Failing Fast, Failing Often


Fail fast, fail often. In the new development world at my office (now two years old), this mantra has been repeated countless times. While at first it seemed like it was another one of those Silicon Valley fads that come and go after a couple years, this one seems to have legs, mostly because it’s common-sense — and it works.

One of the books we were recommended on how to improve our Agile development processes was “Fail Fast, Fail Often — How Losing Can Help You Win” (synopsis/highlights). The basic synopsis of the book is “When you have an idea, just do something with it as fast as you can, learn from your mistakes, make adjustments, and try again. Lather, rinse, repeat — over and over and over again as quickly as possible. There is no real finish-line in the process, just a thousand (or usually more!) adjustments all along the way.

The real problem that “Fail fast, fail often” attempts to address is inaction/inefficiency because of indecision. Fear, specifically being afraid to fail, makes many of us freeze and get stuck in the “idea” or “design” phase for too long, and sometimes great ideas die before they ever see the light of day. The fear of failure or second-guessing something can be utterly paralyzing and can bring everything to a screeching halt. In the software world, we call this “analysis-paralysis,” in which progress moves very slowly because of over-designing, indecision, and fear. In essence,  poor leadership and weak decision-making because of the fear of failure.

On my development team, we used to have these days-long design sessions to hammer out every minute detail of a new feature from the user experience, classes, services, database tables, and everything in between. Literally everything was planned out before a single line of code was written. It was mind-numbingly boring, then we would rush out and develop the thing as fast as we could with the time we have left. We never really failed until the last possible minute, and then it was usually ugly at best or disastrous at worst. The solution to this problem of “failing last” was “failing fast” and it’s been literally hammered into us.

Now, two years later, we are adept at failing fast — we can fail fast like nobody’s business!  And failing often? Why, we’ve got that one down too! We can do both so well that now we have the opposite problem of building complex features not being adequately designed before we start cranking out the code. We rush in and write code until we hit a roadblock, then we back off and design a little bit, then jump back in and repeat until the next roadblock. In short, we’ve swung from one extreme of over-thinking with too little action to the other extreme of over-acting with too little fore-thought.

A problem with mantras like “Fail fast!” is that we tend to forget the original problem we we were trying to solve. We solve one problem with another, then another, then another (and adding processes and safeguards along the way) until we forget what the core problem originally was, in this case, over-thinking and over-design — analysis-paralysis. The real point of “Fail fast, Fail often” isn’t being good at failing, it’s “learning from your mistakes” and adjusting your processes (or products) to be successful. And part of that is learning to have moderation when it comes to new ideas and new processes. “Eat the meat, spit out the bones” is probably a better mantra than “Fail fast, fail often” but isn’t nearly as catchy, particularly since we’re all familiar with failure.

How often is the same true in our everyday lives, where we fall prey to analysis-paralysis? How often do we wait to put off making those big decisions and worry ourselves sick with indecision until we end up worrying more about our indecision than the actual problem? Of course, it’s usually foolish to dive into a pond without looking first, but how many times do we stare at that same water and wonder how deep or cold it really is, when we should really just try it out first? The flipside is jumping into something without thinking about it first — leaping without really looking. How about using experience, common sense, and a little of that wisdom that we’ve been blessed with?

Along with “failing fast”, another major adjustment we’ve had to make at the office is learning to be comfortable with being decidedly uncomfortable and continually learning new languages and methodologies. It’s one thing to be challenged by the immediate problem to solve with software, but quite another to be challenged with syntax, architecture, and other fundamental considerations. Imagine going to work everyday and feeling like you know very little, as if you’ve just started the job a week ago and know next to nothing about the system. It’s not a pleasant feeling, particularly when it drags on for awhile. But it’s only a feeling, and the more you get used to it, the easier it gets (well, at least in theory!).

dem2Imagine having to write a term-paper about a subject you’re not completely familiar with. As if that isn’t enough of a challenge, throw in the fact that this paper needs to be written in a different language, must be peer-reviewed, and written as a team effort with several different people who are just as bewildered and bumbling as you are! Not only that, but imagine that your grade (if not your entire academic future) hinges on getting an “A” on that paper!

That’s what life in the office has been like for most of the last two years, and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon. Though we’ve been quite productive, it hasn’t felt that way because we never really have time to settle in and fall into a cadence/rhythm with anything. I suppose there’s another life-lesson in there somewhere, in that you really are making progress even though you may never feel like it — until one day you finally stop and look back and see the huge distance you’ve actually covered.

In writing books, it’s not the meticulous planning and scene/character details that will turn a book into reality, it’s the writing. It’s plopping down clumsy words and disjointed ideas on paper as quickly as possible and often having no clue how they’re all going to fit together, but writing them nevertheless, all the while accepting that a large percentage of those words will be thrown away before it’s all over. The most prolific writers preach over and over that what matters most is that you’re actually writing something tangible every day and moving the plot along, regardless of how good it is or whether it’ll be thrown out tomorrow. Writers write, builders build, teachers teach, and doers do!

To stitch it all together, failing frequently is a part of just about everything we do, whether we like it or not (which we usually don’t!). What we do with those failures, whether we let them define us or not, and whether we stop trying because of them are just decisions to be made. Most of the greatest inventors, artists, and writers failed hundreds if not thousands of times before they “got it right”, but they’re seldom remembered for those failures — only their success. They stumbled, fell, got back up, and tried again and again. They didn’t necessarily embrace failure as much as accepted it, learned from it, and kept going. Perseverance is not only a principle, but a practice to be cultivated and continually developed.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” — Galatians 6:9

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Compassion? For Her?!?!

Compassion. Sometimes it pops up in the most surprising of times, places — and people. A couple weeks ago when glancing over the political headlines, Donald Trump struck a low-blow against Hillary Clinton over her brain “short-circuiting” and I suddenly felt two very strong emotions: disgust towards him and compassion towards her. That’s right — compassion.

New-Hillary-Clinton-Photos-Reveal-She-Needs-Help-Climbing-StairsIn political news over the last couple weeks, Clinton’s health has become a topic of “concern”, particularly on the Right. The rumors over her health range from lingering issues from her 2012 concussion to Parkinson’s to dementia to hypothyroid issues. This year, though she was the prospective Democrat candidate, she didn’t have a single public press conference in 2016 until August — almost as if she were in “hiding” of some sorts. Candidates usually have numerous press conferences because they’re practically free publicity, especially during the primary season. In contrast, Trump has held over a dozen. And of course, the following headlines (compliments of Drudge) and picture above don’t help dispel the Hillary health-concerns any either:


As a former Republican (RIP 2014), the compassion I’ve been feeling towards Hillary recently has caught me by surprise. Of course, it’s mixed with other feelings, but the phrase that keeps popping up in my head is “How the mighty have fallen.” Before Obama took the DNC by storm, the Clintons were the de-facto face of the Democratic Party. On the Religious Right, they were quietly referred to the American Ahab and Jezebel. When Bill Clinton was president, they were a fitting caricature of the two infamous Biblical villains: a weak, charismatic “king” and a domineering, ever-scheming “queen”.

From the unrelenting investigations, scandals, and impeachment, the Clintons have continually been in the news for the last twenty-five years. So much press has been generated over them it’s challenging to separate fact from fiction most of the time. Even after leaving office, Hillary was the most polarizing Democratic political figure, possibly even more than Obama. Whenever the GOP would need to raise cash, they would just start mentioning Hillary in their ads and talkshows and the cash would pour in. In politics, we are taught to despise, to vilify — to hate. And this isn’t confined to American politics, of course; it’s just amplified because the media has such a widespread influence here.

But instead of this diabolical villain as her political/personal enemies would paint her, how would God have us approach Hillary and the rest of the candidates in this turbulent election season? What does God see when He looks at Hillary? Does He see her as she is now or does He see the entire span of her life? God saw her when she was conceived, born, and the joy and hope she brought to her parents while she was growing. He watched her crawl and then take her first steps to her parents’ delight. He watched her giggle and twirl and hug the family-dog and play dress-up. He watched over her at night while she was snuggling with a favorite stuffed animal and when she woke up. He watched her dream of what she might grow up to be. She is someone’s daughter, friend, grandmother, mother, and wife (for better or worse). She’s allowed herself to be humiliated numerous times by her husband’s incredibly-public infidelity. The depth and breath of personal humiliation and embarrassment she’s endured over the years must be utterly staggering!

stock-photo-8203837-man-prayingAs we read the political news, we tend to think that the sole focus is on the various personalities involved, about what God is doing with them and how they’ll influence the country if elected. But how often do we consider what God is doing inside US when it comes to politics and those who we’re for and against? I think that God is much more concerned about OUR individual attitudes and responses towards others — even our political adversaries — than about the actual political outcomes and ramifications themselves. I think that God would have our attitudes be much more like one of the examples He has written in the Bible about 3,000 years ago: “David vs Saul 1010 BC”.

