Did you catch what Phil Robertson begins to say at the 3:49 mark? “If you’re not a believer and you don’t believe God exists at all then the only hope you have is that He not be there. That’s your hope. Maybe He’s not there. What we’re saying is, ‘We trust that He is.’”
If you do believe in God, then you really have one of two directions you can go. First, you can try your best to appease Him and hope your best is enough. Up until the age of 19, that was my plan. I believed the key that would unlock heaven’s door was my good behavior. Of course the all-important question is: How good do you have to be?
I distinctly remember thinking as a teenager that because I hadn’t killed anyone I was qualified to get into heaven. I guess I thought it was okay to lie, steal, cheat, treat people unkindly, ignore those in need and have very little room in my life for God, but as long as I wasn’t guilty of murder–I was fine. My view was that heaven was our default destination and you really had to screw up big (like commit murder) to not make it in.
The problem with this view is obviously found in the definition of “good.” If it’s true that God created me and He created heaven, then what would lead me to think that my definition of good is the right one, that I get to determine the entrance requirements for heaven? Stop and think about it for a minute. It’s a really arrogant perspective.
If you’re trusting in your good behavior to get into heaven, let me encourage you to first find out what your god requires. And then get hard at work following his commands. And hope you don’t slip up. Hope you don’t somehow commit an offense he’s not willing to forgive. Sadly, I think you’ll find you can never quite shake that feeling that maybe you haven’t done enough. And that should motivate you to keep trying harder. As far as ever experiencing genuine, lasting joy or peace–forget it. How could you never knowing if eternal bliss or eternal punishment awaits?
So you can choose to believe God does not exist and then hope you’ve guessed right. Or if you do believe God exists, you can try to be as good as possible as defined by whatever god you’re believing in. Remember, you don’t decide what’s good or bad. He does. If this is your belief system, then your only hope is that you do enough good to outweigh your bad. Good luck with that.
The other option is to believe in the God Phil Roberston spoke of, a God who created us to live in friendship with Him. But because the human race has rebelled, we stand guilty before Him with no hope of ever being good enough to earn forgiveness. So a loving and moral God took on flesh and bore our punishment on the cross. Jesus died in our place and offers us the gift of forgiveness.
But a gift must be received. Have you received the gift of Christ’s forgiveness?
If this whole thing about Jesus seems like a fairy tale to you, then you’re back to either one of the first two options. You can hope God isn’t there or you can hope you’re good enough to appease Him.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
Yesterday, we talked about taking a spiritual fitness test. If we’re honest, most of us would say we’re not doing as well as we’d like to do. At least that’s what I’d say. I’d always like to be further along. I’d like to bear more fruit. I’d like to be less tempted by the same old sins. I’d like to know God better than I do.
Can you relate?
Today, let’s look at the only way we’ll ever truly make progress in the Christian life. The “secret” is found in John 15. You can read the whole chapter here. We’re just going to look at one verse though. Verse 5 says:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
It’s really that simple. Remaining in Jesus results in a life that bears much fruit.
The secret isn’t working harder or longer. It’s not trying harder. It’s not following a list of rules.
The secret is to remain in Jesus. So how do we do that?
Let’s take a look at a few passages that might help…
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (Matthew 6:33)
When asked which commandment was the most important, Jesus said:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Let’s not ever lose sight of this very simple truth: God is a person who wants to be loved and sought after.
He doesn’t need our love or attention. He doesn’t need us for anything. But He does want us. He wants us to love Him and seek Him and make Him our top priority. He wants us to surrender total control of our lives to Him. That’s what it means to remain in Him–surrendering to Him and loving and seeking Him.
Then as we remain in Him, we bear much fruit as He produces His life in us and through us and we become more like Him.
Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
It’s a very simple concept. It’s just not easy to practice. Naturally, we don’t want to surrender. We want to maintain control over our lives. We think we know what’s best for us. We’re not always convinced God is looking out for us. And so we assume control and go our own way…which always results in less fruit, less of the life we really want.
If you’re not happy with where you are, if you’re continuing to struggle with sin, if life seems void of joy and peace and purpose…then it’s time to get reattached to the vine. And then remain there by seeking Him. Remain there by making your love relationship with Christ more important than anything else.
The branch just remains and bears whatever fruit the vine produces.
