The Wisdom Of Samwise Gamgee


HobbitonOne of the things that I love about Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien is the truth that the characters live out. One of the hobbits, Meriadoc Brandybuck, known as Merry, feels useless but slays the King of the Black Riders. Boromir, a valiant warrior of Gondor and eldest son of the current ruler, feels powerful but falls to the temptation of the Ring.

How true to life they are. Those feeling weak and insignificant are often the ones who do great things simply because of their faithfulness, and those who see themselves as great often stumble over their own reach for greater glory.

Of all the characters that offer up truth in Tolkien’s epic fantasy, Samwise Gamgee, companion to the Ringbearer, might be the best. First, he is faithful. He is devoted to his master and willing to go where otherwise he would not dare to set foot.

Second, he recognizes his own propensity to get things wrong. Such awareness of his own weaknesses keeps him from stubbornly continuing in the wrong direction. He’s quick and willing to make corrections.

Third, he refuses to let the darkness squelch his love for light, and consequently, even when he doesn’t feel hopeful, he acts as if there is hope. When he cannot see his way, he remembers the Shire, his garden, the elves, the lady of Lorien, grass and growing things, stars, and light. His mind dwells on the pure, lovely, honorable, and right even when all around is evil, cruelty, hatred, violence, and death.

There’s more Sam Gamgee wisdom, but those are three pretty good traits to learn from and hang onto in the new year.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in January, 2013.

Published in: on January 15, 2020 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Job And Our Organic God


My church started a short sermon series in the book of Habakkuk this month. This fairly obscure prophet wrote at the end the Judean Kingdom. He saw idol worship and all kinds of evil things, and he took his concerns to God. Sort of a, “Aren’t You going to do something about this” question. God answered by saying, in part, “Yes, I’m sending the wicked, violent Chaldeans against Judah.”

Habakkuk’s response was so much like any of us might have given: Really? You’re sending a nation that is more wicked to punish a wicked one? How does that work?

God, as our pastor pointed out, reserves the right to do surprising things. Actions we can’t always get our heads around. He made the comparison with what Job experienced.

I found this post, that is an expanded and revised version of an earlier one, that addresses the issue.

– – – – –

One of the things writers talk about is creating stories organically. The alternative is to force a story to become what you want it to become by reducing it to a formula. Organic stories are the ones that seem real, that last long after you’ve closed the book, that affect you rather than merely entertaining you.

There is no one key to writing organic stories, but they must have characters that seem like real people with believable motivations, realistic emotional patterns and true-to-life psychological mechanisms for handling problems.

The formulaic characters are little more than place holders. In a formulaic romance, for example, insert heroine on page 1, the opening paragraph; slot in romantic lead in chapter 2. Almost it doesn’t matter who these people are. They will have some problem that keeps them apart for a third of the book, then they will begin to draw close, only to run into a wedge that drives them further apart for another third. When all seems hopeless, after the heroine experiences the black night of the soul, the two resolve the conflict and come together. Or something like that. You get the gist. There’s a pattern, one that romance writers are taught in writing workshops to follow.

I’m not trying to pick on romances. I think westerns can be just as formulaic and so can mysteries. Character X discovers crime Y with suspects A, B, and C. With a little detecting, he uncovers clues 1, 2, and 3. A formula.

I don’t know enough about any of these genres to say whether there is a way to write them organically—to make them come alive and therefore to separate them from the pack. I do know that readers of formulaic books have a hard time remembering if they’ve already read Busted, Bashed, or Butchered. (I just made up those titles, but that kind of title connection in a series is another part of the formula). Even by reading the back cover, readers can draw a blank. Is this the book they read? It sounds vaguely familiar, but so do the other two.

What does all this have to do with God and the book of Job?

Job’s friends saw God as a formulaic figure. He was as good as programmed, in their minds, and had to act in manner y if person A did action x. In other words, they were not seeing God as organic—alive and relational. They were talking about Him as if He were an it, a force, a thing they could predict. Perhaps a thing they could manipulate.

While Job was wrong to complain against God and to accuse Him of wrong doing (which is why he repented in the end), he nevertheless got it right that God is a free and independent person, transcendent, able to act however He wants to act. He’s organic. He’s more than that, of course, because He’s sovereign.

