Archive

Posts Tagged ‘providence’

Thoughts on Contentment, and Zeal for Truth and Righteousness

October 15, 2019 2 comments

As I look back now on the last several years and God’s amazing work of Providence, I consider two issues that need balance:  godly contentment on the one hand, and the desire for what is right and true on the other; or, experiencing true contentment and gratitude to God for what He has done, while recognizing the evil in the world, including the major problems that occur at local churches among professed believers; rejoicing in the Lord in spite of the evil, recognizing what part each of us is responsible for– and leaving the rest, including the hearts and repentance of others, in God’s hands.  It is also the call to keep the long-term perspective, that we and everything around us are completely in God’s care and control, while still living in a very broken world.

I’ve seen God answer and resolve a situation that had continued for many years, something that appeared to be an unchanging, insurmountable circumstance (that I was just going to have to live with).  The original (major) issue has indeed been answered (along with many other unexpected blessings, side benefits);  as typically happens, one set of problems has been replaced with another, different set—albeit the new situation is more tolerable, a lesser degree of suffering and affliction.

A thousand years is as one day to God, and yet we get impatient when we don’t see change and results immediately.  Through this, though, I’ve come to realize that God is more interested in the process of our sanctification, our spiritual growth and maturity, our becoming more Christ-like, than in providing the immediate “fix” to our problems:  even when those problems involve truth and righteousness.  Yes, God is also very concerned about truth and righteousness as well – and yet there is His forbearance, that He puts up with so much evil and wickedness in the world, and He does not always change hardened hearts, even those of professed believers in a local church.  Reference 1 Corinthians 11, that there must be differences to show who has God’s approval.

Again I’m reminded of the reality that throughout church history, a lot of what happens within the professing visible church is a great disappointment.  Yet God allows it to occur, allowing wicked and unjust rulers within the church as well as in the secular government.  The churches in the 1st century were far from perfect; Christ had charges to bring against several of them (Revelation 2-3).  Many Christians today do not live near any decent church, and with others God has so ordered the circumstances to include attending less-than-ideal churches.  God’s word even addresses that point: the exhortation in Rev. 2:24-25

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come.

and Malachi 3:16-18

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

It also comes back to the handling of desires that are normal and good in themselves, such as the desire to attend a biblically solid, strong Reformed church.  Yet when God decrees otherwise, to then accept the negative answer and be content in God’s will, and to “hold fast what you have until I come.”  (Along the way comes the discovery, too, one that Spurgeon noted as well:  when God does not answer a prayer in one way, He provides the blessing in a different, unexpected way.)  Where possible, to push for change (so much as it lies within our own power to do so), yet still being thankful and praising God in the trial, as Habakkuk prayed and praised God, even though God’s answer wasn’t what he wanted.  Any desire that is proper in itself, becomes sinful (an inordinate desire) when placed above God and His will.  Here I also think about Daniel and his friends living in Babylon.  No doubt they would have preferred to be back in their homeland, to worship God at the temple.  Perhaps while in exile they experienced early-synagogue-type worship with other deported Jews, but maybe not.  All we are told about are the persecution experiences and Daniel’s private worship, how he worshiped in his own home.

I have also found my recent studies, such as Richard Baxter’s The Godly Home  very instructive, with a lot of great practical advice for dealing with less-than-ideal situations.  For instance, Baxter wrote at length about cases where spouses are not equally yoked, along with application to recognize what things we as individuals are responsible for versus what things are beyond our control, even describing some extreme (real or hypothetical) situations of his day.

A few selections:

if the husband is ignorant or is unable to instruct his wife, she is not bound to ask him in vain to teach her what he does not understand.  Those husbands who despise the Word  of God and live in willful ignorance do not only despise their own souls but their families also… for God has said in his message to Eli, “Those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed”

. . .

and the woman if she follows him must leave all those helps and go among ignorant, profane, heretical persons or infidels.

