Thinking Out Loud

February 12, 2017

“God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life”

four-spiritual-laws-1by Russell Young

(A joint post between Christianity 201 and Thinking Out Loud)

Consider the cliché: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  This pronouncement is often given by those trying to evangelize.   This cliché is easy to accept at first glance.  It is encouraging to the one going through one of life’s struggles; it offers promise.   Those who accept that there is a god would esteem him to know all things and to be all powerful.  They also accept that he is all loving.  Consequently, the message is given and taken as if the person being addressed would only confess faith, his or her life would be wonderful, richly blessed and filled with joy. Although these descriptors are true, they are not true according to the world’s understanding.

What was “God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the apostles? They all, but one, experienced horrible deaths.  Think of God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the many faithful today who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. What are people to think when they suffer through disease and poverty? How are they to interpret God’s “wonderful plan”?

God does have a plan for our lives. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ may be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1: 11─12 NIV)

The plan is not “for us” directed; it is “for the praise of [God’s] glory.” Later in that book Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 NIV) This is also the declaration of a plan.

God’s plan is “wonderful” but will not necessarily bring the worldly blessings that many infer.   Paul wrote: “The Lord will reward everyone for the good he does whether slave or free.” (Eph 6:8 NIV) The rewards of God are not trivial nor are they necessarily temporal and their accomplishment requires suffering.  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12 NIV) Despite the trials, persecution, pain, and poverty that true believers endure in this world, they will reap a harvest of blessings and eternal life, if they remain faithful to the end. (Mt 10:22)

The walk of truth and obedience brings glory to God and eternal rewards.  This is his wonderful plan.  It does not include ease, riches, and the pleasures of this world, and those who present clichés need to take care concerning the impressions that they leave others.  They can mislead and be destructive to furthering the gospel. Weak faith based on misrepresented truths can give way to disillusionment and destruction and the spreading of a false gospel. Should the one being evangelized know the truth about what is before him or her?  Absolutely!  They must count the cost if they are to become strong and useful. Perseverance to the end is the only way that God’s plan can become wonderful. True believers know this and have committed themselves to victory over all sorts of trials through the presence and power of Christ. It is for the fulfilment of God’s plan in one’s life that his people have been called for the praise of his glory and it is in that fulfilment that they bring him glory. His plan is to conform the faithful to the likeness of his Son and to assist in the building of his kingdom.

It should never be accepted that God has ordained a moment by moment strategy for the way a believer is to live, that his moments have been pre-destined and firmly established.  The manner in which believers are led will depend upon how well they listen and how closely they follow.  Paul wrote, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:27 NIV) It is God who searches our hearts and from his search determines a strategy to affect the Spirit’s purpose.  Sometimes God will discipline, and at other times he will punish.  “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5─6 NIV) God’s plan is wonderful because he has a personal interest in accomplishing those things in our lives that will give opportunity for transformation of heart and practice so that a person might become acceptable to him. (Rom 15:16)  It is wonderful because it leads to eternal life, but most of the ‘wonderfulness’ will come in glory, not as we walk this earth.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young has been a regular Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 for the past year and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

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June 13, 2015

Who Rules You?

Each Wednesday at Christianity 201, I’m joined by Clarke Dixon, a Canadian pastor, who allows me to share the content from his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. It’s a win for us and our readers, and I felt that this week’s article would also fit well here. As we say regularly at C201, click the title below to read at source.

You Can Have Your King, But . . .

royal scepterby Clarke Dixon

We like to pick our rulers. We pick the experts we listen to, and with so many “expert opinions” floating around we have no trouble finding someone willing to say what we are willing to hear. Or we might look to societal norms for direction. It is good to fit in and be like everybody else. Or we might let media shape our beliefs and the way we live. If it is normal practice for the likeable characters on the TV to do this or that then it must be okay for me to do this or that also.

We are not the first ones to set rulers over ourselves:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:4-7 NRSV

In the days of Samuel, when judges were ruling over God’s people, they asked for a king. In asking for a king to rule over them the people are actually rejecting God’s rule and getting themselves into a great mess. Samuel tries to warn them:

He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 1 Samuel 8:11-17 NRSV (emphasis mine)

Do you see what the king will do? He “will take . . .will take . . . will take . . . ” And it all becomes “his . . . his . . . his . . .” because it is all about “him, him, him.” The people chose him, yet they become his slaves. And notice how we can choose things and become slaves:

  • We choose to drink – and become slaves to alcoholism.
  • We choose drugs – and become addicted.
  • We choose to buy whatever we want – and become slaves to materialism.
  • We choose to buy as much as we want – and become slaves to debt.
  • We choose to love whomever we want – and destroy our marriages through adultery.
  • We choose to view whatever we want – and destroy our marriages though pornography.
  • We choose to spend our time however we want – and our family suffers from neglect.
  • We choose to hold that grudge for as long as we want – and become slaves to our own bitterness.

