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.

 

35

cordAs occasions for celebration of recovery go, birthdays aren’t bad.

I used to have this subtle feeling that mentioning my birthday was akin to seeking attention. So I wouldn’t mention it. Then I realized that this was really just akin to worrying about what others would think of me.

So today, when a chance to glorify God through a birthday came up, I decided I would take it.

So there it is. I turn 35 on Thursday.

Is this, like, the part where where “no longer a kid” actually starts? Anyone? Bueller? Frye?

Anyway, it is the tendency of advancing increasing age to look forward and worry over the narrowing gap. Diminishing opportunities, declining vigor, regrets over goals not yet achieved, etc. I, in particular, am reminded today that my mission on earth – to lift up the name of Jesus to others – is not indefinite. I have a limited span to get this done. (Yes, I know, I’ve still got plenty of time. Though I did find out this summer that my knees are going to be requiring help from my leg muscles and will no longer hold out on their own.)

But this time I found myself looking to the past.

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Co-Opted by Fear: Adventures in Overthinking Prayer, Part II

fear(This ended up becoming a series. Here’s Part 1 and Part 3.)

The Neurotic Self-Examination Department is still hard at work, somewhere back there in my brain, outperforming their quotas for the 131rd quarter straight. I’d love to know what productivity methods they’re using, because I could make millions sharing them – I just cannot stop thinking about stuff. For example…should I include the nine months before my birth in that quarter count? If so, it’d be 134.

Anyway…

My pastor belted out another terrific sermon last night. I could sum it up in one sentence of his: “Gratitude doesn’t just sit there. It accomplishes something in our hearts. Gratitude gives way to hope.” It was about reminding oneself of God’s previous works and displays of power in our lives to gather hope for the future – relying on his prior and proven faithfulness to reassure ourselves for tomorrow.

And  thought, that doesn’t work for me. Not for matters in this life.

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He Won’t Forget Your Obedience

roadYou’re confronted with a choice.

The wrong choice is obvious, but it looks better in the short term; you can see the reward.

The right choice is also obvious, but you don’t see any gain to it. All you can see down that road is losing out for the sake of being good. Being honest on your timecard when nobody would know either way; breaking up with that person who’s apathetic towards God; clamping down on that beer habit when it feels like the only thing keeping you going.

I’ve written along these lines before, but…how the church would change if we remembered that God promises rewards for obedience?

I should say this right away: the greatest reward of obedience is God himself. Tim Keller recently said it well: “Don’t obey God to get stuff. Obey God to get God.” More of his peace, his power, his unfettered presence. That is the best reward of all. And the fact that a small part of us groans and rolls our eyes in impatience at that statement just shows how little of God’s love we have truly tasted. If only we had experienced more of God, we would not hesitate to seek him above all else. We’d be hooked.

I’m so totally stealing my pastor’s encouragement from our morning “fella-ship” at Chick-Fil-A last week that it’s not even funny, but it was a great point: God remembers our obedience. For a long time.

People think the book of Numbers is part of that “boring” (but important) collection of genealogies and bodily-fluids-regulations in the New Testament. It’s not. Numbers is packed with potent, sobering stories of how Israel treated God after their dramatic exodus from Egypt following centuries of enslavement. (Spoiler alert: not well.)

You’d think that the newly liberated Israelites would be thrilled to arrive at the border of the promised land. I imagine they waited with anticipation while Moses sent twelve scouts, one from each tribe, to get the lay of the land and report back.

Instead of rah-rah, ten scouts threw a wet blanket.

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Build Altars in Your Life

ringLadies reading this…I apologize. But I must talk about football for a moment.

Two years ago, my Seattle Seahawks marched into New York City and practically waltzed away with their first Super Bowl win. My football team. Sports snobs will never get this. For a Seahawks fan who endured the 90s, having your team be the champ isn’t just amazing. It’s therapeutic. The NFL’s highest honor at long last.

And five months later, what were most Seahawks fans doing?

Worrying.

Dissecting the draft, analyzing our new free agents, wringing our hands over which star players were leaving…and worrying.

Worrying over whether we would repeat.

Are you kidding me? We fight for almost forty years to get to the big dance, finally climb out of the kiddie pool and shut up the peanut gallery, and we can’t even stop to just bask in the moment? For nine months, we’re the undisputed top dogs…and we have no confidence that we’re the real deal. I walked up to a guy in church wearing a Broncos hat, pointedly adjusted and fiddled with my Seahawks hat in front of him, and he chuckled and went “Yeah, everyone gets lucky once in a while.” That’s what we fear. We don’t want a fluke, a one-off. We want a dynasty.

But part of it is…we just forget. The glow fades and it’s back to prove-it territory.

We do this with God, too.

That blessing was it for a while. I won’t be getting much more.

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The Role of Thanksgiving in Prayer

prayerWe interrupt your regularly scheduled tryptophan haze to bring you this important head-scratcher:

What do grass, a Seattle Seahawks championship, and the mercies of God all have in common?

The answer:

Nothing, thank God.

The first passes away on its own (Matthew 6:30). The second is dependent on human effort.

But the third “never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Of course, I rarely ever live as if that were true.

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