God’s Plan Is Good!

-He Uses Evil Men!

When evil men set their will against God, He will use them & their evil plans for His Sovereign purposes! We’ve been talking about God’s Sovereignty the last couple weeks; and, Scripture tells us that God actually raised up Egypt’s Pharaoh to accomplish His Sovereign purpose:  “The Scripture tells Pharaoh: I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth” Romans 9:17.  God, in His Sovereignty, turns Pharaoh’s evil plans, for Israel, against him & sets Israel free, from their slavery to Pharaoh, to the praise of His Glory!

-God’s Eternal Plans!

In addition, to His Sovereignty, there is another thread that weaves its way through Scripture; and, it’s closely related to His Sovereignty. I’m referring to God’s eternal plans for His creation! He has a divine plan for all of His Sovereign work in the world & in our lives. One of my most favorite Scriptures, in all the bible, is an acknowledgment that Joseph makes in Genesis chapter 50. After their father Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers fear that he will take revenge on them for selling him into slavery many years earlier. But, look at Joseph’s response:  “You planned evil against me; but, God PLANNED it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” Genesis 50:20.

-Confidence In God’s Plans!

Joseph had become so confident, in God’s Sovereignty & His plan for Joseph’s life, that he even trusted God with the evil plans others had against him.  He didn’t separate his “church life” from the “rest of life.” There was no secular for Joseph! Everything, in life, was part of God’s sacred plan! God used Joseph’s negative life incidents to grow him! To sanctify & mature him! To set him free from the bondage & slavery of sin! We also see that God’s plan was to use famine to bring Jacob’s family to Egypt; where, He promised that, in 400 years, He would lead them out of Egypt to a “promised land” that flowed with milk & honey.

-There Are No Coincidences!

In this way, God orchestrated all those “circumstances” to raise up Moses to lead Israel, in their Exodus, out of Egypt.  The world would say it was just a set of “coincidences”! But, we know better! It just “so happened” that Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses, in a basket, among the bulrushes. And, because she “Just happened” to be Pharaoh’s daughter, she had the power to save his life, though Pharaoh had determined to kill all Israelite males! It just “so happened” that Moses’ own birth mother was selected, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to wean him & train him; so, he could grow in the things of Yahweh!

-God’s Never Surprised!

In fact, Moses’ mother was actually paid, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to raise him (Exodus 2:9). Later, God informed Moses that it was “His plan” to send him to Pharaoh & demand, of him, that Egypt would let Israel, God’s people, go! God always has a plan! The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, says that Jesus was, “…the LAMB slain from the foundation of the world…” Rev. 13:8.  From before creation, God had already planned that Jesus, His Son, would come to earth as a man; and, die on the cross to deliver us from sin! What a great God! He’s never taken by surprise! So, even when the world is surprised by a world-wide virus like COVID-19, God had planned, from eternity past, to use it to bring Glory to Himself!

 

God Is Sovereign Over Viruses!

-This Should Comfort Us!

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty is one of the most important principles to be found in all of Scripture! When we speak of His Sovereignty, we mean that nothing, in the universe, happens without God’s permission. That includes viruses like the COVID-19 that is currently wreaking havoc on our world! He has the power, the knowledge & the presence to prevent anything He chooses to prevent! So, at the very least, everything that happens in the world & in our lives is “allowed” by Him.

-God Is Never Surprised!

It’s because of God’s Sovereign control, that I like to say that He’s never surprised by anything! We’ll never find God wringing His hands over something that happens to us; or, anxious about how He’s going to be able to fix it! This Bible doctrine will absolutely change your life once it gets past your head & infiltrates your heart! You’ll learn to trust God with everything! That’s really the test! If you don’t trust God, with everything— including the “coronavirus”— then you don’t “get” His Sovereignty! Or, you don’t TRUST Him!

-Confidence In God’s Sovereignty!

Bible characters, like Joseph & Moses, got it! And, they proved it by living their lives, by faith, in God’s Sovereign control, regardless of the circumstances of their lives.  If you’re struggling, with anxiety & fear, over this coronavirus crisis, you may need to turn to some of these Bible passages & highlight them! For Joseph, who found himself in prison through no fault of his own, he expresses confidence, in God’s Sovereign control, over his dreams:  “Don’t interpretations (of dreams) belong to God?” he asked (Genesis 40:8).  When Pharaoh pulls him, out of prison, because he had heard that Joseph could interpret dreams,  he answered Pharaoh,  “I am not able to interpret dreams. It is God who will give Pharaoh an answer” Genesis 41:16.  Later, in verse 25, he tells Pharaoh, “…God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do.” He was about to bring a world-wide famine!

