Tuesday, August 26, 2014

He Guides

In one of his books, Robert J. Morgan tells the story of Barnabas Shaw, a British missionary to South Africa. When Shaw arrived in Cape Town in 1815, intending to preach the Gospel and plant a church, he found city officials hostile to his efforts. Barnabas was banned from engaging in evangelistic work in the city.

Not knowing what else to do, he bought a yoke of oxen and a cart, packed his belongings, and headed into the countryside. One the twenty-seventh day of the trip he camped for the night near a party of Hottentots (a name disparagingly used to refer to the tribes of the Khoikhoi people) who were also traveling through the region. The Hottentots explained they were traveling to Cape Town, hoping to find a missionary to teach them the “Great Word.”

Morgan notes, “Had either group started half a day earlier or later, they would not have met. Had either traveled at a different speed or on a different road, they would have missed each other. God ordained this encounter and His providence led Barnabas Shaw to his appointed field”[1]

The term “providence” is so often tossed around like a theological football, yet hardly explained. We may understand it intuitively, but not know how to put the doctrine into words. If we analyze the term etymologically, we find the Latin words for “before” (pro) and “see” (vide). In its most basic sense, God’s providence refers to His seeing something beforehand.

Providence is the means by which God directs all things — both animate and inanimate, seen and unseen, good and evil — toward a worthy purpose, which means His will must finally prevail. As the psalmist said, "his kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19). In Ephesians 1:11 Paul tells us that God "works all things after the counsel of his own will."

Make no mistake about it, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” From the greatest to the least, nothing is beyond the scope of His sovereign power and providential care. He makes the rain fall, the sun shine, the stars twinkle—in this and all other galaxies. He raises up people and kingdoms and He brings down both. He numbers the hairs on our heads and determines the days of our lives. In doing so, He weaves everything together into His design. Ultimately, the tapestry of His handiwork will be something to behold!

“But wait,” I hear someone say, “don’t you and I possess a will? We’re not robots, are we?” R. C. Sproul addresses this well in Essential Truths of the Christian Faith: “We are creatures with a will of our own. We make things happen. Yet the casual power we exert is secondary. God’s providence stands over and above our actions. He works out His will through the actions of human wills, without violating the freedom of those human wills.”[2] God’s sovereignty and man’s agency is mystery, but not a contradiction.

One example is the remarkable providence of God is how baby Moses was protected and preserved down the Nile River (Ex. 2). The love of Moses' mother was great, but not greater than God's love for Moses. When Moses lay exposed in a basket, among the reeds of the Nile, think of all the danger around him—swift currents, hungry alligators, baking sun. Yet, the little basket was driven down the Nile by the unseen rudder of God’s providence.

Then God brought together a little baby's cry and a woman's heart when Pharaoh's daughter went to bathe. That was no accident either. The Lord pinched little Moses and he let out a yelp. The cry reached the heart of the princess, and God used it to change the destiny of a people.

Providence means that the hand of God is in the glove of human events. He is the coach who calls the signals from the bench. God is the pilot at the wheel during the night watch. As someone has said, "He makes great doors swing on little hinges."

So, take heart, my friend. God is in full control. Nothing is happening on earth that brings a surprise to heaven. Nothing is outside the scope of His divine radar screen as He guides us safely home. Things that seem altogether confusing, without reason, unfair, even wrong, do indeed fit into the Father’s providential plan. Nothing touches us that has not first passed through His hands. -DM

[1] Robert J. Morgan, The Lord Is My Shepherd (New York: Howard, 2013), 103-104.
[2] R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1992), 62-68. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The King Is Coming!

Critics have denied it. Cynics have laughed at it. Scholars have ignored it. Liberal theologians have explained it away, and fanatics have perverted it. “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4), many still shout sarcastically. The return of Christ to our chaotic planet will continue to be attacked and misused and denied. But there it stands, solid as a stone, soon to be fulfilled, ready to offer us hope and encouragement amidst despair and unbelief.

These facts from biblical prophecy about Christ’s return may surprise you:

·         One out of every 30 verses in the Bible mentions the subject of Christ’s return or the end of time.

·         Of the 216 chapters in the New Testament, there are well over 300 references to the return of Christ.

·         23 of the 27 New Testament books mention Christ’s return.

·         In the Old Testament, such well-known and reliable men of God as Job, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, as well as most of the minor prophets mention Christ’s return in their writings.

·         Christ often spoke specifically about His own return to earth.

·         Throughout the centuries, Christ’s disciples and followers have adamantly believed, written, and taught that Christ would someday return to earth.[1]

The Bible teaches it. The Lord Jesus stood upon its truths. The apostles declared it and wrote about it. The creeds include it and affirm it. Yet, somehow the promises of prophecy seem so far away. We think, “Okay, swell Jesus is coming back. But what do I do in the meantime?” I can hear a dozen or more pragmatists asking that question.

