Delighting in the Storm

14538796137_33db48e380_k

Let’s talk about the weather. Have you ever had a storm ruin a perfectly good day at the beach? Instead of sunning on the sand you sulked on the sofa, watching the last hours of your vacation drizzle away in a grey fog. Why doesn’t God make every day blue skies and sunshine?

But weather’s a funny thing. Have you ever had a sunshine ruin a perfectly good rainy day to stay inside and not mow the lawn? Okay, that probably hasn’t happened since you were 14 – but you can easily imagine a scenario where rain, not sun, is the desired weather condition. There’s Murphy’s Law, as it relates to weather: we wish for sunny days, and get rain. We hope for rain as a good excuse for inactivity, and get sunshine instead. “That’s the weather for you,” we say, and shrug our shoulders and move on.

But there’s a value system imbedded in the whole Murphy’s Law-weather conundrum. It’s so common and universal we almost never notice it. Subtly, unobtrusively, but persuasively, it says, “A stormy day is bad if it interferes with my plans; it is good if it furthers my plans.” Do you see the value system, the assumed point of reference? Me. My plans. This is my universe, and everything in it must bow to me!

Okay, that’s probably a bit extreme. Most of us don’t take our gripes about the weather quite that far. But the pattern prevails: I rank external circumstances – sadly, even people – by whether they serve me or hinder me. Don’t you?

The problem is that such a way of looking at the world will frustrate us (since we all do this, you have seven billion competitors all attempting to run the world to the beat of their own drum) and lead us to an empty, vain life. Actually, even that’s not the ultimate problem. The ultimate problem is that seeing the world through this lens puts us on a collision course with the One who does rule all things for his purposes.

There’s a better way, the way of the creature before our Creator. C.S. Lewis was learning this even before he became a Christian:

The first lifelong friend I made at Oxford was A. K. Hamilton Jenkin…He continued…my education as a seeing, listening, smelling, receptive creature…Jenkin seemed able to enjoy everything; even ugliness. I learned from him that we should attempt a total surrender to whatever atmosphere was offering itself at the moment; in a squalid town to seek out those very places where its squalor rose to grimness and almost grandeur, on a dismal day to find the most dismal and dripping wood, on a windy day to seek the windiest ridge… [to have] a serious, yet gleeful, determination to rub one’s nose in the very quiddity of each thing, to rejoice in its being (so magnificently) what it was.

“To rejoice in its being (so magnificently) what it was.” I don’t know if Jenkin was a Christian, but that’s a Christian virtue. This world is God’s world, not ours. God delights in the windy-ness of the wind and the stormy-ness of the storm just as much as he does the sunniness of the sun. And he invites us to share in his delight – not to assign value to his creation based on whether it fits our plans.

That’s not to say you can’t ask for sunshine for your beach vacation. But here’s a thought. The next time the weather doesn’t cooperate, when the storm clouds ruin your plans, find a way to “rub your nose” in the storm, delighting in its stormy-ness. Then we can say with the psalmist,

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24).

Even the storms.

Photo by USFWS.

5 Easy Steps to a Shallow Christian Life

6603142217_0b645e57ce_z

Wait no longer! Write them on Post-It notes, cross-stitch them on your pillow, have Siri repeat them to you daily.

1. Don’t stop searching until you’ve found “The Secret to the Christian Life.”

It’s out there! Don’t give up. It might be baptism in the Holy Spirit. It might be true surrender. It might be faith. It might be resting in what God’s already done. It might be…well, you go find it on your own. Don’t let the fact that two thousand years of Christian history has yet to produce the final solution to the perplexities of living as redeemed sinners in a fallen world stop you. Maybe the secret was just waiting for YOU to get out there and discover it…

2. In your advice to yourself and to other believers, use the word “just” regularly.

This will be a lot easier after you’ve found the answer to #1. Then you can tell people, “Stop struggling! Just (insert SOCL [Secret of Christian Life] here).” Until then, sprinkle “just” in as many tidbits of advice as possible: : “Just believe…just remember…just trust God.” That helps remind people that, after all, the Christian life is really easy. So suck it up and deal with it, wimp.

3. For simplicity’s sake, assume that God deals with everyone in exactly the same way. If you want to make things even simpler, assume that you’re the pattern.

Listen, there are a lot of Christians out there. If you let the thought enter your mind that God is a person who might deal with people as unique individuals, not generic cookie-cutter-Christians, it will overwhelm you! You might have to actually listen to people, charitably assume that God is at work in their life in ways you can’t see, or even learn from the ways they’re different from you. That’s going to take a lot of time. Just don’t go there. Here’s the code you live by: God is easy to figure out, not very creative, and has already used all his tricks in your life. (I know, it seems a little hard on God, but trust me on this one. The alternative is just way too complicated. You’ll thank me later.)

