Well in last week’s audio entitled “Love and Provision”, we talked about how the grace of God touches our hearts while in the midst of things connected to living in the world. Things like paying bills, rendering taxes and working at our jobs can seem so far removed from anything having to do with Jesus, especially when we are faced with their lack! On the other hand, it can be sometimes just as hard to imagine God is pleased with us when we are doing sufficiently well in any of these things just the same.
In this world, we have bought into the assumption that wherever or whoever we are is just not as good as where or who we think we ought to be. I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s story, The Prince and the Pauper, which is a tale about two different boys who wished they could be something other than they were. Sound familiar? Now, they just so happened to look like twins and were even able to pass themselves off as being the other. And so they decided to trade places for a short while. Of course, something happened to the prince as he was incognito, and he couldn’t get back to the castle … until the day they were going to coronate the poor boy as king. The story had a good ending for both of them.
Okay, so why did I tell you this story? Simply to make the point that although each boy was able to experience being the kind of person he thought would be the better version of himself, neither one was comfortable with the kind of life he thought he wanted. Those who are poor can’t imagine any reason why being rich would be an unwelcomed turn of events, but neither are the prominent in society prepared for the life of anonymity and poverty. Consider Paul’s statement to the Philippians:
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13 NASB
Somehow, I think many of us have assumed that Paul’s learning to be content was primarily directed toward him having to learn to get by with almost nothing. Oh no. For the secret he learned had to do just as equally with doing well as it did with living in poverty. Maybe those who are barely scraping by find it hard to believe that there would be any repercussions with living in luxury, but Adam, just as you said, how many of us might actually be wondering if we could be out of God’s favor because we had too much of the world’s goods?
Jim, you received a response from one of our listeners regarding last week’s audio, and he gave us the okay to address it in today’s audio. Here’s that response (minus any specific references to the person in question):
I took some time today to listen to your latest shovel audio. I wish I could say that I understood all of it. I listened to it twice. It caught my attention because of where I am and where I have been since (a tragic event from) 3 years ago. I currently work 80 to 85 hours per week and for some reason I still cannot pay the bills and the mortgage every month. We have a bare minimum budget and we do not splurge. Its hard because I have 4 kids and over the last 8 months or so I have not been able to see them hardly at all. I have tried everything I know to make up our 800 to 1000 dollar a month short fall. To take some stress off and be able to spend time with my wife and kids again. But I feel quite paralyzed not knowing what I should be doing in life or if God wants me to be doing something else. But I feel like I can’t hardly do anything but work all the time which stinks because I really would like to be about the kingdom work a little more often. So is the gist of what you were saying that God’s provision is not dependent upon us and our obedience? We may have seasons of abundance and seasons of lack but the important thing is to depend upon God’s grace for our everything… Which in my mind would have to do with our attitude and love in the midst of whatever circumstance? Some things poppin my mind that I do not know how to fit necessarily right now like growing in favor with God and with man… I have never known the righteous to go hungry… Various Old Testament passages about prosperity for obedience. Things like that.
One thing that jumped out at me in this dear brothers statements was his seeming self condemning comment about him not being about the kingdom more often….
“God’s provision is not dependent upon us and our obedience?”
“the important thing is to depend upon God’s grace for our everything… Which in my mind would have to do with our attitude and love in the midst of whatever circumstance?”
“growing in favor with God and man”
Psalms 37:25 NASB — I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread.
Psalms 22:1-3 NASB — A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
Jim, I would like to start off by reading an excerpt from an article response you wrote years ago entitled : “Trials Without a Cause” You said:
“Paul stated that God works all things together for our good, which surely includes those trials brought upon us by the world. Does He cause what someone else caused? In a very real sense, no. But, then again, in his orchestration of all things in which He uses everything for our good, He does. Our problems with all of this is that we keep trying to imagine that God reasons according to that which seems logical.”
Jim I found this very helpful and encouraging when I first read it. But doesn’t it seem as though we who are in Christ get thrown off when we attempt to understand His causing all things to work together for our good as if it were understood through outward observation?
Just as with the two seemingly opposing statements from David regarding being forsaken, we too easily latch onto our own perceptions of things as we’d like them to be. We quote certain Biblical statements as if they were personal across-the-board promises … even if we have to stretch their meaning. And then, when we discover that we may have misread something we thought was God’s promise to us, we’re shaken. Of course, we assume that such a shaking has to be bad, don’t we?
Let me give you an example of something that caused me to seemingly waver in faith. There is a certain Bible verse in Ephesians that stated very clearly that we are accepted in Christ. Here’s that verse:
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. Ephesians 1:6 KJV
Now, it was at this same time in my life that I started using the New American Standard Version of the Bible, and when I checked that same verse there, I found:
to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:6 NASB
For many of you, it might not have the same effect, but I can tell you that for ME, it was huge! It was as if the truth of my full acceptance in Christ was being called into question. Well, I can tell you that I set about to find other Bible verses that stated it as clearly … and I did find a couple. And that seemed to help … somewhat. Somewhere along the way, I came to realize that I was straining so hard to find a clear statement about my acceptance in Christ that I was overlooking the non-stop testimony of that very truth on every page.
