Blame or Growth

Bad things are going to happen. All of us have to experience sad, difficult and even tragic events in our lives. Even though we know God is present, active, engaged and delivering, we still pray, grieve and even get angry. When pondering life’s trials, I can’t help but think of Job. His story is well known, and if you’re like me, you read it and hope that never happens to you. But on the other hand, we also may wonder what we would do if such tragedies did strike our lives. Would we be able to hold on to our integrity and not blame God? 

On top of the deaths of his children, losing his home, crops and livestock, and having boils all over his body, Job had to endure his wife telling him to curse God and die. Then his friends came along and tried to tell him it was all his fault because of his sins. When Jesus was asked about who was to blame for a man’s blindness, he said, “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3, NIV), or as the VOICE translation puts it, “He is blind so the deeds of God may be put on display.”

Most people today don’t attribute trials to their own sins, but instead tend to blame God. While many problems can be traced back to poor decisions or errors in judgment, their source is never God. They are rather opportunities to see God at work in our lives and the lives of others. As Dallas Willard said in The Great Omission, “By enduring trials with patience, we can reach an assurance of the fullness of heaven’s rule in our lives.” Faithful acceptance of everyday trials leads to what James talked about in chapter 1:2-3, that trials test our faith and produce endurance, perseverance and character. 

Counting our trials as pure joy isn’t easy, but through them all, we know God is putting his works on display in our lives. The Holy Spirit can and does use every experience and circumstance, if we are in tune with him, to help us grow in patience, faith, grace and knowledge of him.


He’s Active and Engaged

It’s easy to look around at all the terrible things happening in the world and say, well, if there is a God, he must be on vacation because he’s not doing anything about it. Maybe some think a supernatural being who’s supposed to have all that power should fix our problems and make all the bad stuff go away. The age-old question is where is God when bad things happen?.

I won’t presume to answer that question because I have not been endowed with enough wisdom and I, like all of you, still see through that dark glass (1 Corinthians 13:12), or as the Amplified Bible puts it, “we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma]” and we only know in part or in fragments. What I do know is that we live in a broken world, a world that we broke, and God did do something about it – he sent his son to be God With Us, to forgive, redeem and provide a way to eternal life. 

I also know that he is still doing something today. Jesus said to [the Jewish leaders], “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working,” (John 5:17, NIV). We’ve seen many good things come out of disasters – neighbors helping neighbors in many ways, organizations feeding people, providing clothing and shelter, stories of heroism – and all of those are God’s Spirit moving hearts with his love. 

Our God is active, engaged and delivering. He’s not usually showy or loud about what he does, rather he’s always quietly working behind the scenes, whispering words of encouragement. “God will continually revitalize you, implanting within you the passion to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13, TPT). He works in this world by working in us and those whose hearts are open to his goodness and grace. And he never goes on vacation.

Equanimity and Earwax

I’m kind of a word nerd. It started in elementary school, when I developed a love of reading, which also developed my vocabulary. I won a couple of spelling bees and got to compete in the district bee, which I didn’t win. I was eliminated on the word “indictment.” I still love words and I’m always looking them up in dictionaries and thesauruses. One great feature of ebooks is that you can touch a word and the definition pops up. Word nerd heaven! 

One of my favorite words is equanimity. It means mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. A great example of equanimity occurs in one of the Harry Potter movies when Professor Dumbledore decides to try jellybeans known for having weird flavors. As he begins to chew, he says, “Alas, earwax.” I love how he says it with such imperturbability and aplomb. 

I like to think Jesus was equanimity personified. If he ate a horrible tasting jelly bean, he might say something similar. Many situations in which he found himself could have been cause to get agitated or discombobulated, but he remained calm and unruffled. Oh, he had his moments, like when he turned over the moneychanger’s tables, cried over Jerusalem and sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. But we can be sure he didn’t have the emotional ups and downs most of us experience. 

May we learn to be equanimous like him, having the settled contentment, confidence and hope that finds its source in Christ in us. And the next time you discover an unpleasant jelly bean in the candy bowl of life, keep calm and remember, it’s just earwax.

Our Only Hope

I was in college when Star Wars first hit the theaters. Some of us were able to hitch a ride to a nearby city where we got to see it in all its cinematic glory. It was an historic moment. Now the Star Wars franchise is known all over the world and this week is when fans greet each other with the iconic “May the fourth be with you,” on May 4 of course. Many lines from the movies are known and often quoted, including “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” Would that Bible verses were as widely quoted as such movie lines. 

Even though many others were involved in bringing peace to the galaxy, Obi Wan Kenobi played a pivotal role. He was in fact, a type of messiah, sacrificing his life for the greater good. But he wasn’t their best hope. There’s only one true hope for all of us and he isn’t a Jedi knight – he’s so much more. Because of his death and resurrection, Jesus is the only hope of all humanity. There is no one else who can give us the sure and absolute hope that he can. All other seeming sources of hope are futile and in the end – hopeless. 

Having hope is uniquely human. Without it, people in desperate situations can give up and even die, but hopefulness keeps us alive. How blessed we are to have a Living Hope, a savior who finished the work of his Father and is now sitting at his right hand. Our hope is alive because he is alive and rather than sending a video, hoping it reaches the right Jedi, all we have to do is pray and he will immediately come to our rescue.

Not Destined for Obscurity

When a celebrity dies, we usually hear all about their lives in the media. People post tributes and many sing their praises. Depending on the person, the buzz could go on for some time. The pomp and ceremonies surrounding the death of Queen Elizabeth II went on for weeks. When an unknown passes away, the family and friends, if there are any, might be the only ones who care or notice. Sadly, the millions who have died in obscurity are, as the poets might say, lost to the mists of time. 

Since God created us, we know he is not only aware of everyone, but knows the names of each person ever born. And he is also aware of each and every death. We don’t know much about what happens at or after death, but we can rest assured our God of love knows what he’s doing and we can leave it all up to him. We do know, however, how he looks at the deaths of his saints or faithful ones – they are precious to him (Psalm 116:15). We don’t have to worry about disappearing in the mists of time because we will not be forgotten but welcomed into the gates of heaven (same verse, MSG).  

Losing loved ones is traumatic, and facing our own mortality can be disconcerting at best and frightening too. But when we abandon all outcomes to God and trust him to always want what’s best for us, we can rest in the knowledge that even though we might be gone from this earth, we will never be forgotten. He holds us in his heart and hands now and into eternity.

That’s A Lot of Books

I’ve been an avid book reader since I was a young girl. I loved getting lost in a good story and it seemed as if reading really was like a magic carpet that took me all over the world and beyond. I guess you could call me a chain reader – I always have several books going at a time and as soon as I finish one, I’m on to the next.  

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been fascinated by the last verse of the book of John: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (21:25, NIV). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those books had been written and we had them today? It seems the Bible only gives us glimpses of what Jesus was like as a human being – we have no idea how many other miracles he did and the many conversations he had with the disciples and others. 

This is one more thing to look forward to when we are spending eternity with Jesus – we’ll get to hear all of those stories and we’ll get to know him, in person and face to face. All of the gaps will be filled in and the dark, fuzzy glass we now look through will be crystal clear. In the meantime, we read the gospels, share our own stories of how Jesus has changed our lives and yearn for the day we will know him as we are known by him. 

Eyes on Jesus

We’ve just come through the most worshipful season on the Christian calendar. Now what? Is it possible to maintain the level of awareness of the events of Jesus’ life and the focused devotion we experienced during the weeks of Easter preparation? It’s entirely possible and it’s more important than ever due to the constant subtle and not-so-subtle attacks on the Christian way of life and values. 

Frank Laubach was an American missionary who realized he had not been making enough of an effort to live minute-by-minute with an awareness of God and practicing his presence. He said, “We shall not become like Christ until we give him more time.” He noted that a lawyer couldn’t become competent if he spent only ten minutes a week studying. Neither can we become like Jesus unless we do as he invited his disciples to do: “Come with me, walk with me, talk and listen to me, work and rest with me, eat and sleep with me, twenty-four hours a day for three years” (The Game With Minutes, Frank Laubach). They spent 168 hours a week with him! 

We won’t come close to that, but Laubach challenged himself to play The Game with Minutes, where he tried to direct his thoughts to God once each minute, to keep up a running conversation with him during every activity and every interaction, and to change his self-talk into prayer. Keeping him in the forefront of our minds, through the strength of the Holy Spirit, produces in us “an abiding faith which gently presses the will toward Christ all day.”

