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Lessons in God's sovereignty

At the ladies' bible study I attend every other Monday night, we are studying Exodus.  We just finished going through the plagues, the Passover, and the flight from Egypt.  We're at the point where the Israelites are being fed manna.

Over the past couple of weeks, the reality that Pharaoh's heart was hardened has come up frequently.  There are about thirty of us there, and the reactions are many and varied.  The overwhelming majority are uncomfortable with the words "the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart."  All through the plagues and then even after he let the people go, God hardens Pharoh's heart.  As we read along, we know that the reason God does this is to reveal who He is both to the Egyptians and to the Israelites.  Despite the hard-heartedness of Pharaoh, God still delivers.  We learn that God is sovereign, even in the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh.  He made a promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He intends to keep it.

There have been a lot of voices raised in our discussion about how it isn't "fair."  Even after we looked at a cross-reference in the New Testament, in Romans 9, there were some who were clearly uncomfortable with the idea that God hardens hearts.  One woman even objected to the use of Romans 9 because, she said quite disdainfully that, "People use that to support the idea of predestination."  I remained quiet.

I have thought about that evening quite a bit lately, about how we are uncomfortable with God's hardening of the heart of Pharaoh.  We want God to be sovereign over everything, but there are some things we are not too certain about.  I was thinking that I don't want to worship a God who is more concerned with what is fair than what is "just."  The idea of fairness is not fixed on anything.  What one sees as fair may differ from what I see as fair.  But justice is anchored in the Word of God and in the person of God.  There are a lot of lessons we are learning from the example of Moses, but I am learning far more about who God is, and that is really exciting.


Heart Aflame - February 21, 2010

Psalm 18:20

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousess; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.  We ought to view the Holy Spirit as intending by the mouth of David to teach us the profitable doctrine, that the aid of god will never fail us, provided we follow our calling, keep ourselves within the limits which it prescribes, and undertake nothing without the command or warrant of God.  At the same time, let this truth be deeply fixed in our minds, that we can only begin an upright course of life when God of his good pleasure adopts us into his famiy, and in effectually calling, anticipates us by his grace, without which neither we nor any creature would give him an opportunity of bestowing this blessing upon us.

When the Scripture uses the word reward or recompense, it is not to show that God owes us any thing, and it is therefore a groundless and false conclusion to infer from this that there is any merit or worth in works.  God, as a just judge, rewards every man according to his works, but he does it in such a manner, as to show that all men are indebted to him, while he himself is under obligation to no one.  The reason is not only that which St. Augustine has assigned, namely, that God finds no rightousness in us to recompense, except what he himself has freely given us, but also because, forgiving the blemishes and imperfections which cleave to our works, he imputes to us for righteousness that which he might justly reject.  If, therefore, none of our works please God, unless the sin which mingles with them is pardoned, it follows, that the recompense which he bestows on account of them proceeds not from our merit, but from his free and undeserved grace.  We ought, however, to attend to the special reason why David here speaks of God rewarding him according to his righteousness.  He does not presumptuously thrust himself into the presence of God, trusting to or depending upon his own obedience to the law as the ground of his justification; but knowing that God approved the affection of his heart, and wishing to defend and acquit himself from the false and wicked calumnies of his enemies, he makes God himself the judge of his cause.


Soundtrack for a Saturday

My soundtrack today will the sound of voices; the voices of ladies.

Today, our church his having its annual ladies' conference.  Last year, we had Mary Kassian.  Despite really enjoying her book The Feminist Mistake, she was a little disappoiting.  A bit too psychobabbly for me and not enough bible.  This year, we're having a lady who is friends with one of our ladies ministry committee members.  This lady is reputed to be an excellent bible teacher and a woman whose faith has been tried and tested.  I'm curious to hear her.

But, yes, there will be a hum of ladies' voices all day, and often, sitting with a crowd all day tires me out.  The young woman who will be in the sound booth monitoring things during the music and general sessions has invited me into the soundbooth with her.  Perhaps I will go there.

So, off I go, with notebook in hand.  One of my friends has to be out of town during this conference, and she asked me to take notes for her, so having a purpose to go really will make it a productive day.


The difficult path of Irish Puritanism

I finished the book The Irish Puritans, by Crawford Gribben, and I must say, I really enjoyed it.  One of the benefits of reading good historical books is that it sends one down bunny trails to seek out other good books on the topic, and I found a few I would like to poke through that address the specific history of Protestantism in Ireland.

The path of the Puritans in Ireland was a difficult one.  James Ussher, the most famous of the Puritans in that country, was a moderate man, and loathe to seem the radical.  The Puritan forces, which were dominated by the English, were occasionally divided in how to proceed.  The course of Protestantism in England, Scotland and Ireland at this time was heavily influenced by the Stuart rulers who had no real passion for God, it seemed, but rather courted whichever group would help them control Parliament.  Ireland was a conquered people, and there was a division there as well between Old English, Catholic and New English groups.  Most of the influence of Protestantism was confined to the north, where there was also a mix of Scottish Protestantism.