How this relates to what you asked about outward observation is that we too often try to make sense of God in this world. In truth, it’s usually more about trying to fit what we see of the world into a perception of God. Consider this:
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Romans 1:20-23 NASB
And just because we’ve been given the mind of Christ, it doesn’t mean that we can now figure out what the world couldn’t. Having been made alive, our renewed mind knows that there is no wisdom in any of the reasonings of man! My friends, there are simply too many children of God trying to figure out what God is doing based upon outward observation.
Oh for sure Jim. Not to mention the whole world is attempting to do that very thing! Did you ever stop to think about where we get our supposed curse word “God damnit” from? Yep. comes from the same pool of outward perceptions of God .You know,-God is in control, God did it-He;s to blame. While Christians just try and “submit” to God while believing He is to blame because it’s the least we can do since He sent His Son for us. Or just out of sheer fear that He might harm us if we don’t.
But When faced with a difficult circumstance like the loss of a loved one, a loss of income or even a natural disaster such as an earthquake, it seems all too easy for the world to blame God, since after all, He is in charge, right? But ask you, in what sense is He ‘in charge”? [in other words, it isn’t defined by something according to the natural man but, the Spirit] Doesn’t this seem to completely ignore the fall of man and the evil present already in the world?
2 Peter 1:4: Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
Yeah, blaming God seems to come easy when disaster strikes. And just like you said, the accusations fly based upon him being in charge.
Jim I have heard person after person get ahold of the outward perception that because God is “in control” as defined by natural mans thoughts, that EVERYTHING is essentially Gods will. Of course what follows after that conclusion is that NOTHING we choose has any importance since God is in control anyway. You know, it is the idea that if I don’t brush my teeth and I get a cavity, well then it must have been ‘God’s will’ since He could have stopped it. Or on the other hand, I could say He “let” me get a cavity because He wants me to learn a lesson. I can remember going in countless circles with this thinking literally spending days, weeks and months in it’s grasp. This can be a pretty harmful illusion wouldn’t you say?
It can be, and often is. But the real issue actually has nothing to do with whether or not God is in control, or if he does or doesn’t carry out his will … rather it’s about our bullheadedness in hanging onto the assumptions of those who do not know God. And I’m not just talking about atheists or agnostics. I’m talking about anybody.
When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] And they went on to another village. Luke 9:51-56 NASB
This is the spirit of the world, and I’m telling you that it has kept itself cloaked in religious garments, just as it did with the disciples. Do you hear the righteous indignation spoken by James and John? Do you realize how godly this must have sounded to their own ears? They were imagining themselves as Elijah, when he called down fire from heaven. I mean, how could Jesus not have caught on to the rightness of their request?
But if you listen to the spirit from which they spoke, you should hear a simple demand: God damn them! Now, your religious background will probably cause many of you to recoil at both Adam’s and my own use of a really bad curse, but do you also understand that we’re not the ones who are making the curses? The truth is that there are many moralistic people who denounce the use of the phrase, while at the same time are speaking from the very same spirit that made James and John think that Jesus would approve of their request for God to burn up all the people in that town because they didn’t let them enter. The next time you listen to a preacher speak on God’s judgment on some specific sins in our current society, pay attention to the number of cloaked God-dammits you hear. By the way, do you get a sense as why James and John were referred to as the Sons of Thunder?
Jim, is it possible that because we have tried to capture this working ‘control” of God according to the natural mind that we have missed the transcendent aspect of His power right under our noses? I mean if God is truly Spirit, is it not possible that He is able to rule and reign over trials and hardships without being the author of them according to the natural, traditional sense we have been taught by logic of natural mans thoughts?
Example: One will quickly find out what the world accepts as a hard, cold fact when they apply for house insurance. For in the very contract one has to sign to get covered, it will state somewhere, something like “ in case, of flood, wind, rain or ANY OTHER ACT OF GOD YOU WILL NOT BE COVERED!”
Hey, I’m glad you brought that one up, as it has stuck out to me for years. I mean, I understand the legalese behind the creation of loopholes, but I find it amazing in our modern and civilized society that no one seems to balk at the use of the ancient catch-phrase “Act of God.” Apparently, God’s in charge of the really big stuff.
But in answer to your question, yes, the power of God mostly takes place under the radar of man. Our God has no problem taking credit for the stuff we think couldn’t possibly be brought on by himself, and yet at the same time, the evil of it does not come from him. He works, he moves, he operates according to himself, and to himself only. We can point the finger at a million different things and demand that God call down the fire, but if He were to operate according to our understanding, we would be burnt by that same flame. Such is the judgment of man!
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?
While I realize that there can be different renderings of this passage, I have come across enough of them to know that it was commonly translated as “endure hardship AS discipline”.
Jim, in his call to the Hebrews to endure hardship AS discipline, could he be appealing to the believers to view this through the mind of Christ? In other words, though the world can only see the earth bound sensory reality of these things, could he be encouraging them to see He who is invisible to the world giving meaning and power through that which they are enduring in the flesh?
I think you’ve got it spot-on, my brother!
The Stoning of Stephen
‘When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.’ Acts 7:54-56
I ask you, how could there be two totally different narratives going on here at once? On the one hand you have the Jews who see nothing but this pathetic, immoral man who is too weak to fight back or deflect their stones. On the other hand you have Stephen who is literally being ushered into a revelation of God right in front of them!
One saw only that which was temporal while the other was given to see that which is in the Kingdom of Heaven. So which reality is in charge here?