Monday, June 9, 2014

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (A Triune Publication – Part 3)

God’s Sovereignty is Comforting

There was a scene in a movie about “Stonewall” Jackson, a Christian general during the American Civil War. He and his men were in the open and there were bullets and shrapnel flying all around them. “Stonewall” calmly sitting on his horse said, “One place is as safe as another!”

Look, if there is something we can do we should do it. But if there is nothing we can do then we might as well trust the providence of God. However, we are not to be fatalists. As Oliver Cromwell said to his men who were ready for battle, “Trust God and keep your powder dry.” In other words, though God is 100% sovereign, He holds you and me 100% responsible for our actions. We are in God’s Army! He wants us to trust Him. We might not understand what is going on at any given point in our life but we are to trust in His leadership!

Alfred Tennyson wrote that famous poem called “The Charge of the Light Brigade” about a cavalry charge against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War.

2. “Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

3. Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Now, the good news is that not all of the six hundred (actually it was 666!) lost their lives. Apparently one hundred and ten of them died! Be-that-as-it-may, what about the line, “Not tho’ the soldier knew / Someone had blunder’d: / Theirs not to make reply, / Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die.”?

Someone may have “blunder’d” in ordering the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. However, unlike the light-horsemen (at least the way Lord Tennyson portrays them), God wants us to “reason why”! He says in Scripture, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be as red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18.

How does God reason with anyone living today? Covenantally! – which means simply that we are to search the Book of the Covenant, i.e., the Scriptures for the answers. By Covenant we mean a promise, i.e., a conditional promise. The Good News is that God keeps all the conditions of His promise for us. How so? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.

It is by His grace that the sovereign God opens our hearts to believe. He gives us the gift of faith. Therefore, are you believing in Him? Are you really believing in Him, even when you see misery, suffering and death around you? Do you believe that God is in control, sovereign control?

Listen to the writer to the Hebrews, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.’” Hebrews 12:5b-6.

Or, as it says in Lamentations 3:39, “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?” Why indeed! To complain would only be to grumble against God’s sovereignty!

God’s sovereignty is confronting. However, when understood covenantally it becomes comforting! In the words of David in the Shepherd’s Psalm, Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4.

And what about the glorious future He has promised us? “Then I saw a new heaven and new earth … He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:1a; 4.

Trust in God. Trust in His sovereignty. Think about it: If God were a pool-player and the universe a pool-table He would sink every ball on the table non-stop. He knows the end from the beginning. He knows every contingent event, every ricochet! For He is the One who made creation and He made it for a purpose – His own glory! Therefore let us continue to glorify God and continue to enjoy Him forever! Let us applaud Him! Let God be God!

(Listen to the full sermon at):

Sunday, June 8, 2014

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (A Triune Publication – Part 2)

God’s Sovereignty is Covenantal
Who can speak and have it happen
    if the Lord has not decreed it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that both calamities and good things come?
Why should the living complain
    when punished for their sins?
Lamentations 3:37-39 (NIV)

Okay, in my last post we saw that everything that happens happens because God has decreed, i.e., commanded it to happen. God is Commander-in-Chief. Therefore, everything that happens happens because it is His intent.

How are we to make head or tail of this? How are we to understand God’s intent at a ground level?

Creation, Fall, Flood, Redemption, Resurrection, New Heaven and Earth is all covenantal. The Bible is the Book of the Covenant. God has a grand plan, a covenant plan. For us who are “the boots on the ground” the Bible is God’s command to us to “Repent and believe the Good News.” Mark 1:5.

What Good News? The Good News that we can escape the punishment for our sins! As the verse in Lamentations says, “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?” Lamentations 3:37-39 (NIV) Yet complain we do!

Why is God punishing us, i.e., the living, for our sins? Well, before we consider the “why?” question we first need to acknowledge again that, even though my neighbour might swing the punch that hits me on the nose or the Devil may blow my house down, the decree, command or order has come out of the mouth of God beforehand.

