Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Decisions, Decision - When God is Silent

Two years ago, I quit my job and took what I thought was a better paying job somewhere else. I had prayed about the issue (probs not enough), and I hadn't heard the audible voice of God: "Ye shall quit that post and find ye another at XYZ Corp. Go! Tender thine resignation!" Since that didn't happen, I starting being logical about it:
  1. I'd been in my position for a while, and I didn't see any job growth. Wisdom said: leave. 
  2. I was really bored and not feeling as challenged as I wanted to be. Wisdom said: leave. 
  3. I wanted a career path to management, and didn't seem to be there. Again Wisdom said: leave.
I recently heard a sermon that took me back to those days. A sermon about how to make decisions when God is silent. The speaker took a non-biblical approach to this, because in the absence of clarity from On High, you have to do the best you can. And I agree with that. The speaker kept saying: "How do you make the wise decision?"

I just thought this was cute. Tee hee.
There were three practical ways (the 3-step) to make the "wise" decision per the sermon:
  1. Based on your historical experience what is the wise thing to do?
  2. Based on your present circumstances, what is the wise thing to do?
  3. Based on your future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?
Having not heard the sermon...I'd done this! But, sadly, it was a mistake. By the grace of God, it was one that He fixed for me, but that's beside the point.  It was a mistake borne out of practical Wisdom. But wait! I have to be honest: there was something wrong with my Wisdom. Everyone around me, at the time, was living a seemingly dynamic life. Checkers was getting her MBA, my roommate was moving to Philly, and I started to feel stuck. I wanted a dynamic life too! I prayed, but my stuck feelings didn't abate. So I had to do something. As such, my 3-step was not Wisdom. It was human logic + justifications dressed up as Wisdom.

Why is Wisdom capitalized?! Was that getting on your nerves? Well, in Proverbs 8 Wisdom is personified and later in 1 Corinthians 1:24 we see Jesus referred to as "the wisdom of God." So true Wisdom is divine. And it's difficult to get divine wisdom based on the 3-step because of this:

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. - James 3:14-17

In short: There is a wisdom that comes from above. It is pure. There is a wisdom that comes from below. It is tainted. 

Source of wisdom really matters. So the 3-step program, by itself, has some kinks. What if the patriarchs/matriarchs of the Bible used 3-step? What if Esther used 3-step?

Background: Esther is the new queen of a kingdom stretching from India to Ethiopia (127 Provinces). She's the new queen, because the old queen refused to comply with an order of the king. One of the king's princes, who the people have been ordered (by the king) to bow down and pay homage to has taken issue with Jews. His beef is that Jews won't bow down or pay homage to him, due to religious reasons. Since Jews are not a "protected" group but this prince is, this discrimination is not OK. So the prince asks the king to make a decree that all Jews are destroyed. No one knows Esther is Jewish. Her uncle, Mordecai, tells her she has to go to the king and get this straightened out.

Based on 3-step:
  1. Historical experience - Queens are not forever. That last queen (Vashti) was ousted, why not Esther? Also, it is known that anyone who comes to the king's court without being summoned is killed unless the king holds out his scepter. (Esther 4:11)
  2. Present circumstances - Esther is queen, the king loves her a lot (Esther 2:17), no one knows she's Jewish...she's got it made!
  3. Future hopes and dreams - Umm...To be alive?! But, for real, she has one other over-arching hope and dream - that the people of God not be destroyed. 
Based on 3-step, she'd be pretty confused. This is leaning a lot towards do nothing. This is the point at which she NEEDS the clarity. This is life or death. But Esther isn't working off of 3-step. Esther decides to step out on faith:

Walked in like a Boss!
“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16

This is probably the coolest quote in the Old Testament. I can't say it's the coolest quote in the whole Bible, because Jesus has some zingers. But the Old Testament "OG" award goes to: Esther

This is a different sort of faith. This is a faith that has, as its basis, a belief in God's sovereignty, His provision, and His ability to make all things work to the good. This is in stark contrast to being told something explicitly. It's easier to say we believe God when things are clear. It's harder to believe God when it's murky. I feel like murky shouldn't be an automatic default to "self." It should, rather, be an automatic default to faith in the character and nature of God (and not just in His voice). It's super different. Esther is making a move, and not caring about the consequences, because she dropped them in God's hands.

