Category Archives: Biographical

RE Jeremiah 29:11 and the Sovereignty of God

An Open Response to a Statement Regarding the Sovereignty of God.

A while back, some Facebook friends were rejoicing over God’s promise in Jer. 29:11 that His plans are for our welfare and to give us a hope and a future. That is a promise worthy of deep joy — it’s also a promise which must be taken in context, something that can be difficult to do when that context is the suffering of deportation and enslavement.

 My statement:  He’s telling them that the plan He has for them is to be conquered, exiled to a foreign land to be ruled over by a pagan king for 70 years, then at the end of those 70 years He will call some of them back home to Judea. That’s not exactly what a lot of us think of, though, when we hear that God’s got these great plans for us.

The Response: God’s plan wasn’t for them to be exiled. They brought that on themselves by breaking their covenant, and bringing on the discipline. God warned them over and over that if they didn’t turn from their ways, they would face the consequences. It’s NEVER God’s plan for us to suffer or be disciplined. It breaks His heart when we won’t listen and disobey. If they had followed God like they said they would, they would have only seen the blessings of the covenant.  I relate, because I turned away from God and made choices that had devastating and life-long consequences. This was NOT God’s plan for me. I am so deeply thankful that God is a merciful and loving God, who patiently waited for me to see the truth, and turn to Him.

My Open Response:

I haven’t replied to your message yet because I first wanted to ponder my thoughts and weigh my words carefully. What you say, above, has a depth of consequences and ramifications that, if true, would alter our theological reality—which is why the core of this topic has been debated for millennia. And I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I in no way have enough knowledge or intelligence to produce any kind of final word on the subject; what theologians have been discussing, debating, and pondering for generations, I’m not going to be able to definitively answer.  Please allow me, though, to share with you some observations and ask some questions, because it’s crucial to not be in error regarding the core of this topic: the sovereignty of God.

There is a divine tension here between two realities, like a rubber band stretched between your index fingers. Pulling one end is the reality of God’s sovereignty; pulling the other, the reality of our freedom to make life choices and bear, not only the consequences (good or ill) of those choices, but also the responsibility before God for the choices made. Scripture is clear that both realities coexist in infinite harmony.

Of those two, I think it’s God’s sovereignty, His divine Providence and position as final authority and Righteous Judge, that we struggle with the most. It’s tough to get our finite brains around ‘transcendence’ or to see how suffering could be His preconceived idea, but Scripture is clear that Christ was “slain before the foundation of the world,” (Rev 13:8) and “at the right time Christ died for the  ungodly” (Rm 5:6). If Jehovah would establish a specific, right time and intend suffering for the second part of Himself, why should we expect Him to not intend it for us?

Also, to say < It’s NEVER God’s plan for us to suffer or be disciplined.> is not only to assume that we know His mind but also contradicts Hebrews 12:  “It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline (of which all have become partakers), then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”  Or how could Paul “deliver such a one [unrepentant sinner] to Satan for the destruction of his flesh that his spirit may be saved” (1 Cor. 5:5)?  Or John record from outside time and space, “If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes” (Rev 13: 10)?

#1 ~ We always learn far more through suffering hardship and rebuke than we ever do during ease; even the cliché ‘taking the easy way out’ implies times and paths of ease are of little ultimate benefit. So, if this is our natural bent, the way we function, then God intentionally “knit and wove us together” this way for a purpose. And being intentionally fashioned in this way by our Creator would seem to imply He also intends us to experience those hardships and rebukes.

Why?  I think Paul gives a partial answer just before those verses in 1 Cor. In 4:20, he says, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power.”  As human beings, we can talk a good line, but how few of us ever truly repent and believe until we come to the end of ourselves and see who we are, our corrupt, immoral, sinful nature; broken, sick, depraved, and hopeless.

I rejoice with you that < I am so deeply thankful that God is a merciful and loving God, who patiently waited for me to see the truth, and turn to Him >.  Me, too!!  Preach it, Sister!!  But would we have gotten there if we hadn’t gotten to the end of ourselves? Would we have realized our only hope was in Christ Jesus if we never realized we were totally without hope in any other form?  Would we be at all inclined to turn away from anything we call our own strength if we had never gotten to the end of that strength and realized it left us in a dark, powerless place?  I don’t think so. And it’s at that point where we realize only the power of God is sufficient for salvation.

How do we really know that those horrible decisions we made, the ones that we must bear the consequences and scars for (and I hope you remember I have my share), were not part of His divine Providence for our lives?  It is precisely those consequences that led me to Him; without the pain from those choices, I would be an arrogant narcissist—and I’m not alone in that; it’s called the fallen, sinful human condition and was what caused Israel to rebel against God and to be enslaved.

