Posts Tagged ‘God’s Sovereignty’

God has a purpose for every human life. Whether a person has mental health challenges (according to research one out of four Americans has some sort of challenge) or whether a person is completely healthy in every way, every person has a God-given purpose. Human life is not in the hands of human beings but in the hands of God.

During my time of “in between assignments,” I have been preparing to preach each week. As those who have known me or have followed my ministry, you know that I preach mostly in series and most of the series take on books of the Bible or portions of a book of the Bible. For December, I am preparing messages from the first two chapters of Luke. This week I have prepared a message from Luke 1:57-80 which describes the birth of John the Baptist. This passage emphasizes how God keeps His promises made to His people. The details about the naming of the baby born to Elizabeth and Zechariah indicate how he was destined for a significant ministry in service of God.Zechariah

Previously, Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah while he ministered in the temple. He delivered the message from God that Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son. Because of their advanced ages, Zechariah questioned how this could happen and essentially asked for a sign. The Lord shut Zechariah’s mouth as a result of his faithlessness.

Since Elizabeth had hidden herself and Zechariah was mute, the news of the birth of this promised baby came as a sudden surprise for the neighbors and kin. They reacted with rejoicing and celebration. On the eighth day when the baby was circumcised, the people called the baby Zechariah, following the tradition of the day. But Elizabeth firmly declared, “No, he shall be called John.” When the crowd objected the name, they turned to Zechariah and made signs to him to see how he reacted to this name. Still speechless, Zechariah wrote “John” on a tablet. The people marveled at his agreement with Elizabeth and in the firmness of his reply.

As he expressed his agreement with Elizabeth, Zechariah regained his voice. With his first words, he offered praise to God. The people had witnessed the powerful moving of God and they were afraid. They asked, “What then will this child be?”

Zechariah moved dead silence to praise. Luke characterized his speech as prophecy which is always directed to others, not God. It served as guidance for those gathered for the circumcision ceremony, and it sheds light for us today concerning the Messiah. Zechariah answered more than the people’s question and went on to declare what this child’s birth revealed about God’s faithfulness to the promises made to Abraham and David. He also declared that it signaled the advent of the Messiah to deliver Israel.

This Messiah would be the Redeemer of all people, the mighty and victorious King, and the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who would remove the debt of sin on the cross. The Messiah would also be the Light of the world who would rise up in the darkness and be the light of the world. He would be the Prince of Peace. The Messiah would be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of Isaiah 9:6.

God has a divine plan for your life. Do not minimize it. God has you here for a purpose. You are a part of God’s plan. Ultimately, God wants you to find your purpose through Jesus Christ.

Whether you believe it or not, whether you accept it or not, God has placed within your heart eternity. He has wired you to want to know Him. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11, ESV).  This makes people different and more valuable than every other living thing. People are not like animals that live and die and give no thought to what will happen in another life. We human beings ponder and lose sleep over what will become of us after death. That’s because God has made us for eternity. He created us for a greater purpose, a greater objective, not just for this life, but for what comes after this life.

This fact sets us apart from animals. This is what gives meaning to life. People were not made only for this existence on the earth. No, we were made by our Creator for eternity, and He has planted that into our hearts.

Recently I learned about an amazing bird that illustrates from nature what our Creator Bar-tailed_Godwithas implanted in us. There’s a small bird that grows up in northern Alaska called the bar-tailed godwit. The godwit has no outstanding outer characteristics. They have no extraordinary markings and they seem so ordinarily colored in mottled brown, black, and gray. They almost seem to blend into the water scene along the shore as just another bird that you see along the water.

But every fall flocks of bar-tailed godwits fly about 7,000 miles to New Zealand. When the young birds mature and start to migrate, something wired in them also directs them to New Zealand. Though they are land birds, and cannot fish or rest on the sea, they will cross most of the Pacific Ocean, and fly all the way to New Zealand. Many of them are young, and have never done this before.

How they do that, many of them never having been in the southern hemisphere, never having seen the southern stars, nobody seems to know. But they manage. One female, dubbed E7, because that was the code on her wireless transmitter, flew 11,680 kilometers (7,369 miles) in 8.1 days. Non-stop. The same homing signal that guides them over treacherous waters to New Zealand also navigates them back to their parents.

God has created the bar-tailed godwit with New Zealand in their hearts. Similarly, God has created within us “homing signals” for God and eternity. He has put eternity in our hearts. Our desire to live and our longing for something beyond this life comes from the One who loves you and wants you to spend eternity with Him.

 

15445658829_5b8245266e_bA number of years ago I began taking off my boots whenever I would preach. I never called attention to it; I simply did it.

