I Don’t Know…

I spent a good portion of my adult life working in positions where my value rested in my ability to impart knowledge and answer questions. As a teacher, my job was to guide students into a base of knowledge about the English language (and especially spoken communication) so that they would be prepared to adequately speak, read, write, explain, defend, and use it. I was expected to know enough about grammar, spelling, connotations of words, nonverbal communication, sound logic (and fallacies to avoid), presentation, tone of voice, etc., to enable students to improve their communication and use language more effectively in their careers, academic endeavors, business dealings, and even in personal relationships. If they had questions about word choices, written or spoken directions, propaganda techniques, advertising tricks, euphemisms, or a hundred other topics, I was expected to have an answer– and one that would shape their ability to succeed.
When I made the transition to working in a public library, my job was to have answers– which books were at the appropriate reading level for various elementary students; where could someone find information about manatees; who wrote the Captain Underpants books (Dav Pilkey); did our library loan out encyclopedia volumes or sets of early reader books; could our library borrow a rare book from another library; what was the capital of Uganda (Kampala); did we have books that might help a child coping with the loss of a pet, or a parent struggling with toilet-training their toddler; where could someone find … the list was endless and extraordinarily varied. My job was to have an answer– or know where to find it.

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At no time was it expected that I would simply answer “I don’t know.” Even if I didn’t know in the moment, I was expected to search until I found an answer that was sufficient and satisfactory. However, in each case, I found situations where my “answer,” while satisfactory to me, and even to everyone else I had dealt with, was not enough to satisfy the person in front of me. Sometimes, I had misunderstood the question and given an answer to what I heard or assumed I had heard. I needed to listen some more, or ask for clarification before I could answer the question correctly. Sometimes, the other person was looking for an answer that didn’t exist– either they wanted confirmation of a falsehood they believed to be true, or they wanted a single, absolute answer to a question that was complex and open-ended. In rare cases, there were questions for which I could find no satisfactory answer– it doesn’t mean that there was none, but I had not found it, nor had I found someone else who could find it in the time allowed. I might find an answer that was not satisfactory, or I might find seven possible answers, but not one that stood out from the others, or I would find nothing but dead ends.


The Apostle Peter tells each follower of Christ:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

1 Peter 3:15 & 16 (NIV via biblegateway.com)–emphasis added
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This does not mean that we must completely satisfy everyone who asks– the curious neighbor who knows nothing of the Bible and has dozens of confusing questions, or the nay-saying agnostic with a single “gotcha” question. Nor must we fight and fuss and pound the Bible until we “win” every theological and metaphysical argument–because we won’t! There are many things about the Bible, about Spiritual matters, etc., for which we will not have absolute or definitive answers–and neither will they! (That’s why they ask, sometimes.) And those things that satisfy our longings, our questions, our doubts– sometimes don’t meet the needs of the one who is asking, not because the answers are deficient, but because we are all different in our needs, and understanding, and experiences.

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Some people will listen to us merely to scoff and try to make us lose heart or make us look foolish. Others are afraid that our answer will make them feel lost or guilty. Some people have been hurt by others who have used the Bible as a cudgel or a whip– bringing shame, judgment, and contention wherever they go. We must not expect that our answers, our arguments, even our favorite scripture verses– that WE are enough to satisfy the questions, the doubts, and the spiritual needs of everyone we meet.

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What we should always have is an answer for the hope that is in us– why have we chosen to believe? Why do we choose to trust when we do not know all the answers? And our answers should be given with gentleness and respect– not arrogance and snide judgment. I don’t have hope because I know answers to tough questions. In order to have that kind of hope, I would need to know all the answers to all the questions– even those I haven’t asked or imagined! I don’t know about the future– I can’t explain why God allows evil (there are compelling arguments for some reasons, but no absolute answer that stops the question)–I don’t know how God’s Spirit moves, or why He drew me to Himself. I cannot “prove” God to someone who is determined to deny Him– not because God doesn’t exist, but because He will not force anyone to accept Him in this life, and especially not because I said a few words based on my limited understanding. My job is not to explain God–only God is big enough and wise enough to do that– but to reflect His character in a changed nature, and to explain what God has done in my life to effect that change. My hope is in the ONE I choose to trust– the ONE who does have the answers! God has not promised to answer all our “what ifs” or our “whys”– but He has promised to answer all our needs, and to BE the answer in every situation, no matter how daunting.

