Sovereignty

In THIS Day

John 11: 21-27

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask Him.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she answered, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Prayer is a funny thing—and it tends to confuse a lot of people. There’s this obvious dichotomy between praying for what we think we want, while knowing that God’s will is perfect, and that His vision is infinite. So I’ve found that I often pray like Martha—with a future focus. Now, sometimes I think Martha gets a bad rap, because of her OCD and all, and because of her tendency to try to boss Jesus around. But think about it. After Lazarus dies, Martha has no trouble at all believing that he will be resurrected with the saints at the last day. At this point, there’s no precedent for that. Jesus hasn’t even died yet, let alone risen from the dead—and yet she believes. She’s like Noah, believing for rain! But she doesn’t ask Jesus outright for what she really wants—her brother back. Somehow that’s too audacious to even want, much less ask for. But Jesus clearly wants her to ask, and He wants to give her what she desires most—in more ways than one.

I confess that I often find myself in her shoes—praying that God would redeem my circumstances in the end, that He would somehow reconcile my unfulfilled desires, and that He would ultimately use it all for His glory…someday. I guess that’s why my thought life often leads me to an imaginary distant future wherein He brings it all to pass. And because I know that His infinite wisdom and perfect will are so much greater than mine, I hesitate to tell Him what I really want now. But it’s in bearing my heart to Him that He gives me more of the Holy Spirit, which is after all Whom I truly desire.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad a couple of years ago. I had already developed a deep desire to donate a kidney to someone in need, but I had recently begun to question whether I would be medically able to do it. I told my dad that, If I couldn’t do it, I would intensely grieve the lost opportunity. “Really?” He asked. “But you would know that it wasn’t God’s will.”

“I know,” I said. “And I believe that, I really do. But I would still be sad.” Telling him that let him know my heart, to draw closer to me, to counsel and comfort me. If I can share that honestly with my earthly and imperfect father, then why in the world shouldn’t I be able to honestly share my heart—however finite and imperfect it may be—with my perfect and all-powerful Heavenly Father?

Of course we can, and we should. Jesus Himself gives us this permission when He prays in the garden that the cup might somehow pass from Him. We can pray likewise if we pray with God’s promises in mind. One promise brings me particular comfort when I pray for what I think I want. It comes from Luke 11: 5-8.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you goes to his friend at midnight and says,
‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine has come to me on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’

And the one inside answers, ‘Do not bother me. My door is already shut and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’

I tell you, even though he will not get up to provide for him because of his friendship, yet because of the man’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

I don’t think I ever noticed before how this story ends—He will surely give you what you “need.” I think I’ve always thought of this passage as somehow saying that by my persistence, like that of a nagging child, I could wear down God’s resistance, causing Him to give me what I am asking for—even if He knows that it will bring with it a wasting disease (Psalm 106:13-15). But no—this passage promises that no matter what I pray for, no matter what I want, God will give me what I NEED.

Selah.

Thank you, God! Thank you that you can be trusted with every desire—trusted to do what is good, what is right. Thank you for the freedom to ask, not just for resurrection and redemption at the last day, but for resurrection, redemption, and abundance—in THIS day!

Amen.

P.S. Thanks to @jpokluda for the reminder, the challenge, and the permission to pray big!

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Still

Your promise still stands, great is your faithfulness!
I’m still in your hands, this is my confidence—You’ve never failed me yet!

“Do It Again”
( Elevation Worship)

When I hear these lyrics, they seem designed to comfort someone in the throes of the unexpected—cancer, job loss, infertility, divorce….But for me, they bring to mind a more expected but no less daunting future. It’s no secret that one of my greatest fears is that of growing older. Not like, gray hair and wrinkles older. Not 98, but active and full of life older. So, not Betty White, in other words. No, I mean the kind of older where your mind or your body, or both, begin to decline rapidly, leaving you unable to do the things you once loved, or even the basic things that you once could.

