Category Archives: Sovereignty of God

Hope for a Year Unseen

I want to be like Lucy Pevensie when I grow up.

Always one of my favorite Chronicles of Narnia characters, Lucy lives with joy in the smallest of moments and hopeful appreciation of people—and any other kind of creatures—around her. Her relationship with Aslan often stands in contrast to her siblings’; as the first to find Narnia she seems to also consistently be the first to seek Aslan out and follow him. When the Pevensies return to Narnia in Prince Caspian, Lucy keeps looking for him—and is overjoyed to finally find him one night when the others are sleeping.

“‘Aslan,’ said Lucy, ‘you’re bigger.’

‘That is because you are older, little one,’ answered he.

‘Not because you are?’

‘I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’”

C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

An Uncharted Year

With less Lucy Pevensie and more of Wile E. Coyote’s frenetic running around, I turn the calendar to a year unknown and unconquered. Page after empty page holds exciting possibilities of things planned and done and accomplished and crossed off the list.

The future is ours, right? What do we want to do with it? The next twelve months hold incredible potential for reaching goals and learning new things and trying new directions and generally attempting self-improvement.

But where is Aslan?

Like Every Year Before It

About a year ago we were looking ahead to the year that is now behind us. Unbeknownst to us, there would be events and changes that we would have never seen coming: highs, lows, in-betweens, and plenty of surprises that popped up unexpected. These last twelve months have shown us more of God at work, whether we realized it at the time or not.

In all of this, have we sought Him out? Or just tried to get things done?

As we turn to face the coming year, even more question marks—more “unbeknownsts”—fill our empty calendars. We don’t know what we will face this year. If it’s anything like every year before it, there will be some big surprises. Maybe some good ones, maybe some life-changing ones, and probably some we would rather not face.

But like Lucy Pevensie, if Aslan is there—we’ll be okay.

With Us Always

On the heels of the recent Christmas season, we go into the rest of our lives with its message ringing in our ears. There is born for you—for you—this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

In ancient times, religious ideas mostly centered around elusive gods that existed somewhere far away from humanity. The gods of Greece and Rome, according to mythology, had their own problems and concerns and sometimes even wars with other gods. They were not very concerned with humans, but their attention could be bought with gifts and promises and sacrifices.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to believe in gods like that? To worry daily about which gods might be mad at you for your allegiance to one of their rival gods and what sacrifices you may need to offer to stay on everyone’s good side? To assume that bad things in your life came from an angry god or maybe just a disinterested one, intent on his own concerns somewhere else?

The Israelites’ God had always been different.

One God, not many. God All-Powerful, not one god warring with others for top-dog status. The God who writes all of history and brings His plans to pass and loves—truly loves—His people.

Even then, in the Old Testament, under the law, there was a sharp division between God and His people. When God came to speak with Moses, He warned the people to stay away from the mountain where they met. If they touched it, they would die. The temple itself illustrated this separation with heavy curtains dividing the people from God’s Most Holy Place.

But all that changed with Jesus.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John wrote (John 1:14). Emmanuel has come, and will never leave. God. Is. With. Us.

Hope in the Right Places

“Everything that is done in this world is done by hope,” Martin Luther wrote. As we turn the calendar to 2018, we hope for lots of things. Better health, better habits, a more productive life, stronger relationships. We set goals and make resolutions that may start with some strength but will ultimately fizzle out long before we expected. If we hope that these resolutions and goals will make us better people, our dreams for the new year will be dashed long before Easter candy goes on clearance.

Hope.

Not in our own self-bettering strategies. Not in a world of progress.

Hope.

Well-placed hope—hope that God will walk through this next year with us as He did this past year and the year before that and every year into the past. Like Lucy Pevensie, waiting to see Aslan move, and trusting him to work out the details of the surprises that come our way.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

What Are You Seeking?

Five hundred years ago today was October 31, 1517. Michelangelo had finished painting the Sistine Chapel five years earlier, and practically everyone would still believe that the earth was the center of our solar system for another twenty-six years (and most people would still think so even after that). Christopher Columbus had discovered the Americas twenty-five years earlier, and the first pilgrims wouldn’t land at Plymouth Harbor for another 103 years. It was a time of religious wars and Black Plague.

October 31, 1517, was a day the world began to change.

The Reformation

After the days of the early church, as recorded in Acts, Christianity continued to grow. By the 1500s, the European church was headquartered in Rome, Italy, under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, but what likely began with pious intentions had spiraled out of control and even common sense.

The Church taught that its own leaders held even higher authority than the Word of God, and the pope was believed to have the power to forgive sins. Common people were denied access to biblical knowledge and even the Bible itself, with all church services performed in scholarly Latin instead of the common language and rare copies of the Bible (also in Latin) kept away from the people—sometimes even chained to tables in monasteries. Church leaders often lived in great wealth, benefitting off of the poor of the land and through tricks such as “indulgences” marketed as spiritual but really invented in order to bring in more money.