I believe that sometimes you have to step out on faith, believing God will honor the step. Believing that God really will and can work all things (every decision you make) for good (Romans 8:28). Part of our spiritual maturity is stepping out into the unknown having known only one thing: God is with me.

Like the scripture says in Romans 1:17:

For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."

It's important to note it's not from faith to figured-it-all-out, or from faith to-logic. It's from faith to faith. It's about spiritual growth.

I'm not trying to be contrary, I'm just saying add faith to your 3-step. Don't depend on your 3-step by itself. Why? It will surely get you to an answer, but who is to say that the resulting answer is "wise"?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. - Proverbs 3:5

When might one be tempted to lean on their own understanding? When God's clear, definite answer is unavailable! This is when all your heart has to be in trust mode.

It seems to me that the times of silence are an opportunity for more faith. 

Food for thought. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I'm Looking for a Miracle!

She was jolly!
A couple of months ago, Bianca and I went to New York to see Ingrid Michaelson's Holiday Hop. For those who don't know, I'm a HUGE Ingrid Michaelson fan, and was really psyched for the holiday weekend. I had everything planned out:

  1. Friday night - Ingrid
  2. Saturday night - A Broadway musical
  3. Sunday night - back to DC to see If/Then (another musical) 
Everything was working out perfectly: Ingrid was amazing, we went to see Annie, and we were on the noon bus departing to DC. I would OF COURSE be on time for a 7 pm curtain.

this is a DC snow storm...
But alas, there was a snowstorm. And suddenly, I was freaking out. Oh how I prayed! Cars were spinning off the road; I could see them in ditches. The bus was moving extremely slowly, and suddenly a 4 hour bus-ride was looking like a 7+ hour bus ride. I needed...a miracle.

A miracle is "an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause" per 

What did I hope the "miracle" would be? A parting of the cars (Red Sea style)? Nope. All I wanted was for it to stop snowing. If it had stopped snowing, in conjunction with my prayer, I would have attributed it to God as a miracle. A bona fide miracle! Though, it would have more likely been a natural weather occurrence.

 But I would have saw it as a miracle, because I was looking for one. *

On the flip side, I wonder if miracles would go denied/ignored if I wasn't looking for one. Does my faith allow for miracles? If it does, will I see them? If it doesn't, will I be blind to them? I don't really know. I want to write a series of blogs on doubt, but I'm not sure I'll have enough material... However, when I think of doubt (from a biblical standpoint) my mind automatically goes to "Doubting Thomas." So I was going to write about him, but when I got to John chapter 20, I found something else:

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” John 20:1-2

So Mary comes to the tomb, looking for Jesus. He's not there, so she's having a freak out. She tells the disciples, they come, and they freak out a little. They recognize he's gone out of the tomb, but don't really grasp what that means:  

 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes. John 20:9-10

Am I the only one like: "they went home?!" They didn't discuss what this could mean or call the other 9 for a pow wow? They probably went home to cry. This was insult to injury: "You kill our teacher and now you take away His body? Rude!" Note: I have no idea what they were actually thinking. 

Mary doesn't leave though. She's standing outside the tomb crying. As she's crying she looks into the tomb (like maybe this time He'll be in there?) and she sees two angels. And they ask her why she's so broke down, and she goes into her spiel about how her Lord's body has been taken, and how if they are the culprits they can just tell her where He is so she can take Him away. In my mind, she's in hysterics. But then:

empty tomb
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). - John 20:14-16

This scripture really got to me this week. I love when Jesus says "Whom are you seeking?" It struck me that the person she was looking for, if she knew who she was looking for...would never have been found in a tomb! 

She was looking for a dead Jesus. So there was no recognition when she saw an alive Jesus. She didn't go to the tomb seeking a miracle. Her expectation was steeped in the reality of three days prior. She saw her teacher die on a cross. So whoever this man was, maybe the gardener, she wasn't looking for him to be the risen Christ. If she was looking for the risen Christ, she would have been out looking for a miracle. And she would have seen it in the empty tomb! She wouldn't have needed to see Jesus' face. She wouldn't have needed to hear His voice, she would have saw something explainable (e.g. haters took Jesus' body out of the tomb to desecrate it) and known something miraculous (Jesus rose from the dead).

