I don’t know why… God didn’t stop the bullet that took the life of a seven-year-old girl in Chicago last weekend; God allowed for miraculous births in the same weekend in multiple hospitals around the world.
I don’t know why… Hundreds of people flocked to my hometown to defy social distancing measures and put others at risk of COVID-19 so they could drink and splash around in the shallows of a small lake. I don’t know why they left garbage and excrement in the lake and in people’s yards and in the high school parking lot. Thousands of men and women risked their lives to maintain order and serve the public–donning their uniforms and braving the heat and the chaos to serve people who despise them, spit on them, defame them, and vilify them.
I don’t know why… God made snakes. And mosquitoes. And moles. And giraffes.
I don’t know why… On some days God feels so distant and silent; and other times He seems to be surrounding me and permeating me and holding me tight. I don’t know how His word can sometimes feel stale and sometimes cut right through me. I can’t fathom how God can be everywhere—every-when! That He knew me before all the history books and ancient empires and cities and shipwrecks and wars and all the stories I take for granted were even imagined…that He knows me now– every thought; every cell; every hair, every breath…that He knows me a million years from now. I don’t know why He chose to make me, and preserve my life, and bless me with days and hours, with friends and family, and teachers and tasks, challenges and changes.
I don’t know why. I don’t know how.
But praise God, I know WHO. I know who made me. I know who holds me. I know who has the power to make good come from even the worst circumstances. I know who wins the ultimate victory over death and sin and disease and destruction.
And He walks with me and He talks with me—And He tells me I am His own!
Social media is a dangerous place these days. Everyone is an expert on something– pain, medicine, race relations, politics, religion… I’m an expert, too. I am an expert in my own opinion! I know all I ever need to know about how I feel, what I’ve experienced, how I would solve all the world’s problems, and what everyone else should know, do, and think.
And when I pray, I am an expert in what I want, and what God should do–right?
Turns out, the Bible disagrees with me. Prayer is not about telling God what I think He should do. And one of the things He doesn’t want me to do is go about telling everyone how much I know and how right I am about everything.
I know– it flies in the face of common thought and practice. But my words are not to be about how good I am, how smart I am, how righteous I am, how “woke” I am, or how tolerant I am. My words shouldn’t be all about ME. When I do speak (or write), it should be for one of four reasons:
To praise– to bring honor and glory to God for who He is and all that He has done. To rehearse and proclaim His good deeds and righteous acts so that others may hear and praise Him, too.
To encourage, build up, edify, or heal others. Words have the power to bring hope, energy, confidence, light, and love. They also have the power to destroy, devalue, and discourage. Finally, words have the power to suck energy, waste time, and bring confusion and chaos. When I speak carelessly, selfishly, or foolishly, it does nothing to build up others. (And it probably doesn’t do me much good, either!)
To speak truth and stand up for righteousness–not in an arrogant way, and not to win “points”, but to honestly and firmly defend what I know to be true. I must realize that there will be others who will stand in opposition to the truth and refuse to hear what I say. Others will misconstrue and misrepresent the truth. It is NOT for me to make them believe– only to stand up and give voice to the truth when I see it under attack.
To express unique and creative thoughts, which is part of praising my maker. Everyone has SOMETHING to say– something that expresses their inner thoughts and unique perspectives. That should cause me to take great joy. And it should cause me to take the same joy in helping others find their voice and share their stories and ideas. Not because I’m “right” about the world, or because they are “right” in their ideas. But because God gave each of us a voice. I can listen and not agree; they can do the same. But sometimes, in the act of listening, we do more to come to understanding and agreement than we ever do by speaking. And in being allowed to speak freely, we might listen to ourselves more carefully, too.
Jesus spoke wonderful parables, deep and thoughtful prayers, piercing sermons, and tender words of encouragement and love. But He also listened–not only to the critics and enemies, but to those who hid in the shadows; those who were outcast and oppressed; those whose voices were drowned out by the crowds. He was RIGHT! More than anyone ever, He had the right to be heard…He chose to listen as well as speak. Jesus was more interested in being Himself than being “right.” More interested in showing love than showing off. More interested in understanding than overpowering. Jesus spoke–but He also laughed, and wept, and lived, and listened.
A few months ago, I went to the theater to see the movie “Paul, the Apostle of Christ.” It was an excellent movie, not the least because I found so much of it relevant to what is happening in the world today. The movie was centered around Paul’s time in prison in Rome; the upheaval and persecution facing the early church, and the looming certainty that Paul would be martyred and his words and leadership sorely missed. The church in Rome was facing division– some were militantly opposed to the corruption in Rome under Nero, and wanted to form a rebellion. Others wanted to flee Rome in hope of supporting outlying churches, starting new churches, or just finding a safer haven. Still others were losing hope and wanted to give up or hide.
