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The Providence of God July 30, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Providence.
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THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD
Acts 24:11-23

The Puritans had “an extraordinary awareness of God’s providence. This, in turn, produced the Puritan practice of keeping diaries…John Bartlet advised Christians to ‘meditate on the experience you have had of God’s faithfulness, and[the] goodness you have had in all his providences…. To help you herein, you shall do well to make a catalogue and keep a diary of God’s special providences’ ” (from Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken, pp. 209-210).

In our passage today we see God’s providence at work. God is not working a miracle by changing the laws of nature to correspond to his will but rather is guiding natural events to accomplish his will. It may be that you have not been paying attention to God’s working in your life. I trust you will learn from Paul’s life that our times are in His hands and because of His providence we can rest now in Him.

A. We need to recognize that God’s providence is for the accomplishment of His purposes, not for ours (verses 11-15). That is what God is telling Paul in these verses.

1. Paul had plans to go to Rome (Romans 1:15; 15:22-33). He had plans to go to Jerusalem and had asked the church in Rome to pray that Paul would be accepted by the Jewish church in Jerusalem (which prayer God answered) and that he would be kept safe from his unbelieving enemies (which prayer God did not answer). After he left Jerusalem, he planned to stop in Rome on his way to the mission field of Spain.

2. God also had plans for Paul to go to Rome but they were not the same plans. God’s timing was different. It was several years later before Paul ended up in Rome. God’s purpose was different. As a prisoner of Caesar, Paul had opportunities to proclaim the gospel which he never would have had by entering the Roman house churches or in a Jewish synagogue. He preached to more Jews, he preached to more Gentiles, he even had the opportunity to go before Caesar. Whether he ever went to Spain, we do not know but he accomplished what God planned for him.

“Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Philippi, expressed his opinion about how God used the circumstances of his arrest: ‘I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly (Philippians 1:12-14)’ ” (from Decision-Making by the Book by Haddon Robinson, page 104).

3. God used the evil intents of Paul’s enemies to accomplish His plans. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers when they feared after the death of their father that Joseph would get even with them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:19-20).

B. God’s providence is the explanation for coincidences (verses 16-22). As one goes through this story of Paul going from Ephesus to Rome, only once, near the end of the journey does God do miracles and those miracles had little or nothing to do with Paul ending up in Rome.

1. God puts people in place at the right time (verse 16). Henry Blackaby tells about his church trying for two years in Saskatoon, Canada to start without success a Bible study in the dorms. One day he told the college students in his church, “‘If someone starts asking you spiritual questions, whatever else you have planned, don’t do it. Cancel what you are doing’…. On Wednesday [of that week] one of the girls reports, ‘Oh Pastor, a girl who has been in classes with me for two years came to me after class today. She said, ‘I think you might be a Christian. I need to talk to you.’ I remembered what you said. I had a class, but I missed it. We went to the cafeteria to talk. She said, ‘Eleven of us girls in the dorm have been studying the Bible, and none of us are Christians. Do you know somebody who can lead us in a Bible study?’” (from Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, pages 70-71).

2. God controls the actions of those who are in authority (verses 17ff). The book of Proverbs tells us that the king’s heart is in the LORD’s hands. In the days of Augustus a decree went out that all the world should be taxed. As a result of that decree, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I hate taxes and I generally vote against them but I pay them because it is right and and I do it knowing that God will use my taxes to direct His will in someone’s life.

C. We make our decisions confident in God’s providence (25:6-12). Paul said, “No, I am going to appeal to Caesar. I am not going to let you have me killed at the hands of my countrymen. I know my rights, give them to me.” Felix said, “You’ve appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go.”

“Years ago [Ray Pritchard] spoke to a man whose wife had been in and out of drug rehab several times. Her struggles with drugs and alcohol (and his struggles with anger) had reduced their marriage to a shambles. It may have been the most hopeless marriage [Pritchard] ever saw. But through nothing less than a miracle from God, they somehow pulled through and survived a crisis that lasted for the better part of a decade. One day the man looked [Pritchard] in the eye and said, ‘I now understand that it had to happen the way it did.’ It takes great faith in God to say something like that, and it could only be said at the end of the ordeal, looking back and seeing that even the worst moments were leading to something much better.”

We will not in every case be able to look back and say we understand. That is not promised us by God. What is promised is that whether those tough times are coming, or they are behind us, or whether we are in the midst of them, we can be confident that God’s ways are perfect.