Though there were no elections in ancient Israel, there was a great deal of political strife and people were sharply divided between the two camps of Saul and David, which could have easily led to a civil war. As king, one held enormous power while the other had been anointed the next in line for the throne, and the king was actively trying extinguish that threat. Saul was relentless in his pursuit of David, hounding him at every turn and forcing him to abandon everything and everyone he held dear to flee for his life. Yet consider how David mourned over Saul when he heard of his death — he tore his clothes, fasted, and wept bitterly for his king. He composed at least one song for him and nearly led the nation in mourning for him. And this wasn’t just for another political enemy, this was towards the tyrant who had tried to skewer him at least twice, hunted him like a dog for years, gave his first wife to another, and driven him (and his family) into hiding for years.

So with that in mind, how would Christ respond during this heated election season? What lessons does Jesus have for us concerning our adversaries, both personal and political? What attitudes would He have us cultivate and develop even in politics? I believe that He would have us learn to forgive, to bless, to respect, to have compassion. When our enemy is thirsty, give him/her a drink. When our enemy is sick, care for them. Don’t kick them when they’re down. Love them regardless of who they are and what they’ve done and let God deal with the details. This election is just as much about us and our attitudes as it is who’s elected to office. Our behavior towards our adversaries is not about us being “the bigger/better person” or even doing it because we’re Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, or any other religion. It’s about treating the other person for who they are: a unique, beloved creation of God.

Dietrich_BonhoefferGoing a couple steps further away from mere politics, what should our response be to the various “enemies of the faith”? What if a Hitler was elected to office again? Note that Hitler was elected by a democratic process and then began his reign of terror with willing accomplices and a compliant electorate. By himself, Hitler was nothing — but with the support of much of his nation, he became a tyrant. As for one of the foremost German Christians who resisted Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biggest black-mark on his witness was his participation in the attempted assassination of Hitler, for which he was later hung only three weeks before the Nazi regime collapsed. Yes, the German dictator was a monster and was responsible for the millions upon millions of deaths, including triggering the Second World War which cost over 80 million lives (estimated). Yet God allowed him to take and hold power, and assassinations are rarely His means of removing people from office.

How should we as Christians respond if a truly wicked person takes office in America? What about a Nero who would use Christians for garden-lanterns for his personal entertainment? What about a Mao Tse-tung or a Josef Stalin? From what I’ve gleaned from the Scriptures (Matt 10:23), we are to “Flee, but not fight.” Though Christ did admonish His disciples to take a sword once, nowhere in the New Testament do believers ever take up arms to defend themselves. However, they do flee persecution and when apprehended, they submit to the authorities regardless of the charges against them. Peace and civility and submission to the authorities trumps individual rights in Paul’s numerous adventures. The mindset of Americans running out and buying guns and ammo whenever a Democrat is elected to high-office is the exact opposite way that we Christians should be behaving. After all, what’s the worst they could do, even the real tyrants like Hitler and Nero? Kill us? Paul said it perfectly: “To live is Christ, to die is gain!” (Phil 1:21)

And while this post been mostly directed towards Hillary, the same holds true for Donald Trump, though he has other significant character issues — namely his huge ego and pride. While Hillary has a history of corruption and straddling the line between legal and illegal, Trump’s enormous pride and arrogance is an even bigger issue. Sooner or later, everyone is humbled — including Donald Trump. To watch him mock and demean his political opponent with comments such as having “a short-circuiting brain” is disgusting. Did Trump win the primaries by having better policies than the others or just by being able to grab more headlines with his careless words? A big part of being humbled is being humiliated, and if he loses this election — particularly to Hillary (who also happens to be a woman) — in his own mind and ego, Trump will be humiliated. Unfortunately, his pride will probably keep him blinded to the lessons he’s supposed to be learning. Trump may be many things, but he has never been a servant to anyone, much less a public servant to a rather demanding and divided electorate.

America-by-loveallpeopledotorgAs this election approaches, let us keep in mind COMPASSION for those around us, regardless of our passing political opinions. Let us frequently recall and appreciate the reality of our circumstances and be wary of how the media or parties might portray them. In this great land of ours, we Americans are incredibly, undeservedly blessed — BLESSED!

We are BLESSED to live in a country that is politically stable, where our leaders don’t seize office by violence, where ballots not bullets decide our elections.

We are BLESSED to not have roving bands of militants pillaging, kidnapping, enslaving, raping, and murdering innocent civilians.

We are BLESSED that there hasn’t been a significant political assassination in nearly 50 years, that though we might often disagree with those in office, we hold to the Rule of Law and let due-process take its course.

We are BLESSED for all the freedoms and opportunities we have that we so often take for granted, that we have an abundance of food, shelter, and resources.

“…If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” — Romans 12:20-21

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Rethinking the Rapture

clothesinparkThe Rapture. The Vanishing. Millions of sets of empty clothes lying in the streets, in cars, in airports. The subject of one of the greatest best-selling Christian fiction works of all time (“The Left Behind Series”).

To briefly introduce the subject, the Rapture is typically viewed as the event in which Jesus returns in the sky and all living believers in Christ will instantly be caught up with Him in the clouds (“raptured”), removed from the earth and be transformed into their heavenly forms without experiencing death. Then, before Jesus’s return to earth to reign from Jerusalem, the world will go through the Tribulation, seven years of literal hell on earth in which nearly all restraints on evil will be removed. At the end of those seven years, the battle of Armageddon (northwest of Jerusalem) occurs and the Messiah destroys all His enemies.

According to Jesus Himself, “no one knows the day or the hour” in which He will return, so this event is always imminent. Yet if you study the various prophecies of Daniel and others, there is a definite timeline for the Messiah’s coming, even though Jesus appears to say the opposite. From Daniel and Revelation, His Appearing will occur exactly 1260 days after the not-yet-rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem is desecrated. Therefore the  simplest reconciliation between this disparity is that there are actually two Second Coming events just as with His First Coming and His Second Coming. Though most Christians believe in His imminent return and earthly reign, the views on the Rapture vary mostly in its timing, from before the Tribulation (Pretrib), during the Tribulation (Midtrib), to after the Tribulation (Posttrib).

About fifteen years ago, I got onto this in-depth Bible-prophecy kick, especially concerning the Rapture and the various End Times scenarios related to Israel. Part of that was due to the popular Left Behind books, but also as a result of finally studying the Bible for myself and taking the Word seriously and literally instead of generalizing and spiritualizing it. Eventually, those studies became the basis for my first book called “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble” which portrayed an Israeli family going through the End Times and then into the Millennium (the 1000-year reign of Christ). Of all my books, it’s still my favorite because I poured my heart and soul into it, and even rewrote it into a trilogy after visiting Israel in 2010.

Somewhere along the line (probably in the midst of writing that first book), my passion for the Rapture and End Times became skewed and turned into something almost on the order of apologetics, in that if teachers or churches didn’t hold to certain End Times notions, then in my mind they weren’t as “Christian” as they should be, or even on the order of being false-teachers. After all, wrong eschatology leads to Amillennialism and Replacement Theology (in which the Church has replaced Israel), and suddenly the Bible can say whatever you want it to, which has happened in numerous denominations over the years. Though now I recognize that as being rather foolish and hard-headed (and hard-hearted), at the time that reasoning made perfect sense because once someone starts spiritualizing Bible prophecy, they can spiritualize literally anything in the rest of it!

Tribulation_viewsIn the grand scheme of things, one’s stance on Bible prophecy is of some importance, but is not critical to one’s theology as it is with repentance and salvation, the essential doctrines. John Piper and have been a tremendous encouragement to me over the last several years, but I missed out on those precious resources for most of my Christian life because I strongly disagreed with their stance on Israel and the Rapture. To quote a good friend from church, I was “majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors.”

A big change in my thinking of the Rapture and its real importance occurred earlier this year as I was finishing the book “66 Love Letters: A Conversation with God That Invites You Into His Story“. In the End when it’s all said and done, what will the Rapture and all the various views on the End Times really matter? Before we know it, those events will be in the distant past and they won’t matter a bit in Eternity! Getting more personal for a moment, when things blew apart in my life awhile back, none of the prophetic stuff mattered or helped at all — it was completely meaningless. All that knowledge, time, energy, and passion I had poured into it didn’t matter. I had spent so much time learning about God and His prophetic plans that I didn’t get to know God Himself as closely as I should have. I almost wanted to go into the local Christian bookstores shouting, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!”