The movie also covered (in a series of flashbacks) scenes of Paul’s earlier life. I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but this part of Paul’s life is covered in the Bible, so I will stick to the facts presented there, rather than the drama from the screen…
Saul of Tarsus was both a Jew and a Roman citizen by birth. He had studied God’s word intensely his whole life, and became a Pharisee. He had studied under some of the greatest scholars of his age–in today’s world, he would have been one of the greatest legal minds of our time– a superstar in the arena of law, philosophy, and logic. Of all the people in Jerusalem and throughout the Jewish world, Paul KNEW right from wrong. He KNEW the words of God, the laws of God, the traditions of God’s people. The result of all that knowledge was an obsession with wiping out those people (Jews, especially, but also Gentiles) who followed Jesus of Nazareth and “The Way.” Saul was a man filled with righteous anger, and a zeal to have everyone conform to what was “right.” He was a man of power and influence– a man to be feared and respected. In his letters, we can still see some of that intensity and the way he has of arguing both sides to their logical ends. But something happened to Saul..something that changed his entire future, including his name.
Paul, the Apostle of Christ, was still a Jew and a Roman citizen. He was the same man who had studied vigorously and knew the laws of Moses and God’s words through the centuries written by prophets and historians and psalmists. But the Paul we see in scripture, while still bearing the intensity of his youth, is a man of gratitude and peace. Here is a man who works steadily with his hands for honest but meager wages compared to what he might have made as a Pharisee. He is a man who boldly faces down even Peter and James in Jerusalem, but who nevertheless takes orders from a council made up of former fishermen and tradesmen. Paul undergoes flogging, arrests, prison, cold, hardship, physical pain, poverty, and disgrace with the kind of stoic acceptance, and even joy, that makes him a great hero of the early church. Never once does he return to the anger that drove him to persecute others who did not agree with him. Instead, he is willing to be the victim of persecution at the hands of those he used to serve.
I was scrolling through Facebook the other night, and I chanced upon posts from two women I know. Both are about the same age, both mothers of five children, and both are practicing Christians. The first woman was posting about two recent difficulties faced by her family, and how God had been faithful and gracious in spite of a huge loss and a tense situation that could have turned into another tragedy. She spoke of God’s answers to prayer, and how their family was reminded of God’s goodness as people came alongside at just the right moment, and the loss was not as great as it might have been. I was inspired and encouraged by the way she saw God’s love, and gave credit to all who had helped them.
The second woman spoke in vicious tones about how she would not associate with certain Christians who hold political and social views she sees as hateful. She cursed fellow followers of Christ for being “anti-Jesus,” and condemned several of her early teachers and pastors. I read her remarks with great sadness, because I remember her as a younger woman, eagerly memorizing scripture and being a loving and encouraging example to others. I also read her remarks with pain, because I think she includes me in the “hateful” group based solely on the type of church I attend.
It is not my place to say that one woman is a “better” Christian than the other– on another day, their FB posts might cause me to think very differently. And God sees more than just what we post on FB or say in passing conversation–He knows our every thought and motive. So I want to be careful–these women, though similar in some superficial ways, lead very different lives and have very different experiences of following God. But I saw in their posts two ways of “seeing” Christ.
When Saul of Tarsus, in his anger and zeal, traveled toward Damascus intending to kill people he may have never met, he was already a crusader for Jehovah– ready to mete out justice against anyone who didn’t meet his standards. He KNEW all about God. He knew what it took to be righteous.
But when he actually encountered Christ– he was knocked off his horse, blinded and overwhelmed by a vision. And when Christ spoke to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), Saul didn’t recognize the voice of the very God he so proudly served. Saul remained blinded for three days, but his vision was never the same again.
As Paul, he became a man of prayer– his letters are filled with prayers for the well-being and spiritual growth of those he misses and longs to see. They overflow with doxologies and prayers of worship for the Savior he loves and serves with gladness. He can’t stop talking about God’s goodness– to him, to Israel throughout the centuries, and to the Gentiles who now have access to the throne of Grace. He still has harsh things to say to some of the followers who “don’t get it.” To those who want to compromise with sin or go back to legalism. But he pleads with them; he doesn’t throw stones.
It can be very frustrating in today’s world and in our society to see Christians who have very different ideas about worship styles, ways of interacting with others, even ways of living out the words of Christ. Sometimes, it seems that fellow Christians are blind to the needs of the poor, or the sins of their friends, or the hypocrisy in their lifestyle. I think scripture gives us a clear directive:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
Matthew 7:3-5 (English Standard Version)
We should not rush to condemnation, name-calling, and finger-pointing. Instead, we should do a “vision” test and see if we are looking and acting in love or in self-righteous hypocrisy.
God doesn’t want us to be blinded by the light of our own knowledge and self-righteousness. Instead, He wants us to walk in the light of His Word–His Word made flesh! May we live in the light of Paul’s example of prayer, loving correction, and running the good race.
It appears on our money in the United States. It is our official national motto, “In God We Trust.” See article here But is it true?
