November 9, 2008
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
How Great is Our God
Lord willing, we will spend at least the next five months with the sermon series How Great is Our God, which we started three weeks ago. Some of you may ask, Why this long? Why not preach on prayer or suffering or joy or evangelism or money or success in career or marriage or business or relationships in church? To tell you the truth, we will also preach on those issues but we will not focus on that. We will go to the heart of the problem. The problem we see in most Christians today is a misunderstanding of who God is or lack of it. The problem is that the God many of us worship is not great enough. We do not have a vision large enough that we can exclaim, “How great is our God!” After all, life is all about God and our relationship with Him. The real problem is not that we do not pray enough, read the Bible enough, love each other enough, give enough, serve enough, or lead people enough. The real problem is that we do not know Him enough. To know Him as He really is is our goal. May it be your goal, too.
He Couldn’t Have Done It?
Ravi Zacharias tells of a story he read while growing up in India about a man who had two idols in his home:
One was large and rather fierce looking. The other was small, with a cheery face. Every day, morning and night, the man would carry out his worship rituals – placing fruit offering before the idols and chanting hymns, while his son watched with great curiosity. Finally his son said, “Why are you talking to stones? These are lifeless things. They can’t speak or move or do anything, yet you spend all this time every day doing what you do.”
The father grew very angry and reprimanded his son. “Don’t you dare speak that way! These are not just stones! These are our gods! We worship them, and they protect us.” The son realized he had touched a raw nerve and wisely decided to push the issue no further.
But one day, in the father’s absence, the son took a big stick and smashed the little idol to pieces. Then he took the stick and placed it in the hands of the big idol. When evening came, his father walked into the house and, stunned by the sight, let out a shout. “Who did this? What happened here?”
The son came running into the room, pretending to be dismayed, and said, “It has to be the big one! Look, he has a stick in his hands!”
The suggestion infuriated the father, and he yelled, “Of course he couldn’t not have done it!”
“Why not?” asked his son.
“Because he’s made of stone, that’s why! He can’t move! There’s no life in him!”
The son dropped his act and said, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, haven’t I?”
True, we don’t have idols in our homes. Yet, our lack of faith and our cold worship indicate that we often put God in a box and reduce him to the stature of an idol. Though we believe that God can do great things, there are events around us or in our lives that we say in our hearts, “He could not have done it.” Limiting God this way reduces God to the level only slightly above man-made idols. We know this could not be. He is set apart infinitely higher than so-called gods.
Psalm 115:3 tells us what separates God from idols and from anything else in his creation. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” God is above all of his creation. When a thing pleases him to do, he does it. This is what we call “sovereignty.” Our God is a sovereign God. When the Bible says that God does all that pleases God it means that all that gives pleasure to God or delights the heart of God these are the things he will do, and he can do it, and no one or nothing can successfully hinder him from doing what he wills to do.
His sovereignty means that God can do absolutely everything that will give him pleasure and those that are not contrary to his nature as God. It does not mean that God can do evil or harm people without a just cause. It does not mean that God can create a rock so big that he cannot carry it. The only necessary limitations to God’s sovereignty are the things that are not according to God’s purpose and pleasure and those that are contrary to his being. These limitations are not really limitations of his sovereignty that can diminish God’s greatness. God’s greatness will be evident if we understand what God’s sovereignty means.
Absolute and Universal Rule
Because God is sovereign, he has absolute and universal rule over all his creation. There is nothing he cannot do that he wills to do. There is nowhere in the whole universe that God cannot exercise his rule or authority. “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 on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:5-6). Whatever, whereever, whenever, whoever God chooses to do or work through he can do.
God is determined and passionate to accomplish all the intents of his heart. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'” (Isaiah 46:9-10). God said that he will accomplish all, not just some or even many of his purposes. All! His sovereignty is absolute and universal.
There is no area of your life that God cannot exercise his absolute control. God wants to exercise control in every area of your life. He wants us to yield to his rule. He wants us to submit our marriage, business, thought life, eyes, ministry, and leadership under his rule. Let God accomplish his purpose in your life. I know this is not easy for many of us. We want control in some areas of our life. We don’t want God to choose what TV shows we can watch, or the partner to have in a relationship, or business transactions we must be involved in. We want to be master of our fate, pilot of our life and captain of our soul. But we are not. God is. That is what it means to be God. We do not limit him. He limits us. We do not give him boundaries. He give us boundaries. If we can start creating billions of galaxies, may be we can start trading places with him.
Unhindered Purposes and Plans
Because God is determined to do what he wants done whenever, whereever, through anything or anyone he wants, it follows that no one or nothing can successfully hinder his plans. Because God is sovereign, his purposes cannot be hindered, ultimately. The suffering Job confessed to God, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). When we say that God can do all things that he pleases, it necessarily follows that no one or nothing can derail what God had intended from the beginning. If God is a speeding train, whatever you put to block or stop him will be run over by his sovereign power, grace, and justice.
No nation, no human being can frustrate the plan of God. It is God who frustrates the plans of men. “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:10-11). A corrupt government leader cannot hinder God’s plan for our nation. A communist government cannot stop the spread of the gospel in China. A murderer cannot stop God’s plan for a young teeanage Christian girl. The anti-Christian Voltaire, an 18th century French writer and philosopher, once said that Christianity will cease to exist in a hundred years. God may have an extraordinary sense of humor when a few years after his death, his own printing press in his house was converted into a Bible printing press. Voltaire was long gone now, but the God of Christianity continues to do his marvelous work in the lives of his people.
It is not about what man plans to do, but what God plans to do. We only plan based on what we can see. That is why many of our plans are frustrated. But not so with God. In his wisdom and infinite knowledge he can see everything – what will happen and what could possibly happen. What is in your life right now that you think are hindering God’s purposes for you to enjoy his fellowship and to be conformed more and more to be like Jesus? A broken heart? A painful past? Do you believe that in the end God’s plan will triumph over it?
Some of our most treasured plans can be ruined by other people. But God’s plan can’t. A week before my friend’s wedding, she called off the wedding because of the guy’s dishonesty about a girl he broke up with only a few days before the wedding. That’s painful. We ask, how could this happen to a godly woman? How could another Christian do this to her? Why would God allow this to happen? These are questions we ask. These are questions that God tells us to trust him for the answer although he does not give the answer immediately, or may even withhold the answer from us forever.
Over Suffering and Evil
We can be assured that not even suffering or evil can hinder God’s plan. In fact, the Bible tells us that sin and suffering are allowed by God to exist for his purposes. “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lam. 3:37-38). Though it be the case we cannot accuse God of being the author of sin or an unjust God because of the sufferings the world experienced. We do not blame God for the sin Adam and Eve committed in the garden. We do not blame him for the sins we committed. We do not blame him for the sufferings we experienced. He has his own purposes for allowing these things to happen. One of this is to show to us how he can turn something very bad into something very good. He can turn something that is so dishonoring to his name to give him the highest honor and glory at the end.
Joseph’s life was witness that God uses even bad things to happen so that his good and greater purposes will be accomplished. He said to his brothers who sold him to be slave in Egypt, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). Before we accuse God of incapable of eradicating poverty or injustice or corruption, we need to ask ourselves, “Is it not the cross the highest act of God’s sovereignty?” He chooses to send his Son to suffer shame and be humiliated in death in order that we who are dead should be brought back to life. Does not God use the sufferings of his Son and his messengers to preserve a people for his name from many families and nations? Before we say to God in the sufferings of our life, “You should not do it!” we must be able to say first about the sufferings of Christ, “You should not have planned it!”
Over the Human Heart
There are evil in this world because of the hardness of the human heart. No matter how hard we try, we cannot change it. We must trust him that God is also sovereign over the human heart. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). If God wills to change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh he will do it. If God wills to transform a rebel into a preacher he will do it. That’s what he did to the apostle Paul. That’s what he did to former Capt. Geri Gambala, a leader of a group of soldiers who planned to overthrow the government in the failed Oakwood mutiny in 2003. God transformed him during the five years he was in prison. Now, he is serving Campus Crusade for Christ and studying in our seminary.
Just because we have no power to change people’s heart that we will no longer do anything like evangelism and prayer. Instead, God’s sovereign grace should motivate us to more evangelism and prayer because we know that God can accomplish through those means what we cannot accomplish for ourselves. Paul believed this in his preaching. While preaching in Philippi, “A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). God changes hearts. That is why we will invite Geri Gambala on December 14 to share his testimony. We will invite our non-believing friends to hear him and hear the gospel preached that day. We will pray for them hard. We will show to them what a Christian life transformed by God is like. We will trust God to be sovereign over their hearts on that day.
