Archives for the month of: November, 2015

wtc

We don’t like risk. We spend billions of dollars per year on insurance and warranties; we study Consumer Reports before buying anything. We buy new and improved safety seats for our children; we put them to bed in flame retardant pajamas, make them wear bike helmets, and insist that their playground be built on at least 6 inches of tire rubber to lower the risk of injuries. We buy tamper proof containers, and put metal detectors in our buildings and warnings on our hairdryers to decrease the risk of harm. We buy insurance for our vacations and our cell phones, and purchase extended warranties for our electronics and cars just to decrease our risk of financial loss. There are at two huge bureaucracies in our federal government, the FDA and CPA, devoted to protecting consumers from anything produced that might harm us. We don’t like risk for ourselves.

But we love it when other people take the risk. We glamorize the bad boys who live on the edge; the people who don’t play by the rules and still beat the odds. We make heroes out of frontiersmen and cowboys, soldiers, policemen, and firemen because they are willing to take risks. We root for the underdog and the one who pushes the limits to succeed. We wait with eager anticipation for the daredevils to do a life-threatening stunt; watch rodeos and NASCAR, waiting for the crashes.

Our culture seem to have a love/hate relationship with risk. But the real truth of the matter is that risk is inherent is inherent in everything we do. Every choice you make – to do or not to do something, has a cost. We may try to minimize risks, but we don’t want miss out either. If you take the chance, you risk failing; if you stay safe, you can’t succeed or accomplish anything of much value.

When I look carefully at the great adventures of the Bible, I realize that all of the awesome revelations and miracles were predicated on situations I would have desperately tried to avoid. Noah’s rescue from the flood followed a hundred years of construction that would most certainly have branded him the town kook. David, the teenage shepherd, accepted the challenge of a giant that the best warriors in the army of Israel had already refused to fight. Daniel’s miraculous rescue required that he spend the night with lions. Mary Magdalen suffered with seven demons before she could know God’s deliverance. All the people Jesus healed struggled with physical ailments and hopelessness.

I don’t want to be afraid or ridiculed. I don’t want to be thrown into a fiery furnace or sold into slavery. I don’t want to be falsely accused or put in jail. I don’t want to pick up a snake or be swallowed by a fish. I don’t want to challenge the authority of someone who has the power to kill me. I don’t want to have to defy my government to obey my God. I don’t want to mourn or be in pain or suffer or know shame. But it is in situations exactly like those that the obedience of ordinary people displays the extraordinary power of God.

The more I learn about God, the deeper my understanding of his character and his plan, the more I don’t want to be separated from him. I am an ordinary woman with real fears and weaknesses who worships the God who has all power and has promised to redeem me, and I want my life to display evidence of the extraordinary God I serve. But in order to do that, I’m going to have risk trusting and obeying His plan, even when I really like my plan.

The irony is that we control so very little. On August 17, 2001 my family visited the World Trade Center. We spent one hour in security lines. They knew they might be a target because they had already been attacked in 1993, and they were serious about security. They wanded each of us, they went through my purse and the boys’ backpacks, we were sniffed by dogs who could detect explosives, and each of us had to walk through a metal detector so they were absolutely sure we didn’t have weapons. 3 ½ weeks later, the people in charge of security for the World Trade Center on 9/11 again did everything they could to prevent the attack they expected.

The problem was that they weren’t expecting the attack that actually occurred. Their limited perspective and understanding didn’t prepare them for what really happened. Your limited perspective and understanding of the future won’t prepare you either. But your daily obedience to God’s call on your life will prepare you.

Those who choose to trust God more than they fear what they cannot control see the glory of God right here on earth. No matter what choice you make, it will cost you something. You can miss God’s presence and blessing, you can forfeit your front row see to God’s power at work in your life, if you insist on being your own God and reject any course of action that has risk. You’ll never see God’s power as clearly as when you finally realize you are not in control at all. Our choices don’t diminish or increase God’s love for us, but they do determine whether or not we allow God’s story to become our story. God doesn’t ask us to approve his plan or necessarily like what he asks us to do; but he does require that we obey…even when we can’t see the possibility of a happy ending. It is in those moments of obedience that He gives us the desires of his heart and a front row seat to see his power. If you refuse to do anything different, you will never accomplish anything new. Refusing to take risks keeps you tied to what has been, rather than what can be. Trust Him with what is to come.

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lines 3

Borders. Walls. Edges. Fences. This far and no further. Last warning that we’re about to go too far. Intentional separations from what we fear and from what we don’t like. Division between what is allowed and what is not allowed.

“Picking sides” may require that we draw a “line in the sand”. Sometimes it seems that there is a fine line between right and wrong. Delineating our point of view may make someone feel that we’ve crossed the line into their choices. We may be required to line up our priorities with those who are in charge. We are encouraged to toe the line and color inside the lines. A foul line in baseball denotes the inches between whether a hit is a foul or a home run. Signing on the bottom line is a formal commitment, enforceable by law. Our lives are judged and often defined by the “lines” we honor and the “lines” we draw.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line or even if we should. Refusing to draw lines can make us tolerant of evil and susceptible to worldly philosophy. Refusing to see the point of view on the other side of our carefully drawn lines can make us judgmental and legalistic.

