ‘God’s sovereignty’

Then Jesus told him, ‘You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me’.” John 20:29

Robert Burns wrote that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I’m not sure my plans for Saturday were particularly well laid out, but they surely didn’t turn out as I expected.

Originally, I was going to spend a free day cashing in a reward at one of the local Starbucks, lifting weights and then catching my favorite baseball team on the telly.  What occurred was that I did go to the S-bucks, but the rest of the day went in a different direction.

The actual major events don’t matter in this tale so much. What is important are the little decisions I made and the small circumstances and interactions of the day. They made me ponder their meaning.

I suppose this is because I just listened to an audio recording by Jerry Bridges on the Providence of God. At the time I began thinking of the accrued happenings on this October day, I was focusing on the negative (something that my pessimistic nature is prone to).

After some little misfortunes occurred, I began to wonder if Bridges was right in his assessment that God is in control of every little thing. If He was, then I questioned why these things were happening to me.

Was I being punished or disciplined? Or were these incidents just a product of a fallen world? Why was life so difficult?

Perhaps it would be best to provide a short narrative for these hours. I woke up not sure of the plan ahead, which is common to my shoot from the hip nature.

I decided that I would walk into town and catch the bus to Starbucks. In fact, many of the events of the day were influenced by my lack of wheels.

I am addicted out of necessity to being a ped. No, I am not involved with performance enhancing drugs. I just walk everywhere I go, especially when the bus system is not reliable.

The bus service in my town is reduced on weekends. At 9 am there were no busses. Besides,  I needed to get some exercise.

However, when I arrived in town, I learned that the bus over to the Starbucks would not leave for almost an hour.  I think I just missed it.

So I decided to hop the bus to the WalMart. I had an errand to run at the Best Buy near there and decided to “redeem” the time.

As it turned out, due to the local university’s Homecoming football events, the bus had to take an alternative route. This detour dropped me about two blocks from the Starbucks, my original planned destination.

“Wow,” I thought.

It was a cool and crisp autumn day, and as I sat at Starbucks sipping my coffee  I thought,”Maybe I’ll go to the game.” One of my friends was at a major NASCAR event, and another buddy of mine had just gone to see Notre Dame play.

So I was thinking,”Well, if my friends can have all this fun, is it so wrong that I have a little once in a while to.” I have to mentally justify these kinds of expenditures because I am on a limited budget.

Now, my school, which is also my employer, isn’t exactly Alabama, but they aren’t the Little Sisters of the Poor either. They are in a mid-level college conference, and generally do pretty well (except for this year).

I said to myself,”Look. This is what is available. Sure, the game is not a major deal. But it will be nice to experience some college football of any kind on a day like this.”

Not knowing the bus situation, I just decided to walk down the road I was already on to the stadium. It’s a straight shot of about two miles.

Before I left,  I went grocery shopping to buy any non-perishables I could carry. I do not live near a grocery store, so I have to take these opportunities to buy food when I have them.

In the middle of rearranging my stuff into my backpack, a kid whose job it was to snare carts whacked me on the knee with one. Now, it really didn’t do any damage, but I had the same emotional response some students do when they get a grade they are not happy with. I was “shocked” and “disappointed” at this fellows lack of care.

He asked me if I was ok, to which I replied while wincing, “Yeah.” Now, as I walked away, I noted to myself that the pained reaction was for effect. I mentally kicked myself and asked God why I had to be so dramatic and why I didn’t just give the kid a break.

Before I began the walk to the game, I stopped to get a lunch special from a Chinese place. I ordered among other things egg drop soup, which was too hot to eat and looked like its name: it was a gooey concoction of yell slime. I didn’t eat it.

After eating lunch, I did the walk. Arriving at the stadium, I bought my ticket and went to the gate.

I had to have my bag checked and I thought for sure I would be accosted about the food in there. It has been my common experience lately to have people with any kind of authority use it. Sure enough, I was told “they don’t like people to bring food in here.”. However, the gentleman checking my bag let me in anyway.

