Failure Is Impossible

Failure Is Impossible

Video presentation of this lesson
Westminster Shorter Catechism Q11: God’s Providence
by Bob Burridge ©2011

When we make plans, we try to plan for the unexpected.

If you go on an camping trip, you take along a first aid kit. You pack tools to repair things. As Boy Scouts we were expected to live up to our motto, “Be Prepared.” That’s why we have spare tires in our cars, back-up files for things stored on our computers, and fire-extinguishers in our kitchens.

None of us can be sure about what might happen, so we prepare for the unknown. Those of us who live in Florida try to be prepared during the warmer months for the threatened approach of a hurricane. A few years ago Tropical Storm Fay appeared to be aiming directly at us here in Pinellas County. Stores sold out of propane tanks, bottles of water, duct tape and batteries. As it turned out, Fay didn’t become a Hurricane, and our county never felt it’s power. However, we wisely prepared, even though we knew the predictions were very uncertain.

Several years ago Hurricane Charlie also seemed to target Tampa Bay. Just hours away, it suddenly turned sharply and hit communities way south of us. Many were unprepared there because it was suppose to visit us. The result was devastating to a community caught by surprise. It is always best to take precautions in spite of our best guesses to err on the side of safety.

We often have to deal with things we don’t count on. We hear people talk about back-up plans, fall-back positions, alternate routes, and things like that.

When our astronauts first landed on the moon, one of the first things they did was to scoop up what they called a “contingency sample” of moon soil. It was gathered in case they had to leave quickly before more careful samples could be collected.

Our plans are good if they do what we design them to do, but they are seldom, if ever, perfect. That is why we plan for the unexpected and make room for the uncertain. This is why it is hard to really comprehend the fact that God’s plan never changes or fails to accomplish exactly what God eternally intended.

It is hard for us to imagine a perfect plan.

God’s eternal plan for his creation includes everything that ever happens, and all that makes it happen. What God intends always takes place just as he meant it to.

Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.”

There’s a prejudice in the fallen mind. Unless you are redeemed by grace, you will always modify what God says about himself in the Bible.

One of the hardest concepts to understand, much less accept, is the absolute sovereignty of God. He is not only King of all kings. He is Ruler over every molecule, every quantum of energy, every event, and every outcome.

Bible scholars spent over five years putting together the Westminster Standards. They summarized the decrees of God in Shorter Catechism questions 7 through 12. The answer to question 7 tells what the Bible says about God’s decrees. It says, “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

God put his decrees into action with the works of creation and providence. He Created everything in the physical universe, and all the living things he put in it. His work of providence is his direction of all creation toward it’s intended goal.

Question 11 of the Shorter Catechism asks, “What are God’s works of providence?” The answer derived from Scripture alone is, “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

God is much more than what most people understand.

Even God’s own spiritual children can get confused by popular opinions about their Creator’s nature. Our imperfect human minds try to imagine him being like us. In our imperfect state we tend to read our own limitations into the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable nature of God.

Some believers still imagine God to be limited by what he created as if he needs our permission to save us. The problem is that the Bible says very clearly that you trusted in him only because he already redeemed you. Otherwise we would never have learned to love him.

Some imagine that our prayers actually inform God and convince him to change his eternal plan. That’s not the power promised in prayer. We aren’t smarter than God to advise him. However, God uses the power of our prayers to carry out his perfect plan. When you pray, and God does what you ask him, you discover that all along he made you part of that wonderful work. When you fail to pray, you show that you have not honored God’s call to come to him about the needs he brings to your attention. It shows a lack of care to be part of his works on earth. That is a frightening thing to discover about yourself.

Generally, fallen man accepts his corrupted idea of God. For the most part, he loves believing in a super being who helps him, but he refuses to admit that he answer to him as a fallen sinner. He does not give him all the glory for his faith, for his good choices, for his charity, and successes. He wants some of the glory for himself.

When God’s love transforms your heart through Christ, you set aside your human pride and prejudices. You see a more marvelous God than you otherwise could have imagined.

We already read in Psalm 135:6 that God does all he pleases at all times. Psalm 115:3 says almost the same thing. … our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.

That was one of the lessons Job had to learn. In Job 42:2 he humbly learned to say to God, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.”

In Colossians 1:16 the Apostle Paul wrote, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”

That is the purpose of Creation. He made all things “for him”. Creation built the platform on which all God planned is carried out. Everything, without exception, declares the Creator’s glory and power.

The Westminster Confession, chapter five, begins this way, “God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”

This is the work of providence, one of the great truths about your God. It is amazing and comforting to remember that God directs everything in the world in which we live.

God’s providence directs the events of nature.