In the past some professing Christians have accused traditional, Biblical Christianity of putting God in a box. Let him be organic, in other words, by which they mean, let him bend with the culture—change to fit the changing times.

Well, funny thing. The most organic thing a person can do is reveal who he is. “You want to know me? Let me tell you about myself so that you’re not reading your own thoughts or feelings or motives into my actions.”

This, God chose to do.

However, instead of embracing His story about Himself and His relationship with humankind, many people, even “religious” ones, decide they get to say who God is and what He is like. What these people are doing is “re-imaging” Him into the formula they’ve created.

That is what Job’s friends did.

They determined that God dealt with people in a formulaic, foreseeable way. He punished sin by bringing suffering down on the sinner. He rewarded those who lived righteously by giving them prosperity and long life.

Consequently, they left no room for God to do anything else with an unrighteous man other than bring disaster down on his head. And since disaster hit Job five fold, he was clearly, according to their formula, an unrighteous man.

People today do essentially the same thing: God is loving and kind and forgiving and tolerant and an advocate for peace. Therefore he would never send people to hell, order the death of . . . well, anyone but most certainly not a whole nation, though He said they were people who lived in debauchery. Above all, the loving and kind and tolerant God would never punish the entire human race because one person ate a bite of forbidden fruit. That’s not God, they say. (I mean, it’s just fruit!)

Maybe punishing sin is not the formulaic God these progressive Christians have concocted, but the organic God who is sovereign, just, and good, can do, and does do, all the things He revealed in His word. And more.

He’s not bound by a formula. He can, and did, take the form of a mam. He can, and did, live a sin-free life. He can, and did, sacrifice Himself to pay for the sins of the world. Why? Not because we did a satisfactory quota of good deeds, certainly. He, being living and self-existent, chooses to do what He chooses to do.

The point is, God isn’t limited by our expectations. He can forgive the repentant, even someone like King Manasseh who had instituted child sacrifice. Undoubtedly Job’s three friends would have demanded that God strike the wicked king down in the midst of his wickedness.

But God, who is merciful and all-knowing and just, forgave that man instead.

God can be trusted to do what is right with the lives and souls of the people He created. He doesn’t have to fit the formula Job’s friends created—in fact, He doesn’t. Theirs was a works theology—do the right things and God has to bless. Stray from His demands, and He will rain suffering down.

They didn’t understand what it meant to believe God to be sovereign, to trust Him to do what is right, even when His action is surprising and unexpected and even sometimes painful. They didn’t know Him and love Him. They more nearly knew about Him and used Him—in Job’s case, to chastise a man suffering horrific loss. But that’s what happens when someone believes God must follow their formula.

Published in: on January 14, 2020 at 4:42 pm  Comments (4)  
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Tornadoes, Drought, Fire, And Death


Some years ago, a handful of Christians infamously claimed that hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans, or later that the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti was His judgment on the culture of voodoo and the occult practiced there in times passed.

But what about events in Mid-America such as violent tornadoes? That would be the area of the US famously known as the Bible Belt. A number of years ago, spring tornadoes, numbering more than a hundred strong, tore through Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, over to Nebraska and Missouri, and up into Indiana, killing and destroying.

Not to be outdone, wildfires devastated Colorado, and drought consumed crops throughout the Great Plains and over to the Appalachians. In fact, the USA Today reported that 64% of the US was experiencing drought conditions.

And of course there are the shootings that have become all to common in all parts of the US.

All this, of course, comes to mind because of the horrific fires currently devastating Australia.

In the after-math of the natural disasters, news cameras often catch survivors picking through the ruins, thankful that they lived and vowing to keep going. Some way. Some how.

After shootings, there’s talk of the gun culture and insane people trying to grab the spotlight so that the world will look at them for a few fleeting days. Undoubtedly gun legislation again comes under discussion.

All of it is white noise to the real issues that we need to talk about. God works in the world today, as He has throughout history. Because we understand and can predict weather patterns does not mean God has no part in them. Because a psychotic killer picked up a gun and attacked a theater full of people does not mean God is indifferent or uninvolved.

