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God is sovereign. All is well.

The World Has Gone After Him

So they took branches of palm trees and (1)

We are, indubitably, a fickle people.

We run from one thing to another, to whatever we think, in the moment, will save us.

Or, to whatever the world tells us will save us.

The flaw in this is that we think we possess the knowledge to know what will save us in any given moment.

We want salvation in the form of a larger bank account.  We want salvation in a new president; and preferably one that stands for the things we think are important.  We want salvation in the form of the latest movement.  The latest trend.  The latest skin care product.

Or, the flashiest, most sensational “thing” we can grasp.

Take Easter, for example.  We brand it.  We market it.  Some churches dress it up; try to “out-do” last year’s service.  And yet, isn’t the resurrection something we should remember every.  single.  Sunday.?

And, in a way, isn’t that what the crowd was doing on Palm Sunday?

We read the story in John 12–often sub-titled “The Triumphal Entry” (even that word….”triumphal”….good grief)

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

They waved their palm fronds, and laid them in the street, and cried out in a frenzy, for salvation. In the words of the Pharisees, “Look, the world has gone after him.”

There was nothing wrong with their words, per se.  “Hosanna” is a beautiful word.  It was originally used as an interjection of appeal for deliverance and used in praise of the deliverer.  A word that should be shouted at the sight of Jesus.

It was their understanding that was wrong.

It was what they were chasing after that was wrong.  They were not longing for salvation of their very souls, but salvation from their circumstances.

What they did not–could not–know in those frenzied streets was that this God-man they were prodding, begging, pleading, hoping would become King of Israel and topple the Roman Government was actually setting His face toward death for their souls.  Death as the only acceptable sacrifice for their sins.

They were, o, so short-sighted.  And fickle.

Because their cries of “Hosanna” quickly turned into “Crucify Him”.  Not even a week later.  Not even a week later.  Not even a week later.

Am I not also like the crowd?  Do I not also seek after a substitute-salvation?  Do I not also turn to Christ and dictate what I want Him to look like, how I want Him to save me, what I want this thing called “being a disciple” to look like?

And then, when following Christ does not look the way I want it to look, am I not just as quick to turn away?  Even in spite of the fact that I have a tremendous advantage over those who lined the streets on that day so long ago, because I sit on this side of history, with scripture that they did not have.  Scripture that tells me of the purpose for His death.  And beyond that, the purpose of His resurrection.  They did not know these things.  I do, and yet I still am so quick to turn away.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love.

Prone to wander, when really it is “Hosanna!” that I should be shouting.  “Hosanna, Lord, deliver me.  Deliver us.”

I Forget Grace

Haunting Grace

Last Sunday, I drove nearly two hours with a few fellow church members to hear Philip Yancey lecture.

Several weeks ago, while hunting for information about UVA (where my youngest boy wants to go to college), I stumbled across a note that Yancey would be lecturing there at Cabell Hall.  Huh.  Interesting.

Without a lot of thought, I put together a trip and invited some folks.  For a couple of different reasons.

First, I think I’ve read pretty much everything that Yancey has written, so I was curious to hear him speak in an academic setting.  In fact, one of his books was one of the first books I had ever read that caused my brain to say “Whoa, someone understands my mind.  My questions.  Someone asks questions–out loud–that I have carried around for years.  Years.”

Second, my Sunday School class (all of whom I invited, and which is, truly, filled with misfit creatures.  Meaning, we fit nowhere else.  We are all odd ducks.  And not a one of them would be offended by that statement) is currently working through Yancey’s latest book:  Vanishing Grace.  It has, by far, been the most challenging study.  For some, his words are convicting.  For others, they are resounding.  Others absolutely hate it.  Needless to say, it has certainly fostered some excellent, um, debate.

I love a good debate.

In the week leading up to the lecture, though, I was determined to get out of attending.  Work has been intense with 12 hour+ days.  I’d not been to church for a few weeks.  I had been on the road and in the air some, traveling.  The Monday before the lecture, my son left for Navy boot camp in Chicago, and our days before that were jam-packed with prep and spending every moment we could with him, and the days after his departure had been a bit worrisome.  Plus, I was, in general, angry.  Out of sorts.

I wanted out.

But, alas, as the “organizer” of the trip, that would have been a bit rude.  Maybe more than a bit.  I certainly do hate being rude.

I really didn’t expect to hear anything earth shattering.  Like I mentioned above, I’ve read all his stuff.  I know what he has to say.  What appealed to me in driving to hear him speak in person was this:  I assumed that there would be a time of questions/answers.  Unscripted, on-the-spot questions from the audience.  It is one thing to write a book, with the “Delete” key readily accessible.  What do you say when you are standing in front of 300 strangers, faced with hard questions.  Questions that may even come from cynical-leaning souls.

Does your faith hold up?  Does your God?

The lecture took place in a beautiful hall, with majestic murals and what probably was a sacred pipe organ (aren’t they all?).  Yancey looked like Yancey, with that wheat shock of curly hair.  He lectured on two themes that haunt him:

  • Suffering.
  • Grace.

A side note:  You may question if someone can be haunted by grace.  Yes.  Yes they can.  A thousand times yes.  I know that haunting well.

It eats at me and sends me scrambling for the safety of legalism, while the haunting of suffering sends me scurrying for the shelter of cynicism.  Throw the sovereignty of God in there, and, well, yes.  There it is.

Actually, I don’t understand grace more than I don’t understand suffering.  There are evil, evil people in this world.  And evil things that cause suffering.  That I get.  But a God full of grace and mercy?  And people who dispense that grace (Yancey’s terms, not mine)?

That is hard for me to grasp.  That unmerited favor.  It’s nearly too, too much.

He spoke well, of course.  I expected nothing less.  Was it earth-shattering?  No, probably because, like I mentioned above, I’m pretty familiar with his words.  I actually found myself quite distracted by a lady sitting a few feet from me who kept verbally agreeing with every other sentence.  That’s right.  I wanted to turn to her and say “Mr. Yancey is not looking for your affirmation of his thoughts.”  But that would have been rude.

I certainly do hate being rude.

About an hour into the lecture, Yancey drew his formal remarks to a close.  Sure enough, the person who introduced him at the beginning gave instructions to the attendees on the next portion of the lecture.  The set up was similar to a Southern Baptist Church Business meeting–you know the kind, with two microphones set up on the sides of the room, and please approach them to present your question to the speaker.

I sat up a little straighter and fixed my laser gaze on Yancey.  This was what I was waiting for.  The real reason behind my selfish organizing of this little foray to Charlottesville (which, may I add, has great pizza, thank you Mellow Mushroom).

Would his faith hold up.  Would his God?

He answered several questions from different people.  Good grief, I can be so judgmental.  In my brain I was rating the questions.  And the answers.  I am a terrible person.  I well know.

One of his answers, about what happens after this current life–a question regarding heaven, I suppose–alarmed me.  I put much stock in that home-going day.  Or the day that this current world is replaced with a new heaven and new earth.  When suffering is no more.  In fact, I’m still processing his answer to that one.

One of the questions regarding race in America was, quite simply, very irritating.  It was a foolish question.  Yancey handled it well.

Time was drawing to an end.  The jury was still out in my judgmental, questioning mind.  One of my questions, I believe, had been answered.  Yancey’s faith had held up.

But would his God?

The last person stepped to the mic.  A father who had lost his son, he thanked Yancey for his writings.  They had been of comfort to him.  But then he asked this:

“Mr. Yancey, much of your life work has centered in the world of suffering–the exploration of that.  In fact, you yourself say that you are haunted by suffering.  How have you been able to spend so much time there without allowing it to consume you?”

I hate to admit it, but my soul lurched.

Yes, indeed how?

Because, in my world, I work daily with people who are suffering a great deal.  Tremendous suffering.  They want to know if God is real.  They have questions about theodicy.  Real questions.  They have seen much.  And so many times, I fear I peddle a cross-stitch solution that I’m not entirely sure I grasp myself.  Not that God is ever trite.  Do not hear me say that, because that is not what I am saying.  What I am saying is that I so inadequately portray who He is to those who are hurting.  I fail, often.