The word providence comes from a Latin word providere, which means “to see before.” The corresponding Greek word in the New Testament is pronoia (πρόνοια). It means “forethought.” (ISBE)

It’s far more than just looking ahead to see what is going to happen. God knows it, because he decreed it, and because he has the infinite power to control it all. God provides for all that is needed for his plan to work out. He sees it all as a whole thing, not as individual disconnected events. This provision for the whole course of history is what we call his “providence”.

Throughout the Bible, we see God’s absolute control over his creation. In Job 12:15 it says about God, “If He withholds the waters, they dry up; If He sends them out, they overwhelm the earth.”

Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “… He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

In Acts 17 Paul described God as the Creator and Preserver of everything. He not only made it all, he also directs everything to serve his purposes. In verse 26 he said about all the nations, that he, “… has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.”

One of the problems we struggle with is understanding evil. People wonder how God can be in control when there is wickedness in his universe.

But by God’s providence he even governs the boundaries of evil.

If God made all things to declare his glory as the Bible tells us, then there needs to be a way to display his Justice, his Mercy, and his Amazing Grace. So he made his world susceptible to sin so he could rescue his people from it. Obviously, the best universe is one where sin is beaten, not one where sin never existed.

It is not for us to be able to see how it all fits together just yet, but we are assured that it does. Job never knew why God put him through those hard times and deep sorrows, but he did learn that God had reasons he did not need to know.

While Joseph suffered in prison after his brothers sold him into slavery, while he wondered why he was put in a dungeon for a crime he never committed, he could not yet see how God was setting the stage for great blessings through him. He was put in place to save God’s people from a famine. He was there to lead them to Egypt which became the background for the great Exodus.

When he was very old Joseph lived to see some of the reasons for his suffering. He said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

The greatest act of evil in all of history was the brutal killing of Jesus Christ. Evil men were clearly responsible for what they did, yet God had planned it from all eternity as the greatest display of his love and grace. Peter explained it exactly that way to the crowds in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”

There was no excuse in saying that God determined it. Those who crucified him were personally guilty. They sinned willingly. Yet it was all part of a greater plan. Probably as they laid our Lord’s body in the tomb and accepted the fact of his death, the disciples could not see how any good could come from that Roman injustice. However, on the third day the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, and they could see there was a wonderful purpose in what seemed a senseless violence.

Proverbs 16:4 says, “The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.”

As God’s child, your calling is to live honorably,
responsibly, through the unfolding of these decrees.

We who live in Florida know how hard it is to predict path of hurricanes. They are driven by the heat of the sun. It makes the air above the waters in one place hotter than the air around it. The rising hot air draws in the cooler air which gets heated up and rises into the atmosphere. The wind rushing in starts to spin because of the rotation of the earth. Other air masses around the storms feed it, and push at it, and sometimes become barriers to its movement. The storm follows the path through the boundaries of the surrounding systems. Though it is complicated, and we have a hard time predicting exactly where a storm will go, it moves as part of a greater complexity.

The path of history seems to move through the boundaries of circumstances, ambition, opportunity, greed and patriotism. Severe storms in the North Atlantic, navigational mistakes, and a new set of British naval tactics ended the powerful military threat of the Spanish Armada. The great Empire of Rome faded away under incompetent Emperors, self-centered citizens, a weakened military unable to protect from invaders, and as the historian Gibbon calls it “immoderate greatness.”

The brave patriotism of oppressed colonies stood with unexpected resolve against England. The many loyalties and events of the Revolutionary War gave us our own nation.

All the turns in the path of time were long before laid out in the plan of God. He sent the winds against mighty warships, and stirred bravery in the hearts of patriots. He trained and gave brilliance to leaders, inventors, pastors, explorers and writers. He raised up nations and brought down empires.

In your own life He caused you to be conceived just as you are in the womb of your mother. He gave you the lessons, joys, tragedies, and opportunities that shaped your choices. He alone opened your eyes to see your need for forgiveness for offenses against God, and stirred faith in your heart to trust in Jesus Christ as your only hope and Savior.

He brought you here at this very page, at this very moment, with all that is now on your mind, with all you remember of your life before this lesson started, and with all your concerns about what you face when this lesson ends. He has used all that has touched your life and all the lives you’ve touched to create the opportunities that shape the rest of today, tomorrow, and the remainder of your life.

Though it is valuable and important to know the history of what God has done, and to understand the principles that he lovingly tells you about in his word, the moral question is not how or why things are as they are right now. It is to know how you will live in these conditions to be a good child of your Father in Heaven.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Your responsibility is not to try to figure out what is coming next, or why God decrees each thing. It is to do what he tells you to do with the attitude he says is right.

Give thanks to God alone for every good thing in your life. James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

Rest in the power of the Risen Christ alone for whatever strength you will ever need. His word gives you lessons that make you wiser than anyone will ever become in universities, through years of experience, research, and practice. Nothing, no enemy, no rude or ambitions rival, no turn of circumstances, can even slightly frustrate the plan of the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, the one who is your loving and faithful Redeemer, Enabler, and Father.