Answer: If she is one who is likely to do good to the infidels, heretics, or bad persons with whom they must converse.. or if she is a confirmed, well-settled Christian and not very likely, either by infection or by want of helps, to be unsettled and miscarry, it seems to me the safest way to follow her husband.  She will lose God’s public ordinances by following him, but it is not imputable to her, as being outside her choice.  She must lose the benefits and neglect the duties of the married ordinance if she does not follow him….

… What if a woman has a husband who will not suffer her to read the Scriptures or go to God’s worship, public or private, or who beats and abuses her….

The woman must at necessary seasons, though not when she would, both read the Scriptures and worship God and suffer patiently what is inflicted on her.  Martyrdom may be as comfortably suffered from a husband as from a prince.  But yet if neither her own love, duty, and patience, nor friends’ persuasion, nor the magistrate’s justice can free her from such inhumane cruelty as quite disables her for her duty to God and man, I do not see why she may not depart from such a tyrant.

Regarding things in our power to change, versus what is not in our power, he lists several limitations, when something is not in our power to change:

First, it is not lawful either in family, commonwealth, church, or anywhere to allow sin or to tolerate it or to leave it uncured when it is truly in our power to cure it.  … It is not in our power to do that which we are naturally unable to do.  No law of God binds us to impossibilities.  …

When the principal causes do not cooperate with us, and we are but subservient moral causes.  We can but [attempt to] persuade men to repent, believe, and love God and goodness.  We cannot save men without and against themselves.  Their hearts are out of our reach; therefore, in all these cases we are naturally unable to hinder sin.

Those actions are out of our power that are acts of higher authority than we have.  A subject cannot reform by such actions as are proper to the sovereign or a layman by actions proper to the pastor, for want (lack) of authority.

This section lists many other scenarios, as pertaining to authority, or what a superior forbids us to do, and even cases where “great and heinous sins may be endured in families sometimes to avoid a greater hurt and because there is no other means to cure them.”

Experience through the difficulties, along with wisdom gleaned from books such as the Puritans (including the above writings from Richard Baxter), are the things that God uses in our lives as we prayerfully look to Him for guidance every day, as we learn to keep the proper balance and to praise and thank God while desiring a change in the circumstances.  Above all, we pray the Lord’s Prayer and for His will to be done in and through the situations.

Lessons from the Dungeon (Alistair Begg on Joseph in Genesis 40)

June 27, 2019 2 comments

While looking at some Kindle deals several weeks ago I came across a book from Alistair Begg on the life of Joseph, The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances, (originally published in 1999, and republished in January of this year), and from that found the original audio files, which are an excellent study on Genesis 37 through 50, the life of Joseph.  The audio files are two sets of 12 lessons each, volume 1 and volume 2, at the Truth for Life website.  I have often heard of the Truth for Life site, read quotes from Alistair Begg, and listened to a few conference lectures from Begg (from more recent years), but had not previously listened to his actual sermons or sermon series.

Done in the mid-to-late 1990s, this series is an in-depth look at the doctrine of Divine Providence–from the life of Joseph, with great application of life lessons to us today.  In Joseph’s life of extreme situations (from slavery to the dungeon to an exalted position in Egypt, always attaining to the “second in command” position but never first), we can all relate to the life trials and difficulties and the emotions and relational issues.  In a similar style as the Genesis patriarch Tabletalk devotional lessons I studied last year (reference this previous post), Begg’s series looks beyond the surface level to how these people felt and how they coped with life’s disappointments and difficulties.  Volume 1 starts with the family and childhood experiences of Jacob’s family, the events that Joseph would have experienced as a young boy, through the traumatic event of Genesis 37, followed by the repeated pattern of suffering and exaltation (first as a slave in Potiphar’s household, then in the Egyptian dungeon), through the end of Genesis 41 when Joseph has just come out of the dungeon and been exalted by Pharaoh.

