Why Nothing is Going Wrong

Ultimately, nothing is going wrong, because Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of all things, including us who believe in Him. His will is being done perfectly.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 41-42; Colossians 1

Selected Verses

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  Colossians 1:19-20

Reflections

Yesterday I asked, “Why is everything going wrong?” I tried to summarize the cause. But there is more to the story. In truth, nothing is going wrong, because all things are under God’s control and all things will culminate according to His plan and will.

Isaiah wrote to Judah and Israel, the divided kingdoms, where it seemed that their existence was hanging by a thread. He has called Israel “His servant” (41:9), but what a flaky servant she is! She cannot be trusted to be faithful to the Lord. Israel is quick to worship idols. She is blind to her own calling and history (42:18-25). What does God do? He chooses a new servant. Well, He is not really new because we learn He is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Chosen Servant has the Spirit of God upon Him. He will bring justice to the nations. He will not wear out or give up before accomplishing His work in the earth. How gracious of God to find Someone to do what Israel could not or would not do!

Paul writes much about Jesus, showing who He is and what He has done. [See also Ephesians 2-3].  Paul prays that the Colossians will grasp the truth about Jesus, because it is through His suffering on the cross that He has made peace and reconciled all things to Himself. Through Christ we “have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vs. 14).

Think about it

We need to recognize the trends and problems of our society today and do what we can to forestall corruption. Yet more than that, we need to recognize that nothing intimidates or frustrates God. Jesus will not grow faint or discouraged before accomplishing His work of redemption in the earth. Should we? Take heart. From God’s viewpoint, nothing is going wrong.

God’s Grand Narrative

Though we live in a time of corruption and conflict, God’s grand narrative for His people comforts us and assures us. He will complete it with certainty.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 24-26; Ephesians 4

Selected Verses

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. Isaiah 25:1

 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16

Reflections

God planned the “grand narrative” of the Bible, as Sinclair Ferguson calls it, from eternity past.[1]  We can summarize it by the terms: creation, corruption, conflict, and consummation.  As Isaiah expressed it, these are “plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” Nothing ever catches God by surprise. He wrote all of human history before it started. What He plans He completes.

Isaiah observes the chaos of the times and anticipates the coming judgment. But he also makes sweet promises. God will swallow up death forever and wipe away tears from all faces. The Lord will keep in perfect peace all who keep their minds on Him (Isaiah 25: 8; 26:3). “Trust in the Lord forever,” writes Isaiah, “for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (26:4).

Paul, too, has the big picture in view as he exhorts the Ephesians to live in the unity of the Spirit of God. What has God done for them? He has sent them apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to equip them for His service. Why? God has done this so that they may grow in unity and maturity in Christ. These two objectives go together.

We still live in the middle period of the grand narrative which began with creation and continues with corruption (Genesis 3:1-13) and conflict (Genesis 3:15). But Jesus Christ has come announcing that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He told His disciples to pray that the Kingdom would come, so we know there is more to come (Matthew 6:10).

Think about it

As you look at the ongoing corruption and conflict of this world, do you lose sight of the Kingdom? Do you  forget that God is completing His plans perfectly? Trust in the Lord, as Isaiah said. Seek unity and maturity as Paul admonished. God will fulfill His grand narrative

[1]  Sinclair Ferguson, From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982, 2014, p. 76

 

Being and Doing the Lord’s Work

The disciple of Jesus Christ is both a product of God’s workmanship and a workman in His service. Life is a path of growth in Him and service for Him.

Today’s reading

Psalms 136-138; First Corinthians 9

Selected Verses

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands. Psalm 138:8

Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?  First Corinthians 9:1

Reflections

God’s people are both the object of His Providences and the means to accomplishing them. God’s people are used by Him in ministry and are changed by Him for His purposes.

David in Psalm 138 rejoices in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. He praises God for answered prayer, for strength in time of need. Now he experiences trouble, but his confidence is unwavering. God is firmly in control and will complete what He has begun. David knows he is God’s workmanship. “Please,” he prays, “don’t stop working in and on me!”

Paul, too, understood how God works in and through people that He has saved by grace through faith. He wrote to the church in Ephesus, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul adds another layer to this concept. God uses people to work for Him in the lives of others. Paul saw himself as a workman and a gardener in the Lord’s work. The believers in Corinth were his workmanship. He had “sown spiritual things” among them (vs. 11).   He had proclaimed the gospel to them (vs. 14). Wherever he went he made himself a servant to all, adapting as much as possible to those he was seeking to win (vs. 19-23). He exercised self-control and disciplined his body in order to do what he was called to do, to complete the work assigned to him by the Lord.

Think about it

You are probably a product of someone else’s work or ministry in you. Maybe you are still being discipled,  mentored, and shepherded. Be sure you are an eager, appreciative learner. If you are serving others in the gospel, be careful to run so as to win the prize. After all, you are the work of the Lord’s hands, and He also uses your hands to do His work. We are the Lord’s work, and we do the Lord’s work. May God be glorified in us and through us.

