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Archive for the ‘Sovereignty of God’ Category

Courage: The Need of the Hour

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Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of [the other nations], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Dt. 31:6).

Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules that the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed. (1 Chron. 22:13).

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13).

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6).

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. (Ps. 3:6).

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1).

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:6).

I read somewhere yesterday that, in these times, the virtue Christians most need to cultivate is courage. I have an old friend who used to pray routinely for courage and humility. This prayer is more urgent now that Christians in the West are coming to be viewed as the “troublers” of civilization.

Courage will not mean an arrogant boisterousness in the face of those who oppose God’s gospel. But it most certainly will mean standing firm on the truth God has revealed. It will mean affirming and suffering for God’s sovereignty and lordship in absolutely every arena of life. It will mean affirming, in public ways, that God defines reality and has not left the defining of it open to us in any part of life. God created us “male and female” and we must courageously affirm that sinful human beings do not have the power or authority to try and define sexual reality for themselves. God invented marriage and He decides what it is and isn’t. He has determined the nature and purpose of sex and sexuality. We must stand with Peter and John when they said: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you be the judge.” (Acts 4:19).

God is the one who says that people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language matter to him, both the born and the unborn. God defines justice and with Him there is no favoritism.

As Os Guinness has said, there is no god but God, and so we must courageously obey Him in all things. His Word must be our constant standard of truth and reality. It will take courage to affirm the Bible’s truths, to defend its precepts, to proclaim its very words, to avoid softening or bastardizing its language and teaching, and to demonstrate its beauty with our lives.

We will not do this in our own power. Yet it is sobering, and indeed terrifying, to remember what God says: “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:7-8).

-D

 

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Written by Michael Duenes

July 23, 2016 at 11:51 am

God Is the One Moving the Syrians Out

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The Syrian refugee situation reminded me of something I’ve known and believed for a long time, but have apathetically neglected. It’s a life-altering way of viewing world history and the migrations of people, and the Syrian crisis is a direct application of it.

Ralph Winter (1924-2009), an American missiologist, in his brilliant piece, The Kingdom Strikes Back: Ten Epochs of Redemptive History, says there are “four different ‘mission mechanisms’ at work to bless other peoples: 1) going voluntarily, 2) involuntarily going without missionary intent, 3) coming voluntarily, and 4) coming involuntarily (as with Gentiles forcibly settled in Israel – 2 Kings 17; as with Syrian refugees).” In other words, world history is centrally about God’s purpose of having people “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27). And God accomplishes His purposes of blessing through these four mechanisms of migration. The only ultimate purpose to these migrations, and to history as a whole, is to glorify God and bring about His enjoyment of His own creative and redemptive acts within the universe. Inextricably bound with this is our enjoyment of those same creative and redemptive acts. Nothing less will do.

I was not taught to think this way about world history and migration until I was well into adulthood, and even then, only because I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” at my local church. I was not taught to think about what God was doing in the history of the world, and how He was working out history for His own glorious ends among the nations. I was not taught about the ways that God has been at work to advance His kingdom through the workings of the peoples and nations of the earth. This is a profound deficiency, and it points up the need for Christian children to be given an explicit and robust Christian education. Pieces like Ralph Winter’s should be central to the curriculum, and should be taught far and wide in homes and churches and schools.

Winter writes: “From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of ‘the Kingdom strikes back.'” Winter develops this theme, in broad strokes, by considering ten epochs in world history, wherein “the grace of God [is] intervening in a ‘world which lies in the power of the Evil One (1 Jn 5:19), contesting an enemy who temporarily is ‘the god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4) so that the nations will praise God’s name.” Winter admits that “in the space available…it is only possible to outline the Western part of the story of the kingdom striking back – and only outline. It will be very helpful to recognize the various cultural basins in which that invasion has taken place. Kenneth Scott Latourette’s History of Christianity gives the fascinating details, a book extending the story beyond the Bible. (A book more valuable than any other, apart from the Bible!).” I would heartily recommend Latourette’s two volumes myself.

