Divine Sovereignty. III. Success Despite Our Failures

“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:8–11; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“The Flight of the Prisoners” by James Tissot (1836-1902), depicting the Babylonian exile. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Divine sovereignty grows out of God’s unique status as the self-existent One, the ground of all being, the Creator of all. He is all-knowing, able to tell the entire story from the beginning, including events that have not taken place as though they already have. He can accomplish all of His plans and use whomever He chooses to fulfill His will.

Isaiah 46 describes God’s judgment upon the Babylonians and their gods. Even though Babylon was the world power of his day, God maintained His authority over that nation. All who rejected His laws—whether the acknowledged Him as Lord and God or not—would be deemed “transgressors.” He counted them as rebels whether they believed He was God or not, no matter how sincerely they believed in something.

A popular lie today claims that “All roads lead to God.” Many believe that God is at the top of a spiritual “mountain” with numerous paths, each one a different religion, leading to Him. This contradicts Scripture. In fact, it is contrary to most religions. I invite you to subscribe to weekly prayer alerts at Voice of the Martyrs’ https://www.icommittopray.com/ website. This ministry mobilizes people to pray for Christians throughout the world who face persecution—disowned by families, attacked by mobs, arrested, assassinated, executed, etc. The perpetrators are not only government officials. Sometimes, they are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist monks, etc. They do not see Christians as “fellow travelers climbing different roads to seek the same God.” Instead, they see Christians as a threat to be silenced and punished. These religions do not believe we are worshiping their deities. Christians should not assume they are worshiping our God under different names. Exodus 20:2, “You shall have no other gods before me,” prohibits this. Either our God is true and all other gods are false, or our God is not true. Because He is the One True God, having revealed Himself in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, He is able to judge all creation. His sovereignty extends to all.

(I realize some people will claim Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God, since “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew “Elohim” and Arab Christians also call the biblical God “Allah.” However, the nature of the Muslim Allah is very different from the biblical God. Despite the name, they are very different beings.)

We can trust God even when He executes His judgment. He knows the end from the beginning. Isaiah’s prophecies warned of an impending Babylonian exile. In 587 BC, approximately 100 years after the prophet died, the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon, and its leaders were taken captive into exile. One would expect that the people of Israel would cease to exist. The words “Israelite,” “Jew,” and “Israel” would slip into the archives of history, joining the Hittites and Midianites as peoples of the past. Think about it—When is the last time you met a Hittite? Do you know anybody whose DNA test says they are 25% Midianite? The same fate should have met the Jews and other Israelites.

However, God had chosen to use this superpower to discipline His people. Even though, humanly speaking, the Babylonians could have wiped Israel out of the history books, God knew the end from the beginning. He knew how things would turn out. He knew how to intervene to ensure that the Jewish nation would survive, revive, and one day fulfill their mission to be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3), which He would accomplish by sending His Son as our Savior.

He not only knows the end from the beginning. He knows us inside and out. He knows we are sinners. He knew before we were born which sins would become our greatest temptations and how we would fail. He is not shocked by our sin. No matter how horrible your sins sound to you and others, He will not scream, “You did WHAT?!? Are you kidding me? How could you do that?” (Incidentally, if your sin has a name, then somebody else committed it before you did. You have created no new sins. God has forgiven it before.)

White House Special Counsel Chuck Colson, ca. 1969. White House photo, Nixon Presidential Library via Wikimedia Commons.

Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, God can bring good and blessing out of our mistakes. Chuck Colson was a member of President Richard Nixon’s staff who was sentenced to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. One could easily have assumed that his life was a failure and he would be remembered as nothing more than Nixon’s disgraced henchman. However, through his criminal trial and eventual conviction, Colson came to know Jesus Christ and started sharing his faith with fellow prisoners. After his release he continued to minister to them. He formed Prison Fellowship, a ministry sharing the love of Christ with prisoners and their families, which also touched the lives of many other Christians. His sins and eventual repentance paved the way for a life of ministry and blessing to God, His people, and countless transgressors.