Hello, My Name Is…

Have you ever been to a conference for work, or a large meeting or convention, where you were required to wear a temporary name badge?  It might be a simple sticker with a space to write your name, or it might be a pre-printed card set inside a clear plastic pouch attached to a lanyard or a safety pin.  It may have a stripe or box in a bright color, and/or an introductory word or phrase, such as “Hello..” or “My name is…”
Perhaps you’ve had to wear a name tag for work on a daily basis, or you have to carry an ID tag pinned to your shirt, lapel, or around your neck or waist.

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Such tags serve a purpose; they are functional, if boring, and even if they are also annoying, they are temporary.  Some of them give a little more information, such as where you are from or what company, or plant, or building you represent.  Name tags make it easy to identify someone and put a name to a face.  But a name tag cannot reveal much beyond a person’s name.  Sometimes, a name tag doesn’t even meet that simple criterion.  I have a simple name, Lila, that is commonly misspelled and misspoken.  I have had people look right at my name tag and call me, “Lisa,” “Lily,” or “Leah.” Wearing my name on my shirt or hanging from my neck may (or may not) make me identifiable.  It does not make me knowable or known.

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When we come before the Throne of God, we need no name tag.  God not only knows our name, He knows us intimately– our thoughts, our attitude, our fears, our hopes, our weaknesses and strengths. He has numbered the hairs on our heads, and knows the words we will say before they reach our tongues.

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This knowledge might cause us apprehension– there can be no hiding from God–even if we can lie to ourselves about our actions, motivations, and feelings, we can’t lie to Him.  But this intimate knowledge should also ease our every fear– God knows all about us, and loves us unconditionally.

Prayer can be many things– joyful, contrite, needy– but it never needs to be small talk!

Everything We Need

2 Peter 1:3-8 New International Version (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you ask most people what they need, you will not hear the items listed in this passage of scripture.  Most people view needs in very personal and concrete terms– food, water, shelter, safety, air…we need these to exist during our life on earth.  God cares about our physical and most basic needs.  But most people have other “needs” that they try to meet with what the Apostle Peter refers to here as “evil desires”.  We “need” to feel loved– but we end up in unhealthy relationships, or fleeting relationships that don’t meet our need.  We “need” to feel secure and worthwhile– but we end up feeling fearful and ashamed.  We “need” to achieve; to find fulfillment and worth in our actions, words, relationships, and legacy–but, too often, our efforts lead us to compromise the very dreams and ambitions we started with, leading us to mediocrity or even disaster.

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Jesus, through His divine power, has given us everything we need–everything!  His death and resurrection provided the way for us to find true forgiveness and new life.  We won’t find it in any of the things we think we “need”– a new job, or a new relationship; a new car or a new cause.

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Over the years, I have returned to this passage many times.  There is a lot to unpack in just a few verses.  One of the things that always “gets” me about this passage is that I want to just leap from Faith to Love without the steps in-between.  The world needs love– I need love– and I want to spread love, reflect love, and be known for loving others.  God is Love, and showed His love through Christ– I believe in God and trust Christ.  Voila!– He has given me everything I need, so I should be loving.  But Peter writes what he knows very well.  Following Jesus, learning from Him, growing to be more like Him–it begins with Faith, but it grows through discipleship.  I “loved” people before I had Faith in Christ.  I may “feel” love for others, but if my thoughts and actions are not being  transformed by His Spirit; or if I continue to act out of habit or selfish impulse, my “love” will be corrupted and compromised by the world.   It will be “my” love and not God’s love working through me.  For that to happen, I need to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance and all the rest.

And adding these virtues requires that I humble myself to admit that I am not “good”, that I don’t already “know” everything…that I “need” to depend on God for any goodness, wisdom, discipline, strength to persevere, etc.

