Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 2/25/07
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jer. 29:11).
"Practicum" refers to the practical aspects of a course of study. We've been looking at the Sovereignty of God for the past two weeks, and today, I want to explore some of the practical problems inherent in this magnificent truth. One of the morning shows had a segment this week on identical twins, in which the scientist interviewed said that everyone in the world has DNA which is 99.9% alike, and only maternal identical twins are 100% the same. Genetically speaking then, we are more alike than we are different. We are also more than the sum of our parts, based upon our cultural and familial upbringing, as well as the neurotic stuff passed down from the third and fourth generation (Deut. 5:9). Because of our ingrained differences in how we view the world and adapt ourselves to it, God uses divers and sundry means and methods to reach us. This struck me powerfully as I researched the subject of the sovereignty of God. Looking at His complete control over His creation from merely an intellectual point of view, it would seem logical that His children would trust that He knows what He's doing and feel at ease about our lives, yet nothing is farther from the truth in the human experience. We flail about emotionally, if not physically, trying to figure out how to better ourselves, how to protect ourselves from real and imagined impending doom, and in the process, we worry about how to stop worrying when it strikes us finally that worry is the evidence that we don't trust God one iota.
I can only share my own testimony, which is that I've been laboring to enter into rest from worry and fear and works most of my life. It's a paradox that as children, we learned that Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28), and "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30). In spite of that, most of us have carried a heavy weight around with us for decades, until finally, one day we saw the verse in Hebrews, which declares that "...His works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Heb. 4:3). That's amazing enough, but even more amazing is the assurance: "There still exists, therefore, a full and complete rest for the people of God. And he who experiences his rest is resting from his own work as fully as God from his. Let us then be eager to know this rest for ourselves, and let us beware that no one misses it through falling into the same kind of unbelief as those we have mentioned" (Heb. 4:9-11, Phillips). The King James Version translates it, "Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (Vs. 11). What kind of double talk is laboring to enter rest, I wondered, the first time the verse caught my full attention? Yet, in my own life, my journey into the rest of God has been hard work, steady, mind bending, self effort a lot of the time, but always underwritten by the Spirit.
Maybe that's the benefit of religious practices, to show you what doesn't produce results so that you finally turn to the One in whom we already have everything. A friend of ours became a Zen Buddhist years ago. Having grown up Catholic, he was no doubt attracted by the methodology of Buddhism, the meditation, the asceticism, and the "working your way" to peace. He practiced meditation by sitting cross legged on the floor, staring at a blank wall. The idea was to empty your mind of all carnal thoughts so that the divine could seep in. Lenny has always meditated and he would sit with our friend for companionship. I tried it one day, but lasted only about twenty minutes, because sitting motionless is not my cup of tea. On the other hand, during those years when I ran everyday, I was able to soar in the Spirit, to meditate and fellowship with God.
We all do what we do to get close to God, only to find out one day that Paul was right when he told the Athenian philosophers: "...he is not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring'" (Acts 17:27-28). It's kind of a divine "gotcha," that we look for Him high and low, in this religion and that one, only to find He is within us and we are within Him in Christ. That truly is the mystery of the ages, revealed in Christ, our hope of Glory.
Lenin said "Religion is the opiate of the masses." Indeed, it is the "drug of choice" for many, who as John Gavazzoni noted, often go to church to "get their fix." Fundamentalists practice church attendance, diligent and daily Bible study, prayer lists, giving, and other good works; Charismatics have encountered the Spirit and concentrate on gifts of the Spirit, speaking in tongues, healings, casting out of demons, miracles, and witnessing; Evangelicals roll all of the above into one package and add seeking to convert the lost wherever they may be, by whatever means presents itself. All this frenetic activity keeps us "off the streets and out of bars," until God is ready to reveal Himself to us up close and personal. When He does, all bets are off; all confidence in our own works flies out the window because we see that only what He does has eternal merit; only His works will make it through the cleansing fires. Only His works can satisfy His own will.
It's a sobering moment when we realize that God finished His work, WHICH WE ARE, before the foundation of the world, and He doesn't need our permission or our cooperation to do anything that He planned to do. But how liberating, how freeing it is to understand at the cellular level, Paul's declaration to the Ephesians: "For WE ARE his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). We have entered into rest when we fully comprehend this truth: "For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose" (Phil. 2:13, Phillips). Our pride and ego may take a hit when we realize that it is all God and nothing of us which succeeds, but when we finally comprehend it's all Him, we feel a tremendous relief.
So why would anyone have trouble accepting sovereignty? There is no problem on God's side of the equation, for He knows the end from the beginning and what He did to produce every situation we face and what He's going to do to bring us through it into glory. Our problem often is how do we wait until He does what it is He's going to do in our lives and in our loved ones' lives?
We hear from people weekly who are struggling with hard burdens, difficult circumstances, soul numbing grief and pain, emotional and physical turmoil and deprivations. It really does help to know God brought it (whatever "it" may be) and He will hold our hand through it, but waiting isn't easy for me as I'm a "doer" by nature. "Doing" is like a narcotic drug; it's mood altering; it numbs the pain and anxiety and fills in the time between when the problem began and God finally solves it. My sister had a poster in her family room with the picture of a runner and Isaiah's wonderful, enigmatic words on it: "but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isa. 40:31). But help me Lord, oh, help me Lord to wait.