There’s something we have to understand about God before we can understand anything else. It’s a foundational belief on which all other beliefs are built. And if we fail to correctly understand it, we will misunderstand almost everything about God, ourselves and this life on planet earth. So here it is…here’s the thing we absolutely have to understand…
God is a lover and wants to be loved in return.
That’s it. That’s what we have to grasp. If we don’t, nothing else will make sense. Follow me on this for a moment.
Many people, including many or most atheists, look at the suffering in the world and either decide God doesn’t exist or that He’s evil. And I get that. I understand why they’d feel that way. Millions of people are starving to death. Others are being killed in wars. Women are raped. People are robbed and murdered. Children are abused. The wealthy enjoy life like the poor cannot. Governments are corrupt. The list could go on.
We don’t have to look very far to find enough evidence to conclude God either doesn’t exist or He’s not as good as we’ve been led to believe. I mean if God is truly all-powerful, then a good God would also put an end to suffering, wouldn’t He?
But if it’s true that God is a lover and wants to be loved by us, then free will is a must. And free will means just that–we are free to choose. I am. You are. The rapist is. Everyone is. We all get to choose how we’ll live.
We can choose to love or hate. Give or steal. Serve or be served. Sacrifice or act selfishly. Tell the truth or lie. And we can choose to love God or hate Him or ignore Him or whatever we want to do with Him. It’s our choice.
I suppose the response could be, “Well then I want no part of a God who places being loved over the suffering of human beings.”
And if that’s how you feel–that’s your right. You get to choose what you believe. But if God exists and wants you to love Him in response to His love for you–your opinion of Him or anger at Him isn’t going to change reality. In other words, you can choose to not believe in God because you don’t like Him, but it’s not going to change Him.
Personally, I believe God exists. I don’t believe He’s evil, but I do believe He’s hard to understand sometimes. I also believe He’s good–not based on the current condition of the world, but based on the fact that 2000 years ago, He was nailed to a cross to be punished in my place.
To simply put an end to suffering, God would have to put an end to free will. He’d have to take away our ability to choose, which would take away our ability to love…our ability to love each other or Him. And then it seems like we just may as well not exist.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:28-34)
I wonder how much suffering would end if we simply did our best to obey the two greatest commandments.
My wife, Robyn, and I have never adopted a child, but we have many friends who have. A very good friend of mine and his wife adopted a little girl a number of years ago who has had some developmental issues. Parenting her has been very difficult at times and she continues to be a challenge.
If I asked my friend, “If you would have known then what you know now–would you still have adopted her?”
I’m pretty sure his response would be something like, “No doubt about it! She’s our daughter.”
I’d like to think I’d be able to answer the same way. And I’m very grateful it’s how God would answer. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said:
In love, He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will–to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the one He loves.
That’s a mouthful, I know, but let’s look at what Paul reveals to us about God’s heart toward us. In the previous sentence, we see that God chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. Now we see that He predestined us to be adopted into His family. Before you and I even existed, God chose to adopt us.
Was God surprised by our sin? Did we catch Him off guard? Did He have some regrets once He saw how we behaved?
Of course not. He saw all of our days before we took our first breath. He saw our selfish acts. He knew our evil thoughts. And yet, He adopted us anyway. Despite all of our sin, He made us His sons and daughters.
And He didn’t do it grudgingly. It was “in accordance with His pleasure and will.” God was pleased to adopt you. It was His will. He wanted you. He chose you. He adopted you. He made you His child.
And He has no regrets, because He already saw how you’d turn out. And so the result is “the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.”
Think about that. God knew all about our sins and failures. And He adopted us anyway…by grace. And because we were adopted by grace and because He already knew all about us beforehand–there’s no danger of Him giving us back. We weren’t adopted because of our goodness. We were adopted in spite of our badness.
IT’S BY GRACE!
You are God’s child. In love, He predestined you to be adopted. And it was all by grace that was freely given to you in Christ.
If you have been living under a cloud of guilt and condemnation, then it’s time to start walking in the truth. You don’t have to be afraid that God is displeased and disappointed with you. You can live confidently in God’s love, because your Father has seen the worst about you and adopted you anyway.
I’ve never been in the military, but I have two sons-in-law who are currently serving. Richard is a Marine and Ross is an Army Ranger. They’ve both been deployed to Afghanistan and know what it’s like to fight in a war.
For most of us in the United States though, we just don’t have much experience with war. Other than isolated terrorist attacks, we haven’t seen a war fought on our soil since the Civil War 150 years ago. We just don’t know what it’s like to have someone trying to kill us or to hear missiles exploding in our cities.
