Posts Tagged With: Providence

Review of “Le Comte De Monte-Christo” by Alexandre Dumas

from wikipedia

from wikipedia

Alexandre Dumas, Le Comte De Monte-Christo, II vols., Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1981.

It’s Christmas Day, which along with some happy family festivities, gives this pastor an excuse to take the day off, and finish some reading.  Originally published in 1845, this novel is known in English translation as “The Count of Monte-Christo.”  I started reading this book over a year ago, and have made steady progress over time.  I picked it up after reading recommendations from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Craig Troxel and some others that preachers ought to include some fiction in their reading.  I have made sparing use of this advice, evident in the length of time that it took me to read this book, since most of my reading time is devoted to Scripture, theology, church history, and piety.  

I must agree that it is good for those who labor in teaching or preaching to read fiction if they can find the time.  Fiction exercises the muscles of the imagination since it forces the author to construct entire characters, settings, and stories from scratch.  It requires more imagination than non-fiction, like the way a painting requires more creativity than taking a photograph.  It acquaints the reader with human nature since it must make the imaginary believable based on the common knowledge of humanity in order to capture its readership.  This imaginative creativity does wonders for communication skills and qualities of expression and illustration that aid a preacher or teacher in his work.  

I’ll try to say a little about “Le Comte De Monte-Christo” without giving away spoilers so that others may enjoy it as I did.  I picked up this novel because it was recommended as an exciting read, and because I wanted to practice my French reading ability.  I was not disappointed.  Dumas’s writing is characterized by profound character development, action and adventure, and surprising twists and turns.  The reader is transported to scenes including the picturesque Mediterranean, sea voyages, imprisonment in a dungeon, a deserted island, and the swanky quarters of the rich and powerful in Rome and Paris.  As one might expect with a classic French author, I am deeply impressed with his grasp of what it means to be human.  He has the knack of tying plot strings together by making the impossible seem believable.  This novel is pervaded by a Christian worldview.  It is not quite so noticeable in the first half but really becomes prominent as one nears the end of the book.  The major themes are severe misfortune, abandonment, vengeance, crime, divine providence, riches, love, honor, murder, and forgiveness.  God is an important character in this novel, and he interacts by his kind mercies and justly retributive providences in the things that occur.  The moral of the story is found on the last page “Only he who has tested extreme misfortune is able to feel extreme happiness.”

I highly recommend it for those looking to read an intriguing adventure with thick plot-lines and idiosyncratic characters.

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A Drunken Disturbance While Dafydd Morris Preached

He stood to declare the Word near an inn door.  Opposite him, on the other side of the road, were three trees growing at the side of a river.  Soon after he had started preaching, a drunken man passed by who started shouting out at the end of every sentence from the preacher, ‘He’s lying!’  Dafydd Morris suffered this for a while, but as the man continued with his shouting and threatenings, his spirit was aroused, and he said to the crowd around him, ‘Listen! Those three trees will bear testimony against that man on Judgment Day, unless retribution overtakes him before then.’  The people noted his remark, and it was soon brought to their notice again, when the drunkard fell over a wall in his drunkenness one dark night, and was drowned.  And this took place only a few paces away from the spot where the preacher had stood.  As the Bible says, ‘Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?’

Jones & Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, vol. I, p. 728.

geograph.org.uk

geograph.org.uk

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Echoes of Ananias and Sapphira in North Wales

In north Wales, in 1748, God was saving many souls through the ministry of the Methodists.  A baron named Sir Watkin became a terrible persecutor.  He was levying fines on the poor who heard the Methodist preachers and threatened to evict them off the land, and he owned most of the land in the region.  “A number of poor people had gathered in a prayer meeting, and one of those praying obtained such a hold on God as he pleaded with him to halt the persecution that he was assured on rising from his knees that his requests had been heard in heaven.  He gave out a hymn of his own composition to sing, noting his feelings:

Queen Esther now is near

To entering the King’s chamber

A pardon to her he’ll extend,

Sir Watkin’s evil works will end.

It is at that moment, so it is said, when this verse was being sung in the prayer meeting, that the baron met his end at Wynnestay Park.”  While riding his horse, ”the rider was thrown onto his head on the ground, and died on the spot.”

