Saturday, February 27, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 5: Governing Providence: A Case Study

This fifth chapter of the excellent book Not By Chance moves on to the topic of governing providence. Here is the definition again:

God 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.
It is important to note that God does not initiate or cause all events. He does not force or even tempt men to sin; He does not lie; He cannot deny Himself.

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 is used as the basis for a lengthy list of lessons we can learn about God's governing providence. Here are several from Chapter 37 alone:

God, in His providence, blesses, exalts, and uses whom He will (p. 65). “God is always right and God is always good”…regardless of our perception.

God, in His providence, allows and uses the anger and hatred of people to accomplish His purposes (p. 66)

God’s providence incorporates the faithfulness and obedience of His children (p. 69). We must still be obedient; we can’t be “lackadaisical or fatalistic.”

God’s providence often encompasses human aid (p. 70). Isn’t it nice to know that God can, and often does, use what we see as “chance encounters”?

God, in His providence, restrains evil plans and intentions that do not serve His purposes (p. 71)

God, in His providence, may allow the failure of good intentions (p. 71)

God’s providence encompasses apparent coincidences (p. 71)

God, in His providence, may allow us to be betrayed and cruelly sinned against (p. 72)

Here are several from subsequent chapters:

God, in His providence, may allow us to be falsely accused and unjustly maligned (p. 74). Note Joseph’s response when thrown in prison (Gen. 39:21-23)

God, in His providence, gives us favor with those of His choosing (p. 75)

God, in His providence, gifts us to minister to others (p. 75)

God, in His providence, allows our suffering to be prolonged, our gifts and abilities to go unnoticed, our deeds to be forgotten, sometimes for a long time (p. 76)

God, in His providence, causes us to be remembered and recognized in His timing, and lifts us to minister to others (p. 76)

God, in His providence, employs natural phenomena to effect His purposes in people’s hearts (p. 79)

God, in His providence, may allow His own people to suffer need (p. 81)

God, in His providence, causes us to face the consequences of our sins and actions (p. 81)

God, in His providence, can effect a total transformation of character, though it be years later (p. 81)

The conclusion of the story of Joseph (although we call it a story, keep in mind that it really, factually happened) is summarized in Genesis 45:5-8 and 50:20. It was indeed the plan of God for Joseph to be enslaved, lied about, mistreated, imprisoned, and forgotten—so that he could be in the place that God wanted him to be years later, able to provide for his family (and several countries) and keep them from starvation.

How do we respond when we are faced with betrayal, deception, accusations, etc.?

How do we respond when we are unfairly treated, unjustly maligned, wrongly accused, or forgotten?

Do we respond as Christ did when He was accused, tried, and crucified?

Do we look up trials and afflictions as light and momentary?

Do we measure present problems by eternal standards?

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Biennial Olympic Rant

The Olympics are here. I enjoy watching the Olympics on TV (with some exceptions; see below) and especially enjoy seeing all the athletes march in during the Opening Ceremony. It will probably be the brightest light and the greatest attention that single soul from Ghana will enjoy during the Games—but more power to him! I also enjoy seeing the statistics about how many athletes come from which country, and wonder why Lichtenstein has several more olympians than Mexico, a country with 3,000 times its population. And that one athlete from Mexico looks downright European.

I wonder why some events are in the Olympics. To me, events should meet one (or more) of three significant criteria before the event should be in the Olympics:

1. A winner can be determined by the use of a stopwatch. In: Downhill skiing, speed skating

2. A winner can be determined by the use of a tape measure. In: Ski jumping (sans judging)

3. A winner can be determined by some sort of predetermined, objective scoring system. In: Hockey, curling, biathalon

Events should also represent activities that meet one or more of these criteria:

1. Some sizable number of people, at some time during human history, engaged in the event or something similar. In: Cross-country skiing, biathalon

2. The event is, and has been, widely popular in some portion of the world. In: Hockey, bobsled

3. The winner is not determined by judges using subjective criteria. Referees or similar officials are acceptable if their purpose is to enforce the rules of the event.