Yes, we’re left with the mystery of how God is not the author of evil when He lets Satan kill Job’s sons and daughters and destroy his property and livelihood. However, there is not a speck of sin on God’s righteous garments!

Take Adam: Scripture likens His Old Testament peoples’ rebellion against God to Adam’s breaking the covenant. Listen to what God says He did to His people. “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth—then my judgments go forth like the sun. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:4-6. Then the Lord says, “Like Adam, they have broken the covenant; they were unfaithful to Me there.” Hosea 6:7.

Now, I have to tell you that some theologians don’t like the thought of there being any covenant between God and Adam in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. So, even though it is perfectly permissible to translate into English the Hebrew words the way we have just read them, they would rather Hosea 6:7 say, “As at Adam, they have broken the covenant” or “Like human beings, they have broken the covenant.”

Look, to break covenant with God is to suffer everything Adam suffered, viz., sin, misery and death. Where do sin, misery and death come from? From Adam’s disobedience to God: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12.

Next question: What is sin? 1 John 3:4 gives the answer, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” Therefore, sin, misery and death came to us from Adam’s sin. Sin is the breaking of the law. Thus Adam sinned by breaking God’s Law. Adam was unfaithful to God, which is to say that he broke the pre-Fall covenant.

Now, if God truly is sovereign would He not have known that Adam was going to be disobedient to Him and in so doing bring all creation into a state of bondage? Romans 8:20-21 gives the answer, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

Right, so we see that God had a plan. The plan was this: God would covenant with Adam who would represent the whole of mankind. Adam would exercise his freewill and choose either everlasting life with God or everlasting death without Him. In other words Adam would remain either faithful to God by keeping the covenant and receive everlasting life, or he would break it and receive death (including the rest of mankind to come).

When Adam sided with Satan and then rebelled with him against God by eating the forbidden fruit (which was the outward test of the covenant) he ended up where each of us is today, i.e., in a state of sin and misery and in need of a saviour, THE Saviour!

Enter Jesus as per God’s Covenant. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:23. If Adam had kept God’s covenant for the undisclosed period he would have received the gift of life and not the penalty of death that all humanity receives!

Jesus is the new Man, the replacement Adam. He did what the first man failed to do. He kept God’s covenant perfectly. He kept every jot and tittle of God’s Law as representative of those who believe in Him for salvation. Jesus perfectly kept the covenant Adam failed to keep.

Where’s the sovereign God in all of this? Well, Scripture speaks of Jesus as, “The Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” Revelation 13:8. Did you get that? God had in His mind the picture of His Son slain as a human being right from the very beginning of creation!

Therefore, everything went right according to God’s eternal plan, His Covenant. In eternity past the Father covenanted with the Son as witnessed by the Spirit, that should the Son become also a human and keep the Law perfectly unto death, the Father would give Him a people innumerable and a place where the Lamb and His Bride could live with each other forever, i.e., on the future New Earth.

Let’s summarise: God’s sovereignty is very confronting when you have no idea what is going on with misery, suffering and death in creation. However, the apparent chaos becomes ordered when reality is viewed covenantally, i.e., in terms of God’s covenant.

God has a plan, a covenant plan. Though He’s not the author of it, the evil we see around us has been factored into that plan. Everything is on course for the future New Heaven and Earth, which includes the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day.

Can we receive any assurance, any comfort from God’s sovereignty?

(Listen to the full recorded sermon at):

Wednesday, June 4, 2014



Though more popular in past centuries some seek to escape the law by claiming ‘sanctuary’ upon entering a church building. The Old Testament Tabernacle and then the Temple contained a room called the ‘sanctuary’ or the ‘Holy of Holies.’ This was where the presence of God was. It was where God ‘dwelt.’ In the sanctuary was the ark of the covenant. The ark was a box containing the tablets with the Law, i.e., the Ten Commandments. The lid of the box was the ‘Mercy Seat’ attached to which were two angelic beings with wings outspread looking down on the seat. God dwelt between these cherubs.

