God’s Providential Care

God’s people suffer, sometimes justly and sometimes unjustly. Either way, they trust in Him to deliver them for further service or to take them to glory.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 38-40; Acts 23:12-35

Selected Verses

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”    Psalm 40:13-15

So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.   Acts 23:31

Reflections

The Psalmist endured much pain partly from his own sin and partly from the severe oppression that was mounted against him unjustly.  There is a difference between suffering due to our own sin and suffering due to being God’s servant.  [See First Peter 2:18-25].  But it is often not easy to separate our suffering into such neat, clean categories.  The Psalmist was suffering and in these laments he mixes the two causes and appeals to the Lord for forgiveness and deliverance.  Unlike Job, he recognizes some responsibility for what he is having to endure but also cries out for relief from those who plot against him unjustly (Psalm 38:3-4,11-12, 17-20; 40:12).

The events of Paul’s life show the power of God working providentially to preserve him from unjust suffering and for further service.   Forty men conspire to kill him. His nephew overhears the plot and reports it to Paul.  Paul wisely asks the centurion to take his nephew to the tribune.  The tribune takes immediate action and  rescues Paul  whom he then sends to the governor for trial, and, let us add, to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Imagine how the conspirators were completely “put to shame and disappointed altogether”!

Think about it

Most of us do not suffer such opposition as Paul did, but we do suffer in smaller ways.  Do you know that He watches over you?  Do you know that while you may feel that your iniquities are more than the hairs of your head (40:12) God’s care for you is such that He has the hairs of your head numbered and your iniquities covered by the blood of Christ (Luke 12:4-7; 24:44-47)?  Trust His providential care.  No one can thwart His plan for you. No, not even yourself.

The Authority of the Bible

The Christian church spread widely and rapidly in the First Century.  Do you know why?  It can happen again if we follow the Apostles’ example.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 13-16; Acts 18

Selected Verses

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.  Psalm 16:9-10

And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews is public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. Acts 18:27-28

Reflections

In the First Century, the Apostles used the Scriptures of the Old Testament powerfully and effectively as they spread throughout the known world proclaiming that the promised Christ had come. Later the New Testament containing the Apostles’ teaching would be added, completing our Bible.

The Messiah, Christ, was promised to Israel and sent to them. He lived out His life and ministry culminating in His death by crucifixion, His resurrection, and His commissioning of His Apostles to go into the entire world and make disciples of all nations. That work which Jesus commissioned still goes on today throughout the earth.

The Psalms are filled with references which had immediate relevance to their time but would later be more completely fulfilled by Jesus in His earthly life. Here we have a prophecy which both Peter and Paul understood to point clearly to His resurrection (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35). To see Christ in the Psalms and other Old Testament scriptures motivated the Apostles and fueled their boldness as they preached to the Jews.

One of those Jewish converts to Jesus Christ was a gifted man named Apollos. He displayed great eloquence in his speech and diligence in his study of the Word of God, but he received needed help from the mentoring of Paul’s disciples, Aquila and Priscilla. Apollos went on to Achaia and had an effective ministry encouraging the believers and showing the Jews from the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

Think about it

Do you rely on the Scriptures as the basis for your faith and in your presenting Jesus to others? We need to beware of relying on arguments based on mere human reasoning and logic and neglecting to point people to the claims of Christ made in God’s Word. Let the Word of God be your authority for your life and your ministry. The Apostles modeled this and we will be wise to follow their example. We may yet see amazing growth in Christ’s Church.

God’s Righteous Judgment

Final divine judgment is not a popular topic today.  Might that explain why we struggle to find meaning and purpose in life?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 10-12; Acts 17:16-34

Selected Verses

Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.   Psalm 10:13-15

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. Acts 17:30-31

Reflections

The Psalmist analyzes the thought processes of the wicked who say, in essence, “God is not going to judge people.” They assume that God doesn’t know what is going on, but He does. They assume that He will not take action against their evil schemes, but He will. The idea of final judgment runs throughout the Bible. God is both holy and sovereign, so He must put right the injustice of mankind. God helps the fatherless and the weak and the poor. He hears their pleas and will bring full justice.

