Friday, June 26, 2009

The Proof is in the Putting

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er;
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

These words, penned by Louisa M.R. Stead in 1882 have been sung in churches for generations. They stand in sharp contrast to the many antagonists who posit that you can't proof that God exists. The writer states in this hymn that the proof is possible, because His presence has been demonstrated in her life.

I reflected on these words recently, as I pondered when it meant to "prove Him o'er and o'er." For those who have walked the Christian journey for any length of time, we recognize that as assuredly as there are moments of confident faith, there are instances of questioning despair. A loved one is diagnosed with cancer. A loving marriage is shattered by divorce. A child is the recipient of unspeakable pain. All of these, quite naturally, can cause us to question God; maybe not in the "do You exist?" sense, although that can certainly be the case. However, even in the staunchest Christian when faced with their personal protagonist of pain may wonder that if God has mercy on who He has mercy, and compassion on who He has compassion (see Romans 9:14-16) why does He withhold His power in bringing healing in our particular situation?

That's when I realized, the proof that the lyricist wrote about wasn't, I believe, in having a life in which all pain was immediately obliterated, but instead, was in continually putting her faith in Christ. In other words, to change the phrase, the proof wasn't necessarily what happened in that particular circumstance, in the "pudding" so to speak, but the proof was in the putting...the perpetual commitment to trusting that God was in control, and that in the end His purposes and His plans would stand firm. God's existence isn't proven or disproved through His decision not to prevent a particular trial, but as we continually trust Him we see the proof that He is continuously trustworthy. His faithfulness is often clearest seen in our steadfastness to Him.

Now, some may say this is circular logic. "You are creating what you suspect" they may say. However, my challenge is this. Try it. Followers of Christ know that trusting in God often leads you to what you would least expect, so its not like a preexisting determination is making the equation true. However, by putting your trust in Christ, you can see how in your own life, He is proven faithful, time and time again.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

No Choice

It's amazing how quickly the news can change. A few days ago, the major story was that Jon & Kate Gosselin, of "Jon & Kate Plus Eight" fame had filed for divorce. Since that time, other events have changed the pop culture news landscape. If I was a more on-top-of-it blogger, maybe this discourse wouldn't already seem outdated. Oh well, you got to work with what you have.

So, as my rambling introduction indicated, I, like much of the nation perhaps, was intrigued my the Jon & Kate news. Not because I'm a fan of the show; I've never seen it. In fact, I hadn't heard hardly anything about the couple until their recent demise. What caught my attention, however, was the statement that Mrs. Gosselin made when she announced her filing for divorce. According to this article on, Kate said "Over the course of this weekend, Jon's activities have left me no choice but to file legal procedures in order to protect myself and our children."

Now, I don't know what happened in this couple's marriage, but I couldn't help but see the disavowal of responsibility in Mrs. Gosselin's statement. No choice? Really? I mean there's almost always more than one choice. As many have suggested, maybe the couple should have let go of their show to save their marriage. Or maybe they could have gone to counseling together. Whatever the reasons behind the split, it seen incongruous to say that filing for divorce was the only option available.

It's the same line of reasoning I use when my students tell me that they had no opportunity to complete their assignment. Rarely is that really the case. Instead, they made a decision about how to use their time, and the assignment didn't rank high on their priority list. Or more specifically, whatever they did decide to do ranked higher. They had a choice, and to destroy the phrase from Spider Man, with that choice comes responsibility...the responsibility to accept the outcomes for that decision before the choice is made.

What amazes me, is that in a world where people increasingly argue that there is no such thing as black and white, that everything is relative, when it comes down to a decision about maintaining our commitments, we think there is only one option available. And that this limitation is often an excuse for fulfilling our responsibilities.

