Of Scholarly Words and Everyday Moments

We have been throwing around all these heavy words in small group, the past few weeks. Exploring the concepts behind them till we can talk about them easily and actually use them in sentences,  pulling them out in casual conversation and feeling quite good about it: theology, sovereignty, concurrence, the glory of God, free will, and God’s overall plan. But apart from the fact that as Christ-followers we should be able to understand and use those meaningful words, and in case we would become glib and careless in using them, we may as well boil it all down and admit that what we are really talking about is nothing new, nothing more than “Real God. Real Life. Real People.”

God is alive and present in this broken shabby world. He remains good through all of our everyday ups and downs. He loves us and will never leave us, no matter what troubles or crises we face today or tomorrow or next week. He stands beside us and weeps with us through all our heartaches because He knows what it is like to live here. We are weak and damaged people, handicapped by the sin we were born into, but God is utterly worthy of our trust and our worship, and He calls us His own children. God is in control of every thing that exists, and is weaving it together into a much bigger picture than we can see, for our good and His glory. We can agree with the Song-writer: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26) These things are real and true.

All the big fancy words are just there to label the truths we know, in such a way that scholars can study them and explain them. The important thing is to learn about God and how to walk with Him, be able to recognize Him at work in our lives. The important thing is to saturate our lives with God’s Word, as women, so that we are prepared for the next storm, and can strengthen the ones we love. It’s all just Real Life as Christ-followers.


“Women will go the way of their church culture, media culture, family culture, peer culture– they will follow whoever is leading, unless they have developed their own convictions.  We will listen to other voices if we have not learned to discern the voice of God.”  (Sally Clarkson)


“I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:23-25)

Seeing the Forest for The Trees

The older I get, the more I see how God’s plan is so much bigger than we picture it. Maybe it’s because I am in a different stage of life now, and the race has slowed down enough to allow me to stand back and observe. And perhaps also it is the testimony of older Christ-followers that are ahead of me on the path, the way their priorities and perspectives are changing as they go.

Our own plans are inextricable from what we need and desire in life, very firmly entangled in what we can see and touch. And our theology happily concurs that God is the Creator of all of this and is immanently present to our experiences here, obviously interested in the course of our lives and in how we grow. Jesus said something of that sort, after all: “…not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31) That kind of God– who pays attention to the minutiae of hair and feathers and all things falling– is surely concerned with the bigger events in our lives. It is an easy step to thinking that God’s plans must be similar to ours, about the days we live here on this earth. And it is about our days here, but only because His attention is so vast that it can encompass everything that concerns me with no effort at all. “You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.: (Psalm 40:5)

I wonder if– in our need to grasp God’s immanence, His closeness to us– we have lost some of our understanding of transcendence. Perhaps in our wonder over His putting on skin to come down to us, we forget how very Other He is, how the Old Testament prophets fell on their faces at His voice, and how Moses’ face shone with the light of God’s glory so that he had to cover it with a veil. People get a little spooked by such obvious signs of other-worldliness walking around in ordinary daylight; maybe it’s more comfortable if we tame our notion of God enough that He can fit into our own dreams and plans… stir our faith into the American Dream and live out our days pleasantly here. Or maybe it’s just the self-absorbed tendency of human nature to assume that God’s plan for me is all about my experience in life: my feelings, my needs, my hopes and desires.

Does it not occur to us that as people who will live forever, planning only for this life would be remarkably short-sighted? Truth be told, we usually can’t picture the Life After well enough to have plans about it; it seems more of a vague happy white space full of light and people we love. God however, has very definite plans, and they are all about that eternal future and our place in it, first and foremost the matter of re-creating us, bringing our souls back to life and into the kingdom of His Son. But that is only the beginning: “…you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” (1 Peter 2:5) A living stone, being shaped for its place in a temple where God’s glory will be worshiped forever…and my biggest concern today is getting everything done? Paul says clearly, over and over again “…dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God….God’s will is for you to be holy…” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3) The best thing I will do today is please Him, in dealing with the everyday circumstances of living here; this is His plan for me. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory….” (2 Corinthians 3:18) These long-term plans are much larger than most of the things that concern us day-to-day, but they intersect the visible world in very real ways.