-Sovereign Over Affliction & Trouble!

So, God is Sovereign over weather patterns! And, no one can stop “…what He is about to do…” because He is Sovereign! And, I love what Joseph named his 2nd son:  “…he named him Ephraim, meaning, ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction…” Genesis 41:52.  We could preach an entire series on that verse! He trusted God’s Sovereign control over all the “affliction” & trouble in his life! And, God made Him fruitful in spite of it! It wasn’t his circumstances that defined him; but, his faith! Go back over Joseph’s life & re-read it, looking for his submission to God’s Sovereign control!

-Moses & Sovereign God!

God also reveals His Sovereignty to Moses. In Exodus 3:19, God tells Moses, “I know that Pharaoh will not allow you to go unless he is forced by a strong hand.” In His Sovereignty, God knows all things; even, the future! God also tells Moses that He is even Sovereign over all human, physical disabilities: “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Who made the human mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?” Exodus 4:11. Later, in v.21, after Pharaoh initially hardened his heart against God, God tells Moses, “I WILL HARDEN his heart so that he won’t let the people go.” When evil men set their will against God, He will use them to accomplish His Sovereign purposes! God does it for His glory (Romans 9:17).

Set Free From Sin!

-God’s “Rest”!

God is relentless in His determination to deliver His children from the slavery of sin! That’s really the backdrop to the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. In Scripture, Egypt pictures slavery to sin.  And, the “promised land”, for Israel, was deliverance from Egypt’s bondage. To enter the “promised land” was to enter God’s “rest.” No one can block God’s plan to deliver His people from slavery! And, I’m not just referring to Israel & the Exodus.

-Sin Enslaves!

We’re all slaves, to sin, from birth! Satan’s goal, for your lives & your fleshly desires, is to remain enslaved to the short-lived pleasures of this world. And, if you remain enslaved, to this world, you’ll also die with this world. The Apostle John wrote:  “And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” 1 John 2:17. Jesus said,  of those who came to faith in Him, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are NOT of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you” John 15:19.  God was relentless in His deliverance, of Israel, from the slavery of Egypt; and, that serves as a metaphor for His relentless delivery of every believer from the slavery of sin.

-Sin Harms Others!

In Genesis, chapter 40,  Joseph was sold into slavery, by his brothers, who hated him, you may remember; because, Jacob, their father, played favorites & loved Joseph more than the other brothers. Eventually, Joseph ends up in a prison, in Egypt, as he’s falsely accused of sexual assault. But, God blesses him with a supernatural gift of interpreting dreams. Eventually, God uses that ability to get Joseph out of slavery & prison because Pharoah had some troubling dreams that needed interpreting; and, Joseph was able to interpret them for him. The Pharoah elevates Joseph to the leader, in Egypt, 2nd only to Pharoah himself.  A 7-year famine sends Joseph’s brothers to Egypt, looking for food; where, they unknowingly come into contact with Joseph, whom they fail to recognize as their brother.

-Sin Repented Of!

By now, his brothers are repentant. They think that God is punishing them for the sin they committed against Joseph; and, eventually, Joseph reveals himself to them; and, there’s a great family reunion as the brothers go home, to Canaan, and bring their father, Jacob, and the rest of the family to live out their lives in Egypt under Joseph’s care.  The book, of Genesis, ends with Joseph’s prophetic words that God will keep His promise to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; and, deliver Israel. After Joseph passes away, a new Pharoah enslaves Israel.

-God Hears Their Cries!

God hears their tortured pleas for relief; and, raises up Moses to lead them out of Egypt, to the promised land, by many great signs & wonders to demonstrate His power. No one could block God’s plan to deliver His people from their slavery. While these are great action adventures, we totally miss God’s purpose, for including them in Scripture, if we see nothing but action adventures. There are principles that thread their way through these stories. One such principle is that of God’s Sovereignty. The doctrine, of God’s Sovereign control over the affairs of man, is one of the most important principles in all of Scripture. When we speak of God’s Sovereignty we mean that nothing happens anywhere without God’s permission!

 

Give Yourself Away!

-That’s True Greatness!

True greatness, in God’s Kingdom, is not shown by exercising power; but, in giving yourself away to others! Jesus contrasted the leadership style, of the kingdoms of this world, with that of God’s Kingdom, when He called His disciples together and said to them:  “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.

-Jesus Made Himself A Slave!

