Truth test?

Image: see notes

Image: see notes

Heard a truth test the other day that I’d like to try on you.

“If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true.”

Jen Hatmaker said that during a Focus on the Family interview about her 2015 book “For the Love – Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards.”  Hatmaker is a mom of five, pastor’s wife, speaker and author.

My wife Cindy read “For the Love…” along with our church’s women’s ministry earlier this year.  She shared excerpts with me during her reading. I would typify Hatmaker’s views as straightforward, even blunt, views of the gospel with a harried mom humorist twist – poignant, thoughtful and funny.

She explained that she grew up with this “American God” context who “deeply favored me and mine, certainly our country, very concerned about my advantages, safety, comfort, security… “

Then some changes in her life presented opportunities to travel and “everything got weird” she says in the book.  She discovered the rest of the world – different Christian traditions, different people, poverty…  “Then the system in which God operated according to my rules started disintegrating…Some values and perspectives and promises I attributed to God’s own heart only worked in my context…(and) that is problematic.”

So she devised her Haitian mom biblical benchmark to use for hard questions about what she will or will not ascribe to God – the shoulds, should nots, will and will nots –

“If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true.”

For example, she wrote, “If a sermon promises health and wealth to the faithful, it isn’t true, because that theology makes God an absolute monster who only blesses rich westerners and despises Christians … everywhere else a sincere believer remains poor..“Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere,” she reasons.

This benchmark “sets God free to be God instead of the My-God-in-a-Pocket… (and) lends restraint when declaring what God does or does not think (especially when) my portrayal of God’s ways sounds suspiciously like the American Dream…. Because of the Haitian single mom, maybe I should speak less for God.”

Try plugging “prosperity” into a Bible app like http://www.openbible.info/topics/.  My search turned up over 100 verses in the ESV, including “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 19)

Considering this or any such verse alongside Hatmaker’s “Haitian single mom” benchmark shifts the focus from me to God, doesn’t it?  Riches that flow from “glory in Christ Jesus” need no additional qualifiers, criteria or conditions to be met.  Nor can I or anyone help the promise along in order for it to be true.  Freed from any such constraints opens us to recognize and receive God’s promises however He chooses to deliver them to me/us.

Does this remind you how Jesus answered the Pharisee’s question about the most important commandment?

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)

When all contexts start with God, all our questions are answered and needs met in the best possible way for everyone across the board – as true for the single Christian mom in Haiti as the married Christian man in Michigan.

“They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” (Proverbs 36:8, ESV)

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I drew Hatmaker quotes from her Focus on the Family interview on July 19, 2016: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/letting-go-of-perfection-and-accepting-gods-grace-pt2 (part 1 was July 18) and her book, “For the Love – Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards.”

Image source: http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/TruthMeter21.jpg

 

 

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Be still and know

My "be still" view - clutter in foreground and two tall pines in back center

My “be still” view – clutter in foreground and two tall pines in back center

“Be still and know” are the opening words of Psalm 46:10.  Such a serene beginning for how the verse ends: “that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

I added the bold to highlight EXALTED, exclamation point!

Stillness seems out of place alongside exaltation which is anything but still.  Would not exaltation surge more fully from a stronger beginning, something like, “Legions of armies roar as one voice to proclaim that God is exalted among nations and in the earth!” … ?

Yet there it is, ostensibly a direct thought-dump from God to the psalmist.  “Be still and know…”

God’s exaltation is in no way dependent on the nations or the earth, both created by Him. Perhaps the “Be still and know” part is more a courtesy to offer us a chance to pause in order to fully appreciate the awesome specter of our loving God?

Those statements at the end of the verse are, after all, imperatives. God WILL be exalted among nations.  God WILL be exalted in the the earth.

Reminds me of what the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians about Jesus:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 9-10, ESV; Also see Romans 14:11)

Pretty hard to kneel when barrelling along at full speed ahead.  Likewise, God’s exaltation is a spectator sport that requires pausing, becoming still enough to observe, absorb, appreciate God’s awesomeness and majesty.