A long time ago someone should have warned me that God was much more interested in my obedience than in my happiness (although there is joy to be found in doing what pleases my Father). He cares far more about pushing me to exercise faith than He does about relieving my stress (although the more I trust Him I find the less I stress about circumstances). Too often I live as though He is here to help me out, to make my life easier. The fact is, our Father is still re-creating us from the inside out to look more like Jesus, and that shaping process is His primary plan for us. All the other details of life matter only because they impact His plan and influence us, and He is using everything that happens (the good, the difficult, the ugly, nothing wasted) to those ends. So even though I don’t completely understand that plan, it does relieve much of the tension over which car I should choose and what I do the day after next. All I need to decide is whether to listen to His voice and live in a way that glorifies Him, over and over throughout my day, every day, and let Him accomplish His plan in the way He knows is best for me.


“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)


“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

What Is Mine to Do

Sometimes the hardest part of understanding God’s sovereign right-to-rule and my freedom to choose is knowing what I can control and what I cannot.

I can waste a lot of energy and turmoil in regret over the past: agonizing over decisions made that led down this path or that, punishing myself for words spoken too carelessly or for failing to speak at all, for selfish actions, for not living up to expectations (mine or anyone else’s)– the past can be a deep black hole there is no recovering from, for a borderline perfectionist. And the thing is, all the energy in the world cannot rewind time or give me a do-over. The past is done and I have no more influence there. The Apostle Paul is another one who left his own shameful past at the cross of Christ and walked on as a new man… “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13-14) I can choose to accept Christ’s forgiveness and let go of the past, trusting Him to use even my failures for good in the end. This I can do.

The future too can suck the life right out of me, if I let fear overtake me. I learned years ago to not even open the door to certain thoughts, because once over the threshold they grow to larger-than-life-sized and take over my mental landscape. Even the common ordinary worries can consume my thinking if I am not persistently trusting. And Jesus Himself gently reminds me that the future is not in my hands: “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) Some things are not mine to control, but His, and accepting that simple fact relieves me of a burden that is way too heavy for me to bear. And He reminds me of the attention He gives to the smallest of His creation, how well He knows what I need… “if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, He will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” (Matthew 6:30) I can choose to give my worries into His trustworthy hands and live at peace in the present moment. This I can do.

Jesus understood how deeply our hearts get entwined in the cares of this world we live in, how we see injustice and pain and need all around, how we wrestle with our own limitations in so many of the issues that concern us. He experienced firsthand the physical needs that weaken us, and the isolation of our souls trapped in these clay bodies– and although He laid down the infinite power that was His by right, He did not leave behind the limitless love that was His Father’s heart. He knows the temptations to fix and manipulate the world we walk in, the pull to get our needs met any way we can, the sorrow over all the broken pieces. And I am glad He tells me what is mine to choose and what is not, in the midst of it: “So don’t worry about these things….These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:31-33) I can choose to offer up my concerns and burdens to Him, to live with integrity and obey what He tells me to do in my corner of the world, and leave the bigger picture to His wise judgment. This I can do.

I can choose to set my heart on God above all else. I can set my energies to pursuing His plan for me…transformation into the likeness of Jesus and living a life worthy of Him. I can choose to grow in knowledge and understanding of His Truth. I can practice abiding in His presence and trusting in His provision in everyday situations. I can worship and give thanks and stand alert to the spiritual battle that rages unseen. And in case I get to thinking this is all very abstract and irrelevant to the daily situations of work and family, the Church-planter Paul offers pages and pages of letters, telling exactly how my choices should look on my street and in my home and in my church. This is what is mine to do: live as a child of God in the circumstances of my day, because the only thing I have the power to decide is who I will be today…how I will respond to the things around me, and how much I will listen to the Helper who lives in me. It is an everyday choice to bow to the Ruler on the throne of Heaven or to do things my way– Eve’s original choice from the Garden played out a million different ways in each of our lives, every day we walk this earth.

There is both warning and mercy in Jesus’ declaration,“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) There will be difficult things to face today. And again tomorrow. But we only get one day that is truly subject to our will– in this day, and Today only,  I am free to choose my words, my reactions, my priorities, how to spend my energies. Only these twenty-four hours to face at a time, and a new start in the morning, with His promised presence to help and to guide. This I can do.