This isn't a discussion that's limited to the 21st century. Years ago, in her book "The Hiding Place", Corrie Ten Boom recounts how her sister, Nollie, who also provided refuge to Jews in Austria facing Nazi persecution, chose to tell the truth when asked by the police state whether there were in fact Jews hiding in the house. Most people think that there is only one option when faced with this hideous decision, but her sister, chose another. She decided that her values didn't change based on the difficulty of the decision; that she would stand for truth even when it seemed ridiculous to do so. And in the end, she and all those to whom her family was providing refuge, were inexplicably quickly released from captivity.

I don't know that the reason for their release was because of the commitment to truth, and I'm not prepare to say that there aren't greater principles at stake in a situation like the one Corrie ten Boom's sister faced. *** However, in the million of everyday occurrences, we tend to limit the hand of God, by only seeing one alternative available - and usually it's the quickest path to that which we think we deserve. However, if we can only see one option and that option doesn't bring God honor, then there must be another alternative. So when Christians are faced with a decision in which they could honor God, or they can do that which best served their own purposes, there really should be no choice. The only choice should be to glorify Him.

***Based on comments that can be read below, I updated this blog to try to make my point clearer. The blog wasn't intended to be about divorce, but was about viewing a decision as only having one alternative. If that alternative doesn't bring God honor, then there must be another option that does.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No Offense

Sometimes God uses the simple, seemingly insignificant things in life to teach us big lessons. Or to remind us of lessons that we once learned, but haven't been readily applying. For me, it was the gas line at Costco. And the seemingly huge injustice of being cut in front of as another driver impatiently waited for her line to move.

Now, you are probably wondering, "what lesson could be learned from this trivial act?" Well, as I railed in my head against the gall of this other driver and privately wished that justice would be done and I would in fact get to the pump quicker (which did happen!) I realized how silly it was that I was getting bent out of shape over "my" place in line. My reaction to the other person's action had the potential to determine my entire attitude for the rest of the day. And I was reminded, this wasn't something to take offense at. One, because it was ridiculous to let something as benign as that ruin my day, but more importantly, because in comparison against my offense to God, this was ridiculously trivial, as trivial as an ant's problems seem to me. My offense against Holiness was far greater than a simple inability to take one's turn, and yet that offense had been forgiven by a holy, yet gracious God. If I was going to be offended, I should be offended by the magnitude of my sin, and amazed at the magnanimity of His forgiveness. This small, Earthly offense should prompt my heart to be filled with thankfulness, humility and awe, not frustration.

Long-time readers will know that this lesson isn't a new one for me. After all, I've written about it in part here and here. However, along with my gratitude for the lesson, I'm thankful that He choose to use the Costco gas line to remind me of it. And that despite all my offense, He longs for a relationship with me and to shower me with the abundance of His grace. The least I can do is wish well those that offend me.

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Contingency Planning

In business, it's a generally accepted practice to have a "hit by a bus" plan. Basically, it's an outline of what will happen if someone in a key leadership position is unexpectedly able to fulfill their role and duties. (Why its always stated in terms of being hit by a bus, I have no idea. After all, how likely is this to occur?). The plan is useful for many reasons. It helps identify potential risks that the company has exposed itself to through not proactively training new leaders. It also can identify opportunities for leadership development, strategic reorganization, or possible inter-company synergies. Having plan for these unlikely contingencies is a good business practice because those organizations that are best prepared for any type of unlikely scenario is better equipped to mitigate the negative impact of unplanned occurrences, or better positioned to take advantage of any opportunities they afford.

Contingency planning, however, is less effective in terms of our walk with God. We often want to apply the same standards that organization use when charting our next course. We anticipate what will happen and try to buffer the potential impact. We manipulate situations in order to benefit from potential opportunities. This isn't to say that planning is all bad. Scripture is very clear that plans can be blessed by God (Proverbs 16:3). However, Scripture is also very clear that it is God that determines the outcome (Proverbs 16:9). When we try to have a detailed anticipation of what God is up to, or we try to maneuver our way to get the desired results, we are creating limitations for how we think God can work. And when we do this, we often miss out on the unforeseen ways that God chooses to direct us.

