Friday, November 30, 2012

A Matter of "Being"

It's instructive, I believe, to note that Jesus never charged his disciples to invent elaborate schemes or fancy strategies or detailed plans to evangelize the world.  Instead, he simply said this:

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1.8, emphasis added)

Jesus promised that the power of his Holy Spirit would dwell in us and then flow through us, like rivers of living water (John 7.37-39).

Now -- godly strategies and wise plans and loving "schemes" for evangelism can be fine and good things.  In fact, they can be very helpful at times.

But we must not lose sight of the fact that at its heart evangelism is -- as Jesus said -- a matter of "being."  It's a matter of our essence, who we are, and how we're growing more and more into the person we were made to be.

And that's part of what made me love this book by C. John Miller:  A Faith Worth Sharing (subtitle:  A Lifetime of Conversations About Christ).  It's another solid book recommendation for you.

Miller wrote this book as he was dying, looking back over -- as the subtitle suggests -- a lifetime of conversations about Christ.

And in this little book he is literally sharing a lifetime of faithful "evangelism wisdom," always illustrated with great stories.  And the stories cover a great variety of people: hostile people, "virtuous" people, people you're related to, skeptical people, sick & dying people, lonely people, modern and postmodern people, people God just providentially puts in your path, confused "seekers," religious-but-unconverted people, shame-filled people, etc., etc., etc.

Miller doesn't use this language, but I found him affirming again and again what I've thought of as the three most important keys to evangelism:

  1. Be who you are.  Who God made you to be.  Don't try to be somebody else.
  2. Tell what you know.  Even if you've loved and followed Christ for only one day, you already know a great deal that's worth sharing.  
  3. Love the person in front of you.  It's not going to be your perfection or the perfection of your arguments that convinces that person in front of you of the truth of the gospel.  But your willingness to really, truly love them where they are (in the holy name of Christ) will speak volumes.  And remember, love is a four letter word -- spelled T-I-M-E.  
A few quotes from the book:

"Some Christians want to rush in and confront others with the gospel without taking the time to build a relationship of trust.  Others are wonderful at building relationships, but never take the next step and lovingly confront their friends with the claims of Christ.  I have been guilty of both mistakes.  This is when we learn what prayer is all about.  As we pray, the Holy Spirit gives us what we need: the right combination of love and boldness as we share with others the words of life."

"At twenty I didn't understand everything in this chapter.  Far from it.  But I was learning more about sharing Christ by living in this boarding house and cooking breakfast than I ever could have learned from a systematic course of instruction."  

"I was learning to let others into my life.  Mel could see me studying the Bible and finding something there that changed and satisfied me.  That's why he wanted to study the Bible, too.  And I lived close enough to John to be fed up with his sins -- and to let him know (less than perfectly) how they affected me.  There at the boarding house, the men could see that I had the same sins and needs as they did and that my God helped me.  The Holy Spirit did the rest."

"So wherever you 'cook breakfast,' there is your classroom for learning to share your faith.  The people you encounter daily are the ones Jesus wants you to share the gospel with.  But make sure that you are understanding and loving the gospel more each day yourself or you will not be able to love and understand that friends at your 'breakfast table.'"

"... love them where they are and introduce them to our community of faith.  God does not want us to share our faith as independent supermen or superwomen, but as brothers and sisters together in God's family."

"From this conversation with my mother, I learned that I didn't need to attack 'virtuous people' to show them that I was more virtuous than they.  Instead, they needed to hear about my sins and weaknesses first of all.  I needed to open up my life and my heart to them, just as I had to the people in the boarding house.  When I shared with them how God had broken me and how he was cleansing me from my vices and virtues, then I saw God work."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29

Today is C.S. Lewis's birthday.  He's always been something of a spiritual father to me.  

And ironically, today is also my real father's birthday.

November 29 has been very good to me.

“It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"

"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.

"Are -are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.

"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thinking of the Next World

"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this."

~ C.S. Lewis ~

I have a solid book recommendation for you:  The Promise of Heaven (subtitle: Reflections on our Eternal Home), by Randy Alcorn.

I just read this book to my family, and it was wonderfully encouraging.

Check out the chapter titles:

  • Why Should We Look Forward to Heaven?
  • What Can We Know About Heaven?
  • What Is the New Earth?  What Will It Be Like?
  • What Will Our Lives in Heaven Be Like?
  • What Will We Do in Heaven?
  • How Can We Know We're Going to Heaven?
The answers to all of those questions may have some surprises for you!