This summer, I’ve found myself with a front row seat to witness such decline. My parents’ elderly neighbor is suffering from dementia, and she seems to have lost so much of her memory and her ability to care for herself, even since I saw her last summer. Watching her struggle with the frustrations of not being able to remember things she knows she should remember is heartbreaking. It must be very frightening. My dad also has a dear friend, a woman he’s worked with for years and who has known me all my life, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. When he visits her now, she doesn’t know who he is. I can only imagine how lonely she must feel. And then recently, even my own grandmother has begun to struggle to maintain her independence, after living her entire life as a strong, resourceful, and self-sufficient woman.

In these times, I remind myself that His promise still stands. What is His promise—or what ARE His promises, rather? Here are just a few that come to mind.

  • “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
  • Our Heavenly Father will give good gifts to those who ask! (Matthew 7:11)
  • “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
  • “The LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
  • “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

I know that a time will likely come when I will need to face this fear myself. God, whatever condition I find my body and mind in at that time, I pray that You will allow me to STILL remember these truths: that your promise still stands, that great is your faithfulness, that I’m still in your hands, that this is my confidence, that you’ve never failed me yet. Amen.

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Election Day 2016!

Dear God,

Election Day! It’s finally here and I am thankful that nothing about this mess comes as a surprise to you. None of it rattles or scares you. None of it changes you. You are God, you are sovereign. You will not fall off your throne or wave a flag of defeat. You will remain the same YOU—the same GOD—you have always been.

And you, even now, are working all things together for good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28). Even now, you are using people who hate and persecute you to accomplish those very purposes—here and across the globe.

And tomorrow, you will welcome us back to you, just as you always have. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8).

May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen!

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In Waiting

Romans 5:6

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

Waiting is hard. And it’s especially hard when God has called you to a place or a task or a position. Have you ever longed to do something that you felt you were born to do, meant to do, or created to do? Has God ever given you that sense of passion and urgency, only to instruct you to wait? Wait?! Are you kidding me? Well, I’ve been there…in fact, I’m there now. But it turns out we’re in good company. The Bible is full of people who were given their calling well before it came to fruition. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just share three.

First, there was Joseph (Genesis 37-42). You remember Joseph…that little brat who couldn’t keep his mouth shut about all of the grand things God was going to do through him. Yeah, that one. Well, after being given these dreams of grandeur, he had to wait and suffer for quite some time. After his brothers plotted to murder him, they changed their minds and sold him to a band of Ishmaelites, who in turn sold him as a slave to Potiphar. He probably thought his luck was turning around when Potiphar made him leader of his household, until Potiphar’s wife accused him of attempted rape (falsely, mind you). So then he ended up in jail. There, he met two servants of Pharaoh, whose dreams he correctly interpreted. But it was still another two years before Joseph was called on to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. It was only then that he was elevated to his divine calling, and it was still awhile before his brothers came to him for help during the famine. Ultimately, Joseph and his family prospered in spite of all they’d been through; Joseph’s dream had come true.

And how about David? (1 Samuel 16) He was somewhere between 10 and 13 years old when Samuel anointed him the next king of Israel. But it was still some 20 years before he took over the throne, and he faced some serious trials and obstacles in the meantime. He fought in battles, led armies, fled for his life more than once, and wrestled with despair over his circumstances. But in His time, God followed through on David’s earlier anointing. And God remained faithful the whole time—just as He always does.

And finally, let’s not forget Jesus. He had known for time eternal that His calling was to save humanity from our sins. And then, even when the time came to be born on earth, He had to wait another 33 years to fulfill His ultimate calling. He watched countless people suffer for years before He was even in a position to begin His public ministry of healing. His power, intentionally bridled for a time, must have been absolutely yearning to save and heal every single person He encountered during those waiting years. But He waited, He submitted to the will of the Father, and died for us at just the right time.

When we are confident in God’s calling for us, it can be torture to wait. We may be chomping at the bit to get after it. But I read something recently that I really liked:

“What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.”
–John Ortberg

Fleshing that out is a post for another time. But for now, let’s all be watching for what it is that God may be doing in us while we wait.

