by Roger McCay
3 May 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 14:1-18
Link to Audio Version
What looked like a weed turned out to be a blessing—our dewberries.
This year, in the natural areas of our property, where I’m trying to regrow some woods, we had an invasion of briars. My wife and I spent quite a bit of time trying to pull these things out, but we were only partly successful in keeping them back. Anyway, it was pointed out to me by Pete Coats that those were dewberry plants, and that he preferred dewberries over blackberries. I also noted that the bees liked the white flowers on them in the early spring. So, over time, our view of them has changed.
We’ve lately had several weeks of ripe dewberries—more than we can even begin to pick by ourselves. I made some paths around them, making it easy to pick them, and several friends have come over and picked berries for themselves. From these surprise blessings, my talented wife has made dewberry cobbler, dewberry jam, and dewberry gelato. She’s also flash frozen a lot of them, which have proven handy to use on breakfast oatmeal or cereal, also in yogurt, and blending in shakes. I’ve come to learn that there is a whole lot of great things you can do with dewberries. One of my favorites is just eating them freshly picked off their thorny vines. So, lately, when I’m hungry for a sweet snack, I take a walk out along the trails, picking dewberries and munching on them to my heart’s content.
We could attribute these blessings of dewberries to mother nature, coincidence, birds, or what have you. However, we know better. These things are straight up blessings from God. The land, the dewberries, this beautiful spring, the rain, the sun—all of it is God’s work.
And, isn’t it interesting that these berries have come at such a providential time with this coronavirus thing going on? We didn’t have them, or, at least, notice them due to busyness, last year. Yet, this year the Lord provided them for food and an outlet to engage in the soul-soothing labor of picking the berries. He also provided a means to bless our friends who have been coming over to enjoy the same. All glory to God!
Now, a definition of “means” is “an action or system by which a result is brought about; a method.” This helps us to understand a theological truth: God uses means of all kinds in order to accomplish his ends. This includes the doctrines of providence and common grace.
How that ties into the dewberries is that God used the means of my selection of that particular land for the regrowth of woods in order to accomplish his blessing by growing dewberry plants. The dewberries are a blessing which I did not plant and, ironically, even spent days vainly trying to root out.
There is a tendency to credit God’s work to the means rather than to God. Sometimes this is simply a confusing of the means with the cause, but it is still an injustice towards God. In our passage today, we have a picture of God using means to accomplish his ends within the context of gospel ministry and spiritual warfare.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, in chapter 5, speaks to the Lord’s providence, clarifying in paragraph III:
God, in his ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.
In the ordinary course of things, the Lord actively uses means, whether it be circumstances or people, even anything whatsoever he chooses (visible or invisible) to accomplish his will. As the Almighty, he can bypass means and just do it directly if he likes. He can work against means to accomplish his ends (I think particularly of the means Satan puts to work against God, considering the context of our passage here). He can also work against what would be the ordinary course of things in such a way to accomplish his will—like in miracles. Yet, he even does this, sometimes, in mundane things—such as working against our rooting out dewberry bushes (our means), in order to bless us with dewberries. So, means are not a limiter of God in any way, but they are one way he actively engages his creation towards the purposes of his will.
In our passage today we see various means that God uses towards his purposes in the ministry of his gospel. He uses the means of patterns and methods of ministry; the means of the discipline, patience, tenacity, and boldness of his workers; the means of persecution; and the means of the humility of his workers.