The Error of “That Was Then, God…”

partingLast Thursday life dealt me an unexpected jolt (I did have a hand in it). By the time you read this Monday morning, life could look much different for me. And for four days, I’ve borne a familiar stomach knot of anxiety over it.

What if the worst happens?

Something you should know about me: I’m very literal. I engage in military-grade overthinking. That can prompt me to use good theology in bad ways.

God has come through over the years, sometimes in pretty spectacular albeit last-minute ways. But do I trust him to provide for me again? What if this time is different?

I’m fairly committed to the idea that God disciplines us for our good, and that his rod can take any form he sees fit. We can’t place parameters or expectations around his discipline, nor hold it against him if it’s harsher than we desire. That’s just solid theology. (And observable reality.)

But I can twist that, too. The creative lobe of my mind can manufacture all kinds of ugly scenarios God might emplace, then recruit the “solid theology” lobe to counter any “oh, come on, he’s not going to do THAT” reflex. After all, we can’t place limits on how hard God swings his rod, right?

The end result is that I end up imagining the worst-case scenario in most situations and guilt myself into expecting it.

But then I remember the Old Testament.

The Old Testament is one long remembrance of humanity’s forgetfulness. The ancient document records God coming through for his people again and again, and each time the sun seems to rise on an Israel that’s forgotten what he did. A new need arises and Israelites fear that things will be different this time.

The ten plagues free the people from Egypt; they cry out once cornered against the Red Sea.

The water parts and Israel is delivered; the next morning, they wish they had more water.

God slakes their thirst; later, it’s food they are short of.

Bread arrives; they disobey God’s commands and hoard it, though it’s promised to return the next day.

The seventh day approaches; now they’re commanded to hoard, on God’s promise that the bread will keep this time. Instead, they go out looking for more.

And lest you think the Israelites are stumped by new problems, in the very next chapter they’re out of water again, and react in the same way.

And I?

Well, I cannot rule out the possibility that God will allow what I most fear today.

But will that destroy me?

Will I forget his goodness past?

The God of the Scriptures didn’t rescue his people on Friday so that they would expect something different on Monday. He rescued them to establish his character and trustworthiness.

Either God delivers me or disciplines me. Either way, I’m not destroyed.

Perhaps I will put an end to this overthinking and simply let God decide what he’s going to do.

 

No, Atheist, Faith Isn’t the Easy Way. It’s the Hard Way.

cliffEver seen a teacher accused of having it “easy”?

Having had my own classroom, I’m galled when people consider teachers overpaid for working 8am-9pm writing lesson plans, attending (or coaching) sports events, tutoring, meeting parents, re-decorating, supervising detention, and, yes, grading mountains of graffiti-ed tree product. However you feel about certain teachers, I assure you the good ones don’t bolt at the bell.

I feel somewhat similarly when some atheist announces that the Christian faith is easy. That we somehow settle for it, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, because it’s easier than changing our minds.

Behold this gleaming nugget:

“Believers are…easily trapped and continuously fooled by their own choice. Because it pacifies. It’s easy, and it’s comfortable.”

My jaw dropped. Then chortled at the absurdity.

Followed by a long sigh.

Easy? Comfortable?

The Christian faith is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve long been on my knees for a sister fighting cancer (three children in tow). My church is scrambling for foster homes for countless little ones without anyone to look after them. We’re not spared the statistics that report almost half the world living on $2.50/day.

We see it. Experience it. Far worse in some countries.

And in each case, the onus for progress lies on us.

The church steeple is no shelter from the age-old questions of “if God, why evil”. In fact, it serves as a lightning rod, bringing them straight to our hearts. We don’t get to avoid suffering or pass it off as senselessness or randomness – we’re taught to embrace it as growth and God-familiarization, to seek God’s purpose in it. Weekly we’re pushed to persevere, with no real guarantee of healing or breakthrough in this life. Nothing reminds me of my disappointments like stepping into church.

I don’t seek pity for all this. I have God.

But I do seek to educate, because I wonder if certain skeptics have ever spoken to a Christian in their lives. Comfortable?

The narrow path is one of self-denial, self-examination, and wrestling with the thoughts. Power and riches are pooh-poohed by Christ. Instead, we’re taught to love the unlovely, pray for enemies, and leave no motive unappraised. All the while, the world spins itself apart around us, seemingly deaf to the cries of the broken, oppressed, and collaterally damaged.

Can non-Christians live stoic, introspective lives? Yes, some do.

But I know few atheists (or Christians) who aspire to lofty standards like “everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27). How do you explain why one would cling so tightly so a faith that denies him sex? Something tells me the sex drive is slightly stronger than The Comfort of the Status Quo.

Same with survival instinct. If the martyrs hint at anything, it’s that something more is behind Christianity. People don’t die for uncertainties.

That’s just two arenas, but none offer any less stratospheric a call.

There’s nothing easy about Christianity. The desire to cling to your upbringing is feeble next to the gale of livingit. Its tenets defy every human impulse, cut off every self-indulgence, and preclude the possibility of being the product of flawed human inertia. If I were making my own religion, it would look like anything but Christianity.

And that, skeptic friend, is a great part of how I know Christ is real.

 

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

It’s Never Too Late to Come Back

waitingI have regrets.

It doesn’t matter how mine compare with yours. Scripture says they’re all the same in God’s eyes. So I cannot approach you with judgment in my heart.