These events remind me so much of the things Job experienced, all engineered by Satan, but permitted by God, used by God. Why do we think He has changed?

No, He did not cause shooters to open fire on unsuspecting victims. That’s an act of evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone to do evil (see James 1:13). But He works His will in and through these circumstances. And He does so in order that we will look to Him rather than to our own supposed strength and goodness.

God allows fires and floods and wind and drought so that we can see we are weak, not strong. He allows evil men to kill and steal and destroy so that we will see, Mankind is not good.

Only God is strong. Only God is good.

When will we look to Him instead of looking to ourselves for answers?

We are so much like Israel of old. They were a religious people, keeping their feast days, offering sacrifices in their holy cities, and God said, I’m not interested. Instead He brought war and famine so that they would turn to Him.

Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord GOD.

“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I smote you with scorching wind and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:5-11 – emphasis mine)

Are we somehow beyond God’s reach, that He would not be at our shoulder, calling to us, telling us we need to return to Him? Are we so oblivious to our egregious behavior, putting to death thousands and thousands of unborn babies year after year; calling evil good and good, evil; giving credence to false prophets who lie about God and His character, that we think God is pleased with us and will continue to bless us as a nation?

What will it take for us to realize, God might be trying to get our attention because He wants us to look at Him, listen to Him, bow before Him, and recognize that He is God and we are not.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2012.

Following God


King David followed God, to the point that God identified him as a man after His own heart. As it happens, David was also filled with the Holy Spirit:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah. (1 Sam. 16:13; emphasis mine)

Still, as any Christian who is honest will admit, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives does not mean we have some kind of insulation against sin. Hence, King David sinned, and grandly so. He also confessed his sin and returned to God, more than on one occasion. As it happens, we have some of his prayers of confession in the book of Psalms.

King Solomon stands in contrast to David. God made an incredible offer to this newly anointed king—ask whatever you want, and I’ll give it to you. He asked for wisdom. God blessed him with wisdom all right, but threw in riches and honor as well.

He gave Solomon the same promise He gave David: follow Me and there will be one of your descendants on the throne . . . forever.

I think Solomon tried. He went about building a temple where the nation of Israel could worship the LORD. But he had a divided heart. He also made places for his wives, who worshiped idols, to perform their religious activities.

And when he was confronted with his sin, he did not repent. We have his spiritual journey recorded in Ecclesiastes, and it does have a hopeful end:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14)

Following Solomon was his son, Rehoboam. This guy came to the throne and immediately faced a request from his people. As near as I can determine, he had neither the Spirit of God or the wisdom from God that his more famous predecessors had. His solution to a crisis of confidence from those he was to govern? As for counsel.

No, he didn’t ask God. He asked the men who had advised his father. The he asked some guys like himself who had never ruled before. He liked their advice better. Clearly, Rehoboam was depending on himself. Not God. Not God’s gift of wisdom. Not even the men God had put in place who could give him God’s perspective.

The result was a national split—a civil war. The nation that had been one, became two. There’s much more to say about the Hebrew kings, but the point for this post is this: David had the Spirit of God and followed God; Solomon had the gift of God and turned to it to guide him; Rehoboam had advisors and followed the ones he found to be more to his liking. In other words, he followed his own way.

During the period of the Judges when there was no king, Scripture says that “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Now Israel (and soon after, Judah) had a king who did what was right in his own eyes.

I don’t think much has change when it comes to following God. We can look to His Spirit, His gifts, or our own way. What constitutes God’s gifts? Maybe spiritual gifts like love and joy and peace and patience. Maybe the Church God is building. Those are obviously very, very good, as was the wisdom Solomon had. But they are not substitutes for God Himself. We are not to follow “church tradition” or the “sense of peace” we may or may not feel if either of those take us away from God.

For instance, the woman who leaves her husband because she’s sure God wants her to be happy—or be at peace. Well, yes, God does give us peace and His love means He desires the best for us. But “the best” may not mean the kind of peace we think.

