Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lie of the Week #3

Always another thing to deal with.

Lately, I've been struggling with something that's not so much a bald-faced lie about God's character, but a mystery about how God works. It's the subtle belief that God doesn't intervene in our lives. I mean, he intervenes, but he doesn't INTERVENE. That he gives us wisdom and Godly principles to live by (that's no small toolbox, of course), then sits back and expects us to work it out as best we can. That he's kind of "hands-off" in the workings of the world.

The best way I can think of to put it: It's only the rules of the world that matter, and not God's.

Obviously, there are many ideas out there about how God works. I'm not going to be the one to figure him out. (I doubt he'll ever be figured out by a human.) There are man-made philosophies that discuss whether God is active or passive in his operation, and there are Bible-based philosophies that go both ways.

It can't be denied that God allows evil and frustration to exist in the world. And I'm not neglecting my own responsibility to work hard and to live with character and to love people. God isn't about to do everything for us (he's chosen to use the church to a great extent), and we have to live with the consequences of our actions.

But at the same time, I'm aware that this truth has taken a certain twist in my mind, and it's not a twist I like. It produces anxiety and discouragement inside. Despite the truths I've listed above, the message feels like it has a certain agenda.

Get it right, because you're on your own.

I'm not the only one who's dealing with this. Several friends of mine are in the midst of a long stretch of life in which God has seemed relatively quiet. Years of prayer aren't answered (at least not with a "yes"). Many innocent mistakes have been made. Dreams, victories, and goals, even Godly ones, remain far off even for the godliest people I know. Even our service for the kingdom seems to be accomplishing little.

Not to make life all about us, but it can get disillusioning after a while. God seems silent. It starts to feel like the rules of the world are the only ones that matter.

Many people just stop believing in God. The rest of us stop believing in his active work. Unable to agree that God simply isn't there, we decide that he "just doesn't work that way", like expecting a Big Mac from Wendy's. Or maybe we're getting it wrong. Or maybe God works exclusively THROUGH the world's rules and I'm a fool for even questioning all this.

And even when good things do come, they seem to be merely the result of our own hard work. We have the responsibility to credit every good thing to God. Scripture's clear on that. But it's tough, because sometimes these things are just so darn ordinary. Folks can look at our lives and find it easy to accredit these things to human workings. Nonbelievers graduate. Nonbelievers find jobs. Nonbelievers beat diseases. Nonbelievers reach goals, survive financial crises, overcome incredible obstacles, create heartwarming "Today Show" segments, fulfill dreams all the time - and glorify hard work and determination??!?! I didn't even know those were gods.

Where's Jesus in all this? Doesn't he want to be unmistakable to all the people watching?

It's only the rules of the world that matter.

A partial truth, and yet a lie. Because I know this isn't really about God's mode of operation - it's just trying to get me worrying about whether it's all up to me. It's often said that the way to strengthen a lie is to mix a little truth in. We are responsible, at least in part, for navigating this life. But lies sneak in. The enemy loves to put his spin on things.

I loved God's response to these thoughts of mine a few weeks ago. I poured them out to him, and he brought to my mind not a specific Scripture, but a story. A character I'm very familiar with, who definitely stood in my shoes a few times. I'll tell you later this week.

In the meantime I want to encourage you. If you're feeling like you're in a long, quiet stretch of life in which it's hard to distinguish the hand of God from the grindstone of life, and if you want to see God really break out in your life for a change, you're not alone. God isn't our puppet. We can't make him do things. But we can trust in his heart for us.

I am so encouraged that God answers me when I ask him tough questions, even when mysteries remain. More and more often, I'll take that over having all the answers.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

God as Scrooge?

I'm taking an evening walk last month, trying to sort some things out in my mind, and I suddenly realize I've come to believe God is stingy.

I don't know when I started believing that. I never consciously chose to. Somehow it sneaked into my heart when I wasn't looking, like a stowaway. That's how lies operate.

