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Archive for the ‘sovereignty of God’ Category

The Christian History Institute published the story of forty Roman soldiers who were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ on March 9th, 320 A.D.

“Consider—you alone of Caesar’s troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion. How can you do it?” Governor Agricola was speaking to forty soldiers in the 12th Legion of the Roman army who refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor while they were stationed near Sebaste in modern-day Turkey.

“To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still,” replied one of the soldiers.

The governor became exasperated. “Give up this stubborn folly. You have no lord but Caesar! In his name, I promise promotion to the first of you who steps forward and does his duty.” 

When that lure did not break their ranks he increased the pressure. “You persist in your rebellion? Then prepare for torture, prison, death!”

The soldiers stood firm. “Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats—we’ve learned to deny our bodies where the welfare of our souls is at stake.”

Agricola ordered them flogged. Guards dragged the men out into the cold where they were stripped and tied to posts. Whips with hooks of iron tore the men’s sides. Unbelievably not one of the forty surrendered. “Chain them in my dungeons!” roared Agricola. He referred their case to Lysias, commander of the 12th Legion, whose coming was soon expected. When Lysias arrived he threatened a sharp penalty if the soldiers continued to disobey.

On this day, 9 March 320, the men remained respectfully defiant. A new torture occurred to Agricola. Nearby was a frozen pond. The March air was sharp. “You will stand naked on the ice until you agree to sacrifice to the gods,” he said.

The rebel soldiers tore off their own clothes and ran toward the pond in the freezing air. “We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship,” shouted one. “What is our death but entrance into eternal life?” Striking up a song, they marched onto the frozen pond. Baffled, Agricola posted guards. He had baths of warm water heated as an incentive to the forty to come off the pond.

As dark closed in, the forty prayed, “Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be missing from this sacred number.” It appeared their prayer was doomed to disappointment, however. Babbling, one of the forty crawled away from the ice. Guards helped him into a bath but the heat proved too much of a shock to his frozen system. He immediately went into convulsions and died.

However, one of the guards had seen a vision of angels with crowns hovering over the pond. Impressed by the bravery of the remaining thirty-nine, he shucked off his clothes and ran onto the ice. The martyrs numbered forty again!

When the sun rose, Agricola was told that the forty were dead. He ordered the bodies burned and their ashes dumped into a nearby river so the bones could not be collected and venerated. When the guards began stacking the stiff corpses onto a wagon, they discovered that Melito, the youngest of the soldiers, was still alive. 

Melito was a local boy. The soldiers recognized his mom nearby. “Listen, Mother, take your boy home, save his life if you can. We’ll look the other way,” they said.

“What kind of talk is that?” scolded the woman. “Would you cheat him of his crown? I’ll never let that happen!” As the wagon began to roll away, she hoisted her son in with the others.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:10-12).

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toothpaste

From the first time I heard the illustration, I loved it. When a tube of toothpaste gets squeezed, what comes out? Toothpaste, of course! It’s what’s on the inside of the tube. In the same way, when we feel the squeeze of something in our life, what comes out? Whatever is on the inside – in other words, whatever is in our heart.

Trials, troubles, pains, hurts, and just plain irritations come our way. When they do, they squeeze us. Getting cut off by another driver, followed by an angry outburst, reveals the impatience or selfishness found deep down in our heart. Reacting to bad news with anxiety, or even panic, reveals a lack of trust in God. The list goes on and on.

Recently, I heard someone say they were thankful that God, in His grace, had used a “squeeze” to show them what was in their heart – specifically, something that was sinful and needed to change. This added element takes being “squeezed” to another level. We can be thankful for God-ordained “squeezes” because they are part of His plan to conform us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-29).

Nobody likes to be squeezed like a tube of toothpaste, but ultimately it’s good for us because it’s a tool God uses to mold and shape us to be more like Jesus.

Thanks be to the Lord for His squeezing grace!

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Therefore I Have Hope is an excellent book written by Cameron Cole. The subtitle is 12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain & Redeem in Tragedy. For Cole and his wife, this is no theoretical exercise; they lost their very young son in 2013.

