Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Satan's Schemes

As I was working on the studies for our Grace Groups, I was challenged and encouraged by a few thoughts which came from some Puritans. I want to share a few of those thoughts for your edification as well. I hope to share more in future posts. I am deeply thankful to Joel Beeke & Mark Jones for collating so much of this material in their volume, "A Puritan Theology." I encourage you to pick up the book.

The Puritans rightly warned of the need for watchfulness regarding Satan's temptations in the Christian life. The Puritans rightly emphasized the general vigilance we need to employ regarding the devices of Satan and the hope we have in the midst of them.

Puritan Thomas Brooks included Satan's devices in the following quote, "Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts, and Satan's devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched." I often attend to the first 3 things which should be studied. I seldom attend to Satan's devices. 

Puritan William Gurnall said that no actress has, "so many dresses to come in upon the stage with as the devil has forms of temptation." In other words, Satan tempts us all in different ways. There are a myriad of people with a vast number of different experiences and varying weaknesses. Thus, there are a number of different and personal ways Satan tempts us to sin. It is imperative then that I attend to Satan's devices.

The problem with becoming aware of the active and varied nature of Satan's schemes is that I may become easily discouraged. I can't see how I am able to ever out fox the serpent. This is why it is so helpful to remember that Puritan Stephen Charnock said, "The goodness of God makes the devil a polisher, while he intends to be a destroyer." All the Devil can do to a child of God is be used of God to make me more like Christ. He may tempt me and attack me in painful and wicked ways. However, the Lord is sovereign over all and his loving discipline will bring about the peaceful fruit of righteousness in the lives of all his children. Satan can do nothing about that!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How should Christians respond to the Zimmerman Verdict?

I have served as an adjunct professor for Eternity Bible College. They have a blog to which I contributed my take on the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case. You can read my take on the subject here:

Be Ordinary for God

While I was in Hume Lake last week I heard a young woman who oversaw one of the activities providing a "spiritual" lesson for the people who participated in her activity. She told them that while some of them were not necessarily the best at her particular activity they were all special in God's eyes. That was fine as far as it went. However, she took a turn from there to telling one young woman, "You aren't very good at this but you are special. You could be a model." 

I had to fight my gag reflex. What? Is that what you meant by special in God's eyes? She could put her beauty on display and be a model? Was her worth before God in her ability to potentially be a celebrity with regard to her beauty?

This caused me to reflect on the constant calls I hear in Christian (and secular) circles for young people to recognize they are special. In fact, I read a study recently (can't find it now) that argued a full 25% of young people believe they will be famous. Cue the production of mid-life crisis materials that will be needed in 10-15 years.

We hear the refrain often though. Christian young people ought to be extraordinary for God. They should be radical for the Lord. They need to do big things for God. We are all special.

I have a radical thought. What if we started telling people they ought to be ordinary for God? What if we encouraged them to be obedient? What if we challenged them to just redeem the small things for the Lord? What if we told them they are normal and not particularly special? 

Is it possible that we could stop bowing the knee to celebrity? Could we cease placing the weight of glory on personal achievement? Couldn't we just value being ordinary and obedient before God? 

Let's face it. If everyone is special, extraordinary, and radical, then no one is any of those things. Perhaps a long obedience in the same direction is just too ordinary and insignificant in the eyes of our culture but it is a better description of the Christian life than most of what I hear today. So I encourage you to "Go be ordinary for God."

Monday, July 8, 2013

What are some implications of God's all-encompassing sovereignty?

In the book "A Puritan Theology," there are several questions that emerge among the Puritans regarding the implications of the providential working of God. The authors of the book collate several implications of God's all-encompassing sovereignty and how the Puritans responded to them. Here are a list of those:

1. How does God's providence relate to the laws of nature?

God works through ordinary means, but He is always the one sustaining and upholding all things. Hebrews 1:1-3, Col. 1:15ff

In other words, God made things that operate in a particular manner and he actively keeps them doing so. The birds, trees, human body have ordinary ways they operate but God upholds those natural and ordinary ways of operation.

