Great Things He Hath Done

2 Corinthians 9:15 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

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I love this season of the year–as we approach Thanksgiving and prepare for Advent and Christmas, it is a good time to reflect and celebrate all the wonderful things God has done, and all the ways He has blessed us. But there is also a danger in this season. We are tempted to look around and compare our blessings (and our struggles) with others around us. We are tempted to be envious, depressed, and stressed about our circumstances. Or we look at our blessings and feel smug and self-satisfied, instead of grateful and humble.

What “Great” things am I thankful for? Sometimes I make a list of all “my” blessings–my health, my family, my home or car, my freedom (as though I had done anything to earn such blessings)–and I stop. Sometimes I make another list of all the “Great” things God has done in nature–beautiful sunsets and majestic forests, glistening snowflakes and spring blossoms–and I stop. Sometimes, I even thank Him for the trials and struggles and difficult relationships that He has allowed to refine me and build my character to be more like His– and I stop. Sometimes, I thank Him for the great things he has done for others–miracles of provision, safety, or healing.

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But there is a deeper level of thankfulness– one that takes my breath away and causes me to fall to my knees– one that thanks God for WHO HE IS– truth, righteousness, salvation, mercy, wisdom, power, and boundless, unconditional love. Every great work of God has its origin in God’s Character. Every sunrise shows His faithfulness, every snowflake His infinite creativity. Even tragedy can reveal His tenderness and healing and precious promise that NOTHING can separate us from His love. In giving His greatest gift, God spared no expense; he held nothing back. Jesus defeated sin and death by becoming sin and experiencing death–FOR YOU and for ME! For anyone, for everyone, who will accept His gift and trust in His character. How often do I list all the great things God has done and stop before I let the amazement of the Great I AM to overwhelm me? How often to I celebrate Thanksgiving without ever reaching this level of true Thanks-giving?

Whether we celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and pumpkin pie, or with beans and wienies; whether we celebrate with family, friends, strangers or alone; even if we celebrate on a different day, or in a different way, may we always find ourselves amazed by the Greatness of God. May we truly give God more than just thanksgiving this year. May we give Him all the Glory–Great things He hath done!

Untie?

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I once saw a cartoon involving a person holding a sign that read, “Bad spellers of the world: UNTIE!” Part of what makes the joke funny (at least to a pun-lover like me) is that all the correct letters are there–just two letters are transposed–but the meanings are completely different. And, of course, the bad speller misspelled the most important word. Instead of asking for unity, the sign invites potential destruction and chaos!

There is a serious side to this cartoon, however. Just like the sign-bearer, we often carry a message that is vastly different from what we mean to project– it may look similar or close to what we intend; it may even go unnoticed at first–but eventually, it will make us look foolish and actually call more attention to our faults and failures.

As Christians, we often pray for unity– we talk about it, we long for it, and we call out for it. But what are we DOING to promote unity and love within the Church? I recently ended my subscription to an on-line forum with articles about Christian Living. I wanted to support discussion, encouragement, and even constructive criticism among the Christian community. But more and more, I found the articles and discussions were not constructive; they were divisive, sarcastic, boastful, and condescending to other believers based on how they worshiped– the kind of songs they sang, or the lighting and seating in their sanctuary, whether they wore suits and dresses or ripped jeans and flip flops, whether they collected offerings or had a diverse worship team. There was no effort to listen or present Biblical principals that might help congregations find a balanced way to discuss differences in worship styles. There was no invitation for consensus or inclusion; no discussion of doctrinal principles or lasting truths that must be upheld. It was a forum for bickering, snide commentary, complaints, and virtue-signaling from self-righteous people taking pot-shots at other self-righteous people. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not unsubscribe earlier–I sent in my own snide comments, my own self-justifying judgments of others.

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The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) includes Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control– it doesn’t include cleverness, arrogance, criticism, or divisiveness!