In World magazine, Marvin Olasky writes,

The center of the book physically and spiritually is Cole’s sixth truth: God’s providence. Cole relates a story about a woman lamenting her son’s death in a car accident: “Why did God do this to me?” A well-intentioned hospital chaplain replies, “Ma’am, God didn’t have anything to do with your son’s death.” The woman snaps back, “Don’t you take away the only hope I have.”

Cole writes, “Behind the grieving mother’s remark lies the hope that the sovereignty of God enables. If God is not fully sovereign in your suffering, then you cannot trust that He is fully in control of your healing and recovery. If God’s hands are tied when the Worst enters your life, then maybe his powers are also limited in helping you.”

Cole then gets personal: “The idea that God had nothing to do with my son’s death terrifies me…For all of these years I would have falsely believed in a universe with higher  and purpose…If God had nothing to do with my son’s death, then certain pockets of life–the really awful ones in particular–are given over to chance.”

Cole acknowledges that “the matter of God’s sovereignty and goodness invokes tension.” He (and I) knows only one way to reconcile the two: the cross. If Jesus’ suffering was part of God’s goodness, in some hard-to-fathom way ours can be too. As illogical as that seems to atheists, they have failed for 2,000 years to come up with anything better in their own eyes: In their blindness they say light does not exist.”

(World, December 8th, 2018, p. 42)

Don’t ever say to someone God doesn’t have anything to do with tragedy or suffering. When you do, you’re not helping, you’re taking away the only hope they have (and you have).

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It’s sometimes said that pain and suffering have no purpose or meaning, even (sadly) by those who profess to be Christians. But if the God who is both sovereign and good is involved (and He most definitely is), there is meaning and purpose in everything.

In Psalm 119:71, the psalmist says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” That sounds strange when we hear it. We have a strong tendency to avoid affliction, or try to get out of it, because it hurts and we don’t like it. If we don’t see an obvious purpose, we think none exists.

Contrary to our limited understanding, one of the reasons for affliction (trials, trouble, and tribulation, if you will) is learning God’s Word (“statutes” is another way of referring to God’s Word and Law). Notice the flow of thought from the psalmist: At some point, he was afflicted (we don’t know the details). He went to God’s Word/Law in order to find comfort, meaning, the promises of God, the character of God, and the truth about himself. In the process, he gained more knowledge and appreciation of God, not to mention a closer relationship with Him. Therefore, he says that affliction was good for him. It drove him deep into God’s Word – the Scriptures – and deeper into God. Without those afflictions, he may not have learned God’s statutes, and neither will we.

There is meaning in suffering and affliction. God has many purposes for it – one of them being a greater knowledge and understanding of God and His Word.

Can we say that it was good for us that we were afflicted because it caused us to learn God’s Word? I pray we can.

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sdg

Last night and this morning, I had the privilege of preaching on Psalm 115. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: The God-centered life is characterized by giving glory to God alone. On a side-note, I used Power Point for the very first time!

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weary

“Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13)

Sometimes it’s tough to keep going, especially when you don’t see results. That’s true in life and ministry. We feel like we’re banging our head against a wall and we want to quit. Besides that, it hurts!

Listen to Paul’s encouragement in Galatians 6:9: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” We should keep doing what’s good and right even if we fell like giving up because we’re not seeing any results. If we maintain our faithfulness the results – God’s results, not ours necessarily – will come at some time.

William Carey, called “the Father of Modern Missions,” labored for seven years in India before baptizing his first convert. Mary Drewery, in her biography of Carey, said, “The actual number of conversions directly attributable to him is pathetically small; the number indirectly attributable to him must be legion.”

Adinoram Judson, America’s first missionary, labored for seven years in Burma before seeing his first convert.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Nott spent twenty-two years laboring on the island of Tahiti as missionaries before Pomare II was baptized on May 16th, 1819.

Don’t lose heart and don’t grow weary as you continue to do good – as you plant, water, and tend. In God’s time you’ll reap.

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This morning I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Rick Elzinga preach on John 19:16-30. Here is a summary of his sermon in one sentence: The death of Jesus, as John describes it, proclaims Jesus as king, shows that what happened was part of God’s plan, that Jesus perfectly obeyed His Father, and that He fulfilled the task given to Him by His Father.

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