Saint Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders as a teenager and sold into slavery as a shepherd, which he often believed was a punishment for some sin committed in his youth. Seven years later, he escaped and returned to his family. However, during his bondage, he learned to love the Irish people and eventually returned to his land of captivity to spread the Gospel to a nation bound by idolatry and superstition. His greatest low point, his time as a shepherd, which should have destroyed his life, became God’s opportunity to use him to change a nation and history.

These were ordinary men, not comic-book superheroes. God worked through their misfortunes, mistakes, and even their rebellion to accomplish His will. Nevertheless, God’s will was not thwarted. His will cannot be thwarted in your life either. He can turn our rebellious behavior around to accomplish His will. Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, He can turn our circumstances around and bring good and blessing out of our lives. He will succeed in accomplishing His will. “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” He will not fail.

Let us each surrender our will and lives to the care of God, knowing that He can bless us and others with His abundant life, no matter what we have done before. He will not be defeated by our past, present, or future. He will always be in control.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy SAINT Valentine's Day

From time to time, I like to share some thoughts on this blog related to a saint’s day on the traditional church calendar. So, for this day, Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

A few years ago, a friend posted a rant on Facebook about people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Part of his argument was that he thinks Christians should not celebrate saints’ days, because (in his opinion) it means we are giving people the worship that belongs to God alone.

I could have answered him on the subject of whether we actually worship the saints. I admire St. Patrick. I find a blessing looking at the lives of great men and women of God, seeing what I can learn about following Jesus from them, and using their lives as a means to draw closer to the Lord. But, instead, I reminded him that only about five weeks earlier, he had posted an enthusiastic post about his wife, referring to her as his “Valentine.”

He could not see the connection. Most people, including my friend, have forgotten that the day is Saint Valentine’s Day. My desk calendar refers to it simply as “Valentine’s Day.” On the other hand, it has not dropped the “saint” part from the holiday that occurs on March 17.

Sadly, much of the world has dropped saintliness from St. Patrick’s Day, even if we kept the name. A feast day to commemorate the “apostle to the Irish” became a celebration of Irish culture, which has devolved for many into an alcoholic drinking orgy with a smattering of pre-Christian paganism (leprechauns, for example): I suspect the real St. Patrick would not have liked how his name is commemorated. Patrick is forgotten in all of the shenanigans. Personally, I usually read St. Patrick’s Confession and Letter to the Servants of Coroticus and pray the Breastplate of St. Patrick on that day. (By the way, I do enjoy an Irish dinner on that day, but I usually commemorate Patrick by eating shepherd’s pie instead of corned beef and cabbage.)

We may have dropped “Saint” from Valentine’s Day. Let us not forget what the man stood for. On Valentine’s Day, most of us celebrate love. We devote extra time to our spouses or other romantic partners, along with our families and friends. We should be able to connect the God that Valentine served to our celebration:

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8, ESV).

Not too much seems to be known about St. Valentine. Tradition tells us that he was a bishop who was martyred on February 14, 269. Beyond that not much is known. Some accounts claim he was executed for performing weddings for Christian couples despite laws prohibiting it. Christian biographer James Kiefer wrote:

“There are several stories making the rounds that try to explain the connection between valentines and Valentine. Every one that I have heard sounds like an explanation made up after the fact, probably by a Victorian clergyman lecturing to children. There are other explanations attempting to connect it with various pagan festivals of the early spring. Again, I am not impressed. That young men should send romantic messages in the springtime both in 90 BC and in 1990 AD does not require a conspiracy theory to explain it.”

We may know little about St. Valentine, but we can know a lot about the love of God. If Valentine was a priest or bishop, and if he died as a martyr for the faith, we can make the following assumptions: (1) He loved God and (2) his love was a sacrificial, self-surrendering love. He is also considered the patron saint of epilepsy; I have not studied why this is so, but it is a good reminder that God calls us to love those whose health problems can be a challenge not only to them, but to those around them.

Let us show God’s sacrificial love to all, not just on February 14 but every day:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV).

PS—This post is dedicated to my wife Joyce, who is my Valentine every day!

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Divine Sovereignty. II. Ruler of the Nations—Whether You Like it or Not!

In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated). The words are so familiar that we rarely think about what they mean. A good paraphrase may be, “May Your kingdom come and your will be done—to the same degree it is done in heaven, let it be done here on earth.” By extension, perhaps we should add, “Since I’m praying for Your kingdom to come and Your will be to be done fully on earth, let it be done in my heart and life. I’m on earth, but let Your will be done in me just like it is in heaven!”