Ephesians 4:1-6

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+4&version=NIV

It is not difficult to let our thoughts and emotions lead us to react badly– to untie, rather than unite. Here are several handy questions to ask BEFORE we grab up our “misspelled” sign and march around spreading dis-unity and chaos:

  • If Jesus were listening to me or reading my posts– and He IS!–would He agree? Would He “like” or “share” this? Would I send it to Him? Would I say this to His face?
  • Have I really thought about what this says to my family? My friends? My neighbors? My enemies? My Pastor? My co-workers? Strangers? Will it bring people together? Or will it force people to take sides? (There are times when we all need to be challenged to take sides on important issues, but is this one of them?)
  • There are some great posters in elementary schools that use the acronym to evaluate social media, but it works equally well for gossip, news articles, or any information or opinion that we wish to pass along– THINK–T: is it True? Have you checked the facts, dates, assertions, etc., to see if they are valid? H–is it Helpful? Is this good information? Am I helping people find a solution to a problem, or offering encouragement? I–is it Inspiring/Important? Am I wasting time passing on information or opinion just because I find it clever or entertaining? Or will this information inspire and build people up?Are lives in jeopardy if I don’t pass this information along or if I don’t comment? N–is it Necessary? Does this information or opinion need to be shared? With everyone? By me? Now? Finally, K–is it Kind? Even if it is “true” and “helpful”, etc., it can be abrasive, hurtful, or condescending in tone. Being “right” can still be “wrong” when it comes to unity and encouragement.
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Lord, help me to speak and act in ways that bring unity. Help me reflect the Grace and Peace that comes from You. Let my words and deeds produce Spiritual Fruit that lasts. May I seek to build up others, not tear them down or “untie” relationships that You want to flourish.

Good Christians of the world– UNITE!

The Truth Hurts

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+16%3A33&version=NLT

One of my favorite movies is “The Princess Bride.” The title character begins the story as a young, beautiful, wealthy, and spoiled young woman. She falls in love with the young farm boy who works for her father. The young man leaves to make his fortune, but word comes that he has been captured and killed by pirates. In utter despair, the young woman allows herself to become engaged to a spoiled and wicked prince. She has allowed her grief to consume her, and she cares nothing for the prince, his wealth or power, or even her own future. Before she can be married to the prince, she is kidnapped by villains, and “rescued” by a mysterious pirate. Instead of being grateful, she curses the pirate, telling him that he could never understand her great loss and pain. His answer, harsh, glib, but to the point, is to say that “life is pain, Princess. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”

There are certain truths in life that we would avoid if we could– death, pain, sorrow, grief, suffering, and Sin–we don’t want to hear the harsh reality of our situation. We don’t want to suffer or hurt at all; much less to discover that our suffering is commonplace or universal. Everyone will taste death; everyone will face pain and grief and suffering in this life. Everyone will suffer as a result of Sin– our individual actions have consequences, as do the cumulative actions of our culture, our ancestors, and the entire human race. This is a harsh truth, but it IS the truth.

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There are four common techniques we tend to use to avoid facing harsh truths– denial or avoidance, anger, bargaining, and depression or despair. Many people know these terms from the Kubler-Ross studies on patients with terminal illnesses and the five “stages” she identified as they came to terms with their impending death. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/ The fifth “stage” was acceptance. The five stages have been applied commonly to other forms of grieving and loss, including the loss of a loved one or the break-up of a marriage. While most of us go through some or all of these stages when we face suffering, we don’t all go through them the same way or even in the same order.

Many of us live in avoidance and denial– rushing headlong into meaningless pleasure, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, staying busy with the pursuit of wealth or power. Others wrap themselves in anger– blaming everyone else for their pain, seeking revenge, driving away those who want to help. Still others try to bargain– seeking to avoid death by trying every new diet or fitness routine, or trying to be righteous enough to earn a supernatural blessing or “good karma.” And many wallow in depression and despair, lost in the swamp and mist, sinking into a pit of their own feelings.

These reactions are normal and human. Harsh truths hurt– they shock us, overwhelm us, shatter our trust, even shake our faith. But they ARE true. What is also true is that God has not left us without resources, even for the harshest realities we face. Even when we are in despair, or angry, or in denial, God can give us peace and strength to go on.

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God isn’t “selling something” to make the pain go away or make our life “trouble-proof.”  Jesus never offered a comfortable life to His followers. In fact, He promised that our lives would be filled with trouble and pain and sorrow!  Christians who claim that they never face fear, or failure, fury or frustration, loss and sorrow– they are “selling” a false gospel.  Jesus faced and conquered death on a cross! He could have avoided it– He could have been angry at those who betrayed Him–He could have stayed buried in despair and failure.  But He arose! We don’t worship someone who has never wept, or faced betrayal or loss. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)– if anyone knows the harsh truth, it is the one who IS Truth!  And this Truth hurts– He hurts to see us grieving; He hurts when we reject Him to go our own way; He hurts even as He allows us to hurt.