Something that has always stuck with me since reading C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” (in addition to ‘My Dear Wormwood’) is the vice of distractions and how easy it is for the Enemy to bump us off-track. When he can’t do it with sin, he uses religion, eschatology, or anything else. Satan loves us to get distracted from furthering God’s Kingdom and helping others, especially if it’s done under guise of Christianity. Whatever distracts us and keeps us from reaching out to others is what the Enemy revels in. And if those distractions cause splits and disunity among believers, all the better! He loves dividing us and pitting us against one another, especially when it involves God’s Word. It’s so easy to differ over the Scriptures on even the most insignificant things; there are so many reasons to fall into disunity. It’s always so much easier to split over the Minors instead of uniting on the Majors. Division comes naturally, but real unity takes hard work!

Along with pointless divisions, consider the simple dollars and cents of the End Times squabbles and how it affects living, breathing people. So much time, effort, and money is spent on rather insignificant things instead of helping others who genuinely need it. Millions upon millions of dollars (if not billions) have been spent on the “Left Behind” books, movies, and merchandise. Aside from the authors and those employed in publishing the books, did they meet anyone’s tangible physical needs? We American believers apparently have oodles of cash to spend on expensive Christian books, paraphernalia, and even glossy new Bibles but not on countless hurting people who struggle to live on less than $1 a day! We should be ashamed that the world often seems to have more compassion on real people and their physical needs than the Church as the Body of Christ. Instead of buying more Christian books and movies for ourselves, we could be financing micro-loans and donating to help others that will make a huge difference in their lives.

Stepping back and examining how my priorities and view of Bible prophecy became so skewed, I think there were two primary elements that were involved: Pride and Fear. Pride in that I wanted to know more than everyone else when it came to the Bible and the End Times. How foolish of me! Imagine being prideful about the one Book in the world that disparages pride more than anything other character disease! And then there’s Fear – that very personal fear that I might have to go through the horrors of the Tribulation if the Rapture were somehow not true.

But what does the Tribulation and the Rapture really even matter to me as a disciple of Jesus? My destination is assured — it’s been guaranteed by Christ Himself and God’s Holy Word! He knows exactly how and when I’ll take my last breath, and if my head happens to roll off my shoulders, so what? He’s going to give me an entirely new body anyway, regardless of how well (or how poorly!) I preserve this one! If the Rapture happens, great – by God’s grace I get to avoid death and the Tribulation. However, if we as believers happen to go through the Tribulation and are martyred, that’s great too because we’ll be given a “better” resurrection (Hebrews 11:35). To sum it up, either way we Christians can’t lose because Christ has already won!

Another reason I believe I got off-track was because of where I live (North America) and the peculiar brand of materialistic, individual-centered Christianity that has flourished here in this Land of Liberty. In the United States, there seems to be this palpable fear of persecution and suffering in American Christendom, though as Christians that’s what we’re appointed to! As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.” We can try to sugar-coat it all we want, but Christ calls us to literally sacrifice our lives for others — believers and unbelievers alike.

And what makes us modern American Christians think we’re somehow special compared to all the other Christians across the world? We have no say whatsoever in where we’re born! What makes us think that we should be exempt from what most Christians for the last two thousand years have had to endure, often gladly and boldly suffering for their faith? Is our present life here in America even remotely comparable to that in Eternity? Haven’t we been born into this Land of Blessings in order to be a blessing onto others? Jesus doesn’t call us to cling to our guns, religion, and antipathy towards others who are different from us – He calls us to follow Him wherever He may lead in order to reach the lost and to cling to Him and Him alone! Christ calls us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices much the way He did Himself.

heavenNow, with all that said (whew!), I still personally believe that the Pre-Tribulation Rapture will occur for many Scripturally-sound reasons, but it doesn’t really matter in either the long or short term. Christ wants me to keep my eyes focused on Him and nothing else, not even interesting Scriptural trivia, nuances, and theories. Regardless of our eschatology, the fact remains that Jesus Christ is coming soon, and when He does, every eye shall see Him! Every. Single. Person. Today, I am almost ashamed of my various accomplishments because so many will be burned away when that wonderful Day comes, that I lost so many Major opportunities because I was so distracted by the Minors.

Anything that distracts and hinders us from Christ should be considered rubbish (rotten, dung-filled garbage!) – it’s merely wood, hay, and stubble when compared to our works before Christ. But following Him, loving others, and ministering to their needs? Those acts of love and service are pure gold in God’s eyes and are ALL that will survive when our lives are examined by Him one day!

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. — 1 Corinthians 13:1-3”

Posted in Character, Christian-life, God, Israel, Personal, Refactoring, Trust | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building Tru-Strength

Crossfit. Strength-training. Endurance exercises. Bigger, better, faster, stronger, longer, more. No pain, no gain.

free-weightsThe gym I frequent (Tru-fit) is big into Crossfit, the current workout-regimen du jour that’s swept across America over the last several years. However, what they don’t tell you is that it can be very rough on your body after awhile, particularly when it comes to your joints and muscle-damage. Though we shouldn’t just “accept” aging and all that comes with it, we shouldn’t necessarily pour all our energy and focus into defying it either. Face it, at 40, 50, and 60, no matter how hard we work at it, we’re probably never going to be in the same shape (or look as good) as we were at 18, 20, or 22. Sadly, it’s a losing battle, especially if you work in an office! One of the unofficial Crossfit mottos is to “push through the pain”, but isn’t pain usually your body’s way of telling you to stop doing something? Besides, sooner or later, all those miles, push-ups, and pull-ups will catch up with us. The detriments of Crossfit may not show up for another 10-20 years in many of its adherents.

One of the inspirations for this post was the recent Christian marketing gimmick of “Cross-fit” in which the exercise apparel shows a picture of the Cross and a related Bible verse or two. Though it’s initially sort of cute/clever to latch onto Crossfit’s popularity and then try to redirect it to Christianity, after a while it seems like just another ploy a company is using to sell products in a semi-Christian market. And I can’t help but wonder how many non-Christian people think it’s just another desperate attempt to try to be relevant, if not politely marketing religion without speaking. I’m pretty sure that wearing clever T-shirts isn’t what Jesus had in mind when He said “Go into all the world and make disciples”!

The other day while on the treadmill (right next to a surprisingly-fit guy I’ve nicknamed “The Plodder”), I was going thru Judges and reading about Samson. As I was doing my best to ignore the loud, endless thump-thump-thumping next to me, I noticed something interesting: the Bible gives no physical description of Samson except for his long hair. There’s no description of his stature, his looks, or even his height like Saul (one of the tallest men in ancient Israel). However, in every drawing or toy of him I’ve seen, Samson always has these huge muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger — but that’s not in the text. Those are merely our assumptions. In fact, Samson was probably just an average-looking Jewish guy, which is why the Philistines were continually stumped as to where his source of strength actually came from (God!). If he had these huge muscles and lumbered around like Conan the Barbarian, wouldn’t it have been rather obvious? Why would his enemies have to bribe and threaten Samson’s love-interests to find out the source of his incredible strength?

The interesting thing about Samson (along with most other Biblical characters) is that he’s all too human — just like us. He had his dramatic, incredible victories and his pathetic, stupid falls over and over again. He recognized his weakness (women, particularly forbidden foreign/exotic women) yet did very little to resist his urges. He knew where the line was and not only kept crossing it, he kept leaping over it! Even when he knew he was being coaxed, tricked, and betrayed, he kept going right back to Delilah’s lap. He never learned from his mistakes until the very end when it was practically too late. All he could do at that point was throw himself at God’s feet and pray to be given one more chance, though he prayed only for vengeance.

en-statue-of-samsonHonest, raw, in-your-face humanness in the Scriptures is one of the strong indicators that the Bible wasn’t written by mere men: every one of it’s heroes — save for One — has his/her own particular human faults. Aside from Jesus, I can only think of one or two (Daniel, Ruth, and maybe Ezra) to which no doubt or fault is attributed. Noah has his mishap with wine, Moses had his temper, David had his lust, Gideon had his gold, and Peter had his boastful oaths. In comparison, very few Greek/Roman/Egyptian myths highlighted faults and flaws in their heroes or gods, particularly in the sexual arena. Like modern stories and films, the excitement and emotions of the encounters/conquests are trumpeted but seldom the consequences. The only place where extramarital sex doesn’t have consequences or after-effects is in works of fiction.

