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Jesus said, “You are right to call me Christ, and on this, I will build my church.”
Jesus saves and changes everything. He is also going to come back one day and set all things right. It’s a good thing that this is the foundational principle because we disagree on nearly everything beyond it.
Churches have fought about secondary issues since the 1st century. I don’t know anything quite as contentious as the separation in the viewpoints of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.
Where on the spectrum are you? Do you believe all events in the world are ordained, planned and orchestrated by God? Or do you think that mankind has a lot of influence on how things happen?
Great men of Biblical brilliance have lined up on each end and all in between. Martin Luther stated in the 1500s that “even the devil is God’s devil.”
This strong view of the sovereignty of God is hard for many to swallow. How can God be good and orchestrate the terrible things that happen?
Others further away from the strong-arming and in-control God say, “God will do nothing except in answer to prayer.” This is an actual quote by John Wesley, the organizer of the Methodist denomination.
I’m not interested in arguing with this point. Honestly, I line up somewhere in the middle. I can’t get along with either extreme. But I do believe that although God may not plan pain, He does have a plan for our pain.
Every dark season of my life, I have found a deeper walk with God. The sicknesses, persecutions, punishments, stresses and betrayals have always brought a more profound sense of trust in God and love for his companionship. I may not know how involved He is, but I’m grateful for the closer walk with Him.
As we wrap up several weeks of discussing the book of Acts, we find the last several chapters being a play-by-play march to Rome for preaching and eventual persecution. Paul understands that God is calling him to go to Jerusalem, and he will continue to Rome after that. He understands that suffering is in front of him.
Confirmed by friends who beg him not to go, he enters the city. They immediately arrest him. There is a plot to assassinate him. He is carried off to a second jail cell where he spends a couple of years and, in that time, gets to preach to three kings.
He appeals to Rome, to Caesar himself, and is taken by boat there. They encounter terrible storms and eventually are shipwrecked. When they make it to land, he snuggles up to a fire, and a poisonous snake bites him right on the hand. Everyone waited for him to die. He doesn’t.
He endures storms, a shipwreck and a snake bite, all the while in chains for years for preaching about Jesus. He preaches freedom from sins while bound in chains.
He finally arrives in Rome and gets to share about Jesus with the emperor’s family. Amid the suffering, he writes letters laden with rich theology that empower people two thousand years later.
Paul’s understanding was that God planned the affliction. How did that change his heart? He understood the sovereignty of God meant that no matter what took place, he was going to be exactly where God wants him. God is with him.
I don’t know what you are enduring today, but I promise two things. God is with you, and He has a plan for the pain.
Pastor Emanuel Webb Hoggard is Pastor at Askewville Assembly of God. He can be reached via email at [email protected]
Thadd White is Group Editor of the Bertie Ledger-Advance, Chowan Herald, Perquimans Weekly, The Enterprise & Eastern North Carolina Living. He can be reached via email at [email protected]
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