Take Care – Providence

The English language has a variety of ways of saying see you later. One of the ways in which we say Good Bye  is with two simple words “take care.” Sometimes we say this genuinely interested in the other’s well being, other times it is simply used to say good bye and I am done. Providence says that God will take care of creation from the moment of inception to the moment of consummation.

Providence does not just mean that God is creator, he is also the sustainer. The belief in God’s Providence stands as a bulwark against absenteeism or in theological terms “deism.”

Deism is the belief that God started the whole process, but is not involved in any real or meaningful way with our lives. Deism sees God as the first principle, the initial action for all reactions. Providence stands in contrast. He is the first principle, and the second the third, and the last (Rev 22:13). Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1:1-4). The picture afforded by deism is one of a God who is not powerful or capable enough to maintain a couple of spinning plates. The picture afforded by Providence is that God has enough power in just one word to sustain the whole universe.

There is more power in one syllable uttered by God, than all the words which describe the very forces of fusion powering the Sun. When God said, “I would like some light.” One little word, “light” unleashed the very origins of the universe.

The doctrine of Providence comforts us by reassuring us of God’s care: He is both all-Powerful and all-caring.

Continual Exercise – Providence

Growing up, I used to love winding a spinning top as tightly as I could and send it careening on to the pavement. The tighter I wound it and the harder spun it, the longer it would stay in motion. Slowly, but surely, the spinning top would begin to teeter and in the end it would fall and come to a complete stop. Everyday we interact in a subtle, imperceptible and stunning way with God. The universe functions and flourishes because of God’s continual exercise of power and love.

Everyday we encounter God’s Providence. In the same way that God is independent from creation, it is this very attribute of independence that shows His providence. He is ever sustaining, ever reigning. Providence teaches that God did not create the universe and then abandon it.

The word “providence” derives from the Latin providentia, the noun from the verb providere “take thought for,” “look ahead.” As a philosophical or religious concept, Providence denotes the care of God for his creatures. Providence means that God is the personal, sentient first principle. Providence assures us that all actions come from a loving, personal agent.

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. – Westminster Confession V.i

Providence lets us know that we are ever loved and ever cared for. God does not just wind up creation and then take step back to watch the show. Take a step back and drink deeply of Providence today and see His hidden hand caring for you. Interact subtly, intimately, and imperceptibly as you enjoy his Providence.

Independence

Children sometimes ask, ‘Who made God?’ the clearest answer is that God never needed to be made, because he was always there. He exists in a different way from us: we, his creatures, exist in a dependent, derived, finite, fragile way, but our Maker exists in an eternal, self-sustaining, necessary way – necessary, that is, in the sense that God does not have it in him to go out of existence, just as we do not have it in us to live for ever. We necessarily age and die, because it is our present nature to do that; God necessarily continues for ever unchanged, because it is his eternal nature to do that. This is one of many contrasts between creature and Creator.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. Is. 40:28
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases Is. 40:29

God’s independence is defined as follows: God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him [p. 161] joy. This attribute of God is sometimes called his self-existence or his aseity (from the Latin words a se which mean “from himself “).

God’s being is also something totally unique. It is not just that God does not need the creation for anything; God could not need the creation for anything. The difference between the creature and the Creator is an immensely vast difference, for God exists in a fundamentally different order of being. It is not just that we exist and God has always existed; it is also that God necessarily exists in an infinitely better, stronger, more excellent way. The difference between God’s being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the arctic ice cap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God’s being is qualitatively different. No limitation or imperfection in creation should be projected onto our thought of God. He is the Creator; all else is creaturely. All else can pass away in an instant; he necessarily exists forever.

In theology, endless mistakes result from supposing that the conditions, bounds, and limits of our own finite existence apply to God. The doctrine of his aseity stands as a bulwark against such mistakes. In our life of faith, we easily impoverish ourselves by embracing an idea of God that is too limited and small, and again the doctrine of God’s aseity stands as a bulwark to stop this happening It is vital for spiritual health to believe that God is great (cf. Ps. 95:1-7), and grasping the truth of his aseity is the first step on the road to doing this.