In the first five Epochs in world history, which Winter only summarizes, we have God at work through the period of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), through the Captivity in Egypt, through the Judges in Israel, through the Kings in Israel, and through the Exile to Babylon. After this, Jesus comes, in a kind of “incriminating ‘visitation.'” The “chosen nation – chosen to receive and to mediate the blessing [of God’s good news] – has grossly fallen short.” Thus Jesus ushers in the second five Epochs in world history.

In Epoch 6, Winter argues that “Rome was won but did not reach out with the gospel to the barbaric Celts and Goths. Almost as a penalty, the Goths invaded Rome and the whole western (Latin) part of the empire caved in.” In Epoch 7, “the Goths were added in, and they and others briefly achieved a new ‘Holy’ Roman Empire. But this new sphere did not effectively reach further north with the gospel.” In Epoch 8, “again almost as a penalty, the Vikings invaded these Christianized Celtic and Gothic barbarians. In the resulting agony, the Vikings, too, became Christians.” In Epoch 9, “Europe now united for the first time by Christian faith, reached out in a sort of pseudo-mission to the Saracens in the great abortion known as the Crusades.” In Epoch 10, “Europe now reached out to the very ends of the earth, but still done with highly mixed motives; intermingled commercial and spiritual interests was both a blight and a blessing. Yet, during this period, the entire non-Western world was suddenly stirred into development as the colonial powers greatly reduced war and disease. Never before had so few affected so many, even though never before had so great a gap existed between two halves of the world.” We are still in this final phase of reaching all of the world for Christ, with the two-thirds world now truly taking the lead over the West.

Winter ultimately asks some important questions: “Will the immeasurably strengthened non-Western world invade Europe and America just as the Goths invaded Rome and the Vikings overran Europe? Will the ‘Third World’ turn on us in a new series of ‘Barbarian’ invasions? Will the OPEC nations gradually buy us out and take us over? [I would ask: Will China?] Clearly we face the reaction of an awakened non-Western world that is suddenly beyond our control. What will be the role of the gospel? Can we gain any insight from these previous cycles of outreach?” To this we might add our question: “Will Muslims, including Syrians, from the Middle East overtake Europe in a way similar to the Vikings, with the end that they become followers of Christ?” No one can say for sure how God is moving people around, but we can be sure that, indeed, it is He that is moving them. He is bringing the Syrians to us.

I highly commend to you Winter’s piece, which I’ve linked above. Let us teach it to our children, and enlarge their vision of their own lives, and how they might live in line with God’s plan and purpose to bless all the nations with the gospel.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

Go To and Fro Killing Your Brothers

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They sliced up their own brothers. I was talking with someone this morning about Joshua 23, where God threatens His people that if they “transgress the covenant of the Lord [their] God, which he commanded [them], and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against [them], and [they] shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to [them].” (v.16).

Why the threats? Why can’t God just promise good things to us and dispense with the threats? This is an important and profound question, which in my experience, rarely gets addressed in our churches. Or it gets addressed in a platitudinous or trite way; it’s not wrestled with. It should at least bring before us questions of: (1) the kind of God we are dealing with in the Bible; and (2) the status we have as people before God. It should also cause us to consider the alternative: What if God issued no threats of punishment, nor carried through with any of them?

I don’t think one can get to helpful thoughts on these questions without assuming that God is rightfully at the center of His own affections, and that humans can only find ultimate and lasting joy when God is at the center of their affections as well. God’s threats must be considered with these underlying assumptions in place. God punishes His people not for punishment’s sake, but for the sake of sobering others of His people to worship and obey Him more carefully, for their own joy, and for the sake of others outside of His people hopefully entering into the community of His people and enjoying the blessings therein.