Jesus didn’t use His title—  “GOD” —as a big stick! At the incarnation, when He became flesh, Paul said, in Philippians, that He assumed the form of a “SLAVE.” The Greek word used there, “Doulos”, is the same word Mark uses in v.44. Jesus came to be a “SLAVE” in order that He might serve us & give away His life for us! In God’s economy, He calls you great when you, like Jesus, voluntarily ENSLAVE yourself to the people of the world & serve them! Don’t miss the significance!

-Not To Be Served!

Even God, Himself, did not come to be served. He came TO serve by making Himself a ransom for sinners. We generally think of a ransom as a payoff or a redemption demanded for the release of a hostage. It’s money that’s “given away” so the person, taken hostage, can be released from their bondage. Jesus was teaching His disciples that He didn’t come as a Gentile ruler, showing off how powerful He was! He could have! But, He didn’t! That was not His way.

-Jesus Made Himself A Ransom!

He came to give His life away as a ransom, for us; so, that we could be set free from our bondage to sin. That’s the good news of the Gospel! And, we’re called to live out our lives in the same way— to give them away, “Jesus-like”! So that the world will take notice that the followers, of Jesus, are not like this world’s leaders! We don’t strut! We serve! Jesus served us ‘til it hurt— ’til it killed Him! I’ve known very few Christians who’ve served ‘til it hurt! I can’t say that I have personally experienced any kind of pain from serving others! It’s never cost me blood!

-Make It Count!

Don’t give yourself away to a company; or, to a house full of stuff! Give yourself away to people! Be available! Make your time count for eternal things! If you’re too busy, repent & give your agenda to Jesus! One day we’re all going to stand before God & He’s going to ask us, “What did you do with what I gave you? Your talents? Your abilities? Your background? Your experiences? Your education?” You don’t want to tell Him, “Well, I was kinda busy with my own ambitions and plans.” Or, God’s going to say, “What were you thinking? Do you really think I put you on My earth to live for yourself? I put you here to represent Me & to serve the lost who don’t know Me!” Trust me, all you want to hear that day is:  “Well done, good & faithful servant!”

 

Upside Down Leadership!

-What Is True Greatness?

According to Jesus, true greatness, in God’s Kingdom, is counter-intuitive to the world’s definition of leadership:  “You know,” Jesus said in Mark 10:42-45, “that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” If you want to be considered “great”, in heaven’s economy, you’ll become a servant in this world!

-Unqualified Leadership!

The Apostles wrote to the local churches, in the New Testament, and declared anyone “unqualified” to be an Elder, in the church, if they “lorded over” the congregation. In this world, leadership is top-down— rarely does the “BIG MAN” in the corner office make himself easily available to those under him! Jesus flipped that leadership style on its head— He discipled His followers to be bottom-up instead! Leaders are to be servants who seek out opportunities to minister to others! Matthew’s Gospel includes a story about 2 blind men who call out to Jesus for help.  And, there’s one word that is easily overlooked in the story. But, it’s saturated with meaning & it illustrates Jesus’ brand of leadership:  “Two blind men shouted ‘Lord, have mercy on us!’ Jesus stopped and called them.  ‘What do you want me to do for you?’” Matthew 20:30-32.

-Jesus Stopped!

Notice Jesus’ response? Matthew says, “…Jesus STOPPED…” He stopped & made Himself available to 2 blind men who were probably perceived, by the rest of society, to be a nuisance. They probably stood on street corners with signs— ”Would work! If we could only see!” But, Jesus STOPPED! True greatness, in God’s Kingdom, is a willingness to be interrupted! To see people as more important than our agenda! Just do a study of the Gospels; and, you’ll find that most of Jesus’ ministry & most of His miracles happened because of an interruption! In the Gentile world, no one interrupts the “BIG BOSS.” Not so in God’s domain! True greatness, in God’s Kingdom, is measured by the people we serve— ”…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” There’s intentionality of leadership there! God intends to change the world by raising up Christ-like servant-leaders who serve those they’re working with in order to disciple them.

-Sending Out Servants!

God intends to send out servants into the world of business, education, law, politics, medicine & whatever your occupation might be, to serve those around you like Jesus did! So, that you might make disciples just like Jesus did! He sends us out into our neighborhoods & our kid’s activities to do the same thing! To make ourselves servants to others so that they might see Jesus, in us, and be won over to Him! Only as we yield ourselves to Jesus will He help us to prefer the hidden places of service over the public places of being noticed! Would you pray over that? Will you ask God’s Spirit to fill you & empower you with the ability to surrender yourself to His way of leadership? You’ll never be able to do it in your human strength!

 

Lead Like Jesus!

-Not Like Rockstars!

