Sunday, 30 October 2011

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 10

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Continuing our series that we began here, we now consider our final part, Part 10, how The Providence of God is Full of Wisdom. Let’s begin one last time by looking again at Spurgeon’s text:

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)

I have had some mixed feedback from Christians on this series of God’s Providence; some positive, some negative. The problem some people seem to have with Providence is that they mistake it for fate. Spurgeon himself seems to have had hearers who thought the same way, for he addresses this issue here in the final section of his sermon. While perhaps similar at first glance, when we look a little deeper at it we discover that there is an important difference between fate and providence.  Spurgeon says,
What is fate? Fate is this, Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains any thing without a purpose. Every thing in this world is working for some one great end. Fate does not say that. Fate simply says that the thing must be; Providence says, God moves the wheels along, and there they are. If anything would go wrong, God puts it right; if there is anything that would move awry, he puts his hand and alters it. It comes to the same thing; but there is a difference as to the object. There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man. Fate is the blind thing; it is the avalanche crushing the village down below and destroying thousands. Providence is not an avalanche; it is a rolling river, rippling at the first like a rill down the sides of the mountain, followed by minor streams, till it rolls in the broad ocean of everlasting love, working for the good of the human race. The doctrine of Providence is not, that what is, must be; but that, what is works together for the good of our race, and especially for the good of the chosen people of God. The wheels are full of eyes; not blind wheels.
I find that so comforting; “the rims were full of eyes.” God sees everything, and because He does see everything, He also is able to have His hand in everything. As we said in earlier parts of this series, we may not understand why and how God does as He does, but the fact remains that He is somehow in control of everything. Just as Creation is God’s original work in the universe, Providence speaks of His continued on going relationship to His Creation. As Millard J. Erickson has said in his 1300 page magnum opus, “Christian Theology,”
Providence in certain ways is central to the conduct of the Christian life. It means that we are able to live in the assurance that God is present and active in our lives. We are in his care and can therefore face the future confidently, knowing that things are not happening merely by chance. We can pray, knowing that God hears and acts upon our prayers. We can face danger, knowing that he is not unaware and uninvolved.
The secular worldview, on the other hand, has no such assurance. It is, as Spurgeon suggested, more in line with the belief in fate. Since the atheist does not believe in a God, and since the agnostic isn’t sure, one way or another, if there is or isn’t a God, they are both more likely to believe in fate. If there is no God, then everything that happens can have no divine purpose and can ultimately only be fate. Everything just sort of happens by chance without any rhyme or reason. Ultimately, it is all little more than complete hopelessness. As someone has said, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” This is especially so when events happen that seem to be inconsistent with what the world, perhaps ironically, perceives they should be if they were to come from the hand of a loving God.

In his excellent book, “The Lies We Believe,” author Chris Thurman addresses the lie that some Christians believe that “Because I’m A Christian, God Will Protect Me from Pain and Suffering.” I know a number of people who have gone through lengthy periods of unemployment. I remember one friend who even managed to laugh about his predicament when he shared that he even received a rejection letter in the mail from an employer to whom he didn’t even apply! In the same way, people who undergo some form of illness sometimes fall for the lie that God is getting back at them for some “sin” in their lives. Sometimes we just cannot understand “why bad things happen to good people.” If bad things happen, does that then mean that God is somehow all of a sudden no longer loving? If bad things happen, does that then throw a wrench into the doctrine of God’s Providence? No, a thousand times, No! Thurman says,
Being a Christian means joy, peace, and contentment, we are told. We happily misconstrue that to mean that a Christian never has problems or pain … For many people their faith, becomes a source of bitterness and anger the moment life turns sour. God often becomes the scapegoat for all the hurt we feel when he doesn’t come charging to the rescue like a heavenly cavalry, or more to the point, like the loving “Father Knows Best” father who always manages to make things right. “Isn’t that love?” we ask childishly.
So how do we reconcile those painful things in life with the love of God’s Providence? I think that we would do well to remember that God has also given us “Free Will” to pretty much do as we please. The choice is ours. To borrow a line from that classic movie “The Matrix,” there is a red pill and a blue pill before us. There is choice “A” and choice “B.” We can choose God’s way, or we can choose the world’s way. While God desires that we choose wisely, He will not twist our arms behind our backs in submission. While the choice is ours, let’s not forget that choices often have consequences attached to them. For example, if I choose by my own free will to smoke, knowing that it is harmful for me to do so, then whose fault is it if I get lung cancer? Is that God’s fault? Is He now suddenly less loving? Of course not!  God may choose to heal me, and He may also choose not to, but that’s not the point. (Lest we digress too far, we’ll save the question of healings for another topic at a later date). The point is, with choices come consequences.

Not only did God give us “Free Will” and the freedom to choose, He also did the same for every other person on this planet. How will they choose? What choices have they made? How have their choices affected us? How will their choices affect us in the future? If God were to intervene on every choice that mankind makes, could we say that we then had “Free Will?” If everything that we choose to do were to get overturned by God every time it didn’t line up with His will, then we never really had a “Free Will” in the first place. In truth, we are then little more than robots.

There are plenty of lies that we believe, not just in the world, but also in the church. There are many false prophets who, while not necessarily out to deceive, have done exactly that. This was just as true in the Old Testament days as it is in the New Testament days. For example, Jeremiah 5:31 says, “the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction, my people love to have it so” (ESV). Likewise Paul said in 2 Timothy 4: 3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (ESV). This is nothing new. It happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and I’m sure it will continue happening right up to the end of the age when the Lord Jesus returns for us. It is the nature of man brought on by sin. We want our own way, not God’s way, and in order to make sure that we get it, we’ll gather ourselves to those who will give us what we want. We’re all guilty; we’ve all done it at one time or another. And though there are plenty of consequences for our wandering, and despite our stubborn natures, still God loves us.