This is something of an abridged version of Alcorn's larger book entitled Heaven.  And it's perfect for family reading.  Wide-eyed children and gray-haired adults will both get a lot of our every chapter.

And the book is full of pictures.  Beautiful pictures.  Pictures of the same quality as the cover picture that you see above.  The thought behind the pictures is summed up in this quote:

"This place will be beautiful beyond our wildest imagination.  That's why this book is full of earthly pictures, not what we usually think of as "heavenly" ones.  Understanding the New Earth is simple because it will be like the earth we're living on now -- only better.  So as you enjoy these beautiful photographs taken by my friend John MacMurray, think of them as just a sampling of the beauty of God's coming New Earth."

Having a Biblical view of Heaven (and after that, the New Heavens and the New Earth) is central to so many things:  a proper doctrine of creation, a strong sense of Christian hope, a fuller grasp of God's plan, the reality of what is promised us, a sober understanding of judgement and Hell, the ground of our salvation, a life lived storing up true treasures that will last forever, what happens after death, God's full purpose and intention for humanity, the Creator/creature distinction, the eternal communion of the saints, the centrality of Jesus... not to mention a more useful theology of pets, work, angels, worship, sin, reward, song, dance, marriage, arts, entertainment, sports, laughter, space exploration, food, drink, etc.

Read the book.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pictures Worth Thousands of Words

Black Friday shoppers looking for deals on more stuff.

Hungry people looking for food after a disastrous earthquake

The Kimyal Tribe looking to open their very first copies 
of the complete Bible in their own language

Thursday, November 22, 2012

We Were Made To Be Thankful

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
2 Corinthians 9.15

The Creator made you and me to be thankful creatures.  His loving law, in fact, commands that we live before him in sheer, arms-spread-wide gratitude.  And when we do so, we become more and more truly human... we become more of who we were made to be.

(Just do a verse search in the Scriptures on words like "thanks."  It's pretty stunning.)

And, sadly, the reverse is true as well.  When we close off our hearts to the lavish love of God and become thankless, ungrateful people, we become barren, disagreeable, fruitless, miserable wretches.  We become a ruin of humanity --  unnaturally self-absorbed, faultfinding, insensible, demanding grumbles.  Glorious ruins.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
1 Chronicles 16.34

The following is a letter by Cherie Harder, President of The Trinity Forum.  It's a wonderful Thanksgiving reflection.  I hope you'll read & enjoy it...

In the last few years, gratitude has become a hot research topic. As positive psychology has grown in popularity as an academic discipline, ever more studies have been devoted to plumbing its potency in enhancing health, productivity, and happiness.
And certainly, the findings are striking: an “attitude of gratitude” improves one’s job performance, family relationships, and love life. Studies show that a propensity towards thankfulness lowers stress, boosts energy, increases resiliency, strengthens the immune system, deepens sleep, reduces the likelihood of depression, and improves memory. Thankful people reportedly exercise more, live longer, maintain more friendships, are more likely to volunteer and demonstrate altruism, find it easier to forgive, navigate transitions, and cope with disappointment; and have a clearer sense of their life’s purpose.
It is, perhaps, an excellent example of William Bennett’s definition of social science research as “the elaborate demonstration of the obvious using methods that are obscure.”
In many ways, tomorrow’s delightful holiday reminds us of what we have known all along: that we are made to be thankful, and there is joy in the doing. In giving thanks, we become not merely happier, but closer to who we were made to be. Acknowledging and praising the One who has given us such good gifts (including life itself), and whose nature it is to lavish such grace, is intrinsically an elevating and life-giving act.
And yet, it can be so hard (at least for yours truly). It does not always come easily or naturally – which may be why the Bible urges constancy in developing a grateful heart ("in everything give thanks") and why psychologists and self-help gurus advocate “gratitude journals” as ways to develop the discipline and regular practice of thankfulness. And it may well have been one of the reasons that the Pilgrims, in the midst of extraordinary difficulty, determined that a community observance of Thanksgiving was precisely what they most needed.
As English poet George Herbert wrote, just a few years after the first Thanksgiving:
Thou has given so much to me
Give one thing more – a grateful heart…
Not thankful when it pleases me,
As if thy blessings had spare days
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Offering Prayer for DPC's Newest Members

This last Lord's Day, we had something wonderful happen at DPC.  We took in new members -- which is always wonderful.  But these new members were rather unique.