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Faith, prayer, worship, promises– these are not God’s way of helping us escape the reality of harsh truths.  They are His tools for helping us to overcome and be victorious in the face of trials and setbacks, grief and pain, even death!  As Princess Buttercup discovers in “The Princess Bride”– “Death cannot stop true love!” And it cannot stop the Truth that IS Love!

Promises, Promises…

God keeps His promises.  Not just small promises, not just some of them, or some of the time.  God Keeps His Promises!  Every single one.  Every single time.

In this world of failed promises, assumed promises, “campaign” promises, and broken promises, it is almost impossible to believe.  Surely there must be some promise that God has not fulfilled– some promise that he has taken back or “modified” somehow…

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Isn’t there?  There are people who claim to have examples– proof that God cannot be trusted.  They list tragedies that God allowed to happen, or dreams that did not come to fruition.  They list times they could not feel God’s presence, or understand His ways; times He seemed silent or harsh.  Didn’t God promise His unfailing presence?  Didn’t He promise peace and love and joy?

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Good questions–just what DID God promise?  To whom did He promise it?  When?  Were there some promises that were conditional, and, if so, what are the conditions?

  • God’s presence–Jesus said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ESV)  There are numerous other passages where God says to Israel, or to one of Israel’s leaders, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  The writer of Hebrews echoes this in chapter 13 of his letter as he seeks to encourage early Christians.  This is a solid promise, and one that we can trust.  But we won’t always “feel” God’s presence.  That’s one of the reasons for the promise– to give us an anchor for our faith when our feelings are confused.  God will be with us even (and often especially) when we feel alone, frightened, overwhelmed by our circumstances.  What makes the thought of Hell so frightening is that it falls outside of this promise– at the “end of the age”, there will be a time and place where God’s presence cannot be felt– God will not be there, nor will the essence of God be available.  No love, no peace, no light, no life, no joy, no hope.  Even those who utterly reject God in this life still have access to hopes and dreams, love and goodness, because God is still present in His creation.
  • God’s promises to Israel–God made hundreds of specific promises to the nation of Israel.  Some were made for specific circumstances and times.  Some were made to be eternal and never broken, canceled, revoked, or transferred.  Many promises (including those given through prophecies) were given to specific nations, including Israel/Judah/Judea as it existed at that time.  Others were given to a restored Israel– one that has not yet been completely restored.  Other promises were made to those who are the spiritual heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob– regardless of their genetic heritage.  It is very easy to co-opt a promise that isn’t really ours to claim in the context of when or how it was given.

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  • “Circumstantial” or “Personal” promises– God fulfilled certain promises to individuals throughout the Bible.  These are recorded to remind us of God’s faithfulness and His power to bring about miracles.  They are not meant to act as personal promises to us because We want the blessings that God gave to someone else in other circumstances.

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  • “Difficult” promises– Not all God’s promises are ones we want to remember!  God has promised that we will suffer.  He promises that people will hate us, abandon us,  or persecute us on account of our faith.   Death and judgement are stark realities– God has promised that we will face both– and that we can face both without fear!  Jesus himself foretold of natural disasters, war, poverty, disease, injustice, hunger and other difficult circumstances that will continue until His return.

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  • “Victorious” promises– God has promised future restoration and renewal– eternal life, a new Heaven, and a new earth.  But He hasn’t promised easy victory.  He promises Justification, not “just a vacation” by Faith.  When we face struggles, it is not God breaking His promises.  And it is not always because we aren’t praying enough or don’t have enough faith.  Sometimes, God sends us into the thick of the battle for reasons we don’t understand.  He doesn’t give us the victory we think we deserve or the victory we dream of.  But we can trust that the victory already belongs to Him.

Prayer is more than just a wish or a vague hope– it is trusting my life, my future, my fears, and my heart to the one who can be counted on to listen and to respond.  Always!

Praying in Anger

Ephesians 4:25-32 English Standard Version (ESV)

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

I grew up hearing that anger is a sin.  Yet God experiences anger and wrath.  And the Apostle Paul says in this passage that we are to “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26a).

