Where are you going? We are going to Heaven.

anchor

Twenty-eight year old John and Betty Stam were missionaries to China in the early twentieth century.  They had a three month old baby girl Helen in 1934 when the Communist party chose to execute them for their work.  The communists came and after taking all of their money they took John to jail, returning for Betty and Helen a few days later.  From jail John wrote a letter to his mission board, China Inland Mission, (a letter which was never delivered), that stated that they were being held for $20,000 ransom.  He closed the letter with Philippians 1.2:

May Christ be glorified whether by life or death.

In order to make room for the Stam family in the prison, some of the other prisoners were released.  But because of Helen’s crying, the jailers suggested killing her.  One of those recently released prisoners questioned why they would kill an innocent baby and the jailers asked if this man was willing to die in the place of the baby.  He was then hacked to pieces and Helen was spared.  The following morning the family was ordered to march twelve miles to the execution site.  That night, upon arrival, Betty was allowed to care for Helen and she hid the baby in a sleeping bag.  The next day, December 8th, 1934, they were stripped of their clothes and marched to their death.  A shopkeeper attempted to intervene for the Stams and after they discovered that he was a Christian as well, he was taken as a prisoner alongside the Stams.  Another curious onlooker asked John Stam,

“Where are you going?”

John answered, “We are going to Heaven”.

John was then beheaded as was Betty immediately after, along with the shopkeeper.

Two days later the baby was found by a Chinese pastor who delivered the baby to Betty’s parents who were also missionaries in China.  Helen was ultimately returned to the United States and raised by her aunt and uncle.  The three martyrs were found and buried by a small group of Christians.  The tombstones read:

John Cornelius Stam, January 18, 1907, “That Christ may be glorified whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:20

Elisabeth Scott Stam, February 22, 1906, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21

December 8, 1934, Miaosheo, Anhui, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” Revelation 2:10

Stories of martyrdom often lead to an insurgence of more mission work.  Many were inspired to come and join the effort that had been started by the Stams.  One hundred years before the Stam’s martyrdom, Edward Mote wrote a hymn that is still sung regularly today, “The Solid Rock”.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

 – Edward Mote, 1834

Mote referenced a verse in Hebrews 6,

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

– Heb 6.19-20

We have an anchor of the soul, and it is hooked in Heaven, within the veil.  Before Jesus came to the Earth, the Hebrew people had the tabernacle tent and then the temple where they would worship God.  The temple was set up systematically and in the very center was the “Holy of Holies” where God’s presence resided.  Only the high priest was allowed to enter this holiest of places, and that only once a year.  But when Jesus died, the veil which covered the residence of God was torn, symbolizing the fact that God no longer resided there.  Jesus became the high priest who intercedes for us before God – in Heaven.  Jesus is our hope.  He is our anchor, in the very presence of God, in the Holiest of Holies – the Heavenly court – interceding for us.  The other end of the rope is fastened tightly to our souls, and cannot be undone.

This is a strange anchor, that reaches up into Heaven instead of down into the sea.  But it is the most secure of anchors.  And John and Betty Stam were confident and assured of their anchor.  Is your soul secure in its destination?  Are you anchored in Heaven, unwavering and firm?  If someone asked you on your deathbed where you are going, could you answer, “I am going to Heaven”?

You know what assuming does…

assume

We all assume things in our daily lives.  We have an estimate of how long our commute to work will take, we figure that work requirements have remained the same as we go about our daily tasks, we make plans on what and where to eat based on our previous experiences with restaurants or recipes.  We understand scientific laws and expect that gravity will continue to hold us on the ground and that life will make general sense within our given set of variables.  But we have been taught to joke as a culture about the danger of assuming things that are on the fringe of reasonable expectation when it comes to people, because people will not always do what we expect them to do.

Have you ever stopped to consider that God will not always do what we expect Him to do?  And just because He told us to do one thing one time, He may ask us to do it differently next time?  My pastor showed a survey a few weeks ago asking the question, “Which generation turns to the Bible for direction in making decisions?”  The survey shocked everyone when it showed Millennials as the most likely to pull out the Bible looking for answers.  But as I reflected on the fact that the Baby Boomers and older were not very likely to pull out their Bibles, I had to wonder if it was in part because many of them have read the Bible so much that they think they already know the answers?