Now, LIFE has certainly been stingy in several areas. My family grew up without much money. My parents did their best to budget, provided properly, came through pretty well on Christmas and birthdays, but there weren't a lot of big things besides that. I struggled making friends as a teen; I usually only had one or two at a time. I relied largely on my Air Force benefits for college, and it was just barely enough. Let's not even talk about the arena of girls.

These patterns haven't really changed in my adult life. I've often lived paycheck to paycheck, breaking that cycle only in the last two years. I'm still single. I've made many friends, but it's taken a long time, and it seems that no sooner do I make one then he gets hitched and/or moves away. I work at a job that severely minimizes the time I get with my spiritual family. And I've become notorious for car troubles.

This is not whining. God has given me a degree, a job, basic needs, and a great church family. I'm in the 1%. It could be much worse.

But the disappointments are still there, still registering somewhere in my heart. Life has been hard in the relational areas. And I know God is in control of that life. What does one make of this?

That one evening, it seemed to come together to this: "God, it feels like I've had to scratch and claw and beg for every blessing you've ever given me."

I stopped walking.

Whoa. NOT a good thing to believe. Portraying God as miserly and reluctant?

It may be the message life sends sometimes, sure. But it doesn't fly. There are many possible explanations in the Bible for our troubles; it's not as simple as A leads to B leads to C. We can't decode the heart of God by examining how life has treated us. That will rarely line up with the Bible's authoritative teaching.

So I choose the truth. Out loud. Again.
"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, that he lavished on us." Ephesians 1:7-8a
"You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance." Psalm 65:9-12
"“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:9-11
"They all ate and were satisfied." Matthew 14:20a, 15:37a
Riches. Lavished. Greatly. Full. Abundantly. Softening. Bounty. Overflow. Gifts. Satisfied. There's not in a word in there that paints God as a scrooge. And honestly, if all God had given us was salvation through Jesus, that alone would be far more generosity than we could ever repay.

I admit life is hard. There are theological questions everywhere about why some people's legitimate needs and heart's desires aren't met. I won't be the one to answer those questions. And I'm not using this to make a claim on what God will give me in this life. That's his alone to decide.

I simply know that there's no wiggle room in my heart for what I believe about God. Either he's fully generous as portrayed by the Bible, or he isn't. The amount of peace and power in my life will be decided by whether I stand on the truth. It's like a spiritual law. I no longer want the life of internal unrest and frustration.

Somehow, someway, despite life's frustrations, God is generous.

Just another Lie of the Week that needs annihilation.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Sometimes we need a break, and to rest in God's beauty.

I have thoughts for Wednesday, but today I want to offer a glimpse into why I love the Pacific Northwest and wish I could live here all my life.

Just imagine God creating this world for his own glory, and then hoping that we...we!...enjoy it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Roadside Assistance

Tooling along on a forest highway in the middle of nowhere a few weeks ago, headed to a job interview, my breath catches a little. My eyes have just spotted the engine temperature gauge, pointing in a very unpleasant direction. I pull over and open the hood. The engine is hissing, the coolant reservoir bubbling and trembling like a Yellowstone geyser.

Perfect. Interview aborted. Hope I can limp the 50 miles back to my mechanic. (Welcome to Montana.)

I get back in and start waiting for the engine to cool down, double blinkers engaged. After three minutes listening to their foreboding clicking ("uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh"), the sweltering heat coaxes me out of the car and into the shade of a nearby tree.

Standing there, one thought inexorably seeps in: my bank account isn't going to be better off after this.

And another thought, a response to the first, follows on its heels. Harder to put words to, because it's one of those deep-soul thoughts, a response to my constant car troubles.

This is pitiful.

