Category Archives: Christianity

The Sweet Sovereignty of God

““Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!””

(Habakkuk 1:5–11 ESV)

Habakkuk had been complaining to God that He seemed distant, disconnected and slow to respond to the wickedness of the people.  But God responds that He had already been acting – though Habakkuk could not see it.  God is always at work, but we rarely see what He is up to.  That is why we are called to walk by faith (trust) and not by what we can see (2 Corinthians 5:7).  God was bringing the Babylonians to punish His people for their wickedness.  What?  Wicked Babylon will punish God’s wicked people?  That certainly was not the response that Habakkuk was expecting.  Verse 5 is far from a coffee cup or t-shirt verse (“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” ESV).  Habakkuk did not have anywhere to file that – how could a loving and just God use such wicked people – people more wicked than the Jews – to punish them?  This did not fit in Habakkuk’s (or our) belief system.

The next verse (6) tells us that God is raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians).  What?  God is the One who is raising up Babylon?  The sweet sovereignty of God comes into crystal clear focus in this verse.  God sovereignly rules and reigns over the earth – all people (even the most powerful rulers) are His servants.  God guides history, it is not randomly unfolding.  He orchestrates it to accomplish His purposes.  He calls Cyrus His servant (Isaiah 44:28) as He determined to use him to deliver His people.  Indeed, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” (Daniel 2:21 ESV).  God’s answer to Habakkuk:  The Chaldeans (Babylonians) which He calls bitter & hasty are the tool of judgement that HE IS RAISING UP!  God orchestrates all things for His purposes.  He knows their traits and uses them as His tool of judgement.  When you are God you get to do whatever you want and what you do is always good, just and right!  We aren’t God, but we want to accuse & complain as if we were sovereign.

The Babylonians were wicked and had no common decency and in their lust for power and dominance they abused their power and oppressed those under their rule.  They were strong, swift and skilled warriors that could conquer opposing nations before they knew what hit them.  Their violence exceeded that of the Assyrian’s and they had no regard for weaker kings and kingdoms.  God was telling Habakkuk that this was what He was bringing to Judah – His chosen people.  This was His tool of judgement.  He was going to use a wicked people to judge His people for their wickedness.  Only God gets to do that!  We read this story separated by 2500 years in three chapters and it is easy for us to digest.  Sit & think about what God is doing and what that would have done to Habakkuk.

Verse 11 tells us that their strength is their god.  Most nations “depended” upon their superstitions and gods for victory, but the Babylonians were such proficient warriors that they had come to rely upon their strength to overthrow their enemies.  Self-reliance on our strength or abilities (ones that God gave us) makes us glory thieves.  There is nothing that we have that we have not received (1 Corinthians 4:7).  Are smart, successful, compassionate, moral, wealthy, driven, entrepreneurial, patient, technical or __________?  Those are things that God gave you. Don’t be a glory thief (Psalm 18:32).

If you find yourself wrestling with where God is in the midst of a difficult season, preach to yourself that He is never distant, disconnected or slow in acting.  Wrestle through it, but walk by faith and not by what you see and feel.  He is in control, He is working and He is doing good for His children.  In the dark night of the soul, these are the truths that we need to preach to our downcast souls (Pslam 42) and beg God to awaken them!

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A theological conversation with John Wesley

I heard this from a friend some time ago and found it very helpful.  Most earnest Christians, when pressed, will land as Wesley did in this conversation.

“Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers.  But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions.  Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

No.

What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree. (Moule, 79ff.)”

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Remember & reflect on our reason for rejoicing

It seems to be a consistent theme in scripture that man forgets God.  This is because we choose autonomous self rule instead of the surrendered rule and reign of the Almighty.  This seems to still be an issue in my own heart.  God save me!

Let us remember and reflect on the reason that we have for rejoicing in this New Year.  The words of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 were spoken around 680 BC and are about the Exalted Sin-bearer.  The substitutionary atonement of Christ is at the core of the Christian faith.  Remember Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.

1)  He was beaten beyond recognition. 52:14
2)  He provides salvation for many nations. 52:15
3)  He was not born into majesty, had no distinguishing external features or privileged in any way.  53:2
4)  He was (and still is) rejected by men (our minds are naturally blinded by sin).  53:3
5)  Acquainted with sorrows & grief (how could the Creator not be sorrowful at the abject depravity and rejection of His creation?).  53:3
6)  He bore our sins, yet humanity did not understand or desire His sacrifice.  53:4-5
7)  He was pierced for our transgressions and it is by His sacrifice that we are spiritually reconciled to God.  His suffering addressed the wicked root of our terminal disease – sin manifested as autonomous self rule.  53:5
8)   Like stupid and helpless sheep, we all have gone our own way – no one sought Him or saw need for His sacrifice.  Despite our ignorant, hard, rebellious hearts, God laid the punishment due to us on Him – the innocent lamb of God.  53:6.
9)  He did not complain, despite the cosmic inequity of His sacrifice on our undeserving, unwanting, unbelieving behalf.  53:7
10)  He was wrongly condemned by unrighteous, oppressive, godless judgement.  53:8.
11)  He was condemned as a common criminal, yet He was totally morally pure – the only acceptable sacrifice for sinners.  53:9
12)  It was God’s will to crush His son under the weight of sin and His wrath; God makes and meets the demands to make us holy.  53:10
13)  His suffering was not only physical, but also a soul level despairing.  The holy, unstained, pure, omnipotent Creator experienced sin and His father’s associated wrath.  For the first time in all of eternity, God turned His back and withdrew from His Son.  Jesus experienced pain, suffering, despair, hopelessness, rejection and death on our behalf.  53:10
14)  His suffering and punishment became an offering for our guilt, cosmic justice was served.  53:11
15)  His perfect sacrifice will make many righteous.  53:11

An insatiable desire

The bible paints the portrait of the soul’s panting, thirsting, yearning, longing, desiring after God.  Regardless of whether life is going well or not, there is an overarching drive to know God more deeply and walk with Him more fully.  We see in the pages of scripture a lusty, greedy, insatiable desire to get more of God.  Why is it that we are so easily content to compartmentalize our faith, to do it on Sundays and live morally clean lives in mechanical obedience?  Paul seems to be greedy for more of God and says that asking whether something is right or wrong is the wrong question to ask.  Paul, instead asks, does this get me more of Jesus or does it rob me of knowing Him more deeply?
If the biblical standard is a pursuit of God to chase Him, love Him, follow Him and be conformed into His image at all cost because of the surpassing greatness of knowing and loving Him as our ultimate Treasure, then why don’t we?  Why is it so unusual to find the man or woman in the church that has an insatiable desire to know God?

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalms 42:1–2 ESV)

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalms 63:1 ESV)

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19 ESV)

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8–11 ESV)

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Romans 8:19–24 ESV)