I wonder if that makes it easy to forget we actually are in a war.
Ephesians 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
Something happened to us when we placed our faith in Christ. God changed us. He gave us a new nature. Our spirit came alive. And He blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing. But there’s something else going on in the heavenly realms…
Ephesians 6:10-12 says:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
We’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms and that is also the place in which we must do battle. But as Paul said, our struggle is not against flesh and blood. We’re not fighting an enemy armed with guns and grenades. We are battling evil beings in an unseen realm. That is why in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul wrote:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
There’s a battle being fought for control of your mind. God wants you to know the truth, believe it and live by it. Satan and his demonic forces of evil will attempt to lie and deceive, so that you will live in fear, worry and anxiety–and never experience the life God has for you. Satan will tempt you to get your needs met in ways outside God’s will. Your enemy will try to convince you that God is angry or disappointed with you. He wants you to feel defeated and discouraged.
So Paul says we’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing. Do you know what they are?
He also tells us to put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against Satan. Do you know what armor is available to you?
Are you aware of the lies or deceptions you may be believing?
If you’re a little unsure about how to answer those questions–let me encourage you to dig into Ephesians yourself. I could give you the answers to those questions, but you’ll get so much more benefit by discovering the answers yourself. You can read the entire letter in about fifteen minutes. What if you were to read it once or twice a day?
Spiritual blessings await you–things God has already accomplished on your behalf. But Satan doesn’t want you to know what they are or to ever experience them. So you’re going to have to fight. Like you, I wish life could be easier, but it’s not. We need to deal with life as it is, not as we wish it could be.
By the way, Paul mentions the “heavenly realms” a couple other places in his letter to the Ephesians. For the first ten people to email me at email@example.com with the other two verses–I’ll send you free copies (PDF versions) of my 40 day devotional book, “I Believe God”, as well as my book “50 Ways to Slowly Kill Your Marriage.”
I realized a number of years ago that I really don’t want to walk by faith. That’s a problem because God says things like:
“We live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Hebrews 11:6
Walking or living by faith means I won’t always see how things are going to work out. That’s a really uncomfortable place to be. And I don’t like being uncomfortable. I suspect you don’t either.
I like being comfortable and I always want to see how things are going to work out. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t want to see how things are going to work out–I want things to already be worked out. I don’t want to trust God to supply what I need. I want to already have all I need. Don’t you?
And yet, that’s just not the way life works. I used to hold onto this fantasy world in which God’s sole objective was to make my life more comfortable, to make my circumstances more enjoyable, to meet all my needs and most of my wants. But since that’s not real life, I’ve had to work on letting that fantasy go. It hasn’t been easy.
But when we let go of the fantasy that a loving God would never allow pain or difficulties, we’re faced with a world in which tornadoes wipe out whole towns. Some babies are born with severe birth defects. Businesses fail in spite of hard work. Loved ones die in car accidents. Investments decline in value. Cancer takes family members from us. And “bad” people seem to have it better than the “good” people. And we’re faced with a God who’s willing to let all that happen.
Is there any hope? In this life, I mean. For those who follow Jesus, we know there’s the hope of heaven. But what about now? Are there any guarantees? Is there anything I can count on when the bottom drops out of life?
The second verse of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, says, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Would I love to live in a world without pain and problems and broken dreams? Absolutely. And that day is coming. I don’t believe God has given up on His plan to live on earth with us in a world free of pain and problems and death. (Read Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 21 and 22–the first two and last two chapters of the Bible.) One day, God will restore creation to its original design.
Until then, we can experience His grace and peace. They are ours in abundance and are found in a relationship with Him through Christ. God’s grace and peace aren’t dependent on circumstances. They are available to us when everything around us is crumbling.
Grace and peace are available to us, but I believe we can short-circuit them by continuing to focus on our circumstances rather than on Jesus. I can get my eyes so firmly set on what I see happening (or not happening) around me, that God begins to feel far away, uninvolved and uncaring.
We can choose to see our circumstances through God’s eyes–that’s walking by faith. Or we can choose to see God through our circumstances–that’s walking by sight. Only one of those ways yields grace and peace.
God’s grace and peace are yours, but sometimes you have to battle to receive them…and battle to keep them. And we’ll look at that tomorrow.