We wonder if miracles exist today. We question if God is still in the business of showing His glory and His might in the Earth. But how could we ever expect to see such when we're not even looking for it?

Food for thought.

*The bus was late. I missed the play. I cried.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tailor-made God

Have you ever seen the movie Lars and the Real Girl? Yes? It was kind of good. No? Watch this trailer: 

In this trailer you can see that Lars thinks he's in a relationship with a blow-up doll. Though he can love the doll, it can't love him back. He tells people that the doll is a missionary; however, she's never shared the gospel of Christ. He says she's had nursing training, but I bet he wouldn't go to her if he was choking. She's not real, but he has assigned to her the attributes of reality.

Well, I've been going through the Bible in One Year plan and the story that has really stuck out to me over the past 7 days is that of the Golden Calf. In case you don't know this story, I will quickly summarize it. The Israelites have been: 
  • Freed from slavery and headed to the Promised Land with a cloud leading them during the day, and a pillar of fire leading them at night. (Exodus 13:21)
  • Miraculously delivered from the Egyptians, who chased after them, by crossing over the Red Sea as if it were dry land. (Exodus 14:21-22)
  • Saved from starvation by the provision of manna (bread from heaven) and quails. (Exodus 16:13-14)
  • Saved from dehydration in the desert when God provided water from a rock (Exodus 17:6)
But then, Moses goes up a mountain and is gone too long (Exodus 24:16). So they take all their jewelry, melt it down, and make a little golden calf. They call it God, worship it, dance before it, and credit it with all the attributes and glory of the real God (Exodus 32:4-6).
They are playing Lars and the Real Girl...except with God!
they should be slapped
But here's the sad part: I DON'T GET IT. A few hours prior, the golden calf was earrings, or a necklace! They didn't worship those, so why the calf? Lars sees real people every day, he LIVES as a real person, the doll came in a box. He saw her in the box. He blew her up. And now she's girlfriend material? ...I'm at a loss.

The only thing I do get is 1) Idolatry is dangerous; and 2) God's reaction to idolatry is rough. It's very different from the coddling that Lars receives in the movie (which is not normal, I'd have you on 72-hour hold in a second).

But when it comes to idolatry, God treats you like you're treating Him (as if He doesn't exist for you). That might sound harsh, but look at the language:

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” - Exodus 32:1

WHO brought you out of Egypt?! Wasn't it the Lord? Maybe I'm wrong, because look at how God's talking: 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt... Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” - Exodus 32:8-10

God says these are Moses' people, who Moses brought up out of Egypt. These peeps can be destroyed. And since Moses is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob...he can just work with him. At first I was like: maybe the people weren't wrong to say what they said about Moses. He did technically lead them out of Egypt. But then, there was a voice of reason: 

But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?
 - Exodus 32:11
Am I the only one who thinks this is amazing dialogue? We have a people who have denied God, a God who says "FINE! I am denied, now you are denied and subject to wrath..." and Moses who's like: "They're still yours, and I acknowledge you!" 

It's deep! So deep that you might be thinking: "Whew! I'm so happy this is Old Testament" but actually Jesus weighs in here too: 
“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. - Matthew 10:32-33

So I'm left wondering: is it bad that I don't get it? Is it that I am currently under a delusion myself? Is there a golden calf in my life? Is the golden calf ME? Am I my own idol? Is it something else? Have I made up a God that I want to serve and calling him Jesus? Where am I taking the truth of God (the whole truth) and exchanging it for a lie? (Romans 1:25) Ahhh! It's scary.

Fodder for my prayer closet. Thoughts? Anyone? Why did this golden calf situation occur?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Where's my Happy Ending: Q&A

So, last week I finished my Hebrews 11 series. True to my word, I will now answer the one question I received in the comments:
Great series of posts and lots of good points along the way. How would you summarize them? And, how would you explain suffering in the context where there is no happy ending? Is it still somehow part of God's plan, as you seemed to suggest in your earlier post? I don't mean to sound like an a**hole by asking these questions, by the way. They are questions that I have trouble answering . . .