I’m now listening to volume 2, which starts at the end of Genesis 41, through Genesis 50, which brings additional lessons in God’s Providence and life experiences.  Here I want to highlight two messages from volume 1:  Lessons from the Dungeon, a two-part lecture from Genesis 40 with six lessons:

  1. Having a God-centered Focus
  2. Delivering the Truth Clearly, Without Ambiguity
  3. Preparing for Death
  4. Celebrating Life and Birthdays
  5. Handling Life’s Disappointments
  6. Learning to Rest in God’s Faithfulness

The lessons from the dungeon include Joseph’s interaction with the chief cupbearer and the baker and the interpretations of their dreams.  The God-centered focus was what kept Joseph going on a day by day basis in that dungeon, where he had ended up after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife.  From the number 2 item (delivering the truth), Joseph clearly told the good news (to the cupbearer) and did not hold back the bad news from the baker.

That moves us along to the third lesson, an important one not usually addressed in sermon expositions from this passage.  As Alistair Begg noted, the baker was given advance notice of his death, a privilege that very few people have.  (Given the actual way that the ancients kept time – from the time Joseph interpreted the dreams, the fulfillment came on “the third day” — two days later — the timeline would have been somewhere around 48 to 56 or so hours notice, not 72 hours as Begg described it.)  The baker had the opportunity, whether or not he took advantage of it, to admit to Joseph, “hey, I’m scared to death,” and the possibility of discussing death and what happens after death, in conversation with Joseph during those two days.  The reality of our future death is something that we all need to prepare for, as for each of us it could come at any time.

The fourth lesson takes us past preparation for death, with how we are to live and celebrate life (until death comes).  Birthdays are an excellent, once a year time to reflect and give thanks to others:  to God, then to our parents and their special role in our lives, and to friends.

Concerning the last two lessons, of handling disappointments, and resting in God’s faithfulness:  after the many previous disappointments that Joseph had experienced, this incident provided yet another, as we are told that the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.  Here again Alistair Begg provides great dramatic effect:  it could very well have been that the cupbearer as he left the dungeon was telling Joseph, ‘I’m your man’ and being real nice to everyone; and Joseph could have been thinking, for the first few weeks after the cupbearer left, that some news of his deliverance would be coming ‘any day now’—and then it was two more years that passed.  As has been often noted by so many, when we have our hope and trust in other people, even in particular people for particular situations, we can be greatly disappointed when they let us down–and as we ourselves do with others, not remembering them and letting others down.

This 2 volume, 24 part series is very helpful and instructive, the life story of Joseph described in a very down-to-earth way in terms of our day to day life, relationships with other people, and the hardships including betrayal.  As noted above, this material is also in a book (The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances), for those who prefer it in that format.  For any study of the doctrine of Providence, this is a great study series to include.

On Secondary Causes (and the First Cause)

October 9, 2018 5 comments

In our modern age at least some people tend to focus on the events that happen (as secondary causes) to the exclusion of the First Cause, the sovereignty of God.  Whereas the ancient pagans recognized that some type of deity lay behind unusual events, and the Puritans and Reformers saw God’s hand in everything, it is all too common in our age for people to look at an event from a naturalistic, “scientific” perspective without any regard to the God behind it all.

As I reflect on some unusual recent events in my own life and that of family, I first consider a great quote from a recently read Charles Spurgeon book —Life in Christ:  Lessons from Our Lord’s Miracles and Parables, volume 1:

When it rained, our good puritanical forefathers said that God had unstopped the bottles of heaven. When it rains today, we think the clouds have become heavy with moisture.  If the Puritans had cut a field of hay, they prayed to the Lord that He would command the sun to shine.  Perhaps we are too wise for our own good.  … These Puritans believed God was in every storm and in every cloud of dust.  They used to speak of a God who was present in everything, but we speak of such things as laws of nature, as if laws were ever anything if there wasn’t someone to carry them out and some secret power to set the whole machinery in motion.

