When God Moves Us Fraidy-Cats

23746683041_6dd4b048d1_zThis weekend, I helped someone move, and there was a cat involved.

Some cats handle moving better than others, staring wide-eyed with fascination out the window as a world beyond their understanding flits by.

This was not such a cat. She has to be the most timid beast I’ve ever met. For weeks, she has been crouched behind whatever will give her cover while her owner clanked dishes into boxes and thumped belongings around – the usual chaos of moving. At one point, once almost everything was packed up, she hid behind a book on the floor. A book. The front cover was upturned, and she hid her face behind it, rump protruding from behind.

And once she was safely in the car and there was nowhere left to hide, she simply turned her face to the corner and kept it there for the entire ten-hour ride.

I was tempted to make fun of her.

But then I saw myself in her.

The cat had no way to comprehend what was happening. It was beyond her. Cars, houses, moves, jobs, thunder, sunshine…she lacked the faculties to understand a tenth of it. All she knew was that she was being moved into an unfamiliar environment, without knowing how long, sound and fury all around her.

Yet the humans in charge knew it signified nothing. We knew it was an unremarkable move between states. We knew it would all be over soon, that she’d be okay, and that she would eventually grow into her new surroundings.

We are this cat.

When God moves us, it scares the willies out of us, honestly. We haven’t the capacity to see or understand a tenth of what’s going on. The spiritual clanks and crashes behind what we see and hear, the purposes of God in it all – it’s on the same level to us as elevators and internal combustion are to the average cat.

And so we turn our faces to the corner, and a little part of our hearts (maybe not so little) resenting God. We want our old place, our comfortable toys and occasional plate of tuna water.

But God sees a greater reality. Wonderful things are happening, or at least necessary. He knows our destination, knows his purpose, knows all the plans he’s carefully laid out. He is not callously throwing us to a new owner, or casting us onto the street.

He has packed everything we need and sent it ahead of us; he has arranged for its unpacking when we arrive.

When we drive through thunderstorms on the route, they will not destroy us; when the sun rises and sets on our journeys, he remains our light.

And most of all, he himself will be there.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3)

And though we hide from him in fear and frustration, he keeps pursuing us, like I did with this cat. He seeks us in our hiding places, turning over unpacked bags and blankets until he finds our trembling form, and reassures us.

Will we wander out again? Will we peek out from the maze of dollies and askew furniture, walk back up to our Owner, and take a drink from his water again?

 

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.

Delight Amidst Mordor: the Hard Part of Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37:4)

Hoo, boy. Few Bible verses carry as much potential to turn us into mercenaries.

“Love God and he’ll give you things” – yeah, that’s just begging to go down the wrong alleys. How do we handle such a verse? How do we treasure God and his opinions on things in light of such an offer? It’s Scripture. It can’t be wrong. So there must be a solution to this conundrum.

Don’t obey God to get things, obey God to get God. – Tim Keller

For me, it is the sheer intensity of “delight”.

1378807888_1c49b58b1b_z“Delight” doesn’t just mean a vague affection, certainly not a conditional one. It means delight. An intense love that crowds out other considerations. I don’t just like my mom – I delight in her, such that I’d make her a priority over a great many things. Same with my friends. (That’s why they’re friends.)

Delight can’t be faked. God sees right through it, and we’d never trust our own motives without it. When we delight in God, the first half of Psalm 37:4 outshines the second half, which sidles up to us out of nowhere while we’re absorbed with God.

I know – tall order.

How do we delight in God so freely when we have so many beefs with all he has allowed? It’s the question instantly begged upon the word “delight”.Some of our lives resemble Mordor – ashes and geysers everywhere you look.

That was the fork at which I stood.

All I can say is, I chose delight. It wasn’t some saintly nobility – I just knew the way back was cut off.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68)

And I found that things really do operate the way God describes.

The Christian who desires more money must release it, trusting so fully in God’s creative provision that charity becomes the greater joy.

The Christian who desires upward mobility must instead wash feet.

The Christian who desires more friendship must offer it, gushing like a spring upon those around him (as Christ did) rather than incessantly drawing inwards.

The Christian who desires a spouse must be filled with Christ now, so that they will not grasp like an empty one.

The Christian who desires justice must not seek it by his own hand, but depend on God’s watchfulness and convicting power. (You might be interested to know that justice is actually the strict context of Psalm 37).

At each point, our desire is tested to determine its worth. Some would survive the fire, others would not (Psalm 37:4’s applicability to Lamborghini’s is doubtful), but all must be sublimated to Christ.

And no matter what the cherished object, we must delight in his timing.

God has a funny way of keeping dreams alive. It’s one of the great paradoxes. He brings our dreams around. But they happen in his way, according to his calculations and machinations, and often with a more eternal reach (like the artist whose future work might raise souls instead of curtains).

It is difficult to delight amidst the Mordor of this world. But if we choose it anyway, we will be rescued, pulled out of the cataclysm and awakened in a new home.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

The Problem With Both “He Will” And He “Won’t”

800px-Cloudy_sky_1_(Unsplash)I’ve had my share of unanswered prayers.

Let me rephrase. No prayer goes unanswered; there are answers we like, answers we don’t, and answers we’re still awaiting. It’s better to say, I’ve had my share of answers I’ve disliked.

Some I still dislike. We must carry some bitter answers for years before we glimpse the Romans 8:28 in them.

Fortunately, this didn’t drive me away from God, just turned me into a bookworm. I read much fine academia on why God doesn’t grant every prayer. I also absorbed my share of theological self-righteousness, because some of those writings are so steeped in nastiness towards spiritual error that their authors probably aren’t much closer to God than those they criticize. (As the man said in Ratatouille, negative criticism is fun to write.)

