Monday, October 29, 2012

Balancing #Sandy and Sovereignty

'Hurricane Sandy, Oct.28-29, 2012 at the Outer Banks, NC.  Mostly Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills' photo (c) 2012, dedhed1950 - license:
As I write this, a super storm is pounding the coast of New England. In fact, its eye is making landfall over Manhattan this moment, and the storm itself has already broken more meteorological records than I can count.

I’m sitting 600 miles from its center, and the windy darkness is howling violently around our doors and windows. I can only imagine what it must be like on the coast. I’m thankful to be here, but I tremble for the families who are affected.

As anxious east coast residents stay miles from home with loved ones and wait out the next 24 hours, the minutes will seem like days. Their property and possessions will be laid bare to the fury of a thousand-pound gorilla of a storm with a wimpy name—Sandy. And there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

If we believe in God, storms like Sandy naturally make us think about God’s sovereignty—the doctrine that God is meticulously ordering every circumstance. The doctrine that natural disasters, diseases, calamities and catastrophic events are all under God’s close, watchful eye.

For years, I have stroked my goatee, smiled smugly and affirmed this doctrine. My God is big. He is Creator, and is over all things. He is in control. He is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. He simply can’t NOT know all about it, or be in control of it. Nothing happens off His watch. Period.

I believe it's true. But a lot of hard things happen in life. And calamities come in a steady stream around the world, all begging for answers that aren't easy.

Lately, I’ve wondered if the doctrine of God's sovereignty has been a convenient way for me to personally avoid the real, raw emotion of watching calamity unfold—a way to suppress the emotion of the loss in its devastating wake. I’ve been second guessing if it’s human—or helpful—to hover just above the groans in the safety of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

I believe in the sovereignty of God. But I believe it can turn my heart to ice if I'm not careful. I’m starting to see that the Bible models a different application of it than I’ve had in the past.

Joseph believed in the sovereignty of God. But he didn’t let it diminish his love for his brothers, even when they betrayed him. He didn’t write them off as a lost cause, as I probably would have.

David believed in the sovereignty of God. But it didn’t numb him from seeing his sin for what it was, being broken over his divided heart, and worshiping God with words that have moved millions after him.

Paul believed in the sovereignty of God. But it didn’t numb him to the sting of Israel’s rejection of Christ. His deep anguish over his lost kinsman was a kind of kindling that helped fuel his heart for missions. He was not OK with their rejection.

But most of all, as the sovereign God Himself, Jesus wasn't even numb to the realities around him. He wept when he learned his friend Lazarus had died. He cried out a wailing lament, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Things got to Jesus that so often don’t get to me, because I believe God is sovereign. What’s wrong with this picture?

Like Joseph and David and Paul and many more, I remain solidly committed to God’s sovereignty. But now, when calamities like Sandy come, I’m choosing sensitivity over smugness. Tears over terse answers. Awe over arrogance. I want to be more merciful, and less matter-of-fact. I'm learning when to speak, and when to just shut up—sticking to what is fitting for the occasion.

I want to embrace God's sovereignty, but still cry like a baby. Still be human.

God, in our knowledge, may we not become puffed up, cold and stoic in the face of calamity. Teach us to be still, and know that You are God.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Political Post: Are We Following the Wrong Story?

'Election 2012' photo (c) 2012, League of Women Voters of California LWVC - license:
While the nation holds its breath for the outcome of November 6, a mother in a run-down trailer park breathes out a bedtime prayer with her child, who will one day plant churches in China.

While the nation is frozen, paralyzed in its preoccupation over who will occupy the White House, a family spends a Saturday serving warm soup to the homeless.

While America spars dividedly over which party's brand of change is better, a boy pours out his piggy bank to count the coins he’s collected for his favorite charity.

While bitter political arguments pervade the social networks, a sweet 77-year-old sings hymns to her dying husband in the night.

While political prophecies of hope or despair dominate the headlines, a pastor stands up on a Wednesday night—telling five faithful families one more time about a carpenter who came to earth as Prophet, Priest and King.

* * * * *

If you want a front row seat to witness what God is doing in the world, put down the newspaper. Close the lid on your laptop. The most remarkable things are happening in the private moments in your community, in the most unremarkable places.

Look where the surroundings are modest, the people are unattractive, and the finances stretched. Look for hope where life would seem to be most hopeless to the naked eye. Look where the road is hard, with no prospects for better days—regardless of who’s in the Oval Office.

How can I say this?

'Field of Boaz' photo (c) 2011, - license:, there was another time when a nation groaned under corrupt judges, longing for a better leader. 

It was the story everyone was following. But it wasn’t the Story they should have been following.

While that entire nation was coming unraveled and crying out to God, God was knitting together a kingly line in the most unlikely place.

A bereaved widow named Ruth, gleaning the crumbs from a barley field in Bethlehem—whose faithful life had taken so many bitter turns—would meet a faithful man who would become her kinsman redeemer. Together, they would beget Obed, the grandfather of David, bridging the unbroken bloodline to Christ Himself.

It was unremarkable, and marked by tragedy. It was dusty and gritty. It didn’t make the headlines. But it changed the course of history. 

The message of the story of Ruth whispers to me, You're following the wrong story. Look down at the sheaves, the things right under your nose. Your wife. Your kids. Your small group. Your church. Your community. There are more remarkable things unfolding there than you think. Be faithful in your field, and don't be distracted. God is working in you there, more than you know. November 6 will do nothing to change that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I'm Hanging on the Promises of God

Over the past year or so, I've had the great privilege of getting to know Seth Haines. I've yet to make the trip to the south to meet him and his lovely family. But I have seen enough of his heart up close through his writing to know it's a heart that beats in time with mine on so many matters.

Case in point: starting last week, Seth started a 3-week series on his blog that sets out to upend the "prosperity gospel"—an inconceivable mutation of the Christian Gospel that connects strong faith with earthly ease, and weak faith with earthly hardship (to say it one way).

Joy and I both had the pleasure of contributing to this series to help debunk this distortion of what the Bible really teaches—a distortion that has become alarmingly prevalent in the churchgoing American psyche.

Seth asked me to write about what God DOES promise the believer, in contrast to the puny promises of earthly health and wealth some think. So I share just a little bit about my hardships, and some specific promises that have sustained me through those times.

I include the opening words here. Please click over to Seth's blog to read the rest, and leave your comments there. And while you're there, click "subscribe." You'll be glad you did.

February 29, 2000. She lay lifeless except for her chest, which rose and fell exactly 30 times a minute in a disturbing, jerky rhythm. The wheeled machine next to her NASA-like bassinette blew and drew breaths for her.

Instead of a mobile above her head, a heat lamp beamed blinding rays of light down to chase the jaundice from her mottled, yellow skin.