It's a very male reaction to a bank account that doesn't look much different (though I'm not in debt) than when I was in college. Many women don't have quite this reaction. Frustration, sure. But men's sense of esteem tends to be tied to our work and accomplishments, of which bank accounts can be a reflection. To a guy, a smaller balance feels more like judgment. Like I'm not doing good enough, don't have what it takes.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons for this balance, of which car troubles are the foremost. But feelings insist. Quit making excuses, shmuck. Get it together. And lie. Nobody else seems to have these problems. And compare. Your friends are out buying houses and taking vacations in Hawaii.

Frustration growing, I do again what I've been trying to do all year. Turn my eyes back to Jesus.
"The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV
"Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them." - James 1:9 NLT
Okay. Scripture's in the mix now. The roadside wait has become one of those moments where feelings and truth collide in a head-on brawl, battling for my allegiance. Life is pretty much a string of these moments. What am I going to choose? Because it IS a choice.

Am I going to take the word of God seriously or not?

I choose, out loud on the roadside, to accept God's standards for me, not my own or anyone else's. Relief and peace follow during my return journey - a little slowly, but they do follow.

I'm telling you, confessing the truth out loud has an effect on the inner life. It's tough at first, takes some time, feels weird because that semi driver might see me talking to air. My experience: the stronger this habit gets, the easier peace follows. Remaining in Jesus (John 15:4) includes believing what's true, because he is the Truth.

Pretty grateful today that God measures a man by what's in his heart, not his bank account.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mountain Dew in Vysoke Myto

"YES!" I hollered to the ceiling, grabbing the bottle off the shelf of the Vysoke Myto convenience store. Unlike the bottles I'd seen in the U.S., this one was colored yellow, almost seeming to glow. I hadn't expected to find it here; I was under the impression that it had been banned in Europe because of some ingredient they didn't like. Probably for good reason.

But there was no mistaking the label. It was Mountain Dew. In the Czech Republic.

Or at least it looked like it. Some things have a habit of tasting different over there. Would this be familiar? Would I be ambushed by something awful-tasting, like Diet Mountain Dew? Would it be watered-down like their Fanta?

After returning with exultation to my host family's house, I gave thanks and broke the seal. It was delicious. Barely distinguishable from what I knew back home. Good times.

God is like this as well.

We're back from our mission to the Czech Republic, and we can't regard it as anything but a resounding success. Our team was strong and cohesive, our Czech friends and hosts were as gracious and loving as ever, and most importantly, God was himself. The same as he is in America - unchanging, attentive, encouraging, and powerful.

I'm grateful enough to everyone who supported us financially and through prayer, that I could give them a body slam. But some of you wouldn't like that. So, this post.

I wish I could tell you everything. I'm a detail guy. It's so frustrating for me when people ask me, "So how was the Czech?" because I hate to reduce it all to a 60-second sound bite. So I mumble a non-satisfiying "It was good" and inside I'm like AAAARRGGHHH because I'd need at least an hour to give you a picture that does it justice.

We went to a family camp, taught English to Czech friends both new and old, had a lot of fun. A lady came to know Jesus Christ as her savior. In the atheist Czech Republic, one person is a revival. You'll have to shed your traditional American picture of revivals in order to appreciate this, involving converts in the dozens or hundreds. That's not how it works there. It's a materialistic country that just doesn't believe in what it can't touch. Yet this woman was clearly navigated to the camp, and to God, by God.

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day." John 6:44

That was the best part, but it wasn't the only rumblings we saw. More and more spiritual progress is becoming evident over there. We met more believers from communities in other cities that we hadn't known existed. More and more good people to share Christ with their peers. Folks we've prayed for for years are more and more interested, open, thoughtful. The Czechs are taking over more and more of the ministry for themselves, increasing the trickle to a thin flow.

More and more. This is our God. Every one of us was encouraged and relieved. A Czech ministry friend described it as a season of "pure joy".

God isn't any different when he works in the Czech Republic. We don't have to worry about any weird shifts, any filters or sudden silences from him. He shows up, and he's the same person we know in America. Full of infinite goodness.

Except for being bad for the teeth. That's a quality of Mountain Dew that I could live without, honestly.