A common response to anyone making a link between a tragic event and any moral issue, is to cite Luke 13:1-5, Jesus’ words, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Often times this is a valid enough point, especially in the face of a catastrophe involving numerous people in a certain geographic location.  Yet we all (believers) experience the chastening and discipline of the Lord, and unbelievers will experience suffering that includes temporal punishments in this life.  In 1 Corinthians 11 the apostle Paul described a situation in which the people at Corinth were experiencing sickness and even death as a result of their attitude regarding the Lord’s table.

The Bible actually supplies quite a few additional historical situations to expand on Paul’s application/example of this truth–and which also show that 1 Corinthians 11 is not an isolated and unique event.  As just a few examples I can think of:

  • Joseph’s brothers’ experience in Egypt (Genesis 42-44); they clearly linked their current misfortunes to their previous actions and guilt, their conscience disturbing them.
  • King Asa (2 Chronicles 16), an outward professed believer who in his last years turned away from the Lord, and was afflicted with diseased feet. As verse 12 notes, “Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.”
  • Unbelieving wicked men:
    • 1) King Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 21):  an outwardly ungodly and wicked man who killed his brothers.  Verses 18-19 describe his demise, from the secondary cause of an incurable disease in his bowels.
    • 2) King Herod in Acts 12:23.  Because he did not give God the glory, he was eaten by worms and died.
  • The pagan new residents of Samaria in 2 Kings 17, some of whom were killed by lions. They recognized a “first cause” — quite apart from the modernist mindset that would instead setup a campaign to control the lion population — that the people did not “know the law of the god of the land.”

At root, this modernism / naturalism excludes the work of the Creator and the Sovereignty of that Creator God.  Yet, why is it that certain people, in certain times and places, are stricken with what we now describe as bacterial infections – and yet the diseases are apparently not contagious, as only the one person is afflicted with it?  The modernist here will focus only on the secondary cause: where could I have gotten this infection?  It had to come from somewhere, it didn’t just ‘drop out of the sky’.  When one points out the reality of God’s sovereignty and God’s sovereign purposes,  the response is, “that is how ignorant people think,” as though that dismisses any discussion of the First Cause behind something that happens to one person.

But if we would be wise, as the Puritans and godly believers of old, we should learn the proper attitude with respect to the First Cause, to learn what God has to say to us – to make our afflictions truly “sanctified afflictions.”  When an unusual providence occurs — as for instance a particular sin involving what we say with our mouth, followed shortly after by an unusual illness that affects the voice or the mouth — instead of focusing on the secondary cause (where did I get this illness from?), the “sanctified affliction” perspective recognizes what God has to say, and what we should learn from the chastening.  From the above linked article (“Evidences & Results of Sanctified Afflictions,” posted at Grace Gems), those who benefit from the affliction:

  • recognize the hand of God in it
  • acknowledge His DESIGN in their affliction
  • recognize the principle from which this event proceeds.
  • Have their sins brought to remembrance (Job 34:31-32)
  • Humbly submit to the will of God

From the many quotes available from Reformed teachers, regarding First and Second causes, here is an instructive one from Charles Spurgeon (sermon #2830):

Well, if you are a child of God, I invite you, first of all, to trace your burden back to God. “But it comes from the treachery of Ahithophel, or from the rebellion of Absalom!” I grant you that it does, but those are only the second causes, or the agents–trace the matter back to the Great First Cause. If you do that, you will come, by a mystery which I will not attempt to explain, to the hand of Divine Providence and you will say of every burden, “This, also, comes from the Lord.”

You have probably seen a dog, when he has been struck with a stick, turn round and bite the staff that struck him. If he were a wise dog, he would bite the man who held the stick that dealt the blow. When God uses His rod upon one of His children, even a godly man will sometimes snap at the rod. “But, Sir, surely you would not have me turn upon my God?” Oh, no! I know you will not do that, for you are His child. And when you see that God is holding the rod in His hand, you will cease to be rebellious and you will say, with the Psalmist, “‘I was dumb with silence.’ I was going to speak, but I opened not my mouth because I saw that it was in Your hand that the rod of chastisement was held.”