The Puritans, at the very core of their beliefs, wanted to promote the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.  This was hard to do in Ireland given not only the mix of individuals, but also given the animosity that was directed against the English.  And in all fairness, much of the English evangelization of the country had more to do with promoting the empire than it did the gospel.  The line between faith and national pride seemed to be a bit blurry at times.  When Cromwell took the lead during the time of the Protectorate, Irish-English relations were really not improved.  James Ussher eventually left Ireland, taking with him his moderate course.  The political tensions and the years of rebellion in Ireland seemed to eclipse any attempts at spreading the gospel.  Cromwell, while revered by some, is seen as a villian by many in Ireland.  I must say that when I studied this period of Irish history in university, I didn't think much of Cromwell.

Gribben points out that that spreading the gospel in such a politically volatile place was difficult.  He says this:

... the gospel will never win Ireland while it comes packaged in any kind of national flag - red, white, and blue, or green, white and gold.  National flags are what Christians trip over.

Gribben points out that Ireland is still in need of the gospel.  I like it very much when the historian takes us from the past back into the present, and he does that at the end of the book:

Today, as never before, Ireland needs the gospel.  It needs Christians who will stand, only as Christians, for the gospel, and only the gospel.  It needs Christians who come to bring the gospel, and only the gospel, who will be prepared to abandon the importation of their home cultures if they find that those cultures present any kind of barrier at all to the spread of the Word.

Next Tuesday, Lord willing, I am going to continue with my look at the Puritans, this time through the eyes of J.I. Packer.  A good friend of mine, and a fellow blogger, gave me a surprise for my birthday and in the mail last week I received Packer's book A Quest for Godliness - The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life.  I am going to share some of what I learn from that book.  Tuesday is my "history" day, and I am rather parked here at the Puritan era at the moment, and I'm quite enjoying it.


Who Is God?

That is the question that Wendy Alsup deals with in the second section of her book Practical Theology for Women.  This is definitely an introductory book, and as I read it, the wheels of my mind are turning, thinking of ways that this could be adapted to a group setting and ways in which each element could be expanded. Once a homeschooler, always a homeschooler,  I guess.

With regard to this question, Alsup discuses some of God's attributes,  specifically that He is our Father.  We are his children because we are adopted by Him.  Our Father is sovereign, compassionate, and wise.  She discusses that one of the ways He demonstrates His love to us is through discipline, as He uses all circumstances to make us more like Christ.  These particular areas of focus are excellent ones to introduce, because knowing that God is involved so intimately in our concerns makes meeting them much easier.  I think understanding the sovereignty of God is one of the most crucial lessons I still continue to learn.  Often, we pay lip service to the sovereignty of God, but our actions prove otherwise.  We do like to micro-manage, don't we?

Alsup then goes on to discuss how God is also our Saviour, Example and Bridgegroom, as she goes through the truth of who Christ is, and how we can only know the Father through Jesus Christ.  She focuses on the work of Christ on the cross, and how that work justified us before God.  Again, as I read this, I thought about how this topic could be taken deeper.  If I was to teach this to a group of women, I would use this discussion as a jumping off point to talk about God's covenantal nature.  Alsup also discusses the reality that we are in Christ, and she does this through the picture of the vine and the branches.  I liked this chapter about finding our identity in him because, as she does in all of the chapters, she moves quickly from the theology of the matter to how it meets our daily lives.  I liked this section in particular:

I have been both a high school and community college math teacher, jobs in which I found a great deal of personal fulfillment.  Now, I am the mother of two small boys, by far the most important and difficult job I have ever had.  Often, I have looked to each role to feel good about myself, which leads to emotional devastation when I fail.  god has used the role of wife and mom to finally get my attention on the issue of identity.  My husband and boys can't be my idols.  I can't pin all of my hopes for the future on their personal successes.  It's not fair to them, and it keeps me from placing my hope for the future in God's hands.  I must be a steward of my roles of wife and mom, not an idolater who looks to her husband and children for her sense of personal achievement.  The same is true for you in whatever calling God has given you.  Jesus must be the source of identity.

Alsup then finishes this section by discussion the third member of the trinity (although she doesn't actually use word, but that is the doctrine she is presenting), the Holy Spirit.  She says that the Holy Spirit is our deposit, guarantee, and seal; our comforter, helper, and counselor.  She reminds us that while all believers in Christ possess the Holy Spirit, we are not always filled with the Holy Spirit.  She encourages the reader to draw upon that precious resource in all circumstances.  She used the example of marriage, in particuar.  She discusses how when it comes to conflict in her marriage, she often has to be silent and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to her husband, and she must seek what the Spirit says to her.  She then finishes the section with discussing the role of the Spirit in our sanctification.

I like Alsup's approach.  I remember when I first was a Christian, I had many questions, most of which I muddled through on my own for about the first two years of my salvation.  It wasn't until a wonderful godly man became our pastor, a man well-schooled in the sovereignty of God, that I began to grow.  I don't know how we can grow without understanding who God is; how can we know who we are apart from our creator?

The last section in this brief book is about communicating with God, and I am sure I will finish that later today.  Here in Canada, we having a government-instituted "family day."  No Hallmark holiday here, folks; a government holiday.  We sure know how to utilize our elected officials here.