I have a “Be still and know” ritual each morning and a certain place set aside for it – near a window looking into our yard that backs up to our neighbors’ yards that borders a roadway that runs parallel to a nearby highway.

Even writing that feels cluttery and noisy.   All of our yards feature plants, trees and bushes but the din from the nearby road and highway is pretty pronounced during the morning and evening rush hours.

As I glanced into our yard this morning, a couple of tall pine trees in my neighbor’s yard caught my eye.  Tall, full pine trees that would so wonderfully border a farm field or meadow or fit unnoticed into densely treed woods or a forest seems out of place here in our cluttery neighborhood.  These two tall pines tower over other pines nearby that have been topped due to overhead wires or trimmed or hemmed in to accommodate our various structures and paved-over surfaces.

Like I long to be truly still this morning to draw near to God and be soothed from recent disappointments, I wonder if these tall pines also long to be released from the density that we humans force them into?   But alas, we must live the life we have.

Today these trees and me, unnoticed by everyone rushing mindlessly by, sort of have each other.  Noticing them has helped me find and hold for the stillness to settle until God’s exaltation becomes front and center.

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Unfriended! (but loved?)

turkey-facebook

Photo source: http://www.triathlonmami.com/the-meaning-behind-a-facebook-unfriend/

Recently, a Christian brother noted that the Facebook posts of some Christians he knows seem “unbecoming of the family of God.”  His concern prompted discussion about whether it’s O.K. for a Christian’s social media persona to be different from who he/she really is.

Also recently, a longtime friend emailed me to let me know he unfriended me on Facebook.  Questioning my motives about and handling of a particular matter mutual to us, he ended with, “In any case, Glenn….I love you and nothing will ever change that….we just won’t be friends on Facebook.”

As if his love declaration smoothed over unfriending me. So I’m worthy of love but not of Facebook friendship?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines love as “an intense affection for another person based on familial or personal ties” and a friend as “a person who you like and enjoy being with.”

Notice the emotional and rational qualifiers in both definitions – intense affection, based on, familial, personal, like, and enjoy.  We love and like others who satisfy conditions we set and who reciprocate the feelings we hold for them.  Makes perfect sense, right?

Not with God.  God’s brand of love does NOT make perfect sense.

The apostle John wrote in his first letter, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16, ESV)

Along that line, author Miles McPherson* suggests that “To love somebody is to be committed to helping them obey God.”

How is loving somebody and obeying God related?  Matthew’s gospel records Jesus saying this about love:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-47, also see verses 35-42, ESV)

Where does Jesus get off claiming that loving like this is how God’s family loves and that this kind of love is perfect love? Unless of course Jesus really is God and, by association, also love.

(Note also the two phrases in the passage that I bolded.  Love like this touches others but, more importantly, draws us closer to God.)

Jesus makes clear that the conditional and reciprocal brand of love that makes perfect sense among people is NOT the love that God is, NOT how God loves and NOT how people in God’s family are to love. God’s love (1) does not resist or retaliate against evil treatment, (2) embraces enemies, (3) prays for persecutors and (4) lavishes blessing on evil and good alike.

Do the Christians you know love like this?  I wish I could say I loved like this but often I don’t.

While conditional, human love makes perfect sense, God’s love is nonsensical, unnatural, counter-intuitive, irrational, Topsy-turvy, and upside down.

Before framing a response that allows an opening for God to work, consider the brand of love in play.

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*Miles McPherson from his book “I Don’t Want Your Sex For Now”

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My best references

08 Ltr from CLF staff

Letter from former colleagues, 2008

What started out as God throwing me a lifeline 19 months is now another career casualty in a line of other such casualties stretching back nearly eight long years.  Yes, you read that right, my latest job just ended due to, I was told, “budgetary reasons” along with the promise of sterling recommendations and help to find something new.