Based on these criteria, certain events should be removed from the Olympics as soon as possible. Here are my top candidates:

1. Figure skating (all categories). The winners are decided by judges, using incomprehensible criteria (if any). There has been widespread speculation, as well as evidence, that corrupt deals have been made in the past to help/hurt certain competitors. Not exactly the Olympic spirit, if you ask me.

The only reason this is an Olympic event is because of its huge TV ratings. Some watch for the beauty and athleticism; others for the NASCAR-esque joy of watching a wipeout. Are these athletes talented? Certainly. Are they enjoyable to watch? Often, yes. Olympic medals? No way.

Miscellaneous observation: Virtually all figure skating commentators should be banned from TV, radio, or other public media forever. Corollary: If John Madden returns to a broadcast booth, put him here. A match made in heaven, right?

2. Moguls/Snowboarding/Freestyle skiing: ESPN invented the X Games for such things as this. These are judged events that only a handful of crazy (though talented) souls have ever safely attempted in the course of human history.

Miscellaneous observation: Do any of them dress normally and wear normal-looking hair? Why is this?

3. Short track skating (in its current form): If this could simply be a matter of each competitor being timed and the best time wins, I'd be all for it. Instead, it resembles roller derby and requires officials to determine whether a bump disqualifies the bumper...etc.

Miscellaneous observation: We got two medals in this sport for no other reason than one Korean made a stupid move. This is not the greatest source of national pride we could have...but we'll take the medals.

Events that are of dubious value:

1. Two-man luge: Why? Whose idea was this, anyway? Move this sport to the X Games, but keep single-man luge. Sledding has historic value, right?

2. Ski jumping with judging: Why the need for judges? Shouldn't it just be whoever goes the farthest and lands on their skis gets the prizes? And if they do a backflip in the air, so what?

3. Skeleton: Just how is this different from luge? Could these events be combined somehow? How many people have a "skeleton" in the garage? How many know what it is, or where it is used?

In any case, I'm rooting for the Americans in all the events...even the dubious ones.

Update: My rant really is biennial; here is the previous installment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Religious are the People of Your State?

I encountered some very interesting statistics, complete with interactive charts, at this website. The statistics compare "how religious" the residents of each state are with regard to the following:

  • Importance of religion
  • Worship attendance
  • Frequency of prayer
  • Belief in God
Mississippi ranks highest in all four categories. Below are the percentages in each category (highest [MS], national average, Michigan, lowest [state])
  • Percent who say religion is very important in their lives: 82%, 56%, 54%, 36% [NH/VT]
  • Percent who say they attend religious services at least once a week: 60%, 39%, 38%, 22% [AK]
  • Percent who say they pray at least once a day: 77%, 58%, 56%, 40% [ME]
  • Percent who say they believe in God with absolute certainty: 91%, 71%, 71%, 54% [NH/VT]
The statistics are a sad commentary on the religious state of our country. Let's pray and work toward improvement!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 4: The Preserving Providence of God Over Creation

Once again, here is Talbert's definition of 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.

Over what areas of creation does the Bible teach that God's preserving providence is in control? As it turns out, pretty much everything:

1. He sustains the existence of every angelic being (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 104:4; Colossians 1:16-17).

2. God's preserving providence keeps the cosmos, planets, and starts in their appointed courses (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22, 26; 48:13).

3. The conservation of all natural processes within the physical world is the direct effect of the preserving providence of God (Psalm 65:9-13; 104:5-13; 147:8, 15-18; Jeremiah 5:24; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17). An excellent illustration of this property is the large number of times in Scripture that we are told God directly influenced or changed the weather.

As an aside, the First Law of Thermodynamics tells us that energy is neither created or destroyed. God created the energy in the first place, and still sustains it.

4. The maintenance of all plant and animal life is the direct effect of the preserving providence of God (Psalm 36:6; 104:14-30; 147:9; Nehemiah 9:6; Matthew 6:26; 10:29; Luke 12:6). Who gave the animals their innate behavior skills and intelligence?

5. The preservation of the life and health of every person is also the direct effect of the preserving providence of God (Psalm 36:6; 66:9; Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7).