*Jones & Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, vol I, pp. 519, 520

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When Things Fit Together In Unplanned Ways

I am often struck with the extent to which everything in a public worship service “fits” together, and supports the theme of the sermon.  I mean, when there are things that fit together in ways that, for my part, as the pastor who plans and leads worship, were completely unplanned.

For instance, this morning I preached on Mark 14:32-42, about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, pouring out His heart to the Father in prayer, under tremendous temptation, yet submitted to His will, as He prepares to drink the cup of God’s wrath against sinners.  I selected as first hymn for the service, “Sweetly the Holy Hymn”, a Hymn written by Rev. C. H. Spurgeon.  I selected it because it is generally an excellent hymn for starting a worship service, without rereading it in its entirety.  The fifth stanza reads, “On the lone mountain side, Before the morning’s light, The Man of sorrows wept and cried, And rose refreshed with might.”  This is a description of the same Gethsemane, the theme of the sermon for this morning!  I had not remembered this portion of the hymn at all when I selected it for this morning.  God in His providence had me select a hymn that would get the congregation meditating on Jesus’ prayer in the garden, in preparation to hear Him speak on the subject.

This seems to happen a lot.  That is, I’ve observed how God frequently overrules and overrides details and elements to make it all fit and hang together.  I make two observations:  First of all, that the worship service is so important to God, and for His people, that He uses the little details of things to draw them into His presence to bless them.  Secondly, God is in control of all these little details and He works them together in ways that we never planned for His glory.  Glory be to God!

The full text of the aforementioned hymn is presented below:

Spurgeon_CH

Sweetly the holy hymn
Breaks on the morning air;
Before the world with smoke is dim
We meet to offer prayer.

While flowers are wet with dews,
Dew of our souls, descend:
Ere yet the sun the day renews,
O Lord, Thy Spirit send.

Upon the battlefield,
Before the fight begins,
We seek, O Lord, Thy sheltering shield,
To guard us from our sins.

Ere yet our vessel sails
Upon the stream of day
We plead, O Lord, for heavenly gales
To speed us on our way!

On the lone mountain side,
Before the morning’s light,
The Man of sorrows wept and cried,
And rose refreshed with might.

Oh, hear us then, for we
Are very weak and frail,
We make the Savior’s Name our plea,
And surely must prevail.

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The Christian Response to Calamity

Aerial_view_of_2013_Moore_tornado_damageDid you know that this same God who rules the weather also rules over human events?  There have been tragedies lately, notably the terrible tornadoes that ripped through the suburbs of Oklahoma City and the floods in the San Antonio area.  Our hearts ache for those who have been affected by tragedy.

As Christians, we are blessed to be able to make sense of these things.  We understand from God’s word that this world that we live in, and the people in it, are under God’s judgment for sin.  From time to time death and destruction occur as a small foretaste of the judgment to come upon all people for sin.  Those who are found in Christ on that day will be judged to be righteous for the sake of Christ’s righteousness counted in their place.  It is a mercy of God that he allows terrible tragedy to occur to both the redeemed and unbelievers in this life.  This does not mean that those who are affected when calamities happen are more sinful than others in this world.  It just means that as human beings are all by nature under God’s judgment for our rebellion against him.  These terrible events give those who remain and are still alive an opportunity to reflect and consider their ways, in order that they will turn from their sins and believe in Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent to be the Savior of the world.  God is sending them a message through the calamities in this world, giving them a chance.

As Christians the way to respond to sad events like these which affect our community or other communities is by worshiping God, exercising faith in Him.  God is sovereign over such human events.  They occur by His will.  As believers, we are assured that no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem at a given moment, no matter how hard it is to understand how a given tragedy fits into God’s plan, all of these things are a part of God’s plan for good.  Even the bad things that happen in this world are tending toward a good purpose in God’s plan.  It takes faith to believe this, because we can’t always see how something so terrible could possibly be used for good.  But we have a God who delights to bring good out of evil, as he has from the time that he used Joseph’s sale and slavery in Egypt as a way to save the whole family of Israel during a great famine, to His providing an atonement for sinners through the worst crime mankind has ever committed, the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory.