That is the nature of the Providence of God; it is Full of Wisdom. God created this world and is still very much involved in it. He blesses both the believer’s field and the non-believer’s field with rain. God did not just simply create the world, wind it up like some sort of child’s top, and let it spin itself out of control. No, He is still actively and providentially in control. Regardless of belief or lack of belief, we all equally benefit from some measure of the Providence of God. God in His wisdom, chose not to create for himself a world full of robots, who mindlessly simply do His bidding. In God’s wisdom, He chose rather to give us a measure of “Free Will,” knowing that with it will come painful choices and consequences. Yes, such is the nature of the Providence of God, and such is His wisdom in it.  
_______________

I have enjoyed looking into Spurgeon’s sermon, “God’s Providence.” My prayer is that these ten parts that we have divided the sermon into have been a blessing and an encouragement. Thank you for tuning in, and God bless.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 9

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Continuing our series that we began here, we now consider how The Providence of God is Amazing. Let’s begin by looking again at Spurgeon’s text:

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)

What Spurgeon is focusing on here in this part is, “And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around.” How are we to understand that? The first thing that came to my mind is that the very word “tall” carries with it a measure of greatness, especially when compared to its opposite, “short.” A city built with nothing more than one or two story buildings, just doesn’t say great and awesome as much as a city filled with tall high-rise buildings does. Add to that “eyes all around,” implying that God sees everything and is involved in everything, and all we can be left saying is, “Amazing!” Spurgeon says,
O! that thought, it stagers thought! O! it is an idea that overwhelms me – that God is working all! The sins of man, the wickedness of our race, the crimes of nations, the iniquities of kings, the cruelties of wars, the terrific scourge of pestilence – all these things in some mysterious way are working the will of God! We must not look at it; we cannot look at it. I cannot explain it. I cannot tell you where human will and free agency unite with God’s sovereignty and with his unfailing decrees. This has been the place where intellectual gladiators have fought with each other ever since the time of Adam. Some have said, Man does as he likes; and others have said, God does as He pleases. In one sense, they are both true; but there is no man that has brains or understanding enough to show where they meet.
The Providence of God is truly an amazing thing! Who can understand how God works in this world? With so much junk in this cesspool of our society, and generally in society since the beginning of time, how does our holy God wade through it all and still come up with working out His purposes in it? It truly is amazing that such a thing is even possible.  It is perhaps easier to speak of God’s Providence when only looking at the good things in life, but can we see it in the bad things of life too? That’s a little more difficult. It is easier to see the Providence of God in the wedding than it is in the funeral. Fact is, however, that God’s Providence somehow resides in both.

We do not have to understand something for it to be true. Truth can be there apart from any understanding. The truth is that God’s word does not return to Him void, but accomplishes everything that He wills and determines should be (Isaiah 55:11). This He somehow does, regardless of what you and I do, or fail to do, or understand. No matter how much of a mess our human race makes of things, God’s Providence is amazingly carried out each and every time in total perfection.  As Spurgeon said, “It staggers thought.” I don’t pretend to understand that, but I know in my spirit that it is true.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55: 8-9; ESV)
If God’s ways and thoughts are not like ours but are higher than ours, then that simply says to me that we cannot fully understand the mind of God. Sure, there are many brilliant thinkers out there. If we could segregate all of them who ever lived together in one room, they would still never come up with a unanimous verdict on the nature and character of the Providence of God. Man just simply is not that smart.

How is it that, with all the free will that God has given to us, His purposes in Providence are fulfilled regardless of the choices that you and I make? It simply blows my mind. If we are obedient or disobedient to His call, His purposes in Providence still stand. Somehow He cares for His creation, with us, or despite us. That’s amazing to me and totally beyond my comprehension!

Recently I had a phone call from a friend wondering if I would meet him downtown. I had two choices; I could go meet my friend, or I could choose to stay at home. Neither option would necessarily have been right or wrong. Little did I know that God had providentially orchestrated a meeting between my friend and me on the street with a person whose heart was at that precise time made ready to hear from our Heavenly Father. Little did I know that in a short period of time I would be praying with a complete stranger on the street that day. That’s amazing. (For more on this event, please see my blog post entitled of Fornication and Street Evangelism).

What’s amazing about that event? It is amazing because even with my freedom to choose to go or not to go at the call of my friend, God’s purpose in that stranger’s life was realized. If I had no choice but to robotically go, then that wouldn’t have been as amazing. The amazing part is how God somehow still grants us a measure of autonomy to do as we please without Him reneging on His plan.

God’s Providence is amazing. Think about it. God’s providence means that He is caring for and helping us day by day. The food on our table, the clothing on our backs and the roofs over our heads all come from the Providence of God. We could argue that we worked for those things ourselves. However, if God had not providentially given us our jobs and the ability to work at them, then could we claim credit for those things? Hmm, I doubt it.

Ultimately, even the person who has nothing is a recipient of the Providence of God by virtue of the fact that he is alive. That says to me that God’s Providence is different from one person to the next. One person has a steak dinner and the next only a slice of bread. Is one less providential than the other? No, neither person would eat anything were it not for the Providence of God. Why do some people seem able to gorge themselves in their excess whereas others don’t seem to have enough? Doesn’t that seem grossly unjust? From our human understanding it does, but we need to again remember that passage we quoted above from Isaiah 55: 8-9, “God’s ways are not our ways.” Though I can’t answer that question, it doesn’t mean that God’s Providence isn’t somehow at work in both. Though I cannot explain it doesn’t make it untrue. That’s part of the “mysterious way” that Spurgeon spoke of.

Even our very salvation comes from the Providence of God. His care of all present and future events, including all eternity, is providential in that none of it comes from our ability or effort. Someone has said, “God doesn’t love us because of who we are; He loves us because of who He is.” He is the God of love who orchestrated a plan of salvation for you and me. The cross of Christ was a sign of the Providence of God. In His great love for you and me, He provided the means by which we can spend eternity with Him. He didn’t do so because you or I desired it, but because He willed it, regardless of what we did or didn’t desire.