Instead, I can relay this story.

‘I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.  So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:18-24)

Take in the gladness of this moment. The father doesn’t sit down forbiddingly, list his son’s errors one by one, or even let him finish his apology. He runs to him. You can see a weight lifted off his shoulders, months (years?) spent grieving over his son’s absence, perhaps waiting with dread for news of his death, evaporating in an instant. His relief and delight are unrestrained, bountiful, fierce.

And when the older brother would bring up the returner’s past (could we insert your own experience with bad churches here?), he is gently rebuked – and invited into the celebration.

But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (v. 29-31)

May God spare me from being the older brother. If I ever have, I repent of it. For Jesus also crafted whole stories to rebuke such a heart (read Matthew 18:23-35 for that), to shield the returning from the condemnation of those already at home.

Instead, may I be an older brother who invites you home. Who marshals the servants. Who helps find the robe, unshelf the ring, dust off the sandals, grill the steaks, and lead the household in a toast of gratitude.

This Father waits for you as well.

What if there is only relief and reconciliation waiting on the other side of admitting our past to God? What if God has decreed that no black record can restrain his love?

Test the story. Come home to God today and find rest for your soul.

Come At Me, Brethren

4933411158_d307f2590e_zIn a world that seems to be all about pulling out the red carpet for one’s ego, I say this: I need criticism.

I wouldn’t say I love it. But I’ll tell you this: the worst feeling in the world is not criticism. The worst feeling in the world is fearing that people have criticisms of you but won’t tell you.

Sure, I’m a sensitive soul. Perhaps folks want to protect my feelings.

But I’m not going to grow that way. The saying is “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. The saying is not “as silence sharpens iron”. Silence doesn’t sharpen anything, except perhaps the cut of my mistakes.

Then I stumbled upon this passage and went yes, yes…this is exactly what I’m talking about!

Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing
or perform wicked acts
with men who commit sin.
Do not let me feast on their delicacies.
Let the righteous one strike me—
it is an act of faithful love;
let him rebuke me—
it is oil for my head;
let me not refuse it.
Even now my prayer is against
the evil acts of the wicked. (Psalm 141:4-5)

Amazing. David would rather be rebuked by a brother than sin against God. How many of us have those two priorities reversed?

My mission teammates once sat me down and informed me that I was behind on my lesson-building preparations. A prominent woman and friend pulled me aside to tell me that a facial expression I’d used while speaking about her husband could be taken the wrong way. And just last year, a looongtime friend sat me down to explain to me how one careless comment of mine had thrown my loyalty into question.

None of these people were wrong.

And I need this stuff. It’s hard to hear, but it’s better than having no idea where I really am, how I’m really doing. It’s better than not growing.

And if I’m ever going to be raised into higher levels of life – ministry, marriage, parenthood – I’m going to need it even more. Every one of those arenas features heavier fire. Even blogging has required stronger discernment and the occasional gentle correction of others.

So I would say to those who call me a friend – if I need refinement, let me know. I welcome it. I need it. We cannot be sharpened if we have thin skin.

And let us all seek out friends, mentors, and spouses who can challenge us kindly and tactfully, but powerfully. It is one of the greatest gifts of Christian community.

*ducks and braces for the firestorm*

The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive. (Proverbs 27:6)

God’s Not Dead and Neither Am I

Hello, everyone.

Again you’ve caught me in an extended hiatus from blogging. Everything’s fine. Going quite well, in fact. I’ve just stepped back to consider what I want this blog to accomplish and how to go about it. But I will be resuming posts – this Thursday, I’ve decided. And I’m posting that as self-accountability – now that I’ve publicly set a date, I have to meet it.

If you’ve left a comment on my blog in the past couple months, thank you. I’m grateful. I’ll do my best to go through and catch up this week. I hope you swing by again, generous followers.

“I thank my God every time I remember you.” – Philippians 1:3

 

Christmas is Bigger Than Your Opinion Of It

Rewritten for the sake of…well, not letting it remain an awkward, stumbling piece of literature like it was the first time. Feeling a lot more excited about it now.

Brandon J. Adams

catIt was on a December 27th (long enough ago that I got the news over a corded phone) that my family was ending.

At least the blow waited until after the 25th, but is there really ever a “good time” for such things?

The result was a double whammy for Christmas. Not only was the month now historically connected with tragedy in my mind, but every family gathering since has screamed its ongoing incompleteness. The count in the room is always short.

Others have similar stories (and I’ve heard a lot worse). Christmas has a way of reminding you of what you’ve lost, or never had to begin with. A brief week of sanity before going back to the grind, fear, and disappointment.

So I’m the last person to tell anyone to “just get over it and celebrate”. The Bible defends our grace-given ability to approach God with our pain…

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Yes, We Can Still Carol Amidst the Darkness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I learned that I shouldn’t be singing carols as long as suffering persists in the world.

At least that’s the charge of John Pavlovitz, a Christian progressivist blogger whose post I stumbled across today, quite unintentionally, in the course of my internet wanderings (I will not link it). He says our holiday joy should take a sober and subdued form as long as poverty, disease, injustice, and war persist.

I’m still trying to decide how literal he’s being. At first, this seems like a rigid and unfair stance. Suffering will always be around. The poor will always be with us. If you’re holding out for utopia on earth, you’re in for a long wait.

Should we never again sing at Christmas, then?

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