For the most part, I’ve learned that it didn’t really make any difference to most people because they couldn’t see my feet while I was preaching anyway. For those who did, most generally did not ask me about it, but rather would either speculate why I did so or they would ask someone else.

Those who chose to speculate generally decided that I removed by boots because my feet hurt. Let’s deal with this first. While I do have a genetic circulatory issue (primary lymphedema), I don’t generally have pain associated with it. The lymphedema does call swelling in my calves, ankles, and feet, I don’t experience much discomfort. It just looks unsightly. I began wearing boots to cover the swollen ankles and to keep people from worrying about how big they were. While I enjoy wearing boots (and I rarely wear any other kind of footwear), my boots gave me some confidence because a negative aspect was covered.

However, the Lord convicted me concerning my pride when reading through the scriptures. In Exodus 3, Moses saw the burning bush and went to investigate it. God called out from the bush, “Moses, do not come near. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” The Holy Spirit convicted me of my pride in covering the part of my body that was not perfect. I didn’t want people to think less of me because of this physical deficiency. So one Sunday I removed my boots prior to going to the pulpit. Doing so serves to remind that when I am speaking for the Lord that I am standing on holy ground. I must look to Him and depend upon Him for the words that I will use. There’s a special urgency and a sense of unique importance in declaring each message that the Lord has given to me. Having removed my boots reminds me that I must never forget what the Lord has called me to do. Preaching His Word must never become a Sunday or Wednesday routine.

Removing my boots reminds me of the gravity of my calling and the reality of the one true God we worship. It reminds me that I am merely a tool in the Lord’s hands. It reminds me that I must depend on Him. It reminds me that no matter how much I have prepared in the study for the preaching moment, I must find my strength in the Lord alone.

 

 

be-stillLast Sunday afternoon Gayla and I traveled to Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Baptist Convention Pastors Conference. I’ve learned a great deal over the past several months about the sovereignly of God — particularly His sovereignty with regards to His timing. However, He would teach us more at this conference. The theme, “Pause,” is what we are experiencing right now — a pause in our ministry. Sunday marked the final time that I would preach as the pastor of Mandeville’s First Baptist Church. With no “next assignment” in sight, we find ourselves in a pause in our ministry.

From Sunday evening to the close of the conference on Monday afternoon, we heard seven different speakers and five of them chose to speak from Psalm 46. That psalm is one of my favorites and includes one of the most quoted verses of the psalms — “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Martin Luther used this psalm as the scriptural basis of his “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Coincidentally, we just observed the 500th anniversary of the day when Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany. The historical background of the psalm was God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians during the reign of King Hezekiah, who may have been the poet who the Spirit used to form this psalm and perhaps Psalms 47 and 48 as well.

The psalm has three stanzas, each marked off by the term “Selah,” a term that may mean a musical interlude. The interlude would give the worshipers the opportunity to reflect on the stanza that they had just heard or sung. Instructions in the text prior to verse one give instructions to the worship leader. Clearly, the Lord intended this psalm to be used as a hymn of worship.

Given that we heard this psalm used repeatedly as a sermon text at the pastors conference, I believe that the Lord wanted us to pause for a while so that we could hear from His Word that we could trust in what He had planned for us. He wanted us to know that we could trust Him. The three stanzas of Psalm 46 help the reader focus on the Lord and how He relates to His trusting people.

God is our refuge and tower of strength. God is that place of refuge or the fortress to whom we may go. When everything seems to be falling apart, He shelters us so that He can strengthen us to go back to life with its responsibilities, challenges, and even dangers. That the psalm writer said that He would be near “in times of trouble” describes God as He would be with us in the tight places of life. He is saying to us, “Don’t be afraid.” We need that kind of comforting word in the Christian life.

God is our river of joy. When the Assyrian army laid siege to Jerusalem, their water supply would normally have been threatened. However, Hezekiah had built an underground water system that connected the Spring of Gihon in the Kidron Valley with the Pool Siloam within the city walls, thus making water available. But the psalmist knew that the true source of the river of life was God. We need to know that our source of life is God and not our wise planning.

God is our God, and He will be glorified.  It’s not until verse 8 that the psalmist gave a command for his readers to heed, “Come, see the works of the LORD.” But this is not a command to do something. Rather, it is a command to watch God. What does He do? According to the psalm, He makes the wars cease by destroying the weapons of war. When you come to verse 10, there’s a new speaker. God says, “Stop your fighting, and know that I am God.” The Christian Standard Bible captures the nuance of the word that is often translated as “be still.” The command to be still is not simply a command to be quiet or to get alone. No, it’s a command to stop trying to fix things in your life yourself. It’s a command to stop depending on our your strength or your ingenuity and start depending on the Lord.

