Tag Archive | providence

Bible Reading Plan thoughts: God’s providence in using Deborah and Jael

We read of Jael in the Bible Reading Plan today. God’s providential intervention is evident in today’s reading.

Jael

Jael was the wife of Heber the Kenite. Sisera had been cruelly oppressing the Hebrews for 20 years. The people cried out. Deborah was civic leader at that time, prophesying and judging. She sent for Barak, the military leader and told him to go take care of the problem. Barak could freely decide what to do. He could go or he could not go, the choice was his. He said he would not go unless Deborah came with him. (Judges 4:8). His answer was in effect, no. Deborah replied that she would go with Barak, but it would be an embarrassment to him because God would deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman, and Barak would not get the military glory for the victory.

Barak freely made his choice, but now the outcome would occur from another quarter, just as Mordecai had said it would if Esther decided against her action.

Into the story enters Jael. After Barak routed Sisera’s army, Sisera fled. Sisera aimed toward the tent of Heber the Kenite. Sisera knew there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor (Sisera’s King) and the house of Heber the Kenite. Heber had separated from the Kenites and was settled far from the action. Sisera ran, believing he was safe to go toward the area where there was no fighting and where there was peace between the parties. Normally he would be right, especially since hospitality customs were so strong in protecting those who are invited into the tent. However in this providential case, Sisera was wrong. Jael invited Sisera into the tent, gave him drink, and covered him as he fell asleep.

Note that Sisera fell asleep. He had a hard day of fighting, but even though his life was in peril he felt comfortable enough where he let down his guard and fall asleep. Women in those days were responsible for pitching the tents and so Jael was strong enough and familiar enough with how to efficiently hammer a tent peg into the ground. As Sisera slept, she drove a tent peg into his temple and pinned his head to the ground. The verse succinctly states, “So he died.” (Judges 4:21b).

And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple. 23So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. (Judges 4:22-23).

Barak had kind of said “I will go” but not really. Placing conditions on your obedience to God isn’t really obedience to God. I like how the verse says God subdued Jabin.

Whether Esther went in or didn’t go in, God would deliver the Jews from Haman. Whether Barak went to battle or didn’t go to battle, God would deliver the Jews from King Jabin and Commander Sisera. Both Esther and Barak freely decided on a course of action. Yet both outcomes occurred at the providential hand of God.

God is amazing.

A move of the holy spirit & Christian emotionalists

We hear a lot about the big moves of the Holy Spirit. We see Youtube clips of young millennials falling to the floor, or standing with arms upstretched in front of smoke filled stages, pulsing lights, glitter, laughing and sobbing. Afterward they smile tiredly, saying “The Holy Spirit really moved!” Or, “The Holy Spirit really showed up!”

As an aside, I dislike that phrase, ‘The Holy Spirit showed up.’ It’s crass. It’s akin to attending a funeral and saying to the bereaved, “So your wife croaked, eh?’ The Holy Spirit doesn’t ‘show up.’ He isn’t hailing a taxi running late, throwing a scarf around his neck while jumping out of the cab and huffing into the church. The Spirit doesn’t ‘show up’. The Holy Spirit governs the universe.

To the main point regarding big moves of the Spirit. Successive years of successive generations of younger church-goers have twisted Hebrews 11:1’s statement of what faith is:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Into –

Now faith is the substance of things we’ve come to tangibly possess, the evidence of things seen and experienced.

Spurgeon had something to say about these “Christian emotionalists” in Sermon 898, A Word with Those Who Wait for Signs and Wonders,

And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign... (Luke 11:29-30)

There are some, and these are generally the most uneducated, who expect to experience remarkable dreams or to behold singular visions. Others we have met with, who suppose that in order to being saved they must feel some very peculiar physical sensation. Now you must not look for this. You must not put physical contortions or sensations as a test before the Lord, and say you will not believe in Him otherwise.

You seek what is quite unnecessary. What do you want a sign for? You want, you say, a token of God’s love. What token of God’s love to you can ever be wanted, now that He has given His only-begotten Son, first to live on earth, and then to die in pains extreme, the just for the unjust, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”! I blush for you, that you should ask any token of God’s love while Jesus Christ is before you…

I must tell you what is more, you are acting the part of an idolater. What does an idolater do? He says, “I cannot believe in an unseen God; I must have a golden calf or an image, that I can see with my eyes and touch with my hand.” You say just the same. You cannot believe God’s naked word, you demand something you can feel, something you can see. Sheer idolatry.