In Athens, Paul declares the existence of the God that they call the “unknown god.” They had many idols, but, in case they had overlooked a god, they added this one for good measure. Paul tells them about the God who is Creator and Sustainer of life. This God cannot be contained in a temple because He is infinite. He is the God who needs nothing and depends on nothing for His existence. He is not distant and aloof but will judge the world in righteousness on the appointed day by a Man whom He has raised from the dead, namely Jesus Christ. Like the wicked of Psalm 10, some of the people of Athens mocked the idea of judgment.  Some wanted to hear more.

Think about it

Many today dismiss the idea of final judgment.  At the same time, they search desperately for a reason to live. Without a clear understanding of the judgment of God we will neither have a reason to live nor motivation to seek God’s forgiveness and to live in holiness before Him. Be sure you are clear on the judgment of God and how Jesus said we may escape it (John 5:24).

 

God Uses People Warts and All

God works in and through people who are imperfect to accomplish His purposes and plans perfectly. If you are His, He has plans to use you warts and all.

Today’s Reading

Job 40-42; Acts 15:22-41

Selected Verses

So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.  And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Job 42:9-10

Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.  Acts 15:39b-41

Reflections

The focus of the book of Job has been on his experience of tremendous affliction as evidence to Satan of how a redeemed man serves God whether he prospers or suffers.  Job stood the test and we can all cheer at the end when God reveals Himself to that poor beleaguered man.  God is vindicated by Job whose mouth is shut in humility.  Job has been in our focus, but the three friends of Job were also under God’s watchful eye.  They were in line for some discipline.  They had spoken foolishly and ignorantly.  Job was exonerated, and they were rebuked.  God told Eliphaz to make an offering for their sin and promised to hear Job’s prayer on their behalf.  Eliphaz obeyed and he, Zophar, and Bildad were restored to the Lord.

Paul and Barnabas left Jerusalem unified.  They preached and taught the congregation in Antioch.  Everything was going smoothly,  but then they had a disagreement about taking John Mark on a second missionary journey.  They split up going in different directions.  How did they do? Both seemed to have fruitful ministries.  Paul, we learn later, had a change of heart about John Mark (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).  Indeed, Peter later would refer to Mark as “his son” (1 Peter 5:13).

Think about it

God works through human instruments.  He used Job, Paul, Barnabas, and Mark despite their imperfections.  Others, named and unnamed, were blessed by their prayers, preaching, teaching and other service for God’s glory.  Can God use you?  Yes, indeed.  He uses all of His people for small and great purposes.  Be alert to the service He has for you today.

Stop and Consider

Does the biblical claim that God is our Creator to Whom we owe our lives and praise thrill you or irritate you?  Stop and consider who and what we are.

Today’s Reading

Job 35-37; Acts 14

Selected Verses

Hear this, O Job;
stop and consider the wondrous works of God.  Job 37:14

In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.  Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.  Acts 14:16-17

Reflections

God’s glory is set forth in splendor in His creation.  The Psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2).  This is a truth as old as time and hard to ignore.  Yet Paul wrote that the unrighteous suppress the obvious truth of God and exchange the truth for a lie (Romans 1:18-25).

Elihu, in his monologue before Job, calls on him to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God.”  Elihu spoke truth displayed in the earliest event of biblical history: Creation.  He may have lacked love and compassion for his suffering friend, but we cannot accuse him of a falsehood at this point.

Paul brings up a similar declaration in his speech to the crowd at Lystra.  He credits God with all the blessings that they had experienced of rains and fruitful seasons, of food and gladness which brought satisfaction to their hearts.  He starts where they are human beings, just like himself, who have received far more than they deserve.

Think about it

God’s power and deity in the things He has made and the blessings He sends is clearly evident. Yet those who refuse to acknowledge Him as God are only angered or irritated by these reminders.  Fallen mankind, apart from God, likes to think that he is the captain of his soul and the master of his fate.  The claims of the Bible refute that view.  But stop and consider that,  “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).   If you believe, be sure your praises go to Him often.  He is worthy of all our adoration, all day, every day.  If you doubt this, stop and consider.

God’s Providence vs. Man’s Autonomy

No life is the result of personal autonomy or of random acts and choices. Rather it is God’s sovereign providence at work according to His eternal decrees.