There’s a peace that comes from depending on God that is beyond comprehension, and may not override external turmoil. As a radio minister pointed out today, the apostle Peter was in jail, awaiting trial that would end in his execution, most likely, and he was asleep! The external turmoil surrounded him, but his soul was at peace. And as it happened, an angel broke him out of prison so that he didn’t die then—though Peter had no way of knowing that was God’s plan. His peace simply allowed him to have a good night’s sleep.

Before Making New Year’s Resolutions—A Reprise


I know lots of people are big on New Year’s resolutions, but I’m not. I used to go the resolutions route, but at some point switched to yearly goals. Finally I dropped those too. The fact was, whatever I did seemed like a plan for failure. Sure I wanted to do the things I put down on the list, but reality was, I didn’t have the time-management skills or drive or willingness to say no or whatever else might have determined a greater degree of success. So rather than setting myself up for failure, I decided to depart from the tradition. I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions since.

Not long ago something I read in Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening made me think there’s something different I could do instead. I think people who want to make resolutions might still find this idea appropriate, too.

Simply put, it’s a bit of an end-of-the-year evaluation, akin to a teacher’s end of the year evaluation I used to have at the close of every school year. I’d sit down with the principal and we’d talk about how things had gone and what we needed to do to prepare for the next year. The principal’s questions prompted me to ask what I personally was doing that needed to be improved. Even when I’d been teaching for years, I’d come away from the evaluation with a clear sense that I should not stand pat.

To be honest, I needed the principal’s prodding because, we aren’t really the best ones to evaluate … us. We need a more objective opinion, someone who both knows us well and who will be honest, even brutally so, if need be.

When King David wanted to take a good hard look at his life, he turned to God:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Ps. 139:23-24)

Who could be better qualified to search us than omniscient God? He knows my lying down and my rising. He knows my thoughts from afar. He knows each word I will say before a one is on my lips. I can hide nothing from Him.

So, why this search if God already knows?

I believe it’s got several functions. First, this evaluation is like my employer evaluations—as much about communicating the conclusions as about making them. If my principal knew what I should do differently and he never told me, I would be no better for having been evaluated. It would be a meaningless exercise. I needed the communication end of the meeting. So too with God.

Second is the part where God leads me in His way. Not only do I need to know what I need to change, I need to know God’s way of handling the change. Change for no other reason than to do things differently is actually wasted effort.

A meaningful evaluation, then, requires sitting down and listening to the one in authority: This is what I see and this is what you need to do about it.

Evaluations can be scary—unless there is trust between the one being evaluated and the one doing the evaluation. Of course we know we can trust God to be truthful and not to miss a thing. But we can also trust Him because He is good and because He loves us. Consequently, it’s safe to ask Him to search us, to try us, to see if there’s a wicked something in our lives that needs to change.

Not a bad idea to have such a meeting with Him whether we’re planning to make a list of resolutions or goals or to pick a word for the new year or to follow any other kind of life-change plan.

This post is an edited edition of one that appeared here in December 2011.

Published in: on December 31, 2019 at 4:09 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Wages Of Sin Is Death


What a topic for a post leading up to Christmas! I mean, this is the season for Good News and peace and God’s good will toward humankind.

All true.

The angel who announced Jesus’s birth to a collection of shepherds said this precisely. Good news for all people. Today, in the city of David, a Savior, for you. And then a host—a legion, a battalion, a company of angels joined him. I’m reminded of the legion of angels Jesus said He could ask the Father for if He wanted. (Actually, twelve legions: “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Matt. 26:53)

Well, at Jesus’s birth at least one legion was there standing before the shepherds saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14, KJV)

But who needs peace? Or God’s good will? Or a Savior, for that matter? Only those at war, who are in hostilities, who are unable to save themselves.

I know a lot of people think that what the angels said was wishful thinking: If only we wish hard enough or try hard enough, we can bring peace on earth. The good will part seems sort of nebulous. I mean, is there a god? Does he involve himself in the affairs of mankind? Does he give a rip?

Actually, Christmas—Jesus coming to earth—proves that God is, that He very much involves Himself in the affairs of humans, and that He gives much more than a rip about us.

