Sovereign Love

Editors Note: For most of August I am on vacation, spending some much needed time recharging my batteries and enjoying time with the family. I knew I was going to be away from my computer for some time so I went out searching for some great guest posters to help keep this blog active while I am away. I am so excited to welcome my good friend Rev. Jared Miller as a guest on my blog. Jared is the pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Grenfell, SK.If you are ever in Grenfell make sure you pop in.

Being married to an American has its perks. I’ve seen more of the US since meeting her than in all the years before. Philadelphia is particularly interesting. The shops outside Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are littered with the slogans of the Revolution: “No taxation without Representation” “Don’t Tread on Me.” One in particular though stands out: “We serve no sovereign here!”

We have a love-hate relationship with the idea of sovereignty. We like the idea of someone being in control; of making sure that bad people get what’s coming to them. But at the same time we want to be the decision maker in our life. What we miss though is that the God who is Love is not only a picture of perfection and goodness, but a God who stands outside of things and holds them together. Love that is patient and kind, not envious or boastful, arrogant or rude is only one side of the coin. On the other side, God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends.  To say that God is Love is to believe that He is bigger than our circumstances, bigger than history itself, and bigger than anything that has ever been or will ever be. God’s essential character, as much as it is Love, is sovereignty. When we declare that we serve no sovereign, we’re missing three important parts of God’s character.

God Is Sovereign

Love Intercedes. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words … and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I think one of the reasons that prayer gets underused is because we’re afraid that we just don’t have the words for it. But Paul’s point here is precisely the opposite: if God is sovereign, then prayer is decidedly not about the words we use to pray. Jesus said as much in his teaching on the subject. If God is sovereign then  he’s not looking for power or poetry in prayer. (The ‘why’ he calls us to pray at all is a subject for another blog.) That God does call us to pray though is not about us showing ourselves off, but about placing ourselves in a position of trust with God and giving him the only thing he’s after in our prayer life: honesty. God wants you to share yourself with him just as you are; to offer mind, heart, soul and strength as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. And honesty in prayer leads inevitably to humility in life. It forces us to see the gap between ourselves and God and to recognize that everything we have and are has Him as its source. God is not some deity, sitting on a cloud watching history unfold. He is involved in it since speaking it into creation and since knitting us together in our mother’s womb, and he became intimately involved in it when he entered into it in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Sovereign love is love that intercedes.

Love Protects. “If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised.”  We live in a culture that elevates the individual. Beth and I love to watch Masterchef, and every week the contestants face a team challenge where they have to work together. And every week it’s the same thing: they ask the losing team what happened and they shred each-other. Everyone blames everyone else for their mistake. Far as I can tell, no one has ever been the reason a team lost. When we fail we justify our failure by passing the blame onto somebody else. This kind of attitude is so far removed from Paul’s world, where the law of hospitality instilled another with greater value than myself. So when Paul says if God is for us, he’s not talking about a God who likes us better than he likes some other guys. He’s not even talking about a God who is in alliance with us. He’s talking about a God who has an obligation to defend those who come to him, no matter how broken we are, no matter how much dirt is on our hands and no matter what it costs him, even if it costs him everything. Sovereign love protects.

Love Wins. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death not life, … nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The grand irony of God’s sovereignty is that eternal life ultimately has nothing to do with whether or not we choose God or not. Whether we believe what it means or not, the tomb stands empty. Whatever we think about Him, Christ is still ascended. However we choose to live, the Kingdom is still come. Love wins because when Jesus declared “It Is Finished”, those weren’t the last words of a dying man, but were a declaration from the mouth of the second person of the Trinity. They were a statement about eternity and the battle that has waged over every life since the beginning of time. There is nothing on Heaven or on Earth, or in all of creation (in case one of those categories doesn’t cover it) that tops sovereignty. Sovereign is sovereign. Sovereignty means that God wins, and when God wins, Love wins. Thank God that nothing can change that.

(This is adapted from a sermon I preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Grenfell, SK on June 23rd called Sovereign Love based on Romans 8:26-39. It’s the third part of a series on the book of Romans I did called “Textbook Love” and you can listen to the whole thing online by clicking here. )

An Invitation to THRIVE

Editors Note: For most of August I am on vacation, spending some much needed time recharging my batteries and enjoying time with the family. I knew I was going to be away from my computer for some time so I went out searching for some great guest posters to help keep this blog active while I am away. I am so excited to welcome my good friend Rev. Jared Miller as a guest on my blog. Jared is the pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Grenfell, SK.If you are ever in Grenfell make sure you pop in.

