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By STEVE FARRAR
David C. CookCopyright © 2008 Steve Farrar
All rights reserved.
Strangely and Slowly, God Is Working
"Sovereign Ruler of the skies, Ever gracious, ever wise, All my times are in thy hand, All events at thy command."
I f anyone has even been a victim, it was Joseph.
America seems full of "victims" today. Have you noticed? Everyone is a victim and everyone is looking for payback.
Joseph was a legitimate victim. If he were alive today, his tragic story would land him on Oprah. And she wouldn't have him on just for a day; she would tell his story over the course of an entire week. The tears would be flowing and the Kleenex would be three feet deep in the studio audience. Psychologists would be brought in to explain Joseph's trauma.
But at the age of forty-nine as he faced his brothers, Joseph wasn't in trauma. He wasn't bitter, and he didn't have road rage.
To put it mildly, this was not what they had anticipated. They were expecting Joseph to do to them what they would have done to him had the tables been turned. But instead of torturing, jailing, or killing them outright—Joseph was kind to them.
These guys just didn't get it. They had nothing but fear in their hearts toward Joseph, because they really didn't know Joseph—or Joseph's God. Because they didn't fear God, they were afraid of their brother.
Joseph had learned to fear the Lord, and as a result, he spoke a soothing and forgiving word to those fearful brothers. Joseph was a man of God instead of a man of the world. He had no thought here of revenge or payback.
In every family, someone needs to grow up.
In every family, someone needs to get over it.
In every family, someone needs to become mature and forgive.
They deserved payback, all right. They deserved everything they were so afraid of. But they didn't get it. And that must have shocked them beyond words.
Why didn't they receive their "just deserts"? Because they had a brother who was a mature man, neither bitter nor vindictive. He wasn't looking to intimidate, sue, or extract his pound of flesh.
He was compassionate and kind to those who sought to destroy him. He provided for them financially and for their children.
There is nothing in Joseph's life that points to his being a victim.
That's because he wasn't a victim.
He was a victor.
From Victim to Victor
So how did he make the transition from victim to victor? Only one doctrine enables us to travel that road, and it's a truth Joseph embraced with his whole heart.
That doctrine is the sovereignty and providence of God.
What that means in plain language is this: God is a BIG GOD. Probably much bigger than you think.
These are two rich gold mines of truth that have been sadly ignored and lost in the lives of most Christians. If someone offered you a producing gold mine for free, you would immediately start looking for the "catch." But let's just say there is no catch, and as a matter of fact, that same someone is offering you not one free gold mine but two.
That's what we're talking about here.
The two gold mines given to us are twin truths: We have a have a BIG GOD who works sovereignly and providentially in our lives. And catch this—in order to make the internal U-turn in your heart from a victim to a victor, you have to anchor your life on these two truths. They are absolutely essential for your survival. Without the sovereignty and providence of God, you will always remain a victim. But when you discover the truth of these attributes of your heavenly Father, it throws the events of your life into a completely different light.
The sovereignty and providence of God are like two sides of a coin, inescapably linked together. Sovereignty and providence go hand in hand. And it's a great tragedy that these powerful twin truths have been lost to this generation.
So what do they mean?
Joseph said to his brothers, "Am I in God's place?" In the midst of their fear he says, "Wait a minute, guys. How do you think I got into this position of power and authority? Do you think it was random chance?" He didn't get it through luck, he didn't get it through his résumé, and he didn't get it because he was well connected. He was there because God, from before the foundation of the world, had planned for Joseph to be there. He was there because it was God's place for him, and God had sovereignly and providentially placed him in that great palace.
It wasn't coincidence.
It wasn't chance.
It wasn't the luck of the draw.
God had determined that he be in that position from before the worlds were created. That's how he got there. Joseph took no credit for his position. He knew it came from the hand of the Lord.
So what is the sovereignty of God?
Sovereignty contains three key ideas: ownership, authority, and control. God created it all, He owns it all, He is over all, and He controls it all. That was true of human kings who owned and controlled their turf, as well, but Jesus, remember, is the King of Kings. And that means He owns every king, He is over every king, and He controls every king in history—past, present, and future, because He has created every king. In other words, HE IS IN CONTROL.