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God is Good– He has already made provision for me to have everything I really need.  He will guide me every step of the way; giving me all that I need when and how I need it most.  I don’t “need” to worry or run myself ragged trying to earn God’s approval or favor.  But I do “need” to trust that God will continue to work in me and through me for His Glory.  And I need to come daily before His throne to listen and learn from Him, and reach out daily to go through the steps of turning Faith into Love in action.

Make Every Effort…

2 Peter 1:3-9 New International Version (NIV) (Biblegateway.com)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

There are a great number of Christians who face discouragement and frustration in their daily life.  Sometimes, this is because they are busy looking at their circumstances and feeling overwhelmed by them.  But sometimes, there is a general discontent; a malaise of lukewarm commitment and lackluster results that can cause once fruitful Christians to wander away from the faith and even disparage their former churches.  “I wasn’t being ‘fed'”… “It just wasn’t working for me”…”I got tired of the persecution (not genuine persecution, but the feeling of being mocked and unpopular at parties and reunions)”…”the church just isn’t relevant anymore.”  These are a few of the excuses I have heard from people  who were once joyful and eager to share their faith.  I don’t doubt that they experienced Salvation– but they are missing out on sanctification– they have done little to build on the solid rock.  They blame the church, their pastor, other Christians, even God for their lack of spiritual growth.

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Yet, in this passage, the Apostle Peter tells us that Christ has given us EVERYTHING we need to live a godly life– not the church, not other Christians, not the experience we get from a worship service– all we need has been given to us through Christ; his death and resurrection; his promises and his example of holy living.

But, like any gift, it must be used to be effective.  A lamp may look good sitting on a table, but if it isn’t plugged in and turned on (or filled with oil and lit), it does little more than gather dust.  Similarly, if I don’t maintain tools or appliances, I can’t expect them to continue to be useful– they will get corroded, filthy, worn, and broken.

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Peter urges us to USE the gifts we have been given.  This is not a call to base our salvation on works, or to make a checklist of “good things” to make us a “better” person.  Rather, it is a blue print of building on the gifts we have to become more productive, more secure, more established in our Christian walk– to become the mature people God means for us to be. When we don’t follow this blueprint, Peter warns, something awful happens.  We become nearsighted–we narrow our focus on our own experience and our own resources, rather than utilizing the wonderful gifts God has made available to us.

  • Faith–it starts here.  If we don’t trust in God’s provision, His mercy, and His power, we won’t build on the right foundation.
  • Goodness–Such a deceptively simple word, but it is packed with power.  Post-modernists like to sneer at the idea of goodness.  It seems dull, meek, bland, and insufficient.  At the same time, we want to assure ourselves (and everyone else) that we are, in our own daily life, good…good enough to earn respect, better than someone else down the street, “good” just because…we are not “bad”.  It is difficult to concede that, left to our own devices, we will not achieve goodness automatically– it takes effort to deny our own desires and whims to do the right thing, the just thing, the “good” thing.
  • Knowledge–Sure, I “know” what the Bible says…right?  I already “know” what Jesus would do– that’s why I wear the WWJD bracelet– to remind me of what I already know…How many Christians actually make a daily effort to learn more about Christ?  How many blindly stumble along, confident that what little we know is more than enough?
  • Self Control– Not going around pointing out everyone else’s fault, but working to keep our own anger, bitterness, selfishness, envy, etc., in check.  Actually making the effort and not adopting a false humility that says, “I know I still struggle with ________, but God’s not finished with me yet!”
  • Perseverance–Staying the course, even when it doesn’t “feel” good, or effective.  Trusting that God IS still at work, instead of just using that as an excuse for not making a genuine effort to improve our relationship with Him.  How many of us have missed out on blessings and miracles because we simply threw in the towel one day early, or didn’t climb that last step.
  • Godliness, Mutual Affection, Love–I’ve put these three together, not because they are the same, or because there is nothing to say about each one, but because I think this is where many Christians want to be, without going through the previous steps.  We want to think that we are not only Godly, but God-like in our habits, words, thoughts, etc.  We want to think that because we have a close-knit group of friends at church (our Holy Huddle) that we have mastered Mutual Affection.  And we think that if we love at least the idea of people who are different from us, people who are oppressed or hurting, that we are not “hateful”–we deserve a crown of glory.