God does not need us for anything, yet it is the amazing fact of our existence that he chooses to delight in us and to allow us to bring joy to his heart. This is the basis for personal significance in the lives of all God’s people: to be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined.

Speechless – New Series

Ever try to describe something so magnificent or beautiful, that your words or thoughts just couldn’t do it justice? So it is when we try to describe God. Thinking about God leaves us speechless—in a good way.

Over the next month or so, we will be looking at the idea of who God is and what He is like. Theologians have spilled a lot of ink writing about who God is. Sometimes the best way to describe Him, is actually to say who He isn’t.

Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

God invented language it would only seem fitting that the very vehicle which he invented would be incapable of delivering His full disclosure.

The early Church fathers used the term apophatic theology. Words are inadequate at describing someone so magnificent. God is ineffably sublime.

We often describe God as invisible, immortal, unchangeable, infinite, unrivalled, unequalled. We often used apophatic words and don’t even realise we are doing deep theology. In saying what he isn’t we clearly delineate who He is.

God’s character nature cannot be described by words. His nature and character are only fully known by his self disclosure in Jesus, The Word made flesh.

I Thirst

I had the joy and privilege of going on the Alpha Away Day also known as the Holy Spirit away day. I guess an adjective to describe those who went on the Alpha away day would be “thirsty”. It reminded me of Jesus when he said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” “I Thirst,” are some of Jesus’ last words. They are unique to the Gospel of John.

John 19:28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”

The exact words “I thirst” or dipso in greek, though you may find the inflection elsewhere, is only found here in the Gospel of John. The other gospels record what is sometimes called the cry of dereliction “My God, My God why have you abandoned me!” John records only “I thirst.” It is a poetic way of reporting the cry of dereliction.

Jesus is the water of life of John 4 when speaking to the Samaritan Woman. Jesus is the one who beckons all who are thirsty to come to him at the Feast of Booths in John 7. In light of the connection in the Fourth Gospel between thirst and the living water which Jesus offers, it is striking that here, Jesus himself, the source of that living water, expresses his thirst. This is the poignancy of the cry of dereliction. Christ thirsts that we need not thirst again.

“I thirst” is a declaration of Jesus drininkg the cup of wrath to its full measure that we would not have to drink it. All we will ever experience is the water of grace.

Lastly “I thirst” is a prophetic declaration. Verse 28 says “knowing that all was now completed” and “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled”. The whole reason for this is that all has been fulfilled. His declaration of “I thirst” is not for himself. He is speaking of Pentecost. Jesus gives up his spirit that we may receive the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps we come to church thirsting for more of God, thirsting for the next fad, the next thrill, or the newest church service. Recently at the Alpha Holy Spirit Away day, a friend of mine challenged me. After we prayed for the infilling of the Holy Spirit he said, “I do not know what to feel. Are these feelings, this warmth, this tingling what you call the Holy Spirit. If it is, I was expecting so much more.”

Are we thirsty for the real thing? Are we thirsty for the right thing? God is much bigger than we imagine Him, why do we settle for anything less than Him.

Last Orders

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Every year on the Thursday before Easter we reflect on Jesus last orders before his crucifixion. In some english speaking traditions it is referred to as Maundy Thursday from the latin words “mandatum novum do vobis” – a new commandment I give you. 

I distinctly remember the first time I was put on sentry duty at Beast Barracks. The upperclassmen asked me what my General Orders were. Promptly, I popped off with the response, “1.I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved. 2. I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner. 3. I will report all violations of my special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in my instructions to the commander of the relief.”

A sentry is supposed to follow their last orders and their intent until they are properly relieved or are given new instructions. Jesus gave us last orders that are still in full effect, “Love one another just as I have loved you.”

John’s gospel is the gospel where the word love is used more than any other gospel. Even within the gospel, the usage of the Greek root of “agape” we see a massive spike in its usage in the three chapters of John 13-15. These are Jesus’ conversations with his friends right before and during his last meal with us. John puts it this way:

John 13:1   Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The only power that was able to hold Jesus to the cross was Love. The only power that helps us keep our promises to another is Love Himself.