Talbert also reminds us of several great hymns whose lyrics speak of God's providence. One example, by Isaac Watts, is this stanza from I Sing the Mighty Power of God:
There's not a plant or flower below
But makes thy glories known,
And clouds arise and tempests blow
By order from thy throne;
While all that borrows life from thee
Is ever in Thy care,
And everywhere that man can be
Thou, God, art present there.
Three key Bible passages on God's providence over creation were also shared.

1. Psalm 104. This psalm, cited several times already, speaks poetically about the very real continuing activities God has in His creation. It is definitely worthwhile for us to read in this study. Do we truly believe this? Have we "outgrown" it? Remember that if we do not have simple faith in God, where will we put our faith and obedience?

2. Colossians 1:16-17. The key phrase here is the final one:

16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

The definition of the Greek word translated "consist" here means "to stand together, hold together, cohere." It is not an exaggeration to state that Jesus Christ [the subject of this passage] literally holds together the entire universe!

3. Hebrews 1:3.
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:
The key words are all common Greek words meaning...
Uphold: To carry, bear (this is a present, active verb)
All things: All. As in, everything
By the word: The word is used even more clearly in Hebrews 11:3, where it is stated that "the worlds were framed by the word of God." We must remember that not only did God create everything by speaking it into existence, He upholds and sustains it in that way, too.
Of His power: The word in Greek is dunamis, from which we get such English words as dynamite and dynamo. It is also translated "power" in Matt. 6:13 and Acts 1:8.

And as with every other lesson, we are asked to look at ourselves. The key question here is "What are some biblical responses to God's preserving providence?" Some answers:

1. Now is the day of salvation! (II Cor. 6:2)

2. Remember that you do not know what a day will bring forth (Prov. 27:1)

3. Remember that your life is nothing more than a vapor (James 4:14)

4. What you do, do it with your might (Eccl. 9:10)

5. Bless the Lord! (Ps. 66:8-9)

6. Sing and glorify the Lord (Ps. 104:33)

Want to order the book? Click here.

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Obama's 2011 Proposed Budget: An Interactive Look

I'm not a big fan of the New York Times, but someone there did a fabulous job with this interactive display that shows the 2011 budget proposed by the President, along with a neat comparison with 2010. It also allows you to distinguish mandatory from non-mandatory spending (a distinction which would surprise nearly every American citizen—and not necessarily in a good way) in each year.

The total numbers of dollars is still overwhelmingly bloated, but this gives us a better "picture" of where the budget is and how large its parts are relative to one another.

I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to look and learn.

Monday, February 8, 2010

North Carolina Radical Educators

A proposal has been put forward in North Carolina that would change the graduation requirements for history classes. Instead of the one year of World History, one year of civics and economics, and one year of U.S. History (typically in that order from 9th grade to 11th), this proposal would change the requirements to a year of "Global Studies" in the 9th grade, and change the U.S. History course so that it only covered events from 1877 to the present.

Read more details here.

The teaching of history in our public schools is already abysmal enough. This is simply a brazen attempt to force liberal indoctrination on the children of that state. This "Global Studies" course sounds like the kind of propaganda the United Nations would approve of.

But the most glaring flaw is to intentionally avoid teaching about the first half of our country's history—ignoring such things as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, early debates about the proper scope and power of government, the first century of our nation's growth, the Civil War, and slavery. All of these are significant topics that demand study by our youth. Anyone who thinks they are not relevant to the high school curriculum is either delusional or ignorant.

I hope that North Carolinians rise up and protest this inane proposal. Their history curriculum no doubt needs improvement, but this proposal is a disaster.

Read one particularly eloquent opinion here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Thoughts on Worship

I read an article today describing a church in PA that recently opened a "branch" in a building that formerly housed a car dealership. While I certainly have no disagreement with the use of such a building for a church, I disagreed strongly with the type of "worship" this church practiced. It was self-focused and attempting to draw people into the facility, rather than God-focused and attempting to please Him.

Worship of God is not up to us. It is not about what we think it should be. It is not about what we want or think is right.