Spurgeon concludes this section by saying, “A God that cannot do as he pleases – a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God and cannot be God. I could not believe in such a God as that.” Yes, the Providence of God is truly amazing. Often it is also incomprehensible, but it is still no less amazing.
_______________

Monday, 24 October 2011

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 8

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Continuing our series that we began here, we now consider how The Providence of God is Always Correct. Let’s begin by looking again at Spurgeon’s text:

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)

Somewhere I read recently, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” What does that mean? It means that just because one person or nation views another as a terrorist, doesn’t mean that others share the same opinion. From a worldly perspective, terrorism, like most other things, is really quite subjective. Even truth itself can be viewed as subjective. In other words, it is often dependent more on how well one argument is crafted and presented against the next one.

One thing about us humans is that we are a fickle people. What I mean is that we often seem to be constantly changing, sometimes without rhyme or reason. Sometimes there just seems to be no system or sense to the things we do. “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him” (Proverbs 18:17; NIV). Perhaps it’s all just human nature.

Thankfully God is not like that. Thankfully God’s truth doesn’t change based upon man’s ability to argue a point. Thankfully the Providence of God is Always Correct. In this section of his sermon Spurgeon says, 
The prophet saw the wheels, and he well says, they turned not when they went, they always went straight forward; they never turned to the right or the left. Such is God’s Providence. Man marks out plans: he says, I shall build this tower; he gets halfway up, and he finds he has not enough to finish it with; he has to pull it down, lay a smaller foundation, and build again. God never does so; He lays the foundation, and always finishes the top stone.
There is an institutional church group not far from where I live whose building project reminds me of what Spurgeon said here. A number of years ago my wife and I visited them for a couple of their services. They were a nice enough bunch of people, but something I heard from the pulpit each time we were there bothered me. They insisted that God was calling them to build a 5000-seat sanctuary. This was God’s will, they preached.

Suddenly, almost overnight it seemed, that building project was reduced to a mere 1000-seat sanctuary. Apparently, I sarcastically commented, God had changed His mind. Or, as Spurgeon said, did they begin to build their “tower,” and half way through realize that they didn’t have enough funds to finish it? Did they then have to “eat crow,” as the expression goes, admit they didn’t really hear God on that building project, and begin anew building on a smaller foundation? Today, several years after the fact, the shell of their new smaller building has been erected, but they are still a long ways from completing it and from moving in to their new church home. Who knows if or when the “top stone” will be laid?

It’s really quite sad, actually. Did they hear God correctly? I would argue, it appears that they did not. Man marks out his plans, but how many of those plans are actually in agreement with the will of God? “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21; ESV). Just because our plans may sound spiritual and Christian, that doesn’t necessarily mean that God is in those plans. Spurgeon continues, 
There are some who talk about God changing His purpose; such people do not know what God is at all. How could God change? God must either change from better to worse, or from worse to better. If He change from a worse to a better, He is not perfect now; if He change from what He is to something worse, He will not be perfect then, and He will not be God. He cannot change. It is not possible that God should ever change or shift in any of His purposes.
I love that line of reasoning. Any sort of change one way or another implies that something somewhere was not good enough and therefore needed to be changed. Furthermore, if it were changed now from what it was before, who says it won’t be changed again at some point in the future? Applied to the nature of God, that means that He could potentially change countless dozen times again before the end of the age. Take that argument even further, who says that He then doesn’t change His mind and not bother taking us to glory one day?  Foolishness, right? Yes, and not to mention, contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. Still, if we hold to the possibility of God changing His mind, then such a potential scenario is also very much logical.

An example of this that comes to mind involves changes in Mormon doctrines. Many of the doctrines that the fathers of Mormonism preached, are no longer practiced by the Mormon (LDS) church of today. Think about this for a minute. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, et al, are highly venerated by Mormons today as having heard the voice of God. If Mormonism no longer teaches ALL that their founders taught, or if they have somehow revised parts of the early message in order to be more palatable to modern would-be converts, isn’t it logical that the Mormon god has changed his mind? (Yes, the lower case “g” was deliberate, for I do NOT believe that Mormons are Christians, nor do I believe that we worship the same God. Their Jesus and my Jesus are NOT the same).

Likewise, I would argue, many Christians today are also guilty of watering down the Gospel message to such an extent that in many ways it no longer even resembles the same Gospel that the early church lived and often died defending. Most of Christendom today I simply do not see in the Book of Acts. The converse is also true; the church in Acts is virtually unheard of today. A lot has changed, and I don’t just mean culturally either. Has God changed His mind? No, and to be fair, most Christians would never suggest that He has. But the subliminal message many of us portray through our “churchianity” does often seem to be such.

The Bible is fully true (as originally written), or all of its parts are also potentially in error. And if parts of it are in error, then like worldly wisdom, God’s truth has also become subjective. The minute that we start questioning the truth of the Bible and the possibility that God changes, our whole faith becomes a sham and we might as well just quit Christianity all together.

The Providence of God is always correct. Man may make many mistakes, and man may be prone to misunderstanding the mind of God, despite his beliefs to the contrary. Even men who claim to be born again and guided by the Holy Spirit, can  and often do contradict each other. Why is it that four Christian brothers, all clearly born again, and all clearly known to be led by the Holy Spirit, can come up with four differences of interpretation and understanding of the will and nature of God? The only logical answer is that man is not always correct. Thankfully, however, the Providence of God is always correct. Thankfully, though we make mistakes, God never does.

“When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went.” The wheels of God’s Providence continue in exactly the direction that He has ordained them to go. We need not fear that they will suddenly change course. God will not change His mind; what He promised He will do.

“So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth; it shall not return to me void [without producing any effect, useless], but it shall accomplish that which I please and purpose, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11; Amplified).

“And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you” (Philippians 1:6; Amplified).

Thank you Lord for your unchanging grace. Thank you Lord that your Providence is Always Correct.
_______________

Sunday, 23 October 2011

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 7

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Continuing our series that we began here, we now consider how The Providence of God is Intricate. Let’s begin by looking again at Spurgeon’s text:

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)

What one word describes the wheel in Ezekiel’s vision? Answer: Intricate. My dictionary defines the word ‘Intricate’ as 1. with many twists and turns; entangled or complicated: an intricate knot, an intricate maze, an intricate plot. 2. very hard to understand; obscure or puzzling: an intricate problem.”  What a great word to describe the Providence of God.