Confidently press on in service of the King of kings. Remember that the little things you do, your choices, your hardships and sufferings, the words you speak, the thoughts you think, even your humbling failures are part of something far bigger than any of us can imagine.

God’s providence isn’t an intellectual exercise in theology. It is the promise and hope of every believer in Christ. It is the assurance that you have nothing to fear.

As the Apostle Paul was moved to write for God in Romans 8:28, it is the certainty that, “all things work together for good, to those who love God and who are called according to his purpose.”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

God’s Perfect Plan

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

God’s Perfect Plan

Video presentation of this lesson
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:7-8)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

God is greater than anything any of us can comprehend. What we experience in our day-to-day lives is the discovering of his prefect and eternal plan.

Since God is so much more than we can know, there are things that happen which we cannot possibly explain. In our fallen condition people try to explain things anyway. They add their foolish guesses and theories. They either reject the parts of God’s word they don’t like, or they try to explain them away by adding things from their own imaginations. This generates the confusion about God which is common today.

The Naturalist tries to explain what happens in our world by imagining that Nature itself is the mother of us all. To deal with what they would like reality to be, they deify everything, but that really means they deify nothing. If everything is God, then he isn’t anything more than everything else.

They use different versions of Evolution Theory to explain where we came from. This makes humans to be no more important than dust, rocks, beetles, or bacteria. To the Naturalist there is no plan, no certainty, no hope for the future. This lets them reject the idea that there are things that are really sinful or wrong. They condemn only what stands in the way of their personal peace and prosperity.

The Fatalist believes that everything that happens is inevitable. The religious fatalist imagines some kind of god or universal power moving all things along, but it’s all impersonal. We’re just actors following a script. Our thoughts and circumstances move us to do what’s been written out for us.

The material fatalist believes that the forces of nature and chance can only go one way. We do what the chemicals in our brains get stimulated to do by our circumstances. Our lives are simply a play written by impersonal cosmic forces.

In both types of fatalism life is meaningless. There is no morality or evil, just our wrong ideas about it all. There can be no personal responsibility. Human feelings are just hormonal reactions. There is no reason to sorrow or to be glad, except as it effects us personally.

As one Fatalist once put it, man is like a water-beetle caught in a torrent of water. He may struggle, or he may let himself be swept along in peace simply accepting his doom.

Others see God as a powerful being who’s there to the help us, but who doesn’t control everything. To them, God is big, but he is not infinite. They limit God by imagining that human choices are beyond his control. To them he is like a superhero, or the pagan deities of ancient Greece and Rome. They imagine that if we all pray hard enough, God will change his plan to grant our wishes. They must think that their wisdom about what should happen is better than God’s wisdom.

God hasn’t left us to wonder and guess about his plan with such foolish theories. In his revealed word, preserved for us in the Bible, he tells us what we need to know about his plan and our responsibilities. There God assures us that he decrees all things and isn’t surprised by anything. It also tells us that we are real persons, responsible for our own thoughts and actions.

This all fits together once we understand how God explains it. We need to let the Bible speak for itself. There is great comfort for those who trust in the True God. We can rest confidently in the things the way they really are, instead of just how we guess them to be.

In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, questions 7 and 8 summarize what the Bible says about God’s control of all things.

Question 7. What are the decrees of God?
Answer. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

Question 8. How doth God execute his decrees?
Answer. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.

First: It reminds us that God’s plan is eternal.

If God’s plan is eternal, then it had no beginning. There was never a time before his plan was formed. It’s always been there in his mind. From all eternity God’s intent and all that carries it out was complete and perfect. Psalm 33:11 says, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations.”

That is hard for us to understand. Our plans all have a time when they are formed in our minds. We gather the information we need. We think about it. Only then a plan emerges.

With God, his plan has always been there in its complete and unchangeable form. There’s no information he didn’t always know. He didn’t need to do research to get the facts. He didn’t need to make up contingency plans. There’s no need for a “Plan B”. As we’ve seen in our earlier study, God is eternal and unchangeable. There was never a time when any part of God’s plan was uncertain or incomplete.

Before anything was created, God knew all things as they would ever be. He designed everything to show his glory in the best way possible.

Second: God’s plan is the expression of his own will.

God’s decrees are his own eternal and unchanging intentions. Revelation 4:11 says, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.”

His plan wasn’t formed by advice or input from anything or anyone other than himself. Since the Bible says he knew all things before the foundation of the earth, nothing else existed when his plan was already and eternally fully formed. He has always known all things as they are and will ever be.