It will help us to understand what the ‘Holy of Holies’ represented if we keep in mind the picture of a human being fleeing into a church building to escape justice, i.e., by seeking ‘sanctuary.’ Now, before we get into the thick of it let us remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘If I have told you earthly things and you cannot believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?’ John 3:12. We are about to talk about heavenly, i.e., invisible or spiritual things.   

The Old Testament ‘sanctuary’ ‘was a copy and shadow of heavenly things’ (Hebrews 8:5). Therefore, God, by giving instruction for the building of the Tabernacle/Temple, used physical things to illustrate spiritual truths. God, ‘the Judge of all the earth,’ (Genesis 18:25b) dwelt in the Sanctuary. How do we escape the condemnation of His Law? Now that the Temple is gone is there a sanctuary to which we can flee for protection from His justice upon our sins? Let us look again at the physical things in the Temple's Holy of Holies.  

God cannot look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13), yet, with the cherubs, He looked down on the Mercy Seat under which were the Ten Commandments (which all of us have broken), in the ark of the covenant. Therefore, once a year only one man, the high priest, was allowed to come behind the veil into the sanctuary. However, he, after he had been washed, had to bring the blood of sacrificed animals with him and sprinkle the blood on the Mercy Seat. ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission’ Hebrews 9:22b. The shed blood covered the sins of the people each year, that is, until the One being pictured entered the sanctuary with His own blood.

We have God’s Law written on our heart, which is to say that our conscience tells us that we have broken His Commandments. We all have lied and lusted, cursed and coveted. God looks upon the heart. Our hearts are calloused and corrupt and the Law He wrote upon them when we were conceived and born is hardly discernable. God cannot live with us or in us. Our sin separates us from God. We need to flee the wrath to come. We need to find the shed blood. We need ‘sanctuary’!

The Temple and everything in it pointed to Jesus. The physical pointed to the heavenly. We need to come to Jesus. ‘Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new a living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.’ Hebrews 10:19-22.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

My Mother & The Robin

My own mum, Catherine McKinlay (nee Nugent) went to be with the Lord over twenty years ago (17th Nov, 1989). I was living in Canada at the time and went back to Scotland for her funeral. The following is an excerpt from my From Mason To Minister book. It tells a little of the story:

“My mother would feed the blackbirds pieces of cheese as they came to the kitchen window for handouts. One of her favourite birds was the little robin who would appear from his travels at a certain time each year. She seemed to have some sort of mystical rapport with the birds. A red-breasted robin entered through her bedroom window and perched on the foot of her bed the day she died. I penned the following while living in Canada:

Blackbird’s on the telegraph pole,
Singing songs of love,
Songs that elevate the soul,
Tunes from up above,
My mother’s in the kitchen cooking,
Singing harmony,
The music drifts across the miles to me.

(P. 7, “From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice,” Nordskog Publishing, 2011).

My eldest brother, Fearghas, on the morning of my mother’s funeral went outside the house to put something into the bin. A robin red-breast fluttered in his face! He came back into the house only to hear me talking to a brother-in-law about the American Robin displayed on the back of the Canadian $2.00 bill I was holding up! I was saying that the American robin is different to the Scottish one. I mentioned something about the robin getting its red breast from being splashed with Christ’s blood or being pierced by a thorn on His crown of thorns.

After the funeral we all climbed into the back of funeral car. Fearghas said, “Look! A robin!” We all looked out the car window to where he was pointing. There was a little robin red-breast on the end of a branch about a metre away peering in the car window!

Shortly after this time I moved to Australia. Many times when I thought of my mum I would shortly afterwards see a robin or rather a picture of a robin, be it on a roadside billboard or television or whatever! When I moved to Tasmania I was on top of Mt Wellington when a robin appeared! I managed to snap a photo of it!

I know it is rather subjective but I just take it that God, by the robin-appearances, is showing me that all is well with my mum. It all seems too fitting to be coincidental.

(The photo is one I took at the top of Mount Wellington while living in Hobart, Tasmania. A wee Tasmanian Robin landed on the pinnacle with the River Derwent in the vbackground. So there you go!)