In attempting to describe the intricate nature of God’s Providence, Spurgeon takes us back again for another visit with an event in the life of Joseph. He writes,
When Joseph brought his two sons up to Jacob’s deathbed side, Jacob ordered the two boys to be brought; and when he was about to bless them, he guided his hands wittingly; and he put his right hand on the head of the youngest, and his left hand on the head of the eldest. “O!” said Joseph, “not so, my father.” But he said, “it is even so;” and he gave the blessing. He would not give the blessing in any other way; but he crossed his hands. And so God usually blesses his children by crossing his hands. We say, “Do not deal so with me.” “It is even so, child; there is a blessing on thy head.” Do not say, Uncross thy hands; that is the way to bless the most of all. I wish to put the greatest blessing upon thee; and therefore I have crossed my hands. Providence is wonderfully intricate. Ah! you want always to see through Providence, do you not? You never will, I assure you. You have not eyes good enough You want to see what good that affliction was to you; you must believe it. You want to see how it can bring good to the soul; you may be enabled in a little time; but you cannot see it now; you must believe it. Honor God by trusting him. God has many gordian knots which wicked men may cut, and which righteous men may try to unravel, but which God alone can untie. We see the wicked prosper; they flourish, and great is their power, while the righteous are cast down. We say why? There are wheels within wheels. Do not fret yourselves because evil-doers are more prosperous. There may be a nation that seems to have right on its side; that nation may be crushed, and another people who are tyrannical may get the victory. Do not say why? Do not ask? You shall know the reason when you get up yonder: “God plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.” Do not attempt to do what Gabriel never dare do – to ask the reason why, for God will never give it.
I sure appreciate the writings of Charles Spurgeon, as evidenced by the larger quote this time. I am looking forward to reading the other 8 volumes of “Spurgeon’s Sermons.” As I said in Part 1 of this series, “I would have loved to sit amongst the masses just once to hear Spurgeon preach.” But I’ve digressed; let’s get back to “God’s Providence is Intricate.”

I have said it many times before; perhaps one of the greatest mistakes that many of us make is to think that we have the mind of God all figured out. God works this way; not that way, we preach to any who will listen. However, doesn’t Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s children suggest that God’s Providence doesn’t necessarily work in accordance with our beliefs and presuppositions? I wonder how many of our dearly held doctrines and theological beliefs are going to be lovingly shown in error on that first morning in glory? When we stand face to face in God’s presence and He says to you or to me, as He wraps His arms around us in one great big giant hug, “My dear child, that was not really what I meant at all by that. You’ve misunderstood me. This is what I had in mind.” Can you imagine the possibility of such a meeting at the throne of God?

God’s Providence is intricate; it is complicated with many twists and turns. Despite all my Bible School and Seminary training, the only thing I know for sure, is that He dearly loves you and me. Ultimately, for me, that is enough.

My regular prayer is, “Lord, make me a blessing to someone today.” I have been honored to be able to sit with many people who were sick and dying, or who were at the bedsides of loved ones who were sick and dying. Often times the question, “why” would come up, but so far, God has always chosen to remain silent. I’ve had no answers to share, other than perhaps “pat answers,” but who wants those? How do you bless someone when there is no answer? Perhaps, in keeping with the intricate nature of the Providence of God, all that is required is that we too, like Jacob, cross our hands and silently offer our prayer of blessing.

It is hard to keep from asking “why.” Spurgeon says that we shouldn’t be asking that “why” question at all. Perhaps that’s where faith comes in. Perhaps that is precisely why God does not answer all our “whys,” so that we can develop our faith in Him.

I am reminded of the conversation between Jesus and the father of the boy who was plagued by the evil spirit. Jesus said to the man, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9: 23-24). Sometimes that father’s words could very well be mine too; Lord, “help me overcome my unbelief.”

Do we have faith that, in the “Intricate Providence of God,” and that though we may not know all the “whys,” that God does know them, and that He has already laid His crossed hands of blessing upon our heads? Lord, let it be so.
_______________

Saturday, 22 October 2011

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 6

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Continuing our series that we began here, we now consider how The Providence of God is Compared to the Sea. Let’s begin by looking again at Spurgeon’s text:

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)

How does Spurgeon come up with the Providence of God being compared to the sea from his Ezekiel text? Where does he get the sea from Ezekiel’s wheel? He gets it from that little word, “beryl.” Spurgeon says,
The word beryl is commonly used in Scripture to denote the ocean, because it bears the greatest likeness to that deep green you sometimes see, and at other times the blue appearance of the sea.
As I began thinking about this section of Spurgeon’s sermon, I was taken back to my first morning of my first trip to Cancun. Prior to that morning, it had been many, many years since my last visit to any decent beach resort. On that early first morning, I remember sitting watching the sunrise and listening in awe to the waves pounding the shore. Even before the sun came up, you could hear the power of the sea through the waves, though you could not yet see them. My Bible was open and I remember reading this passage from Jeremiah 5:22, which (in the Amplified) says,
Do you not fear and reverence Me? says the Lord. Do you not tremble before Me? I placed the sand for the boundary of the sea, a perpetual barrier beyond which it cannot pass and by an everlasting ordinance beyond which it cannot go? And though the waves of the sea toss and shake themselves, yet they cannot prevail [against the feeble grains of sand which God has ordained by nature to be sufficient for His purpose]; though [the billows] roar, yet they cannot pass over that [barrier]. [Is not such a God to be reverently feared and worshiped?]
Is our God to be “reverently feared and worshiped?” Absolutely! My morning on the beach in Cancun created in me an incredible awareness of the majesty and awesomeness and greatness of God. Yes, the Providence of God can rightly be compared to the sea. Spurgeon says, “The sea is never still; both day and night it is always moving.” God’s Providence is like that too in that it is also always moving. There is no time when the hand of God is not at work in our lives. Like the sea’s powerful waves, so too is God powerfully at work in our lives. As the sea doesn’t shut down to sleep at night, neither does God log off and shut down His Providence at night. The psalmist illustrated it beautifully,
I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121; NIV).
Like the waves of the sea, God’s Providence continues day and night. An illustration of this comes from my former trucking days. I remember going up and down the same stretches of highway day after day past acres and acres of farmland. It always amazed me to see the landscape change as the crops grew. Even when the farmer sleeps, God’s Providence causes the wheat to continue growing. The psalmist said, “You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it” (Psalm 65:9; NIV). Water, both fresh and salt, is always connected to God’s Providence.

Another interesting thing about the sea and God’s Providence through it, is that God alone has control over the seas. Providence says that they are sustained by God’s hand. Sure, man has often tried to gain a measure of control, but if the sea had a mouth and vocal chords, I’m sure it would be laughing every time man tried to get the upper hand.

The sad story of the Titanic comes to mind. Man in his arrogance claimed the ship was “unsinkable.” Well, we all know the rest of that story. And how many times hasn’t man built his dikes in an effort to hold back the sea? We may see some measure of success initially, but sooner or later, the sea always wins as yet another community gets wiped out by the sea because of false trust in dikes. How sad that we still seem not to have learned. We would do well to have a healthy respect for the sea. Spurgeon says,
Man proposes and God disposes. Providence, like the sea, cannot be directed by man; it can be controlled by God … Man cannot alter it, and cannot change it. Let him try to stand against God’s Providence; and Providence will grind and crush him.
Though Spurgeon does not allude to it, I was thinking of how Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves before his terrified disciples (Matthew 8: 23-27). The disciples thought they were going to drown as the waves crashed in on them from every side. Jesus simply speaks the word, and all is calm. Why was He able to do that? There is only one right answer; He is God. He created the wind and the waves and as such they must be in submission to His command and His Providence. This begs another question for me. He also created you and me. Must we not also be in submission to His command and His Providence? Yes, He also gave us a free will to choose. What will you and I choose? Will we choose to be in submission to His command and His amazing Providence? I pray that it may be so.

The wheels of God’s Providence will continue rolling right along, just like the mighty waves of the sea, until the end of time when God sovereignly tells it all to stop. Only the Lord God himself has the power and authority to wind down the clock on planet Earth, to shut of the lights of the heavens, and shut off the taps of the seas. And yet, when that day comes, and He ushers us into glory with Him, even there He will hold and sustain us throughout all eternity by His mighty and awesome hand of eternal Providence.

Thank you, Lord.
_______________

Friday, 21 October 2011

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 5

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Continuing our series that we began here, we now consider how The Providence of God is Uniform. Let’s begin by looking again at Spurgeon’s text:

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)

Every once in a while, while I’m reading the Bible, a particular verse speaks to me in a way that causes me to sit up and take notice. Usually what follows is a period of meditation. Sometimes I quote the verse on a social network such as Twitter or Facebook.  Recently that happened with a verse in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he said, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). No sooner had I posted that when someone commented saying something to the effect that she doubted that verse was even inspired by the Holy Spirit, for she felt that it contradicted what Jesus said in other places.

I hear that kind of misguided talk every once in a while. Some people think that some parts of the Bible “seem” to contradict other parts, and so they come up with all sorts of wild reasons for it, such as a part being “uninspired.” Others have tried to convince me that the church has misread the Bible in some kind of way, which in some cases it no doubt has. However, other times it seems that they (ironically) suggest such misinterpretation for no other reason than to justify their own doctrinal biases. Still others seem to feel that God has changed somewhere along the line and no longer views sin, for example, in the same way He did before.

The problem with a lot of those online theological discussions, or any discussions for that matter, is that they tend to often become divisive and unedifying. The one thing often missing in the equation is LOVE one for another. I’m reminded of Job’s wife. Sometimes I think that what Job said to her he would say to us too, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). That is so us sometimes, isn’t it? We see the one wheel of God’s Providence, but refuse to acknowledge the other wheel of His Providence because we see it turned in a different direction than we are comfortable going in. Sometimes we too are as Job’s “foolish woman.”

Paul cautioned Timothy to “turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith” (1 Timothy 6: 20-21; NIV). Is there a wandering from the faith in Christendom today? Sometimes I do wonder about that.

We are so used to opposing and contradictory ideas; the world is full of them. I’m convinced that some people must go out of their way to try and find such ideas, if for no other reason, than simply to get our goats. Perhaps I’ve even been guilty of it a time or two myself. But as someone once said, “if you don’t want someone to get your goat, don’t tell him where it’s tied.”

Still, the question of “apparent” contradictions remains. What are we to do with them? Does the Bible contradict itself? Certainly not! So how do we reconcile this? Could it be possible that, when “apparent” contradictions appear, it is not a case of the Bible contradicting itself, but rather a case of man not fully understanding the mind of God on that particular issue? That, my friend, is the only answer that makes sense to me.

Ezekiel said, “the four had the same likeness.”  Spurgeon commented by saying,
There were four wheels and four faces, yet one likeness. There was but one piece of machinery; and thus we are taught that Providence is all one. Sometimes providences seem to cross each other. One thing that God does seems to contradict the next thing; but it never really does so. It is a great truth, though hard for us to grasp, that Providence is one.
To illustrate this, Spurgeon reflects on the life of Joseph. God’s plan was for Joseph to be the governor over all the land of Egypt. At the time, nobody knew of that plan but God alone. If we were to reflect for a while on the terrible things that happened to Joseph before becoming governor, it would be hard for us to see God’s providential hand in his life at all. If we see it now, we do so only because we are now aware of the whole story. However, looking at the events as they unfolded would likely lead to a very different conclusion on our parts. Certainly God, some might reason, if He existed at all, could not have loved Joseph! How could a loving God allow all those horrible things to happen to righteous Joseph? Others might balk at our suggestion that God was a God of love because of the events that transpired. Sold into slavery by his brothers, his father Jacob’s heart being broken all those years as he mourned the loss of his son, Joseph forced to work in heathen Potiphar’s house, his character assassinated as he is accused of attempted rape, imprisoned for years in a dungeon, etc, etc, etc. Contradiction, contradiction, contradiction! But was it so? No, it wasn’t. Somehow in the midst of it all, was God’s hand of “uniform” Providence.