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Unfortunately, I have fallen into the trap of wanting the results and the benefits of Christ’s gifts without the “every effort” they deserve.  Saying “hello” to neighbors on the street or defending “morality” on FB is not the same as taking up my cross.  And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with being friendly or standing up for what’s right– it’s a start.  But like the lamp that isn’t turned on, I’m not sending out light– I’m not fulfilling my purpose.  And until I make “every effort”, not just the ones that look good or feel good, or seem easiest or most important, I can’t shine in the darkness around me.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

We experienced some storms last week, and while we didn’t have a lot of damage from the winds and rain, my husband and I lost our internet connection over the weekend.  No wireless internet meant no Facebook, no WordPress, no e-mail, and no cash register at our little shop downstairs.  We had to do every transaction by hand until we could rig up something so our smart phone could accept cards; no new chip cards, no Apple Pay or PayPal.  And while our phone could begin to accept limited credit payments, it could not provide any printed receipts, nor could it do double duty– we either had a phone or a point-of-sale device, but not both!

It was an inconvenience, but not a disaster.  I thought about thousands of people who are stuck in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and blizzards who have no electricity, no phone lines, no cell service, no roads, no water or sewer lines–cut off from common necessities and basic communication.  Suddenly, an emergency becomes even more tragic because of the isolation, and the inability to ask for help or to hear any message of hope.  (Of course, my husband would like me to put in a short plug here about the advantages of amateur radio– the radios can run on battery power and still connect over hundreds of miles!)

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Isolation is an earthly concept.  God is eternally Triune.  He created us for relationship; from the very beginning, he declared that it is not good for “man” to be alone (Genesis 2:18)  God instituted marriage, and families, and communities so that we would stay connected, and he himself came to walk and talk with mankind in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.  It is mankind who hid from God and broke off communication– one of the effects of Sin is the desire to run away, to separate, to isolate and cut off relationships and break off contact.

That is one reason that prayer is so basic; so essential.  It is a lifeline to the one who loves us best, who knows what we need, and has the power to hear us, to help us, to lift us up wherever we may be, whatever our circumstances.

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But sometimes, even when we want to talk to God, it seems impossible to speak or feel like he hears us.  Sometimes, we are the ones who can’t come up with words, or can’t settle our minds to seek his face.  Sometimes, we pour out our hearts and wait in silence for an answer.   Why should it be that just when we need it most, prayer seems the hardest?

I wish I had a pithy, perfect answer.  I don’t know.  I have a few incomplete thoughts, though:

  • what comes easily has less value to us.  Cheap and pointless conversation doesn’t make us work hard, but it also leaves us empty and unsatisfied.  Crying out to God is hard–it humbles us, it strips us bare and uncovers all our pretenses and subterfuge.  The true depth of our need is ripped out of us like a tumor, and it hurts, but it is a healing hurt.  Waiting in silence can cause us to become restless and to doubt, but it also can cause us to listen more attentively– we strain to hear the answer; we stop the white noise of busyness and half-hearted hand-wringing, and listen with our whole being.  And the smallest whisper– that still, small voice– has the power of the first rain after a long drought.  We are revitalized and our strength renewed as never before.

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  • sometimes, though not always, we find prayer difficult because we have not really prayed for a long time (if ever)– we have developed a habit of saying words to the empty air and thinking that the words themselves hold some power of hope or magic or self-fulfilling prophecy.  When life’s realities cannot be wished away with simple words, we search for distractions, for other types of words, for other “realities”, when we should be searching for our maker and the lover of our souls.
  • sometimes, it is a matter of unacknowledged or unconfessed sin that keeps us from breaking through in prayer.  However, there are many people who will use this as a default position, and that, too, is wrong.  Jesus had such difficulty in praying at Gethsemane that he sweat drops of blood— NOT because of unconfessed sin, but because his heart was that overwhelmed.  Still, we should examine ourselves to see if we have started to move away from God– better to turn back than to go father afield.
  • sometimes, as with Christ in the Garden, our hearts are just overwhelmed in the moment– it’s hard to breathe!  It’s hard to go on; it’s hard to ask for help; it’s hard to keep the faith.  Just because it’s difficult, don’t give up– even if all you can do is groan or whimper–even if it feels like God has closed up the heavens and left you alone–don’t give up.  God DOES hear, he DOES care.  Sometimes, we are inches from victory– don’t give up!