Contingency planning can help an organization prepare for the unexpected. But its often in the unexpected ways of God that we receive the greatest blessings. Let's commit to not constraining the work of God in our life to those things that we can anticipate, but instead, to set aside our contingencies and be open to what God has for us whether we've planned for it our not.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fruitful Flossing

By now, most Americans probably know that they should floss at least once a day My guess is that despite this knowledge few actually do (a quick Google research failed to pinpoint a number, but the infrequency of the practice is well-documented.) The reasons for this may be many but I think the overarching one is that its hard to see immediate, tangible benefits from running the waxed thread in between your teeth. Sure, there's the occasional stuck piece of food that you are grateful to have removed, but other than that, its easy to dismiss as a regular ritual. Convincing yourself that its o.k. to skip it, "just this once" isn't very hard to do.

The same mindset is also what often prods us to neglect those regular practices that our good for our Christian health. In fact we use some of the same excuses! "I don't have time today"; "Missing just once isn't going to hurt", "Do I really have to do it EVERT day?" And the "logic" is the same too. Because we don't always see immediate benefits for engaging in daily Bible reading, regular concentrated prayer, or church attendance we convince ourselves that it is alright to neglect the routine (or maybe not even establish the routine to begin with!) We take a haphazard approach and hope for the best.

What I've learned about flossing though is that the immediate benefits are rarely seen, but the long-run benefits are hard to dispute. I've also learned that there may be some pain and discomfort at first but over time, the health of my mouth is much improved and that I more easily recognize any failure to honor that commitment. The same is true for Christian disciplines. We may or may not see the fruits of our labors in the short-term, but in the long-run they are always made clear. Engaging in these God-honoring practices often reveals that which is hidden from view, just like flossing does for our teeth. And just like those people who regret there lack of proper dental hygiene when they have to gt their teeth removed, in the long-run we will either be grateful for the time we invested in the health of our Christian walk, or we will look be and wonderful why we didn't take the few minutes to make a heavenly investment.

I hope that the next time I'm tempted to forsake my nightly flossing, I remember those pictures of mouths destroyed by plague and gum disease, and compare it to what I want my teeth to look like when I'm 80. In the same way, whenever I'm tempted to neglect my regular Christian practices, may I consider what I want my life to look like when I'm 80, and make the decision that in the long-run bares the most, and the best, fruit.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Experience Counts

When Kobe Bryant recently won his fourth NBA championships, commentators and journalists alike claimed it as vindication that he could win a title without his one-time teammate and now media-nemesis Shaquille O'Neil. According to these same pundits, Kobe needed this title to claim his play in basketball history. It was his opportunity to prove that he could be a champion even without Shaq's power and dominance.

Prior to the title win, however, many of these same pundits were comparing the Magic and the Lakers' experience in championship play. The Magic had been to the Finals one other time - and had been swept in the series. The Lakers are chasing the record help by the Celtics for most all-time champion reigns. When comparing the two team's history, the Lakers seemed to have the clear advantage.

However, the Lakers past experience and the severance of his relationship with Shaq aren't what won them this championship. Experience counts, but what you do with that experience counts too. If Kobe had believed the hype, that without Shaq he would always fall short, he wouldn't be celebrating on the streets of Los Angeles this week. Conversely, if the Lakers had taken their heart-breaking lost to the Celtics last year as a sign of their weakness instead of motivation for future wins, they too would be at home mourning another failed playoff attempt. Kobe's experience included both success and failure, but it isn't what determined the final outcome. His response to it, his hard work, plus, yes his phenomenal gifts, are what ultimately enabled him to fulfill his quest.