Why didn’t God stop what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Surely He saw it coming. He saw how disturbed the killer was. He saw the planning. He saw him driving to the school.
Couldn’t God have prevented the murder of innocent children and teachers?
Did God not care? Is He really not as good as we’d like to think?
How are we supposed to think about all this?
Let me answer by asking another question: where do you think God should draw the line in stopping evil or sinful behavior?
We’d probably all agree we’d like to see God stop the murder of innocent children. We’d also like to have seen God stop what happened on 9-11. And we’d sure be okay if God had stopped World War II and the extermination of six million Jews.
We’d also like to see God stop the rapist and the child molester. And the drunk driver who crosses the center line and kills a mother and her baby.
But what about a burglar or bank robber? Should God stop them?
What about shoplifter? Maybe you don’t feel so strongly about that…unless of course it’s your store. And does it make any difference if it’s a homeless person shoplifting food?
What about the guy who’s about to cheat on his wife? Or the mom who’s always yelling at her kids? Should God stop them?
Should God stop the teenage girl who eats too much? Should God stop the bully who relentlessly teases the weaker kids on the playground? Should God stop the guy who keeps looking at pornography on his phone?
Should God stop you when you’re exceeding the speed limit or texting while driving?
Should God stop you when you’re being lazy or unkind or selfish?
In other words, should God just make us do stuff?
Where would you like God to draw the line? Should He stop other people or you too?
It fascinates me that God doesn’t demand His own way. He doesn’t make me choose what’s right or best. He doesn’t make me seek Him or trust Him or love Him or obey Him. He wants me to, but He doesn’t make me. And He doesn’t make you.
I believe God wants to be wanted. So He lets me choose whether or not I will come to Him and do life His way. And He lets you choose, too.
That means He also lets everyone choose.
“Soon the wicked will disappear. Though you look for them, they will be gone.The lowly will possess the land and will live in peace and prosperity.” (Psalm 37:10-11)
I’ll be honest, I’m disappointed with the result of the presidential election. My candidate lost. Actually, my preferred candidates weren’t even running. So I’m feeling disappointed along with at least 57 million others. But there are over 59 million people who are quite happy with the outcome today. Many of whom would profess to trust God, work hard, have strong marriages and love their children.
The results of this election, like others, cause me to step back and once again examine some of my core beliefs. For example, as I followed the election results last night on Twitter (I never even turned the television on), I couldn’t help noticing how many people kept encouraging others to pray for the outcome of the election.
But pray how? What exactly am I supposed to ask God to do?
I saw some who were encouraging prayer even after the polls had closed. And these didn’t seem to be requests to just pray for our country. These were people asking for prayer to effect the outcome. Were they wanting God to miraculously change votes that had already been cast?
But even if the polls hadn’t yet closed, how exactly am I to pray when it comes to an election? “God, please make my candidate win?” What exactly am I asking when I pray that way? Am I asking God to stop some people from voting? That would certainly work. Am I asking Him to motivate a bunch of apathetic people to drive themselves to the polls and vote for my candidate? That would work too.
Or is what I’m really asking, “God, please change the minds of about 2 million people who live in Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Nevada.” Because that would have completely changed the result of the election. Apparently though, despite many prayers along those lines, God did not answer.
There are those who will say today, “Well, God is in control. This was His will.”
Okay, so what does that mean? When we say “God is in control” or “It was just His will”, what exactly do we mean?
Two states, Maine and Maryland, passed laws that now allow same-sex couples to marry. Was that God’s will? Is God in control in Maine and Maryland?
Then we have states like Colorado and Washington that voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. How does God feel about that? Do we know? Can we just write it off as, “Well, God’s in control. It’s His will.”
God is in control. It’s His will.
What does that mean?
Hurricane Sandy slammed into my hometown of Brick, New Jersey last week. As I write this, that area is again getting hit with a nor’easter, a major winter storm with rain, sleet, snow, high winds and coastal flooding. Is God in control of that? Is it His will for people there to continue suffering? And by the way, before you decide to get political and blame it on how people in the “blue” states vote–two of the counties with the worst damage from Sandy, including Ocean County where I grew up, are “red.”
My friend, Jeff, continues to battle colon cancer that has spread to his liver, lymph nodes and lungs. My friend, Michael, doesn’t want a divorce, but his wife is going ahead with it anyway. My friend, Mallory, has lost both of her kidneys and is on dialysis three days a week, which makes it difficult to find a job.