For all his strength and courage, it seemed that Samson never seriously considered his weaknesses, particularly when it came to women. They were his blind-spot, and for his refusal to resist his urges and fear God, he was captured and literally blinded. When he fell because of his pride, everything he had placed his security in — namely, his great strength — quickly vanished. When he told Delilah the source of his strength (his hair), he didn’t really believe anything would happen if his hair was cut. Why? Because he’d been crossing the line over and over for awhile without any real consequence. In the end, he deceived himself both in that God wouldn’t keep His word and that Delilah really loved him. If only he would have feared God and built up defenses in his weak areas and steered clear of certain types of women, he might have gone on to many more victories against the Philistines and judged Israel much longer.

When it comes to our own personal strengths and weaknesses, what do we tend to rely on? Is it our intellect, our health, our bank-account, our job, our physique, our accomplishments, or our family (or even our church)? Where do we turn when it all hits the fan and the bottom falls out? Is that the same as where we should turn?

When it comes to our character, do we actively try to strengthen and build up what is weak or do we focus on mostly our strengths and minimize (or ignore) our weaknesses? Like Samson, do we deceive ourselves in that our strengths can more than compensate for our weaknesses? Like Samson, do we not fear God as we should and think that somehow we will be excused from the consequences of our pride and laxity? It’s been observed that the greatest falls occur during times of strength and ease, NOT during trials and tribulations.

imagesAre we “cross-fit” when it comes to God, that we try to follow Jesus’s command in Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23 in which we are to daily deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him?

When we daily deny ourselves and follow Him, we are less likely to become lax and prideful and then suddenly fall.

When we daily take up our crosses (however that looks), we are less prone to self-deception and being blinded by our own pride.

“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” — Jeremiah 9:23-24

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The Lord of the Flood

Who is God — really? How often do we stop and actually consider who He IS? If God were to take Myers-Briggs test, who would He turn out to be? Would He be an INTJ, ISTP, ESFJ, or one (or more!) of the sixteen different personality types that identify/define us?

(photo credit: Seth Reed)

(photo credit: Seth Reed)

Now that your curiosity has been piqued, I must confess that I cannot possibly answer that question, nor should I even attempt to. I would venture to guess that God — the Creator of everything and everyone — would be all those different personality types, and probably many more we don’t even know of! Just speculating about “who God is” is the ultimate writer’s hook that can’t possibly be delivered! The first picture we really get of “who God is” is in the early chapters of Genesis, particularly how He destroyed the world with the Flood. And given that a life-size replica of Noah’s ark is opening this week, I thought a post about the subject would be rather appropriate.

In my spare time this year, I’ve been working on my latest book, “Fountains of the Deep”, a novel about the Flood. Often it’s called the “Flood of Noah” but Noah really had nothing to do with it; Noah was merely God’s instrument in preserving a tiny remnant of life upon the earth when God destroyed it. He destroyed it so completely that all we have is a couple of brief accounts, a plethora of fossils, and some strange ancient artifacts here and there embedded in rock and coal (like a beautiful brass-bell, a hammer, and even a doll). There are no ruins of cities, shards of tablets, graveyards, or even human skeletons (that we know of). When God says He was going to “wipe man from the face of the earth”, He meant it!

The problem I’m having with the book is I can’t seem to get much traction with it, between more work (though that’s back to normal now), different writing goals, and new parenting responsibilities. The characters are all mapped out and relatively developed, but the meat of the story just isn’t quite there. Typically when I write a novel, I picture the entire story in my head much like a movie, break it down into scenes, and then write what I see onto the paper (er, laptop screen). But the main problem I’m having with this book in particular is that I can’t quite wrap my head around what that world was like, that it had become so violent, corrupt, and wicked that God had to completely — and I mean COMPLETELY — wipe it from existence.

8As someone who interprets the Bible as literally as possible, I can’t help but hold to the “young-earth” creation model of roughly 6,000 years. Yes, that’s extremely unpopular these days, but Truth is Truth.It’s not just the first ten chapters of Genesis that require this, but God’s spoken words through Moses in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and of course, Jesus Himself that attest to a literal six-day, young-earth creation. I’ve always loved dinosaurs (known throughout history as “dragons”), and am quite convinced that they were present before the Flood, particularly since they’re described by God in the latter chapters of Job, various historical accounts, as well as the recent discoveries of “fresh” dinosaur bones in which the tissues are still soft and unmineralized.

It’s not merely the challenges of describing a world very, very different than ours in which people lived for nearly a thousand-years in a nearly perfect environment with who-knows-what type of strength and ingenuity, it’s the bigger questions that keep getting dredged up about who God really is. It’s so easy to paint the picture that “mankind was wicked so God had to wipe the entire slate clean”, but there’s much, MUCH more to it than that! To add to the difficulty, I’ve never liked horror books/movies — I don’t like seeing or reading about abject evil, so how am I supposed to write it myself? How can one accurately portray the horrors of that world which is likened to “Jurassic Park” mixed with “Lord of the Flies” and “Alien” all wrapped into one never-ending nightmare? And that’s without throwing in the even creepier topics like the Nephilim, demons, and mutants/hybrids!

Though it is very likely that the fallen “sons of God” (angels) were instrumental in mankind’s downward spiral, God still holds humanity’s inherent depravity responsible for His worst judgment in all history. The key verses about why God sent the Flood are in Genesis 6:5-6 and then amplified in v11-12: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart…Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”

Stop and think about it for a moment: “EVERY intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was ONLY evil ALL the time.” (emphasis added). Now, I’m sure there was love, affection, and the wonderful emotions of getting married, having children, and happiness…yet God was horribly grieved over the condition of man’s hearts. It wasn’t merely man’s sin that grieved Him, but that every thought of man’s heart was wicked all the time. Completely corrupt! 100% unredeemable! Man’s wickedness had reached it’s zenith in that he could practically NOT become more evil and wicked? Consider some of the TV shows and horror movies out there — these were far worse, and they were horrifically REAL. How can anyone accurately portray that in any book?!

To add to that difficult picture, not only mankind was corrupt, God says that ALL flesh had become corrupt too! What could that mean? If it was only mankind that was corrupt, He could have merely sent a plague to wipe man out, couldn’t He? Ancient mythology is full of bizarre creatures of half-man, half-animals, creatures that are part one type and part another, huge giants, monsters, hybrids, demi-gods, etc. The question is: what if those monsters (or some form of them) were actually real? In His creation, God set down clear boundaries between male and female and the various “kinds” (not species) of animals, reptiles, birds, and fish. God loves order and hates chaos, while Satan always seeks to corrupt, disrupt, and continually blur order. What if there was far more “corruption” occurring on the earth than what the Bible merely calls wickedness?

Consider our own day and age: as we have become more comfortable and technological, the line between male and female is blurring as it is in the transgender movement, as well as the bizarre genetic experiments underway in some of our laboratories that are mixing different types of animals together and sometimes even human components. Sometimes this is done in the name of medicine or science, but sometimes it’s done simply to see if it can be. The question is: “How far is too far?” Could it be that these sorts of “experiments” were being done on a large-scale before the Flood such that God declared that “all flesh had corrupted their way” and was forced to wipe them out? Not only that, but consider that the more technological we have become, the deadlier we have become — the very notion of being able to kill millions of people in a very short time was unthinkable only seventy years ago!

garden-of-eden-21359726Despite the horrors of the pre-Flood world, God certainly not intend it to be that way — that was a result of sin. After all, imagine a world that (though cursed) portrayed the incredible handiwork of God in all its glory. Imagine the ground perfectly composed for growing things instead of the couple of inches of topsoil we have today. Imagine mists watering the earth every morning instead of rain which make plants and trees thrive. Imagine most animals being docile and friendly to mankind — even many of the big ones! Imagine a world in which nearly every day was perfect, with no natural disasters, no famines, abundant fresh-water, no disease, incredible plant-life and animal-life, and a nearly perfect environment. Imagine having an almost perfect body, being far stronger, healthier, smarter, and faster than you are. Imagine living for nearly a thousand years!

Yet that nearly perfect world was completely destroyed by God. Why? Because of sin and it’s parasitic, destructive effects. Because that perfect world had become nothing short of Hell on Earth. The pre-Flood world is a perfect picture of why Jesus had to die for our sins before being resurrected and then giving eternal life to us: paradise with long lives but without holiness and love becomes a horrible, terrible place very quickly! Imagine what eternity without holiness would be like? It would be Hell — and it is. God is the ONLY source of goodness in this world, and without His sustaining and restraining Hand, sin would turn everything into Hell.

