Thursday, February 28, 2008

God's Grace and Your Sufferings

I urge you to read this excerpt from Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, by David Powlison, whether you have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience suffering to some degree:

"How does God's grace meet you in your sufferings? We can make the right answer sound old hat, but I guarantee this: God will surprise you. He will make you stop. You will struggle. He will bring you up short. You will hurt. He will take his time. You will grow in faith and in love. He will deeply delight you. You will find the process harder than you ever imagined - and better. Goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. No matter how many times you've heard it, no matter how long you've known it, no matter how well you can say it, God's answer will come to mean something better than you could ever imagine.

.......... So often the initial reaction to painful suffering is Why me? Why this? Why now? Why? You've now heard God speaking with you. The real God says all these wonderful things, and does everything he says. He comes for you in the flesh, in Christ, into suffering, on your behalf. He does not offer advice and perspective from afar; he steps into your significant suffering. He will see you through, and work with you the whole way. He will carry you in extremis. This reality changes the questions that rise up from your heart. The inward turning "why me?" quiets down, lifts its eyes, and begins to look around.

You turn outward and new, wonderful questions form. Why you? Why you? Why would you enter this world of evils? Why would you go through loss, weakness, hardship, sorrow, and death? Why would you do this for me, of all people? But you did. You did this for the joy set before you. You did this for love. You did this showing the glory of God in the face of Christ. As that deeper question sinks home, you become joyously sane. The universe is no longer supremely about you. Yet you are not irrelevant. God's story makes you just the right size. Everything counts, but the scale changes to something that makes much more sense. You face hard things. But you have already received something better which can never be taken away. And that better something will continue to work out the whole journey long.

The question generates a heartfelt response: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget any of his benefits, who pardons all your iniquities and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion, who satisfies your years with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Thank you, my Father. You are able to give true voice to a thank you amid all that is truly wrong, both the sins and the sufferings that now have come under lovingkindness.

Finally, you are prepared to pose - and to mean - almost unimaginable questions: Why not me? Why not this? Why not now? If in some way, may faith might serve as a three-watt night-light in a very dark world, why not me? If my suffering shows forth the Savior of the world, why not me? If I have the privilege of filling up the sufferings of Christ? If he sanctifies to me my deepest distress? If I fear no evil? If he bears me in his arms? If my weakness demonstrates the power of God to save us from all that is wrong? If my honest struggle shows other strugglers how to land on their feet? If my life becomes a source of hope for others? Why not me?

Of course, you don't want to suffer, but you've become willing: "If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will." Like him, your loud cries and tears will in fact be heard by the one who saves from death. Like him, you will learn obedience through what you suffer. Like him, you will sympathize with the weaknesses of others. Like him, you will deal gently with the ignorant and wayward. Like him, you will display faith to a faithless world, hope to a hopeless world, love to loveless world, life to a dying world. If all that God promises only comes true, then why not me?"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Just Read It

Ok, so this is important. This challenge is from personal experience. This is a one-way conversation God had with me recently:

"Read the Bible. I'm serious. Enough with the excuses, enough with the clich├ęs. I know you're busy; I know its hard; I know it seems boring; I know you don't believe it all (since when do you read only what you believe); I know you have a headache; I know you need to know who won the game; I know you want to know how MSNBC is going to interpret Hillary and Barack's antics; I know you feel like working out; I know watching American Idol is easier; I know that you don't have TiVo yet; I know that dinner doesn't make itself; I know that you have a reservation; I know that you're late for an appointment; I know you're tired and would probably fall asleep anyway; I know you have to get to work; I know you don't know where to start. But I know you want to; I know you're curious; I know you crave it; I know you can't get through your day without it. I know. Just read it."

If this is a battle for you, I encourage you to check out the recent sermon series by Andy Stanley, entitled Text. You can listen online for free - 3 sermons entitled 'Ding', '2G2BT', and 'RYB'. It's real practical and real helpful. You won't regret it. A highlight for me was the four things that happen to Andy Stanley when he doesn't spend time in the Word.

  1. He magnifies the weaknesses of others, and overlooks his own - no personal responsibility

  2. He evaluates the world as if this is all there is - no eternal perspective

  3. He closes his hands on his possessions - no selflessness, no trust

  4. He holds on to anger - no forgiveness

Just to let you know where I'm at, I decided at the beginning of the year to read through the Bible cover to cover. I know this isn't the best plan, because, among other reasons, Leviticus is brutal. But I'm trying to read it through the lens of God's sovereignty. Asking, what does it mean that God is sovereign in creation? In sin? In suffering? In redemption? What is the narrative of the Bible saying about what God is doing today? Who are false teachers? What does it mean that God's Word is living and active? What does it mean that I should be perfect, as my Heavenly Father is perfect? What does it mean that unless I repent, I will likewise perish? What does it mean that the sufferings of the present time are not worth being compared to the glory that will be revealed in us? What does it mean that the creation was subjected to futility, in hope? What does it mean that God is working together all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose? What does it mean that He is able to present us before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy? What does it mean that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ?