When we speak of divine sovereignty, we acknowledge that God is King, Lord, and Ruler. We acknowledge that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus (Matthew 28:18). He hold all rule and authority, and that includes in our own lives.

God’s Word tells us that He rules over our lives:

“The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

This rule extends not only to individual people, but even to all nations—even those that refuse to acknowledge His authority:

“Sing praises to God, sing praises!
    Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
    sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne” (Psalms 47:6–8).

God is in control and He holds all authority. Are we willing to believe it, accept it, and submit to it?

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Even when we think that we are in control, God has the ultimate control. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that people often make their own plans, but God has a way of overturning them. A friend of mine used to paraphrase this verse by saying, “Man makes plans but God laughs.” I have a small mini-plaque on my desk that reads, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.” Much of what we call coincidence, luck, chance, etc., is really God acting behind the scenes. Sometimes, He acts in spite of our decisions. Perhaps you can recall a time when you planned to do something, but then some unexpected event kept you from completing it. I think of people I know who worked at the World Trade Center, but called in sick or missed their morning train on September 11, 2001. “Coincidence” or “luck,” in the form of illness or unexpected lateness, saved these people from the terrorist attack that day. God was in control of their fate.

Even when we choose not to follow God’s will, He has the final decision. He is not hindered by our disobedience or unbelief. Whether we are Christians or unbelievers, faithful or faithless, God is sovereign over our lives. The only differences are that those who follow Him reap the blessings of God’s rule, and those who believe in Him will recognize when He is involved in their situations.

When Psalms 47 said that “God is the King of all the earth” and “God reigns over the nations,” it did not draw a distinction between faithful and faithless nations. In the Old Testament, “the nations” usually referred to the Gentile nations who did not believe in Israel’s God, those who worshiped idols and did not follow His laws. “All the earth” covered all nations, not only the tiny Israelite region. While God was recognized as the Great King in Israel, He was also the Great King over those nations who rejected Him or never even heard of Him.

God is the King—whether you acknowledge His rule or not. God reigns over the nations—whether you obey Him or not. God’s kingdom will come, and His will shall be done, whether you want it or not. Believe Him, trust Him, follow Him, and worship Him. He will be King, God, and Sovereign Ruler of your life whether you follow Him or not; but, if you follow Him, His rule will be gracious and bring blessing to your life.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God will accomplish His perfect will. Will it work together for good in your life or not? The choice to follow Him is yours to make.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Divine Sovereignty. I. God Is In Control

As I write my next few posts about the sovereignty of God, I may at times be preaching to myself. Over the years, I have struggled with depression. During hard times, it is easy to slip into doubt; to believe I have made choices that will haunt me for the rest of my life; to think there is no way out; or to think that even God cannot help me now. Those are some of the lies of depression, and one of the believer’s weapons against it is to fill your mind with the truth of God’s word. If you need to be reminded that God is in control the same way that I do, I pray that these posts about divine sovereignty give you hope, faith, and encouragement. A clear biblical understanding of divine sovereignty is essential to a faith that can trust God in hard times.

“Jesus walks on the Sea,” by Gustave Doré (1832-1883). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

What do we mean by “sovereignty”? The Disciple’s Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 1988, p. 1738) defines it as follows: “God’s freedom from outward restraint; His unlimited rule of and control over His creation.” This is closely related to some of His other majestic attributes (being all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, eternal, etc.) and describes how God utilizes His majestic power and glory to govern the universe He created.

In some forthcoming posts, I will share different areas where God’s sovereignty extends. For this post, I will remind you that God’s authority extends over all of creation:

“For I know that the Lord is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps” (Psalms 135:5-6; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

God created the universe. He created the sky, earth, atmosphere, seas, oceans, lands, and every part of our planet that we cannot see. He observes our planet’s molten iron core! He created every other star and planet in the universe. He is in complete control over all of them. When He became a man, Jesus Christ, He exercised His authority over nature by changing water into wine (John 2:1-11), walking on water (John 6:16-21), commanding a storm to cease (Matthew 8:23-27), and other miracles that defied the laws of nature.