Regarding the promise offers, we’ll see.  Meanwhile, I really am grateful to God for that lifeline and I hope I made the most of it by being salt and light while there (see (Matthew 5:13-16) .

In departing, I pray of left well and with a little more of something for them to run on then when I arrived in January 2015.

Now to shoring up my resume and, in particular, my references.  See, my resume is a bit holey.  That’s right, holey, as in full of holes.  I have to keep track of work history for completing job applications and that history is looking kind of bumpy right now.

After 30 years with one organization through 2008, my subsequent work history covers 14 positions in 12 different companies spanning six years separated by seven gaps of unemployment totaling 2 years.  See what I mean by holey?

While I have a count somewhere of resumes filed and interviews had, I can say unequivocally that people who know who I am have lead to all the best opportunities and actual positions landed. Being known has been the key.  Being known covers a lot of holes and in several cases, has rendered any further paperwork unnecessary.

Being known also helps in the worst of times when doubts creep up and threaten to take over. I do not have a tally of the number of times someone called at just the right time to let me know I matter.

During a few of those dimmer moments, a tribute organized for me by former colleagues of the organization that first dismissed me has helped me keep my footing.  At a picnic they organized in my honor, they presented me with a box filled with their letters and cards and a few photos from our times working together.  They also registered a star in my honor “Nostrum Amicus GRT” (”Our Friend” in Latin) and planted 30 trees in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, one for each of my thirty years of service at the organization.

Just after I was informed about this latest dismissal, I retrieved that box again, read their letters and was once again moved to tears by the cover letter to explain the tribute and the meanings of the various elements of it, including:

“When times are uncertain, it can be easy to doubt yourself.  Sometimes, it’s nice to be reminded of the kind of person you really are… to be reminded of just how special you are to all of us.”

For any of those former-CLF people who may read this post someday, let me say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for doing that for me.  Your wonderful box is doing its work for me – giving me hope when I feel hopeless.

The world’s best resume pales in comparison to people who know us speaking on our behalf – to witness about us and be a reference for us. This is why I value personally-written commendations on my LinkedIn profile (https://www.linkedin.com/in/glenntrevisan). Their words, said their own way, say so much more than anything I can say about myself.

As much as I cherish people’s witness for me, God’s witness is best of all.   That’s right, if all you’ve ever heard about witnessing is by people about God, know that witnessing was first done by God about us – his people – me and you!

“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son” (Romans 1:9, ESV)

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” (Romans 8:16, ESV)

“For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:8)

While God helps me in my search for work including causing good people to cross my path, that he witness about me is ultimately what matters most of all.

I’m so glad by best reference is God is/as my witness.

“Oh LORD, who am I that you are mindful of me and that you care so much for me?” (Psalm 8:4, personalized)

 

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Repost: The Word Before Dawning – “Pray”

Pre-dawn at home

Pre-dawn at home

(Initially posted on February 11, 2014)

“Pray.”

That word came to me one morning as I was lying in bed, just before waking. I was thinking about my self-centeredness that often leads to sin, so debilitating.  Even so, despite all my resolve and resolutions to rebuke, reform and transform, I so easily slide into this mode like a glove that fits so comfortably, too comfortably.

The Apostle Paul’s remark about himself came to mind, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.” (1 Timothy 1:15). Although I hesitate to align myself with one of the most renowned Christians ever, I share this with him.

“Pray.”

I am reading a book about prayer* that offers perspectives that are new to me – to pray like a child and be childlike with God. And about cynicism – what that is and how deeply ingrained it is in our Western mindset. Cynicism squashes our relationship with God and our prayer lives. I am dismayed by how severely infected with it that I am.

“Pray.”

I am a strong-willed child. God has seen fit to give me one of those as well, a son. He trusts himself too much too but as far as I can tell he hasn’t come to the point of conviction yet. So I keep praying for him and wonder if his road will also be long and difficult. His daddy cannot smooth his way but his “Daddy” can. Well, probably not smooth.