There have been moments where I’ve felt a certain remorse for the pre-Flood world, that maybe God was too harsh and too cruel — that He was too extreme in His judgment, that maybe there was another way besides the Flood. But is the problem with God or with me in that I don’t know what it was really like and cannot comprehend the full destructive nature of sin? Of course, it’s with me! The more I walk with Him and the more life I experience, the more He surprises me as He is revealed — and sometimes He makes me very uncomfortable. This quote by C.S. Lewis about his walk with God is so fitting for me at times: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”

When God says ‘I AM who I AM’ in His Word, He’s not being flippant or obscure — He’s being perfectly, brutally honest. After all, God cannot lie and has never been one to sugar-coat the Truth. How can an infinite God be described in human words or even a 1,189-chapter book? He IS who He IS, and it will take eternity for us to learn who He IS (and then some!).

Throughout the Bible, God metes out seemingly disproportional judgments for various infractions. Even with the Fall, one small act of rebellion (a piece of forbidden fruit) has ushered in an unbelievable amount of horror for thousands of years. A couple of days of partying with foreign women cost the lives of 24,000 Israelites, not to mention nearly 15,000 earlier from grumbling in the desert. What about David and his prideful census that cost 70,000 Israelites, or the “sword never leaving his house” because of what he did with Bathsheba? Doesn’t the punishment seem to far outweigh the infraction at times? To me as a fallen creature, yes. But to Him as the perfect Holy One, no!

There’s no denying that God drowned the entire world once — much to everyone’s surprise (including His angels and Satan with his fallen ones). Why the Flood? Because it left evidence of His judgment all over the world buried in stone. Did He enjoy it? Certainly NOT! God had been deeply grieved in His heart for centuries before He drowned the world! And it wasn’t just over a couple people, but everyone on earth, millions if not billions of people. Remember, God created the earth to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18), filled with people and life of every sort. It’s very likely that the pre-Flood earth was 70% land instead of 70% water. Imagine knowing the minds and hearts of everyone one on earth and only seeing evil continually all the time for hundreds of years and billions of people… it’s amazing that He didn’t hit His limit after the fourth or fifth generation!

2004 Passion NailingThe problem isn’t with God, but with us — we are so fallen that we cannot fathom the least bit of His sheer holiness and hatred of sin. If He as the perfect holy God didn’t have unfathomable love and mercy towards us, we would ALL be consumed in His wrath! Even the best of us fall so short of His standard of holiness that we are nearly indistinguishable from the worst of men in His eyes.

Yet this same “God of wrath” loves us with incomprehensible fury and abandon, and proved it by sending His own beloved Son to be mercilessly tortured and crucified as a sacrifice for Himself — so we could be with Him once again.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” — Psalm 29:10-11

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If You Were in the Bible…

Have you ever wondered how your story would read if it was written into the Bible? How would it start? How would it end? What would be some of the highlights?

openbibleWould your life-story be glossed-over like many in the early chapters of Genesis and Matthew/Luke, where only a “X begat Y and lived Z years and died” verse was written? Would you even want your story to be mentioned? Would you want others to just be given the highlights, or would you want your life to be described in glorious — or humiliating — detail?

Would you want only the good parts of your life to be told, like when you were extra courageous, kind, generous, and sacrificial? Of course, all of us want to be known for those acts of nobility! But what about the bad, ugly stuff, like when you really screwed up and blew it? What about those moments that you don’t want ANYONE to know about, those moments that would ruin your entire reputation? We all have plenty of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and our life-story is comprised of a mixture of all three — hopefully more good than bad (and ugly)!

For a moment, consider several of the people mentioned in the Bible, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Billions of people across the world have heard of these individuals and their basic stories, but each one had their particular failings and stumblings. One unique characteristic of the Bible when compared to ancient literature (particularly mythology) is that it doesn’t whitewash it’s “heroes” of the faith — no one is perfect (except Jesus) and the Word of God makes sure that we don’t idolize them. God tells it like it is (and was) and portrays each character in all their humanity.

Noah was the only one found to be faithful in the years leading up to the Flood among the millions of people living on the earth (some estimates indicate there may have been billions). Imagine that — he was the ONLY faithful person left in all the earth! And though he was God’s instrument in preserving a remnant of the animal kingdom and his family in the ark, his bout of drunkenness and rash curse (while nursing a hangover) upon his grandson Canaan has been meticulously recorded into the annals of Biblical history.

Abraham, the “father of faith” and “friend of God”, struggled with fear and telling half-truths, “white-lies”. Though he is best remembered for leaving his homeland of Ur of the Chaldeans and nearly sacrificing his son Isaac at Mount Moriah, he lied several times to save his own skin — and at the expense of his beloved wife Sarah! Though he fully believed in the LORD of the universe, he still trembled before powerful men.

Moses, the great liberator of the children of Israel, murdered an Egyptian and fled into hiding for forty years. When God finally called him to active service from the midst of the burning bush, he made excuses for why he wasn’t God’s “man of the hour” and tried to get himself excused from duty because of a speech impediment.

davidAnd then there’s David, the “man after God’s own heart” who had a weakness for women and sex, the proverbial “chink in his armor.” Next to killing the giant Goliath with a stone, David is known for committing adultery with the wife of one of his most loyal mighty-men and then having him murdered in battle.  Though he was very decisive and won victory after victory on the battlefield, he proved to be passive and indecisive in his own household. Because of his sin (along with being polygamous), his daughter was raped by her half-brother who was then murdered by her brother, who then seized the kingdom from his father before being murdered by David’s chief of staff!

Would any of these great men have stumbled as badly as they did if they would’ve thought for a moment that their failures were being “recorded” for their posterity, along with the rest of the world? Would they have sinned as they did if they would’ve known that their deeds would be read, studied, and taught to millions of people over thousands of years and written into the very Word of God? Knowing as much as we do about these people of faith, I believe they would’ve lived much more carefully!

An interesting exercise is to sit down and write your own personal “Bible story” sometime, both what’s it been AND how you would like it to be. How would it begin? What would you want others to know about your life — and what would you want to have left out? More importantly, how would you want it to end? Would we really want it to say, “He worked hard and made a lot of money, retired early, and lived the rest of his life in ease, wealth and health?” While that may sound wonderful on the surface, doesn’t it seem rather selfish and shallow in comparison to the others?

For me, I think I would want my story to be kept rather brief, though maybe a little bit more than “Chris begat … and then died.” If my story was written into the Bible, I would want it to read more or less like Enoch’s story, with one phrase in particular being mentioned: “And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” (Genesis 5:24). Of all the people mentioned in the Bible, only two are described as walking with God: Enoch and Noah, though I imagine that Daniel, Ezekiel, and several others could be as well.

Next, how do you think the Author of the Bible would write your story? What do you think God would say about you? Would He describe you as a man or woman after His own heart? Would He say that you walked with Him and finished the marathon of faith well? Would He describe you was being kind, generous, compassionate, sacrificial, and loving? (Ouch — the shoe’s pinching a little tight for me right now!)

One self-evaluation of faith and love we can (and probably should) do on a regular basis is to put ourselves in the middle of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. When you substitute your own name in place of “love” how does it read? Here’s mine, and it doesn’t read nearly the way I wish it did! If it was on a report-card, I’d get a big red fat “F”!

Chris suffers long and is kind. Chris does not envy. Chris does not parade himself. Chris is not puffed up. Chris does not behave rudely. Chris does not seek his own. Chris is not easily provoked. Chris thinks no evil. Chris does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Chris bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Chris never fails.

But the good news is that Jesus is ALL of those things and much, much more! Look at how His reads: Jesus suffers long and is kind. Jesus does not envy. Jesus does not parade himself. Jesus is not puffed up. Jesus does not behave rudely. Jesus does not seek his own. Jesus is not easily provoked. Jesus thinks no evil. Jesus does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails.

windingpathWhen we step onto the Road of Righteousness with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David and follow after Christ, we start walking with Him as Enoch and Daniel did. Jesus is committed to conforming us to Himself and remaking us from the inside out after the Holy Spirit comes to indwell our hearts. As we yield to Him and adopt His ways, we become more like Him. As we walk with Him, our story with all its faults fades and His story shines through us.

Yes, the road will be long, winding, and extremely difficult at times. The Savior we follow was known as a “man of sorrows” and “familiar with suffering”; if we are to become like him, shouldn’t we should expect likewise for ourselves? But regardless of what may befall us, He is committed to bringing us to our final destination: Home.

Every one of us has a story that will be written in the Annals of History someday. Every one of us will either have our names found written in the Book of Life or we won’t. When my story is written, I want it to read like His. I want it to be brief yet profound like Enoch’s. I want to be known for one who walked with God and was found to be faithful and was taken into the Kingdom.

“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” — Hebrews 11:5-6

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Learning to be Fearless

Fear. That sickening, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. That brief moment of hesitation which can cause you to completely freeze like a marble statue. Much of our everyday fears come from some form of change, which can be sudden and unexpected or looming and something to dread.