Lines are problematic for Christians. We don’t want to cross the line of law into sin; we don’t want to cross the line of love into tolerance of sin. There is a vast difference between focusing on the boundary placed by God for our protection and instruction, and focusing on the God who calls us to obey.

Disobedience comes when we take it upon ourselves to draw new lines, rather than honor the lines that God has drawn. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor.” (Matt 2:39) He also said not one dot of the law will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  (Matt 5:19) What happens when my lines intersect your lines? Where is the line between sin and obedience? Between helping and enabling? Between purity for myself and respect for others? Between loving the sinner and obeying my God? Can we travel parallel paths and respect each other across the line?

The Pharisees defined themselves by enforcing the lines they chose to draw. I suspect they started out with good motives. They wanted to honor God; they wanted to help others honor God. But they eventually became more focused on the line that separated them from disobedience than they were in the God they were trying to honor.

How different would our lives look if we were more interested in obeying God in all things than in walking as close to the line as we can get without crossing it? If we focused on God, rather than on the things that separate us from others? When we focus on our “lines”, we miss seeing God. The lines drawn by the laws in Bible are to protect us from sin…they can become sin for us when we focus on the lines to the exclusion of God. May God forgive us for the lines we draw that are outside his will and for refusing to draw the lines that help us become salt and light when the world demands that we blend in. 

cinderella

I love her entrance at the ball when she looks good and everybody notices. I love that the prince searched for her all over his kingdom because he fell in love with her the moment he saw her. I love the scene when the wicked step mother breaks the glass slipper and it seems that all hope is lost, and Cinderella pulls the other shoe out of her pocket. I love it when the bad guys lose and the good guys win. I love the Disney doctrine of happily ever after. But the problem with that is the ending is not the whole story. We don’t get to focus on the parts we like and ignore the parts we don’t. Cinderella’s happily ever after was determined by the choices she made before her fairy ever tale began.

Focusing on the happy ending can keep us from seeing the truth about the story. We all want the magic dress and the handsome prince…without the surrender and sacrifice and service that made them possible. Cinderella’s story is tragic. Her beloved father died, and she went from being cherished to being abused. Rather than valuing her as a daughter in the house provided by her father, she is relegated to serving the wicked step-mother and step-sisters. She is treated unfairly and cruelly by selfish, hateful women. No one would have blamed her if she had treated them as spitefully as they treated her or if she had secretly despised them. It would have been perfectly understandable for Cinderella to lecture them on their ingratitude or to just run away and let those self-centered, lazy women do for themselves.

But Cinderella never allowed her sorrow or her pain or the vicious behavior of others to make her any less than the kind, gracious young woman her father raised her to be. She is the hero of this story, not because she destroyed those who opposed her, but because she did not allow those who opposed her to destroy her goodness and joy. She chose to be true to her upbringing and heritage, to what she knew was good and right, no matter how others behaved. She couldn’t really change her circumstances, but she refused to allow her circumstances to change her for the worse.

Her home with a father who loved her had changed to a place where she wasn’t loved. He died and she faced a “new normal”. What we do with our “new normals” determines our future. The unwavering strength of her character and her consistent choice to be joyful and kind made her someone the mice and the fairy godmother liked and wanted to help. Their help provided her with a new dress and a snazzy carriage and the opportunity to go to the ball and meet the handsome prince and live happily ever after. But it was Cinderella’s choice to be loving and kind that caused the fairy godmother to seek her out, to give her that magical evening. Before the fairy godmother gave her what was necessary for her happily ever after, Cinderella surrendered her pride; she sacrificed her expectations, and she became a servant in her father’s house.

Cinderella did not allow the difficult people or disappointing moments to define her. She stayed true to her character and chose joy, despite her circumstances. She cooked and cleaned for her step-mother and sisters, even cared for their lazy, ill-tempered cat. Her service to them may not have been voluntary, but her attitude in that service was completely her choice. She didn’t cheerfully serve them because they were good and kind; she cheerfully served them because she was good and kind. She didn’t focus on what she believed she deserved or her approval of who she was called to serve or even whether or not she liked what she was required to do; she chose to focus on what she knew was right, even when it was unfair and hard.

Cinderella had really good reasons to choose to be less than her father raised her to be. So do we. We are called to obedience in situations that are hard and unfair. We are daily confronted with difficult, negative, hurting people who demand more than they give. Our plans have not turned out like we thought they would. We dreamed of “happily ever after”, and we got tedium and chores and tasks and interruptions and frustrations and disappointments.

It is easy to obey God when He’s doing something we like, when He allows us to serve from our strengths and when we like the people we serve…but what about when one or none of those are not the case? Our happily ever after may be the ending to our story, but we have to obediently walk through a new normal to get to that part of our story.

 The thing is, one day the King of Heaven is going to come find us and take us from the mess of where we are to our “happily ever after”. He’s already prepared a place for each one of us, and he’s going to usher us into the New Jerusalem for eternity. We will be his bride. There will be no more death or mourning or pain. God himself will wipe away the very last tear you will ever cry. But our happily ever after starts with our choice to surrender now. Our choices will not increase or diminish God’s love for us, but they will determine whether our story becomes God’s story. We need to choose obedience to him now so that we will be prepared for what is to come. We need to sacrifice the things that separate us from Him, we need to serve those He loves so that we will be ready when he comes to take us home.