4. Don’t waste time checking your assumptions against the Bible.

After all, there’s only so much time in the day! Begin your sentences about your key beliefs with, “The Bible clearly says…” but don’t bother with actually proving it. The basis for this is that everything that’s worth knowing in Scripture is so clear that only a fool wouldn’t already see it from your point of view. If you can find one verse that proves your point, that’s more than adequate!

5. Reduce everything to “5 Easy Steps.”

See? I’ve already modeled it for you! Remember, the point is EASY steps. It’s not enough to just list things that are true (preachers do that all the time). The real test is whether or not you can make them so simplistic that they require no work or deep thought. That’s the mark of a true Easy List.

Actually, these are probably the definitive 5 Easy Steps for the Christian life, so there may be nothing left to reduce to further lists. You’d probably be better off just memorizing this one.

Photo by Barbara Eckstein

Don’t Use Scripture Like This!

Does anybody remember the old Viewmaster toys? The Viewmaster was a plastic contraption that looked like a cheap pair of binoculars. You dropped a circular cardboard reel with tiny squares of 3D film into a slot, looked through the Viewmaster, and voila! The tiny film suddenly became a 3D world. After you got tired of one picture, you moved a lever and advanced to the next square of film. As long as you pointed the Viewmaster at a good light source, the picture was pretty clear, but if you pointed it at a dark corner of the room your vision of Mickey and Minnie Mouse got a lot fuzzier.  I was fascinated with Viewmaster for several years as a kid before the novelty wore off.

I know, you’re wondering why I’m dragging you down memory lane with me and what this has to do with the Bible. But before I answer that, let me tell you one more story.

When I was about nine, I found out I needed eyeglasses. I was not a happy camper. I cried all the way home from the eye doctor. I wanted to be a mountain man like Davy Crockett when I grew up, and everybody knows mountain men don’t wear glasses. The cursed eyewear crushed my career plans in one fell swoop. There was a silver lining in the cloud, however; blades of grass, leaves, and small insects suddenly returned to my world! I had forgotten there were so many hard edges and clear lines out there. Fuzziness had become the norm.

Viewmasters and eyeglasses. Both let you see things, but with very different results. One let you see, with varying degrees of clarity, a miniature world that had nothing to do with your life. Mickey Mouse might look close enough to touch, but when you put down the Viewmaster you weren’t going to find him standing in your living room. But glasses are different. Put on a pair of glasses and suddenly everything in your world took on new crispness. You could see things you had never seen before.

Too often we read the Bible as though it’s a Viewmaster, not a pair of eyeglasses. The stories, the prayers, the praises and songs become windows into another world that has little to do with our own lives. Maybe we can describe with great accuracy and detail Abraham’s faith in God or Paul’s boldness for Christ – but when we put the Bible down we’re still just as anxious or timid as we were before.

God intends better things for his Word and his people than mere insight into past lives or historical situations. Scripture is a pair of eyeglasses, not a Viewmaster. It is a story of how God has acted and is acting to save his people through Jesus. It’s the story of how God is saving and transforming you.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that you and I are the stars of the show. The star is our God, who saves sinners through Christ in the power of the Spirit. But as we see how God acts we are intended to see the world around us and our own lives with increasing clarity. God is not merely the God who once turned evil to good in the life of Joseph; he is the God who even now, perhaps in the darkest hour of your life, is creating a story with a triumphant, joyful ending. He is not only the God who reversed childless Hannah’s fortunes and gave her Samuel; he is the God who will one day, when Christ returns, repay everything you thought he took away with blessings unimaginable.

It’s not enough to simply know what God did in the past for people whose lives are distant from ours. To live faithfully and joyfully in this world we need to see our present circumstances with new eyes: eyes of faith, eyes trained by the Word to see what God sees. May God “enlighten the eyes of your hearts, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19).

Photo by Delirio Verde Anaranjado

Syria, Civil War, and King Jesus

Recently the civil war in Syria and America’s possible military intervention has been occupying a lot of time in the headlines. Attention is focused in both national and international news on President Obama’s request that Congress approve military action in response to the chemical weapons attack that took place on August 21st. The death tolls from that specific attack are estimated in the hundreds, possibly as many as 1,400, but the total casualties from the two-year long civil war are around 100,000.