We see this same thing in the Trinity. God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit. God is three, but God is one. Contradictory? Some would say so, but most Christians, though perhaps not understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, are at peace with it despite its apparent contradictions. The Apostle Paul said, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12; NIV).

Isn’t it only after the fact that we see the bigger picture? Could it be possible that all those “pseudo” contradictions in the Bible aren’t contradictions at all, but are rather simply our faulty misunderstandings of the nature and providence of God? I suspect that on our first morning in glory, when we finally see Him face to face, that we may shake our heads in wonderment as to how we possibly could have thought all those strange and wild things that we did.

Spurgeon described God’s dealings with us and His creation as a large woven carpet. The Lord looks down at this beautiful carpet and sees the finished work. We, on the other hand, look up at the same carpet from the underside and see only the mess of different threads and yarns, seemingly going in every different direction, and void of any real logical plan. Unfortunately, you and I often tend to only see the wrong side of God’s Providence. Because the events around us seem to contradict what we think we know about God, we’re quick to cry “foul,” as the person did who essentially chastised me for quoting Philippians 2:12.

We give God’s Providence a bad name, or disbelieve it altogether, because we tend to grumble when there is sickness or death or unemployment, or a host of other things. Sometimes we’re even made to feel guilty by other well meaning Christians who will tell us that bad things happen only to those who lack faith, or have a weak faith. Personally, I don’t buy that line of reasoning. When that happens, I remind myself of Romans 9:20, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Ah, the sovereignty of God! Spurgeon continued,
That is no business of yours. It is yours to believe that all things work together for one great purpose: that one thing never crosses another. But you must not expect to see it just yet. Here on earth the machine appears to be broken into pieces, and we can only see it in confusion; but in heaven we shall see it all put together.
In Spurgeon’s language, the Providence of God is “uniform.” In other words, it remains always the same and doesn’t change. God’s word doesn’t change, His nature doesn’t change, His love doesn’t change, and His providential care of this world doesn’t change. “I the Lord do not change,” God said in Malachi 3:6. The God of Genesis 1 is exactly the same as the God of Revelation 22.

So, perhaps we would do well to remember that the best we can do this side of glory is to see bits and pieces of God’s Providence. Though things might seem a bit peculiar, or even contradictory to us, they are not so to our loving Heavenly Father.

Can we rest in that?
_______________

Thursday, 20 October 2011

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 4

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Continuing our series that we began here, we now consider how The Providence of God is Universal. Let’s begin by looking again at Spurgeon’s text:

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)

Before we go on, I want to consider a couple of different translations that I think will help to make this next point of Spurgeon’s a little clearer. Unlike the ESV and the NASB, which says, “one for each of the four of them,” the KJV, the NIV, and the Amplified all say “with his four faces.” When Spurgeon said that the Providence of God is Universal, he was referring to this portion of the text. He said,
The wheel had ‘four faces’. I think that means one face to the north, another to the south, another to the east, and another to the west. There is a face to every quarter of the globe.
An illustration that Spurgeon uses to describe this is a good one. He speaks of being in an art gallery and being intrigued with a particular portrait that he felt looked back directly at him. No matter where he went in that gallery, it seemed as if the eyes in the portrait followed him. If he went into one corner of the room, the eyes of the portrait looked directly at him. If he went into the opposite corner, the eyes still looked directly at him. No matter where he went in that gallery, the eyes of the portrait still found him.

The world we live in is like that too. Planet Earth is a part of God’s art gallery, as it were. The eyes of our Creator, whose portrait hangs on the wall of that gallery, are looking everywhere. There is no place in this gallery called Earth where the eyes of God cannot see you. It doesn’t make any difference where you go; God’s eyes follow you there. Climb into the deepest ocean going submarine, God sees you there. If you board the next space shuttle, God sees you there as well. If our planet’s population were to grow to 100 times of what it is now, God would still have His eye on you just as much as if you were the only person on this rock called Earth. God’s “eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man,” says Jeremiah 32:19. Likewise, Zechariah 4:10 tells us that the eyes of the Lord “range through the whole earth.” You cannot escape His eye on you. I cannot escape His eye on me. Escape from God is impossible.

Not only does God see us wherever we may happen to go, He also saw us before we were ever even formed. Psalm 139:16 tells us, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (ESV). Not only does God see the unborn child in the womb, but this verse also seems to also suggest that He sees us (our “unformed” substance) even before conception. Hmm, what does that say to the secular pro-choice and pro-abortion movement? But I digress.

This all begs some important questions for me. Is there ever a time when God does not have His eye on you? If God’s eye sees everything, what does He see in me? Thankfully, in Jesus, I have been made clean before Him. Still, that does not give me license for immorality. Knowing that, should I be living my life any differently? Hmm, I wonder. Thank you, Father, for your “Amazing Grace.”

Listen to how Spurgeon closes this section of his sermon:
Wherever you may be, whatever may be your case, God will be with you. Whatever period of your life you may now be in, God is with you. His eye is at the bridal and at the funeral; at the cradle and at the grave. In the battle, God’s eye is looking through the smoke; in the revolution, there’s God’s hand managing the masses of men who have broken loose from their rulers. In the earthquake, there is Jehovah manifest; in the tempest, there is God’s hand, tossing the bark, dashing it against the rocks, or saving it in his hand from the boisterous waves. In all seasons, at all times, in all dangers, and in all climates, there is the hand of God.
And there is the Providence of God. Be comforted, my friends. Your situation and your circumstances have not gone unnoticed by Heavenly Father. He knows all about it, and though we may not see it now, He does, and always will, know best. Thank you, Lord.
_______________

Monday, 17 October 2011

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 3

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Continuing our series that we began here, we now consider how The Providence of God is connected with angels. Let’s begin by looking again at Spurgeon’s text:

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)

I remember being at a Christian retreat center years ago and being told by its administrator the story of a beautiful log cabin on their property. It seems that when the cabin was almost completed, there was a sudden lightening storm in which a bolt of lightening struck a huge tree nearby. The tree began to fall heading right for the cabin and would most certainly have reduced the cabin to a pile of kindling. Suddenly, the falling tree seemed to stop and hang up in mid air, with no other trees around it to break its fall, snap in two, and one half fell on one side of the cabin and the other half fell on the other side of the cabin. All ended well. The person who told me the story insisted that there must have been angels in the valley that day that came to the rescue.