Let Love Himself transform the way we relate to everyone.

Our King

Mark 15:26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “Our King.” [paraphrase]

A friend of mine by the name of Wayne once told me it is impolite to ask “What did you do that landed you in prison?” The proper social tact is to ask, “What did they accuse you of doing?” Obviously the first question implies that they are guilty, the second one implies a wrongful charge. Jesus was accused of being, “Our King.” Was this charge correct?

If you are at all familiar with the final 48 hours of Jesus life and his trial there were a few trumped up charges. This was not one of them. When Rome executed a criminal, the speculatore and centurions would normally affix a placard outlining the charges. Crucifixion was considered one of the worst forms of execution. It was illegal in the Republic and then the Empire to execute a Roman citizen by crucifixion. Even the non-citizen was afforded the dignity of being spared crucifixion. Crucifixion was reserved for the murderer and the traitor. Claiming to be king was a treasonous act against the emperor. Treason demanded the most serious of consequences.

And yet we crucified the Lord of Glory. Most of us do not understand the import of the words “Our King.” We live in a time constitutional monarchies, parliamentary monarchies, or are members of republics. We do not understand what it means to acknowledge someone as king. Kings have become figureheads. When we look at our passports and it says that our queen wishes us safe conduct, we do not really think that she actually has any day to day involvement or real say in our life or really cares about our safety in foreign lands.

Jesus’ death tells us how seriously many people in the 1st Century found Jesus claim. Many found it offensive that Jesus would stake claim over their lives. There is something inherent in us that wishes to be captain of our own destinies. As the poet William Ernest Henley put it:

I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

The placard, “Our King” speaks of gratitude, of debt, of honour. We failed in our debt of gratitude and yet our Sovereign’s good pleasure still rests on us. We live, move, breathe and have our being because of his royal grace. To call someone king or lord implies respect.

As Abraham Kuyper says: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

Jesus was not treasonous, we were. But his royal grace is enough to forgive every treason.

God’s claim is not a claim of possession, it is a claim care.

Easter is the story of humanity recognizing God’s royal claim.

Who is this?

Matt 21:10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”

All the city said it then; and all the world has said it ever since. For nineteen centuries one Figure has haunted the thinking and the conscience of mankind.

If you go climbing among the mountains, you may come occasionally to a lofty pass where the water-courses change their direction. Here a tiny rivulet makes its inconspicuous way to join the rivers flowing eastward: yonder, a few yards off, another begins its long winding journey towards the sunset and the western lands. The raindrops falling on one side of the summit may be carried down to the North Sea, while those on the other merge at last in the Atlantic. You are standing at the watershed, where all the streams divide.

Incomparably the most important watershed in the long history of humanity has been the Incarnation of Christ. At this point, the streams divide. After this, the human course and direction are changed. One Figure has split history in two—so that every event is now dated with reference to His coming, either before or after. In the clash and turmoil of this bitter age in which we live, His influence is still a more dominating thing, His power more to be reckoned with, than the power and influence of any Caesar. For this one Figure multitudes to-day would be glad to die; and no man who has once seen Him can ever quite thrust Him out of sight again or evade His urgent challenge. “Who is this ? “ they asked at the street-corners in Jerusalem long ago : and it is no academic speculation or theological theorizing that renews the question now. It is life, it is history, it is all that is deepest in your experience and mine, that force it inescapably upon us. Who is this Jesus?

Let us begin our inquiry by setting right in the centre of our minds one fundamental fact: the Christian religion is first and foremost and essentially a message about God. It is not primarily a new ethic. It is not just a gospel of brotherliness and loving our neighbour and accepting the Golden Rule. It is not in the main a philosophy of life or a social programme. Doubtless it includes all that : it involves an ethic, supplies a philosophy, enunciates a programme for society. But basically, it is none of these things. It is not a message about human virtues and ideals at all. It is a message about God.