The more I read the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ interactions, with His disciples, the more convinced I am that the prevailing world view, of His day, was really not much different than that of our own. The disciples all wanted to be “ROCKSTARS.” That’s why they followed Jesus at the start! He was popular! They thought He was going to be king over Israel & deliver their people from the Romans. Who wouldn’t want to latch onto that star, if given a chance, and, ride it as far as it would go? If ever they were going to be His disciples, Jesus would have to retrain & reteach them! His kingdom was not of this world, He told them!

-Jesus’ Kingdom Way!

The way of Jesus’ kingdom was entirely different from the kingdoms of this world. Listen to what Jesus told them, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In essence, Jesus is teaching them to live their lives out in the hidden places of service rather than the public places of being noticed. One of my favorite pastors & authors challenges us to make that our prayer! We’ll have to pray that God changes our heart & makes us a servant; because we’ll never choose the place of obscure service in our flesh.

-Jesus Is Attractive To Many!

You see, Jesus & His Gospel have been misrepresented by much of the western church! So many self-identified “Christians” live such a selfish, mean-spirited, ugly way of life that our unbelieving neighbors want nothing to do with whatever it is they’re peddling! But, many unbelievers do find Jesus attractive! And, many find the true church— that strives to follow Jesus & His teachings— to be attractive like Him! Just think about it church—Jesus won us over because He served us at our deepest need! He loved us in spite of our sinful brokenness! Our cities & our neighbors will begin to pay attention to the church again when we serve them, in their need, like Jesus served us! When we love them like Jesus loved us!

-Jesus’ Model Of Greatness!

That’s how Jesus discipled His followers, according to Mark’s text. This is what true greatness looks like, in Jesus’ kingdom! Don’t steal the world’s model for greatness because it doesn’t look anything like greatness in God’s realm! True greatness, in God’s kingdom, is counter-intuitive to this world’s standard. The “…rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them…” If you’re going to rule or lead, in the Gentile world— or, among unbelievers— you have to dominate them! You have to show ‘em who’s in charge! Like the former Russian Communist leader, Lenin, once said: “One man with a gun can control 100 without one.” That’s worldly leadership! It’s not Jesus’ way!

Freedom From Cannibalism!

-Biting One Another!

In the Apostle Paul’s letter, to the Church of Galatia, he wrote: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another” Gal. 5:15.  In the context, of this letter, Paul’s main theme is “freedom.” The genuine follower, of Jesus Christ, is set FREE from their previous bondage to the flesh! We are FREE from the slavery to capitulate to the demands of our broken and depraved natures. No longer does sin have power over us! Jesus, upon His ascension to the Father, sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us with the ability to say “no” to sin’s demands!

-Called To Be Free!

So, Paul, the Apostle, tells this church:  “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” Gal.5:1,13-14.  The essence of Paul’s words is this— the Gospel, of Jesus Christ, sets us free from Christian Cannibalism! It is only Jesus’ Gospel that empowers us to love others like this! When our love, for others, grows, in this way, it’s a powerful endorsement to the validity of our words when we share our faith! Conversely, it is a blatant & ugly contradiction, of Jesus’ Gospel, when we “…bite and devour one another…” (v.15).

-Preying Like Cannibals!

When we prey on one another, like Cannibals, we sabotage the Glory of Jesus’ cross! We cover up the beauty of Christ, Who gave Himself up in payment for our self-centeredness! I saw the ugliness of Christian Cannibalism played out, as a Bible college student; when half the church, I was attending, walked out, on the other half, over the color choice of the ladies restroom during a building program! Their testimony, in that rural community, was ruined! I saw it happen! Oh, how we need the Spirit’s help to learn how to deal with conflict in a way that’s redemptive; rather, than destructive! A church that does not serve each other, in love like Jesus, will cannibalize itself! We can only love, like Jesus, if we’ve been set FREE by the Power of His Gospel! God can & does deliver churches from Christian Cannibalism!

-Overcoming The Past!

Only the Gospel of Christ can deliver our churches from such ungodly behavior! Some of you have experienced a church that devoured itself! You still struggle with the pain! It’s still raw! And, you are broken at the thought that some unbelievers will never come to faith, in Jesus Christ, because of the relational damage they’ve seen inflicted on others by so-called Christians! And, don’t forget to praise God if you’re part of a community of faith that truly loves, honors, and respects one other! That is truly a work of God! Be encouraged & pray regularly for a continuing peace & harmony in your church! Pray daily for spiritual renewal & revival! And, remember that it’s the Gospel of Christ that frees us to be Jesus to everyone we meet!