God is either sovereign and all-knowing or He’s not. Israel’s rebellion and subsequent captivity were either known from before creation by an all-knowing God or it crept up on Him in spite of His pleadings and He was forced to punish them in order to keep His word.

That God never wanted Israel’s captivity to happen and, indeed, was powerless to stop it from happening is the very thing Reformed theology is fighting against today. Did God know or did He not? Did He ordain or is He not all-powerful?  Is He in absolute, total control over everything or not? If He’s not, then the decisions we make will affect His outcomes and what He does will only be in response to the decisions we make—we, in essence and literally, force His hand. If He’s in total control, though, the implication must include that He foreknows, fore-intends, and fore-ordains every clock-tick of all creation, including the suffering that comes from our disobedience.

#2 ~ Seeing God as Righteous Judge has taken an interesting turn for me lately. The last few years, I’ve been working with some high-powered lawyers in the Twin Cities, doing research for a book I’ve been asked to write. It’s been interesting to see the U. S. judicial system at work from the unique vantage point of being neither civil plaintiff nor defendant, neither criminally charged nor prosecuting, but merely an interested observer of some people who really know what they’re doing.

The reason laws are written in the first place is because people do things that other people determine are not acceptable; a civil society concludes that certain actions or inactions are detrimental to the on-going benefit of their desired social structure. They design laws and rules and regulations, etc., to say ‘this is the type of community we want to live in and civilization we want to maintain.’

The interesting part, to me, comes from the fact that laws are never written until someone has already done what it is the law says not to do; laws are written because man’s inclination is to do harmful things and make injurious statements; laws are accepted by a society because the people in that society have already seen the damaging effects of those behaviors and don’t like what they see or how they have to live as a result of those effects. The penalties for breaking those laws are included with each law as a deterrent to us—don’t do it or this will happen, not because legislators and judges hope we won’t break the law but because they know some of us will.

When Jehovah God presented Moses with the Ten Commandments, mankind already had a long history of doing everything on the list God said not to do. When He told the Israelites to follow Him and Him only, He already knew there’d be no one who could do it; the isolated few who would even want to would only do so because He was with them in a unique way. I think it’s possible God intended their story to be a sign, a shadow (Heb. 10) of how hopeless we are without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit gifted to us by Christ Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, resurrection, and return to the Father.

In Jehovah’s position as Righteous Judge, He knew Israel could not fulfill the law, that they would ultimately disobey Him, and so before the foundation of the world He readied His paints and brushes to produce a portrait of sin, punishment, sacrificial substitution, and restoration in the lives of those Hebrews.

Fair?  Who am I to say it is or isn’t. I’m not the ultimate Judge. One of the beauties of God’s design of salvation is that even one of us fallen creatures has an opportunity to know Him, to be called to love and worship Him rather than reap what we deserve and be thrown into the fires of hell forever.

God has made Himself evident to me both as absolute, benevolent Sovereign and as divine, Righteous Judge. God has shown me that I can trust Him to know what’s best for my children, even when, right now, it looks like they’ve fallen into the deep end of the ungodliness the world has to offer. If I thought their being where they are today was solely and only a result of the choices they’ve made and not guided by a larger, higher purpose, then what reason would I have to hope they would ever know anything else?

Immediately following Jehovah’s statement in Jeremiah 29:11 is, “‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (12-14a,23).

I am convinced that our Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End is not hamstrung, surprised, or changed by our choices. If Jehovah could give a picture of the coming of the Messiah by having Moses strike the rock for water only once (Ex 17:5-6 with Num 20:6-12)  and by having him place a serpent upon a pole so that all who looked upon it were healed (Num 21:8-9 with John 3:14-15), then I’m convinced that same God, not only foreknows we will fail and at times will suffer, but He has provided the perfect solution. “‘And I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile” (Jer. 29:14).

“For we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined conformed to the image of His Son … He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rm 8:28-29a,32).

– – – – –

Just as a side note, the movie The Encounter with Bruce Marchiano contains a good depiction of how and why both self-determination and divine providence are true, as well as the interplay between them. It’s available on Netflix.

Advertisements

Bono’s Not The Only One Working in Africa

A friend of mine teaches Bible in an African country and college which I won’t name for safety reasons. Here’s a recent report:

On the first Sunday morning of the New Year we sat in a church partly burned in the latest Crisis. From our pew we could see a charred hole in the ceiling and remnants of the fire on scrubbed walls behind the pulpit.

During the service we heard the sounds of ironworkers in the Muslim neighborhood and saw the peddlers’ wheelbarrows going by the open doors.

We listened to a sermon about the Apostle Paul who had persecuted the church before his conversion to Christ, and we sat in a church that had suffered a similar persecution nearly 2,000 years later and a continent away.