I love that story. Is it true? I’d like to think so because to me it beautifully illustrates the hand of God in the everyday affairs of mankind. Is God concerned about a little log cabin of some remote Christian retreat center? Why shouldn’t He be? Hebrews 13:2 even tells us that "some have entertained angels unawares" (ESV). Allow me a moment of sanctified imagination. I can imagine God smiling as half of that huge tree trunk landed on one side of the cabin and the other half on the other side of the cabin. Who knows, but perhaps He even gave the angel responsible a “high-five.”

Spurgeon’s second point is that God’s Providence is connected to “angels.” What are angels? There seems to be a great fascination in our world with angels. In some ways it’s almost cultish the way some have become obsessed with angels. But what are they? Literally, the word angel means “messenger.” The writer of Hebrews asks, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14; NIV). For Spurgeon, the “living creatures” in his Ezekiel text are angels, or messengers. They are messengers sent from the throne of God. Somehow there is a connection between God’s Providence and angels. Wherever the wheels of Providence go, the “creatures” (or angels) go with them. Spurgeon says,
I do not know how to explain it; I can not tell how it is; but I believe angels have a great deal to do with the business of this world. In times of miracles and wondrous things, there was an angel that came down and slew the first born of Egypt; and an angel cut off the hosts of Sennacherib. Angels did mighty things in those ancient days. My firm belief is, that angels are sent forth somehow or other to bring about the great purposes of God. The great wheel of Providence is turned by an angel.
While the secular world does seem to be fascinated by angels, and regardless whether or not they have a correct understanding of them, the church ironically seems not to discuss them that much. Ever wonder why that is? I do wonder about such things.  Certainly there are plenty of Scriptures that speak about angels, so it’s not a case of them not being biblical. In fact, according to the NIV Exhaustive Concordance, the singular “angel” appears 207 times, roughly equally split between the Old and the New Testaments. The plural “angels” appears 96 times, 83 of which are in the New Testament alone.

Jesus himself spoke about angels assigned to individuals, such as in Matthew 18:10 where He said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (ESV). Is there a connection between the Providence of God and angels? That certainly seems to be the case.  I don’t know, but perhaps this is where the idea of “guardian angels” came from.

Herein lies a bit of a conundrum for me. We often speak of the Holy Spirit as the one who testifies to the believer’s heart concerning all truth. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26; NIV). I get that; it’s Christianity 101. Angels are not the Holy Spirit, however their “ministering” (Hebrews 1:14) according to Spurgeon seems somehow very closely tied to the work of the Holy Spirit. I don’t pretend to understand this, and I’m OK with that. The Bible remains true despite my failure to understand it all. If someone has revelation on this, I would welcome the comments.

Perhaps I have digressed. Maybe it doesn’t even matter how God blesses; maybe it is enough to simply know that He does in fact bless us. Let us rejoice in the knowledge that God has not left us alone to fend for ourselves. Let us rejoice in the knowledge that He does care even about the little “log cabins” of our lives. Let us rejoice that God sends his messengers, His angels, to do His bidding and the dispensing of His Providence. Let us rejoice in His great love for us, for where would we be without it?

Spurgeon closes this section by recapping Ezekiel 1:19, “And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.”  If the “living creatures” are in fact to be understood as angels, and if the “wheels” are to be seen as the dispensation or vehicle of God’s Providence, then it makes sense to see angels as the messengers through whom God provides for His people in this world.
_______________

Saturday, 15 October 2011

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 2

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Continuing our Spurgeon series that we began here, we now consider how The Providence of God is compared to a Wheel. 

Let’s begin by looking again at Spurgeon’s text from Ezekiel 1: 15-19 (as quoted in the ESV):

"Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose."

Spurgeon’s first point is that God’s Providence is compared to a wheel. He tells us that this is not the only place that the comparison of God’s providence to that of a wheel was used. Apparently in the ancient classics, the Romans and the Greeks both regularly spoke of God’s wondrous works in Providence to that of a wheel. Quoting Spurgeon,
The story goes, that a certain king being taken prisoner, was bound in chains, and dragged along at the chariot wheels of his conqueror. As he went along, he kept looking at the wheel, and shedding tears – looking at the wheel again, and lifting up his eyes and smiling. The conqueror turned and said, “Wherefore art thou looking at that wheel?” He said, “I was thinking, such is the lot of man; just now I was here; now I am there; but soon I may be here again at the top of the wheel, and thou mayest be grinding the dust.”
Is the wheel a figure of divine Providence as Spurgeon suggests? Is being at the top of the wheel one moment and then back at the bottom another moment an illustration of God’s Providence? Can that be a picture of God’s providential care in our lives? Perhaps it is.

I am sure I can speak for many of us in saying that there have been times when we’ve been down and out to such a degree that we wonder where the next meal is coming from. As the wheel of life turns, we find ourselves in situations where we are a little better off. The budget suddenly allows for a steak dinner or two. Our cup, as it were, overflows with God’s blessings. Then after a while, affliction seems to find its way back into our lives again. It might be in the form of an illness or job loss. Finally, after a season of this, the wheel of life elevates us once again.