This morning when we came into the church where the Lord had assigned us to preach, Gayla pointed out a small plaque hanging above the baptistry at the front of the auditorium. It said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

The Lord has my attention during this pause in my ministry. I waiting for the Lord.

Dr. Jerry Root, an evangelism professor at Wheaton College, recently had an article publishnew-harvested in Christianity Today (2/17/2017). The article’s premise caught my attention: “Evangelism is harvesting where God has already plowed, sowed, cultivated, and nurtured.” Essentially, Dr. Root said that we don’t take Jesus to anyone. He is already present in everyone’s life. After all, God is omnipresent. Furthermore, because He is a God of love, He is near every person you meet, loving and wooing him or her.

We don’t go to bring Jesus to anyone. Rather, we go to make explicit what He is already doing implicitly. Jesus said, “See the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). The problem is not that people will not respond to Christ. No, people are not responding to the gospel because Christians seem unwilling to go into the harvest.

The big question is, “How can we enter into the work that God is already doing?” Dr. Root says we need to ask more “public” questions: “What is your name? Are you from here?” Then we should listen to the answers, and in those answers come permission to ask new questions based on the information that is given.

Here’s one example of a conversation that Dr. Root had with a man. He simply began the conversation with, “What’s your name?” The man answered, “Peter.” (I often begin a conversation with someone new with, “My name is Ken.” Often the person responds with his name.) Then Dr. Root asked, “Peter, are you from Chicago?” These questions are public, nonthreatening, and neighborly.

Under his breath, Dr. Root whispered a prayer that he might enter into God’s love for him and that he might listen well. Peter said, “No, I was born and raised in Albuquerque, but when I was 12, my parents divorced and I moved to Chicago with my mother.”

Peter didn’t have to offer that much detail. He could have said, “I grew up in Albuquerque and moved to Chicago when I was 12.” That would have been enough information to continue the questions. But what Peter shared opened the door to inquire along those lines. “That sounds painful.” Peter opened up his heart and began to tell how his father had abandoned the family, never remembering him on his birthday and at Christmas.

Dr. Root could see where God was wooing him and eventually interjected, “The power to forgive in order to untether the past wounds and sorrows is a precious commodity.” Peter agreed and asked, “Yes, but but can we do it?” At this point in the conversation, Peter gave him permission to discuss from where the power to forgive comes. Here’s where the conversation moved to the gospel where Peter’s heart was not merely open but eager to listen.

Another time while his flight was delayed in the Vienna airport, a woman wearing a name tag lanyard and carrying clipboard approached Dr. Root. He began the conversation by asking her name. “Allegra,” she replied. “Allegra, are you from Vienna?” She said she was a student. This opened the door to more questions, “Where do you go to school? What are you studying?”

Twenty minutes later, Dr. Root knew a good deal about Allegra. He knew her mother abandoned the family to go to Canada with her lover and that her father’s bitterness was toxic. Her brother also studied at the University of Vienna, but they were estranged. When Dr. Root expressed sadness over the amount of estrangement from the people closest to her, she said it was far worse. Her former boyfriend went to Florence to study art for six months. He had asked her to wait for him, and she did so. Her boyfriend had returned the day before to inform Allegra that he met somebody better in Florence.

He knew where God was wooing her and knew the deep felt need where Allegra was likely to hear the gospel. After 20 minutes, she had not asked one question from her survey. Dr. Root knew that she needed to complete her survey and did so but also told her that he had been sent to tell her something. She rushed through it, then put down her pen, looked him in the eye, and eagerly asked, “What were you supposed to tell me?” Knowing that Allegra felt abandoned and betrayed, Dr. Root said, “Allegra, the God of the universe knows you and loves you. He will never abandon you or forsake you.”

Sometimes, it takes three times before words sink in, so he said it again. After the third time, she burst into tears. “But I’ve done so many bad things in my life!” Dr. Root responded, “Allegra, God knows about it and that’s why He sent Jesus to die on the cross for all your sins and to bring you forgiveness and hope.” Dr. Root was explaining the gospel to ears willing to hear and a heart willing to receive.

Jonathan Edwards, pastor of the prestigious Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, was a leading figure of the eighteenth century First Great Awakening. Religious leaders, like the famous preacher George Whitefield (pronounce “Whit – field”), traveled great distances to meet with him and discuss theological matters.