And, then, my own eyes have seen a bit in life, too.  There is that, as well, I suppose.

Yancey then answered with this:

He finds himself not consumed with the haunting of suffering precisely because there are two hauntings in his life.

He is not consumed because he is also haunted by grace.

His faith held.  His God held.

End of lecture.

When planes are flown into the alps purposefully and 150 people are killed, with martyrs are beheaded, when orphans are abandoned along the river in Kenya, when cancer steals mothers and fathers and even children, when marriages die, when alcoholism kills, when friends abandon, when poverty perpetuates, when sexual abuse is a thing even within the assumed safety of the church walls, when fathers are in prison, when churches feud over pointless things, what prevents us from being haunted by the suffering to the point of catatonia?  To the point of hopelessness?

I often….o, so often, forget grace.

Forgive me, God.  I am, such a fool.

Yancey must be right.  Please.  He must be.  It must be that the haunting of grace overshadows the haunting of suffering.

It just has to be.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:16)

Grace upon Grace.  Indeed.

Please, God.

Thy Hope, Thy Confidence, Let Nothing Shake

Be Still My Soul
Sometimes, I can’t find words.
Sometimes, I have to borrow the words of others.
This morning is one such time.
Be still, my soul, The Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently, The cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God, to order and provide.
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul, Thy best they heavenly Friend.
Through thorny ways, Leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake.
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake.
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul, the waves and wind still know.
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
In You I rest, In You I found my hope.
In You I trust, You never let me go.
I place my life within Your hands alone.
Be still, my soul.
Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on.
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone.
Sorrow forgot, Love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past.
All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.
Be still, my soul
Be still, my soul
~ Be Still My Soul (Kathrina von Schlegel, 1855)

Small Words ~ A Book Review

Trinity

I received a review copy of Joe Thorn’s book “Experiencing the Trinity” from Crossway Publishers.  I was quite intrigued, because–as I’m sure it is for each of you–the concept of Trinity completely baffles me.  Just glancing at the title, I anticipated that there would be explanations, interpretations, commentary that would provide insight.

Not so.  Not really, anyway.  Instead, what I found where (very) short readings on who God is.  The book is broken into 3 sections–God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Within each section are chapters focusing on one aspect of who God is.  For example, some of the chapter headings include the following:  He Is Good, His Obedience, He Intercedes.

All good stuff.

But, within the first few chapters, I found myself getting frustrated.  Thorn’s words are very brief for such large topics.  I wanted more information–I want more information.  Each chapter led to more questions in my brain–well, How is God good?  Why do I continually fail at obedience, and yet I am supposed to be obedient like Jesus is obedient?  How–or more aptly why–would the Holy Spirit deign to intercede for me, when there are many and far greater needs in this world?  And so forth…..

But then I went back and read the Forward/Introduction.  That’s not something I do often–it’s a bad habit of mine, I generally just dive into a book.  In reading Thorn’s introduction, I realized that he wrote these words during a dark time in his life.  A “Dark Night of the Soul”, if you would.  Essentially, he was preaching to himself.

So, I thought about that for a bit and this is what I came up with:  for many, when they are in their darkest days, big words (and many of them)–particularly about God–are too much.  Too overwhelming.  Sometimes, in those hard moments, it is the small words that are needed.  The kinds of words that are fairly easy to digest, that are settling, that are reminders of what has to be truth.  Sometimes, all we can grasp is that God has to be real.  Scripture has to be truth.  Forgiveness, surely, is granted.  Sometimes, we just need to take the shortest verses in the Bible and write them out a hundred times, until the words sink into our souls.

Thorn has done that well here.  He provides short, concrete words that can be read either as a daily reading, or the whole book in one sitting.  This is no theological heavy-weight tome on the Trinity, and yet, it is theologically sound.  And sometimes, I suppose, heavy-weight tomes are not necessary or helpful.

I can see myself purchasing copies of this to put into the hands of several who are hurting.