Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 2: What is Providence?

Last Sunday I was privileged to teach a Sunday School lesson about Chapter 2 of the book Not By Chance, a book on the providence of God, by Layton Talbert.

Chapter 2 of the book is entitled, "What is Providence?" Much of the discussion centers on definitions and descriptions of providence, unearthing layers of meaning that deepen our understanding of this important biblical doctrine. Here were some of the key points:

The etymology of the word providence is "to see before," which implies God's ability to see beforehand and to plan accordingly. The Greek word pronoia has meanings along the lines of provision, foresight, care, attention; to understand beforehand, to perceive before.

Talbert divides the concept of providence into two parts:

1. Preserving providence: God continuously preserves and maintains the existence of every part of His creation, from the smallest to the greatest, according to His sovereign pleasure. (Chapters 3-4)

2. Governing providence: God graciously guides and governs all events, including the free acts of men and their external circumstances, and directs all things to their appointed ends for His glory. (Chapter 5)

In the KJV Bible, the word "providence" is used only once, in Acts 24:2—a reference that was essentially flattery addressed to an ungodly ruler. But the Greek word is used one other time, in Romans 13:14:

"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
There's good teaching there about sin, if you're paying attention to it. The verb form of this noun, pronoeĊ, is used three times in the New Testament: Romans 12:17, 2 Corinthians 8:21, and 1 Timothy 5:8. These include both positive and negative illustrations of the concept.

An excellent Old Testament illustration of providence is found in Genesis 22, where Abraham is commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Isaac, unaware until the last minutes of the plan, is observant enough to notice that his father has not brought an animal to sacrifice upon the altar they will build. Abraham reminds him, "My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering" (vs. 8). And so God did. Abraham names the place Jehovah-jireh, which can be interpreted as "the Lord will provide" or "the Lord will see to it." There are many other biblical illustrations of God's providence/provision, ranging from the mundane to the very public, from the normal to the miraculous.

Miracles are discussed as being a special means of providence which God often used in the Scriptures. Coincidence is discussed as totally incompatible with providence; if God is in control of everything (see Chapter 1), then nothing cannot happen apart from His plans. Providence contradicts a number of other philosophical concepts, as well.

As with each chapter, there are some practical questions offered. Here are five:

1. Do we refer to luck and chance in casual conversation? Why?

2. Are such references, as well as others (“good luck,” Murphy’s Law, etc.), consistent with the Bible’s teaching on God’s providence over all people and circumstances?

3. Do such references condition the way you and those around you view and interpret life experiences?

4. If the Bible really teaches God’s providence over every aspect of our lives, what effect should that have on our attitude toward whatever we may experience?

5. What assessments of and responses to past events, present circumstances, or even potential future events are biblically appropriate and consistent with the Bible’s teaching on providence?

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1

Monday, January 18, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 1: Who is in Charge?

I recently began teaching a Sunday School series based on the book Not By Chance, by Layton Talbert (order it here). The topic of the book is the providence of God. Each week I intend to put a summary of the week's lesson here on the blog.

What does the Bible say about the universal question, Who is in Charge? The Bible makes it very clear that God is in charge, and has complete reign and rule over the universe that He created. The question of "Who is in Charge" is directly rooted in the doctrine of God's sovereignty—his undisputed rule and authority over every aspect of His creation. As the book points out,

"God reigns" is a logical sequence from "God is."

Here are some of the clear Bible teachings related to God's sovereignty:

1. God Can Do Anything. Genesis 18:14 reminds us, "Is any thing too hard for the Lord?"
Other verses: Dan. 4:17, 25, 32, 35; Jeremiah 32:17, 27

2. God Makes Everyone. Exodus 4:11 speaks eloquently about this.

3. God Can Do Everything He Says. In Numbers 11, God promised to provide enough quail for the people of Israel for a month. Moses was initially skeptical, so God replies in vs. 23: "Is the Lord's hand waxed short? Thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not." Of course, it came to pass.

4. God Rules All Existence. Deuteronomy 32:29 tells us, "I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand."

5. God Rules All Circumstances. 1 Samuel 2:6-7 speaks to this point after the great blessing of a son was given to Hannah; Job 2:10 speaks to it after Job endures the lost of nearly everything he has. Job 42:2 and Psalm 68:20 also speak to this point. It is worth noting that the term "evil," as used in the Hebrew O.T. and in certain other verses cited in this post, often has the meaning of "catastrophe" or "calamity," and not necessarily the concept of that which is opposite righteousness.

6. God Does All He Pleases. Psalm 115:3 says it plainly: "But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased." See also Psalm 103:19 and Psalm 135:6.