But the peace, the good will, the salvation may not be what we expect. We’re looking for a better life, or perhaps a wonderful life. We want the good things, the best life now. In other words, it’s all about our happiness, our comfort, our ease, our fulfillment.

For many Americans, things are already going in the right direction. We don’t have any insurmountable problems. We’re already pretty comfortable, with the hope that we can keep making things better if we keep doing the right things.

On the other hand, there are people who have already given up. They are hopelessly mired in addiction or relationship disaster or financial ruin. They’ve lost their kids to the courts, they’ve been in and out of prison. Maybe back in again. They live in their car, but most likely, on the streets. They have no hope for a job that will help them turn things around. And peace? Good will? Salvation? Those seem like pie in the sky. Things for other people, because clearly, they aren’t having any of it.

What Jesus offers has to do with our relationship to God.

So many, many people miss Christmas. We’re not looking for peace with God or good will from Him or even salvation. But that’s because we’re confused, maybe blinded, to our real situation.

Our real problem is sin. It’s not anything else. Sure, there may be symptoms of the fundamental condition of our hearts, but a lot of people mask them. They say they’re fine. Why would they need a savior? They are healthy and happy and prosperous. Let the people who need the crutch of religion go on about a savior.

But they can’t see the gulf that sin creates between them and God. They can’t see how sin makes them God’s enemies. They don’t realize or don’t care that God requires payment for their sin.

What sin, some ask. I even had an atheist tell me she hadn’t broken any of the Ten Commandments. Never mind that she did not keep the first one, the second one, the third one, or the fourth:

‘You shall have no other gods before Me . . .
‘You shall not make for yourself an idol . . .
‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain . . .
‘Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy . . .’

This reminds me of the young man who approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to be saved. All the things from the Ten Commandments that Jesus named, he said he’d done. Then Jesus asked him to give up his idol, which happened to be his wealth. The guy left, downcast.

He thought he was good. He was blind to the fact that he actually had a huge need.

That’s so many of us today. We look at our physical situation and make an assessment as to how we’re doing: pretty good, some say. On the right track. Or, things couldn’t be better. But some may say, hopeless. I’m so far gone, nothing and no one can get me on the right track, if they even wanted to help.

In the end, we will never be able to receive the message of the angels that night Jesus was born. He is the Savior, because He acquits us of the punishment we rightful deserve. He frees us from the Law, from guilt, from the clutches of sin, from the eternal punishment that awaits. He provides the means to peace with God.

What will end the hostilities between sinners and a holy God? Jesus. And no one, nothing, else.

As far as good will is concerned, God’s good will toward us was demonstrated in His Son taking on flesh so that He could be like us—all but the sin part. He, the King of all, left His throne, submitted to a life as an ordinary human—except for the sin part. Then He died to pay the penalty of the sin that we are responsible for.

Now that is good will!

An end of hostilities, God’s good will poured out on us, His Son serving as Savior of the world. That’s what Christmas is about.

But honestly? We’ll miss it if we don’t recognize our own personal condition, in need of the things God offers.

Published in: on December 16, 2019 at 5:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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And We Wait


There’s only been one generation in all of history that actually waited for the promised Messiah and saw Him come. All the rest of us wait. The people who believed God before Jesus came, waited for the promised Messiah.

We know this from Scripture but also from history. Any number of false messiahs claimed they were the one promised by God, and for a time groups of people believed them. Until Rome killed them.

From the early pages in Genesis, God promised to crush Satan’s head, the very thing Jesus did by defeating death, by freeing us from sin and guilt and the Law.

Many prophecies told the Jewish people to expect a King, but also to expect a suffering Savior. The King, they embraced. The suffering Savior, they overlooked.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem before His last Passover on earth, the people flocked to Him, expecting Him to declare Himself the promised King. They had waited and watched, and many thought Jesus was the One.

People had asked John the Baptist if he was the one. They wanted so much to see the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in their time. They wanted to have a King that would defeat Rome and free Israel once and for all from political tyranny. John said no, he wasn’t the one. But of Jesus he said, Behold, the Lamb of God.

The Lamb? Not, the King?

Not the King, yet.