At age 14, Edwards, already a student at Yale University, treasured the spiritual qualities that directed his life and ministry. At age 17, after a period of distress, he said holiness was revealed to him as ravishing, divine beauty. His heart panted “to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.” So the rare blend of spiritual passion and searching intellect characterized his life. By the age of 26, he became the sole pastor of the Northampton Church. Five years later his preaching on justification by faith sparked an awakening.

Yet even a man of Edwards’s credentials was not exempt from criticism. When Edwards sought assurance that those in his congregation had experienced genuine conversion, a group of discontented church members took exception. They launched a slanderous campaign against him that ultimately led to his dismissal from the church he had made famous. One of the greatest theological minds and most devout pastors in American history had been forced out of his church by malicious detractors. Edwards then assumed a modest pastorate in the small town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and ministered to native Americans.

Eventually Jonathan Edwards was vindicated before his critics. Some of his most vocal opponents publicly confessed their sinfulness in attacking their godly pastor. Ultimately, the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton, called his as president in 1758. To its great loss and to that of the American church, Edwards died soon after his arrival at the age of 55. Some consider Edwards to be the finest theologian America has produced.

I offer this short biography of Edwards to remind us that God uses faithful believers who have solid commitments to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to His Word. I am reminded of the call that God issued twice to Jonah, “Get up, go to Nineveh, and preach the Word.” The first time, Jonah ran in the opposite direction of Nineveh. He went down Joppa, down into the ship, down into the sea, and ultimately down into the belly of a great fish. The second time God issued the call, Jonah was more than ready to listen and obey. When he arrived in Nineveh, he preached the word that God had given to him — and God brought about a supernatural movement, and the people repented.

I am praying that God will “do it again.” A few Sundays ago, we dedicated both services to prayer and to seeking God’s divine intervention. We believe that God still wants to do a great work in America and to the ends of the earth. However, He will only do so on His terms. We cannot tell God how He must move. We cannot require Him to submit to our bidding. Rather, we must humble ourselves, pray and seek His face, and turn from our wickedness. Then He will hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land.

For the past several months, someone from our pastoral staff opened the Sunday services with what we call “the service introduction.” We’ve used this opening to set the stage for the service. Sometimes we use a short story or anecdote, and sometimes we simply call attention to the subject matter or theme of the service. Last Sunday (June 26, 2015) I opened the services with how we should respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement of its 5-4 decision that makes same-sex marriage legal. To ensure that I am clear, I am repeating that response in writing.

1. God is still sovereign. We do not need to panic. Jesus Christ remains completely and totally in charge. God is eternally sovereign and nothing can change that. This means that we should not make wild declarations about how everything is lost. In reality, not many of us were surprised that the court ruled the way it did. Our response should be that of complete trust in the Lord and that He will one day bring all things together in perfect order.

2. Marriage and sexuality has not changed. The Word is very clear. What I mean by this is that God created marriage; therefore, God alone defines marriage. No legislative body, no president, and no court can change this fact. We must continue to stand for marriage and what the Bible says about marriage. As we do so, we must be careful not to jump to conclusions as to what will happen next. Some have already concluded that pastors and priests will be forced to conduct ceremonies for same-sex couples under the threat of fines or jail time and that churches will lost their federal tax exempt status if they refuse same-sex couples to use their facilities for ceremonies. Jumping into such discussions accomplishes little and should not be the main focus of our conversations. Such conversations actually keep us offtrack and away from our main responsibility—to bring people who are far from God near to Him through the gospel so that all people might love Him.

3. We must lovingly demonstrate the love of Christ to all people — no matter how they have responded to the court’s decision. It would be very easy for us to get into a war mode. To do so actually does much disservice to the Lord and to the cause of the gospel. Make sure that the people who disagree with us do not think that we hate them. Remember, Paul of Tarsus live and served in a world completely hostile to Christ and the gospel. Obviously the government in his time offered no accommodations for Christianity. To be sure, the Roman government permitted pagan religions and, to some extent, allowed the synagogues to exists. However, when it targeted Christians for persecution, they had no place to hide. Even in such circumstances, the gospel prospered. Therefore, we must continue to communicate the gospel and not do or say anything that suggests that we are going to retreat from the world and from sharing the Good News.

4. I am calling for a service during which time we will spend time praying as we plead with God to send revival. Both services on July 5 will dedicated to this purpose. This experience will be unlike any we have had on a Sunday morning. We will have times for hearing from God’s Word, times for personal intercession, times for corporate prayers, and times for singing hymns and praises to the Lord. We know that God alone is sovereign and He alone can bring about revival and a spiritual awakening. What we can do is to position ourselves according to scripture so that He might bring about such a revival. “[I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV).