Socks and Sovereignty

leafI’m thinking today of the young man who was verbally pummeled by his father his entire childhood and has emerged a porridge of an adult – or a rock-hard missile of abuse himself.

Or the young woman who experienced far more horrific abuse on the part of her father and now sees a dirty, irredeemable person in the mirror.

Or the Israelite infants who never even grew old enough for trials but were sacrificed alive in the superheated arms of bronze idols.

Or the elderly man I know who has received not only a terminal diagnosis, but a stack of medical bills that could drown his children in debt – followed by a flippant denial-of-benefits letter from an insurer who sees him as a claim number.

Would you look these people in the eye and say that their suffering is God’s will for them? That the soul-level damage, the sheer violation of God’s intention for this world, was initiated directly by God for his glory?

Thud.

Just your reaction to that question will reveal a…dilemma we face in learning God’s sovereignty. We have agendas. I do, and you do. It makes the debate prickly; we’ve staked out ground and feel compelled to defend it.

If life is a journey east on Interstate 90, I’ve only traveled as far as the state I actually live in – Montana. I’m a mere journeyman in Biblically understanding God’s sovereignty. This article isn’t a finished building but the raw materials; it’s less about finding an answer and more about honestly acknowledging our agendas.

For there are two different kinds of people approaching this problem. It affects how we debate the issue – and, crucially, how we speak of it to the sufferer.

Continue reading

Reflections On a Year of Blogging

One year ago today, I launched brandonjadams.com.

Unexpectedly, it launched me. My sanctification.

At first, the blog was a disaster. I just chuckle at some of my old posts (a lot of them have been polished since then). Scattered, dense, overthought, narrative jukes that could send even the tightest reader spinning off a cliff. I discovered very quickly that classic blogging tip: come back to a finished article two days later, read it over again with frsh eyes, and you’ll be in a position to make it twice as good.

Of course, the moment I realized that, the commitment angle raised its head. Suddenly it was hard to keep up, hard to maintain the enthusiasm. I’d get a great idea in my head while I drove around delivering pizzas, and of course the moment I found a keyboard it would sink back into the cerebellum, reluctant to be pulled back out. I’d coax it and plead with it and retrieve it piece by piece like a frozen piece of string cheese, but it would never be as epic as first conceived. How discouraging. Most of the winter and spring saw me underperform in the number of posts I wrote.

Then there was the small matter of being relevant, being relatable, being something that  a reader could walk away with and apply in their daily lives. And coming up with a decent title – enough to reveal the subject, not enough to give away the entire blog – which is half the battle of any post. And self-promotion, firm yet tasteful. And good site design. And guest posts. And SEO. And…

…I’m boring you.

Okay. Here’s the most interesting part.

Satan.

The man loves to lie.

Who do you think you are, Brandon? You aren’t smart enough, experienced enough, authoritative enough, to do this. You haven’t been to Bible school. This is incredibly pretentious of you. Leave the teaching to your pastors. After all, God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Just quit.

All the time. Week after week.

But the week after that, it might be:

You’re timid. Cowardly. Withholding your best ideas. Your audience has gotten bored with you and they’re just too polite to tell you. But you can’t get too bold because then other people might leave. Just quit.

And sometimes it’s:

You just suck wastewater as a writer. Not enough metaphors, not enough indirection, not enough grace. You’re as blunt and boring as a hammer. You’ll never be as good as (insert epic Christian author here). And do you even have your exegesis squared away? This is all a lot of pressure. Just quit.

See a pattern?

Funny how Satan contradicts himself. He never sticks to one line. As an old saint at my church put it, “Satan’s weakness is overplaying his hand.” He gives himself away by throwing around illogical thoughts and hoping that we don’t notice, or that we won’t be able to distinguish his voice from our own.

Because that voice could be me. Satan has bludgeoned, harassed, accused, and pestered me enough over the years to where part of me has started sounding like him. This often happens in our younger years. It’s a sinister scheme, designed to deflect us from what God wants us to do.

What’s so sinister is that he isn’t entirely wrong. I could be pretentious. I could be timid. People might leave. And I’ll certainly never be the church’s best writer. This is all true. After all, the most effective lies are the ones with a little truth mixed in.

I do not say all this to fish for praise. Far be such an ungodly motive from me. I renounce it in Jesus’ name and give it no claim to my life. All glory to him.

I’m just saying this out of joy that God, during my blogging journey, is revealing the solution: him. Spend more time with him. Hear from him. Know his language by reading his Scriptures. And when Satan handily provides us with his agenda, turn straight into the wind. Walk against it. Bring the lies of Satan before God’s feet, and ask him what to do with them.

I want to know what he thinks of me. Only there will life be found.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Can You Be a Realist and Still Have Faith?

Public domain image from www.public-domain-image.comI saw a friend ask this question on my Facebook feed recently. Given that God has seen fit to grant me a minuscule glimpse of an understanding of prayer during my few adult years, I immediately thought of a crucial Scripture that addresses the question.

We all struggle for things in this life. Victory, deliverance, breakthrough, blessing, healing, bounty, hearts’ desires. It’s a tricky high-wire to walk, for no matter what some people tell you, the Christian life is not all about these things. George Herbert wrote,

To be in both worlds full
Is more than God was, who was hungry here.

Are we to believe a servant is greater than his master? The Bible doesn’t stutter: not every prayer will be granted in this life, not every hardship averted. And that is both curse and privilege. We simply must start there. If you can’t accept that word, your life will be a shattering staccato of foiled expectations. If you can, you’ll have room to turn to Jesus, finding him to be the ultimate prize that can never be stolen.

However.

I’ve also learned not to put limits on God’s generosity. He is scandalously generous. Sometimes the church, in its frustration with the masses grasping for “prosperity” and deaf to all else, will race to the other extreme and quietly throw cold water on blessing of any kind. (This really is a thing. Just observe your reaction if I write the phrase “bold prayer”. You instantly pull up and worry: Is this right? Respectful? Scriptural?) But it buries a great truth: God does answer prayer. The Bible speaks of many such times, and seems to hold them out to us rather excitedly. God can teach us about himself through a “yes”, grow closer to us through a “yes”, as well as a “no”.

But this merely yields another problem: our cynicism. Where is this generosity? Our experiences don’t match up to the awesome power God wields in the Bible – yet. “This is reality,” we want to say. “God doesn’t do that stuff anymore.”

I certainly want to believe. What is reality, really, if God is your God?

But regardless of how many stories we hear about provisions and breakthroughs that are tough to pass off as science or coincidence, something in our hearts has a hard time with faith. Some of us have been left feeling fed up with hope; some of us are just down-to-earth by nature. We feel stuck between reality and faith, between hope and surrender. “If I’m going to undertake any long season of hope and prayer about something,” we say, “then I want to know I’m grounded in reality. I want to know I’m not losing my mind.”

You could have been friends with Abraham. God gave him a crucial key to faith in the midst of realism (or is it the other way around?)

Continue reading

The Real Story of Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 

tunnelSuch a comforting verse. We trot out Jeremiah 29:11 like a “break glass in case of fear” extinguisher. When our lives seem to devolve into chaos, when we’re confronted with a fork in a murky road, or when we just need reminding that God’s in control, we turn to this verse. And why not? What could be more reassuring that our God is both completely in control and completely for us?

A friend was deciding what college to attend. The choice before her was either a state university or a trendy private Christian one. Being the ambitious and spiritual type, she wanted the Christian one. I probably would, too. As so many high school graduates do, when the choice seemed to swell and get too big in her mind, she would invoke Jeremiah 29:11 (amongst other verses) in order to find peace as she sought God’s will.