In recent years, many people and groups have tried to challenge this simple four-word phrase. Some claim that it violates the “separation of church and state”. However, the phrase is not specific to any one religion– most of the major world religions (and most of those practiced in America) agree that there is (at least) one God, who can and should be trusted.
I actually worry a little less about those who are challenging the phrase than about those who simply ignore it or give it lip service. And I pray that I don’t fall into the latter group, but in certain moments, I can’t honestly say that I am trusting fully in God. Instead, I tend to trust in various “God-like” things:
I trust my own intuition or my own reason
I trust “experts”
I trust “the science”
I trust “the numbers”
I trust in the money that bears the motto
I trust in my own strengths and abilities
I trust in my husband
I trust my church
I trust my family
I trust what I read on Wikipedia or what I look up on Google
I trust what my friends send me on Facebook or Twitter
I trust what “they” say on TV
I trust what I read on a cereal box or food label
I trust headlines
I trust photos and videos I see on the news
I trust what I hear on the radio
I trust celebrity endorsements
I trust public opinion
I trust my feelings…
Of course, some of the things listed above are obviously suspect; others seem reliable and true. It’s hard to argue against some of the things on the list– it’s hard to doubt what I see, what can be measured, or what has proved true in the past. And yet, I have been hurt and betrayed by many of these things– my feelings are unreliable; my friends or family give me advice with good intentions, but bad results; images and even eyewitness accounts don’t always tell the whole story, and, increasingly, honesty and integrity are being crushed out by compromise and expediency. “If it bleeds, it leads…” “The truth is evolving..” “We all have our own ‘truth’..”
God’s truths are eternal and righteous; that doesn’t make them easy or comfortable. Sometimes it seems as though God takes a stand on both sides of an important issue– or that He takes no side at all– leaving us confused and wanting quick and well-defined answers. I have friends who agonize about being on the “wrong side of history” with many current issues. Let’s face it– no one wants to be on the “wrong side” of anything. We draw lines and pick sides– both sides can’t be “right”, can they? So how can we know if we’re trusting God if God is silent or ambiguous?
In the end, there are a few guidelines that have helped me be more confident and have acted as anchors for my faith:
Reading the Bible: not a verse here, or a chapter there to support a particular action or position–consistent reading THROUGH the Bible– from beginning to end, or at least through an entire book at a time.
Asking tough questions: I would love to assume that I already know the answers or have the “right” opinions, but if I can’t handle being challenged; if I never have any questions or can’t ask the ones I keep pushing down, that should be a sign. Sometimes the more questions I ask, the more I have! But, as uncomfortable as it is in the beginning, it is better to ask, and chase after an uncomfortable answer than to ignore the question or pretend to have all the answers.
LISTENING— really listening, whether to friends who seem to know all the answers (see above) , or those with really good questions. It also means listening to those with whom I am tempted to disagree, and to those with whom I passionately disagree. Listening is not the same as accepting or agreeing, but it is important for at least two reasons:
Every person is made in the image of God– how I treat them is a reflection of my love for God. I will fall short; I will still hurt people’s feelings, whether or not that is my intention, but if I’m doing it through pride, hatred, or disdain, I am dishonoring God.
Second, I cannot say I understand a person if I’m cutting them off, talking over them, and finishing their sentences for them. Often, while we may disagree on semantics or details, it turns out we agree on more than we assume we know about “the other side.”
Praying for wisdom and discernment. It sounds odd to those who trust in their own understanding, but God WILL open your eyes, ears, and mind to truth, even if it’s being twisted, covered up, hidden, or falsified. God promises, again and again, to give wisdom freely to those who ask. He doesn’t want us to be confused and frustrated– but He does want us to seek out His truth instead of wallowing in the bog of “little white lies” and obfuscation around us.
Waiting and listening for the Holy Spirit to prompt my conscience. This is much like asking for wisdom, but more subtle, and in some ways more dramatic. The Holy Spirit is our guide and counselor (think Jiminy Cricket, but much more spiritual and always right). Even if I’m not aware enough to know what to ask or what to question, the Holy Spirit will often prompt me. Have you ever been reading along, or listening to someone’s story, and suddenly you just get the sense that something is “wrong”– you’re not getting the whole truth; or there is a detail that stands out and doesn’t make sense, and it keeps niggling at your conscience? Yeah– that. Pay attention to that– even amidst the graphic images and angry voices surrounding you.
Keeping track of God’s faithfulness– I don’t maintain this blog because I “wish” that God was faithful, or because someone managed to convince me that this is what I “should” believe. God has proven faithful through all my questions. I know I can trust Him because I have trusted Him through good times and difficult times; times when it didn’t make sense, when it wasn’t popular, and when circumstances pointed in other directions. I have seen God’s hand at work in history and prophecy and personal testimony in ways that defy expectation and explanation.
And whether of not it’s printed on my money; whether or not it’s popular or “patriotic” or punishable by law, I will continue to trust in God. He is trustworthy and true; faithful in mercy and love; sovereign and altogether righteous. In God I have trusted; In God I trust; and In God I will continue to trust.