That message is this—that the living God, eternal, immortal, invisible, has at one quite definite point broken through into history in an unprecedented way. Once and for all, in an actual life lived out upon this earth, God has spoken, and has given the full and final revelation of Himself. In Jesus, God has come.

Determination

Isaiah 50:7    But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

Luke 9:51   When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

Our expectation of the future determines the way we will face it. How would you face the future if you knew what really would meet you around the invisible corner of time? Hope is something that uniquely belongs to human beings. Jesus fully knew what awaited Him on this journey to Jerusalem (see Mark chapter 9 and following, John 11 and following, Luke 9 and following, or Matthew 16 and following ). If he chose to go towards Jerusalem, it would lead an inevitable future: your forgiveness, His death.

Determination (look forward)

Israel had long awaited a deliverer. They awaited a Messiah who would rescue them; what this rescue would look like no one knew. Would it be religious freedom? A new definitive interpretation on religion? Would it be political freedom? A freedom from oppression and aggression from foreign rule? Would it be social freedom? Would everyone final be free from want and need?

The beauty of the Incarnation is that it leaves all previous understandings of the Messiah in tatters. Jesus’ rescue would be such that the world had never seen. The dreams of religious, political or social freedom held by all would be mere appetizers for the greatness of the miracle that Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem.

The coach Vince Lombardi once commented, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.” Jesus’ rescue is incredible because only he had the resolve to say, “Father, not my will but Yours be done.”

Determined (look back)

The only way to have the resolute determination to face your future and embrace it is to look back. Look back and see the story of relentless grace pursuing you. Easter is the story that long before you ever knew and loved God, He knew and loved you.

I Have Come

Matt 5:17 Do not suppose that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets. I did not come to destroy, rather to bring to its desired completion. (author’s translation)

I have come is a declaration of purpose. Though more ink has been spilled by commentators focusing on Jesus’ relation to the Torah and Matthew’s understanding of Jesus and the Torah, few scholars have gleaned the cosmic importance that Matthew gives to this passage. Jesus came with a purpose and a desired end. He came that we may have life.

The gospels are replete with, “I have come’ sayings (cf. Matt. 5:17; Matt. 9:13; Matt. 10:34; Mark 2:17; Luke 12:49; John 8:14; John 9:39; John 10:10; John 12:27; John 12:47; John 15:22). Some have mistaken these sayings as simply to be a prophet declaring that he has been sent from God with a specific message using Old Testament examples for such usage (Num 22:38; 1 Sam 16:5) However, in the earliest greek translations of the Old Testament most of the times in the word “I have come” or elthon is directly linked the speech of an otherworldly emissary sent to deliver a message or accomplish a specific task (Num 22:32; Josh 5:14; Daniel 9:23; 10:12). Overwhelmingly the text of the Old Testament introduces the formula “I have come” to indicate a divine commission, whether a natural or supernatural emissary. It is most commonly used of either the angel of YHWH (Num 22: 23; Josh 5:14), the angel Gabriel (Dan 9:23) and then an unnamed angel (Daniel 10:12). What we discern from this text is that Jesus claims to be the Messiah and bring the Torah to its intended completion.

“I have come” presupposes not only a place, origin or commission but also an intended goal. The overarching impetus of the phrase “I have come” is that Jesus is not some one who ‘adds’ to the Torah or modifies it. This same idea of “coming” is seen in the Babylonian Talmud. “I came neither to destroy the Law of Moses nor to add to the Law of Moses” Talmud (b. Shabbat 116b).

Jesus does not claim to be a new interpreter, or a new prophet. His statement of “I have come” is even more radical; Jesus is declaring that he is in fact the Lord of the Torah.

Jesus’ use of the double negative of both “do not think” and “I did not come” are not only strong and emphatic, but also all encompassing and final. Their usage indicates that in no way, shape or form would Jesus abolish the law and the prophets. In fact Jesus is the one who will bring the Law and the Prophets to their intended goal. The goal is covenant relationship.

Jesus came that we may have life, life to the full.