2. How does God's providence relate to the freedom and sins of men?

Some things we know from Scripture about God's activity regarding our sin:

a). God does not tempt anyone to sin. James 1:13
b). God does permit men to sin. Acts 14:16
c). God withholds grace that would prevent sin. Ps. 81:11-12
d). God powerfully limits sin. Job 1:12, 2:6
e). God sometimes overrules sin to fulfill his holy purposes. Gen. 50:20, Isa. 46:10

3. How can God's providence permit the prosperity of the wicked? 

a). God is gracious, patient, and generous even with the wicked. Matt. 5:45

b). His justice sometimes brings punishment in this life and always in the life to come.

c). The outward prosperity of the wicked teaches us that outward goods are not the highest blessing God bestows on humans.

4. Why do the righteous suffer and die alongside the wicked?

Because God never promised to save the righteous from calamity in this life. Eccl. 9:2, Matt. 5

5. How does God's providence help us know God's will?

It is dangerous to read providence, but at times God does give hints of his will thru his providence.

Knowing God's will:

a). Get the true fear of God and be truly afraid of offending him.
b). Study the Word more and the concerns of the world less.
c). Reduce what you know to practice.
d). Pray for illumination and direction. Beg the Lord to help you.
e). After all this, follow providence as far as it agrees with the Word, and no further.

6. How does God's providence relate to our efforts?

God determines the means as well as the ends. The means is our faith and repentance in justification, our faith and effort (Bible reading, prayer, mortification) in sanctification.

"Pride uses means without seeking God, and presumption depends on God while neglecting the means he provides."

7. Why does God allow for crooked providences in the life of a Christian?

Thomas Boston listed 7 reasons:

a). To prove your spiritual state as a hypocrite or genuine believer.
b). To stir you to obedience, wean you from this world, and set your eyes on heaven.
c). To convict you of sin.
d). To correct or punish you for sin.
e). To prevent you from committing sin.
f). To reveal latent sin deep within your heart.
g). To awaken you from laziness so that you exercise yourself in grace.

8. How do I meditate on God's providence?

Flavel's recommendations:

a). Work hard at remembering and exploring the providence of God toward you. (extensively and intensively trace God's blessings and ways thru your life. Note answered prayer. Give thanks)

b). Trace the connection between the providences of God in your life and the promises of God in his Word. 

c). Look beyond the events and circumstances of providence to God as author and provider. (think of God's attributes and his work in your life, both in good and difficult times)

d). Respond to each providence in an appropriate way. 

Be thankful in good providences and look to the Lord for comfort and joy even in difficult providences.

Flavel~"Consider all your losses are but as the loss of a farthing to a prince."

How do we handle difficult providences?

a). Learn how to resist discouragement by trusting God is working in his timing toward greater blessing.
b). Learn not to assume that we fully understand God's ways and purposes, but meditate on his goodness in the past and promises for the future. Trying to solve mysteries too great for us will only breed suspicion toward God.

William Cowper~

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

The Sovereignty of God

After preaching a sermon on the sovereignty of God in Daniel 4, I was asked for some of the biblical argument I made for God's sovereignty. I have included here some of my notes on the topic for your use.

When considering the Sovereignty of God I tend to want to point people to 3 truths regarding God's sovereignty:

1.  The EXTENT of the Sovereignty of God.
2.  The RULE of the Sovereignty of God.
3.  The GOAL of the Sovereignty of God.

I find Ephesians 1:11 a helpful place to find an outline for the first 3 points:

At the beginning of his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul clearly lays out God’s eternal plan to save us, His sending forth of Jesus to accomplish it and of the Spirit to apply it. In the midst of teaching on our salvation in Christ, Paul is clearly writing of the inheritance we receive in Christ because we have been predestined to receive it. As he does so, he provides the ground for our predestination.

Everyone who believes in the Bible believes in predestination. The argument is over what is the ground of our predestination. Is the ground of it God’s foreknowledge of our future free will choices? Is God’s decree conditioned upon future free acts of his creatures? In other words, is the ground of his eternal decree found in us? Or is the ground found in God’s unconditioned, holy, and immutable will?

He grounds our predestination in something. What is it? Does he ground it in our will? No! He clearly states, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.The ground of predestination is God’s sovereign, holy, and immutable will. 