The church needed a reformation.

On October 31, 1517, an exasperated monk walked up to the church in Wittenburg, Germany, pulled out a list of 95 complaints against the church, and nailed it to the door. And Martin Luther ignited the Reformation.

Forever Changed

Through the coming years and even decades, the Church underwent a sharp and drastic change, creating a permanent split between what is still known as the Catholic Church and the newer preaching of old doctrines known as Protestantism. Luther and others began preaching from the Bible to the people, sharing with them biblical truths that had long been hidden from them. Central doctrines were rediscovered as reformers taught that only God can forgive sins, that Jesus is our only Mediator, and that money can never buy salvation.

Like the Pharisees before them, the Roman Catholic leaders of the day fought back, charging reformers with heresy and condemning those they could to death. But God was stirring up this rediscovery of His grace, and the Gospel spread.

The Reformation is often summarized by the Five Solas: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. In other words, Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, and To God Alone Be Glory.

It was the “Alone” that mattered. Before 1517, the Church believed in Scripture, grace, faith, Christ, and the glory of God, but it also taught that man’s works must be added to the mix in order to ensure eternal life and acceptance by God. This lie was blown to pieces by the writing and preaching and testimonies of the reformers.

More than Doctrine

But the Reformation was about more than being right theologically. It wasn’t just about changing outward appearances of religion or exchanging one dead system of works for another.

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell,” Martin Luther wrote, “tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’”

It was about seeking God Himself.

If it was only about preaching correctly the minute parts of doctrines and the Scriptures as an end in itself, the Reformation would have succeeded in truth but failed in changing hearts. As Jesus told the Pharisees fifteen centuries earlier:

“‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’” (John 5:39-40).

Through the Reformation, we came to understand again that Christianity is not about obeying a set of rules and earning our own salvation. What a sad and joyless way to live. No—in Christianity, we are invited to follow the Creator God who refuses to be boxed into any system, to know the Savior who gave Himself for our debt when we could never ever have paid it, and to enjoy true life forever.

The doctrines are important. The Scriptures are vital. But they point to God, not to themselves, and call every person to seek God while he can.

Before We Seek Him, He Seeks Us

God could have hidden Himself from us. He could have stayed out of our reach, as the Pharisees and medieval church leaders and so many others have tried to tell us.

But He came.

God Himself came to us, flipping our expectations and turning all our assumptions on their heads—and seeking us. He didn’t wait for us to find some secret key or follow the hidden clues. He didn’t speak in unintelligible code through a shrouded group of prideful elites and bar the rest of humanity from attaining His presence.

He invited all of us to seek Him, and promises He will be found when we do. Not because we check everything off of someone else’s list, but because He loves us and came for us–and died for us.

Five hundred years ago today, one lowly monk in a German village nailed a list of 95 complaints against the medieval church on a church door. Through his efforts, a Reformation was ignited that has revolutionized Christianity since, and the question still stands for each of us:

What—or Who—are you seeking?

“The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard”

It’s a question that has shipwrecked many on their way to faith. If God is good, it always starts, why is there suffering? Why do people hurt? Why do babies die and families fall apart and senseless things happen? Why is there so much sadness?

The question begs for an answer, but needs something deeper than a logical response. It needs hope. From someone who has weathered pain and hard and suffering, but still has hope.

Unexpected

Kara Tippetts’ story in The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard opens with a less-than-perfect childhood, with parents who loved her but didn’t always act with love. Jesus found her in high school, and forgiving her parents was an early step in her new life. Fumbling through her young Christianity, she met and married Jason, and they had plans for the future—their future—but it never went the way they expected. In her 30s, Kara was diagnosed with cancer. Their dreams of church-planting and ministry and doing life together changed with doctor visits and chemo and pain and weakness.

Kara Tippetts died of cancer on March 22, 2015. Her words are still here, though she isn’t, and her story of suffering and seeking God in the midst of it spurs us on to find Him in our own hard things—in our own whys.

We Don’t Write Our Stories

No one ever has time for cancer. Just when things seem to finally be falling into place or life has found that elusive equilibrium, the disease announces its presence and all those other things stop in their tracks. Jason and Kara had just moved with their four children to Colorado Springs to plant a church, and they were full of big dreams and plans—good dreams and plans—to drive a stake in the ground of their corner of the world and claim it for Jesus. They were going to do good things, big things.