And what can we do during those times?  Again, I wish I had better answers, but what I have, I want to share– some from my own experience, some wisdom from others, some of both:

  • Learn to “pray outside the box”–
    • Sing–sing the blues, sing an old hymn, sing along with the radio, sing like nobody else is listening
    • Write it out– write a letter, write an angry letter if you have to– write a rant, write a poem, write out all your questions
    • Move– dance, pace, run, punch a pillow, do some sit-ups, mop the floor, scrub the sink– as you get a rhythm going, add your thoughts or questions to your movements
    • Cry it out– it’s ok to cry, moan, sob, weep, or just stare into space and rock yourself to sleep after all the tears have dried up.  Jesus wept (John 11:35)– what makes us think that we can’t?

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  • Count your blessings
    • Make a list of what you have; what you have to be grateful for; what you have experienced and enjoyed now or in the past
    • Make a list of your questions, concerns, needs, wants, wishes–Now think back ten years and make a list of what you wanted then, and how many of those concerns have been answered, altered, or forgotten.
    • Put yourself in another time or place– what do you have here and now that others lack?  How do your present troubles compare to what others have had to deal with?
  • Ramp up your pursuit of God in other areas–
    • Search for answers in His word
    • Seek the companionship of someone you trust who will help you keep on going
    • Seek out counselors, web sites, and/or a church group or family who can keep you from becoming isolated

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The single most important thing is to continue the pursuit– seek God with all your heart–and you will find him sufficient through the silent times, as well as through the roaring of the fiercest storms.

 

Why Ask Why?

I’ve been asking myself “why?” a lot lately in regards to this blog.  Why am I spending my time writing about prayer?  Wouldn’t I be better served to spend my time productively– making something useful, keeping the apartment cleaner, going to the gym–even spending more time in prayer instead of dissecting it and babbling on to an invisible audience?

But the truth is that I began writing this blog in response to another question, a more basic question thrown at me (not personally, but thrown out to all who believe in the power of prayer)–  “WHY?”  They weren’t asking the question because they really wanted to know my reasons for praying; instead, they wanted to make me feel ashamed and embarrassed, to doubt God’s goodness and my faith.  In fact, they weren’t asking “WHY” so much as asking “HOW”.  How can you continue to believe in God and continue praying in light of random shootings, manifest injustices, rampant corruption, and senseless tragedies?  How can you say that God is good, when people continue to get away with evil?  If God exists, where is he, and how can you just sit back and trust in him?

The fact that I DO continue to trust God doesn’t mean I don’t have questions and concerns, and even righteous anger about the state of the world and the tragedies that fill it.  The questions come pouring out, sometimes keeping me awake at night, sometimes catching me at a raw moment and they are important questions.  To pretend that I never wrestle or struggle with the questions is to say that good and evil, justice and mercy, that God himself– none of it really matters enough to seek an answer.  God forbid!!

But there is a vast difference in asking “Why?” and asking “How? or How come?”

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Consider a small child who asks, “Why is the sky blue?”  (Don’t you just love the inquisitiveness of small children?)  “Well…” I can explain that the sky itself isn’t really blue…I can go on to talk about scientific principals– the property of light, refraction through water molecules and dust particles, and more..I can point out that the sky doesn’t always appear blue, etc.  At the end of my long and factual discourse (assuming the child hasn’t already interrupted), s/he is likely to simply shake their head and ask, “But, why?”  WHY?  Because I haven’t really answered the heart of the question.  I explained HOW, not WHY.

Now suppose I don’t feel like being pedantic, and I answer “Because.”  You can guess what comes next.  The child will ask, “Because WHY?”  Because “Because” isn’t a sufficiently satisfactory answer.  The child wants more; he/she yearns for more comprehension; more understanding.