How do we as Christians think about and respond to this kind of human suffering and evil? Let’s be honest – it’s difficult to process something like this Christianly, isn’t it? I find it easy to alternate between two easier, but unhelpful, responses. It’s easy to have a partisan political reaction and simply “toe the party line,” supporting whoever you voted for. It’s easy simply to ignore the situation as long as it doesn’t affect you personally. Those are easy ways to process it – but they don’t ultimately deal with the realities of life in a fallen world, life that includes things like civil wars and sarin gas attacks. Let me suggest four Christians “lenses” through which we can think about this situation.

The ultimate problem is human sinfulness. Without a worldview that includes God, we’re left straining to explain how humans do such horrible things as gas one another. Is it a lack of education? Is it poverty? Is it rage against injustice and oppression? No, not ultimately. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve rebelled against God; in Genesis 4, the blood of the first murder victim stained the earth. Every tear of sorrow, every crime, every war in human history can be traced back to our rebellion against God. Claiming to be wise, we have become fools. Hating God in our hearts, we hate one another as well (Titus 3:3). Yes, in a situation like Syria there are multiple layers of injustice and wrong committed by both sides. But underneath the entire problem is the seething enmity between God and man. Civil wars come from human sinfulness.

Governments have a role in restraining the effects of sin. With so many discouraging headlines, it’s to become cynical about any government. But we as Christians can’t give in to that temptation. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 make it clear that one way God restrains human evil is through the gift of government. While I don’t pretend to know what the right political solution to a problem like Syria is (and in a fallen world there are often no good solutions, only the “least worst” solution), it is right for President Obama and other world leaders to attempt to address the situation. Having said that…

Only King Jesus can bring true peace. Until the Lord returns there will be wars and rumors of wars. Governments can restrain human sinfulness; they cannot eradicate it. Only the second coming of our King can finally deal with the problem of sin. On that day justice will be done. On that day peace will finally come. The sins of every human being, great and small, will either be covered by the blood of Christ or charged to the humans who committed them. There are no utopian solutions to our problems in this world, and we of all people should see through shallow claims of false redeemers.

So Christians should pray. We have access to the one Ruler who can actually accomplish his purposes! Pray for peace in Syria, even though all human peace is limited. Pray for God to save men and women through this suffering. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Syria. And pray with those brothers and sisters: come Lord Jesus!

Photo by Freedom House

When All You Can See Is How Bad Things Are

Lazarus of Bethany is dying.  In desperation his sisters Martha and Mary send for Jesus.

He may hesitate to come – the local religious leaders are seething with hatred for him – they’re watching for him with stones in hand – so the sisters don’t ask him directly, but appeal to his love for their brother – “Lord, he whom you love is ill,” knowing Jesus would want to return to heal languishing Lazarus. But Jesus doesn’t come right away.

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4).

How can Jesus know this illness won’t lead to death?  He isn’t there.  He can’t see Lazarus writhing and groaning on his deathbed. He doesn’t see Martha mopping the sweat on her brother’s brow or Mary helping him take a few precious sips of water.

Jesus knows because he’s God.  He knows all things, past, present and future.  And he knows what he will do in the future. From Martha and Mary’s perspective, it looks desperate.  But Jesus has a different perspective – a divine perspective:  “This illness does not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through It.”  Someday, something will lead to Lazarus’ final death, but THIS illness won’t. This illness will lead to an opportunity to glorify God and glorify the Son of God.

God has a greater perspective than we do.

We might only be able to see how evil a situation is, how gut-wrenchingly sad and burdensome it is.  And God doesn’t deny that.  We live in a fallen world pervaded with heartbreak, devastation and death.  It is sad.  Jesus doesn’t refute that.

He doesn’t say, “Oh, Lazarus isn’t that bad.”  It’s just that Jesus, as God, sees a much more complete panorama than anyone else.  He can see whole picture, the whole vista.  He can see the future and knows what he is going to do.  He’s going to take something evil – Lazarus’ death – and turn it to God’s glory.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

For his children, God takes all things, including genuinely evil things – sickness, injustice, sin, hurt, divorce, depression, accidents, hunger, pain, poverty – and triumphs over them, causing them to bring us good.  He takes poison and transforms it into a cure.  He takes a crucifixion and transforms it into salvation for multitudes.

Jesus answered Martha and Mary’s request – not in the way they expected, but in a far greater way.

He could have come immediately and healed Lazarus, which would have been wonderful.  But instead, by delaying, he glorified himself in a much greater way by raising Lazarus from the dead – a much more amazing miracle.  Jesus could answer your prayers immediately if he wanted to.  If he hasn’t he’s got something far greater in mind for you.

Trust him.  Wait for him.

photo by zaana