Biblical Meditation, and God our Solid Rock and Ground

April 1, 2016 3 comments

Earlier this year in the 1689 Confession study I looked at the topic of Christian meditation (as related to chapter 13 of the confession, Sanctification)—and a recommended Puritan work on the topic, Thomas Watson’s “A Christian on the Mount,”  available from Gracegems here.

For a modern-day summary of biblical meditation, present-day author Michael P.V. Barrett, in the book I’m reading through, observes:

The word meditate has the idea of being consumed or preoccupied with something.  The blessed man just cannot get the law out of his mind.  .. Whereas worldly meditation seeks to empty the mind of everything, biblical meditation seeks to fill the mind with the word of God.  According to that biblical definition, there is precious little meditation in the average Christian’s life.  … Devotions sadly consist of little more than a few verses before leaving home at the beginning of a busy day or a few verses before going to bed after a busy day.  There is just so much to do, and we feel guilty if we are not busy doing. … Very simply, meditating is thinking, and here is the proverbial rub.  Thinking takes time; thinking is work.  But thinking time is not wasted time.

Watson (as always) has some great quotes about what meditation is:

The memory is the chest or cupboard to lock up a truth, meditation is the palate to feed on it. The memory is like the ark in which the manna was laid up, meditation is like Israel’s eating of manna.

And, for one meditation topic (what he called the category of Occasional, sudden occasions):

When you look up to the heavens, and see them richly embroidered with light, you may raise this meditation. If the footstool is so glorious, what is the throne where God himself sits! When you see the skies bespangled with stars, think, what is Christ The Bright Morning Star!  Monica, Augustine’s mother, standing one day, and seeing the sun shine, raised this meditation, ‘Oh! if the sun is so bright, what is the light of God’s presence?’

The “deliberate meditations” (Watson’s term) — in terms of finding a regular time each day for meditation/devotionals; and, per Hodgins’ (1689 series) suggestion, of finding a specific text or idea to meditate on and stay on that one idea throughout the day – haven’t worked out so well for me lately – the busy-ness of daily life does often get in the way, as Barrett observed.  Yet I have found certain ideas to frequently think upon in recent days: to be content with life’s situation and trusting in God’s providence, recognizing God as the First Cause of everything.

For nearly a month now, since returning from a week-long cruise, I continue to feel what is sometimes called “sea legs,” the sense of still being on a boat, the ground unsteady and moving.  Per material available online, this is the Mal De Debarquement syndrome, which affects some people for months and sometimes even years.  It often starts immediately after a cruise or other motion experience; per the description at this website I’m at the 3-4 severity level (thankfully, sometimes down to the 1-2 level).  In the midst of this ongoing feeling of movement, what often comes to mind are scriptures about God as our solid Rock, our solid ground, and the great events that will come to pass on this earth at Christ’s Return (reference Hebrews 12:26-29 about the removal of things that are shaken; also 2 Peter 3:10-13).

Even the sense of standing on solid ground on this planet, as we go about our daily life, can be taken away.  Regardless of what the brain and/or inner ear recognizes about our sense of balance and the world around us, this world and this creation is temporary and passing, and our hope and trust must be in God, the only solid ground, the One who will shake this world and remove everything that can be shaken (“things that have been made”), as we look forward to the coming Kingdom, that which cannot be shaken, and all the promises, our great inheritance and blessed hope.

 

Commentary on 1 Peter, Persecution, and the “Court of Providence”

November 18, 2015 1 comment

From a commentary recommendation I once came across in the comments at Challies’ blog, I have been reading through Robert Leighton’s “A Practical Commentary on 1 Peter,” a classic 17th century work available on Kindle and elsewhere (1st two chapters at Gracegems), now nearing the end of 1 Peter 4. Though the language is 17th century English, the Kindle version occasionally has transcription mistakes, and the section on baptism (in 1 Peter 3) gets into too much paedobaptist Covenant Theology, overall this is a good detailed, devotional commentary on 1 Peter, a book I had wanted to study for its content on our daily life and dealing with persecution. This topic I see as also related to many things I have read from Charles Spurgeon, and a few previous blog posts (see this post regarding a Spurgeon sermon, this Spurgeon account of the wife with an unbelieving husband, also this one).