The Role of Government

What does God say about the role of government in the life of the Christian? Should a believer ever disobey the powers that be? If so, when?

Today’s reading

Psalms 99-102; Romans 13

Selected Verses

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. Psalm 101: 6-7

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.  Romans 13:3-4

Reflections

The authority of government comes from God, so those who govern are responsible to Him to punish bad behavior and encourage good and those who are governed are responsible to submit and obey as to God.

In Psalm 101 David sets high ideals for his reign.  He says he will praise God, a necessary activity for one who could easily lose sight of the true King over all the earth.  He acknowledges his need for the Lord’s help and presence and vows to bring justice to those who do wrong. Instead, he will create a favorable climate for those who do right.  David determined not to suffer deceivers in his cabinet.  He promises to act quickly in dealing with crime.  These noble goals describe a kingdom in which any upright person would love to live.

Paul continues addressing the Christians in Rome moving on to the issue of their relationship to the government.  The Old Testament era of theocracy in Israel is no more.  Since then and up to now, God’s people live under secular authorities who are under God whether they recognize Him or not. Often, they do not.  Yet Christians are commanded to submit to these officials, pay taxes, and show proper respect and honor.  The government is to encourage those who do good and punish those who do not.

We know from other Bible passages that this general teaching of submission is limited to those situations in which the government does not command citizens to do what God prohibits or prohibits them from doing what God commands (Acts 4:18-20;5:29).

Think about it

What is your understanding of our responsibility to the government?  Remember a ruler is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  Pray for your leaders, those who govern, and seek to encourage them when they fulfill their roles properly before God (First Timothy 2:1-4).

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.

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).

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.

When Believers Suffer

Believers are not automatically sheltered from suffering, but God is sovereign, good, and trustworthy whether or not He reveals His purpose for it.

Today’s Reading

Job 10-12; Acts 8:1-25

Selected Verses

I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Job 10:2

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. So there was much joy in that city.  Acts 8:4, 5, 8

Reflections

To Job, his suffering seemed like condemnation from God. It felt like God was punishing him and he wondered why. His assumption was wrong. God was not punishing him, so the question why could not be answered by some failure in Job.  He was truly left in the dark for quite some time. His friends did not help with their comments and mixed-up analyses. Some of what they said was true, but they certainly had less insight into what God was doing than even Job.

Job says some wise things in the midst of his pain. For example, “In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip.” (12:5)   In other words, suffering is ready to pounce on you when you slip, but those who have no suffering look with disdain on those who do. We are truly sustained by God’s mercy and grace. Our heart beats and our lungs breathe at His will.

Some who suffer for their faith get a glimpse of why it is. The disciples were scattered from Jerusalem due to the severe persecution that began with the stoning of Stephen. They naturally told the good news of Christ and the hope of the resurrection wherever they went. Philip, one of the seven men chosen with Stephen to wait on tables, saw powerful results from his preaching in Samaria so “there was much joy in that city.” Ask one of those Samaritans why they thought God allowed a persecution against the believers in Jerusalem. You would probably get an enthusiastic answer to the effect that the persecution brought them the gospel and life eternal.

Think about it

God is free to do with us what He will. He is also free to reveal His reasons or not. He calls us to walk by faith, even in the dark. But He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Walk on in pain, if that is your lot today. He had a purpose for Job and the disciples in Jerusalem. He knows what He is doing with you, too.

Nobodies Made Famous by God

Those whom God chooses and uses for His purposes need not hold high standing in their society. Here we meet two ordinary men–nobodies until God used them.

Today’s Reading

Esther 7-10; Acts 6

Selected Verses

And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.  Esther 8:2

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2-3

Reflections

Mordecai is an example of a man who was faithful in the small things. He stepped up when his uncle and aunt died leaving a young daughter, Esther, becoming her guardian and raising her. He reported a plot against the emperor, Ahasuerus, which may have saved him from assassination. Mordecai played a key role in saving the Jews from extermination throughout the Persian Empire when he urged Queen Esther to appeal to the king for relief. He took all of these actions without holding any power or position. He just did the right thing when he had opportunity. Yes, he was eventually recognized. His enemy was hung on the gallows meant for Mordecai, and he took over that villain’s property and authority. All this was by God’s providence.

The apostles assigned Stephen to a group of seven servants whose task was to serve tables and wait on the widows of the Hellenists. God had an even bigger role for Stephen.   He filled him with grace to do great wonders and signs and to be an invincible debater for the gospel (Acts 6:8-10). He was faithful in the position he had, and God allowed him to rise to greater prominence and effectiveness.

Think about it

In my college days at home basketball games, our student body would taunt the players of opposing teams as they were introduced. After the announcer gave a name, one side of the coliseum would shout, “Who’s he?” and the other side would respond, “Nobody!” Mordecai was nobody. Stephen was nobody. Yet God used them mightily for His purposes in the plan of redemption. He still does this. Be faithful where you are, even though you may be considered nobody. You do not need a high profile position to do the work He has for you.

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.