They were "skyped" into the worship service from Peru!

If you visit Ransom Road on occasion, you've seen some of Sean & Amber DeMars' newsletters posted here.  If you click on the DeMars label on the side bar over there, you will find several entries.

We are so happy to make and receive official promises of love and faith and commitment and sacrificial service with these precious, blood-bought saints of the Lord Christ.  One of the first ways we're going to serve them as new members is this: we're putting together a care package to send their way.  If you'd like to participate in that, let me know.

But this morning let me invite you to offer prayer for the Sean & Amber & Patience.  They're doing a difficult and glorious thing for the honor of the Most High God.  Let's pray for them now.

Below are a few requests from their most recent newsletter:

We have a few really unique opportunities ahead of us. Please pray that the Lord would provide the wisdom, grace, and finances to carry them out. 
Spanish is going well. We’re coming up on the “subjunctive mood” here in about a week. This is supposedly the boogie monster of spanish. That can be prayer request number 2. 
We are beginning to feel the effects of life without community. Prayer request number 3 can be for our joy in Christ, and not in people or circumstances. 
Amber is getting over some sickness. So far, for the family totally, we have to be up to at least 20 by now. Prayer request number 4 could be for the health of our family.
When people see Americans, they see dollar signs. People trying to hustle us has increased as of late. Please pray that we would handle these situations with the same grace that was shown to us when Christ saved us. 
Finally, please be praying for our teammates. They are trying to reach their support goals, and they have hit a bit of a plateau. Pray that the Lord would provide their necessary income.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

bringing out the big guns

Thanks to my mom & dad's generosity with their tickets, I got to take some kids to the Mississippi State / Arkansas game today.

At one point we were right across the fence from an Arkansas male cheerleader with biceps the size of watermelons.  So, naturally, I challenged him to an arm-wrestling contest with one of my sons.

He was a great guy & a good sport about it.

And in the end Jaden won 45-14.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Good Word for ALL Dads... (not just pastor dads)

The following article was written by John Piper's son, Barnabas.  John Piper is the pastor who's preaching the sermon found in the blog post below this one.

Barnabas is here speaking specifically to pastors about what kind of dads their children need, and I'm posting this here for my own benefit first of all.  I'll need to read this again sometime.

But secondly, I'm posting it here because ALL dads would be encouraged to read this.  Just filter out the references to pastoral ministry that don't mean anything to you.  Look for the principles.  If you do so, you'll find a wealth of wisdom FOR YOU in every single point...