Although she was not demanding one choice from God, she – and I watching her, and many others before and since – was about to glean the true lesson of Jeremiah 29:11.

It’s not what you think.

Continue reading

The Terror of Asking God What He Wants

pathsYou know what I mean.

You experience some amazing sermon or mountaintop experience and come out all fired up for the glory of God, proclaiming “God, take ALL of me!  My finances, my physical location, my family, my occupation, my heart…everything is yours. I’m seeking what you want for my life!”

And then you pause and go, “Wait…what have I just done?” Your breath catches a little, as if you’ve just leaped off the edge of a fifty-foot cliff.

Because you know that’s a prayer God will answer. And you know he isn’t going to mind your comfort zone when he does. You start looking around nervously, half expecting a team of angels to appear and start packing your stuff for that move you’re hoping God won’t think of.

Some of us never make the leap. We just stand perpetually on the edge of the cliff, looking down, turning over in our minds the idea of asking God what he wants for our lives, left breathless by the knowledge of the floodgate that could open. He might have you move to Nigeria and do mission work for a year – or a half-century. He might choose not to heal your loved one of that heinous cancer. He might ask you to let go of that attractive guy/girl you can’t stop thinking about. He might ask you to walk away from a dream – or, perhaps more terrifying, to run towards it. He might tell you to forgive, or admit you were wrong, or make an annoyingly inconvenient change in your household. Or he might simply tell you to stay faithful and keep doing what you’re doing – the same exact “what” that you’ve been doing for seemingly decades.

Yep. Asking God what he wants can be a terrifying thing.

But what if it doesn’t have to be that way? What if instead, the terror reveals something about us that should not be?

Continue reading

God Gives Generously to All – Without Finding Fault???

handsSo I’m sitting in youth group yesterday, listening to someone recite James 1 from memory. It’s a well-done affair, with only an occasional reversion to cue cards. But one verse leaps out and trips me up, and it occurs to me that it’s always done so.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

Wait, whaaaat?

There’s a quick splash of non sequitur in there, the kind that makes you blink, jump back, and scan it again to make sure you read it right. As if you were reading this sentence and suddenly octopus. That’s how it feels.

God gives generously to all…without finding fault?

It’s the Bible, so it can’t be a typo (despite what the skeptics say). It must be telling it like it is. And the reason for my dissonance becomes clear all too quickly.

“Without finding fault”? I thought that’s all God ever does.

Continue reading

Would You Like to Become Ironclad?

To my unbelieving friend:

There is a wondrous treasure buried within the New Testament.

Rumors of it reach your ears occasionally, its light glinting for the briefest of moments from beneath the religious dirt. The word “buried” is apt, for reading a massive text like the Bible feels much like digging. Without a map, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s one reason people rarely find it.treasure

But it’s there. And the Apostle Paul says that if you knew what was inside, there’s nothing you wouldn’t sacrifice to find it. 

Haven’t you ever asked yourself what Paul was so jazzed about, so obsessed about, that he would “consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phillippians 3:8)? The man is either bonkers, or he knows something we don’t.

You’re probably thinking one of two things right now. One is, I’ve never heard Christianity described like that. It’s usually just a set of rules, a moral obligation to believe. No. It’s much more. Rules don’t get anyone out of bed in the morning. Paul speaks almost giddily of what he’s found, as if it’s a prize worth losing his very life to seize.

The other is, The prize is heaven, right? Cherubs on clouds with harps? May I say here that it’s tragic that religious imagery has distorted heaven like veal into a gross caricature. So bear with me if, although heaven is the greatest gain, and its true nature is far beyond our wildest dreams, I choose to speak of another treasure.

It is a secondary prize of Christianity, yet one the world itself is constantly chasing and has developed many counterfeits for, one that generates books and magazines and TV segments and entire industries and religions, and astonishingly, one that many of its Christian possessors don’t even know how to use.

It is the ability to become ironclad.

Here’s a map.

Continue reading