The church was reopened only recently, and after the service some spoke about repainting the burnt walls. That will cheer things up!  But I hope they leave the scars of persecution in the ceiling. It’s easy to forget that today’s persecutor can become tomorrow’s apostle.

“But I hope they leave the scars of persecution….”

Can you wrap your mind around that?

“It’s easy to forget that today’s persecutor can become tomorrow’s apostle.”

Only because God offers reasonable hope.

…And Light in the Darkness, 3 of 3

Without the gospel of Jesus Christ, we walk in darkness.

– empty eyes, empty souls, unmet longings –

Is there a Light in all this darkness?

………. Jesus’ good news brings light, and peace, and joy.

Then why does joy seem so far out of reach?

……….If we want to experience joy on a daily basis, we must be willing to give up doing nothing.

Doing nothing? In December?!

We are shopping or crafting for long lists of people, phoning friends, addressing cards, attending parties, wrapping, baking, decorating, wishing, meeting, remembering, and falling further behind every day.

We are so busy we forget to, um, I know I was supposed to do something before I—no, that was yesterday. I was supposed to call, um, I wrote the number on the corner of that green envelope. That’s right. I remember—it clogged my pen with that stupid glitter and—oh, for crying out loud. I was supposed to mail this last week!

Stop! – Breathe! – Think!

What true opportunities come with this season which celebrates Jesus’ birth?

  • the opportunity to remember that life is not about the hustle and bustle and busy stuff
    • it is about being eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart
    • to soak-in the knowledge that “greater love hath no man that this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”[1]
  • the opportunity to meet needs and awaken hope in others—to show care for someone who rarely experiences it without strings attached
  • the opportunity to show that there is love, and there is peace, and there is a reasonable hope:

“For I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people;
… there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”[2]

When I bake for the single mother of five who lives behind me instead of ranting at her because her kids tore up my backyard,

When I help the boy next door find a lost pet,

When I include on my Christmas card list the neighbor with his music cranked up to window-shaking volume,

When I invite the lonely, elderly woman to tea…

I, too, see the Light in the darkness.  His joy bubbles up in my soul.  And I know His peace.


[1] John 15.13
[2] Luke 2.11

Long, Cold, Dark Nights…

Loneliness.

That’s what Christmas means to many of the people we cross paths with every day.

Or it’s a hectic, expensive activity we endure half-heartedly — or we unrealistically expect it to provide some form of fulfillment or satisfaction, to meet some inner longing of the soul. But we, generally, just end up being more broke, disillusioned, and depressed than the year before.

For many of us it’s a reminder that our lives are not what or where we would like for them to be, that we have failed again to fulfill goals or aspirations—and that a large number of the people we care about really don’t reciprocate our affections.

When we truly look, we see empty eyes, empty souls, unmet longings, deepening insecurities.
Many people see that in the mirror.

For me, there is too often an emphasis on what’s been lost during the past year; I can spiral downward, moving emotionally farther and farther away from the joy and hope and security I long for—and that the season theoretically offers. In my dark moments, I can be blind to anything but short days and long, cold, dark nights.

Is there a light in that deep darkness?

Typhoons, Terror, and Trust

We, in North America, call typhoons by another name: hurricanes. Most of us have never lived through one, but we probably know someone who has.

This is the story of a new friend of mine in the Philippines: Al Sabado. Here’s how her story starts:

On September 26, 2009, around 8:28 a.m., I was writing a prayer to the Lord Jesus, telling Him about the rains that many people hoped to be less frequent, now that Christmas season is fast approaching. The conversation was interrupted when my eyes caught a glimpse of what appeared to be damage: our neighbor’s roofing badly needed repair. I hoped not to meddle in other people’s business, but I requested the LORD to grant our neighbor the budget for both the repair and renovation of their home. I was clueless that later on, I would be praying for the same thing not only for our family but also for our neighbors, our city, our country, and other neighboring countries that similarly experienced disasters in overwhelming magnitude.

September 26, Ondoy (also called Ketsana) slammed into the Philippines:

  • It dumped the highest rainfall amounts in Manila’s history and caused widespread flooding with raging currents that closed major roads.
  • Devastating mudslides caused loss of life.
  • Power outages lasted for days.
  • At least 246 people were killed in the onslaught; 38 went missing.
  • Cell phone, land line, and other forms of communication were lost for days.
  • Infrastructure and agriculture were devastated.
  • The city of Marikina (where Al lives) was submerged in nearly ten feet of water and tons of knee-deep mud.[1]

Here is Al’s daily journal of the event and devastating aftermath—complete with photos of the increasing destruction and of her dog, Shatzie. Al also realizes that God’s faithfulness and strength were with her throughout.