In terms of a summary: faith is the hardest thing.

The one thing every Christian could use more of is faith. But faith is difficult because (as noted in the series) it requires you to lay aside pride:
  • The pride that thinks we deserve something because of our "righteousness" (i.e. Cain and Abel)? Faith makes you give that up and look at yourself as only good enough through Christ. Hard pill to swallow. We want to be good in and of ourselves.
  • The pride that is really fear of rejection/disappointment so we decide to walk alone, rather than with God (unlike Enoch)? Faith jettisons that way of thinking. 
 Faith makes you hope when it hurts to hope. I'm talking Shawshank Redemption style hope here:
Why is Morgan Freeman so grumpy? Hoping against hope can make you lose it! He's in prison, and he can't see a way out. There may, in fact, be no way out. So why hope? But Tim Robbins' notes that hope, in and of itself, is an escape. It's deep. LOVE that flick.  
Easy things are consistent, but faith can ebb and flow (depending on our issues). We alternately saw our heroes give up hope (like Sarah) and then find it again. Like I said last can be a roller coaster.

Faith is the fall...and the check.
Living by faith is a trust fall into the arms of a person you only know is standing behind faith! We enter in by faith, and we keep going by faith. And where in the Bible does it say that it's easy? It says it doesn't take much (Matthew 17:20), but the life of faith is never presented as a cake walk. 

So to close that point: faith = hard. 

Q: ...And, how would you explain suffering in the context where there is no happy ending? 
This is a big deal question. What makes this question so messed up is that, it too, requires faith. A hard faith. There are so many scriptures about suffering: 

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame... 
 - Romans 5:3-5

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 
 - James 1:2-4

In these scriptures (also see 1 Peter 1:6-7), suffering serves to strengthen and increase our faith/hope. Which makes sense, because "by it [faith] the men of old gained approval." That happy ending is being stamped "approved." one wants to hear that. We want the happy ending to be hearing the doctor say: "the cancer is gone." And that can happen. We want the happy ending to be the house, the car, the spouse, and the kids. We want sit on a church pew with tears of joy streaming down our face because of all the many blessings in our lives. All that can happen. But is that the happy ending? In reality, though it seems out of reach now, the true victory is sitting anywhere: the church pew, the unemployment office, or on the hospital bed with joy in your heart over "just another day the Lord has kept me." That is to say, kept you in faith. And dude...I want that! I'm still wanting to praise about all the other things too, but truly living by faith has you recognizing that death, burial, and resurrection is all the blessing you need. 

I'm reading the Bible in a Year plan, and last week I was struck by something that Jacob said in Genesis. Please understand that Jacob is in the Hall of Faith, stamped approved. We see him worshiping at the end of his life, literally on his death bed with a praise. But he had this encounter with Pharaoh upon arrival in Egypt:

Then Joseph brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many years have you lived?” So Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life... - Genesis 47:7-9

The Happy Ending we very Disney
So we see that, in Jacob's eyes, happy ending has not been attained. He lives 17 years in Egypt, and then he dies. He lives 17 years in Egypt, not the Promised Land, and then he dies worshiping up to his last breath. I can't pretend to get it. But, for some reason, I like this scripture. It's OK to recognize that life can be sucky. Jacob was not trying to disrespect God. He wasn't throwing his faith down in front of Pharaoh, he was just acknowledging: "I've had some hard times!"

But he could praise, because he knew it wasn't over. For us the happy ending has to be attained here. But the happy ending is beyond the time we spend on this Earth (faith time). I'm not saying we can't have happy times here. We can laugh. We can play. We can experience what we think is true joy. But, the Bible doesn't call anything that happens here our "happy ending." 
Job knew it: And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God (Job 19:26)
David knew it: As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness (Psalm 17:15)
John knew it: Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2)

The happy ending is (tragically, but truthfully) not yet. That happy ending is in "seeing" God. The happy ending is the full realization of your faith. It's seeing the invisible person you've believed in for so long. And in seeing Him, becoming as He is. That's the happy ending. And no one in Hebrews 11, maybe no one in the world, has experienced it yet...because we all see the happy ending together. 

 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. - Hebrews 11:39-40