So many missed the bigger picture. They missed that the Messiah was not just for Israel. They missed that His Kingdom was not an earthly or a political kingdom. Yes, they waited for the Messiah, but in some measure, they didn’t understand what they were waiting for.

A handful of people got the message—pretty much hand delivered to them by God. Mary received the announcement that Messiah would be her son. And the angel Gabriel also told her why the Messiah was coming: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:33)

Interestingly, her soon-to-be husband received even more information:

She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Matt 1:21-23)

Then there were John the Baptist’s parents. And the shepherds and the prophetess Anna and the godly priest Simeon and the magi traveling from the east. All were looking for and expecting the Messiah. And all saw the promise fulfilled. Their wait was over. Sort of.

Some undoubtedly began a new wait, the one we share today—the wait for the Messiah to return.

I know, kind of crazy to talk about the return of the King during Christmas time when we celebrate His first coming. But I think seeing the promise of His first arrival come to fruition gives hope as we wait for His second coming.

We live in a day that was similar to what the first century people waiting for Messiah experienced. There were problems morally, socially, even within the ranks of religion. They wanted a King who would set things right.

And so many people today want the same thing. They are empty, without purpose, filling their lives with pleasures that grow stale, thinking there should be more.

And there is. Waiting for the Suffering Savior to come as the triumphant King, is an awesome joy. It’s like the bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to show in one of the parables. Or for the tenant workers waiting for the landowner to show and evaluate their work. It’s a glory and an honor to be found when the King comes, faithfully carrying out the tasks we’ve been assigned.

That’s why Scripture says over an over to stand firm, to “hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Heb. 3:6b). It’s why we’re not to grow weary in well-doing. We have the promise that Christ is worth waiting for.

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:4)

So yes, we wait, just like those Jews so long ago waited for the Messiah to come. And because Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Suffering Servant, because He came as an unblemished Lamb and shed His blood for the sins of the world, we can know with certainty that He will also come again.

God doesn’t do things half way.

Published in: on December 3, 2019 at 5:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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Meeting Expectations


In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, I’m a big sports fan. The problem with being a fan is that more often than not, an expectation exists to win, and the truth is, most teams lose a good percent of their games.

Sure, there are the teams like the Alabama University football team that can reel off a good streak, but when they lose the “big game,” the expectations of the fans are dashed. Or how about the Dodgers’ baseball? They held something like a 20 game lead in their division, clinched a playoff spot before any other team, and still didn’t even make it to the World Series.

Never mind all the mid-tier teams that probably have no realistic shot of even making the playoffs. Like my Denver Broncos in the NFL. When the season started, I expected them to be pretty good. And they are. But they have lost 4 games in the final minute of play, once by not scoring and 3 times by allowing the other teams to score. Four loses in football are highly significant. A team that is 8-4 in December has a legitimate chance at a playoff spot. But the Broncos are languishing at 4-8 instead. My expectations for the team aren’t being fulfilled.

But that’s really life. There aren’t a lot of times that our expectations in life are all met. Something tends to gum up the works. It might be a transfer from a comfortable location to one that is far from family. It might be a promotion that went to someone else, or a love interest that did not reciprocate the feelings. It might be a leaky pipe that requires hours of plumber work. It could be as disastrous as a tornado or blizzard or wild fire. I’ve heard people who lost their homes saying things like, Yes, this was our dream home and now it’s gone.

Or how about illness or injury? Or a son or daughter who doesn’t like the same stuff you love. You want to share your passion with them, but they just don’t care. Then there are new pastors who don’t handle the job the way we thought a pastor would, or should.

What about the program you worked hours and hours on, practicing, preparing, and the night of the big performance, the mic doesn’t work properly and no one can hear what the performers say.

I could go on and on. I probably have too long already. I think it’s pretty clear that all of us, in whatever walk of life, are acquainted with unmet expectations.

I can only think of one instance in which we are never let down. That’s spiritually. Jesus Christ never lets us down.

Oh, sure, people might expect the wrong things from Him. They might expect that He answer their prayer the way they want and according to their timetable. Well, in that case, they can just put “answered prayer” in the column of unmet expectation. God doesn’t operate according to our dictates. He doesn’t take orders from us, because quite clearly He’s the one in charge. And He works stuff out for our spiritual good.