Let this statement encourage you. God is in control of those things that man says are uncontrollable. We cannot control the Sun, but God can. We cannot control the weather, but God can. If problems are beyond your control, place them in God’s hands. If He can handle the Milky Way galaxy, He can handle your health, finances, marriage, job situation, etc. No matter how many bad choices you have made or how badly you have failed in different areas of your life, God is in control.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

That statement applies to all who follow Jesus. He will cause all things to work together for good for you. His hands are not tied. No matter what your problem is, He is in control and He is able to resolve it. Just trust His love, grace, and sovereignty.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Act, Speak, and Pray

“I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first—by deed, the second—by word, the third—by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy” (Diary of St. Mary Faustina Kowalska).

I recently read these sentences in a daily email devotional. St. Mary Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun and mystic, whose diary contains dialogs between the spirit of Jesus Christ and her spirit. The above words are a statement she felt Jesus spoke to her heart. Most of the discourses are about Jesus’ mercy for souls and His call for Sister Faustina to pray for the conversion of sinners. Mercy is the central theme of their conversations.

Perhaps one can substitute other aspects of God’s love here. Where He says “mercy,” you can usually think of God’s love or grace. Here, the Lord calls us to show His mercy and love in three ways: deed, word, and prayer.

Does it seem as though most Christians get this backward? St. Faustina was a woman of prayer, and intercession for souls was her primary calling and ministry. Nevertheless, Jesus says prayer is the third means of showing mercy.

How many of us, though, would put that first? How many would put deeds last? When we encounter someone who is facing trials and hardships, our first instinct is to pray. We are happy to pray for a person who has lost everything he owns or is going through a divorce. We will gladly pray for any person whose life is falling apart.

“Clothing the Naked,” a stained-glass window in St. Mary’s Church, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, UK inspired by Matthew 25:34-36. Photo by Steve Day via Flickr. Published under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

We may also be willing to show God’s love in words. We will tell the addict that God loves him. We will share the gospel with anybody who has wrecked their lives through sin. We love to share our testimony about how God has provided when we hit rock bottom or how He delivered us from addiction.

Deeds, though, do not come easily. Deeds demand action. Action requires effort. It often involves sacrifice. When a friend has lost all of his possessions, are we willing to sacrifice some of our money or help him buy the basic necessities of life? If a friend is going through a divorce, are we willing to help him or her through the crisis? Are we willing to sit and listen while they talk about their problems—without offering advice or quoting Scripture? Just listen? Just care? Maybe offer to babysit their children so that they can run some errands or just go to a movie?

God’s Word calls us to action:

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace. Be warmed and filled;’ yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18; all Scripture quotations from the World English Bible).

It is easy to say, “I hope God meets your needs.” We can easily assume we have served God when we see such a person and ask God to meet his needs. However, could it be that God sent this needy person to you in answer to someone else’s prayer? Maybe God does not want you to pray; maybe He wants you to be the answer to another person’s prayer.

This thought hits me whenever I read the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In this parable, Jesus tells us how He will separate the righteous (sheep) from the unrighteous (goats) when He returns. The sheep will be blessed because they fed Jesus, gave Him something to drink, clothed Him, visited Him in prison or when sick, etc. “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'” (Matthew 25:40).

A sculpture of “homeless Jesus” (his feet are nail-pierced) sleeping on a park bench outside St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, UK. © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The goats, on the other hand, did not feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, or visit the sick or imprisoned. Jesus counted this against them. I often wonder: did the goats pray for these people? Jesus does not welcome the sheep into His joy because they prayed, but because they acted. Jesus condemns the goats because they did not act, even if they prayed.

Of course, I am not saying we should not pray. When we pray, we call God’s power into a person’s situation. However, our prayers should be one part of our faith, one element of our walk with Jesus. Our prayers should motivate our action, not replace it.

Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I had several conversations with a retired Baptist minister. In one of our conversations, he offered this word of wisdom: “I refuse to pray any prayer unless I am willing to be the answer to that prayer.”

Do not use prayer as an excuse. Do not use it as a substitute for loving and serving others. When you pray for others, remember to ask, “God, is there anything you want me to do in this situation?”

Act, speak, and pray. This is how we show the love of God to others.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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