Because God is sovereign and that he does all that he pleases, it follows that in God, there are no accidents. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). Nothing in this world will happen apart from God’s direct work or from his allowing something to happen. It is not an accident that a pastor of a large church in Manila was killed in a car “accident.” It is not an accident when five young American missionaries were killed in Ecuador by the natives they were trying to reach on their first visit to their village. It is not an accident when your best friend died of dengue. It is not bad luck when you failed the board exam. It is not a misfortune that we are here in our church suffering many kinds of relationship problems. There are no accidents or bad lucks with God. Everything is planned according to his good purposes.
“The Grand Weaver”
God is weaving a pattern in our lives we often missed to see. A town called Lake Sebu in South Cotabato is best known for its T’nalak – a fine piece of T’boli cloth made and woven from abaca fiber. Tourists were amazed not just with the final product but also with the process it undergoes from the marvelous hands of the natives.
The cloth, culled from tie-dyed abaca fibers of distinct red, white, and black, are stripped from the roots and leaves of trees. Stripping the abaca is the man’s only work, after which everything is left to the weaver. After softening the fibers, dyeing is a gruelling process that takes from several days to weeks. Abaca fibers are boiled and left soaking for sporadic periods to produce the intense color that lasts. Once the fibers are dried, they are ready for the loom.
Weaving is a very personal and arduous work for the woman, requiring patience, creativity, and a sharp memory to recall particular geometric designs. It is said that for the whole duration, the weaver should not mate with her husband because it may break the fiber or destroy the design. The men are not allowed to touch the materials, either.
The T’boli weavers are called “Dreamweavers” because this ethnic and sacred ritual is based on tribal designs that came from a dream. Unique patterns are handed down protectively from ancestors to their daughters. Some may deviate patterns from new dreams, so the tapestries evolve and modernize, yet the symbolic artistry and quality of craftsmanship never waver.
God is a Weaver but his designs for our lives are not based on dreams but on his wisdom, love and goodness. His own hands weave all the threads of our lives – good or bad – to accomplish his good purpose. We may not know these purposes immediately but we can trust him that what he is doing and what he is allowing in our lives will be a beautiful tapestry made from the different-colored threads of our life. If we know how beautiful the final product is, we will not be happy if God put it into our own hands to accomplish for ourselves. Zacharias called him the Grand Weaver. Will we let God do his work? Will we let him be in control? Do you trust that what God is doing in your life right now is, ultimately, for your good?
Gary LaFerla, in his book Finding Your Way, tells an amazing story that happened during World War II after the USS Astoria engaged a Japanese vessel. The Astoria was badly damaged after the attack.
About 0200 hours a young Midwesterner, Signalman 3rd Class Elgin Staples, was swept overboard by the blast when the Astoria’s number one eight-inch gun turret exploded. Wounded in both legs by shrapnel and semi-shock, he was kep afloat by a narrow lifebelt that he managed to activate with a simple trigger mechanism.
At around 0600 hours, Staples was rescued by a passing destroyer and returned to the Astoria, whose captain was attempting to save the cruiser by beaching her. The effor failed, and Staples, still wearing the same lifebelt, found himself back in the water. It was lunchtime. Picked up again by the USS President Jackson, he was one of 500 survivors of the battle who were evacuated to Noumea. On board the transport, Staples hugging that lifebelt with gratitude, looked at that small piece of equipment for the first time. He scrutinized every stitch of the lifebelt that had served him so well. It had been manufactured by Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, and bore a registration number.
Given home leave, Staples told his story and asked his mother, who worked for Firestone, about the purpose of the number on the belt. She replied that the company insisted on personal responsibility for the war effort, and that the number was unique and assigned to only one inspector. Staples remembered everything about the lifebelt, and quoted the number. There was a moment of stunned silence in the room and then his mother spoke: “That was my personal code that I affixed to every item I was responsible for approving.”
After this, according to Staples himself, “We hugged each other for a long, long time, feeling the bond between us. My mother had put her arms halfway around the world to save me.” God has a personal code for everything that is happening around us, a personal code that says, “I made it happen to give you life.” So far from keeping you away from him, God’s sovereignty must lead you to feel the bond between you and God. He wants you to see his hand in the weaving loom, carefully putting together all the threads of your life – whether good or bad – to produce a person in the splendor of the likeness of the Lord Jesus.
 Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 93-94.
 English translation of the Scriptures are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise stated.
 Cited in Zacharias, 27-28.
 <http://www.geocities.com/dwwsmw56/Astoria.html?20088> accessed November 7, 2008.