As an adult, we find this kind of questioning frustrating and annoying.  I think it is because we have been conditioned to think that questions either have a “How come” explanation that sweeps away much of the wonder and mystery, or a “because” answer that leaves us unsatisfied.

As an adult, I may well ask, “Why is there evil in the world?”  This is an important question; one I should be asking.  Experts can and will give me all kinds of “how” answers– how the brain is wired, how emotions work, how society has failed various groups of people, how political structures create oppression, how religion teaches intolerance, how poor diet or lack of sunny days … there are a million explanation of “how” evil exists or why it persists.  And many of these explanations contradict each other, so they can’t even give a conclusive answer.  But just throwing up my hands, and saying, “just because” does nothing to answer my question OR provide understanding that could help alleviate the effects of evil in the world.  “Because” communicates my powerlessness to comprehend.

BUT

Something amazing happens when I stop merely asking people for answers to these questions and start asking God.  I don’t get a magical, comprehensive, incontrovertible answer to life’s thorny questions.  God doesn’t send me a “cheat sheet” with all the “right” answers.  I’m not suddenly an expert on good and evil or what should be done to eliminate crime and disease and poverty.  I still have to wade through the “how come” explanations and use my limited judgment to decide what course of action I can take to try to make a positive difference.  And I will make some mistakes along the way.  But when GOD says, “Because”, there is an authority, a majesty, and a wisdom that can never be present in my answer.  I say “because,” because I have no more to say; no better answer.  God says, “Because,” because HE IS the cause!  And he gives explanations in his word for many of my questions– even if I don’t like the answers!  He doesn’t explain “how come” the sky is blue– he causes it to be blue.  “Why is the sky blue?”  God says so.  “But why?”  Because He is God and I am not.  God explains “how come” there is evil in the world– it’s called SIN–but he doesn’t leave it there.  “Why?”  Because we have the free will to choose good or evil.  “Why?”  Because God wants willing obedience and loving companionship with us.  “Why?” Because God is love!  “So why does he allow evil to continue?”  Because he has a plan that involves redemption and restoration and renewal.  He is the cause of this plan, it’s author and finisher.  Moreover, he is the cause of my desire to ask “why?”, to seek for a more fulfilling answer, to yearn for a solution to the very evil that prompts my questions.

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I won’t stop asking “why.”  Not because I don’t have any answer, or because I don’t know the answer.  It’s just that the answer is so much bigger, so much better, so much MORE than I can handle in the shortness of this lifetime.  And it’s important that I not only keep asking the question, but that I keep defending the answer.

 

1 Peter 3:14-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

 

Trust and Obey

It’s a song I sang as a child in Sunday School–

Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.

It bothered me as a child, the part about “No other way.”  It seemed narrow-minded and harsh.  Surely, I could be happy in Jesus just doing my own good things and singing his praises.  Besides, I did trust him, I followed the Ten Commandments, and the Golden Rule, and I was a nice person.  So why did I feel that I was missing something?

In all the years I’ve been a follower of Christ, I have learned the importance of trust and obedience.  I can’t truly follow someone I don’t trust.  I can learn from them, admire them, even try to act like them, but eventually, I will try to take the lead, or let go and walk down a different path.  Similarly, I can’t say that I trust someone if I won’t obey them.  If they ask me to do something, and I ignore their request, or re-interpret it, or come up with excuses why I won’t do it, it really boils down to one thing: I don’t trust that their request has any merit.

In a broken world, filled with sin and pride and selfishness, there are many reasons NOT to trust or obey certain people.  Abusers, users, sadists and sociopaths abound.  Such people may suggest that there is “no other way to be happy..” than to trust them and obey them implicitly.  So when God asks us to put our trust in an invisible Godhead, it seems terrible, final, and harsh.  Is God demanding abject humiliation and mindless adherence to his law?  Will we lose ourselves in drudgery and joyless obedience to a harsh taskmaster on the whimsical hope of a happy afterlife?