Some try to get around this by using Bible verses about God’s foreknowledge. They imagine God basing his plan upon what he saw would happen in the future. That can’t possibly be what those verses are talking about. It makes no sense to think that that the Eternal, Unchangeable God looked ahead to see what his creatures would do if he didn’t decree their actions, then decreed them from all eternity. So his decree was for what would happen if he didn’t decree it. The mind that wants to be independent of a Sovereign God can accept such self-contradictory ideas.

The word foreknowledge simply tells us that God knows with certainty before hand exactly how his plan will unfold. The Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 3, section 2 explains this when it says, “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, …”

God doesn’t decide what to do based on what we would do. The Creator isn’t the slave of the creatures who make up history as they decide things. The Bible says it’s the other way around: Those who move history are moved by God. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.”

As Jesus taught us, even our prayers are to be presented humbly. We say, “Thy will be done …” We do not say, “God, you have your plan, but please abandon it and do it my way. It’s better.”

Third: The purpose of God’s decree is to promote his own glory.

That’s the continuing purpose of all Creation in Psalm 19:1-2, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.”

We looked at this more closely in our study of Catechism Question 1. As part of God’s creation we are each here “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

The Apostle Peter gave a warning to those who teach God’s word. In his First Peter 4:11 he wrote, ” … that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, …”

Our prime duty here on earth is to carry out this purpose of our Creator. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we’re told, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Fourth: All of God’s plan, every part of it, is certain to come to pass.

God foreordained whatever comes to pass. We don’t say he Predestined it, because that word has to do with the destiny of our souls. Foreordination has to do with everything. There is nothing God didn’t include in his plan.

God’s perfect plans and infinite power come together to ensure us that all God determined to happen comes to pass exactly as he intended it. Since God is infinitely powerful, he is able to make all that he plans happen just as he wants. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:”

He is able to do whatever he decrees will happen. And that’s exactly what he does. This absolute sovereignty of God is one of the most clear and repeated teachings of the Bible.

Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.”

Job 42:1-2, “… I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.”

There is nothing that can ever or will ever change or ruin God’s perfect plan for the ages. It is hard to understand the idea of a perfect and eternal plan that never changes. This is a high mystery to us finite and imperfect creatures. We can rarely accomplish our simplest of plans without having to make adjustments. With God, all he purposes to do — comes to pass without fail or amendment.

God’s decrees include everything. There is nothing in all of God’s universe that is independent from his decrees. Nothing surprises him and nothing is left out. He made all things to merge together precisely to declare his glory. Everything that takes place has been decreed by God for all eternity.

As time goes on our plans often change. We can’t possibly know in advance all the things that could derail our plans. We can’t anticipate human errors, circumstances, or natural disasters that might get in the way. We get new information and often have to admit that something can’t be done as we hoped.

Our information, and the way we make our decisions, are always imperfect and limited. We do the best we can to reduce the imperfections while knowing we can’t eliminate them all.

We need to keep in mind that knowing that God’s plan is certain isn’t the same as Fatalism. The Reformers, including John Calvin, made it clear that what the Bible teaches is nothing like Fatalism. Critics of the Bible often make the mistake of not understanding the difference.

We were created in God’s image as persons, not as machines. We act, and think, and choose. We alone are responsible for our sins. Even the good we do, our faith, repentance, and obedience are the work of God’s grace in us. He provides our abilities and opportunities. He gives life to our fallen hearts, turns us by his Holy Spirit, and gives us a new nature that impels us to want to do what he says is good.

Yet when God works in us by his grace, we come as persons made willing by Christ. We don’t repent and believe as machines or as rebels screaming and kicking against his redeeming love.

It is a wicked thing to believe that the loving work of our Sovereign God is just natural forces at work blindly.

One of the hardest things to understand
is the existence of evil in God’s perfect plan.

God did not create sin. It is not a created thing. Sin and evil do not exist on their own. They are not entities floating around somewhere in the universe. They only exist as attitudes or actions in created persons.

Sin is doing what God forbids, or failing to do what he commands. It is pure non-sense to say that God is the cause of anything against his own will and intention. Sin is not caused by God, and we should never blame him for it.

When the Bible says God caused “evil” there is a translation problem related to older forms of English. The Hebrew word translated as “evil” in some passages in the old King James Version is the Hebrew word רע (ra’) which means calamity or disaster. Sin, or moral evil uses the Hebrew word חטא (khatah) which is not said to be caused by God.

Obviously God’s plan allowed or permitted evil to exist. This is the way the Bible puts it in passages like Acts 14:16, God, “… in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.”

God allowing sin, does not make it to be good. God may decree evil, and even restrain it at times, but he is never the one who causes it. In Genesis 20:6 we see that God restrained Abimelech from sinning with Abraham’s wife Sarah. There it says, “… I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.”

When the sons of Jacob sold Joseph into slavery, it was their evil, but God had a purpose in it. In Genesis 50:20 Joseph explained how God fit into what they did. “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, …” Evil condemns the rebel, but God employs it to reveal more of his glorious perfections.

One of the clearest passages that helps us understand this difficult concept is Acts 2:23. It talks about the crucifying of Jesus, which was obviously both a wicked thing and something God planned from all eternity to redeem his people. Acts 2:23 speaks of Jesus, “… being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”

On the one hand it says the crucifying of Jesus was decreed by God as part of his plan. He foresaw it as something he meant to happen. On the other hand, this verse clearly shows that it was a lawless and wicked thing to do. It leaves those who did this responsible for what they did. They did it willingly, not as machines, or as mere actors forced to play out a script.

God uses the evil he permits men to do, so that it furthers his plan. He has a purpose in those who are left in their sins, and in those who are saved by Christ. Romans 9:22-23 is very clear when it says, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,”

So evil is part of God’s plan, but it is caused by the willing rebellion of fallen persons. They sin because they want to, not because they are forced to do something they do not want to do.

Fifth: God puts his decree into action for us to see
by his works of creation and providence

In Creation God made everything he wanted to put into his universe and into our world. Everything God made serves a purpose — together they display his glory: Psalm 19 begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.” Colossians 1:16 tells us that all things were created for God’s purposes.

All we see, all we use, all we are — everything is part of the revealing of his plan day-by-day. By his providence God directs all things toward his perfect purpose. What we call laws of science are really the principles God embedded in what he made. Colossians 1:17 says, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

The events of history, even those done in hatred toward God, turn out to further his plan. Even the deceit of Adam and Eve by Satan in Eden was use by God. The greatest attack became the greatest story ever told.

God uses sin to reveal his justice, to show us how much we need our Redeemer, to display a love so great that the greatest gift was given to overcome the worst rebellion.

The things that happen to you every day are there for the same reason: to display God’s glory. The beautiful sunrise, the friends and family who are there to comfort and love us, the children and elderly who need us to care for them, the opportunities we have to worship, they should all stir us to see God’s hand at work in and through his redeemed people. We have opportunities to practice the presence of Christ in our hearts when faced with flat tires, rude people who show disrespect for us, pathogens that make us sick, homework, bills, taxes, manipulations of politicians, and devastating storms.

The decrees of God are a great comfort to God’s people.

Nothing is out of control. Everything fits into God’s holy purpose and glorious plan. As Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

This is the symphony of God’s World made known to us in God’s Word, and made knowable to us undeserving sinners by God’s Redeeming Grace in Christ.

God’s promise is that he knows what he’s doing, even though we don’t yet understand it all. He is truly Lord over all things and over all the beings he made. That’s why even in a time of horrible tragedy and suffering, Job had the courage to say in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him…”

This is the assurance we can give to our children, and can draw upon ourselves when we face the unknown. It is our comfort as we go to bed at night, and wake up to a new day in the morning. We pray to God as David did in Psalm 3:5-6, “i lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me round about.”

This is not just a useless intellectual exercise about large scale movements of history. It means that everything that happens day-by-day in each of our lives is the unfolding of God’s perfect plan.

Our duty is to look for our opportunities for obedience in every situation that comes along. Are you sick? Have you been in an accident? Maybe you received a good promotion at work, or your car has broken down again. Perhaps someone broke into your house and took your things. Whether you are blessed or attacked, surprised or bored: in all things you are moving through God’s plan as it unfolds.

The Bible tells us about God’s power and decrees so we can know we are safe all the time, and so we can honor him through it all. This gives us a different perspective. It is as if the lights were turned on to get rid of the darkness.

Whether you rest beside the still waters, or walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Shepherd who made all things and who upholds all things is there with you. He is not only on the path with you, he made the path, and he made you.

Trust him, even when things happen that can’t seem to be good in your limited understanding, specially then. See each challenge as your orders of the day. Learn to move dynamically, responding to what happens with godly obedience. Rest with childlike confidence in the promises of God which cannot fail.

(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

What Does the Bible Mainly Teach Us?

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

What Does the Bible Mainly Teach Us?

Video presentation of this lesson
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:3)
by Bob Burridge ©2014

On most of our Florida beaches there are signs warning about the stingrays. They tell you to shuffle your feet in the water so you don’t step on one. They’re not aggressive creatures, but they don’t like to be stepped on, and they defend themselves instinctively.

Every summer I see people who ignore the signs go dashing out into the water. I often see them a little later in the day grimacing in pain while sitting with their foot in a bucket of warm soapy water at the life-guard’s station.

Warnings and helpful directions are there for a good reason. Those who choose to ignore them, or who just don’t take the time to read them, are most likely going to suffer the consequences.

God also warns us and gives us vital instructions in life. But like the tourists who just dash out into the surf, people dash out into life without a clue about what it’s really all about.

The Bible is available for us today in many forms. It’s amazing how few are familiar with what it says, or take its warnings seriously. When asked what the Bible mainly teaches, there are some shockingly ignorant answers.

We often hear people say that it simply teaches us to be good to everybody. Others say it teaches that there should be no distinctions among people. They insist that God wants no one to have more money, better homes, better jobs, and so on than anybody else. There are those who say it teaches that Jesus mainly taught us to respect and tolerate the teachings of all religions. There are some who say that the Bible guarantees that we’re all going to heaven when we die. Still others think that the only important message in the Bible is that you have to be “born-again” so you won’t end up in Hell. There are even some who would say that there is no main teaching in the Bible at all. They see the Bible as a collection of vague and often contradictory teachings mixed together from many different cultures and ancient traditions.

Some of these answers are plainly the opposite of what the Bible actually says. They lack any factual support. Others of these ideas have a little glimmer of truth in them, but are hardly sufficient summaries. Not one of them is a good answer. They all fall short of being a good and accurate summary of what God tells us in his word. None of them is in agreement with places where the Bible itself tells what is most important.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism deals with that in Question 3 which asks, “What do the Scriptures principally teach?”

It’s not just an academic question. The Bible isn’t just a book of information, or a collection of inspirational essays. It’s not the opinions of smart people, or the enlightened insights of sensitive humanitarians.

It’s God’s word, and it unravels the complicated issues that you deal with every day. It reveals the boundaries that separate what’s evil from what’s good. It tells what’s worth living for, and warns against the luring deceptions we face all the time. It explains what’s behind everything, and it pulls together things that seem to be disconnected.

It is helpful to organize what the Bible says so we can better remember and understand the details God gives about living in his world as his people.

You can’t really make sense out of life without knowing its main message. When you start with the wrong focus or with wrong expectations, you’ll draw wrong conclusions. Wrong beliefs effect the decisions you make about important choices in life and simple daily preferences. When you see how everything anchors in God’s basic principles you’re guided in a way that’s safe, good, and truly enjoyable.

The Answer the catechism gives is simple but profoundly accurate and helpful:

The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

This is a surprisingly excellent summary of the main purpose of God’s word. In the Bible God tells us what is true about himself, and how we therefore ought to live. These are the main things God communicates to us in his word. Belief and duty need to stay together. They can’t be separated. You have to know what to do, and do what you know.

People often degrade beliefs as if they are not all that important. They don’t realize that what we believe dictates what we do, why we do it, and whether or not we please God in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Without understanding who God is and his moral law, no one can be sure about what is sinful, and what is good.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:7, “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ ”

Our fallen human nature makes us refuse getting help or instructions about what we should do.

There are those who think it’s noble to avoid asking for directions to get somewhere when they’re lost. They would rather lose time wandering around trying to figure it out on their own. I know some say this is a typical male trait — they might be right. But it’s not smart. It’s as if the adamantly self-reliant would try to navigate a minefield without a map of where the land-mines are.

Then there are some who are just too busy to bother reading about warnings and instructions. They struggle to assemble new things for hours rather than read the directions that come with it.

Some are like those infamous lemmings who follow the crowd wherever it’s going, even over a cliff to their own death.

As it turns out, Lemmings aren’t really that stupid. However, they’ve become a metaphor for those who follow others to their own destruction. Rather than knowing God’s word on their own, some blindly follow trends and fads in worship, missions, and morality. Many popular pastors and writers have hijacked evangelical Christianity and made many segments of it into something that actually offends the God who reveals himself to us in his written word.

There’s a lot of expense put into warnings about storms and freezes here in Florida. Up in places more tothe north there are signs reminding drivers that bridges freeze before the roads do. Those who ignore those warnings are foolish and dangerous.

The same is true about what God warns us in his word. What he says is serious. God is real. He’s not just a figment of our own imaginations. He’s not an undefinable force of the universe that can be understood in contradictory ways. What we believe about him is the foundation of everything we do.

Psalm 19:7-8 explains the great value of the content and teachings of God’s word:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes”

What God says to us in the Bible can’t be ignored or known only superficially. If we’re to see our souls transformed, if we’re to be truly wise, if our hearts want to truly learn to rejoice, and if we’re to be enlightened in our outlook on life, then we need to know that word very well.

It might be that Paul had that well known Psalm in mind when he wrote to encourage Timothy.

2 Timothy 3:15-17, “and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

This means that the wisdom we find in the Bible, God’s own word, is profitable for us because:

  • It teaches us what is true.
  • It reproves us when we do things that are wrong.
  • It corrects us about what we should believe and practice.
  • It trains us in how to live so that we please the God who made and saved us.

This verse links believing the right things with doing the right things. It’s not enough just to believe certain facts to be true. We need to live by them and see the duty they impose upon us.

Beyond teaching us what we should believe about God, the Bible makes it clear that our responsibilities as God’s people aren’t undefined either. It’s easy to say what you think your duties should be, but it’s quite a different thing to actually perform those duties consistently and seriously. We need to know and to do what God tells us is our duty.

In James 2:19-20 it says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”

It’s a dead faith that thinks it can just believe good things, but not be concerned to do them. It’s not a faith that really trusts in God’s warnings and advice. It hypocritically says it does, but obviously there’s really no trust there if it lives in ways that ignore those warnings and instructions for life.

How well do you know your Bible? Do you know what it principally teaches about God, and about our duties here on earth? Do you know the details of what the Bible says and promises about every area of life? It’s your text book and manual for living.

God’s word is not just something comforting to read when you need a lift. It’s what you need to know and understand to live as you should in God’s world. It’s how you learn about the work of the Savior who alone makes you able to understand and to do what God says. Some books are just written to entertain you. Some try to impress you. Some are published to inform you. The Bible will do all that, but it will also change you.

Since it’s God’s word and comes with his power and promises, it can transform your life. Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee.”

Do you memorize parts of God’s word? Do you think about it throughout the day, and apply it as best you can?

The Scriptures tell what we need to know about God, and how he made things to be. It tells about our duties as we live here on earth as God’s people. The Psalmist says in Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.”

Don’t be one of those sad people who thinks he can live without a serious commitment to read and to know personally what God advises. Don’t be so arrogant that you think you can live well by following popular trends and be only generally acquainted with the Scriptures.

Read it and think on it every day. Pray that God will help you to live consistently in the ways it teaches. At the end of each week, ask yourself what have you turned to that has informed you about life the most? Was it the daily news? TV shows? commercials? Movies? popular music? social media? or is it the Bible? Have you read it and thought about it for as long as you spend time with these other sources of influence?

The Bible is where you learn how to glorify God and to enjoy him both now and forever.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Why Did God Make Us?

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Why Did God Make Us?

Watch a Video presentation of this lesson
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:1-2)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

There are some really big questions of life. Often they tend to loom in the back of our minds. They work their way to the surface in those challenging times, the very lonely times. That’s when people wonder why they’re here, what’s the point of it all?

To the secularist, there can’t be an answer. There is no “why”. Without an understanding that God is central in it all, we’re just part of an accidental series of events that evolved out of primal life forms. If that’s true, then there’s really no purpose in our being here, no reason beyond just surviving, and doing our best to enjoy what time we have while we’re alive.

Those who think this way, usually end up very unsatisfied and depressed. They just live to get as much pleasure as they can out of life while it lasts. They eventually discover that indulging their own pleasures never really satisfies. It just makes people hunger for more. Death in that view of things is just the end of it all, and there’s nothing else beyond the grave.

So when pleasure ends, life may as well end too. Many come to think that it’s therefore merciful to eliminate the elderly, the sick, the depressed and the handicapped. They kill unborn babies if they don’t think they can live a pleasureful life, or if they think they are an inconvenience to the parents. There’s nothing to human existence beyond getting things and enjoying them for awhile.

There is much more to live for than just trying to enjoy surviving.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes what God says in the Bible. It starts with that big question: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is simple but profound: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.

What an astoundingly different outlook on life! There is a good reason why we’re here, why we were created and put on the earth.

The second catechism question is about how we can know how to fulfill that purpose. Question 2 asks: “What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?” The answer points us back to the writings God preserved for us to know why he put us here. It says, “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.

The whole creation is meant to be a constant lesson
about God’s nature, plan, and glory.

In Psalm 19:1-2 God moved King David to write,

1. The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.
2. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.

It’s not reasonable that God would make all things to display his nature and glory but then keep it as a closely guarded secret. If God created everything to tell about himself, he would also create us able to understand it, and to have a way to find out about it.

That’s exactly what he did. He gave us a book, written by many chosen writers throughout early human history, and kept free from error by his perfect oversight so that it exactly preserves his truths for us. That book is what we call The Bible.

Later in Romans 1:20 the Apostle Paul said, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse”

Everything in the entire universe is here to declare God’s glory, and God gave us a written document to tell us so.

From the most infinitesimal things we can see or measure, to the most vast expanses of the cosmos, and in all the mysteries of both, God’s the complex detail in all he made and his incomprehensible power amaze us.

The Bible is written for us humans in particular.
It tells us why we’re put here as part of it all.

There are many places in Scripture which summarize our importance in the Creator’s world.

When God first made humans he explained their purpose. In Genesis 1 he said he made us in his image. We are a simplified reflection of his nature. He made us to “have dominion” over all other things on the earth. We are to manage creation so that its seen for what it is, his handiwork. We’re to be the objects of his mercy and grace even in our rebellion against him.

In Colossians 1:16 Paul said, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”

In John’s glimpse of heaven in Revelation 4:11 Jesus Christ is honored with these words, “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things,  And by Your will they exist and were created.”

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers about the dietary rules some were insisting upon, he said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

The Apostle Peter gives a warning to those who teach God’s word. In his First Epistle 4:11 he wrote, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Peter’s concern was that ministers stay true to what God had said in his word. They were to teach as God’s oracles, those called to deliver the Creator’s message.

The purpose is that God is to be glorified in all things. This is the goal of all teaching, of all living, of everything we do. Through the redemption that is ours in Jesus Christ. His is the glory and the dominion, forever.

The problem is that when mankind fell into sin,
he lost fellowship with God.

Man started to think of his own pleasure as the main purpose for being here. He re-directed all the glory to himself instead of to his Creator. Aside from the work of God’s grace to repair that twisted mind-set, we all would be this way to the extreme.

That’s what Paul said in Ephesians 4:18 about all who aren’t made alive by Grace in Christ. There God’s word says, “having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;”

This is why the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Man-centered religion might accept that there is a god of some kind or another. However, the god of those religionists is there for their own pleasure, rather than their being created for his pleasure.

The truth of God revealed in the Bible
liberates us from this tragic misconception.

We are here to glorify him and to enjoy him forever. This changes everything.

If you’re redeemed in Christ, your goals in life aren’t just to find momentary pleasure for yourself. The pleasures offered by the culture of our lost world can’t really satisfy and fulfill you. Your life was designed by God to expect more than just pleasing feelings. The best you can get aside from living for God’s glory is a temporary experience. When it fades you’re left with emptiness, and a hunger for more. Moses knew this when he decided to side with God’s oppressed people instead of enjoying the luxury of a life in Egypt’s royal palaces.

In Hebrews 11:24-26 God’s word says, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.”

1 John 2:16-17 warns us saying, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life— is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

In Christ you can find eternal satisfaction in glorifying God and enjoying his fellowship. That’s what was made to satisfy you. Any other goals in life are deceptive illusions.

Don’t believe the lie. You were made to enjoy honoring God in all things. Any substitute will keep you from experiencing real life-satisfying pleasure.

This means that your values aren’t found in your bank statement or in all the things you have. These things are part of the distraction from what you ought to do with what God gives you. They aren’t ends in themselves. They are your’s to manage responsibly for God’s glory.

In Matthew 16:26 Jesus said, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Real value is when you use your time, talent, income, and possessions for God’s glory. As Jesus said, by obeying God in all things, you lay up treasures in heaven. That doesn’t mean just some remote reward for after you die. It means you build up riches in God’s Kingdom, beyond just what this world offers. You fulfill your created purpose, and life takes on a whole new meaning.

It means that your entertainment isn’t just to find pleasure for the moment. Indulging your physical urges and imaginations will not honor God if it’s contrary to his morality. You can enjoy your foods, movies, romance, jokes, games, and web-browsing in ways that fully please God. Any other way just buys into the lies of hell itself. It baits you into a trap. You’re here to enjoy the created world in ways those out of fellowship with God can’t imagine.

There’s no better way to occupy yourself, than to appreciate the wonder and beauty of God’s creation and redemption. Friends and families that share those values are the best companionship.

As the writer says over and over again in Ecclesiastes, aside from fulfilling our created purpose of honoring God in all things, all is vanity — emptiness.

If you’re redeemed in Christ, Church isn’t just a nice social group, or a way to get an emotional or psychological boost. It’s the union of God’s people as a spiritual family to learn together, and to serve God together. It’s not just membership in an organization or fraternity.

Belonging to a sound church means being a living and responsible part of the gathered body of Christ on earth. Submitting to the appointed Shepherds who lead the churches, and helping it do its worship and work, brings a blessing beyond merely what you think you get out of attending or donating. It secures the promised blessing of God for obedience to the order he set up himself.

The Creator, our Redeemer, calls you to be committed to a local body that worships, learns, prays, serves, and encourages.

Our culture, influenced by the attitudes and values of a fallen world, has reduced the church to little more than a service or entertainment corporation. What Christ calls you to is radically different than that. It’s how he tells you to unite together to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

This is how you can really help those around you.

Knowing your created purpose is how you can find real peace for yourself, and meaning for all you plan for in your life. The best you can do for your children isn’t to prepare them for a career, or an envied social life, it’s to prepare them to live for God’s glory in all things.

When John wrote his Third letter, he said in verse 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

You best help those around you, you best meet the real needs of the needy, not by feeding them, clothing them, or providing health care. While it’s good to help others in material ways, that’s not what really makes a difference. You best help when you restore them to fellowship with God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This isn’t just a formal creed. It must be your way of life. 24 hours of all seven days of every week, all year long, all life long — you need to live the way God calls you to live.

Your only hope, God’s only promise of a satisfying existence here on earth and beyond, is found when you do what you were created and redeemed to do … glorify God and enjoy him forever.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)