“Pray”

God’s voice and word. Not only do I recognize his voice but who else would speak such a word to me? “… like a child” I now want to add, mindful now of this book.  As I begin to do so, my heart flutters feebly and the only words that come to me are, “Daddy! Daddy, help! There’s a monster under my bed. Please come to my room and save me from it.”

“Pray.”

I am way, way down the road by now. W-a-y, w-a-y  d-o-w-n!  I should have turned aside down one of those many, many forks that all were put there by God to give me alternatives other than sin. I’ve ventured down a few of them but usually very tentatively.

“Pray.”

I smile… more like a smirk I guess. I am recalling the company that has kept me along the trail – God.  He is always near even in the darkest and worst of my places. It’s really startling to turn around and see him there sometimes, where I would certainly be deeply ashamed to openly bring him. However, there he was – stern sometimes but also light, fresh, compassion, gently waving that “get out of jail” card.

“Pray”

This time I didn’t just ponder God’s invitation, or even pause. I just did it. I prayed. The peace flooded into my being was that peace of God that is impossible to explain or even describe to unbelievers (Philippians 4:7)…  As that came, I realized that I really cannot escape sinfulness on my own. I require outright rescue. That’s always been God’s message and Jesus’ too. A decent child would have realized that long ago.

“Daddy, daddy, help! There is this monster in here.”

 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child with is my soul within me.

 (Psalm 131: 1-2, NIV-84)

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Notes:

* From “A Praying Life” by Paul E. Miller.  http://www.seejesus.net/

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Switch to music

radio-dial_00273392On a radio show offering advice about money management, a caller asked the host why he so often warns about inevitable recession while the economy is robust.

“Because if all I ever offered was good news, you listeners would switch to music,” he replied.

Thus reminded that a primary purpose for advertising and talk radio is to elevate listener discontent for the “solutions” and products being promoted, I decided to skip a step and switch right to music.

The lyrics to Matt Maher’s worship song “Your Grace is Enough” came to mind.

“You wrestle with the sinner’s restless heart. You lead us by still waters into mercy…You use the weak to lead the strong…(When) Your grace is enough, heaven reaches out to us.”

Still waters as a remedy for restlessness.  Hit pause and switch to music.

Rublevs Christ

Christ as Savior by Andrei Rublev, 1410

In her 2002 memoir book, “Girl Meets God,” author Lauren Winner recounts a day when she was feeling generally upset.  Picking up a favorite icon card adorned with Rublev’s Christ, she recounts her thoughts.

“You are supposed to be enough,” she tells the icon…”Even if I never again …. feel happy for one more minute, that you came to earth is supposed to be enough.”

She writes how she glared at the icon for a while before an assurance rose in her that Christ really was enough.  Then in the next moment she added, “But I really hope (that realization) doesn’t have to sustain me.”

I bolded Winner’s But to draw your attention to the premise that our troubles begin with our Buts.  While both Winner and I are Christians, we suffer discontent because we harbor Buts – desiring something other than Christ.  Instead of switching to music, we keep listening to all the reasons we should be discontented.

The country’s radio hosts are ranting this week about recent violence in Orlando, Florida where  50 people were murdered in two incidents.  A popular outcry has been,  “Make love, not hate.”

“What kind of love?” I want to ask.

“…to love somebody is to be committed to helping them obey God,”  offered Miles McPherson in his book, “I don’t want your sex for now.”  Love’s opposite is lust, not hate.

“Lust desires to please self at the expense of others because lust wants to get. On the other hand, love desires to please others at the expense of self.  Love wants to give.”

As much as I appreciate McPherson contrasting love with lust, his guidance about being committed to helping someone obey God is particularly potent.  Whereas the lust and love quotient invites debate about what is best or most pleasing for self or others, obedience keeps God at the center. We have to start with knowing what obedience to God looks like.

“…godliness with contentment is great gain.”  (1 Timothy 6:6, NIV)

How about starting with what is meant by godliness?


