The Sovereignty Of God
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The Sovereignty Of God - 07.09.2023
I had a history professor in seminary who introduced me to an idea that I wanted to share with you this morning. It’s called the “principle of the pendulum.” Imagine a giant pendulum, sort of like this one [put picture on screen]. Now, on every topic there are often two sides, two extremes on the far left and the far right. Throughout history the modern position of the pendulum is usually a reaction to the teachings of the generation before us. The middle is usually the best answer, the most balanced response, but as time goes on the swings too far to the right, and so it gets pushed back to the left, but then it swings too far to the left, and so it starts to get pushed back to the right. Now my teacher, Professor Papandrea – he used it to talk about arguments in the early church, because it was a history class. But I’ve found it to be true in all areas of my life. The principle of the pendulum, swinging back and forth in our responses, throughout history, searching for truth.
For example, in the early church there was a lot of arguing about Jesus. Who was that Jesus guy? Was he just a man, a good teacher, maybe even a prophet? Or was he divine, was he God, was he supernatural and all powerful? And so you have two sides of the pendulum. People on the left claimed Jesus was not divine, he was just an ordinary guy. For extra history points, that teaching is called Arianism – Jesus is not divine. But then way over on the other side, there was a group called the Gnostics. Gnostics hated the physical world, they pursued only the spiritual world and the most extreme of them denied that Jesus ever had a earthly body, because to them, that’s icky. Now the truth, as best we can describe it, is found somewhere in the middle. Jesus was fully divine, AND fully human. And throughout history you’ll see different groups emphasize one side or the other. The pendulum swings one way, focusing on the divinity, and then in the next generation it swings back, focusing on the humanity.
Here’s another example – hell. For a long time people in the church would preach about hell with the goal of terrifying people into loving Jesus. The phrase “turn or burn” was very popular. Turn from your sins, or burn for all of eternity in fiery damnation. Now, personally I can’t really wrap my head around scaring people into love, but that was a very popular teaching, even just 50-60 years ago. And it went way too far, beyond what the bible says. But then the next generation, pushed back and focused on God’s grace and forgiveness. Following Jesus as an act of gratitude for grace instead of fear, and the pendulum swung back. Then it swung too far, and we got into universalism in the last twenty years – saying “there is no hell, the bible was just kidding about that.” And so now, in the modern moment t we are starting to see people push back against universalism. We look at the bible and say, “hmmm, it does look like Jesus sort of talked about hell a lot, and he was pretty clear about it. I don’t want to swing all the way back to “turn or burn” but in search of the truth we push it back towards the middle. Do you see the pendulum swinging? And so what we find is that a lot of what we say can be seen as a reaction to the focus of the previous generation.
Here’s a silly example - safety in parenting. If you go back fifty years or so, parenting was very open handed - very free range for the kids. They’d run out the door after breakfast, and maybe come home for dinner because they were hungry. I think bout seat-belt regulations. I had a guy tell me that before seat belts were required - they used to just throw all the kids in the back of the truck. And if you were worried somebody fell out, you would just tap the breaks and count the thumps. Slam on the break, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump - yep they’re all still in there and then they go. And then the pendulum started to swing and we invented seat belts and car seats. And at first, it was amazing - children were surviving a whole lot longer. But we went to far! Parents started helicoptering around their children, wrapping them in bubble wrap and never taking your eyes off of them for a second. And the result is a generation is that is fragile. Physically, emotionally, psychologically - if you never let anything happen to a kid, then they won’t know how to do anything. So there’s been a movement more recently of parents who push back. I don’t want to go back to the days of no seat-belts and thumping kids against the back window - but we also want to raise children who fall down, so we can raise children who know how to get back up again.
Now today we are continuing our series in the Chronological bible. If you’re just joining us - that’s awesome, we hope you jump right in. Don’t worry, you don’t have to play catch up - but let me know after service and we will make sure to put a bible in your hands before you leave today. Now this past week, the readings were mostly proverbs and Psalms, and next week is a lot of Psalms as well. Now today’s text has a lot to say about the sovereignty of God - and if you pay attention you might find that the pendulum is swinging back on our understanding of God’s power.