You might feel an overwhelming sense of joy, or peace, or well-being, or love for Jesus at times. These emotional times can occur when prayer is answered, providence is seen, worship is genuine, or Bible reading has deepened your view of the Savior. Strong emotion is good and appropriate. But to rely on such moments as proof of the Spirit’s presence casts a vain hope upon the shores of the Rock which stands above all. Your sure faith is in Him and His word that reveals Him.

Depending on signs is seeking a golden calf of experience over faith.

If you’re looking for a move of the Spirit, a miracle, sign, or wonder, there are many that we can name which exalt Jesus. Unsaved men are helpless and unable to come to God unless the Spirit draws them. (John 6:44). He saves by grace. Any new believer is a miracle, because they cannot save themselves. Sanctification is a miracle of God, because only by the Spirit can we resist sin and grow in His likeness. Providence is a miracle of God because He sustains the universe by the power of His word every minute, and He ordains every event that happens to all 8 billion people on earth at every second.

Stop looking for glitter dust falling from the ceiling, for personal prophecies, and visible signs when we already have the redemptive, sanctifying, providential work of the Lord occurring all over the world every second.

I’ll leave John MacArthur with the last word-

For all those true believers who love the Lord, the promise is a wonderful promise. … I think it’s time in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to give honor to the Holy Spirit, to worship Him, to love Him, to ascribe to Him the glory that He is due and to stop the nonsense that brings dishonor on His holy name.

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A year end thank you for all that Grace To You has done for me

A letter I wrote to GTY regarding thanks for the radio ministry. The ministry means SO MUCH to me.

Dear Grace To You,

I want to take a moment to share how God used John’s radio broadcast in my spiritual life.

I was saved at age 44. Before salvation, I spent my life as all sinners do, for myself, rebelling against God. New England is a dark place, and an adult can go a lifetime and not run into anything Christian, or a Bible, or a preacher. I was ignorant of anything related to Jesus. I was certainly ignorant of my own sin, except for the conscience that pricked me.

me with abby one copy1

Camping in FL. 20 years ago, I didn’t know Jesus.

My husband and I liked to travel and we decided to take a long cross-country camping trip in our pop-up camper. We listened to the radio all along the way. We enjoyed talk radio and searched for programs that would help us pass the time as we drove. As we entered the southern part of the United States, we inevitably came across the radio dial of typical southern preachers with their funny accent and pulpit pounding exposition, yelling “JAY-sus! We’d laugh and tee hee about those silly Jesus people. And then we’d hurriedly change the dial.

Whenever we came across John’s Grace To You broadcast, and the introduction music soon became familiar as his program was on many stations, his voice was different. It was logical, soothing. The content of what he was saying intrigued me, as much as it repulsed me. My conscience was pricked even more. I always lingered a bit, listening. But then my husband would change the dial away from the “Jesus stuff” as we called it, I’d feel both relieved that the spiritual pressure was gone but curious for more, too. I didn’t understand this push-pull.

Five years later, the Lord saved me. The internet offered a wealth of sermons, devotionals, and biblical instruction. But which one to pick? Then one day I heard that music. “I know that music!” I said. I heard John’s voice. “I know that guy!” I said. And now that I was saved, the content of what John was saying made sense. More than that, the content of what he was saying inspired me, illuminated my mind, and soothed me. I quickly devoured sermon after sermon. Having no church baggage to unlearn, John’s sermons went straight into my soul. He taught the Doctrine of Justification, and moved to the Doctrine of Election.

Six years after that, I listened live as John finished preaching through the New Testament. It was a historic moment. Even more personally for me, it was a poignant moment. Before I was even saved, God had used John to spark my conscience as a sinner curiously repulsed by the ‘Jesus stuff’ he was preaching, through to salvation, to growth by the Spirit, to burgeoning maturity and becoming a Titus 3 church woman to the younger ladies. God used John through it all. He is still using John in my spiritual life as I read many of his books and still listen to the wonderful sermons.

chisos mountains

Camping in Texas. One day in the future, I’d hear the GTY music and my mind and soul would light up

God used John to preload me in readiness for the moment I would in His timing, come into the kingdom and begin learning the glories of God. John’s familiar voice, the familiar music, led me by His grace to this solid ministry upon which God laid the foundation of my growth.

Thank you John MacArthur and all of you at Grace To You. I praise God for the men He has raised up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17)

God is always working in the lives of those who He will eventually call into His kingdom, and continues working in our lives after that, forever and ever.

 

In My Seat: a 9/11 Pilot’s Story and the Providence of God

God is in sovereign control of every single thing on this earth, in heaven, and throughout the universe. He is at work providentially, invisibly. We would never have known this story until the video was made and the man told of this event. Yet known or unknown, this story of providence is repeated millions of times per day, every day, over and over, by Jesus, so that His plan will come to fruition at any given moment and at every moment.