Our spiritual good is not necessarily the same as our physical good. I think of the Christians who left such strong witnesses by their suffering and even their deaths, and I know that the “momentary, light affliction” of this life is in no way comparable to the eternal weight of glory we will experience through God’s work in our lives.

It’s like putting temporary on one side of the scales and eternal on the other side and seeing which weighs more. Yeah, not even close. The scales tip so drastically toward the eternal, that it’s not even a contest.

So when something in the temporary doesn’t meet expectations, but all things in the eternal always meet expectations, how are we to react?

Honestly, if we were looking at the whole picture, we’d see how silly frustration or disappointment over the temporary actually is. It’s a lot like not doing well in practice. We might try hard, but if we come up short, what have we lost? Maybe a start in the big game, maybe even a chance to play at all. But what have we actually lost? Our poor play in practice did not hurt the team, and it might have actually taught me what I need to know for the game. It might actually be for my good.

Shocking, I know. But that’s actually how God works with us in life. We might face failed expectations and have to endure suffering or hardship. But the experience will never be wasted. God will use it to prep us for eternity. He might even use it in the here and now: like He did for Corrie ten Boom or Elisabeth Elliot or Joni Eareckson Tada. Suffering and hardship in the here and now, but astounding accomplishment and success in the here and now, also.

But even that success is spiritual. I mean, any number of lives have turned to Christ because of the witness of people like these three, or like Greg Laurie who lost his son, but not his faith in the goodness of God.

So in among all the disappointed expectations, we will never see our faithful God fail us or forsake us. But who is “us”? Any and all who believe in the name of His Son, the promised Messiah, the Christ, who takes away the sins of the world. We can go to the spiritual bank with the capital of His shed blood, and we will be spiritual millionaires.

Published in: on December 2, 2019 at 5:14 pm  Comments (68)  
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History In The Hands Of The Ignorant


I saw a news item some years ago. Supposedly a Hollywood star came out saying she hates the US holiday of Thanksgiving (the Los Angeles Times published a rebuttal article calling into question Fox’s motivation and journalism for drawing their information from popeater.com, though the Times failed to mention that sites like the Huffington Post also carried the story).

The “news event,” generated by second-hand reports, explained that this star was boycotting Thanksgiving because she didn’t want to be a part of rewriting history or commemorating “what the white settlers did to the native Indians.”

I’d like to rail a little against this one ignorant woman, except I saw something eerily similar from someone in my Facebook network.

Then today I learned that some are calling Thanksgiving a day of mourning, basically as a protest against the results of the Indian wars that occurred some 200 years after the event recognized as the first Thanksgiving.

Never mind that there are primary historical documents—journals by the pilgrims who actually celebrated that holiday, such as Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford and Mourt’s Relation by Edward Winslow and others—that make it clear Thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of the activity that forced the native Americans off their land.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in New England. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.
Wikipedia

In what way would a gathering that included on average two Indians for every pilgrim settler be reprehensible? Especially when the settlers were thanking God for His provision—not merely for the food, but for the Indians who taught them how to survive.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest. To thank God for their deliverance and the help they had received from the Indians, Bradford held a three-day Thanksgiving feast inviting the Indians to join them in their celebration.
“Strangers, Saints and Indians” by John A. Murray, Wall Street Journal

For the next fifty years, the pilgrims and the neighboring native people groups lived in harmony. And Thanksgiving feasts took place in response to the blessings they enjoyed. Not every year, but with more and more frequency.

So who actually is “rewriting history”?

Certainly not the people who are reading the original source material. And not those of us who celebrate God’s goodness, as the pilgrims did—recognizing that God’s hand preserves and protects and provides.

Think about it. What were the odds that a native American, fluent in English, would “happen” upon this colony of pilgrims so in need of help?

But I’m getting sidetracked.

This well-documented story certainly can be interpreted from a number of angles (for example, by focusing on the English speaking native Americans, by looking at the political developments within the colony, by exploring the relationships of the various native people groups with each other), but it cannot be painted as the beginning of hostilities, pilgrims with Indians.