7 Things a Pastor's Kid Needs from a Father

Pastors, your position is a demanding one, and those demands bring unique struggles on your family. A pastor's wife bears a great burden, but she usually enters into the ministry willingly. A pastor's children, though, are carried on the current of their parents' calling. It is often a life of singular struggle and uncommon needs. These struggles often stem from the failures of the father. This isn't to cast full blame on pastors for their children's problems. But it is to say that pastors need to work to be good dads.
My own father has worked hard at this. He had his blind spots and weaknesses, and they have been a source of tension between him and me. But to this day, in his 33rd and last year of pastoral ministry, he has never stopped trying to be a better father. As I wrote this I thought of his failures, yes, but I also thought of successes. Lots of them. I also thought of dozens of conversations with fellow PKs about such struggles and their own relationships with their fathers. So know that my writing does not stem from bitterness of heart or some jaded desire to expose a good man's faults. I love my dad. My desire is to see struggles avoided or defeated for other pastors and PKs.
So here are seven of the most significant ways a pastor can be a good father to his children. Pastors, your child needs . . .
1. A dad, not a pastor
Yes, you are called to pastor your family, but PKs want a dad---someone who plays with them, protects them, makes them laugh, loves their mom, gives hugs, pays attention, teaches them how to build a budget and change the oil and field a ground ball. We want committed love and warmth. We want a dad who's not a workaholic. It's hypocritical to call your congregation to a life of love, sacrifice, and passionate gospel living while neglecting your own family. If a mortgage broker or salesman works too much at 60 hours a week, so do you. Leave work and be present for your kids. Your children will spit on your pastoring if they miss out on your fathering.
2) Conversation, not sermons
Sermons are an effective way to communicate biblical truth to a congregation, but not to your kids (or wife). Preaching at your children will stunt their view of Scripture, dull their interest, and squelch what passion you are trying to stir. Speak TO your children about the Bible in a way that's interesting, applicable, and conversational. Help them see the Bible as a normal part of life. Rather than teach lessons, imbue your conversation with biblical worldview to help your children shape their life lenses. That way they'll think they, too, can interact with this important book. Sermons at home separate them from the Word by implying that only the learned can understand it.
3) Your interest in their hobbies
Jonathan Edwards may be your homeboy or Seth Godin your muse, but your first-grade daughter doesn't give a flip. Her love language is playing Barbies and dancing to Taylor Swift. Your son wants to build a Lego fort, beat you soundly at Modern Warfare on Xbox, or learn how to run a 10-yard out pattern. Your hobbies are yours alone, but engaging your children's interests speaks love that matters deeply to them.
4) To be studied
It gets harder to share time with kids as they get older. So study them as hard as you study your Greek lexicon. They're more important, anyway. Would your high school son appreciate going out to pizza with you or chilling on the couch and watching college football on a Saturday afternoon? Does your teenage daughter want you to take her shopping or to coffee? Maybe they don't want recreation but just help---so talk through their friend challenges or algebra problems, whichever are the most pressing. LEARN these things, even if it seems like there are no right answers. Teenagers are hard; they treat parents like idiots all the time. But these acts, when done consistently, add up. Make them a pattern so that when your kids are done thinking you are a moron they have a path to walk with you.
5) Consistency from you
No one can call hypocrisy on you faster than your kids (and wife), and nothing will undermine you in the home faster. If you stand in the pulpit on Sunday and talk about grace after spending Friday and Saturday griping at your family, grace looks awfully cheap and unappealing to your son in the second row. If, however, you treat your son as if you need his grace and forgiveness for your crappy attitude, it may open a door to God's grace. (And use phrases like "crappy attitude"; it sounds more like you actually know what you're apologizing for.)
If you act like the great shepherd in the pulpit but the hired hand who runs away at home, your children will see church and all it entails as phony because you are phony. If you encourage a life of joy but are morose or exhort your people toward a life of sacrifice but are lazy and spendthrifty, nobody will notice faster than those in your home. To your family, your interactions with God and them are far more important than your Sunday sermons.
6) Grace to fail
Pastors speak much about grace. It is the basis of our salvation and the source of hope. But when the rubber meets the road, do you offer enough of it to your children? PKs feel enormous pressure to be "good" and to be confident in all things biblical. But we are often not good and often lack confidence in biblical realities. We sin and doubt like everyone else, but when we do, the road to restoration and peace often feels like an impossible one to travel. Are we allowed the same grace to fail and to doubt (assuming you preach grace to your congregation)?
7) A single moral standard
One of the graces PKs need is a single moral standard. Too many PKs feel the pressure of their fathers' priestly profession in our moral lives. The pastor and elder qualifications in 1 Timothy and Titus feel like a threat: "If you screw up, your father not only looks bad, he will be out of a job." But those standards are the same ones that every Christian should be held to (other than the ability to teach). Nobody else's dad is at risk of being unemployed if his kid is rebellious, but mine is. The additional pressure to be morally upstanding does not help my heart. It creates a convoluted soul environment in which temptation to rebel and temptation to be a hypocrite battle the desire to honor Jesus and my dad.
You have heard that it was said PKs should be holier than their peers, and their parents should raise them better, but Jesus says to us all, "Be holy for I am holy." So it should be.
Barnabas Piper (blogTwitter) works in marketing and acquisitions at Moody Publishers in Chicago. He is the son of John Piper.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

John Piper Sermon on the Sovereignty of God

You would be encouraged to watch this sermon, I believe.

Or - if you don't have 47 minutes right now - read the summary found below the sermon link.

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
One of the most foundational of all the 30-year theological trademarks of Bethlehem is the priceless truth of the sovereignty of God. Let’s go right to our text lest even from the beginning we import something here that does not come from the word of God. This matter is far too serious, and touches on so many painful realities, that we dare not trust ourselves here to come up with truth without being told by God himself.
In Isaiah 46:9 God says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” So the issue in this text is the uniqueness of God among all the beings of the universe. He is in a class by himself. No one is like him. The issue is what it means to be God. When something is happening, or something is being said or thought, and God responds, “I am God!” (which is what he does in verse 9), the point is: You’re acting like you don’t know what it means for me to be God.