Do not fear. This same Jesus has your life in His hand. He is orchestrating all things for your good and His glory. Whether His plan had been to put you in that seat, or to take you out of that seat, on any given day, His ministrations and ordination of events will come to pass. He is God, and there is no other.

This 15-minute video is WELL worth your time.

Synopsis:

September 10, 2001, First Officer Steve Scheibner packed his suitcase and waited for the phone call finalizing his assignment to fly American Airlines Flight 11, from Boston to Los Angeles. The call never came. In My Seat recounts the events leading up to Flight 11 and the subsequent death of Tom McGuinness in the seat that should have been filled by Steve Scheibner.

There’s no such thing as tragedy in a Christian’s life

This will be among the shortest blog essays I’ve ever written, but it will be one of the most powerful. At least, it was for me. I pray it is for you as well.

John Gerstner was a Professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary and an authority on the life and theology of Jonathan Edwards. He produced many edifying works in his life, most famously, his “Handout” series. Handout Church History, Handout Theology, and Handout Apologetics are among some of the most wonderful series of lectures and handouts he ever produced. They are easily available online, foremost at Ligonier.org but also in books and videos elsewhere.

Anyway, in his Handout Theology series I’m watching at Ligonier, he did several lectures on the Doctrine of Providence, which is my favorite doctrine. He referenced Romans 8:28 which I’ll post. Then his comment below.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I was once asked, ‘what is tragedy?’ It is whatever happens to the unconverted. No matter how great a blessing, it is a curse to the unconverted because he does not receive it with gratitude to the Giver. On the other hand, no matter whether a snake bite, or whatever, it is a blessing to God’s children for whom all things work together for the good. ~John Gerstner, Handout Theology lecture on Providence, part 2

When we focus on Jesus in His heaven, it changes our perspective. When our worldview changes, we settle into the peace that Jesus gives us, the peace that passes all understanding.

———–

Further reading

John Gerstner, Handout Theology lecture on Providence, part 1

John Flavel: The Mystery of Providence

Spurgeon sermon: Providence

God’s sovereignty in providence: Esther and Jael

God is sovereign of the entire universe. He plans what he plans and He does what he pleases.

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:3).

It’s admittedly hard to understand how God can and does orchestrate all events at once, constantly, over the earth and throughout the stars, so that His plans providentially combine in perfect harmony to enact His will. But He is God and we’re not supposed to understand it! It is also hard to understand how our personal decisions are still personal but also are part of His will and plan and the outcome is predetermined. That our decisions are our own yet are part of a pre-ordained plan that all leads to the cross and beyond is a tension our finite minds can’t comprehend. It is a joy to ponder them though, because in so doing, we come up against God’s power, omniscience, and will.

Here are two things to consider when looking at God’s providence and will, with our decisions and will.

Esther

The book of Esther was not written by Esther but it is about Esther, her Hebrew name was Hadassah. She lived during the time of King Ahasuerus of Persia, also known as King Xerxes. Through a series of providential events, Esther wound up as Queen to Ahasuerus and also was put in a position to save her people. However the saving of her people was at dire risk to her own life. She was discussing what to do with her uncle Mordecai, and Mordecai famously said,

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Esther could make her own decision. She could risk her life and go in to the King, or she could stay in the harem and not go to the King. Mordecai knew God’s character well enough to know that His promise to keep a remnant of His people alive would indeed happen, whether Esther decided to participate at this particular moment or not. God would keep His promise no matter what Esther decided. The choice was hers. Esther decided to go in and speak to the King even though he had not called for her (usually this meant death). We know the rest, Esther’s action revealed to the King the evil deeds of Haman and Haman was killed instead of the Jews.

Jael

Jael was the wife of Heber the Kenite. Sisera had been cruelly oppressing the Hebrews for 20 years. The people cried out. Deborah was civic leader at that time, prophesying and judging. She sent for Barak, the military leader and told him to go take care of the problem. Barak could freely decide what to do. He could go or he could not go, the choice was his. He said he would not go unless Deborah came with him. (Judges 4:8). His answer was in effect, no. Deborah replied that she would go with Barak, but it would be an embarrassment to him because God would deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman, and Barak would not get the military glory for the victory.

Barak freely made his choice, but now the outcome would occur from another quarter, just as Mordecai had said it would if Esther decided against her action.

Into the story enters Jael. After Barak routed Sisera’s army, Sisera fled. Sisera aimed toward the tent of Heber the Kenite. Sisera knew there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor (Sisera’s King) and the house of Heber the Kenite. Heber had separated from the Kenites and was settled far from the action. Sisera ran, believing he was safe to go toward the area where there was no fighting and where there was peace between the parties. Normally he would be right, especially since hospitality customs were so strong in protecting those who are invited into the tent. However in this providential case, Sisera was wrong. Jael invited Sisera into the tent, gave him drink, and covered him as he fell asleep.