Image source: http://www.wikiart.org/en/andrei-rublev/christ-as-saviour

Book sources:

“Girl Meets God” by Lauren Winner

“I don’t want your sex for now” by Miles McPherson

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PERSONAL recommendation!

Photo credit: see notes

Photo credit: see notes

How fortunate we are to live in such a prosperous nation offering so many options for goods and services.  But how to pick and choose from such bounty?

When I need something important, especially if it’s costly, I ask people I know and trust for recommendations.  That approach has worked pretty well for me over the years.  If I then become a satisfied customer, I willingly become a referral for someone else.

I can readily recommend a plumber, auto repair shop, tree-cutting service, roofer, hardware store and a drain cleaner that no clog can stand up to. I know first hand that several of my recommendations have in turn resulted in additional satisfied customers.

Frankly, what makes any product or service I recommend worthy of your consideration is that it worked for me.  Recommendations are more about belief in the recommender than the recommended.

The potency of a referral gets a little fuzzier when parties have no history with each other. Short of any special credentials or expertise I may have about a product or service, my personal experience with it probably won’t carry much weight.  Still, my experience may be all I have to offer.

That was the dilemma Moses found himself in the first time he met with Pharaoh to carry out his assignment from God to gain Israel’s release from Egyptian bondage.  Moses had no credibility with Pharaoh and not much more knowledge or experience with God.  When Pharaoh demanded to know who this God was making all these demands, Moses could only offer his own experience with God.

“And who is the Lord? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” But Aaron and Moses persisted. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us,” they declared.’’’ (Exodus 5: 2-3a, NLT)

Moses easily could have said, “Pharaoh, “I feel your pain.”  Recall Moses asking essentially the same question at the burning bush when God demanded he return to Egypt to share the rescue plan with the Israeli elders.

…Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

God replied to Moses, “I am who i am. Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3: 13-14, NLT)

Here’s how I imagine responding – “Really, God?  That’s all you’re going to give me?  ‘I am who I am’ sent me?”

Remember the rest of the story?  Moses returned again and again to Pharaoh to demand he let Israel go. Each demand came with a promise from God of a penalty if Pharaoh refused.

Turns out Pharaoh had the best seat of anyone in history to God’s power over nature, disease and pests.  Seems that Moses’ “recommendations” should have held a little more weight with Pharaoh three or four “penalties (plagues)-made-good” later.  But that was not the case.

While God’s rescue succeeded, Pharaoh never did get God. His mindless determination to take God on coupled with his refusal to honor God cost him his life and probably his salvation.  (see Exodus 15: 26-28)

Don’t you find it more than a little amazing to find stories like Pharaoh’s in the Bible? That essentially say God’s existence can’t be proven?  Didn’t Jesus make this same point sixteen hundred years after the Exodus account?  (See Luke 16:31)

So if God can’t be proven, how do we share about the Lord with people we encounter?  Answer – same way Moses did – by referring to his own personal experience with God.

The God of the Hebrews has met with (me),” (Moses) declared.’’’ (Exodus 5:5a, NLT)

God only asks we share how he showed up in our life and then to leave the rest to Him. A personal recommendation as simple as sharing your favorite hardware store, auto repair facility, drain cleaner brand or tree-cutting service….

with one rather notable exception – God speaks for himself whereas a drain cleaner cannot.


Notes:

Photo credit: http://revpeep.blogspot.com/2014/02/recommended-reading-2-23-14.html

 

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Forgiveness NOT forgotten. Pass it on.

olive_branch_doveCreate in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51: 10-12, NIV)

The expression, “Forgive and forget” hearkens to the Bible, right? How God removes “our sins as far from us as the east is from the west?” (Psalm 103:12, NLT).

Forgiven and forgotten!  Sounds great, doesn’t it?

