In my last post I shared some thoughts regarding the biblical concept of time, which has always been important to all those who consider the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the authority for their faith, and for the practice of their faith at all times (both good times and what we perceive as bad times in our lives). I discussed the “omni” attributes of God, according to both Judaism and Christianity, the conviction held by Jews and Christians alike that the God we believe in is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), and omnipotent (all-powerful).
The psalmist declares, God knows all about each of us. He knows our thoughts; “…even before a word is on our tongue, He knows it all together” (Psalm 139). We cannot go where God is not: “Where can I go from your spirit, or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you will be there. If I make my bed in Sheol (the realm of the dead) you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast…I come to the end (i.e. the end of my days), and I am still with you” (vs. 7-10, and 8). Furthermore, God’s power is unlimited (i.e. nothing is impossible for God), for good God is sovereign, always in control and always actively involved in the whole of creation, for the work of creation continues in an ever expanding universe, and God is at work in the lives of believers, working in all things for the good of those who are seeking to fit into His plan and purpose for their lives. God is even able to turn the worst of times into the best of times.
Christianity teaches that our all-powerful God is not a tyrant, as some people believe, but is our Heavenly Father, who loves all His children, whose eye is always upon us, who watches over us, who guides us and guards us, keeping us from the evil one (as we always petition God every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the model prayer He gave His disciples). Devout Jews and Christians alike believe God is actively involved in the lives of His people today, as in biblical times, making His presence and power known, working His purpose out in this world, deciding which nations He will use and those He will not use for the building of His kingdom. Christianity in particular has always proclaimed a theology of time that is all inclusive, not only an eschatology as “end times,” but as a theology that includes all times – all the times of all His saints (i.e. all believers). God not only has a plan for the whole of His creation (i.e. the whole created order), but a plan for your life and mine.
Let me sound a warning: we must always guard against the tendency to think of God’s sovereignty only in terms of His control of His creation, but not in control your life and mine. Yes, it does stagger the imagination to think there are more than six billion people on planet, earth, and to believe that God is interested in each of us, acquainted with your ways and mine, and actively involved in the times of our lives. There have always been skeptics who ask, “Is it rational to believe there is a God who knows us by name, who actually intervenes in our lives in ways that are beyond our knowing, who is also working His purpose out in our kind of world on a daily scale?” The answer is, “Only for those who believe in a God who is all-knowing, a God who can be present everywhere at the same time, and a God who is unlimited in His power, for whom there are no impossibilities.” The Apostle Paul was speaking to those intellectuals in the Greek speaking world of his day, who took great pride in their knowledge, who believed in the superiority of human reason, when he asked: “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided through the foolishness of what we preach to save those who believe” (I Corinthians 1:20-21). The Greeks were seekers after wisdom. Paul, one the greatest scholars and intellectuals of his time, did not hesitate to tell them, “It is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the clever I will thwart’” (vs. 19).
We need to learn the lesson of biblical history: God has always chosen the “nothings” of this world in order to confound, confuse, and nullify the “somebodies” (i.e. according to worldly standards), so that our boasting might be in the Lord, and in the Word of the Lord and not in ourselves. “God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God has chosen what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are. so that no one might boats in the presence of God,” (I Corinthians 1:28). The Apostle Paul himself is one of the exceptions to this statement, for he was a member of the intelligentsia, but for the most part, those who have been chosen, called, and commissioned by God have been very ordinary men and women, such as the original twelve Jesus called to be His original disciples, such as Simon and Andrew, James and John, and Levi, to name a few: fishermen and a despised tax collector. In Old Testament times, God called Moses, a shepherd, and Jacob, a swindler – not very promising candidates for the tasks to which they were called. It has been said often, God does not call the qualified, but qualifies the called.
This brings me back to my own story, the manner in which I was called to be a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In my last post, I shared my conviction that it was not only predestined (pre-determined) for me to be a Christian, even before I was born, but also that I would eventually, in the “fullness of time,” become a Minister of the Word and Sacraments. In the spiritual realm such things do not just happen accidentally, but according to God’s will and at the right time as pre-determined in His plan. God is not a prisoner of time as we know it, for as the Bible says, “A thousand years are as one day with God,” “A thousand years in your sight, O Lord, are like yesterday when it is past,” and “All our years come to an end like a sigh” (i.e. they pass away speedily – Psalm 90). God is eternal, and eternity is another dimension, where there is no time as we know it. The risen and reigning Lord said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 1:8 – i.e. “the beginning and the end;” actually the One who had no beginning and will have no end). God dwells in the forever NOW, while we experience past, present, and future. I have shared how I was first called to preach when I was five years old, when my dying grandmother prayed for me, and then said, “You are going to be my little preacher.”
Fast forward: thirteen years later after I had graduated from a military school with an appointment to West Point, I believed I was going to pursue a military career. I attended a preparatory school at Cornwall on the Hudson, just five miles from the United States Military Academy. My six months there afforded me the opportunity to be on the campus at West Point numerous times, and I was more convinced than ever that this was my destination. There was no way I could have known that those plans were going to be interrupted, that God had another plan for my life which was about to be made known shortly after taking the entrance exams, which I had managed to pass. The experience that would point me in a different direction occurred in the privacy of my bedroom at home in Kentucky, when I was reviewing some forms from West Point that I needed to complete. Without any warning, and without any prayer or meditation, this question simply entered my mind: “Have you considered the ministry?” I was startled and did not know where that question so suddenly came from. Then the same question was repeated, again and again. Was this the voice of God I was hearing? I had never heard the voice of God before. Furthermore, I had never asked God in prayer if He had a plan for my life, and I had never even asked God to bless my plans! I had always prayed, but my prayer life, for the most part, consisted of grace at meal time and security at bed time. This was something new, and I was asking myself what this meant. I think I was afraid to pray, but I was still hearing that disturbing question in my head, “Have you considered the ministry? Have you considered the ministry? Have you considered the ministry?” It was like a broken record, playing the same thing over and over again. Finally I knelt beside my bed, to pray as my mother had taught me to pray, on my knees, simply asking,”Lord, is this your voice I’m hearing?” There was no reply, just silence. Then something inexplicable happened. I saw myself as a child kneeling once again at my grandmother’s bed. She had her hand on my head, and was saying, “You’re going to be my little preacher.”
I will share more about what followed in future posts, but suffice it to simply say now that was a life-changing GOD-INCIDENT in my life, an experience that was followed by a series of events that confirmed God’s will for my life. I have always hesitated to be too personal when it comes to my spiritual experiences, for fear that someone might think that in bearing witness to my own Christian experiences I am suggesting that I am someone special to God (as I know I am, and as I know you are as well), and perhaps thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think. I certainly hope not, and I by no means want to suggest that anyone else should have experiences like my own, for I know full well that God deals with each of us in a unique and original way. My experiences are only my own, and should not be seen as a model for anyone else. However, I hope that sharing some of the unique experiences in my life, in our long married life (my wife, Norma, and I celebrated our 66th anniversary September 2nd), and in our family life, will help some of you reading this and future posts to identify more surprises in your own lives as “God-Incidents,” rather than coincidences.