Let me throw a few verses at you that teach this truth with a lot of concrete:
For I know that the Lord is great
And that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, He does,
In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.
The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
This is a BIG GOD. Big beyond the universe He created. Bigger than we could ever understand. This God is in complete control. He not only controls the movements of galaxies and multiple trillions of stars, He is also in control of you, your life, and everything that happens in your life.
Does that rub you the wrong way? For most of us, it does. The absolute sovereignty of God is a feisty capsule that tends to stick in our throats and cause us great discomfort. But this is a truth that you've got to wash down, so you can digest it and live your life off it.
The great Bible scholar B. B. Warfield describes the root of our discomfort. I have to tell you that I really like this man. He doesn't mess around, and he isn't boring like a lot of guys who teach theology. He shoots straight—and he throws fastballs high and inside.
We wish "to belong to ourselves," and we resent belonging, especially belonging absolutely, to anybody else, even if that anybody else be God. We are in the mood of the singer of the hymn beginning, "I was a wandering sheep," when he declares himself, "I would not be controlled." We will not be controlled. Or rather, to speak more accurately, we will not admit that we are controlled.
I say that it is more accurate to say that we will not admit that we are controlled. For we are controlled, whether we admit it or not. To imagine that we are not controlled is to imagine that there is no God. For when we say God, we say control. If a single creature which God has made has escaped beyond his control, at the moment that he has done so he has abolished God. A God who could or would make such a creature whom he could not or would not control, is no God. The moment he should make such a creature he would, of course, abdicate his throne. The universe he had created would have ceased to be his universe; or rather it would cease to exist, for the universe is held together only by the control of God.
The sovereignty of God means that He is in control—of everything.
That's why He is a BIG GOD. And that's why He is a GREAT GOD.
This means that when we look around and get the very strong sense that the world and our lives are out of control, we are wrong. It may appear to us that events have jumped the tracks and headed over the cliff, but in truth they are moving absolutely on schedule according to His divine plan and purpose.
It was John Flavel who said to his congregation in England, some three hundred years ago, "Some providences of God, like Hebrew letters, are best understood backwards."
English reads left to right. Hebrew reads right to left. So to us, Hebrew reads backward.
So, too, does the providence of God.
Some chapters of our lives make absolutely no sense. We get blindsided by some tragedy, and we wonder where God is. It just doesn't add up! Where is this God who loves me, and why has He allowed this to happen? You and I can ask those kinds of questions over and over again, but the fact of the matter is that these confusing chapters won't make sense while we're in the middle of them.
In these bewildering chapters of life you will have to give five, ten, or even twenty years before things begin to make sense. Only then, like Joseph looking backward, do some providences of God become crystal clear. When we look backward, we see that God was in control even when it looked like our lives were out of control. Oftentimes, we can't see that providence until we get through the storm and look behind us. You look back and can't believe you survived the ferocity of that storm. But you did. And it was all due to the goodness and plan of God.
That plan in the midst of the storm could not be seen. In fact, at times, it seemed like God had abandoned you. Job knew what that was like. In his great loss and despair, he couldn't find God anywhere:
Oh that I knew where I might find Him,
That I might come to His seat!
I would present my case before Him
And fill my mouth with arguments....
Behold, I go forward but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him;
He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.
(Job 23:3–4, 8–9)
That must have been what Joseph experienced as he took that long camel ride—his chains clanking every step of the way—down to Egypt and a life of never-ending slavery.
The sovereignty of God means that He is King and He is in absolute control; and it also means that we are not.
Joseph addressed his brothers not as a victim but as a victor. How could he not be caught up in bitterness and revenge? When he looked back over his life, he saw the absolute control of God working His eternal plan in every event of his life—the good and the bad. It was all under the sovereign control of the great God of Israel.
So what about providence?
Providence is God's execution of His plan in your life and in the entire universe. Have you ever heard the saying "the devil is in the details"? That is absolutely incorrect.
God is in the details.
