Vapor and God’s sovereignty

In late 1999 I started journaling on a regular basis.  Journaling has become, for me, a way to process ideas, reflect more thoughtfully on events, and keep a record of what’s been happening and how I respond to it.  It helps give me context and perspective and, on occasion, I go back and read what I was thinking at some point in the past.

I was journaling over the weekend and went back to look at my first entries of this year–the BC days: before cancer. I did not know at the beginning of 2014 that my wife would be diagnosed with breast cancer.  I did not know how it would turn our world topsy.  I did not know how we would drink at the fire hose of medical information and embark on a year long journey of surgeries, chemotherapy and, soon, radiation. On January 1, 2014 all that was in the future.  But I did have a sense on January 1 that things would happen in 2014 that I could not foresee.

Here’s part of my first entry of the year :

_______________________

1.1.14

Welcome to 2014!  As I begin this year, full of hopes and plans, I am reminded of the New Testament verse, James 4:15 “…we ought to say ‘If the Lord wills we shall live and also do this or that.'”

Lord, be sovereign over my 2014 ‘This or that”.  Remind me that I am vapor.  You are God.  Do not allow me to be presumptuous, for I do not know what a day will bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

______________________

I really did not know on January 1, 2014 what my day or my year would bring forth.  God has reminded me this year I am but a vapor.  My wife and I are learning to, as Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom once said “Hold everything in your hands lightly.”

Like Diane and me, you do not know what a day–or a year– will bring forth either.  A dear friend wrote to me last night that her husband is in the last stages of his life.  A young couple at our church lost their young son in a car accident a few weeks ago.  Tragedy strikes without putting up warning signs.  But our lives are also full of unexpected blessing.  On January 1, 2014 Diane and I could not have known the great out pouring of prayer, encouragement,  and support we would receive.  We could not have imagined the many delicious meals people would graciously bring to our home. We could not have discerned how the grace of God would sustain us during one of our greatest challenges.

God is sovereign even amidst the tangled events that weigh down on us and the unexpected delights that buoy us.  It is not that cancer–or whatever great adversity you are facing– is God’s will.  But all these things–the adversity and the blessings—occur under the umbrella of God’s will.  Romans 8:28 reminds me God is working all things–even adversity–together for my good.

That’s good news to a guy who is vapor.

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Sometimes I have nothing to say–and that’s ok

It’s been more than a week since my last blog and I have to admit I’ve been feeling a little guilty.  I tell myself “You should be writing”, but when I sat down to write the last couple days I felt as though I had nothing in particular to say.  It wasn’t that I was without thoughts.  It’s just that those thoughts had not yet formed into something worth writing about—yet.

Then I thought about this anecdote of Albert Eintstein:

Dr. Frank Aydelotte, the then President of Swarthmore College, once, invited Einstein as the guest of honor at a dinner.
When he was called upon to speak he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry but I’ve nothing to say.” The brief speech didn’t go well with the guests. Noticing this he arose again and added, “In case I do have something to say, I’ll come back.”
Six months later he wired Dr.Aydelotte, “Now I‘ve something to say.” Dr. Aydelotte promptly gave another dinner at which Einstein made his speech.

If this story is true I admire Einstein for his candor and bravery.  It’s hard to admit we have nothing to say. We have all heard speeches when the speaker really had nothing to say.  We have all listened to conversations when the person had nothing to say.  What compels people to speak–or write–when they have nothing to say?  I think it is because most of us are uncomfortable with silence.

Not my Dad.  He loved silence.  I can remember many times sitting with Dad on the front porch swing, or on a log in the woods while hunting, or in a boat on the lake while fishing–and nothing was said.  Dad was comfortable with silence and, through his example, I became comfortable with it too.  As a teenager I bought him a framed poster as a gift.  The poster had a photo of a boy and a man sitting side by side, at dusk, on a dock by a lake.  The two were obviously not talking and the words below the poster said “Those who say little love much.”  My Dad still has that poster in his bedroom.  Dad taught me to be comfortable with silence.  It is a lesson I constantly need to re-learn.

We absorb a cluttered cacophony of chatter in our lives.  Constant input from every arena and every electronic device makes it hard to listen to what matters.  Mother Teresa said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

We need silence to touch our own souls too.  To hear God and hear ourselves think.  To reflect.  To ponder.  To consider.  We do too little of that.  I have always liked the quote “We read too much and reflect too little.”  We also talk/write too much and reflect too little.

We should not be afraid of silence and we should actively pursue it.  We will be better, deeper, more thoughtful people if we take time for silence.  I’m not talking about “vegging out” or being mindlessly lazy.  I talking about thoughtful silence.  No words spoken and none heard.  No words written and none read.  Try it.  Push yourself over the speed bump of discomfort that will inevitably accompany silence at first.  Practice silence until it becomes comfortable.

So if you think you haven’t see a blog from me in awhile you may be right.  Perhaps I am practicing silence.  I may be reflecting.  Like Einstein, I may have nothing to say…for now.  But like Einstein, I will come back when I have something to say.

I guess I did have something to say today.

Does God want you to be happy–or something more?

victoria and joel

Victoria Osteen, notable co-pastor of a Houston mega church with her husband Joel, recently made a statement in their church service that drew a lot of attention:  Here’s the clip and here’s what she said:

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy,” That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy…”

“So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

Osteen’s words raise a question that is worth asking:….does God want us to be happy?  The Bible doesn’t directly say “God wants you happy”, but it also doesn’t say God wants us unhappy.  I think the problem with Osteen’s statement is two fold:  (1) Our happiness is not God’s great concern and (2) Osteen is looking in the wrong end of the telescope.

First, I do not think our “happiness” is God’s great concern.  What does the Bible say about what God wants for us?  Well, we know what He REQUIRES from us:

Micah 6:8

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

And we also know that God requires us to be “holy”

1 Peter 1:15-17

15 “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

“Holy” doesn’t mean “holier than thou”.  It carries the idea of being a person of integrity.  That we walk our talk and obey God’s commands.  That’s what God wants from us.

And we know that Christ said He came to bring us “abundant life”.

John 10:10

“I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

While no one knows the mind of God (and whether He wants us to be happy or not), I think a it’s a fair conclusion to draw from looking at the entirety of Scripture that our “happiness” is not something God seems all that concerned about.  I think what God wants for us is something bigger, deeper and broader than “happiness”.  He wants us to have a genuine, humble, holy relationship with Him and for us to live a life of justice and mercy and kindness toward others.  This kind of life is “abundant”.  Not always “happy”, but abundant.  I think that’s what God wants for us.

The second problem with Osteen’s statement is she is looking through the wrong end of the telescope.  When she says “Worship and obey God to make yourself happy” she’s making the same mistake people in the pre-Galileo world made:  thinking the center of the universe was earth–or us.  God–not us– is at the center of the universe.  He deserves worship for who HE is, not because it makes us “happy”.  The origin of the word “worship” is “worth-ship” where the focus is on the one being worshipped, not the worshipper:

WORSHIP:  the condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown,” from weorð “worthy” (see worth) + -scipe (see -ship). Sense of “reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=worship

See where the focus is supposed to be?  On God–not us.  Keeping God as the center of our worship–and our obedience–is looking in the right end of the telescope.

So does God want you to be “happy”?  Scripture tells us the first listed fruit of the Holy Spirit is “joy” (Galatians 5:22-23) which is different than happiness: joy is deeper, richer and broader–and not based on happenstance  or chance.  I think God wants us to be MORE than happy.  He wants us to have an abundant, joyful life.  And we will find that joy and abundant life when we seek and focus on God rather than our own happiness.

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