“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’ ” (Matthew 11:29-30)


“I will stay, should the world by me fold,
Lift up Your name as the darkness falls;
I will wait, and hold fast to Your word,
Heart on Your heart, and my eyes on You.
God of wonder and God of grace,
Let my soul stand always to praise You,
Fix my eyes on Your perfect way,
And I’ll never look back.”
(Hillsong United)

It’s Hard to Be A Clay Pot

The sovereignty of God is a somewhat terrifying reality. Just ask Job. We are granted a glimpse into the throne room of Heaven to get the back story; we get to eavesdrop on God interviewing the reporting angels, specifically the renegade Lucifer, once known as the Morning Star and now called simply Adversary. But Job had no context for the sudden disaster that became his waking nightmare, other than what he had been taught about the Creator God by his father and grandfather. We can hear Lucifer’s challenge to God’s right to rule (just one more repetition of his millennia-old slogan in his bid for personal glory). We watch amazed, as God chooses Job to be His personal champion– Exhibit A in this round of the cosmic face-off– God’s demonstrated worth resting on the reactions of one man. But Job had no idea of the cause he was fighting for, this man who lived earnestly before God in the everyday, somewhere in the Arabian Peninsula, only a few generations removed from Abraham. Sounds rather grand on paper, like a super-hero story from ancient times. Except that Job was no super-hero, and the only power he had was faith in a God who held all things in His hands, when the world came crashing down. “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.” (Job 3:25) You don’t generally get an advance memo, when those kinds of things happen.

As a child I used to read that story for the exciting throne-room part and the happy ending where God rewards His champion for staying strong, and kind of skim through all the heart-searching in the middle. But as an adult, at some point you can’t help but read Job’s story from his perspective, because you know what it is like to face the unexpected, to see your biggest fears come to pass and know just how helpless you are to fix it. And you might even find yourself a kindred spirit to this man who wanted to do the right thing even when he was hurting, who hangs onto his faith even while he wrestles with the really big questions of “Where is God when it hurts?” and “If God is all-powerful, then why did He allow this to happen?” Under the prodding of his not-so-compassionate friends, Job even gets down to some of the deeper questions that we would rather not put into words at all, the kinds of thoughts that surface at night when everything else goes silent and fears are magnified: “What if everything I know about God isn’t even true?”…”Does He hear me when I cry out to Him? Does He care about me?” And the fact is that we don’t often get to know the reasons why things happen, and God doesn’t have to explain it to us at all. Maybe that’s why He bothered to record the back-story on Job for us, to to remind us that the picture is so much bigger than what we can see from here.

There’s a reason God uses the potter’s wheel as a metaphor for how He shapes lives. The prophets say it best: “…you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)  We are His idea, His creation, and our lives are being shaped to show His glory. Pottery-making is a personal undertaking– between the Potter, his wheel, and the malleable clay. It is messy, hands-on, time-consuming molding and steps of process layered on, with waiting in between. And pottery-making is the business of the Potter. All the clay has to do is bend and stretch and yield to His hands. And God promises not to stop; He will keep working until time runs out. Paul writes it down for us, in one of his letters: “…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) It’s a lot of work for something that will get banged up anyway, in everyday use. But that’s okay, because it isn’t really about the pots.  In the end it is all about the Creator and His worth, His right to rule, and His glory on display through His work.

And this is where it gets scary for things made of clay: fragile, ordinary, dispensible in the grand scheme of things, and yet living and self-aware. And sometimes we might wish He were not so persistent in His work, because it is the strong hands of the Potter that press till you think you might break, can’t breathe under the strain; His plan that heats the oven and chooses the glaze; His will that decides the use of the pots. “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ ” (Isaiah 45:9) I struggled with that when I was younger, not wanting to hear what God was saying through the prophet: “You aren’t in charge….You don’t get to decide what experiences will press, or where your path will lead you….Your life belongs to the Potter.” This is the meaning of the word sovereignty: God does whatever He wants, however He wants, whenever He wants, and to whomever He wants, for His own glory and His own purposes. It would be utterly terrifying, but for the nail holes on the Potter’s hands proclaiming His love for us, and the grace that still flows down every day to cover us, help us.