But what’s this in Psalm 51? While forgiving and forgetting is what God does, perhaps forgetting isn’t best for us.  Rather, some remembering is more in order, remembering God’s forgiveness.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. (Psalm 51: 13, NIV)

In this case, King David is our stand-in, us.  Here is a remorseful and repentant David after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba and arranging for her husband Uriah’s death.  (see 2 Samuel 11-12:15). The stage is set: Confessed sinner vs. Holy God.

Imagine you are Uriah’s mother.  You’ve got the murderer David right where you want him – in God’s cross-hairs.  Grab a chair for a front row seat to watch the fireworks.

Except there are no fireworks.  God doesn’t don his “Holier than Himself” persona. Rather, repentance does something odd to God. There he goes pulling out his mercy mask, the same one Jonah got all ticked off about!  (see Jonah 4: 1-3). Why does he keep doing that?

We don’t even need to read between the lines.  Clearly, God is more about relationship than judgment.  Even judgment turns out to be much more the obvious end of the judged than the default choice of God because he not only offers sinners ways back to him, he so often suspends judgment  way more than most of us would.

Admit it.  Most times, we would much rather pull the retribution trigger sooner than later.  How often have you prayed for God’s judgment to come down to blast all we see as evil and unjust in this world while God stays his hand – interminably?

In retrospect, his patience is best for those of us that want to do right by God but instead keep falling and falling down so that, it seems, God can restore us again and again.

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.  (Psalm 51: 14-17, NIV)

As much as doing the right thing in the first place is good, something about recognizing my brokenness and having God love me back into his fold is so wonderfully sweet.  And memorable.

Not only do we remember forgiveness, we cherish it.  After all, we can’t pass on what we’ve forgotten.


Photo source: http://www.cherrychapman.com/2013/03/15/forgiveness-is-always-a-gift-to-you/

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“Talking” the next step

2 peopleI recently convened a few people to meet individually with a financial advisor we have in common.  As my friend Devin* and I waited our turns, we talked about how our respective financial plans have had to flex to fit the contours our life journeys.  And how!

Devin spoke about how much better he’d be financially had he not decided to change employers during the worst of the big economic downturn of 2008-09.  Instead, he left a stable position, relocated, and then endured a series to roller-coaster developments with both work and family.  Two years ago, he finally managed to return back home to Michigan even as some of those challenges linger still .

So why did he pull up stakes in the first place?  “Well,” he said, “I don’t share this with many people but, the truth is, I was following the Lord’s leading.  Having done so, I admit I’ve been distressed at times about how rough the road has been since answering that call but, here’s my take on that.  I guess God wanted me to depend on Him more than on myself.  Having done that, my relationship with, and trust in Him is really solid right now.”

As someone more familiar that most of some of the nuances of Devin’s situation, I admit I found his testimony both astounding and inspiring.  Astounded how he felt steady in the Lord as others saw his situation as anything but steady.  Inspired for my own times of questioning God’s leading as  following him encounters rough waters.

Bolstered by my conversation with Devin, I need to be more intentional in conversations with fellow Christians. Nuggets like what I gained with Devin are rarely found accidentally.

I was able to share with Devin one of our pastor’s “Set Free” messages from an Exodus series he’s taking us through. Exodus 4: 18-31 finds Moses finally on his way back to Egypt to do God’s bidding – release the Israelites from bondage and lead them to the Promised Land.

As Moses starts out, God reveals some fine print that he neglected to mention when pitching Moses the assignment back at the burning bush – like how Pharaoh will resist letting go of his Israelite slaves due to a “heart hardening” condition caused by none other than GOD HIMSELF! (v. 21). Then at one of the first rest stops, Moses narrowly avoids God mysteriously killing him for an undisclosed reason. (v. 24-26 ).

So let’s review: (1) God stages a burning bush to get Moses’ attention (Exodus 3:2); then (2) pitches an audacious assignment to Moses including three miraculous “signs” for Moses to use in carrying it out Exodus 4: 1-8). After much coaxing, Moses (3) reluctantly agrees and starts off as God directed (Exodus 4: 19).  He doesn’t get very far before (4) God throws two big huge curve balls to greatly complicate Moses’ assignment.