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” If one sin were greater than another, perhaps the sin of pride would rank somewhere near the top of the list. And it is precisely there that many of us regularly wrestle. Pride also illustrates the great truth of Ezekiel’s wheel. We may be at the top of our game at the moment, but pride will have us eating dust once again real soon. Please understand, I am not saying that all falls in life are pride related, but it does illustrate a point. Do we think we’re strong? Do we see ourselves as great or rich? Remember, friends, life tends to be a wheel and we may yet be brought low again.

The converse is also true. Are you depressed and downcast today? Are you weeping because of your difficult position in life? The same wheel that carries one man down to where you are now will also lift you up to where he has been. Experience is never a stable and constant thing; it is always changing and always turning. The fly that is sitting now comfortably on top of the wheel may be crushed by the next revolution. The same crowd that called out “Hosanna” (Mt. 21: 9) while on top of the wheel soon also cried out “Crucify Him” (Mt. 27:22) when they found themselves on the bottom of the same wheel. Spurgeon says, “Such is the state of man. Providence is like a wheel.”

All is not, however, gloom and doom. Spurgeon reminds us that, “there is one portion that never turns round, that stands steadfast; and that is the axle.” God’s Providence provides us with an axle that never moves. Our circumstances in life may be ever changing, rolling here and there as on a wheel.  Sometimes we feel like we’re on a mountaintop with God; other times we feel like we’re drowning in a flooding valley. Life can be a real rollercoaster. Feelings, however, can be deceptive. The axle that is constant and never changing is the axle of God’s love towards His people. Though the place where the rubber of God’s Providence wheel meets the road of life is ever changing, the axle of His love has not changed, nor will it change. The world moves on, but God’s love does not. Rain today is followed by sunshine tomorrow, yet both are blessings of God. That is why the Providence of God can be compared to a wheel. Spurgeon writes further:
You observe when the wheel moves very rapidly you can discern nothing but the circumference – nothing but the exterior circle. So, if you look back to history, and read the story of a thousand years, you just set the wheel of Providence revolving rapidly; you lose sight of all the little things that are within the circle; you see only one great thing, and that is, that God is working through the world his everlasting purposes.
We can see the evidence of this, for example, when we look at only small pieces of the Scriptures or small pieces of any history textbook. When we do so, how many times don’t different events seem rather out of place? If we look at only small pieces of a puzzle one by one, it’s virtually impossible to see the bigger picture. A pile of small pieces looks little more than a mess. So too our lives, if we look only at the little pieces, can often appear little more than some twisted cosmic mistake or cruel joke. However, put the pieces together and look at the bigger picture, and suddenly our perspective changes and everything begins to look a little differently.

I suspect that God doesn’t worry about the little pieces like we do. Yes, He notices them, but I believe that He looks more at the finished bigger picture and sees the beautiful artwork of our lives. We don’t tend to see that because we are focused more on the little details of our lives and our location on the revolution of the wheel.

It’s hard to see where God is when disaster strikes. It’s hard to see God in the midst of the genocide of abortion and third world wholesale slaughter by militant extremists. Where is God in war and famine? Where is God in the unemployment line and in the bank’s foreclosure of our home? Where is God when we hurt and when our whole world seems like it’s spinning out of control? We may not see Him, but He is there, steady as an axle while the wheel of life continues to constantly turn placing us in various degrees of highs and lows.

Could it be that if we look at our lives, not with the troubles of today, but back at the bigger picture of the past forty or so years, could it be that instead of lamenting and mourning, we actually bless God for His mercies towards us? What does the picture look like if we counted mercies instead of woes? What does the bigger picture look like with all the puzzle pieces in place? When we look at life that way, can we begin to see God’s Providence? Hasn’t it been there all along? The Providence of God, says Spurgeon, is first compared to a wheel.

Spurgeon says, “Let the wheel go round, and you will see nothing but a ring of everlasting wisdom revolving.”
_______________

of God's Providence in Ezekiel's Wheel; Part 1

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Art Museum http://www.flickr.com/
photos/smithsonian/4248012230/
On my reading list lately is a ten-volume collection from one of my favorite preachers of yesteryear by the name of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Many have called him the “Prince of Preachers.” One thing that I’ve often wondered about many of the old preachers, including Spurgeon, is the length of their sermons. In reading their sermon manuscripts, it seems that they must have preached for hours, unlike the 20-30 minutes of today’s preachers.

This reminds me of a cartoon I once saw where a pizza deliveryman was delivering his pizza to someone on the front pew in a church. The implication was that the sermon was going on too long. Now I’m not suggesting that the longer sermon is better than the shorter one, or that we need sermons at all for that matter, but rather this is simply an observation from reading those old classics. Still, I would have loved to sit amongst the masses just once to hear Spurgeon preach.

However, what I really wanted to reflect on here is not sermon lengths, but rather the ability that Spurgeon had to pull vast thoughts out of a single verse, or few verses, of Scripture. The text for his sermon called “God’s Providence” was Ezekiel 1: 15-19 (quoting the ESV):
Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.
I’ve often reflected on those verses, never fully understanding them. What do they mean? Here’s what Spurgeon sees in them:
1)   Providence of God is compared to a wheel.
2)   Providence of God is connected with angels.
3)   Providence of God is universal.
4)   Providence of God is uniform.
5)   Providence of God is compared to the sea.
6)   Providence of God is intricate.
7)   Providence of God is always correct.
8)   Providence of God is amazing.
9)   Providence of God is full of wisdom.
I find that the Providence of God is a wonderfully comforting doctrine. It says that God hasn’t left this world to fend for itself, but rather is very much involved it its sustenance and its preservation. It says to me that though we may not know what today and tomorrow may hold, we can know Him who holds it. No, we may not understand why God does as He does, or why He allows the things that He allows in this world, but we must believe that He is in control and will see us through this life and, through our faith in the Lord Jesus, on throughout eternity in glory with Him.

I am planning on blogging my way through Charles Spurgeon’s nine points on “God’s Providence.” I invite you to join me as we explore this sermon together. May God be glorified through this exercise and may it be a blessing. Thanks for the visit.

Click here for Part 2 in the series.