What It Means to Be God

So he tells them what it means to be the one and only God. He tells them what’s at the heart of his God-ness. Verse 10: What it means for me to be God is that “I declare the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” Two statements: One, I declare how things turn out long before they ever happen. Second, I declare not just natural events but human events — doings, things that are not yet done. Verse 10: “I declare from ancient times things not yet done.” I know what these doings will be long before they are done.
Now at this point you might say, What we have here is the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge, not the doctrine of his sovereignty. And that is right, so far. But in the next half of the verse God tells us how he foreknows the end and how he foreknows the things not yet done. Verse 10b: “I declare the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” When he “declares” ahead of time what will be, here’s how he “declares” it, or “says” it: “saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”
In other words, the way he declares his foreknowledge is by declaring his fore-counsel and his fore-purposing. When God declares the end long before it happens, what he says is: “My counsel shall stand.” And when God declares things not yet done long before they are done, what he says is: “I will accomplish all my purpose.”
Which means that the reason God knows the future is because he plans the future and accomplishes it. The future is the counsel of God being established. The future is the purpose of God being accomplished by God. Then, the next verse, verse 11b, gives a clear confirmation that this is what he means: “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” In other words, the reason my predictions come true is because they are my purposes, and because I myself perform them.

God Purposes All Things

God is not a fortuneteller, a soothsayer, a mere predictor. He doesn’t have a crystal ball. He knows what’s coming because he plans what’s coming and he performs what he plans. Verse 10b: ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’ He does not form purposes and wonder if someone else will take responsibility to make them happen. “I will accomplish all my purpose.”
So, based on this text, here’s what I mean by the sovereignty of God: God has the rightful authority, the freedom, the wisdom, and the power to bring about everything that he intends to happen. And therefore, everything he intends to come about does come about. Which means: God plans and governs all things.
When he says, “I will accomplish all my purpose,” he means, “Nothing happens except what is my purpose.” If something happened that God did not purpose to happen, he would say, “That’s not what I purposed to happen.” And we would ask, “What did you purpose to happen?” And he would say, “I purposed this other thing to happen which didn’t happen.” To which we would all say, then, “But you said in Isaiah 46:10, ‘I will accomplish all my purpose.’” And he would say, "That's right." Therefore, what God means in Isaiah 46:10 is that nothing has ever happened, or will ever happen that God did not purpose to happen. Or to put it positively: Everything that happened or will happen is purposed by God to happen.
Now if that seemed a little too complicated, let’s do something simpler. Let’s confirm this view of God’s sovereignty by looking at some other passages of scripture.

A Statement on Sovereignty

But before we do that let me read from the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith so that you don’t think I am expressing a private opinion of my own. I’m simply expressing and supporting a doctrine to which all the elders of this church give their heartfelt affirmation.
3.1 We believe that God, from all eternity, in order to display the full extent of his glory for the eternal and ever-increasing enjoyment of all who love him, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his will, freely and unchangeably ordain and foreknow whatever comes to pass.
3.2 We believe that God upholds and governs all things – from galaxies to subatomic particles, from the forces of nature to the movements of nations, and from the public plans of politicians to the secret acts of solitary persons – all in accord with his eternal, all-wise purposes to glorify himself, yet in such a way that he never sins, nor ever condemns a person unjustly; but that his ordaining and governing all things is compatible with the moral accountability of all persons created in his image.
3.3 We believe that God’s election is an unconditional act of free grace which was given through his Son Christ Jesus before the world began. By this act God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from bondage to sin and brought to repentance and saving faith in his Son Christ Jesus.
So this is the way the sovereignty of God is expressed in our Elder Affirmation of Faith. Now, consider with me the extent of support for this in the Bible, and then some closing implications, and why it is so precious to us.

Facing a Crucial Question

When I am finished you may be overwhelmed at the extent of God’s sovereignty — at least I am. And we will face a choice: will we turn from our objections and praise his power and grace, and bow with glad submission to the absolute sovereignty of God? Or will we stiffen our neck and resist him? Will we see in the sovereignty of God our only hope for life in our deadness, our only hope for answers to our prayers, our only hope for success in our evangelism, our only hope for meaning in our suffering? Or will we insist that there is a better hope, or no hope? That’s the question we will face.
Let it be said loud and clear that nothing you are about to hear, as paradoxical as it may seem to our finite minds, contradicts the real moral responsibility that humans and angels and demons have to do what God commands. God has given us a will. How we use it makes our eternal difference.
Let’s divide God’s sovereignty into his governing natural events on the one hand and human events on the other. In the first case he is governing physical processes. And in the second case he is governing human choices.