If we play the “game” with serious determination, we’ll soon see it’s no game but a way to deeper friendship and intimacy with our Savior. To win the game with minutes, all it takes is effort and concentration, perseverance and surrender. And best of all, there are no losers – we can all attain a greater awareness and deeper relationship with Jesus, as we keep our eyes fixed on him (Hebrews 12:2).

He’s the Only One

I’ve been watching Star Trek again – the original series this time. While the special effects are corny and some of the interaction among the characters wouldn’t be acceptable today, many of the stories are still relevant and the ideas presented are thought-provoking. Several of the episodes feature aliens who are either all-powerful, super-enlightened, immortal or have a god-complex. It’s interesting how the writers treated the topic of deities.

Nothing much has changed since the 1960’s Star Trek series – actually nothing much has changed since the beginning of human history – when it comes to misconceptions and misunderstanding of who God really is. Human beings were made to worship and when they didn’t know who to worship, they made their own gods. Now, instead of golden calves and statues, we tend to worship ourselves. Some think when God told the Israelites to worship him, he was displaying an ego problem, like he needed their adulation to make himself feel better. In reality, he was telling them all the gods they came up with in their imaginations weren’t worth worshiping – only he was, because he created everything. 

All the gods and idols created by us reflected us, with human characteristics and behaviors, from demanding worship, to temper tantrums, to romantic conquests and ruthless ambition. When we act as our own god, we are much the same. There is only one God and only he is worthy of our worship, which is the only fitting response to him who is wholly other, holy, not like us, not like anything we could imagine, the creator and redeemer of all that is. He is the only God who emptied himself to become one of us and then died on a cross to save us. 

As we celebrate the resurrection this Easter Sunday, may we worship and honor him every moment of our lives, in all we do, think and say. He was, is and will be the only true God.

Room to Grow

I don’t spend much time on Facebook – it’s way too easy to get sucked in and waste a lot of time. But every now and then, a post comes along that makes a few minutes there worthwhile. This one caught my eye and made me laugh: “When God put a calling on your life, he factored in your stupidity.” Of course! God knows us intimately and knows we will do dumb things and make mistakes. Even so, he still calls us, gives us gifts and corresponding responsibilities. 

When we think of stupidity and mistakes, we often think of Peter. He’s typically regarded as impetuous, hot-headed and rash, but he was also very close to Jesus and one of his best friends. He went on to accomplish many things for him and the church. Reading through First and Second Peter, his growth seems obvious. 

This witty saying and the life of Peter can serve as encouragement to all of us, especially those of us who make mistakes, are sometimes stupid and don’t always look before leaping. Show of hands – anyone besides me? God did factor in our stupidity and he also gives us room to grow and learn. I’m sure Peter was speaking from experience when he advised his readers/listeners to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The Holy Spirit filled in his gaps and gave him strength in his weakness. He may have even reminded him his stupidity wasn’t fatal, just a stepping stone to growth. 

New Life in Christ

Spring is finally here, at least in the northern hemisphere. The signs are all around – daffodils are blooming, lilacs have buds, robins are singing, and of course, the days are getting longer. Growth in nature is a hopeful indicator of new life and that the seeming deadness of winter doesn’t win. Just as the cycle of the seasons repeats every year, each spring we look forward to our celebration of the most hopeful event of all – the resurrection of Jesus. 

His death, like the grain of wheat that must die to produce fruit, produced life when he rose from the grave. That same life, raised by the mighty power of God, gave us life. When he died, we died and when he rose, we rose. Our lives are intertwined with his and so are our deaths – the death of self, that is. The old self died with him and the new self rises up from the shadow of the cross to live in him and for him, producing the fruit of the Spirit and living in his joy. 

As B. McCall Barbour said in his little book, When Did You Die?: “We are not called to a process of self-crucifixion, but to the acceptance of a crucifixion of self already accomplished.” What’s left for us is to live it out every day, with a life that is dead to sin and dead to the world, but alive to God through Christ. We do this by daily yielding ourselves to him as those who have been brought back from the dead and then presenting ourselves as living sacrifices to him. 

Jesus was raised from the dead and so are we. Life wins – Jesus wins! Let’s practice dying each day so his life may blossom in us just as the flowers burst forth with new and beautiful life in springtime.