During the game, I filmed events from my laptop. On my school’s first touchdown, the quarterback threw a beautiful pass to a receiver who made a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone. My camera was ready and I began filming from my laptop. Unfortunately, a group of students walked right in front of me up the stadium stairs as I was filming, oblivious to my grimace.

One staff person finally told me,”You can take pictures of the game, but you can’t film.”  I thought,”Thirty thousand people with Smartphones which have video capability and he has to pick on me.”

Now, I was already non-plussed by this man because he kept walking up and down the stadium stares with a watchful eye and seeming glare. Frankly, he gave me the creeps.

Going out to a quick three touchdown lead, my university’s team lost the game in the end. They were knocking at the door with 8 seconds to go and couldn’t punch it in. I listened to disgruntled fans complain about the play-calling of our coach and watched as one guy berated excited fans of the opposing team.

“Hmm. These usually wonderful students are not as nice as I thought,” I said to myself.

Leaving the stadium, I was hoping to catch one of these bus shuttles I had seen. The regular bus service had already ended and the schedule on the school’s shuttle stop noted that it did not run there on Saturday.

I just missed a city shuttle as it turned a corner. I asked a female police officer directing traffic if she knew about these shuttles, and she said she didn’t. But she also added,”You had better stand back or you are going to get hit by a car.” My mind went to, “Yep. Another unnecessary rebuke from a police officer.”

I waited for about 10 to 15 minutes and a shuttle never appeared. So I walked down the same street I had walked down three hours earlier. As I trudged along, three shuttles from the stadium passed me within 20 minutes.

I made a turn down a long road that runs through campus and to the greenway, which leads to my neighborhood. I arrived home about 90 minutes after leaving the stadium, in the dark, and hungry.

When I got home, I turned on the television and learned my favorite baseball team had just lost in the last inning for the second night in a row. They have now dug a deep hole for themselves to make a World Series.

The end to a perfectly topsy turvy day.

After reflecting on this Saturday, though,  I came to the conclusion that the doctrine of God’s Providence was not really the issue here, at least for me. What really mattered was whether or not I believed that God loved me and was trustworthy enough to help me in my circumstances.

If in fact God is in control of all good and bad things that happen to me as Jerry Bridges says, then the question for me is , “Does He use them for my good?.” This well known verse from the Bible seems to say he does:

And we know that God causes everything to work together[a] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

In retrospect, when I review my supposedly negative experiences from Saturday, I realize that many of the things that occurred were quite helpful. Here are some of the positive effects of these apparently “bad” events:

1) My early morning bus didn’t come, but the one I DID take led me to my planned destination anyway.

2) God protected me from harm when a careless grocery store worker slammed my knee with a cart.

3) My egg drop soup was not eatable, but I learned what NOT to order next time AND I enjoyed a nice chicken and broccoli dish there.

4) The guy who checked my bag at the stadium could have in fact denied my entry. But when I explained that I did not have a car and had just gone grocery shopping, he said,”You don’t have a car here.” He was confirming my story to see if I was believable. When he believed me, he let me in. He was polite and nice about it.

5) The events staffer was just doing his job. It’s not his fault Osama Bin Laden committed a heinous terrorist act which has led to today’s overbearing police state environment.

6) The police officer I met actually was trying to keep me from getting killed. In addition, she pointed out the nearest bus stop.

7) I missed my planned weight lifting program this day. God replaced it with 6 to 8 miles of walking.

8) It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be outside for as long as I was.

9) I have noted that my youthful determination to never let a sports team get me depressed is still there. My take on my baseball team this year has always been that they have had a great season no matter how it ends. I have just enjoyed the baseball.

10) While I want my university sports teams to win, I don’t really have a dog in their fights.  Their teams represent my workplace, not my alma mater or hometown.

In essence, my delays, near misses,unfinished plans and unfulfilled desires don’t really matter much except in the economy of a loving God.

Of the above, I think near misses frustrate me the most. “Nuts. The Orioles were close to the World Series and didn’t make it after 35 years of not being there,” I think.