Worship of God is decided by God. It is about what He thinks it should be. It is about what He wants and what He determines is right.

Let us all learn what the Bible teaches about worship. I think it would surprise a lot of people today.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 3: The Preserving Providence of God over Man

Once again, I was privileged to teach a Sunday School lesson this past week using the book Not By Chance, written by Layton Talbert. This chapter and the next teach about the "preserving providence" of God.

Talbert's definition of "preserving providence" is

God continuously preserves and maintains the existence of every part of His creation, from the smallest to the greatest, according to His sovereign pleasure.

The "Question of the hour" then becomes, To what extent does the biblical doctrine of God’s preserving providence actually govern our thinking, affect our behavior, and inform our decisions? Are we practical deists, thinking that God has simply set everything in motion and stepped back to let it run on its own? Are we practical atheists, attributing to nature or coincidence the actions of God in our lives? Do we attribute both the "bad" and the "good" things to God?

Every day we live and every breath we breathe is a direct result of the providence of God. Here are some Scriptures to support that view:

Acts 17:28: "For in Him we live, and move, and have our being." Paul here is speaking to pagan Greeks in Athens, teaching them some basic doctrines about the True God whom they know nothing about. He is letting them know that their very lives, the faculties of motion which they possess, and indeed their very being is a direct result of the actions of an all-powerful God. Significantly, the quotation is actually from an ancient Greek poet—but Paul refers to the God of Scripture, not to Zeus.

Luke 12:4-7: "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings...?" The providence of God clearly extends to sparrows (more on this in next week's lesson), and truly every one of us, humans created in God's image, are worth more than "many" sparrows.

Several other verses speak to this same theme. Job 12:10, Job 33:4, Daniel 5:23, Acts 17:24-25, and 1 Timothy 6:13 all state, in one way or another, that our very lives and existence are due to God. Colossians 1:17, in the midst of a rich doctrinal passage about the deity, power, and greatness of Jesus Christ, points out that "He is before all things, and by him all things consist."

Poignant moment of the chapter: Talbert reminds us that even as Jesus Christ was being nailed to the cross, He was sustaining the lives of the soldiers committing the gruesome deed.

Here are four practical questions offered at the end of this chapter:

1. We live and die in the providence of God. Are you ready for either?

2. How do we view the moment of death for ourselves, for our loved ones, or for anyone?

3. How do you use the breath and life and body God has given to you and sustains for you each moment?

4. Jesus taught that we manifest our relationship to the Father by being as generous with our love, blessing, good deeds, and prayers toward our enemies as He is (Matthew 5:43-48). How do you measure up to that standard?

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Monday, February 1, 2010

States Seeking to Ban Mandatory Health Insurance - States Seeking to Ban Mandatory Health Insurance

This is a most interesting article. Here is the key element of it:

Lawmakers in 34 states now have filed or proposed amendments to their state constitutions or statutes rejecting health insurance mandates, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit group that promotes limited government that is helping coordinate the efforts. Many of those proposals are targeted for the November ballot, assuring that health care remains a hot topic as hundreds of federal and state lawmakers face reelection.
So here's the key issue: Can the states actually do this? Is it constitutional?

I would argue wholeheartedly that these state decisions are indeed constitutional, on the following logic:
  • Federal mandates related to mandatory heathcare are unquestionably unconstitutional. The federal government has no authority under the Constitution whatsoever to dictate what healthcare its citizens must have. [Note: Had the abominable healthcare legislation actually become law with Obama's signature, a blizzard of lawsuits would have been filed, gumming it up for years. Thankfully, it hasn't come to that. Yet.]
  • The various state measures, regardless of the specific legal manner that they are passed [ballot referendum, legislative vote, etc.], are merely codifying a freedom that Americans have enjoyed since 1776: The freedom to make our own decisions about legal activities.
Some are already saying that since federal law essentially "trumps" state law, that the courts will not allow state actions to take precedence. A "Constitution" in our country is the supreme law of the land. The federal constitution has nothing to do with heathcare provision; if a state constitution does (and in this story, it makes healthcare mandates unconstitutional), then why should it not be the supreme law of the state?