Paul takes God's sovereignty even a step further. He claims that not only is our predestination to salvation grounded in God’s holy and immutable will, but everything that happens is grounded in God’s holy and immutable Will! Notice Paul says, "who works 'all things'.”

Using Paul's statement in Ephesians 1:11 as an outline, we find at least 3 truths regarding divine sovereignty:

1.  The EXTENT of God’s Sovereignty.

God works all things according to the counsel of His will! How many things? Some things? All things! There is nothing that happens that is outside God’s will. Someone will say, “certainly we can violate God’s will. What about when we sin?” Yes, you are violating God’s will of precept, or His Law, but you are not violating His will of decree. The text clearly says God “works” all things (that is active) according to the counsel of His will!

Let me give you specific categories that God sovereignly decreed (I don't remember where I originally got this list. I believe it was from Berkof. It is not originally mine):

a.  Good and evil events (Isa. 45:7, Job 1:21, Jer. 15:2)

Is. 45:7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

Job 1:21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

b.  Sinful acts (Gen. 50:20, 2 Sam. 16:10-11, Luke 22:22, Acts 2:23, 4:27-28)

Gen. 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people* should be kept alive, as they are today.

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

c.  Free acts of men (Prov. 16:1, 9, 21:1, Rom. 8:28, 35-39)

Prov. 16:9  The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.

Prov. 21:1  The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

John 6:40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
John 6:41 ¶ So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 
John 6:42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 
John 6:43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves.
John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

d.  “chance” occurrences (1 Kings 22:28-34, Job 5:6, Prov. 16:33, Jonah 1:7)

Prov. 16:33  The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.

e.  Details of our lives (Job 14:5, Psa. 139:16, Matt. 10:29-30, James 4:15)

Psa. 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them.

Matt. 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?* And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
Matt. 10:30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

f.  Affairs of nations (2 Kings 5:1, Ps. 75:1-7, Prov. 21:31, Dan. 2:21)

Dan. 2:21 He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;

g.  Final salvation of the saints and destruction of the wicked (1 Sam. 2:25, Prov. 16:4, Rom. 9:14-18; Eph. 1:3-14; 1 Pet. 2:8, Jude 4)

Prov. 16:4  The LORD has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble.

Rom. 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Jude 1:4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Understanding that the EXTENT of God’s Sovereignty is “all things,” what is the RULE of God’s Sovereign Decree? Or, rather, what is the GOVERNING PRINCIPLE of God’s Sovereign Decree?

2.  The RULE of God’s Sovereign Decree.

Another way of asking this question is, “Is there anything outside of God that determines or constrains what He sovereignly decrees or wills to happen, or is His sovereign will completely free of any external constraints?”

“Did God in eternity past look down the corridors of time, and make decisions based on what He saw men would do, or did He decree everything according to His own Sovereign will?”

Look again at Eph. 1:11 "having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will..."

What does it say? He works all things according to the counsel of His will! He does not work all things according to our will or the will of some other. He is God! He is completely sovereign and utterly free in His sovereignty. He is not constrained by His creature. His will is immutable (unchanging) and holy. The pot does not look at the potter and say, "why did you make me this way?"

3.  The GOAL of God’s Sovereignty is His own glory!  Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14

What is God's goal in his sovereign decree? What is he after? He is after his own glory. Paul makes his goal clear in repeating that goal 3 times in Ephesians 1:3-14.

In fact, think about the God-centeredness of the whole Bible story:

God created. God graciously provided for us. God was sinned against. God promised to send a redeemer. God called out a people for Himself. God provided the Word for His people. God provided the Law to show us our sin. God provided prophets to speak the truth. God provided priests. God provided kings. God sent His Son. God, in the person of Christ, perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the Law, God provided the ultimate sacrifice for sins. God sent His Son to the Cross. God resurrected Jesus from the dead. God sent His Spirit. God elects you. God regenerates you. God justifies you. God sanctifies you. God resurrects and glorifies you. God gifts you for service. God gets the glory!

This is why Paul concludes the first 11 chapters of Romans by saying, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen."