Profiles in Providence
“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel…..according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain….and convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith……..” – Phi 1:12, Phi 1:20-21, Phi 1:25
The book of Philippians is well recognized as a book about joy and rejoicing. This theme is found over fifteen times in the book. But the fact too often overlooked is that the personal and historical background is one of affliction, sorrow, and suffering. By analogy, if the book were a painting, in the foreground would be scenes of joyful celebration, but the background would be dark shadows of incredible pain and anguish.
Most New Testament Epistles find some form of counterpart in the Old Testament. Surprisingly, the counterpart to Philippians may well be Ecclesiastes. Like a mirror image of Philippians, the book of Ecclesiastes reveals the same truths in reverse order. In the painting analogy, the foreground would be of a broken and unjust world where “All is vanity”, and yet, in the background we would see images suggesting the joys of the life lived in the wisdom of faith and humility. It is quite interesting that the mention of joy and rejoicing in this book is almost equal to that of the Philippian epistle.
Both books remind us that there is a mighty hand at work behind the scenes of suffering in this life. We call this “hand” the providence of God. It is the powerful and unstoppable working of the plan of God in and through the decisions and events of men. When we choose to live by faith, we have put ourselves into sync and sympathy with this all-pervading Divine purpose. The power of redemption is at work, not only for souls eternity, but also in the very warp and woof of the tapestry we call life. Redemption demands the cross, but also leads to resurrection. Out of ignomious death comes glorious life! God takes the bad and works it for the good. The transforming power of Jesus Christ begins to create joy out of sorrow, bring victory out of defeat.
David wrote, “Both darkness and light are alike to Thee” (Psa 139:12). Later, his son Solomon would write, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy (rejoice).” (Ecc 7:3) As we align ourselves with the plan and purpose of God we begin to look with new eyes at this broken world. “Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider – God has made the one as well as the other so that man may not discover anything that will be after him.” (Ecc 7:13-14). We cannot know the future, or read the outcome of our circumstances. But we can know the God who turns night into day and sorrow into rejoicing (Joh 16:20).
And so Paul writes from his prison cell to a small group of believers who are also going through great affliction (Phi 1:29-30). He exhorts them to join with him in “rejoicing”, that is, to celebrate the victory to come, which they can not yet see. It is an exercise in audacious faith. Twice he uses the word “progress”, once regarding his situation, and once regarding theirs (v.Phi 1:12, Phi 1:25). The word suggests first of all the advance scout, who blazed a trail for the army to follow. Then it contains the idea of a relentless forward rush to victory. Paul is leading, the Philippians are following, and victory is certain, for the providence of God will finish what He has begun (Phi 1:1:6; Phi 2:13).
There are many fellow-believers today who are suffering affliction. Our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe suffer under despotism that has devastated “the breadbasket of Africa”. Tribal strife is claiming lives in Cameroon, Chad, and Kenya. Christians are relentlessly persecuted in Islamic countries. Many lost loved ones in the storm and flooding in PNG, and now face devastating food shortages.
You may be among the suffering saints around the globe today due to death, disease, heartache, and affliction. I urge you to hear the Apostle’s exhortation to look with the eye of faith beyond the visible circumstance to the invisible source of victory. Let the promise of the ever-prevailing providence of God (Rom 8:28-39) be your souls anchor in the raging storms of life. For we can be sure, if we simply live by faith, that “in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” (Rom 8:37). Then, like Paul, we can say with assurance, “my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” (Phi 1:12). May God help us to believe, and forgive us our unbelief!
PNG Mission Report
We just returned from our 6th trip into Numba village, Papua New Guinea. We had been warned about the cyclone and flooding that had hit the coast and mountains around Numba in November. As we came in on the missionary flight we could see the evidence of huge landslides everywhere on the steep mountains. We learned that many of the villagers had lost all their gardens, many had lost their lives. Some fourteen people were swept away in the raging river. One young father grabbed his youngest son, warning the family to flee, swam the raging river, while his wife and other children were swept away. Even after crossing the river in the dark of night, they were engulfed by a landslide. The year old child was buried, the dazed father o finding one foot sticking out of the mud. The child was pulled up, muck clogging its nose and throat. The father was able to clear the airways, and somehow, stunned and staggering to make it to the village high above on the mountain.