The older I’ve become, the more I’ve noticed that I tend to gravitate towards routines and stability and away from change — especially big, personal changes. As creatures of habit, we like our routines and stability, at least until the boredom sets in and becomes this suffocating entity of its own. Change on any level can be scary, but boredom can often be scary too, especially in this high-tech world where changes are happening faster, broader, and deeper. As a software developer, I’ve often felt there’s an invisible expiration date stamped on my forehead; someday I’ll have outlived my usefulness in writing code and be unable to find work again. And that fear brings a whole slew of others along with it!

changes-aheadNeedless to say, the last couple years have been chalk-full of change both personally and professionally, and as life would have it, both happened at exactly the same time for me. Two years ago while my marriage was unraveling, the group I work for decided to get serious about building the next generation of software. The days of working on a hardened seven-year-old code-base with well-established patterns and processes were numbered. Pervasive change was imminent. But it wouldn’t involve just developing a new platform or product based upon what we were already familiar with — we’d only end up in the same place in less than half the time! No, we would have to throw everything out and start over from scratch. New platform, new languages, new architectures, new databases, new everything. Level Zero.

To put that in layman’s terms, imagine being all settled into a nice life in a good neighborhood with a decent job and established routines. Sure, there are upsets and such every now and then, but those are handled as they arise. Now imagine being called to live on the other side of the world — next week. Imagine leaving that familiar, comfortable life in the American suburbs and moving to the middle of Mumbai with nearly 13 million people packed into a small area. Suddenly, even basic functions of life become incredibly challenging, like finding food, water, and shelter. It’s hot, crowded, and everything (and everyone) is moving all around you and never stops. Though you have money, you don’t even know how to use it to get what you need. To make matters worse, you went from a place with one official language to more than twenty, and you don’t speak or read any of them. All the things you took for granted and didn’t even think about before have instantly become overwhelming! Suddenly, you’re trapped in this cycle of confusion, fear, and frustration!

There are two responses I’ve observed about dramatic, sudden change and the fears that accompany it: resistance and acceptance. For most of us on the team (especially us veterans), we resisted the changes for awhile before we reluctantly though gradually began to accept them. Our attitudes were poor and we were very skeptical of the new processes and practices because they seemed very inefficient and counter-intuitive. Meanwhile, the handful that accepted the changes and had good attitudes ended up adapting to the new world much faster and were soon excelling. Instead of change being slow and gradual as before, now it’s often sudden and sweeping and ongoing. Nearly two years later, we’ve all mostly embraced it — particularly with how often the carpet is pulled out from under us — though it’s been very challenging and frustrating at times.

Looking back, why did most of us resist these huge changes while others accepted them though the benefits were obvious? As analytical people, we all agreed that the benefits far outweighed the risks and detriments. So why all the hesitation and reluctance? FEAR, plain and simple. We feared all the changes. We feared all the unknowns. We feared being replaced by younger, smarter people who cost one-third of what we do. We feared what we didn’t even know what to fear. The thing is, often the fear is much worse than the actual thing itself. So why fear? What does fear do except delay the inevitable?

newmanThe curious thing about all the challenges and fears of the last two years (especially the last six months), is that we found out what we’re made of. Speaking for myself, I think I finally found my place on the team, and my review for past year reflected that. Often I’m the “Bulldozer” who plows through things and pushes hard (and pushes others) to get things done on time or earlier — especially when we have a ton of work to do. I tend to take on bugs and junk that others don’t really want to do because it can be tedious and boring (like fixing broken builds). For myself, if it’s mindless grunt-work with which I can tune everyone out and just hunker down for a change (Hello, Spotify!). Sometimes I picture myself as Newman (from Seinfeld) surrounded by garbage-bags full of muffin-bottoms that have to be disposed of. I sit down, assess the situation, and then get to work and plow through it — and usually without fear.

So while I’m getting used to not fearing change at work (as much), I still have this underlying fear of change when it involves relationships. I think I’ve always had it to some extent, even before my divorce and everything surrounding it. I’m afraid of blowing it in new situations and having to start over (and over and over like “Groundhog Day”). I’m sometimes afraid to step out of my comfort-zone and take risks, to put my heart out there, to open up and really be vulnerable. And yet after everything that’s happened, I almost have this attitude of Job where he said, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:25 NIV), and I find that oddly reassuring. If God has already brought me through that which I feared the most, then why should I worry about whatever might happen now or in the future? Why should I be afraid any more?

God is intimately aware of all our relationships and all the intricacies within each of them — and He’s always doing something whether we realize it or not. Usually He’s doing so many things all at the same time that we can only comprehend a handful of them! In His creation, so many things are always in motion and changing, whether it’s reproducing, being born, growing, moving, or dying. Ultimately, our fears of change really have very little impact on what He’s doing, but can easily hamstring or cripple us. We may plant the seeds, pull the weeds, water and fertilize those plants, but God is responsible for the growth. Our responsibility is to trust Him in His timing and His ways of doing things. Sometimes He wants certain relationships to put down roots, flourish, spread, and grow. Sometimes He doesn’t because He has other people and things in mind for us. Unlike us, He sees everything, along with past, present, and future, and knows exactly what’s best, when, how, and why.

big_rock_by_burtn-d6kryiuHowever, for as much as He likes change, God Himself does not. In fact, He is probably the ONLY entity in this entire universe that never changes! In the Bible, God portrays Himself as a Rock to which we can go anywhere and anytime we want to. Our Rock is always solid and perfectly stable, and often He’s the only source of stability in this very unstable, unpredictable, and often chaotic universe (at least in our understanding)!

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

The other good news is that God is with us (those who place their trust in Him) and will NEVER forsake us, though everyone else might turn away or even betray us. Though the storms may be raging all around, we are to NOT fear because of Who goes with us. And not only does He go WITH us, He goes BEFORE us! He leads the charge and clears the path, defending and protecting us from danger, predators, and our enemies.

And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Throughout the Bible, God tells us not to fear, to not be afraid when life throws us one curve-ball after another and we keep striking out. It’s so easy to think of His many words concerning fear as if He’s kindly saying “Shhh. There, there. Don’t be afraid.” But I think it should be read/heard like more of a command that a military officer would give: “Do NOT be afraid!” “Fear NOT!” “Never give in to fear!”

Ultimately, God wants us to love, trust, and obey Him. I’ve read before that the opposite of love is not hatred, but fear — distrust. And maybe that’s His purposes in sending all these changes and these ever-changing relationships. If we really trust Him with our lives and our future, we will trust and obey and will NOT fear. We will NOT be afraid!

imagesFear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… (Isaiah 43:1b-3)

So as we go through this life of ever-present changes, relationships, transitions, unknowns, twists and turns, upsets and upheavals, let us remember Who is really in control of everything. Every wall we hit at work and every time things blow up at home, let us remember that He is right there alongside us. Let us remember to NOT fear!

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” — 2 Timothy 1:7

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Dating, Injustice, and Psalm 73

Have you  ever asked yourself,”What does she see in him?” or “What does he see in her?” There are some couples that just don’t seem to make any sense, particularly to outside observers.

The other night at Starbucks while waiting for youth-group to end, this attractive young woman walked in and stood at the counter. She was very well-dressed and put-together, and could’ve easily graced the cover of a magazine. While she was waiting, a young man walked in and stood next to her: grungy/hipster clothes, unkempt hair stuffed under a beanie, and scraggly facial hair. Needless to say, they couldn’t have been more opposite if they tried, yet it was quite obvious they were together. As for their interaction, he didn’t seem very keen on manners or treating her gentlemanly, at least not for the brief amount of time they were there. After they left, I was more amused by the unlikely pairing than anything else. I chalked most of it up to youth and such, but still…

Question-Mark-HeartMaybe it’s that whole peculiar thing about “opposites attracting” and/or that ever mysterious physical “chemistry”. Some couples clearly belong together while others — like this particular one — just don’t make any sense at all. However, it wasn’t merely the apparent mismatch that stuck with me as much as how he seemed to treat her. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but don’t most women like men who behave like, well, gentlemen — you know, with basic manners and everything? Sheesh — maybe I’m more out of touch than I thought!

One benefit of not dating for awhile is that it’s given me a lot of time to think about the subject without being directly involved in it. Something about dating that used to frustrate me is the fickleness or even the notion of injustice when it comes to some relationships, such as when I see decent people choosing to stay in bad ones or allowing themselves to be used or misused by someone who seems rather selfish and self-centered. Perhaps what many people consider to be “love” really is blind much of the time. Maybe we can be so focused by what’s missing in our own lives or what we want from that relationship that we’re blind to reality, that we cannot see what seems so obvious to everyone else. Maybe we’re so prone to make idols out of just about anything we desire, including relationships with other people that aren’t healthy, much less faithful or faith-filled.