The writers of the New Testament lived with such an awareness of the Second Coming of Christ that they wrote about how it affected nearly every aspect of their spiritual lives. By the way, this doctrine is called the “immanence” of Christ’s return. The word imminent means “likely to happen at any moment; impending.” When we speak of the imminence of Christ’s return, we mean that He could come back at any moment. There is nothing more in biblical prophecy that needs to happen before Jesus comes again.

When we have heard and understood the promised return of Christ then we cannot keep living our lives the same old way. Like the news of an incoming hurricane or an ultrasound that shows a baby in the womb, future events have present implications that we cannot ignore.

The return of Christ should inspire us to live holy and pure lives before God (1 John 2:28). If Jesus were to return today would you be embarrassed at the sin in your life? Not only should we renounce sin in our lives as John advocates, but the return of Christ should keep us from judging others (1 Cor. 4:5), motivate us to love others (1 Thess. 3:12–13), give hope to those in grief (1 Thess. 4:18), inspire us to fervently pursue ministry opportunities (2 Tim. 4:1–2), remind us to worship frequently with other believers (Heb. 10:24–25), encourage us to remain faithful (James 5:7–8), and give us a renewed vigor for evangelizing the lost (Jude 21–23).

Finally, waiting on the return of Christ helps build our faith. In one of his articles, Christian author Philip Yancey gives a powerful illustration of how this works. In a German prison camp in World War II, undiscovered by the guards, some Americans built a homemade radio. One day news came that the German high command had surrendered, ending the war. Because of a communications breakdown, however, the guards did not yet know this. As word spread among the prisoners, a loud celebration broke out. For three days, they sang, waved at guards, and shared jokes over meals. On the fourth day, they awoke to find that all the Germans had fled. Their waiting had come to an end.  

Yancey makes this application: “Here’s the question I ask myself: As we wait, why are we so often fearful and anxious? We can, like the Allied prisoners, act on the good news we say we believe. What is faith in God, after all, but believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse?”[2]

I think he makes a valid point. Just like Noah, Abraham, Moses and David who had to learn how to wait on God, so too we must trust God’s promises and live as if they are set in stone. We live the Christian life from a point of victory, knowing that the fate of the world has already been decided and that Jesus is returning one day to right all the wrongs. 

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life: Essential Truths for Becoming Strong in the Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 266-267.
[2] Philip Yancey, “Believing in Advance,” Our Daily Bread, 18 August 2014 < http://odb.org/2014/08/18/believing-in-advance/> 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wars and Rumors of War

Historian Will Durant wrote, “War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization and democracy. In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.”[1] The Greek philosopher Plato added, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Mankind has come a long way from hurling stones and spears to laser-guided smart bombs and Mach-speed fighter jets. A recent article in Popular Science magazine outlined some of the startling futuristic weapons being developed right now by the Pentagon:

·         HELLADS, is short for “High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System.” Essentially, these are lasers which will be mounted on fighter jets. The lasers would be powerful enough to shoot down rockets, missiles, and artillery shells before they hit an aircraft.[2]

·         Physics tells us the faster something is moving, the more destruction it causes. One of the downsides of gunpowder is that it can only move projectiles so fast. In 2008 the U.S. Navy tested a new kind of weapon called a railgun which uses a magnetic field powered by electricity to accelerate a projectile up to seven times the speed of sound.[3]

·         Another device on the table is the MAARS Bot, short for “Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System.” This is basically a robot soldier on tank treads. One bot can be equipped with four grenade launchers, and a machine gun that packs 400 rounds of ammunition.[4]   

Albert Einstein once said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” What he meant was as military technology progresses it won’t be long until mankind bombs himself back into the Stone Age. 

Dr. David Jeremiah adds, “Fifty percent of all research scientists today are involved in arms development. Despite all the arms limitations and treaties, there is at least one military weapon and four thousand pounds of explosives for every man woman and child on earth.  Most of us are simply hoping somebody doesn’t get careless.  But the Bible says that as we move towards the end times war will become an industry unto itself.”[5]

Jesus points out that in the last days no one will be exempt from the fallout of war. In his panorama of prophecy, known as the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), Jesus remarked that in the end times, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Mark 13:7-8).

As we draw closer to the return of Christ, there will be hot wars and cold wars.  Revelation 6 teaches that when Jesus breaks open the second seal on the title deed of the Earth that issues forth the second of four riders who has the power to make war. Rev. 6:4 “When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.”

