Posts Tagged ‘God’s providence’

Devotional Day 18: “Seeing God’s Hand in Natural Events”

December 18, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: Matthew 2:1-6

Several years ago, I visited a parishioner who was convalescing at home after a debilitating illness. He was a former NASA scientist—with a Ph.D. from Harvard—who was also an amateur astronomer. (“Amateur” in the truest sense of the word: he didn’t need compensation to pursue his love for the stars.) To pass the time and keep his sanity during his long recovery, he engaged in some astronomical research.

“I’ve made a discovery,” he told me with excitement as he greeted me at the door. “I know the date on which Jesus was born!”

“Really?” He sensed skepticism in my voice. He then qualified his earlier words: Maybe he didn’t know the exact date, but he had a narrow range of dates, within a couple of weeks, given certain assumptions. “Look, I’ll show you.” He explained his findings using a star chart, the Bible, and various clippings from astronomy journals.

Surprisingly, it all seemed very… plausible to me. And he wasn’t a crackpot. He said that it wasn’t actually a star, per se, but a morning star—Jupiter, I believe—which would have been visible to the magi at this particular time in this particular region. Contrary to popular illustrations of the Star of Bethlehem and Christmas songs like “Do You Hear What I Hear,” this astral phenomenon was not something just anyone would have noticed. But for men like these magi who made their living studying the night sky, this would have been an incredibly curious event.

The point is, my friend believed that through this natural event, God was speaking to the magi.

If I could go back in time and talk to him, I would ask him about verses 9 and 10, which describe the original star “going before them” and “coming to rest over the place” where Jesus was. That doesn’t sound like it can be explained by a merely natural phenomenon, but that’s not important for the purposes of this devotional.

What’s important is that this parishioner helped me appreciate once again the importance of God’s providence: God is always at work in our world—not merely through supernatural events—but through completely normal, natural, predictable, scientifically explainable events! Nothing happens outside of God’s sovereign control. If something happens in the universe, whether caused by God or allowed by God, it happens according to God’s will, for his purposes, for his glory.

So even if the Star of Bethlehem was a natural event—and I have no idea—it was a natural event designed by God to bring these magi west to Jesus Christ—to bring them to salvation through Christ.

From my perspective, then, this means miracles happen all the time—even if we can “explain” them naturally. God’s fingerprints everywhere!

Are we aware of God’s presence in the ordinary, the mundane, and the everyday? Is God trying to get our attention? Are we paying attention?

Devotional Podcast #16: “Will Our Father Take Care of Us?”

February 23, 2018

One of the most important questions we face as Christians is this: Do we believe that our heavenly Father will take care of us? Jesus promises that he will, for example, in Matthew 6:25-34. But Jesus and the New Testament writers warn us that we’ll face sickness, violence, suffering, and death. How is that taking care of us? This podcast episode explores these questions.

Devotional Text: Matthew 6:25-34

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Thursday, February 22, and this is Devotional Podcast number 16. It’s a long one, so stick with me.

You’re listening to the Beach Boys song “Good Vibrations,” which I recorded from their 1967 album Smiley Smile—the album the band released in place of their unfinished masterpiece Smile. This album, a hastily assembled consolation prize, is actually quite charming in its own right. Anyway, in addition to being a #1 hit for the band, this song was also the most expensive pop single ever recorded! Brian Wilson worked on it for months!

Last week, after another national tragedy, many people—apparently—urged us to send out our “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families.

Not that I saw or heard anyone calling for “thoughts and prayers” this time, but I certainly saw the backlash against people calling for “thoughts and prayers.” “It’s not enough to send ‘thoughts and prayers.’” these people said in various ways. “No more ‘thoughts and prayers’! Do something real instead!”

And I get it: When someone asks for thoughts and prayers—or says that they’re sending out thoughts and prayers—it often sounds glib and empty. And believe me, I also get that the subtext of these complaints is as much about politics as theology. These critics are talking more about what politicians have or haven’t done than they are  about God. I know that. But they’re talking enough about God to bother me a little. Which is why I’m talking about it.

Let me begin by agreeing, in part, with these critics: from a Christian point of view, no amount of positive thinking, or sympathetic thinking, or compassionate thinking—by itself—can accomplish anything.

We don’t really believe in “good vibrations,” right—as much as we love the song? (And I love that song!)

God doesn’t respond to “good vibrations”; he responds to prayer!

Or… doesn’t he? For those of us who are his children—who have been adopted into his family through faith in his Son and for whom God is our Father—can we trust our Father to take care of us?

This is surely one of the most important questions of our time… And I’m not mostly speaking of this question as an apologetic concern—so that we can give a defense of our faith to skeptical people who don’t believe in God and might use last week’s tragedy as an excuse to say, “See? How can you believe in a good, loving, merciful God who lets children and their teachers and coaches get murdered like that?”

Those are important questions, and I’ve blogged a lot about them over the years.