As a man who is committed to living purely before marriage, it sometimes irks me when I see people enjoying and prospering in their sin with no apparent consequences, while others who are living faithfully while single are ignored, spurned, or even mocked. There are times when I feel very lonely and start to question these personal commitments. After all, why live purely when it means missing out on the “good life” and all the fun that seems so predominant in the secular singles’ scene? Why not loosen up and indulge the flesh a little and go live it up as an unattached single adult? Why deny myself when I don’t need to (at least by the world’s standards)? Why not give in to instant gratification and eat, drink, and be merry? After all, everyone else is doing it, right?

findinggodAlong with Psalm 42, another psalm that has become near and dear to me is Psalm 73. This one hit me right between the eyes when I read Chip Ingram’s book “Finding God When You Need Him the Most” as my marriage was ending. In his book, Chip told the story about how he was dating this beautiful girl back in college and had determined to be pure before her and God. Anyway, it was going well until one day they broke up and immediately afterwards she began dating this loud-mouthed womanizer on his basketball team — essentially his complete opposite. Here he was doing his best to live by God’s ways and be upright with this girl and she goes after someone who won’t treat her right nor respectfully (nor faithfully). All his efforts to remain chaste and faithful — doing it God’s way — seemed to be in vain! Not only was he rejected by the girl he had fallen in love with, but he was also mocked by her and her new boyfriend. But then God led him to Psalm 73 and Chip finally began to see the Big Picture.

Psalm 73

Truly God is good to Israel,
To such as are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.
Therefore pride serves as their necklace;
Violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes bulge with abundance;
They have more than heart could wish.
They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression;
They speak loftily.
They set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue walks through the earth.

10 Therefore his people return here,
And waters of a full cup are drained by them.
11 And they say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the ungodly,
Who are always at ease;
They increase in riches.
13 Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all day long I have been plagued,
And chastened every morning.

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.
16 When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—
17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.

18 Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
19 Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors.
20 As a dream when one awakes,
So, Lord, when You awake,
You shall despise their image.

21 Thus my heart was grieved,
And I was vexed in my mind.
22 I was so foolish and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
26 My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
28 But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works.

My biggest observation about Psalm 73 is that our focus often determines our perspective, which we then interpret as reality. The psalmist initially ping-pongs back and forth between focusing on himself and the wicked that he’s rather envious of, and consequently makes himself more and more miserable and frustrated. It’s only after he humbles himself before God and starts to view things from His perspective does he finally begin to see clearly. When he steps back and catches just a glimpse of how God sees things — the way things truly are — only then does he realize that keeping to the narrow path is the only real choice. The narrow, winding path leads to life, while the broad, straight road leads to death (Matthew 7:13-14).

CaptureWhile it may seem that injustice and the “prospering of the wicked” (or even the “not-so wicked”) is prevailing in this present world, Psalm 73 assures us that it’s only for a time. God is not mocked and everyone — each one of us without exception — will reap what we have sown. Those who sow to the flesh and spurn God and His ways will reap what they sow, while those who live faithfully and blamelessly before Him will reap His rewards (Galatians 6:7,8). And those rewards aren’t just for Eternity, but often here in the present time, as well as later on.

When we get discouraged over how everything seems unfair and that God doesn’t seem to care (much less doing anything about it), maybe we only need to mimic the psalmist and turn our focus from the injustice and the situation and back to God. When we leave our future and the perceived unfairness in His Hands, we leave Him room to work without our interference. And where is He working the most? Inside us — down in those deep, dark places we’re often completely blind to, usually because our focus is so misplaced.

Living faithfully and blamelessly is NEVER futile — with or without the promise of a reward from God. It’s been said that clean-living is its own reward, and there’s a lot of truth to that. And while clean-living may seem prudish and boring in our hyper-sexualized culture today, be patient and watch what happens over time. Everyone reaps whatever they have sown, but it’s always later and much more abundantly. No one ever knows exactly when, where, or how we will reap the consequences of our decisions, so we should be very careful about what (and how) we sow. We are free to decide many things, but are usually not free to choose the consequences of those decisions.

For those of us who entrust ourselves and our future to God, who choose to live faithfully and follow hard after Him, there really is only one real choice: Him or not Him, His ways or not His ways. God desires for us to be faithful to Him regardless of our marital status, whether we’re single, engaged, married, divorced, or widowed. Yes, the narrow path may often hurt and earn us pain, scorn, and suffering in the short-term; however, we will not be disappointed later on in this life with those decisions, not to mention in the life to come!

 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” — Romans 12:1-2

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Softening the Soil and Pulling Weeds

Weeds. The bane of every gardener, horticulturalist, and lawn aficionado. Every garden and lawn has them — even the most meticulously kept ones (though the weeds may be tiny!). I especially hate dandelions and field bindweed that seems to take over certain parts of the lawn. The front yard usually isn’t too bad, but the back yard is a different story… thank goodness hardly anyone sees that on a regular basis!

bindweedThere are thousands upon thousands of different kinds of weeds. There are those that grow thin and tall with shallow roots, those that spread and grow rapidly (practically overnight), those that are thorny and prickly and even poisonous. There are those that look small and pretty but whose roots go deep and are tough to dig out. And then there are the ones that seem delicate and beautiful because they have small bright flowers, so you leave them alone until you realize they’ve taken over most of the lawn — like dandelions and bindweed. When I see bindweed, I’m often tempted to rip up the entire yard and replace every inch of grass with cement and rocks like they do in Arizona!

I have a LOT of experience pulling weeds that goes all the way back to my childhood (shudder and mutter). Back home, we had a two-acre plot with all sorts of fruit trees and several large gardens where we grew strawberries, potatoes, and a variety of produce. If it could possibly be grown in Ohio, it could probably found somewhere on our property. When we weren’t slaving away weeding, roto-tilling, binding, weeding, planting, hoeing, weeding, pruning, picking, or weeding, we would be chopping, throwing, or stacking wood for the winter. Did I mention weeding? It was always my least favorite part of our chores…

While some weeds  are relatively easy to pull and keep under control, what about the really tough ones? How do you get rid of those? Roundup doesn’t always work, either! What about the ones whose roots reach way down deep and spread out like tree roots? If you don’t tear out the root system, those weeds will practically grow right back before you’ve finished mowing the lawn! And since paving them over usually isn’t an option, where do you even start with those?

dandelion-rootFirst, you need to soften the soil, either with water, air, or both (and sometimes earthworms). Back home as kids, we had a love/hate relationship with rain. We loved it because it cooled everything off and gave us a break from working outside. However, as soon as it was over, Mom or Dad would say “Looks like it’s a great time to pull weeds!” Why? Because the soil was finally soft, especially since we had a fair amount of clay in it that would harden into brown brick after a couple days of hot sunshine.

Next, you have to get your hands dirty and dig deep. Grab them as close to the root as possible and start twisting, turning, wiggling, and even digging. The weeds have to be pulled up by the roots or they’ll just come back bigger, stronger, and deeper than ever! Sure, it’s much easier to just rip off the visible part, but then you’ll be right back where you were in a week or two dealing with the same weeds as if you never touched them in the first place.

Whenever I’m outside pulling weeds (while muttering under my breath), I often think about the significance of weeds and what they really represent in spiritual terms. They quickly grow tall and wide seemingly without effort. No one plants them, yet they spring up out of the ground wherever you look. Useful plants and grasses have to be sowed, watered, and cared for, but not weeds! Weeds are hardy, relentless, and parasitic — leave any plot of ground unattended for a month or two and I can almost guarantee that it’ll be covered with weeds of every sort. While some animals like sheep and goats will eat the leafier varieties (though bitter), most weeds are useful for very little except destroying what is beautiful, edible, and pleasant. The thorny, bristly ones can be eaten by very few animals and insects, and are typically just parasitic; they steal moisture and sunlight from the useful plants and grasses and just invade the landscaping. They’re literally good for nothing except burning.

Why do weeds even exist in the first place? I have yet to see a plausible evolutionist model for weeds and how they provide any benefit to the food-chain! However, the reason and purpose for weeds fits very nicely with the Bible and practical, biblical truths. Weeds are a direct result of the Curse that goes all the way back to the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Weeds are a perfect, ever-present reminder of the Curse upon this fallen world. Every time we look down and see a weed, we inherently know on some level that this world isn’t as it should be, that the Curse that God pronounced upon it in Genesis 3 is still in very-much in effect today:

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:

“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”

I believe that one of the reasons why God cursed the earth with weeds and thorns wasn’t merely to punish Adam and his descendants for our sins, but to regularly remind us of our fallen condition and that we’re in desperate need of the Savior, the One who will someday reverse the Curse and its effects on His creation. Pulling weeds is often mindless, toilsome work, and which happens to be the perfect time to think about “pulling the weeds” in our own lives. Just like every garden and lawn has those lurking weeds that need to be pulled, all our lives have those lurking sins that need to be dealt with.