The red color of this horse is symbolic of the bloodshed and killing with the sword.  This rider will usher in an unparalleled time of global conflict. The battlefields of Normandy, Vietnam and Iraq have yet to see the destruction that will breakout during the tribulation. All these conflicts are merely dress rehearsals for the battlefields of tomorrow’s tribulation.

Displayed above the doors of the United Nations are the words of Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” We are a people who want peace. But we need to know this: neither the United Nations nor politicians nor people who visualize it will bring about the long-awaited peace on Earth that humankind so desperately longs for. The peace that we long for will only happen when the Creator Himself returns, repossesses what is rightfully His, and hangs a sign over this war-weary planet that says, “Under New Management.”

[1] Will Druant, The Lessons of History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968), 81.
[2] Clay Dillow, “The Pentagon Plans To Test More Airborne Laser Weapons As Soon As Next Year,” Popular Science, 30 January 2013 < http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2013-01/pentagon-plans-test-more-airborne-laser-weapons-soon-2014?dom=PSC&loc=recent&lnk=1&con=read-full-story>
[3] Kelsey D. Atherton, “The Navy Wants To Fire Its Ridiculously Strong Railgun From The Ocean,” Popular Science, 8 April 2014 < http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/navy-wants-fire-its-ridiculously-strong-railgun-ocean>
[4] Kelsey D. Atherton, “Robots May Replace One-Fourth Of U.S. Combat Soldiers By 2030, Says General,” Popular Science, 22 April 2014 <http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/robots-may-replace-one-fourth-us-combat-soldiers-2030-says-general>
[5]  David Jeremiah, Sings of the Second Coming (San Diego: Turning Point, 2005), 22. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

In his book, Uncensored Grace, Pastor Jud Wilhite shares the story of a church member named Cody Huff. Before Cody became a member at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, he was sleeping in an open field next to the church. But at one time Cody was making loads of money as a famous bass pro fisherman who had even been featured on ESPN. Yet he couldn't overcome his problem with drugs. He began a crack addiction that led him to smoke up $600,000 worth of savings, his house, his Harley, his new boat. He smoked away everything he had and ended up homeless. A man who had eaten at fine restaurants and interacted with celebrities had bottomed out and was now homeless.

But God would turn his life around—and it all started with the kindness of a church volunteer. Some people from the church's homeless ministry were handing out sandwiches in the park where Cody slept, and they told him he could get a shower at Central Christian Church. The last place Cody wanted to go was a church, but he hadn't bathed in so long that even other homeless men couldn't stand his smell anymore. Cody explained what happened next:

“I walked into the church, and this lady named Michelle, who knew me from the homeless ministry, said, "Good morning, Cody. How are you?" Then she looked at me, and she said, “Cody, you need a hug.” And I said, “Honey, you don't want to touch me because I haven't had a shower in 3 months.” If Michelle heard me, she didn't seem to care. She walked up, and she looked in my eyes, and she gave me a big hug and told me that Jesus loved me. In that split second, I was somebody. She even remembered my name. That was the point where I knew that God was alive in this world.”

Over the next several weeks, Cody's life began to be restored. He gave his life to Christ. He started leading a Bible study in the park for other homeless people. “That was over 3 years ago,” Jud says. “Now he's married, and he and his wife serve faithfully in our homeless ministry every weekend. He has his own business. From ashes, God has raised him up to use him as an instrument.” But his involvement in ministry all started with the warm embrace from one of the church's greeters.[1]

Just think how that simple act of kindness broke through a hard heart and began an invasion of God’s grace. A little kindness goes a long way. Mercy is the deepest gesture of kindness. Paul equates the two in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Moreover, Jesus said, “God . . . is kind even to people who are ungrateful and full of sin. Show mercy, just as your Father shows mercy (Luke 6:35-36).”

How kind are you? What is your kindness quotient? When was the last time you did something kind for someone in your family—e.g., got a blanket, cleaned off the table, prepared the coffee—without being asked? Think about your school or workplace. Which person is the most overlooked or avoided? A shy student? A grumpy employee? Maybe he doesn't speak the language. Maybe she doesn't fit in. Are you kind to this person?

Kindness braids mercy and grace, humility and gentleness all together. Kindness gives grace, requires humility, and asks that we think of others before ourselves. Ever notice that kindness is most appreciated when life has gone sideways? When you’re having “one of those days.” Remember 1 Corinthians 13:4—“Love is kind.” Look for ways today to give ordinary kindness, and you’ll find there’s nothing ordinary about it.[2]

[1] Jud Wilhite, Uncensored Grace (Colorado Springs, CO: Mulnomah, 2008).
[2] Charles R. Swindoll, “The Gift for the Person Who Has Everything,” Insights (June 2001): 1-2.