Note that Sisera fell asleep. He had a hard day of fighting, but even though his life was in peril he felt comfortable enough where he let down his guard and fall asleep. Women in those days were responsible for pitching the tents and so Jael was strong enough and familiar enough with how to efficiently hammer a tent peg into the ground. As Sisera slept, she drove a tent peg into his temple and pinned his head to the ground. The verse succinctly states, “So he died.” (Judges 4:21b).

And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple. 23So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel
. (Judges 4:22-23).

Barak had kind of said “I will go” but not really. Placing conditions on your obedience isn’t really obedience to God. I like how the verse says God subdued Jabin.

Whether Esther went in or didn’t go in, God would deliver the Jews from Haman. Whether Barak went to battle or didn’t go to battle, God would deliver the Jews from King Jabin and Commander Sisera. Both Esther and Barak freely decided on a course of action. Yet both outcomes occurred at the providential hand of God.

God is amazing.

Anonymous.
Jael and Sisera
pen drawing  — c. 1440 – 1450
Museum Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig. The name of the drafter is not known. He is thought to be someone close to Van Eyck and his workshop. Source: Art and the Bible

Do we have the ability to interpret our own circumstances? Should we?

The title’s question is an important one. According to New Age-ish teachers like Henry Blackaby in his Experiencing God study,

God speaks through circumstances to reveal himself, his purposes and his ways.

What Blackaby means in using the word circumstances, is Providence. J. Vernon McGee said providence is “the means by which God directs all things — both animate and inanimate, seen and unseen, good and evil — toward a worthy purpose, which means His will must finally prevail. Or as the psalmist said, “his kingdom ruleth over all” (Psalm 103:19).” I. E. Circumstances.

Blackaby teaches people how to interpret those circumstances through which he claims God is speaking. So let’s look at an example of how well or badly this kind of personal interpretation might go.

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:3)

Let’s put that circumstance-interpreting to the test. In his sermon on Jonah 1:1-3 titled Sin’s Stupidity!, Ian Hamilton said,

When Jonah arrived at Tarshish, he might have said, ‘Oh! Wow! This is providential! There’s a ship going to Tarshish, just what I’m looking for!’ We are never the best judges in discerning the significance of God’s providence. God’s providence will never overrule His commandments. If you’re ever in a quandary, obey the commandment and leave it to God to sort out the providence. You and I, at our best, are no infallible interpreters of providence. Obey the commandment, and leave God to work out the providence. The Lord Jesus Christ ultimately did that. When all the providences around His life seemed to shout out that He had been ultimately, irrevocably and finally abandoned and forsaken, He still prayed, ‘My God, My God.’ He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Look! A ship loaded and ready to go to the exact place I want to go!  It must be God’s Providence! (Prata photo)

In today’s parlance of interpreting circumstances as Blackaby advised, we might say something exactly like the hypothetical statements Hamilton said Jonah might have said. Leave the interpretations alone and stay with the more sure word. (2 Peter 1:19).

Greg Gilbert of 9Marks reviewed Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God study. He related a similar example of a person interpreting circumstances and backward proofing it through scripture to confirm.

George Whitefield, the great preacher in the Great Awakening and Edwards’s friend, admitted that even he had fallen into this kind of error. Prior to the birth of his only son, Whitefield announced that the boy would be a great preacher and that he would be great in the sight of the Lord. Four months after his birth, though, the child died. Whitefield recognized his mistake and wrote: “I misapplied several texts of Scripture. Upon these grounds, I made no scruple of declaring ‘that I should have a son, and his name was to be John,'” (in Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards, p.241-2). Whitefield had taken the angel’s declaration to Zechariah as his own, and had thus fallen into error. Let that be a caution to us as Christians to always read the Bible in its context.  

No, we don’t use the scriptures to confirm what we have first intuited as a circumstance for action. Mr Gilbert continues with a solid reminder about omens, providences and circumstances.

God’s normal way of operating in His people’s lives is to shape them by His Word, to transform their minds by His Holy Spirit, and to sanctify their reason so that they can consider and weigh alternatives and make wise decisions.

Key words, “wise decisions.” Jonah had made a decision, nothing more, which happened to be in direct rebellion to God’s clear word. No amount of personal circumstance-interpreting will ever trump what God hath said. Relying on omens and circumstances shifts the onus of the decision from the person making it to some kind of externals, such as to Providence or to God. His commands and His wisdom is in His word. Let obedience begin and end there.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25).