“Before cancer, I would have said I was on the journey of seeking grace, but in truth I was manufacturing my own faith. If I found a need, I did my best to meet it. My going, doing, loving was my faith, not my nearness to Jesus. In my mind I knew my efforts weren’t the substance of my faith, but my practice betrayed me. Stripped of my ability, I saw Jesus in a new and profound way.” – Kara Tippetts

Jason and Kara would still do good things. Even some big things. Things like write a blog that eventually had 10,000-20,000 daily visits. Write books. Care for their children. Share their story—even when it wasn’t what they had planned. And it was through never-expected, never-chosen cancer that they stood toe-to-toe with the fact that they were not writing their story. The good things God had for them were not what they had picked, but they were still good.

“I come to you in these pages as a broken woman, realizing that my brokenness may be my greatest strength—that it may be the greatest strength of us all…My season of weakness has taught me the joy of receiving, the strength of brokenness, and the importance of looking for God in each moment.” – Kara Tippetts

Life. Is. Hard.

Some may blame Disney, and others Tootsie Pop Lollipops, but the desire to seek and find satisfying conclusions and happy endings is wired deeper in our humanity than inventions of the last few generations. We want things to turn out right. We want God’s presence to mean the hard things go away, like a child who knows their nighttime fear will evaporate if they could only be with Mommy or Daddy.

That’s what so many of us look for, even though that usually isn’t what happens.

And it’s there in that disappointment that we usually slip up, choose a Christianese answer, and flippantly explain away heartwrenching tragedy. We say “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason,” and go back to normal life if we can. We’re not wrong. But we’re far from completely right.

Life is hard, sometimes breathtakingly so. To baptize it with one-liners without feeling the depths of that pain is not only naïve, it’s—wrong.

“What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? How does our story of love change when we look head-on at my absence from this life? How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of the crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” – Kara Tippetts

We don’t have to deny that life hurts in order to have hope. Our hope in Jesus is firm because even when life hurts, Jesus is still there, still in control, and still good.

As Christians, we know that even if we still face our scariest scary—God is good.

“My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39). Nothing.” – Kara Tippetts

No Easy Answers

In this world we will have trouble. All of us. Just like everyone else who has ever lived. The whys are hard, and there is no easy answer. No complete understanding.

But we do know what God has faithfully shown us before: He is good—now and through eternity, in each and every story He has written. We can bank our hope on this, that Jesus who suffered horrific pain on that cross all those years ago will never give us a trite answer or leave us in the midst of our pain.

What we see as brokenness or tragedy will one day be reintroduced to us as His glorious redemption of our pain. Kara Tippets lives that reality in its fullest glory now, and one day we will, too. Until then, we remember how she shared her life and story with the world, inviting us to follow Jesus through all the whys and pain and hard questions to a marvelous eternity we can’t begin to imagine.

“Grace; it’s all grace. Jesus will be there; He will be wooing, loving, meeting my love, my babies, my community, my family, and you long past the day my words run out that beg you to look for grace—that long for you to know Jesus. Really know His love. It’s His story, not mine. It’s His grace extended, not mine. I have only been a steward of that grace, a simple namer of His unbelievably reckless love that shows up for one broken woman every single day.” – Kara Tippetts

The Love of a Father

I didn’t mean to think of Him like that. I didn’t realize how lacking my view of God was, how off-course it was.

Growing up, I had – unconsciously – always thought of God as more of a wishy-washy Someone who “asked” to be “let into” my heart, and who only intervened in human problems when we asked Him to.

But that’s different now. I have come to a deeper understanding of the grandeur and big-ness of God—the One who created the world with a word and who sustains it day after day, molecule by tiny atom, without ever becoming tired or changing His mind or dropping the ball, so to speak.

The “Sunday School God” ideas I remember have given way to an all-knowing, unstoppable God. But at the same time, I wonder…maybe there are some things from Sunday School I shouldn’t forget.

Strong Views

I am truly, honestly, deeply grateful for reformed theology. In the last few years as I have come to (slowly) understand more of these doctrines, it has grown in me a trust in God’s ability over a reliance on my own lack of ability. I have found assurance that He is able to do the work in me that I can’t produce on my own, and I have found rest in doctrines that are well-supported biblically. Salvation is through His work and not mine. There is great peace in that.

But I have also learned to be careful. In swinging from one extreme (wishy-washy Sunday School God) to the other side (sovereign, all-powerful God), I have to remember to follow Biblical truth and not just doctrines organized by man—however Scripturally supported they are. I have to remember that “[s]uch is the human tendency to overcorrect,” as one historian noted.

Reformed theology can have a somewhat negative reputation. Absolute sovereignty, if referenced out of proportion to other doctrines, begins to sound like a power-crazy king who rules without tenderness or any concern for others. We hear phrases (and sermons) like “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” and remind ourselves constantly of the total depravity of man.

All of which are true, but they aren’t the whole story. Continue reading The Love of a Father