Was it God’s will for Jeff to get cancer, Michael’s wife to divorce him and for Mallory’s kidneys to fail?
Why are some people healed and not others? Why does God seem to miraculously intervene in some situations and not others? Why do some prayers go unanswered? Why are some babies born healthy and some with brain tumors?
Why does something so obvious to us–like a need for healing or a certain outcome in an election–seem to go unnoticed by God? And if He sees, why doesn’t He do anything? Is it that He’s uncaring? Unwilling? Unable?
As I continue to reflect on questions like these, I’m coming to some conclusions…
There’s a lot I don’t know or can’t explain and I’m just going to have to be comfortable with that. God is just way too big for me to “figure Him out.”
It’s very easy for me to place my trust in the wrong things, like money or a politician. Only God can be trusted.
But even though I believe He is trustworthy, I’m confused by the things He does or doesn’t do. He could change the course of a storm, but doesn’t. Or maybe He sometimes does and I’m not aware of it. He could heal a young woman’s kidney, but doesn’t. Or maybe even more confusing–someone who lives a healthy lifestyle dies at the age of 35, but a two-pack-a-day smoker lives to be 85.
I believe God is in control, but I don’t believe He always exerts that control. Look, God spoke the entire universe into existence, so of course He’s in control. But it sure seems to me that He has chosen to let some things (or most things?) just run their natural (or unnatural?) course. Storms happen. Some cells go rogue and become cancer. Stupid people drive drunk and sometimes kill others. And God doesn’t step into to change those things from happening. At least not always.
God lets us choose. That applies to you, to me and to the other 7 billion people on earth today. We can choose to seek God, or not. We can choose to love others, or not. We can choose to be generous or greedy. We can choose to exercise or eat donuts or both. And at least as far as I can tell, God doesn’t often step in and make us do something we don’t want to do. So that means if 59 million people want to vote for one candidate and 57 million want to vote for the other one, God lets that happen.
So yes, it’s true that God is in control, but it’s also true that we get to choose how we’ll live and who we’ll vote for and we get to then reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). At least in the United States, we get to choose our leaders, which means we also get to choose the consequences of the decisions our leaders make. That sure seems to be the pattern God established with the nation of Israel. If the king was good–and by “good”, I mean he sought God, obeyed Him and led the nation to do the same–then God blessed them with His protection and provision. When the king was bad and led the people to turn their backs on God, then He allowed His people to experience the negative consequences of their choices.
I don’t have all this figured out. But when it’s all said and done, I’m convinced that God is passionately in love with you and me. He demonstrated that on the cross. I believe it’s always better to seek God and obey Him than it is to go my own way. But even that doesn’t guarantee I’ll always experience a comfortable life. Nor’easters and rogue cells and drunk drivers and bad economic policies happen. And even though God sees and cares and is able to help prevent disasters in my life or in a nation, He doesn’t always do it.
But the good news is this: God’s grace is sufficient no matter what I face. I’ve experienced it in my life and I’ve seen it in others. Somehow, when life is falling apart all around us, God is able to give supernatural joy and peace and comfort.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, reflections or what God is teaching you. You can leave a comment or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh, one more thing. I released my new e-book last month, “50 Ways to Slowly Kill Your Marriage.” I’m not really big on promotion, but I thought I’d let you know it’s available on Amazon for just $2.99. You can get it by clicking here, if you’re interested.
The older I get–I’ll be 50 in a couple weeks–the less I seem to understand. I had much more figured out a couple decades ago.
I’m probably less sure about more things than I’ve ever been, while still remaining solid on my core beliefs.
At the core, I believe there is a God who has existed forever, although I cannot even begin to comprehend or explain how that can be.
I believe He created everything from nothing. And if that sounds too wild to believe, consider the alternative–that everything came from nothing WITHOUT A CAUSE.
I believe God is good, although His definition and mine don’t always agree. I believe He loves me, but sometimes I believe it by faith. I believe He wants to have a relationship with me, which is pretty crazy when you stop to think about it. I actually matter to Him.
I believe without a doubt that Jesus is God and that He walked around on the planet He created a couple thousand years ago, but I also understand how a lot of people didn’t even recognize Him as God. I’m not sure I would have either.
I believe that sin earns death, I’ve sinned and therefore I’ve earned death. And by death, I mean hell.
I believe what Jesus said in the book of John, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I know that sounds really exclusive. And it is. But I believe He meant it.