Today’s Reading

Job 33-34; Acts 13:24-52

Selected Verses

 Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.  Job 33:29-30

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. Acts 13:48-50

Reflections

Elihu sets about correcting the faulty statements of Job and his three counselors. Elihu correctly emphasizes the justice of God in all His dealings and the way of God to use trials and difficulties to correct His children. This point has been mostly ignored by the three counselors with the exception of a brief comment by Eliphaz (Job 5:17).

In his account of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, Luke reports that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”  Apostles proclaimed the gospel. Some believed.  Why?  God had appointed them to eternal life. Others rejected because they were not appointed for eternal life.   The difference is not in the words of the preacher. It is in the response of the hearer. That is the result of the sovereign work of grace in the heart of the hearer.

Think about it

Personal autonomy is an idol of our times, maybe the greatest idol. The doctrines of the sovereignty and providence of God thunder against that false god. Do you believe in the Lord Almighty Who rules over all things, even the hearts of people? If so, that would be a likely indicator that He has appointed you for salvation. If not, you are still called to repent and believe the gospel, but you cannot and will not in yourself, without His powerful working in you to bring a new birth (Mark 1:15; John 3:3).

Does all this stir in you sense of desperation?  Call on God to “be merciful” to you, a sinner (Luke 18:13). God has promised that He is “near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” and “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”’ (Psalm 145:18; Romans 10:13).

Glory Stealing Can Be Fatal

It is a dangerous thing to receive praise from people and fail to give God the glory He deserves. Here are two men whose lives demonstrated this truth.

Today’s Reading

Job 29-30; Acts 12

Selected Verses

I chose their way and sat as chief, and I lived like a king among his troops,
like one who comforts mourners.  But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock. Job 29:25-30:1

And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.   But the word of God increased and multiplied.   Acts 12:22-24

Reflections

Job remembered a time when he had been at the top of the food chain. Everyone was in awe of him. No one questioned his decisions.  He had the final word. Now that has all gone. He is the laughingstock of his former kingdom. Now the people of low status look down on him.

King Herod played to the crowds but lacked any reverence for God. He found that executing James brought him popularity, so he arrested Peter. The Lord sent an angel to release Peter, but Herod just blamed the disappearance on the sentries and had them put to death. He left town for Caesarea. Meanwhile, the people of Tyre and Sidon sought reconciliation with Herod. His accepting their praise of him as a “god, and not a man” brought God’s wrath and his immediate death.

The difference between Herod and Job is that the latter attributed his prosperity and success to God. His losses were, to him, evidence that God had withdrawn His favor from him.  Job never stopped seeking God. Herod never began to seek God. Death was the last chapter in Herod’s life.  Suffering was only the mid-point of Job’s life.

Jesus asked the disbelieving Jews, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).   God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).

Think about it

Don’t be clueless like the egotistical Herod or the faithless Jews who basked in the glory of man. Job knew that God was the source of all blessing, and he would learn that God’s ways and wisdom may not be questioned. Walk humbly giving Him all the glory, because glory stealing can be fatal.

Two Truths in Focus

Two truths must be kept clearly in focus at all times if we are to not lose sight of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Do you know what these are?

Today’s Reading

Job 23-25; Acts 10:24-48

Selected Verses

How then can man be in the right before God?  How can he who is born of woman be pure?  Job 25:4

And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 10:42-43

Reflections

Bildad sees some things very clearly. God is holy, and man is sinful. But he misses the mercy and grace of God, so he asks, “How then can man be in the right before God?” This pessimistic view is not common in western society today. We are apt to hear more words extolling the greatness of humankind. “How enlightened we are! How noble are our works! God? Who’s that?” We pray to whomever, but only in times of extreme desperation. Then we revert to faith in ourselves and “confidence in confidence alone,” as Julie Andrews sang in “The Sound of Music.” (Although to be fair, I suspect that the real Maria Von Trapp would have sung “I have confidence in God.”)