Anger is an emotion; feeding on anger, wallowing in it, stewing and screaming and acting out under the control of our anger– that is sin.  That is why Paul goes on to say that we should “not let the sun go down on your anger ” (4:26b).  Anger is not a “bad” emotion, but it is a bad master.  We need to take control over our anger to resolve it, and let it go.  In Genesis, God spoke to Cain about this very thing–Cain and his brother Abel had brought sacrifices to God; Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God, but Cain’s sacrifice did not find God’s favor.  The sacrifices were voluntary– Cain and Abel were not in competition to see who could bring the “best” sacrifice.  God had not ordered them to bring a sacrifice only to find fault with Cain’s efforts or the way he chose to present the sacrifice.  The scriptures don’t even say that God rebuked Cain or pointed out a flaw in his offering.   He simply found favor with Abel’s offering– Abel had brought the best he had; the firstborn of his flocks.  Cain had brought “some” of his crops.  The difference in the sacrifices had nothing to do with the content or the manner of offering, but in the intent to worship God halfheartedly, instead of wholeheartedly.  God saw that Cain was angry (as well as proud and envious of his brother).  Instead of rebuke, God offered grace and wisdom:

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Genesis 4:6-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

God doesn’t want us to deny our anger or pretend we are never angry.  But He does want us to acknowledge it, and deal with it.  Why am I angry?  What should I do about it?  Anger can motivate us to do the wrong things, but it can also spur us to change our course, and do something good.  Righteous anger can spur us to speak out about injustice, and seek to correct wrongs.  Anger can lead us to our knees, asking God for direction, strength, or His intervention and justice.  King David often prayed angry prayers asking God to strike down the people who were plotting against him, or those who were doing evil or mocking God’s people.

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I wish I could say that I had mastered this area, but I’m writing as much for my own instruction today as anything else.  Here are some wonderful steps we can and SHOULD take to deal with anger:

  • Pray!  Anger can strangle us, or it can sneak up and suffocate us, but the worst it can do is drive us away from our source of help and hope.  God WANTS us to come to him.  He reached out to Cain in his anger, wanting to draw him near and help him overcome it; He offers us the same help.  God can handle our anger– he can give us the power to let it go, and direct our feelings appropriately.
  • Own it–Angry people tend to deflect responsibility.  Yes, other people can say or do things that make you angry, but they can’t make you say or do sinful things in response to their actions.  You still bear the responsibility for what you do with your anger– even “righteous indignation.”
  • Question it!–This is something I have found helpful.  Just as God asked Cain, ask yourself, “Why am I angry?  Why am I downcast?”  And then, answer them honestly.  Many times, the root of my anger isn’t justified–instead it’s “just a lie”.  I have no right to be angry with someone else when I chose to waste time, cut corners, or neglect to do what was necessary.  I have no right to be angry or outraged because someone else feels differently or sees a different side of an issue.  In fact, if I keep listening instead of exploding, I might find compassion overriding the anger.  I might even learn something new!  Or I might better understand why I feel or think as I do, and be better able to explain it to others, instead of just yelling the same thing over again.

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  • Deal with it–This is a difficult one for me.  I don’t like confrontation.  If someone hurts me, I just want to walk away and lick my wounds.  And we shouldn’t confront others WITH our anger, striking out at them and seeking to hurt them.  But I have found that a lot of anger and hurt that I have harbored is not only unjustified, but is based on misunderstandings and pride.  It takes humility, but it also takes courage to seek out someone to offer an apology you don’t want to give, or to ask for clarification instead of harboring hurt.

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  • Don’t spread it!  “Don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath”  is not permission to “vent” to seven (or seven hundred) friends by spreading your hurt and outrage  until you feel calmer.  This is particularly true in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  In the short-term, this may seem right– “they need to know what is happening”– but it is just the opposite.  Anger often leads to rash judgments, and hasty actions that we can’t undo or call back.  If you are not talking with the object of resolving a misunderstanding, apologizing, or offering a positive solution, you are engaging in sin.  The old saying, “If you can’t say something nice about a person, say nothing at all” applies here.  And it applies about situations and circumstances, too.  I am angry about various practices and policies by governments, companies, even churches; what I need to spread is not my anger about them, but awareness of how God can change them, and why we should be seeking His justice, His righteousness, and His grace toward those who have been impacted by them.

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  • Repent of any anger-related sin.  Remember, anger itself is an emotion.  God experiences it; we are made in His image, so we experience it, too.  The only people who never experience anger are those who have lost their conscience.