Throughout, the contrast between true believers and those who have an appearance of religion (but only superficial, outward) is well-defined, pointing out the true inner joy and thoughts of the believer, versus the lack of such understanding amongst the outward professors—and thus what causes them to scorn the real Christian. Continued mention is made of how outsiders think, their lives focused on “fun” and worldly entertainment, versus the believer’s perspective that simply has different tastes, differing ideas of what is fun and enjoyable. Consider this excerpt:

The Christian and the carnal man are most wonderful to each other. The one wonders to see the other walk so strictly, and deny himself to those carnal liberties which the most take, and take for so necessary, that they think they could not live without them. And the Christian thinks it strange that men should be so bewitched, and still remain children in the vanity of their turmoil, wearying and humoring themselves from morning to night, running after stories and fancies, ever busy doing nothing; wonders that the delights of earth and sin can so long entertain and please men… the ungodly wonder far more at him (the Christian), not knowing the inward cause of his different choice and way.

And

Oh! How much worth is it, and how doth it endear the heart to God, to have found Him sensibly present in the times of trouble, refreshing the soul with dews of spiritual comfort, in the midst of the flames of fiery trial.

Along with this reading, lately I have often considered what Spurgeon called the “court of providence,” as in his sermon #579  about the different ways that God works things out in our lives – in our lives today, with equivalent examples from scripture. The “court of providence” includes times when God raises up people as the means for deliverance (for example, Jeremiah in the cistern, delivered by Ebedmelech); sometimes by silencing enemies, or by raising up friends for them (Joseph in Egypt, so frequently shown favor in the eyes of men; also Ruth with Boaz, the infant Moses, and David’s help from Jonathan).

The Christian may expect that in the course of providence, when he meets with trouble, God will raise up for him at different times, and in unexpected quarters, persons who will take an interest in him, and be the means of working out his deliverance. God sits at the helm of providence, and when the vessel is almost on the rock, He can pilot it into the deep waters again; and when His servants have been obliged by the tempest to reef their sails, He knows how, as the Master of the seas, to change the winds to a gale so favorable that with all sails spread, they can fly before the gale to the desired haven. … Why, it could only have been because God has a way of touching human hearts and making them friendly to His own people! He pleads the cause of His servants. He does not violate the wills of their enemies, but He wisely turns those wills into the channel of friendship.

Reflecting on Spurgeon’s observations here, and other general teachings from Spurgeon, I have become more aware of the little events in my own life, the little kindnesses in which God shows favor. Well did Spurgeon often say it, that some will experience the trial out in the world, in the workplace, while others experience the trial in one’s own house (reference Micah 7:6); yet in God’s mercy, in such cases that one is viewed favorably and experiences relative calm in the workplace.  And in especially trying situations come amazing incidents of God’s providence; the one who resolves that routine auto maintenance can be done on Monday (instead of taking the car to the service shop on Sunday afternoon–following the precept of honoring the Lord’s day), experiences violent reaction at home–but the event works out amazingly well during Monday’s lunch-hour: the shop worker, after saying the wait is two hours, then moves that person’s car to the front of the line; and providentially, a fellow employee is also at the service place, recognizes the other person, and they have a nice conversation while waiting at the auto shop.

Leighton’s commentary on 1 Peter, and this frequent theme in Spurgeon’s preaching, are both helpful to understanding the experience of trials and persecutions in daily life–for relating these points to real-life experiences and the way God shows mercy and kindness to the believer in the midst of such events.