So, as Christians, our response to tragedy should be to worship God, in faith that His ways are above our ways, and that His way is ultimately and eternally the best way, in the context of the whole plan.  Let us be as Job, who, when he learned that he had lost everything he owned and all his children “arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped” the sovereign God whose will rules all things. Job 1:20

The understanding that we have as Christians of evil, and why bad things happen in this world, is a blessing that lets us make sense of it.  And when we have opportunity, let us carefully, compassionately, and appropriately share this faith of ours with others who are struggling in times of tragedy, that we have a good God who is working even these bad things for His own good purpose.  What a comfort!

And, knowing that God is sovereign encourages us to bring everything to Him in prayer.

Categories: Current Events, Pastoral | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

If Christianity is True, Why Are There So Many Different Churches?: Part 4, Ultimate Questions

We have been looking at the phenomenon that confronts our world today, that there are scores and scores of separate churches within the Christian faith. We talked about what happened exactly, looking at some major events through the lens of history, and the root cause of the sinfulness of the human mind which prevents us Christians from being of one mind on things. That leaves us to consider the ultimate reason for the divisions that exist. First of all, I, as a Christian, am bound to believe that what has happened has happened strictly in accordance with the inviolable will of the sovereign God. The God of whom it is said, The lot is cast in the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD, (Proverbs 16:33) is the same God who rules and governs all of creation, working His sovereign will in whatever happens. This is especially true of what happens to the Church of Jesus Christ. And although Christians often have little but the faintest glimmer of the reason why things happen, that is, the ultimate purpose is of everything we are experiencing here and now, in this case God himself gives us a clue in the Bible. We read:

1 Corinthians 11:19

For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

The word, heresies here is used in the pure Greek sense of schisms or divisions from the Greek word, heresis. The point is that even those divisions which occur in the Church of Jesus Christ are according to God’s ultimate purpose, in order to distinguish those which are approved by God from those which are rejected. This is a hard teaching in many ways, but it does especially help to explain those divisions which come from a serious departure from sound Christian beliefs or behavior. But what about other cases in which the differences are more subtil and Christians still embrace one another, yet different churches lack substantive fellowship because of doctrinal differences? In cases where you have two genuinely Christian Churches which must remain separate, what could be God’s purpose in it?

I would like to submit that the reason God has allowed the churches that make up Christianity to split over so many different topics is in order to keep us humble. There is a tendency in any human institution (not in this case an institution founded merely by humans, but one which is nevertheless made up of sinful human beings,) for the inertia and pride of the institution to overshadow the mission. In the case of the Church of Jesus Christ, if there were only one united Church on earth, Christians might start to think that this Church is incapable of error (infallible), and depend on it more than on God. We see pride in the decadence of the Church of Rome in the age of the Renaissance, when popes sought worldly gain with impunity, by the sword or by selling indulgences1 to poor uneducated peasants to build the majestic St. Peter’s Basilica. It is seen in the various television empires which were built in the 20th century by popular preachers who grew to love the world more than Christ and His word. If there were not any divisions, pride in our churchly institutions would grow unchecked. But since we are so weak and foolish in the eyes of the world, divided in to hundreds of tiny sects by common parlance, can there be any doubt where the strength of Christianity lies? It’s not in us, but in Him. Because we are so divided for some good reasons and many not so good reasons, we must depend on God who gave His Son to die for us.

It is my belief that God has ordained that the Christian Church be divided because God’s glorious grace is magnified in the weakness of His people, as He says,

God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:27-31

1Indulgences were sold by travelling pedlars in Europe: slips of paper signed by the pope with the promise that those who bought them would procure release from suffering in Purgatory for themselves or others on whose behalf they purchased them. The funds raised were used to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

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God Was On the Throne Doing His Will in Aurora

When tragedy strikes, or more appropriately, a heinous crime against humanity is committed, as happened last week at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, it is a time for utmost sensitivity and prayer for the community and those who are mourning the loss of loved ones in a senseless, violent attack. At our small church in the country two and a quarter hours east of Aurora, I personally led prayers for the victims’ families last Sunday, and for the shooter—that God would change his heart. This is a time when people can tend to question the basic fabric of the universe. Does anything make sense when these things can happen? The world as most of us live and experience every day seems to be shattered. We no longer feel safe. If we can’t rest easy at a movie, where can we? So it may be natural to pose the question: “Where was God in all this?” This question was asked today by the people at the CNN belief blog, and as a local church theologian I tweeted appropriately in response, “In short, God was in complete control, exercising His will. I intend to write a blog post for a more detailed explanation.” As one might imagine, my single tweet reposted by the CNN Belief Blog drew no shortage of negative responses from Christians and non-Christians alike.