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On The Witness Stand

Last week, I was called upon to give testimony in court as a witness to a crime.  The crime itself occurred months ago, so I was very nervous, trying to remember the sequence of events, and trying to make sure I didn’t add or leave out important details.

There is a reason the judge asks for “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  It is very easy to exaggerate, to leave out details that may reflect poorly on us or on those we know, or to add commentary or opinion.  Even the way a lawyer asks a question can evoke a certain memory or reaction that is more or less than the original event warrants.

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As hard as I tried, I couldn’t tell the entire “truth”–not because I lied or withheld evidence, but because I only witnessed a portion of the crime, and because I don’t have total and perfect recall.  No one does.  Three witnesses may testify and get certain details “wrong” or mix up the sequence of events, or be confused or hazy months after the event.  Even seeing the same event from a different perspective can alter one’s testimony.  One person hears a conversation clearly, but cannot see one speaker’s facial expressions or gestures.  Another sees the event close up, but cannot see what is happening “behind the scene.”  One person’s personal biases may come out in the way they give testimony, even if they are unaware of it. While I hope and believe that I told the truth as I witnessed it, my witness alone is not enough to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence–nor should it be.

The ninth Commandment (in Exodus 20) warns about giving or “bearing” false witness.  We usually equate this with lying, but it is more than telling “a whopper.”  Bearing false witness includes spreading rumors, “sharing” questionable posts, omitting facts, and even “faking it” until you make it– pretending to be what we are not; hypocrisy, and false appearances.

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As a follower of Jesus, I am a full-time witness.  This is far more important even than being a witness in a court case.  I should always speak and behave as if I am “under oath.”  Not just when I know all eyes may be watching; not just when I’m with other “witnesses.”  Always.  This doesn’t mean that I aggressively volunteer my opinion and beat people over the head with commentary everywhere I go.  It doesn’t mean that I smile and say only what I think others want to hear.  It means that I speak less than I listen, but when I speak, it is truth–loving, sometimes harsh, spoken with the intent to help, heal, encourage, challenge, and bring justice.

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In prayer, it means that I repent of falsehood, pride, envy, anger, and bitterness.  It means that I acknowledge God for who He is, and myself for who I am in Him.  It means that I ask for wisdom to seek and see truth, and to see through deception and falsehood–even in my own heart and mind.  And it means that I thank God for His Truth, which is perfect and victorious.  I pray that the Truth will shine in, around, and through my life and my words, and in the lives of others.

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Many people will point out when I get it “wrong.”  They will point to other Christ-followers, other “witnesses” whose lives may look different from mine, who speak differently, act differently, vote differently, even worship differently than me.  And I need to trust that the “whole” truth will come from each of us bearing honest and full witness to what we know and experience of God’s goodness, His power, and His love.  I don’t have the “whole” truth– but I am a witness of the one who IS the whole Truth!

The Weight of Words

Words have weight– I’m not talking about thousand-page novels or multi-syllable legalese terms– some words simply weigh heavier on the mind and heart than others.  Some everyday words spill out like dust motes carried on a light breeze.  They hang suspended in midair, without any set purpose or destination, and finally settle, forgotten, until someone sweeps them away.  Other words explode, sending shards and pellets at unwary targets.  Some words thunder like falling rocks in an avalanche of guilt or anger or hatred.  And some rare and precious words have the weight of a quilt or a hug, or an arm lifting you up when you are falling.

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One of the amazing things about prayer is that as we pour out our words before the Savior, the weight of our words is lifted off our hearts and minds and given to him to carry– the weight of the guilt, the weight of worry, the weight of grief, the weight of anger, the weight of hurt.  Not only does God take on the weight of our words (and our pain and guilt), but he makes sense of it all– maybe not instantly, or in the way we imagine– but he brings order and goodness out of our chaos and burden.

 

 

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And those everyday words swirling around like dust fall into the light, where they shine like gold dust in His presence.  When we bring everything to God, he transforms it; he transforms us.