At least as long as we’re not rewriting history.

In one video I watched, one history re-writer said the Pilgrims were shooting guns in preparation of the army that would wipe out all the native Americans. But the forced removal of Native groups from their land—a reprehensible act that demolished a number of treaties and broke trust and harmed the possibility of peace—didn’t take place until 1830. Two hundred years after the celebration of a promising beginning.

No, things were not always good during those ensuing years, in the same way that the US fought against England in 1776 and then again in 1812. As it happened, some Indian groups allied with England and some with the colonists/Americans. And yes there were localized land fights on occasion.

But none of that should take away from the glory of the event that brought over 140 people together to feast and celebrate and to give thanks. The first Thanksgiving was remarkable and should be our goal, not a cause for further division and accusation.

Are we so ignorant that in this Age of Communication, people will believe something so easy to debunk as the false narrative that the Pilgrims had something to do with displacing the native Americans? The sad part is that believing it turns into repeating it, which soon hardens into rewritten history.

Much of this article is a reprint of an earlier post.

Published in: on November 27, 2019 at 5:24 pm  Comments (6)  
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I’m Thankful For Rain


I read a post this morning that started by saying good things about the sun and how the short days of winter are not inline with enjoying lots of sun. I love the sun, too. It’s easier for me to wake up when day breaks rather than when night has a couple more hours to go.

But here in SoCal, we don’t see much rain, so I treasure those days. Unless I’m driving in it. Not my favorite thing.

And, you guessed it, this Thanksgiving Day, we are expecting rain. The storm is due to hit tomorrow morning in the wee hours, so it might have been raining for a couple hours before I wake up. Then, as is typical of SoCal storms, we will have rain throughout the day. There may be a short break here or there, but for the next two days, the weather people are predicting rain.

I’m thankful for the rain. I have to keep reminding myself as I anticipate a drive in the rain on Thursday.

Sometimes our blessings—and rain certainly is a blessing—have mixed consequences, the same way the things we dread or don’t like, do. I mean, there isn’t much that happens in this world that doesn’t have a flip side. Whatever happens might be horrible, but from the ashes something good comes. Or something great happens, but there’s a downside no one saw coming.

Let’s say, for example, a ball team wins the ultimate championship in their sport, and as part of the celebration, their “fans” riot in the streets after the game.

Some things do seem like they are headed nowhere, that the outcome is hopeless, that all is lost and no one is coming to save the day, or to bring first aid, or even a cup of water. That can happen. It does happen.

But for the Christian, all is not lost. All is never lost. Because our King is Jesus, and He has already conquered sin and guilt and death and sickness and sadness and abuse and persecution and any other thing we can imagine that could come against us.

The flip side of suffering, is God’s glory, His comfort through His Holy Spirit, His home that we can anticipate. Peter said it like this:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:13-15; I added the italicized font for emphasis; the all caps indicate a quotation from the Old Testament)

Peter actually talked to those first century Christians a lot about suffering, and it all applies to us as well. In Chapter 4 he says

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (vv 12-14)

Did you catch that? As in the first quote, he says here in this second, that we are blessed if we “share the sufferings of Christ.” He follows this with a warning that no one is to suffer as “a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or troublesome meddler.” That covers a lot of territory!

But what if we suffer just because we live in a world in which bad things happen? I can’t explain really, but as Christians who trust God, we can trust Him in the bad things, too. We can. And we can bless His name. We can do what Jesus did: “He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23b)

Because God is righteous, because Jesus is already the Victor, as Corrie ten Boom liked to say, we can do what James says: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” (James 1:3).

Then of course there’s David who said in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me.”

I think the key is God’s presence. For the Christian He is with us, in us, never absent, slumbering, or inattentive. He knows.

So Daniel’s friends experienced God’s presence right there in the fiery furnace, and they lived to walk out of it, but Stephen experienced God’s presence through His angelic servants, and he died. The outcome isn’t really the point. The “entrusting ourselves to Him who judges righteously” is everything.

So rain or sun—God sends both because we need both, most of all for our spiritual strengthening and growth and well-being.

Published in: on November 26, 2019 at 5:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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