O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
(Isa. 25:1 ESV)
Are these plans that God hurriedly drew up last night to fix something in your life that has gone wrong? Is God looking for some "Plan B" because "Plan A" didn't pan out for us? No. These are plans that He purposed before He created the world. God hasn't been up all night—papers and maps spread out across the floor of heaven, amending His purposes to fit our present set of circumstances. No, the plans He has for you are His original plans. Perfect plans that never need to be amended. Now that's a BIG GOD.
The plans He has made are always executed perfectly. His plan is sure. It is not uncertain. In order for His plan to be executed and accomplished, He micromanages your life and the entire universe. He carries it all, sustains it all, and keeps it all going. And that can only be done if One is in absolute control. But He is in control, and that's why Job 23:14 states, "He performs what is appointed for me."
God's plan for your life is going to happen—on time and on schedule. John J. Murray sums it up well:
The plan of God is perfect.
The plan is exhaustive.
The plan is for my ultimate good.
The plan is secret. God hides it from me until it happens.
I discover it day by day as it unfolds.
In essence, the doctrine of providence teaches that which God creates, He continually provides for and sustains—and that means you. He created you, and He will continually provide for you and sustain you—that's how He pulls off His plan in your life. Hebrews 1:3 declares that Christ "upholds all things by the word of His power." The English Standard Version, another excellent translation, states that Christ "upholds the universe by the word of his power."
What does this BIG GOD of ours do all day? Dr. Wayne Grudem gives us a glimpse of how God invests His time:
The Greek word translated "upholding" is phero, "carry, bear." This is commonly used in the New Testament for carrying something from one place to another, such as bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus (Luke 5:18), or bringing a cloak and books to Paul (2 Timothy 4:13). It does not simply mean "sustain." ... In Hebrews 1:3, [the grammar] indicates that Jesus is continually carrying along all things, "in the universe by the word of His power."
Similarly, in Colossians 1:17, Paul says of Christ that "in him all things hold together." The phrase "all things" refers to every created thing in the universe (see v. 16), and the verse affirms that Christ keeps all things existing—in him they continue to exist or "endure" (NASB, margin). Both verses indicate that if Christ were to cease his ongoing activity of sustaining all things in the universe, then everything except the triune God would instantly cease to exist.
But the world keeps on existing and so do you.
So let's go with this definition for providence: "That which God creates He continually sustains and provides for, and nothing—great or small—is outside of His absolute control." He is the King and He has a plan. His sovereign plan for you and me and for the entire world will be worked out exactly according to His specifications.
When Joseph calmed his brothers' fears by asking them, "Am I in God's place?" he was looking backward over the events of his life. And when he looked backward over his life, he saw the sovereign providence of God that was directing his every step—even when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery.
When Joseph looked backward, he saw the perfect providential plan that had raised him to be co-king over Egypt. When he looked backward, he could see the remarkable organization of God's detailed plan for his life. God was in control of his life—even down to the tiniest details.
Let's Break for Football
This might be getting a little heavy, so let's talk some football.
If you follow football you are familiar with Bill Belichick, the legendary coach of the New England Patriots. He has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl victories and is considered one of the greatest coaches in professional football today (despite the recent allegations of his spying on the practice sessions of upcoming opponents). But what you may not know is that his father, Steve Belichick, was probably the greatest scout in football history.
Steve Belichick was an assistant coach at Navy. His primary task was to scout the upcoming opponent and present a report to the coaching staff. Up until Steve Belichick, scouting was sort of a hit-or-miss operation. Steve Belichick turned it into a science.
Back in the fifties, college football was king; and Army and Navy were football powerhouses. In 1957, Army was loaded with two All-American running backs and an offense that rarely passed the ball. Steve Belichick had a philosophy of scouting: "Find out what the other guys do best—which is always what they want to do, especially under pressure in a big game—take it away from them, and make them do things they are uncomfortable with."
Belichick spent hours figuring out what Army liked to do—and then he presented his plan to stop them to Navy Head Coach Eddie Erdelatz. It was the general consensus before sold-out stadium that Navy had no chance of beating Army's powerful running offense.
Excerpted from God Built by STEVE FARRAR. Copyright © 2008 Steve Farrar. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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