The bottom line of all "doing for the Lord," is trying to be worthy for Him to bless us. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with taking casseroles to the sick, making hospital visits, cleaning the church building, comforting the grieving, cheering up the depressed, reading the Bible compulsively, attending church every time the doors are open, telling others about Christ; I've done it all, but the problem comes when you think God won't bless you unless you do it. That was true under the Law, of course, but under grace, self effort doesn't bless you, and in fact, for me, caused me to worry about how much is enough? I once heard Billy Graham say in a TV interview, that he didn't know if he'd done enough for Christ. Here's a man who has brought more people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ than anyone since the Apostle Paul, but he's not sure if he's done enough? How can that be? I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions, as I drew mine from his words and then prayed for him to see the truth.
Another problem with sovereignty is the matter of credit. Some Christians appear to view their Christian duty as having to get so many brownie points on their side of the ledger before they cross over. The harder the task, the more points they get. Christians living under Law tend to want to take credit for the good they have done, and it isn't enough that God knows about it. They want others to know about it as well. Jesus said of the Pharisees who proclaimed their good works on the street corners, "They have had their reward." I will hasten to add that the person who receives the casserole, or a ride to the doctor, or a friendly visit to cheer them up, or something done they can't do for themselves, will be blessed, but the doer is no closer to God than before the deed was done, unless the giving or doing was Spirit led. This is why Paul said that God loves a cheerful giver, one who gives according to his means (rather than a knee jerk response to heaped on guilt). God judges the heart, and Jesus praised the poor widow who put her "mite" in the treasury of the temple because it came from the heart, and it was all she had to give. I am in no way discouraging giving or helping others. God will show you how much to give and when; then, you give it all, knowing He has authorized it, AND HE gets all the glory for it.
Before we saw the absolute sovereignty of God in all things, all people and all circumstances, our duty was clear. When someone was sick, we prayed as if their recovery depended upon OUR faith, rather than upon Christ's faith; when someone was lost in sin, we prayed and witnessed and thought it would be our fault if he burned in hell forever; when someone was down and out, we did what we could to help and we prayed for provision. Prayer is a wonderful source of comfort and healing and accessing the power of God. We still pray, but we've learned to add, "Thy will be done, Father."
The Good News about resting in God's sovereignty is that we no longer dare judge bad behavior, bad character, or life style differences. Did you ever stop to think how your life would be had you been born to idol worshippers in the African bush? That horrible thought hit me when I was about 12 years old after hearing all the hell fire and damnation sermons at church. What about those people who lived in Africa who never heard of Christ because there was no one to tell them, would they really burn in hell like the preachers said? (There was no television in my youth and not much radio either in the dark continent.) How that question tormented me until Harry Fox preached the gospel to me for the first time.
Think about the lunatic fringe of Islam for a moment, those who believe that blowing themselves into a zillion pieces, taking infidels with them, is their ticket to Paradise. Their minds are given over to darkness, because they have never met the Light. This is why the heathen rage, for after all, they have never encountered Love. And yet, Paul said that GOD "penned all men up in disobedience so that He may have mercy upon all" (Rom. 11:32, Phillips). If God has made them that way, if He has blinded their eyes and shut their ears to truth, then He alone will lead them into the light, even as He led Saul of Tarsus into the light. When you think about it, Saul was on a "jihad" (holy war) against Christians. He was going to kill them or hand them over to others who would imprison and torture them for daring to leave the Law.
There's nothing new under the sun, including our fears. When horrific disasters like the Black Plague ravaged Europe in the "dark ages," people believed the end of the world was nigh, and that comets, earthquakes, violent weather, and volcanic eruptions were signs of impending doom. Every monstrous world leader has been suspected of being the antichrist, from the Pope in Luther's day to Hitler and Hussein in ours. I had to face the unpleasant truth about myself that my attraction to the "name it and claim it" doctrine proclaimed by Copeland and Duplantes and others was the not so subtle inference that I could control what God did by my words, my confessions, and my actions. Job had fallen prey to this deceptive and seductive doctrine as well, but God soon set him straight on who was in charge, and He has set me straight as well.
The prophets of old knew who called the shots. Notice this passage in Isaiah: "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water...that men may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it" (Isaiah 41:17-20). Notice it is God's hand which is able to take care of His own reputation and His own people. The prophets were not shy about saying that God brought upon Israel the disasters which He intended to deliver them from when the lesson was over. He does not need our permission nor our approval to do whatever He wills. It may sound scary at first, but God's absolute sovereignty is the most glorious good news of all.
Father, we ask You to reveal Yourself to us so that we may know You, and that we may declare Your name in all the earth; then, all flesh will see Your glory together, as every heart is filled to overflowing with Your unconditional love, for You will bring it to pass. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail mail)
Back to Basics: The Sovereignty of God
Back to Basics, II: Sovereignty and Reconciliation
Back to Basics, IV: Out of the Box
Back to Basics, V: The Codependency Factor
Back to Basics, VI: The Tomb Is Still Empty
Back to Basics, VII: Where Is Hell?
Back to Basics, VIII: God Is Love
Back to Basics, IX: By Man Came Also
Back to Basics, X: Victory Over Death
Back to Basics, XI: Provision
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 02/21/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/02/08.