7. God's Rule Is Unrivaled. The key passages for this point are Isaiah 45:5-7, Isaiah 46:9-11, and Daniel 4:35.

8. God's Rule Is Unquestionable. Amos 3:6 reminds us that God brings calamity at His own discretion.

9. God Cannot and Will Not Be Thwarted. Job 9:12 tells us, "Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? Who will say unto him, What doest thou?" Other verses on this topic: Job 11:10, 12:14; Proverbs 21:30; Isaiah 14:27, 43:13; Daniel 4:35; Revelation 3:7.

For those who are inclined to think this is a doctrine limited to the Old Testament, be sure to consider Luke 1:37 and Ephesians 1:11b; almost the entire book of Revelation speaks to this truth in the future tense.

How should we respond to the fact that God is truly in charge of everything?

Some doctrinal points to remember:

A. Recognize that God is sovereign (Job 2:10, 42:2-6)

B. Place faith in His sovereignty and providence

C. Recognize that we cannot understand or comprehend the workings of a vast, infinite God (Isa. 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36)

D. Give glory to God (1 Tim. 1:17)

E. Magnify God

Some practical points to remember:

A. What practical impact does God want His words regarding His providence to have on my life?

B. What kinds of situations in my life does God want me to realize are under His providence?

C. What circumstances am I encountering right now that I have not really thought of as being under God’s control?

D. What effect does God desire His providence to have on my attitude and reaction to the circumstances of life?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Was It Really the Judgment of God?

Was the earthquake in Haiti a few days ago really God's judgment upon a wicked people? The answer to this question requires the acknowledgment of two important scriptural truths.

First, the Bible teaches quite clearly that God is in charge of everything, and certainly of all natural phenomena. Indeed, the Bible speaks specifically of God causing earthquakes (1 Kings 19:11-12; Matthew 28:2; Acts 16:26; there are also prophecies about earthquakes God will bring). If God wishes to bring an earthquake anywhere on earth, He can do that.

Second, the Bible teaches quite clearly that finite man cannot know or understand the mind of an infinite and all-powerful God. Consider the words of Isaiah 55:8-9:

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Let us consider what we do know: God, for reasons known only to Himself, brought an earthquake to Haiti earlier this week. Could it have been an instrument of judgment? Yes, it could have been. Will we ever know that for certain? No, we will not.

We have no choice but to trust in God's wisdom about what He does...and to pray for (and, if possible, to help) the people affected.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is Sarah Palin a Christian? (updated)

Sarah Palin was on Glenn Beck's show earlier today (1/13). Here's what she had to say on God and faith:

There is nothing more important in my life than my relationship with God and my faith and in this past year especially -- past year and a half -- I have been so driven to my knees to pray for His guidance, for His wisdom, for His grace and for His Strength.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Is Sarah Palin a Christian?

Of course, I'm not omniscient, so I don't know...but she says that she is. I received a copy of her book Going Rogue for a Christmas gift and encountered this excerpt on pp. 22-23:

"One summer I attended a youth Bible camp in Big Lake....Looking around at the incredible creation that is Alaska—the majestic peaks and mignight sun, the wild waters and teeming wildlife—I could practically see and hear and feel God's spirit reflected in everything in nature. I reasoned that if God knew what He was doing in this magnificient creation, how much more did He know about me? If He is powerful and wise enough to make all this and thought also to create a speck like me, there surely must be a plan, and He'd know more than I did about my future and my purpose. I made the conscious decision that summer to put my life in my Creator's hands and trust Him as I sought my life's path.

"My siblings and I were baptized together in Big Lake's freezing, pristine waters by Pastor Paul Riley. I got into the habit of reading Scripture before I got out of bed every morning and making sure it was the last thing I did at night. Ever the pragmatist, I also tested God's promises. For example, God says in Scripture, "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.'" [Malachi 3:10] As a kid, to me that meant that if I earned five dollars, I put fifty cents in the offering plate."
Perhaps you, like me, would have liked to see a more theologically robust statement of placing faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation...but I am inclined to give her the benefit of any doubt.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What is a Senate Democrat?

1. A Senate Democrat, first and foremost, is a liar. They tell the voters that they are going to serve the people and represent their interests when, in fact, they serve their own interests and chip away at the freedoms of their constituents.

2. A Senate Democrat is a promise-breaker. Claim to be pro-life? Means nothing on voting day. Claim to promote openness in Congress? Astonishingly quiet on days like today. Claim to cut taxes? Ha!

3. A Senate Democrat is an invertebrate—a living creature without a backbone. Posturing (to send the image that a backbone exists) is generally for the purposes of negotiation or the necessary sound/video bite. When the going gets tough, they simply get in line and vote as they are told.

4. A Senate Democrat is a socialist (or statist, if you prefer that term). Every last one of them voted to foist a horrific socialist healthcare system on our country the other day, and they all seem to prefer government expansion into our lives.

5. A Senate Democrat is not pro-life. From time to time, when the political repercussions are minimal, they may voice some statements that give a different impression. Check the voting records for the truth.