This is not an excuse to make bad decisions or to pawn off on God our bad decisions. It is, however, an assurance to us that God always does what is right and that we need to align ourselves as best we can with His ways, His will, and His word.

If you live confident in God’s providence you will learn to avoid the bitterness that plagues so many people and will learn to forgive others more easily.

If you live confident in God’s providence you will learn to suffer patiently and with longsuffering, knowing that His will is perfect.

Are you confident in God’s providence?

Next week: Guilty of Hope (Acts 24-25)

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Mother’s Day Sermon 2012 – Two Wives, Four Mothers, Twelve Sons May 14, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Genesis, God's Goodness, Jacob, Laban, Leah, Mother's Day, Providence, Rachel, Religion, Sermons.
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TWO WIVES ON MOTHER’S DAY
Genesis 29:1-30:24

Erwin Lutzer once “asked a woman about the tattoo on her arm, she explained, ‘My former boyfriend did it-he was an abusive alcoholic.’ …every day she was reminded of the pain in her past. She would have preferred to remove that tattoo, but it was burned into her skin” (from Putting Your Past Behind You by Erwin Lutzer).

A. Many of us come from less than ideal situations, less than ideal families. For many Mother’s Day is a wonderful holiday but for others it brings sad memories and unfulfilled dreams. I doubt that they celebrated Mother’s Day in Jacob’s house, especially before Joseph was born. There were two wives, two concubines, and four mothers in this household. One wife was unloved; the other was for many years childless. The expectations of both women remained for years unfulfilled.

1. Our expectations are not always fulfilled (29:31-30:8).
i. It may be that certain things that we expected in life to happen never came to pass. That is what we have in this passage, especially in the life of Rachel, who wanted a son with all of her heart.
ii. It is also possible that things we expected to be fulfilling left us wanting. Leah had six sons, a mother’s dream in that day, but the pride of having children left her dissatisfied.
iii. It also may be that we had no expectations in life and life gave us exactly what we expected, nothing. Jacob’s handmaids, slave girls fall into this category. They became pawns in the hands of Jacob and his wives and at least in one case, in the hands of Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben (Genesis 35:22).

2. We sometimes try to manipulate the situation (29:15-30; 30:14-16). There are different types of manipulation. Perhaps Rachel tried to use guilt on Jacob to manipulate him to take her handmaid, although in this case he pointed out that the situation was beyond his control (30:1-6). Only God can give children.

3. We must depend on God for solutions (30:17, 22-23). We learn of God’s faithfulness and provision in his Word but the clearest way to depend on God is to flee to him in prayer. “In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, a young woman and her children are seen knocking on the Wicket Gate. In a moment a ferocious dog begins to bark, making the woman and children afraid. They face a dilemma: If they continue to knock, they must fear the dog; if they turn away, the gatekeeper will be offended and they will not be admitted. They continue to knock ever so fervently. Finally, they hear the voice of the gatekeeper asking, ‘Who is there?’ and instantly the dog ceases barking.” Erwin Lutzer comments, “The moment we are serious about prayer, a thousand dogs begin to bark. If we listen to them we will turn away. If we continue to know, we will hear the voice of our Master and we will be encouraged to press on.”

B. God’s plan is not limited by our dysfunction (32:9-12). There is a story of a “beautiful piece of cloth on which some ink had accidentally been spilled[.] Though the ink could not be removed, an artist painted a picture on it and used the blotch as part of the scenery” (adapted from Erwin Lutzer).

1. His expectations are always fulfilled (32:27-28). That is why we should pray according to God’s will, desirous that God’s will be done. “When we pray for a promotion, or that a child will be healed, or that God will give us a marriage partner, the question of the will of God always emerges as a part of the picture. In instances like these we must end our prayer with ‘If it be Thy will.’ On the other hand, there are some requests we can make with absolute certainty that we are praying in His will” (Lutzer).

2. He always controls the situation (45:3-8). “When Edmund Gravely died at the controls of his small plane, his wife kept the plan aloft for two hours. She radioed for help and her distress signal was picked up, but communication was impossible because she kept changing channels. Eventually she made a rough landing, but it would have been so much easier if she had stayed tuned to the right frequency” (Lutzer). God is in control, there is no doubt about that. Are you listening to him?

3. His solutions always good (Joshua 24:1- 13). How long did this take? From the time of Abraham to the time of Joshua was well over five hundred years but God’s solution was good. It was another thousand years before Jesus came but God’s solution was good. It had been two thousand years since Jesus promised that he would return but his solution remains good.