God’s Sovereignty Over Nature

He is sovereign over what appears the most random acts in the world. Proverbs 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." In modern language we would say, "The dice are rolled on the table and every play is decided by God." There are no events so small that he does not rule for his purposes. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?" Jesus said, "And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matthew 10:29–30). Every role of the dice in Las Vegas, every tiny bird that falls dead in the thousand forests — all of this is God’s command.
From worms in the ground to stars in the galaxies God governs the natural world. In the book of Jonah God commands a fish to swallow (1:17), God commands a plant to grow (4:6), and commands a worm to kill it (4:7). And far above the life of worms the stars take their place and hold their place at God’s command: Isaiah 40:26, “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.”
How much more, then, the natural events of this world — from weather to disasters to disease to disability to death.
Psalm 147:15ff, “He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.” Job 37:11–13, “He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.”

The Winds Could Have Stilled

So snow and rain and cold and heat and wind are all the work of God. So when Jesus finds himself in the middle of a raging storm, he merely speaks, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm (Mark 4:39). There is no wind, no storm, no hurricane, no cyclone, no typhoon, no monsoon, no tornado over which Jesus can say “Be still,” and it will not obey. Which means, that if it blows, he intends for it to blow. “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). All Jesus had to do with Hurricane Sandy last Monday was say, "Be still," and there would have been no damage and no loss of life.
And what about the other sufferings of this life? “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” (Exodus 4:11). And Peter said to the suffering saints in Asia Minor, “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17).
Whether we suffer from disability or from the evil of others God is the one who ultimately decides — and whether we live or die. Deuteronomy 32:39, “There is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Or James 4:13–15, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” Or as Job says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
The roll of the dice, the fall of a bird, the crawl of a worm, the movement of stars, the falling of snow, the blowing of wind, the loss of sight, the suffering of saints, and the death of all — these are included in the word of God: "I will accomplish all my purpose" — from the smallest to the greatest.

God's Sovereignty in Human Actions

And when we turn from the natural world to the world of human actions and human choice, God's sovereignty is just as extensive. You should vote on Tuesday — on the candidates and on the amendments. But let there be no man-exalting illusion as though mere human beings will be the decisive cause in any victory or loss. God alone will have that supreme role. “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; . . . the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 2:214:17).
And whoever the next president is, he will not be sovereign. He will be governed. And we should pray for him that he would know this: "The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Proverbs 21:1). And when he engages in foreign affairs he will not be decisive. God will. “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:10–11).
When nations came to do their absolute worst, namely the murder of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, they had not slipped out of God’s control, but were doing his sweetest bidding at their worst moment: “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27–28). The worst sin that ever happened was in God’s plan, and by that sin, sin died.

So Boasting Is Excluded

And so our salvation was secured on Calvary under the sovereign hand of God. And, if you are a believer in Jesus, if you love him, you are a walking miracle. God granted you repentance (2 Timothy 2:24f). God drew you to Christ (John 6:44). God revealed the Son of God to you (Matthew 11:27). God gave you the gift of faith. “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). The sovereignty of God in our salvation excludes boasting.
There may have been a hundred horrible things in your life. But, if today, you are moved to treasure Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can write over every one of those horrors the words of Genesis 50:20: Satan, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good."
I conclude therefore with the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:11, “God works all things according to the counsel of his will.” All things — from the roll of the dice, to the circuits of stars, to the rise of presidents, to the death of Jesus, to the gift of repentance and faith.

Why God's Sovereignty Matter: Seven Exhortations

What then does this mean for us? Why is this precious to us? I will speak them to us as exhortations:
  1. So let us stand in awe of the sovereign authority and freedom and wisdom and power of God.
  2. And let us never trifle with life as though it were a small or light affair.
  3. Let us marvel at our own salvation — that God bought it and wrought it with sovereign power, and we are not our own.
  4. Let us groan over the God-belittling man-centeredness of our culture and much of the church.
  5. Let us be bold at the throne of grace knowing that our prayers for the most difficult things can be answered. Nothing is too hard for God.
  6. Let us rejoice that our evangelism will not be in vain because there is no sinner so hard the sovereign grace of God cannot break through.
  7. Let us be thrilled and calm in these days of great upheaval because victory belongs to God, and no purposes that he wills to accomplish can be stopped.