 

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Our words have weight in prayer.  And our words to others have weight, as well.  Today, I want to weigh my words carefully.  Are my words burdening others, or helping them lift a load of care?  If I had to carry the weight of my words– my criticisms and clever put-downs, my accusations and angry tantrums, my bragging and comparisons– would I be dragging them behind me with joy and pride?  What if, instead, my words were filled with the weight of shared laughter, encouragement, hope, and compassion?  What if my words held the weight of truth and kindness and peace?pexels-photo-210012.jpeg

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Prayers From the Cockpit

Years ago, a decorated fighter pilot, Robert Scott, wrote a book with the title, “God is My Co-Pilot.”  It was made into a movie, and the title became a  popular phrase for bumper stickers, posters, and more.

Theatrical trailer for “God Is My Co-Pilot” –youtube

More recently, there have been several people who have spoken out against the catch-phrase, by saying something to the effect of ,”If God is your co-pilot, someone is sitting in the wrong seat!”  I mean no disrespect to Mr. Scott, the book, the movie, the bumper stickers or the critics, but I think both sentiments kind of miss the point.

There is a much better analogy in the title of an lesser-known book by another pilot.  Pilot and high school basketball coach Floyd Eby wrote a book called “Calling God’s Tower– Come In, Please.”

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I’m not a pilot or a coach, and I’m not claiming that Scott’s title is bad.  Certainly, when I pray, I believe that God is always right beside me, that he hears me, and that he knows my thoughts and my heart intimately.  I think that is the intent of the co-pilot analogy, and as such, it rings true.  But God is much more than a partner, a co-pilot, or a colleague.  The other danger of this thinking is that we take God for granted.  If God is my co-pilot, I won’t turn to him for help unless something is going wrong and “my way” isn’t working.

So what about “switching seats?”  Shouldn’t God be my pilot?  He is God and I’m not.  It is true that this represents a better view of God’s authority and sovereignty.   It is also true that God is greater, stronger, and wiser than I am.  But I think this view, though more accurate in portraying our position, gives rise to another dangerous idea– that I can sit back and be little more than a passenger, while God does all the flying.  One of the valid criticisms of modern Christianity (especially in America), is that we know about Christ, and talk about Christ, but we don’t always live for Christ.  We see the finished work of Christ as an excuse to sit back, smug and complacent about morality, evangelism, obedience, and good works.  We shout “Jesus Paid it All!” and mumble “All to Him I Owe.”  We want to sit in the cockpit for the pretty view, but we don’t want to learn how to fly the plane.

God has given us the privilege and the responsibility to be the pilots (or drivers, or captains) of our lives–he gives us the free will to make choices and steer our behavior or actions.  We are not helpless passengers on a fatalistic trip through this life.  He has equipped us to know the thrill of soaring and banking and flying through the clouds.  But God doesn’t leave us to fly blindly through the haze and clouds and glare.  He gives us his word, which, like a map, chart, instrument panel, or GPS system, shows us where and how we should go.  And, like the air control tower, he gives extra guidance, listens to our needs, and provides assurance as we stay tuned to him.

God also sees and knows more than we do in our cockpit.  When I call on him, he knows all that goes on above and below, ahead and behind– he knows about the storms in the distance or the other planes scheduled to arrive or take off from the airport.  I can trust his advice, his commands, and his presence more than my own judgment or eyesight.

I want to learn how to fly; I want to soar like an eagle, and I want to come in for a safe landing at the end of my journey.  I need to keep in constant contact with God’s tower and follow his wise flight plan.

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Too Much of a Good Thing

My late uncle came to know Christ– really know Christ– later in his life.  He and my aunt spent their final years doing advanced Bible studies by correspondence course– hour after hour studying Hebrew and Greek, filling out paperwork, sending it in, and waiting for the next lesson (this was before the explosion of online classes and internet shortcuts).

When Uncle Fred was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and he knew his time on earth was drawing to a close, he planned his funeral service, and it was incredible– uplifting, encouraging, hopeful!  This from a man who, earlier in life, had had anger issues, numerous issues with money, and serious doubts about God.  One of his favorite scripture passages came from Proverbs, and it surprised me a bit.  It wasn’t about promise or hope or power or expectation.  Instead, it was about discipline and correction and balance.