No wonder Jesus knew we would need a Comforter: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…” (John 14:16) The Apostle Paul knew that comfort first-hand: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) It is the Holy Spirit who reminds us of God’s love, when the way gets dark. He is the divine Helper who brings our thoughts back to rest on Truth when they run wild in the night, who opens our eyes to see God’s unfailing righteous character on which His sovereignty rests. He shows us what clay pots are best used for: to hold the living glory of God and let it shine out all of the cracks, to fulfill His plans for us in the average ordinary everydays, relying on His strength so that anyone watching will see His tremendous beauty and rejoice. We may never get the back-story, or learn where all this is heading, but that is because we are just the clay, and there is a Potter who takes care of all that. Scary to trust His right to rule? Sure it is, until we get to know Him better.

Job didn’t even have the blazing milestone of the cross on which to hang his faith, but still he wrestled to understand and believe, right down to the last dregs of hope and reason. And in the end, Job bowed down and worshiped, though He still had no explanation for what had happened to him….“I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6) Turns out that all he really needed was to see the Creator more clearly, and bow to His sovereignty; considering Job’s example as a real-life clay pot, I think he was a super-hero after all.


“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…’ ”  (Isaiah 46:9-10)


 “All along, let us remember we are not asked to understand, but simply to obey…”
Amy Carmichael, Candles in the Dark

Theology for Everyday Life

We are talking this week in small group about us women as theologians. Or perhaps more precisely, how theology is necessary to our everyday lives as women. And how we cheat ourselves if we write it off as abstract or irrelevant; how we strip away the very context of life, the framework that equips us to understand ourselves and others, enables us to make sense of our experiences on this earth.

Because theology isn’t about scholars in classrooms reading Greek, nor about preachers in pulpits, or very thick books full of long words. Theology is about a Person: theos meaning God, and logia meaning sayings or reasonings in the Greek…which is related to logos, meaning the word. As in “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Pure and simple, theology is knowing God through His written Word and the Word made flesh, and when you put it that way there is absolutely nothing more important to women.

For a woman to look in the mirror and accept herself as valuable, hand-made, one-of-a-kind, she needs to learn about the Creator who formed her and loves her with an everlasting love, be able to rejoice in Him. The Musician King sang it, millennia ago: “Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100:3-5) This is Truth that continues to speak into our everyday as women in the twenty-first century.

When a woman is trying to find meaning in her existence beyond the routine work week and mundane chores of running a household– growing weary of changing diapers and cleaning noses and floors and countertops, paying bills, and feeding an endless parade of hungry mouths– she needs to understand that the King has an over-arching purpose for her life, valuable roles to fill in her families and community. And maybe it is in those very acts of everyday service, and the way she shines His light into the lives of others, that she is building for the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church Planter reminds us, “…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17) Because we belong to Him, when we serve in His name it is all for His glory and He promises to use it for good.

A woman reaching for something better than where she has been needs to explore the concepts of grace and forgiveness, understand that there is a Savior who makes us new. It is no use trying to find a new start in life without getting to know the God who gives second chances, and I hear Paul again, saying “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The past can be left at the foot of the cross, covered in the Grace that poured down from divine hands and feet, and the weary traveler can press on, covered in the righteousness of Christ. This is what we need to know, as women, if we are going to accept forgiveness and move past our sins and mistakes.

As women who care deeply about others we have no way to process the deep sorrows of difficult marriages, and handicapped children, and cancer, and abuse, and suicide, and loss… without the context of what the Word says about sin and disobedience and free will. And where else can we find hope besides knowing the promises of God and trusting His faithfulness? It’s ridiculous to say theology doesn’t matter for women, as if faith is useless to the feminine gender– or worse, as if we aren’t capable of a relationship with God.

What we believe about God makes all the difference in how we respond to Him, how we interpret the things we feel-see-hear-touch. How well we know Him determines how much we can trust Him. And there’s this kids’ song playing in my car:

“You were there through the darkest times,
In every victory and every trial,
And we would hold on to Your promise.
You gave us life when we had no hope;
You gave us signs so that we would know
That we could hold on to your promise.

You said,’I AM
The rock that you stand on.
I AM your light and salvation.
I will never ever let you go.
I AM the God who redeemed you.
I AM the one who never leaves you,
Lord of all, Beginning and the End.
I AM.'”
(Jay Stocker)

Knowing who God is gives us a context for understanding life. That’s what theology really is all about.






“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:8-9)






“Spiritual disciplines are not about getting God to love you — but about getting your heart in a place so you can hear Him say it.” (Ann VosKamp)