But today I’m talking to those of us who already believe in the God revealed in the Christian scriptures—I’m talking to my people, to fellow Christians: Do we believe that our heavenly Father will take care of us? Do we believe that he’ll supply all of our needs… so that we can be truly happy… so that we can know true joy?

Listen to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 6:25-34. I’ll read an excerpt.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

If there’s any scripture that promises that God will take care of his children, surely it’s this one. Is is true? Is Jesus telling the truth? Especially in light of some words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:35-39. There, before promising that nothing—no amount of suffering can separate us from the love of  God—he says that he and his fellow apostles have experienced and are experiencing tribulation, distress, persecution, danger, sword, famine, and nakedness. Notice famine and nakedness.

But didn’t Jesus say that our Father will provide us with food and clothing?

So which is it? Will Christians suffer “famine and nakedness” or will our Father “supply all things”?

I love what John Piper says on this subject. Let me read the following, which comes from his book Don’t Waste Your Life:

What, then, does Jesus mean, “All these things—all your food and clothing—will be added to you when you seek the kingdom of God first”? He means the same thing he meant when he said, “Some of you they will put to death… But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16-18). He meant that you will have everything you need to do his will an be eternally and supremely happy in him.

Piper continues:

How much food and clothing are necessary? Necessary for what? we must ask. Necessary to be comfortable? No, Jesus did not promise comfort. Necessary to avoid shame? No, Jesus called us to bear shame for his name with joy. Necessary to stay alive? No, he did not promise to spare us death—of any kind. Persecution and plague consume the saints. Christians die on the scaffold, and Christians die of disease. [And editor’s note here: Christians die from rounds fired from an AR-15. Piper continues:] That’s why Paul wrote, “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

What Jesus meant was that our Father in heaven would never let us be tested beyond what we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). If there is one scrap of bread that you need, as God’s child, in order to keep your faith in the dungeon of starvation, you will have it. God does not promise enough food for comfort or life—he promises enough so that you can trust him and do his will.[1]

So… we’ll get enough of what we need to do his will—no matter what his will is for us; no matter how painful or scary his will for us might be.

The question is, Do we want to do his will—above all else? Do we believe, along with the Westminster catechism, that our “chief end” is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever”?

Do we want what God wants for us? Or do we want something else?

Let me speak for myself: I am someone who has always had ambition—and I’m not talking here about, you know, godly ambition—the desire to share the gospel with millions. I’m speaking about career ambition. Even though it has not served me well; even though it has taken a toll on me; it has always been part of me. Long before I went into ministry I have been an ambitious person. I want people to notice my good work, to appreciate me… to love me, not so much for who I am but what I achieve. This sin is deeply embedded within me!

Back in the late-’90s I was nearly finished getting my electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. This was my second degree from there—for a second career. (So yes, pastoral ministry was my third career.) Anyway, I had a friend—I’ll call him Andrew—who graduated from Tech with a different degree many years earlier. He went on to get a law degree from Emory and became a consultant with a large consultant. And from my perspective he was… well, he was the kind of success that I wanted to be. Not that I wanted to be him, exactly—his job seemed deadly dull—but if I could achieve his level of success in my career—well, then I would know that I had arrived. I would know I was somebody. I would stop this anxious striving and be content.

If I could just be like Andrew!

Anyway, Andrew was in Atlanta on business and we met for dinner. After a couple of beers he told me something that surprised me. He said, “You know, I majored in electrical engineering at Tech. At first. And I couldn’t handle it. My grades were terrible. I went on academic probation. I had to change majors… Not getting that degree is my life’s biggest regret. The truth is, I’m a little jealous of you.”

Jealous of me! What on earth is there to be jealous of? From my perspective, my friend had everything! If you can have everything and still feel jealousy or resentment, what’s the good of having everything? Which goes to show how badly distorted our self-image often is!

So this is what it comes down to: If worldly success is your goal, you’re never get enough of it to be happy. If any worldly thing is your goal, you’ll never get enough of it!

Years ago before he died—by suicide—actor Robin Williams gave an interview in which he was talking about the elusiveness of happiness. And here’s a talented actor and comedian who won an Academy Award, multiple Golden Globes, Grammys, Emmys; had a number one prime-time TV show; starred in some of the most financially successful and critically acclaimed movies ever made; lived in mansions; dated supermodels; was beloved by millions. And what did he say about all this success? No matter what dizzying heights of fame and fortune you achieve, he said, “You bottom out… People say, ‘You have an Academy Award.’ The Academy Award lasted about a week, then one week later people are going, ‘Hey, Mork.’”

You bottom out, he said. It’s certainly true for me! I have bottomed out—many times. God has allowed or caused me to bottom out. He’s very good at that! I think he does it so that that I can learn this one thing: I will never get what I want until I learn to want what God wants for me.

Let me repeat: I will never get what I want until I learn to want what God wants for me. None of us will.

Lord, please… help me to learn this truth. Amen.

1. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 94.