One of my most common near misses is  missing great pictures. Most of the time it is the result of the event occurring before I can get my camera ready, not an obstruction like at the game on Saturday.

But I have learned from one of the great near misses of all time. One of Jesus’s disciples, Thomas, missed the Lord’s appearance to all His other followers.

Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus had been resurrected. He complained that unless he saw the nail scars in the Lord’s hands, he wouldn’t believe.

Thomas wanted proof! As a result, he has gone down in history as “Doubting Thomas”.  I don’t think I would like to be give a moniker which would be used as a negative byword for two thousand years.

When Thomas finally did see Jesus, he exclaimed,”My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)

In fact, as the Life Recovery Bible notes, Thomas went on to exhibit great courage as one of Jesus’s apostles. Church history credits him with founding the church in India.

Thus, I know I can repent of my own doubts and have faith and still have a successful life.

It could be worse. At least I am not my school’s football coach, who has to wonder what happened on that fade route on fourth down at the end of Saturday’s game!

If he is a man of faith, it would help him to believe that Jesus is at work regardless of appearances.

 

 

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“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death (Psalm 68:19,20).”

While laying in a tent with my boys the other night, I had a strange dream.  It was a really fast-paced event: it didn’t last long.

In the dream, I was rushing around with a briefcase, running through the hallways and rooms of a Bible college I had attended in the past. I was totally stressed out, while the other seminary men around me were with their families, doing stuff that families do.

I’ve been reflecting on this dream and its meaning. I even discussed it with my pastor yesterday.  I think we both agreed it was a wake-up call from God. Here I was doing what I thought was a good thing, trying to serve God, but in the meantime I was exhausting myself and neglecting my wife and children.

I am not one to put stock in dreams as a primary communication method from God, but as I told my pastor, if Satan can use them, I figure God must use them as well at times.  As I see it, God is telling me something that I have known intellectually all along and even at times have tried to do something about: most of my life I have spent too much time trying to support my wife and kids (a good thing), but too little time nurturing them.

We Christian men are caught between a rock and a hard place today.  On the one hand, the Bible tells us that if we don’t support our families, we actually are denying our faith and are worse than unbelievers (I Timothy 5:8). 

 On the other hand, the Scriptures instruct us to nurture and care for our wives and take part in raising our children (Ephesians 5:25-33; 6:2).  Modern groups such as Promise Keepers have exhorted us to walk out of the office and fulfill these biblical obligations.

It’s a tough thing to figure out how to balance both of these responsibilities.  The thought that comes to mind is to do what one of my seminary professors once advised. He said that when faced with seemingly conflicting choices, we ought to “live at the center of biblical tension”.  I don’t exactly recall the context of this advice, but J. Robertson McQuilkin discusses it in his book on biblical ethics. So I imagine it was in this course that I heard it.

Geoff Ashley says that this biblical tension is a good thing.  He uses a game of tug-of-war with a child as an example to illustrate his point. If we maintain tension on the rope when playing this game with a child, they will be safe. But if we let go, the child will tumble backwards and hurt themselves.  Ashley says that biblical tension is like a game of tug-of-war: “If you let go of one of the sides of tension in a place where the Scripture maintains tension, you will tumble and say things like, ‘either God is absolutely sovereign or man is ultimately responsible.’ ”

Biblical tension comes when we are presented with two good truths: 1)on the one hand, God is sovereign in our lives; 2)on the other hand, we are made in His image, he has given us intelligence and also a free will to make informed choices.

As Ashley indicates, problems occur in this tension when we emphasize one of these truths over the other.  For example, relying too much on God’s sovereignty can result in irresponsibility and laziness. However, if we give ourselves too much freedom and put too much of the responsibility on ourselves, we risk making stupid, uninformed choices. It’s both/and when interpreting conflicts in the Bible, not either/or.

Abraham was faced with a dilemma in his life in where he made an either/or choice.  He knew he had a gorgeous wife in Sarah. He also knew that, as a result of having a beautiful woman as his wife, that his  life was at risk among the pagan rulers he lived with.  He figured they would just kill him and take her.