Did I miss anything?  Does that sound like a game plan destined to succeed?  How similar is Moses’ program to a call from God on YOUR life?  I’m pretty sure Devin recognizes the pattern.

One of our pastor’s points was: God will always be God.  He does things his way and not ours.  When his way seems to impede more than facilitate the assignment he’s given, keep this other God principle in mind – that everything God does is for both our good and his glory.  (see Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:16-21 and 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).

One of the ways we Christians can help each other stay the course is to share what God is doing in our lives every time we are together – like Devin and I did.  You’d think Christians would routinely do that but too often the topics of our conversations are the same as everyone else’s – work, weather, news, politics, sports, a favorite eatery, our hobby, our finances, investments, celebrities, gossip. the stock market, our lawn, our cars, books, movies, TV shows, fill in the blank…

“Trust God and you won’t need a sign because you’ll be seeing them everywhere,” said our pastor earlier in the Exodus series.

Had Devin and I not shared as we did, I would have missed a great lesson about how trusting in God works that has already fortified my faith resolve and, hopefully now yours.


* Not his real name

Image source: http://healthypsych.com/supporting-others-support-findings-social-psychology/

Rediscovering the Golden Rule

Golden Rule funnyFor the last 15 or so months, our pastor and elders have been doing a study together called Gospel Transformation by Neil Williams and Jack Miller. The lesson entitled “Incarnation” is the thirty-third of the 36-lesson study.

Incarnation is a religious term for God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ. Over time, the word has taken on a related meaning – to enter into the world of others, bringing help and grace through words and deeds.

The lesson opens with, “Jesus sums up the law and the prophets in one sentence: Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  (Matthew 7:12).

The Golden Rule, right?  The version I grew up with was “Do unto others and you would have others do unto you.”

One illustration the study poses is Mark 10: 35-52 where Jesus steps into the Golden Rule with this question posed in verses 36 and 51, “What do you want me to do for you?”

In the first situation (v. 36), the apostles James and John want Jesus to promote them to essentially a near-God status. In so many words, Jesus gently explains why he is unable to grant their desire  that, by the way, is way out of their league.

The second situation (v. 51) regards a blind man who asks to have his sight restored. Here’s how that went:

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10: 51b, 52, NIV)

I appreciate how Jesus handled this same question regarding two very different desires. The first permits me to be discerning when asking someone, “What do you want me to do for you?”  I’m not required to always give what is asked.Golen rule pottery

I confess I hold back from offering that question because I fear what might be asked of me. An exercise lists some of those objections that run through our mind:

  • That the problem will overwhelm me
  • That I won’t be prepared to do what is asked
  • That I won’t know what to say or how to respond
  • That I’ll have to keep offering again and again and again
  • That I’ll lose control of the situation

Perhaps having such objections ready means I’ve missed the point altogether?  To truly enter into another person’s situation is to take on their view and not my own. Incarnation is more about being than doing.

While I’ve messed up many opportunities to practice the Golden Rule, God has this way of giving me repeated chances to do right, like when Millie* called the other night.  Seeing her name flash on my caller I.D., a short list of those objections came immediately to mind and I let her call go to voicemail.  Guiltily, I called her back a little while later but missed connecting with her.  Seeing her in church Sunday, I apologized for missing her call.

“No problem,” she replied graciously.  “I just wanted someone to pray with me.”

“Ouch,” I thought as I encouraged her to try me again next time she felt the need. I said that knowing that next time, her need may be different but I resolved to trust the Lord to help me be responsive nevertheless.

As the story in Mark illustrates, the first step to practicing the Golden Rule is to ask the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Unless we ask, we never know how able we are to very easily meet someone’s need.

More often than not, discernment may determine that the most loving response is not even close to what is being asked.


‘* Not her real name

Golden Rule pottery: http://www.mountainemeadows.com/catalog/piece/the_golden_rule/