Proverbs 30:7-9 New International Version (NIV)

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

These verses offer wisdom, but the kind of wisdom most of us shun.  We’re happy enough to ask the first part– “Keep falsehood and lies far from me”–Yes, please.  I detest when others lie to my face, or keep information from me.  Except that’s not all that is involved here.  “Keep falsehood and lies far from me”– including far from my own mouth!  Teach me to be honest and trustworthy. even when a “white” lie or a fib would make things so much easier for me…Teach me to seek out, not the juiciest headline or the news story that glories in scandal and derision, but the truth, even if it convicts me!

walk human trafficking
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The second phrase is not too bad– “Give me neither poverty nor riches”– OK, I don’t want to be poor, and it’s probably not good for me to be super wealthy.  I’ll just be a comfortable middle-class sort of person.  Except the last phrase catches us– “But give me ONLY my daily bread.”  Excuse me?  I don’t know about some of you who may be reading this, but I don’t want ONLY my daily bread.  What about all those verses that say we can ask for ANYTHING in Jesus’ name and he will do it!?  What about being prepared in and out of season–what about savings accounts and retirement plans and having extra to give to those in need?  What about a cozy lake cottage or a really nice vacation?  Don’t I deserve to treat myself?  Haven’t I earned a few creature comforts?  I give to charity, and I volunteer at church.

view of tourist resort
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The next verse gives the reason, and also the test.  “Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”  It’s tempting at this point to brush off the warning.  After all, I haven’t disowned God, have I?  I still go to church and write about prayer.  What more does God want of me…Who is God to ask more of me?  Who is the Lord to tell me what I can’t have…We don’t start out denying or disowning God, but we begin to question his ways, and our own obedience.  Similarly, we don’t think we are stealing or dishonoring God’s name, but how many of us have tried to “beat the system” to get ahead instead of turning to God or the church for help?  Tax breaks that are questionable, lying (see verse 8a again…) about our income to qualify for federal programs or grants, “borrowing” from family or friends with little or no plan for how to repay them…  I wish I could say I didn’t know anyone who had ever bragged to me about they had “cheated” just a little, or that I had a perfect track record in this area.

This passage is filled with wisdom, but it is not wisdom we teach in many of our churches today.  Yet it is exactly what God teaches by example and what he expects of us.  Did not Jesus pray for God to “Give us this day our Daily Bread?”  He didn’t ask God to pour out the storehouses of Heaven so we could add a pool in the back yard, or afford a new car, or get that extra pair of shoes or the latest new gadget.  Yet he prayed with the complete confidence that God would not withhold any of his needs or cause him to live in shame or starvation.

man holding sheep statuette
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It’s not as though God has commanded us to live as paupers and beggars– look at the way he provided for the Israelites in the wilderness.  He provided, quite literally, their daily bread/manna.  Just enough for each day, with a double portion for the Sabbath.  Just enough– just a sufficient amount.  No one had to worry about losing their food supply to theft, packing it up to travel, using it up before the expiration date, or comparing one brand to another to check for gluten or preservatives or recall notices.

No one had to worry about whether their shoes were the right color to match their favorite outfit, or if they had enough gas in the tank for their next move.  God provided all their needs when they absolutely COULD NOT.  And he provided more than just their basic needs– they had herds and flocks; he provided water and grazing for them, too.  He had caused the Egyptians to give them gold and jewels as they left Egypt, so they would have enough (and far more than enough) to make all the tools and objects for the tabernacle, and still have a medium of exchange when they reached their new homes in the Promised Land.

But God did not load his people with more riches than all the people around them.  He did not encourage them to seek out mansions and gobble up properties; they were commanded NOT to charge excessive interest on loans (and no interest to their own people), and warned about the dangers of pursuing riches over serving God.

Our current culture (at least in the U.S. and in much of the rest of the world) tends to be consumed by…consumption.  Having the newest and latest and best of everything.  Seeing to our own comfort and self-esteem and satisfaction– often at the expense of our devotion to Christ and our service to others.

man wearing gray long sleeved polo shirt near dock
Photo by Vincent Tan on Pexels.com

There’s nothing wrong with nice things– helpful tools, comforts, pleasures– God doesn’t want us to be miserable or full of a false humility that throws away opportunities and rewards.  But he needs us to see that not every “good” thing is the “best” thing for us.  We CAN be too rich, too thin, too smart, too proud…you get the idea.  Too much of a good thing can blind us to the BEST thing!

adult beautiful elegant eyewear
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I’m writing this on what would have been my uncle’s 85th birthday.  May this piece of wisdom that he cherished fall on good soil.  May our prayer this week be that of Agur, son of Jakeh, the author of Proverbs 30 and prophet of God:

Proverbs 30:7-9 New International Version (NIV)

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

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