Abraham’s solution to this problem was early in his marriage to get Sarah to agree to say that she was his sister.  This was a partial truth, but it led to all kinds of grief for them. Twice, Sarah was taken away by ungodly kings who had the power in those days to do what they wanted.

In one instance God used a dream to rescue her .  He told the king who had absorbed Sarah into his harem,”You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman(Genesis 20:3) .”

 Now this king, one Abimelech, had taken Sarah in good faith. After all, to him she was Abraham’s sister. God knew that the king had brought Sarah to himself with a clear conscience, so he  instructed him to give her back and all would be well. Abimelech did so, admonishing Abraham in the process for his lie, and Abraham and Sarah went on their way.

It would have been better for all concerned if Abraham had protected his wife and asked God to protect him. Doing both would have prevented the whole situation.

 Applying this both/and principle to fulfilling our male roles as providers and family men, it seems the best course of action when faced with tough financial times is to ask God to take care of this impossible situation.  Most men I know will be responsible and work themselves to the bone to provide for their families instead of going to God for help. 

When we don’t trust God to provide for us and engage in a worhaholic lifestyle, we are making ourselves ultimately responsible instead of God. Ashley says that we make the following mistake as a result: “We emphasize the responsibility of man in such a way as to exalt man’s freedom and fail to confidently ask God to accomplish what He alone can do.”

When faced with a steep uphill climb as fathers and husbands, its time to ask God to help with the family provision.. I know this is hard. Heck, we don’t even like to ask for directions. However, it appears to be the only way to meet both the spiritual and  financial needs of our wives and children.

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“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use (Romans 9:20,21)?”

As I tumbled down the hill I heard a loud crack.  “That’s not good”, I thought, as I lay there in the muck. 

I had decided to go get something to eat before doing some work in my motel room. I also wanted some fresh air. So I walked across the bridge over the interstate, saw the restaurant directly down the hill in front of me, and started down the hill. It would have been easier to walk around, but longer. I took the short cut. My left foot slipped and over I went.

My short cut ended up costing me over 2 days in the hospital with a broken ankle. I am still here in the town which I intended to just pass through on my way to somewhere else.  The 64,000 dollar question is, “Is God in charge in situations like this?”  I have to believe He is.

After all, I had already determined that I was where I was supposed to be.  I had also determined that even if I encountered suffering, it would ultimately lead to my good. (See my post “Taking the right road”).  I had no idea  why God lead me here, but I trusted in His love to do the right thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think God pushed me down a hill. In fact, I have a strong suspicion Satan was behind the whole thing. But in His sovereignty God allowed it, and He will turn this situation to ultimate good. He protects me and is my shield (Psalm 3:3). God has purposes I know nothing about, and I surely don’t question His character.

As I hobble around on my crutches, I have learned I have to plan each step of my way or I will end up in trouble. If I am smart enough to figure that out, surely I can trust God to plan each step of His way concerning me. If His plan includes me being tossed in the mud and my ankle being broken, then I have to believe that He wants to do some creative art work in and for me.

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”

The day started smoothly enough.  I had gotten out of work a little early and decided to pursue my idea of visiting a major landmark about 3 hours away. My students and I are reading a book involving one of the architects, so I thought it would be interesting. I also knew the drive took me by a beautiful mountain gap I really wanted to see again.

Then things started to get frustrating.  The mountain gap was completely shrouded in fog, even though it was just the middle of the day.  Visibilty was about 50 yards. I shrugged it off, though, and crossed into the state of my destination. However, shortly after doing so I was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on the interstate.  Road work. This delayed my trip even more.

Soon the traffic moved again and I prepared to turn off onto the highway that would take me to where I intended to go. But before I made the turn I saw a sign about a rock slide on that road, and when I turned on to it there was bumper to bumper traffic again. 

I stopped to get a bite to eat and evaluate at this junction. I wasn’t that far from a place I used to live and thought it would be interesting to see it. So I just headed south instead of west.  I am now writing this from a town where I spent about 8 years of my life.