I believe if I place my trust in Jesus, He forgives my sin and paves the way for me to experience the relationship God desires to have with me and that ultimately I desire to have with Him, but don’t always act like it.
I believe it’s a big deal, a really big deal, in fact, that we believe God. He likes to be trusted. And it’s a big deal to Him when we don’t trust Him. A bigger deal than we realize.
Beyond that, I’m less sure about stuff.
Like why some people are healed and some aren’t.
Like why some prayers are answered and some aren’t.
Like why some people are born with severe disabilities and others are born with beautiful, perfect bodies.
Like why bad people prosper.
The list could go on.
I think where I’m landing is this–we’ve got to cling to what we know to be true and learn to live in the mystery and tension and confusion of the rest. We’ve got to persevere. We’ve got to patiently endure. We’ve got to hang on.
Persevering. Patiently waiting. Trusting.
Those are big themes that run throughout the Bible. They’re a big deal to God. So they’ve got to be a big deal to us. Bigger than our need to know and understand and have everything make sense. Bigger than our need to understand everything and fit it all in our neat little boxes.
I don’t know your circumstances today. Maybe you’re in a marriage that’s just absolutely awful. Maybe you’re unemployed, you can’t find a job and bankruptcy is the only option. Maybe you have a life-threatening illness. Maybe you’re lonely or scared. Maybe you were raped. Maybe everyone ignores you.
I know you’ve prayed. You’ve cried out to God. You’ve begged Him to help you. But things have gotten worse, not better.
I don’t have an answer. I can’t explain it. But I encourage you to not give up. Don’t turn your back on God. With whatever strength you have left– seek Him and trust Him.
I went to lunch today at a friend’s restaurant. Last week at this time, he was in Houston at MD Anderson waiting for the results of his latest scan. Unfortunately, he found out the next day his cancer is back.
While at his restaurant, he pointed out a guy who has a similar type of cancer that’s even more advanced. The doctors told him there’s nothing more they can do. If you were to see my friend or this other guy, you’d never know they had cancer.
After lunch, I was in Wal-Mart and got into a conversation with the greeter that probably lasted thirty minutes. As we talked, she told me she started singing in bars in 1958 at the age of 13. She’d make more money in two nights than her dad did in two weeks working for Philips Petroleum. At one point, she and a guy named Harold Jenkins won a singing competition. Harold later changed his name to Conway Twitty.
She also knew Janis Joplin who called her one day and told her to get to Love Field (Dallas) where she’d pick her up. In a plane. Janis said they were going to a concert in upstate New York. The year was 1969. The concert was Woodstock.
This woman has a story. So does my friend. We all do.
Everyone has a story.
Some of us are in a good part of the story. Health is great. Job is going well. Finances are in good shape. No major relationship problems.
But others are in the midst of a story they never wanted.
The person who cut you off in traffic has a story. Maybe he’s been unemployed for two years and is embarrassed every time his wife and kids have to go to the store to buy groceries with food stamps. And now he’s late for a job interview that could change everything. He didn’t mean to cut you off. He was just in a hurry and didn’t see you.
The girl who sits near you in class has a story. She’s friendly, pretty and smart. But her dad is an alcoholic. Sometimes things get out of hand. That’s when he hits her mom. Like he did again last night. They’re too scared to call the police.
The man in line behind you at the store is addicted to pornography. The shame and guilt are killing him.
The woman in front of you buying the diapers isn’t buying them for her baby. They’re for a baby shower she’s going to. She has no children and recently miscarried for the third time.
I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to forgetting all this. Someone was tailgating me the other day and it made me furious. Later, I thought about how I should have stopped in the middle of the street and had a “talk” with the person. I felt wronged and wanted revenge. But what if it was someone who was late for something important or just had to go to the bathroom really bad?
That person had a story. I just didn’t care.
What if I did care though? What if rather than being angry, I just pulled over so I was no longer in the way? And if pulling over wasn’t an option, what if I simply took the time to remember that everyone has a story. Including tailgaters.
What if my prayer for others was the same as Paul’s greeting in Ephesians 1:2, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Isn’t that what we all want and need? Grace. And peace. From God our Father. And from Jesus.
The next time you and I are tempted to get angry or defensive or ignore someone we cross paths with–what if we at least took the time to ask God to give them grace and peace?
Because everyone has a story.
If you’d like to share it as a comment, I, and hopefully others who read it, can pray for you.