So let’s dive in to Proverbs chapter 30, that’s where we’re going to spend most of our time today, [read v.1-3]. *pause. laugh* I’m too stupid to be human, and I lack common sense. Okay, this is a little weird thing about me - but you know how people take bible verses and slap them on coffee mugs and t-shirts and stuff? I want this verse on a coffee mug, so bad. I am too stupid to be human, and I lack common sense. The word of the Lord, praise be to God. Okay, so I’m making jokes - but this actually does get at a really key teaching. Humans are not God. We have, every single one of us, had a day or a moment when we’ve done something to earn this bible verse. Where are my glasses (they’re on my face), where is my phone (it’s in my hand). We all do dumb stuff, and nobody denies it. Some people will argue about the sovereignty of God - how powerful God is, or is not - but nobody ever really argues about the limitations of humanity. And I think it’s because we have SO MUCH evidence of our collective stupidity. I’ve never had to convince anyone about the fallenness of humanity. It’s an accepted fact. All fall short of the glory of God. Humans are not God. And here’s the important part - the limitations of humanity should lead to a humble heart. The fact that we are finite forces reflection. There’s a guy named Alex Haley, he was the author of Roots, and he has a picture in office showing a turtle sitting up on top of a fence. And he says he keeps that poster to keep him humble. Because if you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know he had some help. So anytime he starts thinking, “wow, isn’t this marvelous what I’ve done. Look how amazing I am—“ he looks at the picture and remembers how the turtle got up on that post. It’s a simple verse - “I’m too stupid to be human and I lack common sense” - but it reflects a profound truth. The limitations of humanity should lead us to a humble heart.
The passage continues, [read v.4-6]. We start off by talking about the stupidity of humanity, and then we shift to talk about the power of God. We go from the limitations of fallen humans to the unlimited nature of God. And I love the way they personify God’s control of the elements. He holds the winds in his fist, he wraps the ocean in his cloak. It actually echoes back to the story of Job. If you don’t know, Job is this kind of unfortunate story in the Bible where this good guy loses everything. And he’s really angry with God and he cries out to God and when God responds at the end of the book, he kind of blows Job’s hair back by pointing at his glory. It’s kind of a “who do you think you’re talking to” moment. Check this out, Job chapter 38, [read v.22-33]. He goes on like that for FOUR chapters. In chapter 39 he says, [read v.26-40:2] He’s a little sassy, right? God can be very sassy sometimes. Back in Proverbs, the verses shift from the limitations of humanity to the unlimited power of God. I’m going to throw a couple of fancy words at you - things we have learned about God as time has gone on. God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Omni means “all” - so omnipresent means that God is everywhere. Omni-present: All present. Omniscient means that God is all-knowing. And omnipotent means all powerful. Christians believe that God is all places, all knowing and all powerful. Now just like the limitations of humanity leads us to a humble heart, the unlimited nature of God should lead us to a healthy fear.
Now, I do want to be careful of that word “fear.” We actually have used that word a lot in this sermon series. We saw a few weeks ago that “The fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom” - but I want to clarify. This “fear” we talk about is not a sniveling, haunted house terrified run away type of fear. This is fear that is based on respect for the power God has over us. For example, I am not afraid of electricity. BUT I do not stick forks in electrical sockets. I have a healthy respect for the power that’s in that power socket. It’s why I jump up terrified when I see my 1 year old son running for the socket with some silverware. I just want him to be a little bit more afraid of the electricity. I don’t want you to run away terrified of God, but I do want you to have a healthy respect for power God has over us. The unlimited nature of God should lead us to a healthy fear. And that fear is the beginning of wisdom. One of my favorite examples to explain this comes from The Chronicles of Narnia. If you don’t know, there’s this series of kid’s books - and in the books there’s a Jesus type character, and he’s a lion named Aslan. And there’s this part in the story where the children are being told about Aslan for the first time. There’s a couple of beavers who are explaining it and they say he’s a lion. And one of the girls, Susan says, “Ohh, I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie.” Said Mrs. Beaver. “And make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knee’s knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then isn’t he safe?” Said Lucy. “Safe?” Said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He's the king, I tell you.” I love that story and I think he gets the power dynamic just right. The power of God leads us to a healthy fear. Oh, and little side note before we move on. Did you catch the easter egg down in verse 4? [read v. 4 again]. Oop, just a little nugget tossed in there. And it’s extra special because nobody ever pointed at their children to establish authority they always pointed at their parents. “I’m Agur son of Jake” or whatever - so to emphasize the son is very unusual. Almost prophetic.
Now if you take those two pieces - the limited nature of humans and the unlimited nature of God - you get the next three verses. Proverbs chapter 30, verse 7, [read v.7-9]. Give me neither poverty nor riches, give me just enough to satisfy my needs. The man who wrote these verses puts it all together and what he wants most is to fully rely on God. When you remember the limitations of humanity - which leads to a humble heart, and the unlimited nature of God - which leads to a healthy fear - and you put them together it leads to happy faith. You know humans are dumb, you know God is not - so the logical conclusion is to lean on God. We can happily leave things in God’s hands. God don’t give me riches, because then I might start to think that humanity is doing just fine on it’s own and we don’t need God (and if you turn on the news for exactly ten seconds you’ll see how well that’s turning out). The relationship between God and humanity creates a desire to lean on God. A happy faith.