I emerged from that leg of my race with a solid theology of suffering and an expectation of nothing from God.

Especially when it comes to faith.

I know why God doesn’t grant every prayer, even if prayed in faith. It comes down to what he wants to do in a situation. He’s more qualified and better positioned to pick the best path for us. He is also running 7,399,999,999 other plans that have nothing to do with us (!).

But I can get too far into this.

If we’re bad at knowing what’s good, and if (to be honest) denial and disappointment have such spiritual value, why would he ever grant a prayer? Why bother asking for anything at all?

Veteran followers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve won prestigious awards from the International Overthinking Society, but this really is where my thoughts ended up. I’d approach every prayer with skepticism – without exception. I wasn’t making myself expect a “no”; it was just my gravitational pull.

To explicitly say “God never grants prayers” would have been ridiculous to my own ears. But, well, sometimes the lies we’re believing aren’t evident, showing up only at crunch time.

I knew something was off. But in my overly literal mind, surrender was the only honesty I knew.

So I felt stuck between two paradigms.

Between “he will, just have faith!” and “he won’t, grow up”.

Then I arrived at a revelation for which I can only credit the Holy Spirit.

Neither paradigm requires relationship with God.

You can go through your entire life “believing in faith” for any impermanent, worthless thing you desire, and never hear a word from God. Some do.

You can go through your life praying for very little, beating your desires down harshly, justifying it all with theology – and never hear a word from God. Some do.

But engaging him – seeking his will, listening for answers, accepting both possibilities, trusting that sometimes it glorifies God to fulfill a desire, sometimes to supply something better – is what requires relationship. 

So God makes that kind of prayer the most effective. It’s a brilliant setup. Otherwise we’d content ourselves with one of the two paradigms and walk away without relationship.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

Not doubt…what?

Generously.”

Not doubt his character.

That’s the application of faith that can be trusted. No matter the answer, we can trust his character and must not doubt it.

 

 

A Teasing Sense of Humor and How to Crucify It

crucifyGrowing up and as a young man, I always had to be the guy in the room with the joke.

Always. Whenever anyone said something, my brain would immediately look for a way to turn it into a tease.

Combined with not being very good at it, this resulted in years without a lot of friends. As I grew older, I got better at it. At the teasing part, that is, unfortunately, not the “just knock it off already” part that people were no doubt wishing I’d master.

And then…I would wonder why I wasn’t getting anywhere socially.

Clueless, I tell you.

Then, for some reason, one day I started asking myself, “What do my role models do to engender such trust with people?”

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Thinking It’s Up to You: Another Wave We Mustn’t Look At

christ_walking_on_the_waters2c_julius_sergius_von_kleverThe lesson of Matthew 14:22-33 should be rote for us by now. Peter sees Jesus walking on the water, gets out of the boat, and walks out to meet him – until he starts paying more attention to the waves instead of Jesus. That’s when he starts to sink.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, the lesson teaches us (echoed by Hebrews 12:1), and not on the wind and waves of your circumstances.

Great lesson.

Unfortunately, we’re all still rather bad at it.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s because we don’t realize all the many forms that “looking at the waves” can take.

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Do Even Harder Things

shovelThere’s a book called Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’ve heard it cited by a number of hopelessly inspired teenagers who have been drawn out of their comfort zones, I’m intrigued. But I haven’t gotten a chance to read it.

So perhaps it is redundantly that I ask –

Are we really doing hard things?

A young man from our youth group preached a sermon from Acts 10 last night. I hope I’m not simply regurgitating what he said (is that illegal?), for something fell together for me in my own words as I listened, and I’ve got to get it out.

It was not ten chapters into the era of the church, the era of salvation through Christ, that the gospel went from being “just for Jews” to open to all nations. You’d think this turn of events would have been obvious from “and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth” (1:8). But to get his message across, God orchestrated an encounter between Peter and a Gentile – a centurion of the hated Italian Regiment, natch – and brought the Spirit upon him in full view of Jewish believers. After that, there could be no doubt that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile alike – anyone who would hear the Word and respond.

What’s crazy is that God had to send Peter three visions to get him into position.

Would Peter have gone with Cornelius’ messengers without the visions coming immediately beforehand?

That the visions were needed first – and evidence from his own life – implies that Peter was ready to take the Gospel to his own Jewish countrymen before the Gentiles.

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Pizza Lessons #2: You Never Know

pizza1One of the fun parts of my second job (pizza delivery) is that you never know where the good tips will come from.

Our dispatch system works on a rotating basis. The next driver up “clocks out” on the oldest run available once it’s ready, plus a second run (a “double”) if it’s in the same area and if it won’t be too long a wait for the second order’s items to be ready themselves.

Most of the time, we have no way of knowing how much a customer plans to tip when we clock out on that run. Even with the online credit card orders in which the customer has pre-loaded a tip when they first order, the dispatch system doesn’t show it, and digging deeper into our system to view the tip would be impractical given all the other stuff we’re scrambling to do. One could do it, but so far, the honor system has worked for us. Even when we recognize an address and know they tip poorly, we take the run for the sake of avoiding workplace drama.

In this way, pizza delivery is almost a form of morally acceptable gambling! It’s a lot of fun. You don’t know whether each “pull of the lever” will stiff you or bequeath a ten-dollar jackpot of a tip, but since you’re putting in work and earning a wage regardless, it’s hardly sinful. (I know – that’s because it’s technically not gambling at all. But you get the same slight rush.)

Nevertheless, occasionally we get a driver who tries to game the system.

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