Well, I'm in Exodus, and God is not disappointing me in the journey. I'm behind the pace, and I haven't even gotten to the aforementioned book of Leviticus, but it's worth it. I don't know where I'd be without it. Maybe in a gutter somewhere. Or maybe stuck in the fantasy world of American middle-class prosperity and consumerism with no hope. Same difference, I guess.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Going Public

Welcome. The purpose of this blog is kind of described all over the blog. The post below takes an entry I wrote in college and expands it to explain the meaning of the title; i.e. that God is sovereign. The About Me section describes my vision statement which means to show how I view God's call in my life. The links on the bottom and the side of the page are basically self explanatory, and lead you to the people and the places God has used to shape my thoughts, my heart, and my action as it relates to my personal faith. And the picture of me with a turtle is, well, just a picture of me holding a turtle. This is to assure you random humor and perspective will come through on this site among all the attempts at wisdom. The picture may change at unpredictable times and will have no significance whatsoever except to confuse you and make you laugh.

Some blogs out there intelligently review those aspects of culture we most enjoy: restaurants, movies, sports and music. Some blogs humorously comment on the aspects of culture that sometimes just don't make sense. Some blogs explore politics, religion, economics, health, history, or just personal opinions and interests. This is none of those blogs.

Here I will to the best of my ability connect all these things and more under the Lordship, and for the glory, of Jesus Christ.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

God is in the details

The following was written sometime when I was in college; slightly revised and updated for posting here, and meant to describe the purpose of this blog:

What “God is in the details” means for me is simply that God appears in situations and places you wouldn’t expect. God understands, controls, and is active in the strange, unexplainable, challenging, and diverse culture and world in which we live. Ultimately, it means that God is sovereign. The bread of life; the light of the world; the living water; the way, the truth, and the life. Regardless of experience, understanding, or belief, the evidence to me is compelling.

God is in the life, example, attention, and care from the Reverend at your church who poured out to you more than you as an ignorant teenager ever deserved. God was in Sigma Chi Fraternity at Indiana University in 1858, and had a plan to build a ministry and a body there through Greek Intervarsity Christian Fellowship 141 years later. God is on the beer-soaked dance floor at a fraternity party where a certain frat guy won’t dance with a gorgeous sorority girl to a Ludicrous song, but only next to her. God was present in the life of the International Undergraduate Representative to the Grand Council of Sigma Chi, and God was in Snowbird, Utah in 2001 at the closing ceremonies of the Horizons Leadership program when that undergraduate representative stood up in front of everyone, including Jewish members of the fraternity, and proclaimed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit were always the foundation of the Sigma Chi ritual. God was in the seemingly wild decision to go on an overseas mission trip while taking a walk on the beach, and is in the family and community there that changed your life. God was in the diligent search for a house after two years of living at home, and is in the result of that search.

“God is in the details,” means that God has a plan that he reveals subtly in the monotonous aspects of every day life. God plans when you wait in traffic, or in a grocery line, testing your patience, faith, and temperance that should be focused on Him always. God plans when and how you pay your bills, and spend your money, teaching you the temporary nature of the world and all that’s in it. God is on the dollar bills you spend and the coins you store. God is in the daily news. God is in the movies you see, the books you read, and the music you listen to. God was in the lyrics of all Bob Dylan songs, before, during, and after his born-again experience. God is in the plot and the story of screenplays that are written by men and women who know God only generally. God is in The Matrix. God is in the Lord of the Rings. God is on the vacations you take and the pictures you use to remember good times. God is in the frustrations you face and the pains you suffer. God is the arguments you have and compliments you give. God is in the decisions you make and the mistakes you wish you didn’t.

“God is in the details,” means that God also has a plan that he reveals in monumental, history changing events. God’s plan is revealed in a close, potentially controversial fraternity election that indirectly leads the loser to Christ, and His plan is revealed in a very close, very controversial presidential election that puts a God-fearing Christian as leader of the free world. God’s plan is seen in family friendships that ultimately join people together with common passions and desires to see businessmen connect to Christ. God’s plan is revealed in the early death of a high school senior with NBA potential at a Regional basketball game, and the lessons of faith through tragedy that united a class. God’s plan is revealed in the sudden death of a warrior for Christ in Afghanistan, and the amazing testimony that is still affecting a fraternity, a campus, and beyond. God’s plan is revealed in the tragic death of a young man in an alcohol-related car accident, and the resulting life-changing witness by his loved ones to hundreds of youth who are strung out on drugs, or worse, and have no hope. God’s plan is revealed in the explosion of the Sultana Steamboat on the Mississippi River after the Civil War, the most fatal marine disaster in the history of mankind, and God is in the lineage and life of a certain survivor. God is sovereign. All things exist by Him and for Him and through Him.

Have some not realized this? Do some doubt this?

We are only people, created not by ourselves, and destroyed out of our control, which take nothing into this world, and can take nothing out. We are merely a speck of eternity, a crumb of forever, a grain of sand, a wave of the sea. The devil seems to be in the details, but ultimately the devil is only the antagonist in a story and a world that God created and controls and that we experience in those details; whether glorious, or excruciating. God can and will work all things together for good for those who love Him, and have been called according to His purpose.

So what do we do with that?