Tag Archives: God’s Sovereignty

A Word About Syndromes

There is a new syndrome affecting many people. It’s called the Trump Anxiety Disorder (TAD). I get it, and somewhat understand it. And while I can get very political and biased I will resist the temptation to do so here – that’s not the purpose of my blogs.

Rather I am more inclined to reflect on how this new syndrome strikes me. As a Christian, what is my response? How do I react to the root causes of this syndrome? I look at the apostles and early Christians – they lived under the rule of the likes of Herod and Nero who gruesomely persecuted and killed Christians. I think about the Jews who lived under (and the many who died under) the horrific reign of Hitler. I read about the persecuted Christians of today who face inhuman punishment and execution daily. How is it that so many of them live each day without panic and overwhelming fear?

It’s because they’re affected by another syndrome – the Foundational Faith Syndrome (FFS). In my book A Nation Under God (1) I wrote about the core of this syndrome.

“The God who rules is sovereign. Jeremiah was disappointed that his message and ministry were not being followed by Judah. He felt he had done all he could with Judah and his heart was broken that she was still as wayward as ever. So God spoke to Jeremiah and told him to go to the potter’s house…Jeremiah observed the master potter at work. Using two wheels connected by an axle, the potter rotated and controlled the speed of the wheel with his foot and molded the clay with his hands. So adept was the potter that beautiful pottery was formed as if by magic. Mesmerized by what he saw, Jeremiah was jolted back to reality when the potter felt a flaw in the clay and stopped his work. Jeremiah anticipated he would throw out the clay and start with a fresh batch. But he was fascinated to discover the potter simply took the same clay and started over again to form a different pot. “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

God’s sovereignty is part of the fabric of Scripture. The Psalmist affirms it: “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart throughout all generations.” (Psalm 33:10-11) “Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. (Psalm 66:8-12)

Even the pagan kings of Daniel’s day understood. “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”” (Daniel 4:34-35)

“Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: “May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”” (Daniel 6:25-27)…

So God will have his way with nations. God puts them on His divine wheel and never lets up – He is continually molding, shaping, sculpturing. No matter how independent nations think they are, no matter how much control they think they have over their destinies, the truth is they are clay. They are being shaped, molded, controlled by hands other than theirs. They are being formed by God’s hands.
We also learn, however, that because God holds nations accountable, nations can influence God’s ways. Consider God’s explanation to Jeremiah: “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”

Therein is our hope; therein is our peace.

No wonder the Psalmist could say: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!…The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress… “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”” (Psalm 46:1-3,7,10) That’s why Jesus, just prior to his excruciating trial and death could say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) It’s my prayer that you will be affected not by TAD but by FFS.

(1) NOTE: To read more about the book follow the link. To order at a discount go here.

When You’re Beat…

“It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” Those words are usually uttered by someone who’s behind in a game and is hoping for a comeback. But I want to use it in a little different way.

Back in the days when I was coaching soccer I had an interesting experience. I was coaching my oldest sons’ team. We knew our next game was against a good team, and their best player had played for us the previous year. He was really good and our guys really liked him. So their talk during practice was all about him – they were looking forward to playing him and were taking it as a personal challenge. So I decided that rather than avoid him during the game it would be best for us to go straight at him, to put our best people against him, to put our strength against their strength. If the guys were going to be watching his every move anyway, why not focus on him?

Game day rolled around and we beat them; he never scored. Our team had fun. The fat lady was singing. As soon as the game was over I headed to the other coach for the obligatory hand shake. As we shook he said something to the effect of “I don’t know why you focused so much on him and ran everything against him; you should have kept the play away from him so he wouldn’t have had as much of a chance to do some damage.” I was stunned. My first thought was “Let me get this straight. You just lost, we just won, he didn’t do any damage yet you’re telling me how I should have coached the game. What’s wrong with this picture?” My second (and admittedly probably prideful) thought was “Does the losing coach really have the right to tell the winning coach how to coach?  When you’ve just been beat do you have the credentials to talk about winning strategies? I don’t think so.”

Reflecting on it later I wondered “When you’re beat, do you have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing?” It made me think of Moses. God appeared in that burning bush and told Moses the game with Egypt was over, that God had won – and it would be up to Moses to follow through. Moses must have missed the part about the game being over. He still wanted to change the strategy. Moses should have known that when God speaks, it’s over. You’re done. He will have His way. But he kept trying to get out of leading (see his excuses in Exodus 3 & 4). He just didn’t like the song God was singing. But Moses didn’t have the right to tell God how to sing. Moses hadn’t yet heard “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not condemning Moses. In fact, I love him. I’ve used every one of his excuses, more than once, during my life. I, too, have tried to negotiate with God, to change the strategy after the game was over and the die had been cast. And I do know that when God speaks, it’s over; I’m done. He will have His way. But I try to tell him how to sing anyway. Yet I don’t have the right to tell God how to sing. For that matter, who does? Isaiah wrote “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me?’ Can the pot say of the potter ‘He knows nothing?’” (Is. 29:16) Paul picked up that theme as well (Romans 9:20-21) “But who are you, oh man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”