The things that rule over us take and take and take. And our lives become focused on those things we have chosen. Samuel notes that the people will get fed up and remember the One who gives, gives, gives:

And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 1 Samuel 8:18 NRSV

There is no help in that day as the people will bear the consequences of their decisions. We normally do. Yet there is good news there, found in those last words “in that day.” For there was another day ahead, hundreds of years later when in the midst of many peoples claiming “Caesar is Lord,” a small group were shouting something different: “Jesus is Lord.” They knew something the rest did not yet know; God had never actually abdicated His throne. Instead He was working out His sovereign purposes. He came to us, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, died for the atonement of our sins, and was raised from the dead to be hailed “King of kings and Lord of lords.” The true King is putting all things right again. Despite the mess the people of of God had got themselves into through their own choices, God was still the King! They could turn to Him again.

We can make a mess of life when we choose people and things which will rule over us. No matter the kind of messes we have created for ourselves we have a wonderful invitation. Not to make Jesus Lord, for He already is that, but in humility to choose Him. And we find that He has already chosen us. He is always King. He is still willing to lead. Are we willing to follow?

March 7, 2013

The Edge, Shock Value and Shifting Standards

There are going to be people who think me a little too conservative for not posting the cover of the book referred to in today’s earlier post. Sigh.

no-godIt seems that we live in a time when standards are shifting, and even if your values are less progressive, it never hurts to go for shock value, as in Peter Enns’ article Why I Don’t Believe in God Anymore. Perhaps it’s just that people who blog on the Patheos platform are expected to be more controversial, but the word “God” with the red circle and red slash through it seems a bit over the top.

Peter Enns actually does believe in God, at least in the way most of you think. His article is saying that for him it’s really about trust.

…“Belief” in God connotes–at least as I see it–a set of ideas about God that may, if time allows, eventually make their way to other parts of my being…

…I see a huge difference between “I believe in a God who cares for me” and “I trust God at this particular moment.” The first is a bit safer, an article of faith. The latter is unnerving, risky–because I have let go…

In a way, Enns’ view is at the heart of Christian living. As people approach crossing the line of faith, our great desire is to see them reach that point of belief; but once the line has been crossed, the center of the Lordship of Christ is trusting Him with every area, every department of our lives.

I know someone who hasn’t crossed that line yet, but I know the ‘gay’ question is going to come up at some point and when it does I’m going to say, “Look, I want to let you in our playbook. Right now our concern for you is about believing, but for those of us on the inside, the fundamental question is: Can God be trusted? Can we see that out of good, better and best, He does indeed have a best for each of us, an ideal which represents His highest intentions?”

Trusting God has having our ultimate highest good in mind is a better way of framing difficult questions. It’s possible to look at people in an adulterous relationship and say, “I know you expect me to say what’s wrong with what you’re doing, but I want to ask you, ‘What’s right about what you’re doing? What do you derive from this that makes it worth the various inconveniences?'” I believe you could equally ask, “What’s right about your incestuous relationship that makes it worth the effort of keeping the secret?” or “What’s right about your gay relationship that makes it worth the separation from your family?”

It’s not rhetorical.  You’re going to get some answers in most cases. What makes it good. And then it’s easy to say, “I believe God’s intention was beyond good, beyond better. I believe God had a best, but we’re afraid of fully trusting Him.”

However, it’s important not to let this much more compassionate, much more sympathetic approach not undermine the idea of trusting God for the best. It’s vital that in the process, we don’t take scissors to scripture and excise the passages we think don’t fit.

Which brings us to United Methodist pastor Dave Barnhart’s article How Being a Pastor Changed My Thinking on Homosexuality. This piece has received a lot of attention online and is emblematic of what happens when theological convictions are transferred to real people engaged in real living in a real world.

Most people who have wrestled with this issue have come to recognize the personal disconnect that takes place when the convictions we would write on a list shatter in the face of people who have been damaged by dogma. No one reading scripture thoroughly can help but be caught in the middle of God’s holiness and judgment versus God’s compassion toward those who ‘miss the mark’ of His greatest standards.

The article says,

Being a pastor is more about being willing to be led by God and changed by the people I meet than issuing infallible decrees from a pulpit, more about admitting I’m wrong and sharing my frailty than pretending I know God’s will on a given subject. One friend describes preaching as a “homiletical wager,” and I’ve come to believe that pastoring, presuming to be a spiritual leader, is bit like gambling with God, where the stakes are very high but I’m betting the game is rigged toward grace.

So again, the title is edgy, it certainly goes for shock value, but has the writer really changed his view on the standards that God holds up for us, or has he simply come to see those standards in the light of mercy, come to a desire to confront the way The Church attempts to mete out its version of upholding God’s best?

Conservatives and traditionalists may feel the spiritual sky is falling, but I prefer to think of the present spiritual climate more in terms of a shaking. Too many people wrote things in ink that they should have written in pencil, or even chalk. But a massive rethink of terminology or approach doesn’t mean that we’ve completely tossed all our formerly held convictions.

As pendula swing wildly, the place of balance, the place of rest, is ultimately somewhere in the middle.

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