 

 

God’s Providence Through History And The “What Ifs”

February 11, 2013 5 comments

I’ve always enjoyed time-travel and “what if” stories, especially since the topic so relates to God’s Providence and Sovereignty over history.  For obvious reasons actual time travel is something God has decreed not possible, but it is fun to speculate about such things.  Turning to scripture, though, we have assurance of God’s full control, not only over what is, but even over the alternate possibilities.  I think of the classic examples often cited, as in this Pyro blog discussion with Dan Phillips a few years ago: 1 Samuel 23:11-12 and Matthew 11:21-23.  God knew what the people of Keilah would do in a given situation, and God also knew that the people of Tyre and Sidon and Sodom would have repented if they had seen the mighty miracles in Jesus’ day.

Actual history also reveals the amazing detailed planning all being done in the background by God.  The book of Esther is one very obvious example here.  Another one from Old Testament history:  in 1 Kings 11:14-21 we learn of an adversary raised up for Solomon, as divine judgment for Solomon’s unfaithfulness.  Yet the story with that particular individual began decades earlier, when David was on the throne, in actions taken by David and his army  years before Solomon’s disobedience became apparent.

Considering post-biblical history, a recent Acts & Facts issue looks at Christmas, Vikings, and the Providence of God, noting some rather interesting historical “coincidences” regarding the 11th century ancestors of later great men who influenced history.  While it is true that God would still have accomplished his purposes without those particular men (such as George Washington), raising up others instead, yet the article brings out some interesting details concerning events hundreds of years earlier, all part of how God directed history through certain individuals both in the 11th century and in their descendants many hundreds of years later.

We can all think of many such amazing incidents of God’s providence in history.  What are some other interesting events, either in the Bible or post-biblical history, to share?

Observations Concerning the Titanic Disaster

April 16, 2012 2 comments

I’ve been following the special Titanic shows with renewed interest, after my original interest in the late ’90s.  I enjoyed the ’97 Wonders Titanic Exhibition in Memphis, complete with the Exhibit book (available here from Amazon), and then read a few other books about the Titanic and its discovery.

The Titanic story is of course one of those  that still fascinates so many.  From a biblical perspective, the story is one of man’s high confidence and pride brought down by God in His providence.  Man put so much faith in his technology, in this case the watertight compartments, a clear case of “pride goeth before a fall.” God responded (as so many times throughout history) in such a clear, unmistakeable way.  How easy it was, too (from the divine perspective).  What seemed practically impossible from the human perspective came about by a few simple acts of providence:  a patch of icebergs and calm waters, but also the “little” things of man’s folly — forget to bring binoculars, and telegraph operators overwhelmed with the commercial business of passenger-issued telegrams (the way for the upper class to keep in touch with friends and family in those days before cell phones and wireless Internet aboard cruise ships).

From the judgment aspect, Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-5 come to mind:  do not think that those who perished when a tower fell on them, or the ones Pilate executed, were worse sinners than everyone else, for unless you repent you will all likewise perish.   As one church pastor observed in his email devotion shortly after September 11, 2001: all the people who died in that sudden event were going to die at some point.  We notice it when a large number perish in a catastrophic event, but the end fate of those individuals was the same regardless of whether they perished in the towers or through other natural causes of death: the saved went to be with the Lord, the rest to their eternal punishment.

Some good recent blog posts about the Titanic:

Zechariah 4:10 — The Day Of Small Things

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

From Zechariah 4, a comforting thought concerning the day of small things.  The setting was such a time, a remnant of the mighty nation Israel, now back in the land and rebuilding the temple.  As noted in Ezra 3, when the foundation of the new temple was laid, some of the people wept, remembering how much greater Solomon’s temple had been.

Zechariah 4 includes the great words “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord,” followed by the encouragement of verse 10: For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.  As another saying goes, “Little is much when God is in it.”  The temple in Zerubbabel’s day was a “small thing” yet it was God’s will, and great things would later come.  Zerubbabel’s day was even a type of the age to come:  a small temple then, and several hundred years later, Christ’s “small” act of the cross, the time when He was crucified in weakness.