Well, I promised a fuller response, so here it is:

  1. The only direct response to the question, “where was God in this?” from a consistent Christian point of view is that God was in complete control exercising His will.

It is abundantly clear from the Holy Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments that God is in absolute control of everything that happens in His universe. We read:

Amos 3:6b shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?

Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.

Daniel 4:35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

Ephesians 1:11c him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

Therefore, when asked the question whether the massacre was according to God’s sovereign will, the Christian must answer, “yes!” He is not permitted to deny it any more than he may deny that God exists.

  1. This does not reduce or mitigate the guilt of the alleged perpetrator.

Providence is not precept. It is basic to an understanding of Scripture that God’s prescriptive will (what He commands and approves by His character) must be distinguished from His sovereign will, by which He secretly directs all of creation including everything that happens here, for His own ultimate purposes. God clearly condemns murder, requiring the death penalty and eternal suffering in hell for unrepentant murderers. (Genesis 9:5, Revelation 21:8) If the reports of what transpired are accurate, and the killer does not receive the death penalty, it will be an egregious injustice. But even the death penalty pales in comparison to what punishment will be meted out by God for murderers forever, (those who never repent of their sin and trust in the Savior.)  Although God was in sovereign control of the events on that night, He retains every right to judge and punish the perpetrator for his wicked sin against God when he killed fellow humans created after His image. In the Bible, God frequently uses evil men to do evil things for His own good purpose, and then later punishes them for their evil actions. Just ask Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar!

And although God is gracious, loving and merciful, He is also Sovereign. What God commands for human beings to follow is not identical to what He does by His hidden providence. There is no injustice in this. He is God and He made us. He has a right to do with His creation as He pleases. (Romans 9:14-24) Now naturally, this biblical teaching of who God is will not sit well with the Me-ology of those folks who would like to construct a therapeutic deity they can call on when they need him, but who doesn’t control much, (like a genie in a bottle they put back on the shelf when done.) But that topic will have to await another day.

  1. God turns evil actions of wicked men, like this murderous massacre, for a good purpose.

Christians believe that God is working all things for a good purpose. Life in this sinful world is messy, and often painful. There are terrible tragedies that just happen and we can’t explain them. Like a beautiful woven rug viewed from the bottom, all the strands (including many painful ones) of human life appear crisscrossed and confused. But God sees the whole picture, on the other side, where a beautifully intricate and breathtakingly splendid rug can be fully admired. On this side of heaven, it takes faith to believe that God is working everything out for good, because we can’t see how all the pain and tragedy in this valley of tears that we call life on earth could possibly work for good. But we believe it just the same. The God who predetermined the sale of Joseph the patriarch into slavery by his brothers to preserve the whole family of Israel, and the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory to save many sinners, is also working out the shootings in Aurora for a good purpose, unbeknownst to us at this point in time.

  1. The surviving victims and the families and friends of all victims are in need of empathy and support in this difficult time.

Although many well-meaning people will tell the victims and family members that this shooting was not God’s will, and they have the best of intentions, they are merely adding salt to the wound in reality. A world which is ruled by chaos, where only the decisions of independent actors hold sway, and God is not actually in control, is a much scarier place to live in than one in which a good God works evil actions for ultimate good. This must be expressed carefully and tenderly to those who have been touched by tragic events. But ultimately, the truth that God is in control working everything for good is a much more comforting thought than the false idea that God was helpless to stop it.

Your thoughts?

Categories: Current Events, Pastoral | Tags: , , , | 64 Comments

God’s Remarkable Providence in the Sack of Rome by Charles V in 1527

“The Sack of Rome”, Year, 1527.  Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, set out to get Luther at the Diet of Worms.  Instead, in a remarkable providence, he joins forces with the German Protestants to sack Rome, making Pope Clement VII hole up in the castle of St. Angelo while Charles’ army pillages.   The Romanists were distracted from fighting against the Reformation by fighting against each other.  It was a boon to the unhindered growth and success of the Reformation.  While Charles V was busy fighting the pope and occupying Rome, the gospel was going forth with power in northern Europe.  Glory be to God.  This is an illustration of that verse, ” The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken. ” Psalm 19:15

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