When God calls, when God commands, when God directs, when God sends us… we’re beat. And “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.” When life seems unfair or unjust, when we feel like God should treat us differently or change our circumstances to our liking, remember “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.” As Paul concluded his thoughts he wrote (Romans 9:22-24), “What if God…did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy…?” Do we really want Him to change His plan so we can miss the mercy?  I don’t think so. So “When you’re beat, you don’t have the right to tell the fat lady how to sing.”

Where in the World?

There’s little doubt that our world is in chaos. So much hatred, division, enmity, and spite. So many disasters, illnesses, and senseless tragedies. So much seems out of control. The result is panic, depression, discouragement, and despair. A few nights ago my wife and I even turned off the evening newscast – just one tragic story after another.

It’s hard to live with a positive attitude and to have hope for the future. It’s understandable that some are asking “Where in the world is God?” Or even “If there is a God where is He?” I am certainly not about to write a thesis on the subject – at least not here. But I do have two brief reflections.

First, I believe that God is letting us have our way – and the consequences of that way. In Romans 1 the Apostle Paul painted a graphic picture. He posits the reason for the condition of the world: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” Then he lists the consequences of this rebellion and wickedness and three times states “Therefore God gave them over (gave them up)” to their desires. According to Paul, God has removed His hand of protection

and is letting the chips fall where they will – letting consequences kick in. The world is in the shape it’s in because God has said, “Have it your way.” We are getting what we deserve.

But if that’s the only answer to what’s happening it’s still pretty gloom and doom. So my second belief is important to balance things out. God is still in control. He is the Lord of history. He has put Jesus in charge. After His resurrection and just before He ascended to the Father’s right hand, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) Paul came to understand this as well. “…he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:20-21) “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

Years ago Jesuit Father Luis Espinal said it better than I can. “There are Christians who have hysterical reactions, as if the world would have slipped out of God’s hands… But we believe in history; the world is not a roll of the dice going toward chaos. A new world has begun to happen since Christ has risen… Jesus…Your sorrow has now passed. Your enemies have now failed. You are a definitive smile for humankind…We march behind you, on the road to the future. You are with us and you are our immortality!” Take away the sadness from our faces. We are not in a game of chance…You have the last word! Beyond the crushing of our bones, now has begun the eternal “alleluia!” From the thousand openings of our wounded bodies and souls there arises now a triumphal song!” So teach us to give voice to your new life throughout all the world. Because you dry the tears from the eyes of the oppressed forever…and death will      disappear…” (1)

Amen and amen. We do not live in fear but in faith because we live in the presence of Christ and all of God is available through Him. As a friend of mine once said, “I believe in God and He is the same God who stood by Moses and said, “What’s the problem? There’s sea in front of you? Watch this!”” That’s the God who is present in Jesus. May Jesus be my definitive foundation and motivation as I march behind Him into the future He has planned. I pray you will join me.

(1) As Quoted in “A Guide to Prayer”, Rueben P. Job/Norman Shawchuck, © 1983 Upper Room

My Father’s World

My wife and I recently took in some of Michigan’s fall colors and spectacular views. I am always blown away by this divine beauty. And without fail what comes to mind are the words of the great hymn “This is My Father’s World.” And what always strikes me from the hymn is the stark reminder that the One who created all this still owns and rules all this. “This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget That though the wrong Seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” When I am overcome with the beauty of His creation I am also overcome with the assurance that God is in charge – of everything.

So after returning home I decided to look up the hymn ‘s history. In doing so I discovered that Maltbie D. Babcock, the author, was also inspired by an area around one of the Great Lakes. While a pastor in Lockport, New York, Babcock liked to hike in an area called the escarpment, an ancient upthrust ledge near Lockport. It has a marvelous view of farms, orchards, and Lake Ontario, about 15 miles distant. It is said those walks in the woods inspired these lyrics. The title recalls an expression Babcock used when starting a walk: I’m going out to see my Father’s world. (1)

Then I reread the words and discovered verses I had never before seen. And what inspiring words they are! They deepen my trust and heighten my praise of God, my Father. May they do so for you as well.

This is my Father’s world, And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, Declare their maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong Seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: The battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied, And earth and Heav’n be one.

This is my Father’s world, Dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise Cry, The Lord is in this place.
This is my Father’s world, From the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son, Came—a pledge of deathless love.

This is my Father’s world, Should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod. No place but is holy ground.

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not, My heart is still at home.

(1) Hymn History: http://hymntime.com/tch/htm/t/i/s/tismyfw.htm