The point is this, oftentimes in life we place a large weight on the experience of someone else. We want people to "walk in our shoes" before the give us advice. We want teachers who have already trodden where we need to walk. We want experience, because we think experience validates wisdom. But experience doesn't. Experience gives us a lens through which we view our world, but its the lessons that we take that produces wisdom. It's rightly understanding our experience in relation to the God of the Universe that allows us to tread our journey with ultimate security. Experience counts, but only so much as we make it. There are plenty with experience who have failed to overcome, failed to move on, and failed to achieve victory. When we desire experience, we are asking for that which is only an indication of proficiency. Really what we should be looking for is experience quality - experience that has lead to a quality outcome, that has produced that which honors God and indicates preparedness for future success.

Kobe Bryant had years of experience playing with Shaq, but that didn't determine his ability to win a championship with a different sort of team. The Celtics had years of experience winning the championship, but that didn't determine their appearance in the Finals. We have to put experience it is proper place if we are going to understand its outcome. In doing so, we allow the unexpected to happen. And we are open to that, when we haven't predetermined the conditions of success, God does amazing things.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Enjoying the Reign

It's become commonplace to "become a fan" of various things on Facebook. From M&M's to "taking naps" you can pretty much post your allegiance or affection for anything and everything. There are even "smell of rain" groups where individuals can affirm the benefits of a freshly watered Earth.

Enjoying the rain is not a new phenomenon. After all, Fred Astaire danced in it, and many a school children has spent hours playing in downpours and their resultant puddles. In our personal lives though, we often refer to rain as something to suffer through. We talk about "storms" and "downpours" recognizing that a deluge of circumstances can often make us feel like we are drowning in the rain rather than splashing around it.

However, Christians can look forward to a different type of reign; the reign that comes when the only Authority is the One that commands the waters to fall. We can look forward to that day knowing that the rain in this life can help prepare us for the future Reign. The temporal storms prepare us for the heavenly peace. We may still find it difficult to enjoy the rain, but hopefully we can more rightly consider its benefit. As rain on Earth is needed for plants to grow, rain in our own lives is needed for the same reason. By persevering through the storm, we are better prepared for the coming Reign. And that's when we will truly understand what enjoyment is.



It's been popularly reported that President Obama's Chief of Staff has a defined philosophy when it comes to the economic recession. Namely, to never waste a crisis. The idea behind this theory is that a crisis affords one an opportunity to accomplish something that wouldn't be possible if everything was "normal." Emergencies create panic, panic creates a heighten need of security, and this heightened need creates the chance for someone to step in and be the hero. Crisis, in other words, allows people to accomplish what might have otherwise been impossible in order to provide a semblance of peace.

Now, assuming that the philosophy has some veracity to it, the question then what is its significance outside the world of politics? For Christians, we have to recognize that it's often when people are in the most need, i.e. in their own personal critical state of affairs, that they look for answers. Just like the economic recession has caused many to look to our nation's leaders for solutions, individual's crisis prompts people to find what that which can be depended on. Someone's personal crisis then becomes an opportunity to minister to them, to show them the only true Foundation, and to bring them to the Rock that doesn't move.

However, the other lesson to be learned, is that our commitment to doing the right thing shouldn't be contingent upon people's response to it. I'm sure that there were many people who were thrilled to obtain mortgages that they couldn't afford when the economy was in stellar shape. However, it doesn't mean that offering them was the right thing to do. In other words, a crisis might bring an opportunity but better to have the right foundation in place to weather the crisis with, rather than building in the midst of a storm. A lot of times when things are going great, we don't consider speaking to someone about Jesus. We wait until the crisis hits, and they feel the need for answers. But in doing so, we're helping to ensure that they don't have the power of Christ to navigate through life's trials and travails. People may not like hearing about their lack of security when everything seems good, but just because they don't want to hear it, doesn't mean we shouldn't sound the alarm.

A crisis may equal an opportunity. But instead of waiting for the opportunity, why don't we make our own? It may be harder for us, but it is the more caring thing for the other and as Christians, shouldn't that be our more important concern?


Better Things Ahead: June 2009

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Better Things Ahead