Peter’s message to Cornelius and his company shows this accurate understanding of the holiness of God and the promise of forgiveness through faith in Christ. Cornelius had been a devout man, but devout men are depraved like all others, corrupted by sin in every part. He sought God and God provided for the centurion to hear the gospel from Peter himself. Not only that, but God sent His Holy Spirit on that group as they listened to the Apostle. Peter was getting the picture. God had sent him to preach to Gentiles. They believed. God sent the Holy Spirit upon them, and Peter immediately baptized them. The Gentiles were being saved. Jesus did die for the world.

Think about it

An accurate understanding of the gospel will keep in focus both the holiness of God that will result in Jesus’ judging the living and the dead, and the grace of God which manifests itself in Christ’s redemption of all who believe in Him.

Be sure you keep a clear vision of the holiness of God and the grace of God. By so doing, you will not lose sight of both the need of humanity and the power of the gospel for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew and to the Gentile. Remember: Jesus is both Judge and Redeemer.

Surprise! Role Reversals from God

God in His Providence is able to surprise people by a switch in places either actually or figuratively for their growth in faith and godliness.

Today’s Reading

Job 16-18; Acts 9:1-22

Selected Verses

 I also could speak as you do,
    if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you
    and shake my head at you.
 I could strengthen you with my mouth,
    and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.

“If I speak, my pain is not assuaged,
    and if I forbear, how much of it leaves me?  Job 16:4-6

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  Acts 9:13-16

Reflections

Job is weary of his trials which have only been increased by the harsh and hurtful criticisms of his friends. For a moment he imagines switching places with them. He says essentially that if he were in their shoes he could either be critical (as they have been) or he could use his words to strengthen and comfort them. It seems Job is claiming that if given the chance he would not do what they do, but seek to be encouraging to them. Later in Job’s story, we will learn that he does switch places with his friends and he has the opportunity to bless them.

Saul, who supported the stoning of Stephen and helped launch the persecution against the Church, had obtained arrest warrants for the believers in Damascus. On his way to bind others, he himself is stopped and bound in blindness by Jesus Christ. Saul changes immediately and follows the instructions the Lord has given him. Ananias in Damascus seems to know that Saul is coming to arrest them, but God tells him to look up Saul at a certain address and lay hands on him so that he may regain his sight. Ananias is understandably nervous and hesitant. But the Lord assures him that Saul is His chosen instrument to carry His name before the Gentiles, kings, and Israel. Ironically, the man who was going to lay hands on Ananias to arrest him, had Ananias’ hands laid on him. What a reversal of roles that was!

Think about it

God’s Providence may have peculiar turns, but all is under His wise and sovereign will. You may get a surprise so be ready to trust and glorify God no matter how unexpected and bizarre those role reversals seem to be.

God’s Sovereignty in Human History

God providentially and sovereignly rules over every event of history, whether the participants recognize it or not.  Here we meet two examples of this truth.

Today’s Reading

Ezra 1-2; John 19:23-42

Selected Verses

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:  “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” Ezra 1:1,2

For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”  And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” John 19:36-37

Reflections

Ezra records God’s sovereign moving by His Spirit in Cyrus the king of Persia to make a decree to send Jewish exiles back to Judah to rebuild the temple. Ezra knows this is the Lord’s doing, but Cyrus in his written decree shows that he, too, recognizes that he is doing God’s work.  Cyrus makes his own decree to the Jewish exiles to gather resources and to go and do the work. God further moved in the exiles to want to do this project. God works at every level here.

The details surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial all reveal that Scripture is being fulfilled while the participants seem to be unconscious of that fact. The soldiers cast lots for His garment. They forego breaking His legs to hasten His death, but, thrust a spear in His side. John relates all of these actions to earlier prophecy which is fulfilled precisely. Yet there is no indication that the soldiers have either knowledge of the Scripture or awareness of the importance of their seemingly inconsequential actions.

Think about it

Are you aware that the events of this day, whether in Washington, DC, or Moscow, Russia, or Moscow, Idaho are all under God’s providence?  He does hold the whole world in His hands while we go about often oblivious to this truth.  Are we robots?  No, we act freely, but God engineers the outcomes and purposes so that His will is perfectly executed.  We may choose to obey Him or not. In the end He will be glorified and His purposes will come to pass.

Do not fret that the world is out of control and going to hell in a hand basket. God is still on the throne. Be confident in Him and grateful to Him, and, like Cyrus, do what He gives you to do.