There’s a story I told last week to the Midland campus, but I’d like to share it with you today. There was once a woman named Corrie Ten Boom, author, hero, just all around amazing person. And she tells a story in her book about a time when she was on the train with her father when she was a little girl. She had heard a phrase at school she didn’t understand, and so she asked her dad about it. She said, “Father, what is sex?” Her father looked at her, surprised, but he didn’t say anything. After a little pause he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over their heads and set it on the floor. He turned to his little girl and said, “Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” Corrie stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with watches and spare parts that he had just purchased that morning. “It’s too heavy,” the little girl said. The father nodded, “Yes, and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.” And Corrie Ten Boom writes that she was satisfied, more than satisfied – she said she was wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this question, and to all of her hard questions – but for now she was content to leave them in her father’s keeping. When we remember God’s sovereignty, and humanities humanness - it puts us in a posture of happy faith. We are like a child, trusting our much wiser Father.
The good news for us this morning is that God is real and God is sovereign. Generations ago, people were absolutely terrified by the power of God. It was not a healthy fear, but an unholy terror. People used to think if they cursed in church lightening would strike. Sinners felt that if they ever tried to enter the church doors - the walls would catch fire. As time went on the pendulum swung all the way back to focus on God’s goodness and his patience and his love. We went right past healthy fear and began to see God as a brother, a friend. And then nothing more than a brother, or a friend, we lost the respect. The all powerful God who holds the very fabric of the universe in his hands was relegated to the comforting role of divine vending machine or spiritual Snuggie. God became this tiny thing - just there to give you what you want, to make you feel better and pour out affirmations on how awesome you are. But neither the terrifying God nor the tiny God reflect the truth of what is out there.
When I became a pastor, I started spending more time in the word. Suddenly I was reading my bible every day, and studying it - trying to find the character of God and what it means for our lives. But as I studied, and as I pastored something surprising happened. I began to rediscover my awe of the Almighty. I came out of seminary thinking I knew everything. I had a very high view of humanity and a very middle view of God. I used to think people were basically good - we were ALMOST perfect, and we just needed a little Jesus juice to push us across the finish line. And I thought as a pastor, I’d be like this motivational speaker who just gives people good advice for living well, based on the Bible (of course). But as I studied two things happened - my opinion of humans (myself included) went down, and my opinion of God went up. There’s a reason that there are so many Psalms and poems about how powerful and incredible God is, and how helpless and lost we are. The limitations of humanity lead to a humble heart. The unlimited nature of God leads to a healthy fear. And when you add them together and we humans figure out which one of us is supposed to be in charge - it can lead us to a happy faith.
So my challenge for you today is to reflect on God’s power. I want you to spend some time this week - think about how you view God. Is he terrifying and distant, judgmental and scary or is his your divine vending machine and spiritual Snuggie? I want you to rediscover awe in the almighty. Three ways this applies to our lives. First, rediscovering awe of the almighty will lead to a humble heart. Phillip Brooks once said, “the true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” When I say we need a humble heart, some people think they need to stoop. I don’t want you to stoop. I want you to stand tall, as tall as you possibly can in this life, stand tall in the shadow of God’s glory. Bring your best, everything you’ve got - but recognize that it is a small thing compared to the greatness of God. Rediscover awe in the almighty, pull the pendulum back towards the divine and you will grow a humble heart.
Second, it leads to a healthy fear. When we rediscover and remember how Godly God is - all powerful, all knowing, all places - it leads to a healthy fear of God. A respect in the power that we are dealing with. The bible tells us that we can approach God with fear and trembling. Like a child with a wall socket - I just want him to respect the power of electricity. Or gravity. That’s another one. None of my children have a proper fear of gravity. Especially the little one - he will launch himself off of anything, it’s crazy. I don’t want him to be scared, I just want him to be a little bit more respectful of the power of gravity. Rediscovering awe in the almighty will lead to a healthy fear. And when you add it all together - a humble heart and a healthy fear can lead you to a happy faith. By the way, another word for that - “happy faith” another word for that is contentment. When we remember that humans will do the fallen human thing, and God will do the godly God thing - and we’ve got that lined up properly, we can be content, whatever life throws at us. Like Corrie Ten Boom as a child - we do not have to carry our Father’s luggage, and we can trust in him and live a life of contented, happy faith.
The pendulum of history applies to almost every area of life, whether it’s car seats or the divinity of Jesus. A generation raised by a terrifying God led to a generation raised with a teeny tiny God - but neither reflects the actual power of God. We need to reclaim our awe of the Almighty - with all the power and authority in the universe AND all the grace and mercy we need. And so I’ll leave you with this - May you have a humble heart - stand as tall as you can in the shadow of God’s glory. May you have a healthy fear - respect the power from the one who is not safe, but he is good. And finally, may all of that lead you to a happy faith - where you, with the trust of a child, are content to leave things in your father’s powerful hands. Let’s pray.