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Our Unreasonable King

Joshua 10:12-13

“On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel….
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down
about a full day.”

Have you ever read the book, The Little Prince? I first read it in graduate school, and I have finally decided that Tijge is old enough to read it as well. So I’ve been reading it out loud to him over last month or so. There is a point in the book where the little prince is travelling among planets near his own, very small planets, each inhabited by only one person. On the first planet, he meets a benevolent king…

“…the king insisted that his authority be universally respected. He would tolerate no disobedience, being an absolute monarch. But since he was a kindly man, all his commands were reasonable.” And then a bit later, the little prince “ventured to ask a favor of the king: ‘I’d like to see a sunset… Do me a favor, your majesty… Command the sun to set…’” The king replied, “…One must command from each what each can perform….Authority is based first of all upon reason….I am entitled to command obedience because my orders are reasonable….You shall have your sunset. I shall command it. But I shall wait, according to my science of government, until conditions are favorable….around seven-forty!”

When I read this section of the book, I couldn’t help but think about how different this king is from ours. Of course, God is benevolent and kindly, but I realize with great joy and peace that He is far from ‘reasonable,’ at least by this king’s definition. You see, God needn’t wait for conditions to be favorable to make a command and have it obeyed. All throughout the Bible, we see accounts that assure us that God’s commands defy the laws of nature, the laws of science, the laws of man, the laws of the universe….and as unreasonable as they may be, they are OBEYED.

God parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22) and made the sun stand still (Joshua 10:12-13); Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-25), walked on water (Matthew 14:25), calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41), brought the dead to life (John 11:43), was crucified under the cover of darkness at midday (Luke 23:44-45), and rose again on the third day (Luke 24:6).

This is how I know that God is with my friend, Russell, who is fighting for his life after a heart attack at age 39. It’s how I know that if there is even one kidney on the face of this earth that is a match for Emily, God knows exactly where it is, whose it is, and how to get it to her. It’s how I know that if God wants us to adopt a child, He is perfectly capable of providing divine intervention, divine revelation, divine wisdom, or divine peace. And whatever you’re facing today, our God—our King—can be trusted to command the absolutely unreasonable on your behalf. And to Him be the glory!

All Authority

Lenten Blossoms

John 19:10b-11a

“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power
either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”

I have trust issues. If you know me well at all, you know this is an understatement. Here’s another: I have problems with authority. These two problems—let’s be honest, sins—have caused me no end of trouble ALL. MY. LIFE.

Imagine the emotional turmoil that comes when I am asked to TRUST AUTHORITY. At this moment, that looks like trusting some very godly (not perfect, not faultless, not infallible, but godly) church leadership. It has me in a heart place that I think some of you will relate to, even if your circumstances are a bit different from mine.

Ultimately, I’ve been faced with the question of God’s sovereignty. I’m asked to believe what God says through Jesus in John 19:11, when He assures Pilate, “You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given you from above.” That authority is also espoused in Romans 13:1, where Paul instructs believers to “be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

The Bible doesn’t say that those authorities and leaders will do everything correctly, or justly. He doesn’t even guarantee that their hearts will be in the right place, or that their intentions will be pure. In fact, Scripture seems to suggest that our earthly leaders WILL fall short; they WILL fail. Some will even inflict harm intentionally. I’m reminded of (among others) Jeremiah’s account of Nebuchadnezzar, wherein this evil foreign king was used of God to deliver judgment against Judah for idolatry, unfaithfulness, and disobedience. In fact, in Jeremiah 25:9, God even refers to this ruler as “my servant.”

My point is this: If God can and does work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28)…If He has used (and continues to use) evil kings and rulers to accomplish His good, perfect, and pleasing will…If He knows everything and sees everything—from the beginning to the end of time…

Well then surely He can and will take our failures and the failures of those earthly authorities, and redeem them for the Kingdom good. So the bottom line is that we are called to submit to authority, but all the while TRUSTING a perfect, holy, righteous, good, just, and sovereign God. May we trust in HIS authority today and every day.