How often life is like that, our activity is usually in the “small things” and yet when it is in God’s will it really isn’t to be judged by our standards of “great” or lesser levels of importance.  God’s providence, His working throughout history, nearly always comes in “small things.”  In my recent Bible genre readings, I read Zechariah at the same time as the book of Esther, another great example of God’s providence in the details.

S. Lewis Johnson, teaching Zechariah 4 in 1967, could give direct application to the situation with Believer’s Chapel, which at that time was a “small thing,” apparently a small group of people who did not yet even have a church building (then under construction).  Yet God was in that too, a ministry that has since helped countless people, both at that church and those of us who benefit from the online sermon collection.  Certainly the same can be said of many other great ministries and missionary efforts, that began as small things.

Finding God’s Will, and Other Insights from Jonah

May 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In my continuing studies through the minor prophets, I recently listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s 5-part Jonah series.  Of all the minor prophets, of course, none is so well known as the story of Jonah — though as SLJ admitted, as a young person he couldn’t remember if it was the fish that swallowed Jonah, or Jonah that swallowed the fish!

Again, S. Lewis Johnson’s exposition of Jonah does not disappoint, and he points out several great scripture-treasures in this little book.

In Jonah chapter 1 comes the doctrine of Satanic providence, the whole notion of how we determine God’s will for our lives.  Providence, as played out in actual events or even in the drawing of lots or other random events, is supposed to show God’s will.  After all, Jonah had all the right circumstances going for him: he was able to go down to the coast, he had the necessary money for fare to Tarshish, the ship was available, etc.  Since it was so easy to do, and the circumstances all worked out so well, surely — Jonah could have reasoned — this was in God’s will.  Another great example from scripture:  1 Samuel 26:8, David and Abishai in Saul’s camp, and the Lord had put everyone in the camp to sleep.  Abishai reasoned that this was God’s will, that now is the time for David to kill Saul and gain the kingdom.

In today’s society, some Christians think of finding God’s will by opening up the Bible and randomly sticking their finger on a page — and that verse that the person “lands on” will somehow provide direction.  (I read of this very type of thing in Brother Andrew’s story from his early Christian years.)  Johnson here observed that sometimes God will accommodate us when we do such things, but it’s clearly not the right way to learn God’s will.

Regarding Jonah’s attitude itself, many ideas have been suggested, including that he was prejudiced against the Gentiles, that he only wanted God’s blessings for the Jews and not for others.  Johnson suggests yet another idea:  Jonah loved his country more than he loved God.  He understood the covenant relationship of Israel to God, and knew that Israel was in apostasy and thus under threat of judgment.  Very likely he was even aware of the prophecies that had been made, as by others of the minor prophets, that Assyria would be the instrument used to bring judgment upon Israel.  Therefore, if Nineveh turned to the Lord, such would be a rebuke to Jonah’s nation and would seal their doom.  We are not told any of this explicitly, but certainly in Jonah 4:2 Jonah says “when I was yet in my country.”

Another theme that comes out is Jonah’s runs, showing us a prophet who caused more problems for God than the many Ninevites did — and God’s incredible patience with us and our waywardness:

  •     In chapter 1, Jonah runs away from God
  •     In chapter 2, Jonah runs back to God
  •     In chapter 3, Jonah runs with God
  •     In chapter 4, Jonah runs ahead of God

The book of Jonah also shows several “prepared” things, and the word occurs four times in this book (Jonah 1:17, and Jonah 4:6-8).  (Note: in the ESV edition, which I read from, the word is “appointed.”)  The prepared things include a great fish, a gourd, a worm, and a “scorching east wind.”  Yet going beyond all the actions and things in the basic story, we can see a 5th “prepared thing” in the prophet Jonah himself.  Through the very fact that Jonah later penned the story of his experiences, Jonah shows himself to now be a “humbled and spirited saint.”  Finally, the book of Jonah is Jonah’s confession of how God settled Jonah’s quarrel with Him.