We like to talk about having a “God-centered” or “Christ-centered” worldview, but I think there’s a whole lot more to actually having one then we like to talk about. When God is truly at the center, God’s glory is paramount in our considerations and actions, and certain actions then become “loving” which we, in our sentimental views about love, consider mostly abhorrent. To take but one example, when the Israelites make a golden calf for themselves and start worshipping it in wild, out-of-control revelry (i.e., “the people had broken loose . . . to the derision of their enemies), Moses “stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the Lord‘s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.” 

This seems harsh, to put it mildly. Was it really necessary to kill their fellow Israelites for idolatry and wild party spirit? What benefit came from striking them down? And how could Moses bring himself to hack up His brothers? Whatever the full answer is, I believe that true God-centeredness had to be welling up in Moses’ heart. He understood what must be done if God’s reputation, glory and righteousness, indeed, if God Himself, had primacy. He also understood what was best for people, both the Israelites and the Gentiles. When God or His servants truly act on God-centered motivations and impulses, then people benefit most greatly. God-centeredness and human benefit and joy are not opposed to each other. Were God to leave us to our own devices, we could not experience this joy.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 30, 2015 at 8:59 am

What Is Your Free Will To God?

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God is sovereign in converting people to Christ. It’s interesting to me to hear Christians pray that God will “influence” someone or “work on” their hearts, but somehow we’re uncomfortable with the idea that God would actually take over a person’s heart to the point of conversion, because that might impinge on their “free will.” But my question is always, why is it OK for God to get into their hearts and work on them a little, but not OK for God to get in there and go the whole way? If God alters a person’s motivations, inclinations or thinking at all, hasn’t He impinged on their autonomous free will already? Why not rather pray, as St. Paul prays for the Jews, that God would save the other person. As John Piper says, “Save ’em, God!”

That’s what God does with Saul of Tarsus. Saul was on his merry way to Damascus when God struck him down with blindness and told him what would happen next. God speaks to a man named Ananias and tells him to go to Saul and give him a message from God. Ananias is afraid, but God reassures him that Saul is “a chosen instrument of mine.” God had sovereignly decided that Saul would convert and carry out God’s special purpose, and God had not consulted Saul’s free will.

Not only does God save Saul, but He saves him for the purpose of preaching the gospel, and that is what Saul begins to do immediately upon his conversion. Thus, God’s will is effectual in Saul’s life. When God chooses a man or woman for His purposes, those purposes get accomplished. And we can trust that this is true in our lives, even if we may not know God’s purposes, or though those purposes may involve pain and affliction. We may implore God in His sovereignty to have His way with us. As the hymn says, “Change my heart, O God, make it ever true; change my heart, O God, may I be like You.”

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 19, 2015 at 4:38 am

Turning Every One of You

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As I’ve been reading through Acts, God’s sovereignty has come clear in a more global sense. In other words, we see that God is directing all the growth and outreach of the new church.

For example, in Acts 1, God directs who is to replace Judas among the twelve apostles. In Acts 2, God shows his power over human tongues, giving the young believers the ability to speak new languages so that the gospel can go forth. God also “adds” souls to the church. In Acts 3, Peter, on the way to the Temple, says to a beggar: “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” Healing in Jesus’ name means Jesus is the sovereign power behind the healing. Indeed, Peter tells the amazed crowd: “Why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” Peter concludes that “God raised up His Servant [Jesus] and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” God does the turning. 

In Acts 4, Peter and John are hauled before the Jewish leaders and told to stop preaching about Jesus. Having been duly threatened, they pray that they will ignore the threats and keep preaching. “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” God gives power for them to preach so boldly. Of course, in Acts 5, God takes Annias and Sapphira’s lives by His sovereign act, and also frees the apostles from prison so that they can return to preaching Jesus. In Acts 6, God gives Stephen power to work signs and miracles, and also gives him such strength in his witness that the Jewish people “were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

All of this serves as a brief illustration of the way that God sovereignly orchestrated all the growth of His young Church. His strategy prevails and He moves things forward. He is the one who allows persecution, and delivers from it. The Church is His project and plan. We do well to remember it today.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 17, 2015 at 5:47 am