That is a view that is often peddled, and ridiculed.  But I think a closer look at the Bible gives us a different picture.  Yes, God is harsh and wrathful against sin and sinners–but so am I!   I find myself getting furious over injustices and pain caused by sin in the world–I can only imagine how angry God must be to see the way we lie and cheat and abuse each other, and the untold painful consequences he has witnessed through the years.  The only thing holding him back is the power of his Mercy.  His anger is swallowed up in patient and unfathomable love that is ready to forgive even the worst offenders.   And God’s wrath is pure, unlike mine, which is selective against those who have hurt me, but wants to smooth over my own sins.  His love is even more pure– he loves even the worst sinner, and even the most unloveable people (in my flawed estimation).  He is unwilling that ANYONE stay lost and enslaved by their sinful past.

Think about it– Jesus, who knew God best (being part of the Godhead himself) never painted his Father as a brute who demanded people to become “useful idiots” just to stroke his ego.  He didn’t talk about a harsh and unforgiving God who “hated” sinners.  Instead, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, and spoke to sinners and outcasts as though they were more important than the religious elite…because that was his heart!  But more than that, Jesus showed us what it meant to “Trust and Obey”–he didn’t seek fame or fortune for himself, he never owned a home, or sought public office, and he never ran arouns worrying and fretting that God would leave him in the lurch.  Even under the worst circumstances leading up to his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus only spent one hour worrying about what was to come, and in that hour of prayer, he found the peace and strength to say, “not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42).  In his ministry, he humbly walked the byways and taught those who willingly followed him.  He healed and encouraged and saved those who came to him; those who trusted him as he trusted his Father.  He did not pat on the back those who claimed to follow his Father, but wouldn’t trust him.  Nor did he reward those who claimed to obey God, but hated their neighbors, justified their own self-righteousness, and changed God’s laws to feather their own lifestyles.

Does “Trust and Obey” mean that we might lose our status, our wealth, our comfort, and our lives?  Not necessarily, but there is no promise that we will be richer, or healthier, or more popular for following Jesus.  He didn’t come to make us comfortable or “better than” someone else.  In fact, he warned us that while we are in this world, we will have troubles and sorrows (with or without our faith!)  So how can we be “happy in Jesus” if we end up homeless, hated, or sick?  How can we talk about being happy in Jesus under awful circumstances?  Is this just some brainwashing tactic to make us forget how miserable we are?  What’s the “payoff” of Trust and Obey?

The answer involves a choice–Do I trust Jesus when he says that he came to give us, not just life, not even just eternal life, but abundant life?  If Jesus isn’t trustworthy; if I am not sure that he can or will make my life MORE than I ever dreamed, MORE than I imagine–even in the midst of otherwise difficult circumstances–then I will never be happy in Jesus.  But if I DO trust Jesus, then I can be happy, not because of my circumstances, but because I can trust all that he says about them, and that his grace is more than sufficient to see me through.  And I know that whatever trials I may be going through can be turned to good because I trust his power and his goodness.

And true obedience can only follow true trust.  If I say that God’s rules aren’t important, or don’t apply to me, then I’m really saying I don’t trust him to know what’s best, or that I don’t trust that He is really Good.  The temporary happiness that comes from following my way (even if I think I’m doing it for the right reasons) will give way to resentment against God.  How dare he stop me from that one thing that brings me joy– how dare he question my “needs” or call my actions “wrong”.  How dare he suggest that His way could be better or more abundant than what I know–even if I suspect that what I know and experience isn’t always the best it could be.

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No– the longer I follow Jesus, the more that old song rings true, and not harsh or condemning, but full of wisdom and promise.  It is with the faith of a child (not stupid or simplistic, but hopeful and eager), and humble (not abject or reluctant) obedience that we find happiness in Jesus, peace for our souls, and strength to face the trying circumstances of this life.

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Who’s on First?

I love baseball, and I love word-play, so it’s probably no surprise that I really love the Abbot and Costello routine, “Who’s on First?” (watch here)

The idea behind the famous routine is that Abbot is trying to explain the positions on the baseball team, but the players’ names lead to all sorts of needless confusion.  You don’t really have to know a lot about baseball to be entertained by the comedy routine, but the more you do know, the funnier it gets.  Baseball depends on coordinated team effort– knowing who is playing where can make the difference between spectacular plays and disasters– both offensively and defensively.  But as much as I would love to talk about both baseball and comedy today, I really want to use baseball as a metaphor for prayer.

