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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

What the Clouds Will Tell Us

Ask someone the most awe-inspiring sight in the world, and they might mention the Grand Canyon. They might bring up that one time they went to Yellowstone or the Bahamas or Austria or Niagara Falls. Or they might tell you about the way the trees change color in the fall or their blossoms in the spring, or the flowers that bloom every May.

For me, it’s the clouds.

The daily glories of sunrise and sunset. The puffy, cottonball-like cumulus clouds on a warm spring day. The light and wispy cirrus clouds in the middle of the sky or the flat lines of stratus clouds on the horizon. The ominous and constantly-changing cumulonimbus of summer storms—punctuated by lightning that is gone before you even fully see it and the low rumbles of distant thunder.

In the Bible, we read of Job’s struggle with God’s presence in the midst of the darkest days of his life. Where was God when his children died, his flocks were stolen or burned with fire from heaven, and his body was afflicted with painful sores?

Job’s three friends provided him with their own theories on this. It seemed obvious, really, as far as they were concerned: Why would God do this to Job unless there was some kind of sin he hadn’t confessed? They insisted Job had done something wrong.

After countless arguments from his friends and rebuttals from Job, a mysterious fourth guest speaks up. Elihu isn’t buying anything Job or his friends are saying; in his mind, they’re approaching this from the wrong angle.

“‘Look at the heavens, and see,’” Elihu says, ‘“and behold the clouds, which are higher than you’” (Job 35:5).

The clouds which are higher than you.

Some clouds can hold millions of tons of water. They can form in a few minutes or an hour, and sometimes they change shape and size and color as you are watching.

They can be oppressive sheets that insulate us in darkness, hiding from sunlight, and also glorious twists and shapes that magnify a sunset. Light and airy and wispy or dark and heavy. Just water molecules that can dump floodwaters and launch spiraling tornados and ground airplanes.

“‘Behold, God is exalted in his power;
who is a teacher like him?
Who has prescribed for him his way,
or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?

Remember to extol his work,
of which men have sung.
All mankind has looked on it;
man beholds it from afar.
Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.
For he draws up the drops of water;
they distill his mist in rain,
which the skies pour down
and drop on mankind abundantly.
Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
the thunderings of his pavilion?
’” (Job 36:22-29)

When we question the way life is going or how the story has changed, look at the clouds. When we aren’t sure of the next step or darker days weigh heavy on us, we just look up.

Look at the clouds.

Watch them change before your eyes. Listen to the thunder and watch the lightning. Feel the winds swirl around you as they move miles-long clouds out of sight.

“‘Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
    Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
    and the clods stick fast together?'” (Job 38:37-38).

“The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3).

That Small Town Life

It was really Facebook that led us there.

My mom’s online search for a nostalgic soda shop took her to a Facebook page for one in rural Kansas. A few Saturday afternoons later we drove into town on Main St., but only a handful of Marquette’s 600 residents were around.  “Get me out of here,” my college-age brother said as somebody drove a lawnmower through the intersection.

Inside the soda shop the walls were lined with knick-knacks for sale. Another customer smiled at my seven-year-old brother. “What are you going to get?” she asked as we read the menu. I usually try to decide between cookie dough and Oreo, but here there was a sundae with both of them. Nice. Our group ordered a sundae, four shakes, and one java jolt—a coffee and ice cream concoction. An employee made our orders behind the counter and a bored preteen played some electronic game in a booth in the loft. No one else was there.

Half a block away, a one-room schoolhouse stood as if it had housed students just last week, although the schoolmistress probably wouldn’t tolerate the dust on the desks. The piano was open, books—some in German—were on the shelves, and a dunce hat sat in the corner.

As we stepped out of the schoolhouse back onto Main St., the lawnmower parked at the bank across the street.

Friends told me about a visit they took to Lindsborg—considerably bigger than Marquette at 3400 residents—several years ago. As they walked around town, people kept stopping to inform them their one-year-old daughter was missing a shoe. They realized this, and were carrying their daughter, slightly annoyed to be stopped over and over again. A few hours later, as they visited Great-Grandma in town, the police called. They had their toddler’s shoe. “How did they know we were at her house?” the mother still wonders.

When we were first driving into town, a SUV followed on our bumper. The driver honked and swerved around us in the wrong lane. Then she parked, jumped out, ran across the street and entered the passenger side of a waiting ambulance. The sirens began blaring and it hurried off. “They’re volunteers, but they’re certified,” the soda shop owner told us later.

When I entered the soda shop again for a cup of ice, another customer, relaxed and talking with several regulars, smiled at me. “Where are you from?” He knew I wasn’t from Marquette, just as Lindsborg’s residents knew where the guests were. He was ready to be part of others’ lives, like the volunteer paramedic and Lindsborg’s residents. And maybe a prairie schoolmistress.

Not even Facebook has changed that.