I have done no research and cannot offer that as a tested reason, but when I consider my own approach to Spirituality, I recognize that there are two types of questions that we ask God:  First, we ask God’s opinion on a matter.  God’s character, morality and promises never change.  They are established, they are set, and they are clearly outlined in Scripture for us to know.

“For I, the LORD, do not change…”

– Mal 3.6a

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

– James 1.17

Is murder wrong?  You can clearly look up the ten commandments in Exodus 20 and read “You shall not murder”.  You can also read Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5-7 and see that Jesus makes the teaching more intense by saying that being angry with someone makes one guilty before God, just as murder (Matt 5.21-22).  This does not change.

Secondly, we ask God for His direction.  In the Bible God has not given us a road map, turn-by-turn, for the life decisions that we are to make.  He intends for us to “abide” in Christ and receive direction for those life decisions by intimacy with Him and seeking His plan and His will.

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, all the Philistines went up in search of David; and David heard of it and went out against them.  Now the Philistines had come and made a raid in the valley of Rephaim.  David inquired of God, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? And will You give them into my hand?” Then the LORD said to him, “Go up, for I will give them into your hand.”  So they came up to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there; and David said, “God has broken through my enemies by my hand, like the breakthrough of waters.” Therefore they named that place Baal-perazim.  They abandoned their gods there; so David gave the order and they were burned with fire.  The Philistines made yet another raid in the valley.  David inquired again of God, and God said to him, “You shall not go up after them; circle around behind them and come at them in front of the balsam trees.  It shall be when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall go out to battle, for God will have gone out before you to strike the army of the Philistines.”  David did just as God had commanded him, and they struck down the army of the Philistines from Gibeon even as far as Gezer.  Then the fame of David went out into all the lands; and the LORD brought the fear of him on all the nations.

– 1 Chro 14.8-17

When David became king, he had the promises of Samuel in his heart and mind that God was going to use him mightily and prosper him as king.  The Philistines set out to fight against David and David, even with those promises, turned immediately to God asking for instruction.  “Shall I go up against the Philistines?”  God not only said yes, but gave him battle plans.  Shortly thereafter, the situation repeated itself.  Would you be tempted to just jump in and do the same thing you had done before?  If you had just been through a battle, against the very same people, in the very same spot, would you expect God to bring victory just as he had done before?  I think I would.  But David was wise and chose to ask God for direction and God instructed David with a different battle plan.  The ultimate outcome was the same, but the method was different.

We cannot presume upon God.  He has promised us big picture things:  We will have ultimate victory in the end.  People from every tribe, tongue and nation will hear and believe the Gospel.  Nothing can separate us from His love or cause us to be lost.  But we still need to turn to Him for the battle plan.  Why?  Because God’s primary concern is our sanctification, and our sanctification is achieved through remaining in Him and relying on Him for daily support, instruction, and sustenance.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3a

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

– John 15.4-7

God rarely does the same thing twice.  Just because a certain ministry works in one church, it does not mean that God intends to use it in your church.  Just because you shared the Gospel a certain way one time and someone came to faith, it does not mean that God wants everyone to hear the Gospel the same way.  Just because God miraculously gave you a job through a random move one time, it does not mean that God wants you to move again.  These are morally neutral issues about which we must seek God’s will.  If we attempt to do these things on our own, we will fail or have moderate, fleshly success.  If we seek God in prayer and submission, He will guide us into His perfect path.

God’s primary concern is His glory and our satisfaction through resting in and knowing Him.  He does not need us, He is not served by us, and He will accomplish His plan with or without us.  But it is our blessing and honor to be included in the accomplishment of His will of bringing people to faith from every tribe around the world.  And if we want to be involved, or better yet, if we want to learn and see what God’s will is for our life, we must stop and ask Him.  Just because He led us one direction before does not mean that He will lead us the same way again.  Let us not presume upon God, but let us stop and ask Him what we He wants for us to do, even if we have been in a similar position before!

Are you a name dropper?

name dropper

At some point in life we all learn that “networking is key”.  And that is the nice way of saying that in order to get ahead in your job, in your social life, in your role, the most important thing is who you know – not so much what you know.  If you went to college, or even high school, you saw that guy (or you were that guy) who idolized the professor, who was looking for your way into the community, who always had the savvy question, who followed the professor around, you know…the lackey.  And when this guy finds himself out in normal social interactions, he drops the professor’s name as his authority or as his validation.

The name dropper.

Are you a name dropper?  Either you are, or you know someone who is.

Do you find your identity in the people you know, and the people who know you?  Do you try to prove yourself by the circles in which you run?

Insecurity and the need for approval are core problems for humanity.  They have been around as long as people have been around.  The root of the problem is pride, and wanting people to notice and affirm us.  If we know that we have not yet earned a voice in a community, we often quote those who are widely recognized as experts in their fields.  Those who need affirmation will often seek out those experts and attempt to latch themselves to the expert’s coattails and ride into the inner circle.  Those who have failed to make a name for themselves will often surround themselves with the experts in order to be found in good company and be able to throw out names as “friends”, in order to be elevated by proximity.

For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.  Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”  Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

– 1 Cor 1.11-12

The Corinthian church had this very problem.  Paul planted the church in Corinth, and after he moved on Apollos succeeded him as the pastor.  The congregation began to break down and form factions and they split themselves by who they considered the best teacher.  Some were loyal to Paul, some were loyal to Apollos, some branched out and said that they submitted to the teachings of the Apostle Peter (Cephas), and those “holier-than-thou” few tried to trump the game by saying, “We are loyal to Jesus Himself”.

Paul, when he heard of the divisions, was appalled.  He was humble and loved God and fully understood his role in the game.  His response to the division was to write the letter of First Corinthians and to tell them that the very fact that they are having the debate and division is wrong.  He could have affirmed himself and told everyone to follow him, but he knew that even though he was the “expert” and that he was one of the voices being idolized, he loved God enough and was humble enough to tell them not to look to him, but to look to God.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walkin like mere men?  For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?  What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

– 1 Cor 3.1-7

Planting alone is nothing.  Watering alone is nothing.  If you plant a dead seed, if you water seedless dirt, you have done nothing.  God alone takes the dead seed and causes life to emerge from it.  Paul knew this and Paul was grateful for the opportunity that God gave him in planting seeds, but he never gave himself credit where credit was not due, and he was not impressed by anyone’s name or role.  God alone was worthy of honor and praise in Paul’s eyes, and he desired that those he taught would learn to have the same heart.

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

– 1 Cor 1.30-31

God causes the growth.  It is by God alone that we are spiritually alive and that we have any spiritual maturity.  Therefore, if we are going to boast, we should boast in God.

Now, some of the people at Corinth were saying “We are of Christ”.  But their heart was not one of humility, they were trying to play the trump card and win the game.  What is the difference?  It is like saying we have a sports team and God is our supporter, rather than joining God’s team on which He is the captain and we are the support.  In your mind, is God on your side?  Or are you on God’s side?  Have you taken yourself out of the picture enough to be humble and ask God what He is all about?  Or are you trying to force Him to bless your decisions and efforts?

So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.

– 1 Cor 3.21-23

Paul says that we should not boast in man or in who we know because by the very nature of being in Christ, everything belongs to us.  Jesus Christ is the heir of the world:  everything in it belongs to Him (Heb 1.2).  And we, when we are found in Christ, become coheirs with Him (Rom 8.17).  Therefore everything belongs to us, and thus it is futile and silly to boast in something of the world!  We should boast in Christ alone – in who He is and in what He has done.  Not that He supports us, but that we support Him – that we are in Him.

So are you a name dropper?  If so, then check your heart.  God is not impressed.  And those who are in Christ are not impressed, either.  Are you the expert whose name people drop?  If so, be careful of the responsibility and remember to point people back to God and encourage them to boast in Him and in their salvation, not in you.  Look to Jesus, focus on Jesus, remain in Jesus and everything belongs to you.  You will be satisfied, you will be loved, and there will be no need to affirm yourself or make more of yourself by self-adulation or assertion.  Jesus is enough.

Let us be careful of the opposite extreme, too, which refuses the voices of the wise for the sake of rebellion.  The heart problem here is the same; namely pride.  If one despises the system of networking and wants to prove himself and pull himself up by his own bootstraps, then he throws out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  We can and should learn from the example of those who have gone before us and we should learn from those who are mature.  We must be careful only to keep people in their appropriate place.  We will find that when our focus and hearts are right, when we are resting in Jesus, that we can affirm the teachings and words of the experts without being caught up in pride and searching for approval.

It’s all about me, Jesus.

selfish

Do you remember the song that came out in the late nineties, “It’s all about you, Jesus”?  My family and close friends had a running joke and sang the song with just one small change, “It’s all about ME, Jesus…”  We joke about it in the little things, our performance on stage, our decisions in activities and service project.  But have you ever stopped to consider the tendency that we use of our proximity to tragedy as an attention grabber?

The facebook status after the terrorist attack in Paris: “I was just there last week!  That could have been me!”

After the earthquake, after the volcanic eruption, after the airplane crash, “This is my airport!  I was just in that town!  My second cousin has a friend who used to know someone there!”

It is true, psychology teaches us, that personalization makes anything more real and memorable.  Hostage training teaches us to make ourselves more real to our captor by talking about our families, our interests, our goals.  If we can connect or pull on the heart string of the captor, he is much less likely to cause us harm.  Most people learn a concept and keep it in their memory better if it is experienced in a variety of ways:  science uses lecture and lab practice in order to exemplify chemical reactions.  And people in all corners of the world have difficulty embracing and becoming motivated about any issue to which they cannot personally relate:  war, famine, poverty, deforestation, slaughtering of endangered species, whatever.

Personalization and awareness are good.

Inserting ourselves for the sake of getting attention is bad.

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But a humble spirit will obtain honor.

 – Prov 29.23

“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

 – James 4.6

God honors and lifts up the humble servant.  Self-insertion may not look like a pride issue at first, but consider the root:  A tragedy occurs.  Some people are truly broken at the event.  Then others move in because they like drama, they like gossip or they like the buzz caused by such an event and want to get involved.  Why?  They enjoy the attention and need chaos to drown out the the world in which they live.  They want to be a key player in the crisis and this is because their hearts are wicked and thrive on unwarranted attention.  It’s all about them.  There is often, also, a savior complex involved in which they think they can be the one, or a key player in fixing whatever happened.

It’s all about me, Jesus.

We are given clear instructions on how to interact with people in crisis:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

 – Rom 12.15-16

It is our role as the body of Christ to emotionally support and encourage our brothers and sisters.  If someone in your church has suffered a tragedy, wrap them up in love and care.  Pray with them, not just for them.  Cry with them, not just for them.  Laugh with them.  Be there.  Provide food.  But never make it about you.  Be humble and point to Jesus.  Because while your presence and encouragement might comfort them for a while, it is only Jesus who can heal the heart.  And if you create dependence upon yourself, you will only disappoint the one who is depending on you.  But if you help the broken one turn to Jesus, then and only then they will be satisfied.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

 – 1 Peter 5.6-7

If you are touched by tragedy, it is helpful to remember this basic rule of thumb when mourning with others.  (This is a helpful tool, not Scripture.)  There are always varying degrees of effect in a tragedy.  If a man who is married and has a family dies in a car accident, the person most profoundly impacted by the loss is the wife.  She is at level 1 proximity.  Closest friends and family members – people with whom this man spent much time and energy – are level 2 proximity.  Acquaintances and neighbors – people with whom this man was cordial – are level 3 proximity.  Everyone grieves differently, and some people in level 3 might be impacted more than others, but in your mourning, you should never ever project onto or try to draw on someone in a lower level of proximity than you.  A neighbor should never turn to the wife for comfort in processing the loss of this man.  And, if you are in a higher proximity than another, you should be prepared to be there for those in the lower proximities:  the wife should always be able to turn to the family friends and neighbors.

But everyone, in all proximities, always can and always should turn to Jesus.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

 – Rom 8.28

God has a purpose and a plan in everything that happens, even in the husband dying in a car accident.  And it is only in turning to God that He can comfort those who are suffering the loss and restore their hearts.  But it is ultimately about the glory of God.

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

 – 1 Peter 4.11

So the next time a tragedy hits, let us not insert ourselves into the event for the sake of getting attention.  Sure, we might have just flown through that airport or we might know someone from ages ago who lives there…but if we are not directly impacted by the tragedy, let pray for those who are, and let us serve those who are.  Weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, and focus on Jesus.  We must point others to Jesus.

Prayer Request or Gossip Column?

prayer group

PRAY WITHOUT CEASING.
 – 1 Thess 5.17

Are you living in the true power and freedom of prayer?  The Bible has so much to say about prayer and it and what it says is dramatically different than what is practiced and believed in today’s western Church.

“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

– John 15.13-14

Jesus promised that anything we ask in His name, to the glory of God the Father and the Son, He will do it.  Anything to His glory.  Do you stop and evaluate your prayer and prayer requests by that simple standard?  We often do not.  In fact, we often use prayer request time as gossip time.  One generation ago, Churches used to have “prayer chains”.  As soon as a crisis would hit, one person would be notified who would immediately call another who would immediately call another until the whole church was informed.  Now-a-days we have mass emails, facebook and texting, but the sentiment is the same.  I attended a church ten years ago that sought to have one member of the church praying at every moment of every day.  They had a sign up sheet by hour, and a member would pray for an hour then call the next member to remind them of their commitment, the next member would pray for an hour and then call the next.  This is a good idea.

Except when our intention for the passing on of news changes from an earnest petition to prayer to gossip.

We have all been in that group and heard that so-called request.  “Please pray for sister Sally, I just heard that she (fill in the blank)” or “Let’s remember brother Bob, he is really struggling with (fill in the blank)“.  Then the group bows together and prays, “God please be with sister Sally as she deals with…”.  Christian gossip.  What does “please be with” even mean?  Is it to God’s glory?  Is it to sister Sally’s growth and maturity as a believer?

We do know that there are times when God answers our prayers with a no, and there is Biblical precedence to that.  Paul, the first missionary to the non-Jewish world, went into many towns and cities and preformed miracles and saw countless people come to faith.  In the middle of his service and obedience, he prayed for healing for himself three times and God told him no, so that he would continue to rely on God’s strength and not his own.

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

 – 2 Cor 12.7-9

Paul’s prayer for healing and deliverance was not in God’s plan, because God received the most glory through Paul because of his weakness.  Paul understood this, and because his intention and desire was to glorify God, his response was:

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

 – 2 Cor 12.10

He was content with his weakness and the trials that came about because of it, because He saw God’s purpose in it and trusted that God’s answer to his prayer was best.

When we approach prayer, we may think that what we are asking is to God’s glory, but He may have a different agenda.  It is impossible to know with certainty that our prayer is what God intends to do.  But Jesus does say that whatever we ask that will result in His glory, He will do.

Do you believe that?

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

 – Phil 4.6

In everything, through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Thanksgiving means saying thank you, and truly being thankful for what God is doing.  Supplication means asking – telling God what you want, pleading with Him.  And prayer is that general conversation with God.  So whatever you are about to do, whatever you are listening to in your small group, talk to God about it.  Thank Him for everything, ask Him what you desire to ask Him, and just talk to Him about it!

I fear that more often than not our prayer request time is a time where we gossip about ourselves and others, and then little or no prayer is genuinely had over the matter.  The one offering the request moves on to the next group and shares it again, and the listener often lets it slip from their memory.

Let’s not do this.  Let’s remember God for who He is and His power, let’s learn to love Him more, and let’s learn to pray without ceasing, praying to His glory and honor – not just to our comfort, trusting Him to answer our prayers.  Let’s break the mold of gossip and become known as a people of prayer who know and love God.

Whose fault is it?

horse

The horse is prepared for the day of battle,
But victory belongs to the LORD.
 – Prov 21.31

The sovereignty of God is such a difficult topic to apply to our daily lives.  Scripture teaches us from beginning to end that God created us out of nothing, He rules over creation fully, He planned redemption’s story from before He created the world, and He has chosen His bride and works in her sanctification to His glory.  And while we can understand cognitively that God causes all things to work together for good, that He provides victories and places kings in power, it is difficult to walk daily processing this truth, because we do not see His hand orchestrating events (Rom 8.28, Prov 21.31, Dan 2.21, Rom 13.1).

Some people respond to God’s sovereignty with indifference and think, “It doesn’t matter what I do, God will accomplish His purposes with or without me”.  And while that is true that “God is not served by human hands” (Acts 17.25), we will still stand before Him on the last day and give an account for all of our deeds – both good and bad (2 Cor 5.10).

Some people reject the sovereignty of God because they cannot comprehend that God is in control of and ordains everything that happens on the Earth.  But the theme of Scripture from beginning to end is that God is in control and is working out His perfect plan.  And sometimes that means He ordains things to happen that He commanded not to happen.  Consider the cross.  God gave very clear instructions about murder:

“You shall not murder.”

 – Ex 20.13

And yet, we see throughout Scripture that it was God’s plan for Jesus to be murdered, and not only that, but it pleased Him.

“…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”

 – Acts 2.23

But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

 – Is 53.10

So what we are left with is what theologians call “mutual responsibility”.  God, when He considered creation and formed the Earth, already had history – in its entirety – completed.  That is why when Adam and Eve fell, He spoke of Jesus and redemption.  God exists outside of time and can see everything in its fullness, while we are stuck in time, seeing God in part as He reveals Himself and His plan.  That is how Luke can say that Jesus was predestined to die before He ever came to the world, and yet “godless men” put Him to death in the same phrase.  It was God’s plan and purpose, but yet those who actually nailed Jesus to the cross will have to give an account for their choice and actions.

Judas was prophesied and chosen to betray Jesus, but yet he is still guilty of betraying Jesus.

“’Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.  For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.’  (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.  And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms,
“LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE,
AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT”;
and,
“LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.”’”

 – Acts 1.16-20

So what does that mean?  What is the application?  How do honor God in our actions and yet understand His sovereignty over everything?

We focus on Jesus.  We keep our eyes on Him, we live in a spirit of thankfulness, and we do our very best.  Paul says that we should obey diligently and keep a watchful eye over our souls to prove to ourselves that we are in Christ, but to observe the fruit of our obedience as the mark of our salvation.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

 – Phil 2.12-13

It is God who is at work within us.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

 – Phil 1.6

God started the work of salvation in us, and He will complete it.  Therefore, get busy about living for God and fulfilling the things that He has commanded us to do.

We make ready the horse for the battle, but God gives the victory.  We reason in our hearts and consider our thoughts, but God orchestrates the very words that come out of our mouths.  We plan our steps, but God directs our paths.

The plans of the heart belong to man,
But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.

 – Prov 16.1

The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps.

 – Prov 16.9

The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the LORD.

 – Prov 16.33

Death Grip

Last night my small group discussed briefly the topic of urgency.  The simple fact that if we knew someone was close to death – or if we knew that we were close to death – we would be more intentional about sharing the Gospel.  The topic is not a new one, but one that Christians regularly consider for brief amounts of time and then slip right back into their routines.  Why?  Because we have routines.  Because we are rarely confronted with death.  Because we have no way to visualize eternity and keep it on the forefront of our minds.

Jesus set the bar for salvation very high.

“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

– Luke 14.33

We all know, at least in theory, that nothing we acquire on Earth is eternal.  We cannot take it with us.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Solomon grieved this very point when he was experimenting with the pleasures of the world and becoming extremely wealthy:

“A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.”

– Ecc 6.2

When we are consumed and focused on this life we cannot even enjoy the fruit of our labor because we are too busy looking at the next task, the end project, the next goal.

“Hold everything earthly with a loose hand, but grasp eternal things with a death-like grip.”

– Charles Spurgeon

Let us spend our energy today remembering the things that have eternal value:  knowing and loving God and sharing His truth and Gospel with those around us.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.19-21