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Prayer is very personal, especially confessional prayer (see yesterday’s post), but often it is also communal and a coordinated team effort.  Every player (pray-er) wants to play our best, and we are gifted for certain positions on the “team.”  Some of us are great at pop-ups– catching people “in the moment” and praying with them, sharing their burdens and joys with concise sentence prayers.  Some are sluggers– prayer warriors who “knock it out of the park.”  Some are outfielders, patiently persistent in praying for the lost, and ready to chase down a line drive or jump up to make the save.  Some are basemen– praying to keep the enemy from gaining ground, or catchers, defending home base from all attempts to score.  Some are good at bunting–providing the necessary support and sacrifice so that someone else can advance.   And some are master pitchers–crafting prayers that strike out or even shut-out the enemy.  Our coach, our mascot, our general manager and MVP?  The Almighty, Triune God!   He knows our strengths, weaknesses, and how we can improve our performance and standing.  He also wants to help our team become closer and stronger.  After all, baseball is wonderful, but Christian living is even better– it has eternal consequences!

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When we ask, in relation to prayer, “Who’s on First,” we need to remember a few things:

  • Always listen to the coach!
  • Remember you are not alone.
  • PRAY to win!
  • Look out for and support your teammates.
  • Each inning is a new beginning– don’t live in the last inning.
  • Don’t let the current score determine your play.
  • Don’t let the other team’s players or their fans take you “off your game.”
  • (Spoiler alert)– We are the champions!

Let’s get suited up and ready to take the field for today’s game…after all, you or I may be on first!

Passport Prayers

I get to travel every day.  I journal my prayers in a daily notebook.  Prayer Journal  (click here to get ideas or learn more)  Each day has a heading and four sections– one for birthdays or other “memory days”; one for thematic prayers (generalized themes like “family”, “community”, “global concerns”, “culture”, etc.); one for urgent requests, and one for a region of the world–nations, major cities, local communities.  On busy days, I send a short prayer and try to remember what I know, or imagine what I’d like to know, about that area.  Some days, I have the luxury of time to look up information or history about that area– what is the language, capital city, literacy rate, average age, major religion, geography, economy, etc.

Our world is full of wonder, variety, crisis, and opportunity–I want to add all of this to my pursuit of prayer. It reminds me of several things:

  • I am not the center of the universe– my issues and problems are not unique or exceptional.
  • God has placed me here to interact with others–I can’t reach out and connect with 6 billion others, but I can become more aware of their needs and way of life.
  • The world is a big place–seeing it on the screen via the internet sometimes causes me to forget that.  And as I see how big the world is, I also need to remember that God is even bigger!
  • The world is full of variety.  Not everyone lives or thinks or worships as I do.  Not everyone faces the same circumstances, the same temptations, the same struggles.  Yet God sees and hears each one who calls on him.  He doesn’t have trouble understanding languages and dialects– he doesn’t get culture shock.  He is not an American Jesus, or a Brazilian Jesus, or a Korean Jesus.  He’s not an urban Jesus or a remote mountain village Jesus, or a gated community Jesus.  When we enter eternity, we will share it with amazing brothers and sisters from every corner of creation.  He’s got the whole world in his hands!

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  • Many millions of people around the globe have never heard the Gospel– or they’ve heard lies and misrepresentations.  Millions of other believers are being persecuted for believing in Jesus or for sharing the good news of Salvation in His Name. People in every nation, every community, are suffering.
  • We are commanded, as Christians, to “go into all the world” and preach the gospel.  I may not be able to travel to “all the world”, but I can “go” in prayer, sharing on-line, and  learning about needs, as well as in sending out and praying for those who can travel.
  • I am grateful for the opportunities God has given me– to learn about him and worship him in freedom; to travel and participate on short-term mission opportunities; to meet and share with missionaries, travelers, students, foreign workers, and others who share their culture and knowledge and perspectives; and for the global work of the Savior, and my privilege to share in it.

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Time to pack my bags– I’m heading to Germany tomorrow!

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