Then on Oct 2, Al wrote:

Typhoon Ondoy has badly affected our city (Marikina); but our village is fortunate to survive the nearly waist-deep flood that entered and destroyed our homes. I just thank God that my neighbors and every member of my family are alive and safe. I am also grateful that Typhoon Pepeng has changed its course, except that another downpour is expected to hit us again sometime tonight. I pray that the weather gets better; we’re really tired cleaning up the huge mess. My hands are sore, so I’ll say ‘bye’ for now. Thank you for keeping us in your prayers. I wish you all well.

During a hurricane and its aftermath, when strength was gone and all she could see was devastation, Al caught a renewed realization that she has a reasonable hope.

“With Jesus Christ I can smile at the storm… / until He takes me home.”
We’ll be okay, Shatzie baby.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typhoon_Ondoy. Accessed 19 Nov 2009.

 

.

To Comment, please see link above (beneath title).

.

Tears of a Clown

“Rob was addicted—to comedy.[1] For twenty years he made a career out of making people laugh, rubbing elbows with stars like Henny Youngman and even Red Skelton.

“Everyone thought Rob was a funny guy. But there was nothing funny about Rob’s drug and alcohol problems. His addictions almost cost him his career—and his life.

I used to tell everybody that it was all part of the business.

“But when Rob almost died from a heroin overdose, that was the beginning of the road that eventually led to the Mission.

“At first, Rob thought, I’m not going to the Mission. I’m not a bum!
Then he took a good, hard look in the mirror. You’re homeless. You can’t stop drinking. Where don’t you qualify?!

“The Mission has helped Rob find lasting sobriety. Even helped him get a job at a neighborhood furniture store between comedy gigs. But most important, it helped him connect with God.

The answers to life are in the Bible. At the Mission, they preach it. Do it. Live it. Share it.
I look around here and see people succeeding. How can I refute that?

“Rob still does stand-up comedy, but now it’s not the most important thing in his life.”

#

Rob found a reasonable hope.

Through the devastating times of my life and the dark tunnels of disappointment and heartache I’m presently walking through, God’s presence has made all the difference. Right now, I could very easily be a bitter, nasty cynic—or dead (I was very suicidal about the age of 19). Instead I have chosen to believe the promises of God through Jesus Christ, and the reality of His life-giving power in my life has made all the difference. I have a God-given life worth living. ~ Christine

_______________

[1] Twin Cities Messenger. Union Gospel Mission. St. Paul, MN. Vol. 7, No. 8. Nov 2009. Pg 4.

_______________

Charles Simeon ~ Resting Upon Love

Charles Simeon was in the Church of England from 1782 to 1836 at Trinity College in Cambridge. He was appointed by a bishop against the will of the people who populated that bastion of academia. They opposed him, not because he was a bad preacher, but because he believed the Bible and he called for conversion and holiness.

For twelve years the people of Cambridge refused to let him give the Sunday afternoon sermon. And during that time, they boycotted the Sunday morning service and locked their pews so no one else could sit in them. So Simeon preached to people seated on the floor in the aisles for twelve years!

The average stay of a pastor in America these days is about four years. Simeon began with twelve years of intense opposition—and lasted fifty-four years. How did he overcome such incredible opposition? How did he endure with such patience?

In this state of things I saw no remedy but faith and patience. The passage of Scripture which subdued and controlled my mind was this, ‘The servant of the Lord must not strive.’

It was painful indeed to see the church, with the exception of the aisles, almost forsaken; but I thought that if God would only give a double blessing to the congregation that did attend, there would, on the whole, be as much good done as if the congregation were doubled and the blessing limited to only half the amount. This comforted me many, many times when, without such a reflection, I should have sunk under my burden.

Where did he get the assurance that if he followed the way of patience there would be a blessing on his work that would make up for the frustrations and hardships of having all the pews locked? He got it from Scriptures that promised hope and a future grace. The Word of God conquered unbelief and gave Simeon a stubborn hope which eventually conquered his impatience.

Fifty-four years later Simeon was dying. It was October 1836. The weeks drug on, then on October 21 those beside his bed heard him say these words, slowly and with long pauses:

Infinite Wisdom – has arranged the whole – with infinite love; and infinite power – enables me – to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands – all is secure. When I look to Him – I see nothing but faithfulness – and immutability – and truth; and I have the sweetest peace.

Simeon had trained himself to go to Scripture, to take hold of God’s promises, to wait with God in the unplanned place of obedience, and to walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience.

=  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =

Many thanks to Gregg Heinsch for this story. Miss you, Gregg!

_______________

%d bloggers like this: