4 Posts from February 2011

God’s Decreed Will

The subject of God’s will is woven throughout the tapestry of God’s truth as revealed in Scripture. All of us have read (and most of us have preached from) Paul’s words to the Roman Christians:

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. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:28–29)

This represents one of those places we can mark in the margin of our Bibles: “The decreed will of God.” His decreed will is at work in your life. He’s not only using you in ministry, He’s using the ministry in you (never forget that). He’s chipping away in your life, causing you to take on various characteristics of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Even the death of our Savior was part of the determined will of God:

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—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 2:22–23, emphasis added)

Though unbelieving men nailed Jesus to His cross, it occurred, “by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” It was exactly at the time and in the place and by the means God had determined.

What looked to the eleven confused disciples as mysterious—as well as unfair and unjust (humanly speaking, it was all of this and more)—God looked at and said, “That is what I’ve planned. That’s the mission that My Son came to accomplish.”

That’s why Jesus’s final words from the cross before He died were, “It is finished.” And then He slumped in death. God’s redemption plan had been completed—Jesus’s payment for our sin.

“But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2:24)

By the way, that’s exactly what will happen beyond our death. He will raise us up by His grace, putting an end forever to the agony of death, since we cannot be held by its power (1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14).

God has decreed it so.

That’s a wonderful thought to claim at the next graveside service you officiate, isn’t it?


God Is Not Surprised

No doubt, you’ve run across people in your conversations (maybe even in your congregation) who feel that the One who created us is too far removed to concern Himself with the tiny details of life on planet Earth. But that is not the case. God’s mysterious plan is running its course right on schedule, exactly as He decreed it.

This world is not out of control, spinning wildly through space. Nor are earth’s inhabitants at the mercy of blind fate or meaningless chaos. I don’t know why a tornado destroys one neighborhood and not another. I just know that even in this calamity God’s plan is not frustrated or altered. He is not sitting on the edge of heaven, wondering what will happen next. That’s not the God of the Scriptures. A miserable Job prayed:

Man, who is born of woman,
Is short-lived and full of turmoil. . . .
Since his days are determined,
The number of his months is with You;
And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.” (Job 14:1, 5)

So although we cannot fathom the “Why?” of God’s plan, we do know that the Scriptures state that God is not surprised by calamity. Somehow or other, it’s all part of His mysterious will.

Now that is a tough concept to explain fully or to justify as a preacher. So my advice is quite simple: quit trying. Job’s words tell us that the decreed will of God is running its course precisely as arranged. This aspect of the will of God is not something that we can anticipate ahead of time; we can only know it after it has happened.

While Job’s declaration is not something you would want to include in a pastoral note of comfort to somebody who has just gone through a great tragedy, it is a verse you need to comfort yourself with when you are going through your own calamity.

Remember, nothing is a surprise to God. His plan may seem unfair, humanly illogical, even lacking compassion, but that’s because we dwell in the here and now. We lack the vertical view.


Thinking Theologically

Thinking theologically is a tough thing to do—even for us pastors.

It works against our human and horizontal perspective on life. Thinking vertically is a discipline few have mastered. We much prefer to live in the here-and-now realm, seeing life horizontally as others see it, dealing with realities we can touch, analyze, prove, and explain. We are much more comfortable with the tactile, the familiar, the logic shaped by our culture and lived out in our times.
But God offers a better way to live—one that requires faith as it lifts us above the drag and grind of our immediate little world. It opens new dimensions of thought and introduces a perspective without human limitations. In order to enter this better way, we must train ourselves to think theologically. Once we’ve made the switch, our focus turns away from ourselves, removing us from a self-centered realm of existence and opening the door of our minds to a God-centered frame of reference, where all things begin and end with Him.

A prophet named Jeremiah was called by God to minister on His behalf. Jeremiah was afraid to accept the assignment because, from his perspective, he was too young, too inexperienced—simply too inadequate. The Lord silenced such horizontal thinking by telling Jeremiah that He knew him even before he was conceived and had set him apart even before he was born. God also promised to protect him and to deliver him and to use him mightily. That started Jeremiah thinking theologically. God had decreed certain things. Jeremiah needed to obey without fear or hesitation. Hard times would surely come—all of which God would permit to happen. But Jeremiah could take great comfort in knowing that God would have His way in spite of the hardships ahead. God had called him and would protect him. And even the opposition Jeremiah would encounter (which God permitted to occur) would not stop or alter God’s plan (which He had decreed would occur).

Take a moment right now and read the previous paragraph again. Read it out loud, if at all possible. As you do, replace Jeremiah’s name with your own.

Did you do it? If you did, you’re already thinking more theologically.


Remember Your Roots

How refreshing it is to come across individuals who realize they have their parents to thank for so much of what they have in life.

Marian Anderson was one of those individuals. She had a magnificent contralto voice that gave her worldwide acclaim. On one occasion a reporter asked her to name the greatest moment in her life. Those in the room hearing the question wondered what she would say.

There were so many great moments, like the night Arturo Toscanini said publicly, “A voice like hers comes once in the century.” Or there was that time back in 1955 when she became the first African-American to sing with the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York. Or she could have pointed to the following year when her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, made the New York Times bestseller list. Or when she was selected by the President of the United States to be a delegate to the United Nations. She also had been invited to the White House to sing for the president as well as the Queen of England and her royal husband. In 1963 she was awarded the coveted Presidential Medal of Freedom.

And how could she ever forget the day she stood in the shadow of the Lincoln statue and sang before 75,000 people in Washington D.C., including Cabinet members, all of the Supreme Court justices, and most of the members of Congress?

But she named none of these. Her answer? She smiled and looked at the reporter as she replied, “The greatest moment of my life was the day I went home and told my mother she wouldn’t have to take in washing anymore.” How great is that? How rare is that! Marian Anderson never forgot her roots.

I don’t care how high you rise in the ministry . . . how significant you may believe you are . . . or how many powerful sermons you preach. Gratitude is what God expects of you. Why? Isaiah puts it this way, rendered so poignantly in the King James Version:

Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. (Isaiah 51:1)

What a vivid expression! Remember the pit from where you came. Every once in a while it’s good to mentally return to the pit and remember. It’s amazing the perspective that quiet moment of reflection offers.

Remember those who sacrificed for you so you could become who you are today . . . those who know you and, no doubt, love you more than anyone ever has on this earth. Remember also the grace of God that sustained you from the start. Remind yourself that it’s the same grace that rescued you from the pit of hell.

Gratitude. It’s essential at times to remember “the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.” Otherwise, you and I can easily become ungrateful and narcissistic . . . and part of the problem in the church rather than part of the solution.