In one incident, several small children escaped to high ground, while the flood swept away the grandmother who was caring for them, along with a small infant. The children who escaped the flood survived through three days of soaking rain without shelter. Rescue finally came when one of our young Bible School graduates, Ahouse, and another young man were able to throw a rope across the raging river to them. The rope was made fast to a tree by one of the older children, and secured on the village side. The two men crossed above the river hanging to the rope and began an amazing rescue operation. Taking a large bilum (string) bag, they rigged it to the rope, tied with vines reaching to both sides. Placing the children into the bilum they were pulled across to safety, one at a time.
In another incident, the village was contacted by people from villages below, indicating that some of the bodies of those washed away had been found. They went to the village, not only to bury the dead, but to carry the gospel to some who had previously been very resistant. Now they found open hearts, and saw God bring many to faith in Christ. In fact, we heard reports of revival breaking out in several different villages. Many from Numba had lost so much, yet gave of their meager food and clothes to help other villages. On one occasion, while we were there, some young men came around, singing and pushing a wheelbarrow and collecting items for some who had lost homes in another village. The faith and compassion of the believers in Numba has been a living testament to the power of the grace of God to change lives and bring glory out of disaster.
In spite of the devastation and loss from this storm, our Ese Bible Institute graduation went ahead as planned. We saw thirty-one graduates receive their diplomas for completing the ten Bible Institute courses. Logan Carnell taught the incoming class Bible Study Methods. There were 100 incoming students! Our largest class ever, including fourteen women. While this class was going on, I taught former graduates through the book of Revelation. We had 75 in this class. They were excited to learn what to them had been a “book full of mystery”. By the end of the class they had gained a good grasp of the message of the book and were particularly encouraged by the teaching on The Rapture.
Nan and I also trekked to another village that requested we come and teach on “Biblical marriage”. We shared the topic, Nan teaching on the role of the woman, and I focused on the men. Over two hundred villagers gathered in the center of the village to hear the classes. We were honored with a feast after the Sunday service, and Nan was graciously presented with an offering which these poor people had gathered for us. She promised to use the money to help in the India children’s ministry so that the grace of these remote mountain people could reach the world! This greatly pleased the villagers!
The PNG slide show <click on the poster> will help to convey some of our experiences during our stay with these wonderful believers. We rejoiced in our visit there as the fruit of God’s Word is so evident among these people. Their situation will be desperate in the coming days. Much of their food sources are gone. Also gone are the Sago Palms which grow along the rivers and provide the materials for their roofs and homes. We carried help from believers in America and Australia, which will provide some emergency food aid. Jim Parlier was able to arrange for military flights to bring some of this help.
Please lift these believers in your prayers as they continue to face the aftermath of this natural disaster. Many are going hungry, or eating only one small meal a day, so as to feed their children, and others affected by the storm. Continue to pray for Jim Parlier, as he guides relief efforts bringing emergency supplies. Pray for Roger Thiele as he is there now teaching the next course on O.T. Survey.
We give thanks that I have received my visa into India for surgery. I will be operated on Feb 14th in a new procedure called “joint resurfacing”. Much less invasive and destructive to the natural joint, this method works where bone density is still strong, making full recovery and activity a possibility. Pray that God will guide the surgeon, and that we will be effective witnesses during this time. We hope to be home by the first week of March if all goes well.
We cannot say “thank you” enough to all who have given and participated in this surgery. Without you we could not have pulled it off! May God richly reward each one of you for your kindness. Through your support I should be enabled to carry the Gospel even further afield, to those who have yet to know the hope and joy of life in Christ.
Upcoming Bible Conferences
The BTBM weekend Bible conferences have proven to be quite popular. The goal is to present the complete argument of a Bible book in the eight sessions from Friday evening to Sunday noon. I have received several requests for conferences in various parts of the U.S. later this year. Information on these will be posted as plans become firm. My next study will be the book of Philippians, “Profiles in Providence”.
Please remember our son, Cody, in your prayers. He recently graduated from School of Infantry and is with MART (Marines Awaiting Recon Training) at Camp Pendleton. Pray that he will continue on with a Never Quit attitude and be a strong witness for Jesus Christ to those he is training with.
May Almighty God continue to bless His word to our lives, that we may be “doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.
Gene and Nan Cunningham