I don’t think this was all an accident. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I know I have the Spirit of God living in me. His role is to guide me and keep me in touch with the Father (John 16:13).  In fact, this is His main role. As any good father, God has his plans for me and I may be frustrated at the time, but they are for the best. If I  go my own way and don’t consult Him, I will suffer for it. I may also suffer if I go His way, but that particular suffering will ultimately lead to good. My choices won’t (Romans 8:18=39).

I enjoyed looking over some old stomping grounds yesterday. But I have no idea why I am here. I may never know.

The rock slide that caused me to redirect turned out to be in another part of the road. But  I love and follow Jesus and I know He loves me. As I thought and prayed about it at the time, I thought this destination was where I should be. So here I am and I can trust Him with that.

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 “He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me (Psalm 55:18).”

Real and imaginary disasters are in the news today.  One involves a movie, which appears to be a catastrophe itself. The other is the recent tsunami that hit the South Pacific .

In the new movie “2012” monstrous devastation occurs, at least according to  trailer of the movie which has just been released.  The flick is based on the supposed acocalypse that is coming in the year 2012.  Doomsday watchers cite the Mayan calendar and Nostradamus as sources for this prediction.  Based on the trailer, the critics say the film will be a flop.

The UK Daily Mail website reports on how two surfers survived the tsunami. One of them actually pointed his surfboard toward the huge wave to escape, riding over it. The other, New Zealand student Chris Nel, was washed out to sea and rode out the wave.

A close look at both reports brings out a glaring theme.  God seems to be absent from the picture (pun intended).  In the film character Jackson Curtis, a science fiction writer, mocks the chances of some sort of doomsday. He jokingly says to his kids, “What are the odds?”.

In the story about the tsunami, the reporter says that Nels is “thanking his lucky stars” that he is alive. Nels himself says, “We were really, really lucky.”

The truth is that there will in fact be a day when God judges the world for its rebellion against Him. What it will be like exactly no one can say with certainty, but it’s coming. In addition, the reality of our being alive has nothing to do with “luck” or “stars”. God said through the apostle Paul that it is in him that we “live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)”.  

When it comes to cause and effect in our lives, we need to separate fact from fiction.  It is God who allows and engineers events, and it is God who gives us life.  He is also the one who saves us from disaster.

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“There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD (Proverbs 21:30).”

Over the years I have been faced with several last-minute decisions that changed the course of my life and the lives of  my loved ones.  They have involved whether or not to accept a job in another location and then move.  Had I not made a decision, then my lack of a decision would have been a choice in and of itself.  I would have had to accept the consequences (usually bad, as I saw the situation) of staying where I was.

In making my decisions, I have had to weigh the opportunity costs.  In economics, an opportunity cost is the cost of passing up one choice to take another.  For example, if a young man has a lot of money, he could either buy a convertible or go to college.  If he buys the convertible, he is losing the value of that education for the perceived value of owning the convertible. 

So in my decisionmaking, I had to determine what I was giving up to take the other thing.  Sometimes neither choice was really that palatable. But faced with the need to make a decision (or not), I chose what I saw to be the most valuable option.

The Jewish leaders in the first century were caught between a rock and a hard place in deciding what to do about the apostles of Jesus, who were held in high esteem by the people.   These leaders were jealous and wanted to destroy the apostles. But if they did so,  the people would have revolted.  On  the other hand, if they did nothing they were afraid they would have to face the ire of the people anyway. They told the apostles, ” You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood (Acts 5:28).”  Neither choice was really appealing.

Gamaliel, one of their leaders, gave them a wise way out of their dilemma.  He told them not to oppose the apostles. If they were phoneys, they would come to nothing. But if they came from God, then the Jewish leaders could do nothing.  Gamaliel told them that they might even find themselves in the position of opposing the Lord (Acts 5:35-39).

Once again, even today, I am faced with another one of these quick decisions. As I consider all the issues, it is of great comfort to know that God is in control.  Even if I make a mistake, He has the power to overrule me.

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