I’ve never really liked birthdays. Nothing against them as an idea. In general I’m a big fan of cake, presents and being the centre of attention, but put those three together, and it just seems like a bad idea to me. So I’ve always dreaded my birthday rolling around. I figure it has something to do with the date … April 29th was always right in the middle of Music Festival in the town I grew up in and being a musical family, that inevitably meant there were going to be a million and one things happening on my Birthday. And as I got older my birthday always seemed to be just after final exams ended, or just some other crummy time of year.

sad birthday

But it’s amazing how something that you dread so much can change the way you see the world. I remember turning 20, and even though in my head, I knew that in every sense, little to nothing was actually different that morning than it had been before I went to bed the night before, yet  everything seemed dynamically different. For the first time in my life I wasn’t a kid anymore. Immature, sure. But I was 20. Teenage was over.  I was an adult. Whether I took them seriously or not, my choices had consequences. I had to take care of myself. 20 is the last real milestone in life, the last time you stop being something and start being something new. Everything else is just getting older.

The church I am privileged to serve is going to be celebrating its 20th Birthday this coming April, and so we chose THRIVE as our goal through this 19th year of Ministry. But this is a scary time to be not only a young church, but to be young and in church. In his book I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church,  Paul Nixon points out that if trends continue the way they’re going, it’ll be somebody going into Ministry in their late twenties that turns off the lights in the last Church. Everywhere we look, every indicator we can find all tell the same story: the church is outnumbered, outflanked, and outgunned.

But that’s why I love this story of Elisha (you can read it in 2 Kings 6). He knew what it was like to be up against an army. So whether you’re part of a church facing an army of age, waning influence, and bills – or whether you’re simply feeling overwhelmed in your day to day life, I want to share with you three reflections that I think can help us all to Thrive.

  1. Being on the right side of things doesn’t mean an absence of fear. Look at verse 15, When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” This is not a normal response after waking up, because I don’t think it’s a normal way to wake up. His voice isn’t groggy or slurred before his first cup of coffee. That’s panic and a pounding heart you hear in his voice.  Fear is not a sign of weak faith. Fear is a normal and healthy response to dangerous situations. Dr. Paul Brand, the physician who pioneered pretty much everything we know about leprosy, lumped fear in with pain when he called it a gift nobody wants. Experiencing fear is like a smoke alarm going off: it means everything is working properly and that if we don’t do something about it things are going to go badly. It means you’ve assessed the situation correctly. The absence of fear would have much more devastating consequences.
  2. God is up for a fight. Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see. So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. There’s a story a little bit earlier in Kings where the King of Syria wants to bring Elijah in and so he sends 50 men to capture him, but Elijah calls down fire from Heaven and swallows them up. Figuring it was a fluke, the King of Syria tries it two more times, each with the same result. But here, something seems different. There is no grand spectacle, no fire from Heaven. Feeling like you’re not seeing God solving all your problems doesn’t mean that He isn’t still fighting for you. The fight just may look a little different. God doesn’t promise a magic pill to solve every problem, but He promises that if we let Him, that He will fight for us. So don’t be afraid of the hard work. You’ve got armies of angels, horses and chariots of fire all around you, ready to pitch in and lend a hand.
  3. Victory doesn’t always look the way we think it will. You’d think that with armies of angels that Elisha would have witnessed an amazing military defeat. But He doesn’t. Instead, Elisha pulls a Jedi mind-trick and tells them these aren’t the droids they’re looking for and he leads them off. I have a tendency to think I know what my problems are. I don’t have a lot of money, so if God is going to take care of me He needs to give me more money. My family is in turmoil, so God needs to calm them down. I don’t have enough hours in a day to do everything I need to do, so God needs to hold the sun still in the sky for just a little while longer tomorrow. But then we have to ask: who am I to tell God what He needs to do? What if the solution isn’t more money, but that I figure out how to live a simpler life? What if the problem in my family isn’t with them, but it’s with me? What if the problem isn’t that I don’t have enough time in the day, but that I put too much on my plate? Victory means being open to the direction of God in whatever direction He deems to move, otherwise we might find ourselves struggling against armies of angels, horses and chariots of fire.

What areas of life can you Thrive in?

This is based on a Sermon from 2 Kings 6:8-19 on April 7th, 2013. You can listen to the whole thing here