Sins are very much like weeds – they pop up overnight and in the strangest of places, and can be extremely destructive if not promptly and thoroughly taken care of. The longer we let our sins go, the deeper their roots will grow and the more they will enslave our heart and destroy our life. Some sins look pretty and pleasant like dandelions, bindweed, or kudzu, but before you know it, they’ve taken over everything and are choking the life from us. Seemingly without realizing it, we’re enslaved to our own personal weeds, and often those of others who are close to us.

Another similarity between weeds and sin is that often both start out as small and relatively insignificant, but they never stay that way for long. No matter how much we try to ignore them and pretend that they’re really not that bad, the harder we’re making it on ourselves when the time finally comes to pull them. Every weed gets pulled sooner or later, but they’re much easier to deal with when they’re small and shallow. The same holds true in the spiritual realm — sins are much easier to deal with before they’ve grown too large and taken root, before they become addictions and are destroying our lives and those we love. I believe that we all have a choice: we can pull those weeds or eventually God will start pulling them for us whether we like it or not! He loves us too much to allow us remain in our sins and let them destroy us.

perfectgardenGod wants us to have innocent, unhindered, beautiful relationships with Him and others, and that means keeping the “garden of our hearts” well-maintained and weed-free. Quite often our communication with God is blocked by sins that we’re hiding or simply not dealing with. Why does God seem silent towards us or distant at times? Why does it feel like our prayers keep bouncing off the ceiling? Is that His doing or could it be ours? Isaiah 59:1-2 declares “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” 

Confessing our sins to Him and then repenting of them — turning away from them and not falling back into them — is the spiritual equivalent of pulling weeds from our heart-garden. However, just like weeds always seem to come back every spring and must be pulled again and again, we must be vigilant and maintain our heart-gardens on a frequent, regular basis so they don’t grow out of control again. When we let those little sins go, before we know it, they’re choking our spiritual lives and overtaking our garden!

The good news is that it’s not just up to us in our own strength to keep our heart-gardens weed-free — the Holy Spirit continually helps us by bringing them to light and convicting us of our sins. God is committed to conforming us to Himself and helping us grow closer to Him, though it will take the rest of our lives and often involves trials, suffering, and patience. In Christ, we have the freedom and authority to determine what type of “garden” we want in our lives, whether it’s full of weeds or relatively weed-free.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” — Galatians 6:7-10

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The Ends and the Means

“The ends justify the means.”

Of all the philosophies in the world, I’ve come to believe that this one is among the most innocent, but also the most dangerous. It’s been used to justify anything from cutting corners on menial tasks like sweeping dirt under the rug to monstrous things like murder and genocide. Practically any “means” can be justified if the “ends” are important enough or desired enough. We have this uncanny ability to justify nearly any and every evil under the sun to achieve the desired outcome, i.e., “We’ll do whatever it takes to get whatever we want.”

This philosophy that the outcome is far more important than the means — regardless of how that outcome is achieved — is almost always a deceptive, slippery slope that can often leave us completely shocked at we are capable of saying, doing, or justifying when we finally come to our senses. In examining my own life, heart, and philosophy over the years, I’ll freely admit that I tend to be an “ends justify the means” type more often than not, especially when my back is up against the wall with tight deadlines at work or sudden crises at home. Guilty, guilty, guilty!

golgothaThe topic of last week’s Rooted class was about suffering, something that most people would prefer to avoid — even most Christians who worship a suffering Savior. That’s always been rather ironic to me because Jesus was known as a “man of sorrows” and “familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3), yet so many of His followers try to avoid it like the Plague (myself included!). And since it’s Passover week on the Jewish calendar this week, I thought it rather fitting to write a little about the subject of suffering given that Jesus, the Lamb of God, suffered tremendously for us — like no one else ever has on earth. It wasn’t just that He was beaten, tortured, bled, and died to forgive our sins, it was that He became sin for us and endured the terrible wrath of His Father to pay our sin-debt. We cannot even begin to imagine the horrible suffering that He went through for us.

Where I’m going with this short detour on suffering is that the God of the Bible is not an “ends-justify-the-means” type of God like those invented by men. God seems far more concerned about the means — namely obedience, attitude, and faithfulness — than He is about the ends or the results. After all, He already has those covered because He is sovereign, right? Throughout the Bible, God seems to use (or even orchestrate) rather absurd means to achieve His ends, and the most common one is suffering. The incredible suffering that Jesus endured to pay our sin-debt is the greatest demonstration of God’s character and love for us. The brutality of the cross didn’t take Him by surprise; He knew exactly what He would undergo and though He felt tremendous anguish and fear over it, He didn’t shrink back from it. Suffering was the means by which God achieved His ends: our redemption and salvation.

Sometimes I think our Ends and God’s Ends are incredibly different, if not polar opposites. The usual Ends from our perspective is eternity in Heaven with Him, but what are the Ends for us from God’s perspective? Holiness. Perfection. Unity. Somehow making our wandering, distracted, fretful (and of course, sinful) hearts to be like His. Putting Him first, others next, and ourselves last. And while He gives us a new heart to replace our fallen, sinful ones, we still have enough indwelling sin in our flesh and other worldly distractions to make us stumble all too often. When thinking of God, how many of us think “Yes! I’m going to Heaven!” as opposed to “Yes! He’s going to make me holy!”?

heavenAnd what of the other side of the equation, the Means? For us, the Means we typically hope for are peace, tranquility, rest, comfort, and security. Though we know we can’t earn our salvation, we still seem to think that the more we get it together, the better we’ll feel and the closer we’ll inch to Heaven, particularly as we grow older (and hopefully more wiser). We tend to believe or maybe just hope that the more faith we have, the better this life down here will become. Those Means sound pretty nice, right?

However, I’m starting to understand that those notions couldn’t be more wrong — increasing our earthly comfort, peace, and security is NOT God’s Means of preparing us for His Kingdom and drawing us closer to Him. Does our faith and holiness increase the more comfortable our lives become or the more money that accumulates in our bank accounts? No, money and creature-comforts tend to increase our pride and false sense of security and self-reliance rather than faith, holiness, and dependence upon Him. Especially as I grow older and hopefully more observant, God’s preferred Means are the exact opposite of ours: suffering, instability, insecurity, brokenness, and often pain.

Now, God is not a masochist nor is He cruel, to be certain (read Job!), but He uses everything for His purposes, always for the ultimate good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). What are the ultimate “goods” in God’s eyes? Holiness. Sacrificial love. Unity. Suffering and pain in this world weren’t part of His original plan, those are a direct result of the Fall and our sin. Satan loves to use suffering too, but to hurt, confuse, and sow disbelief and more sin. But God uses suffering and pain to test us, to refine us, to make us as His growing children holy. And that really is a remarkable thing to consider: how can the unholy be made holy? The same question is asked in Job 14:4 — “Who can bring what is pure from the impure?”

The Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, but the Rooted study pointed out something I had never noticed before, that the examples enumerated in the Hall of Faith are made up of both miracles AND suffering. Until halfway through v35, all the examples are rather positive and miraculous, but then they turn south into persecution and suffering. And while both groups are commended for their incredible faith, we tend to only remember the miracles and yearn to have those happen to us. However, more often than not, they don’t — and they won’t. I don’t mean to say that to be discouraging as much as to be realistic. Far more people suffer in this world than are miraculously healed, yet God is working just as much in one as the other.

To put God’s “means and ends” together (suffering and holiness), in His Kingdom that He’s preparing us for, “Holiness is the ends, and suffering is the means.” In this world full of sin, pain, and suffering, it’s completely mind-blowing that God can use all these terrible things not only for our good, but to make us holy. Suffering and trials are the litmus tests of genuine faith in this fallen world (just ask His disciples!). Our true relationship with God is revealed when suffering enters our lives, whether we bow our heads or shake our fists. In John 16:33, Jesus promises that His followers will have tribulation in this world — not IF, but WILL. It’s practically a certainty for those who follow Him. Why? Because He uses suffering to make us holy, to make us just a little more like Him.

I’ve been chewing on this C.S. Lewis quote from “A Grief Observed” for the last month or so, probably because of all the soul-searching and God-seeking over the last few years. It seems to perfectly fit with where I’m at with my faith at this time: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’” I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be deceived — especially by myself!

narrow-pathAs I’ve drawn closer to God over the last couple years, I’ve had to re-examine my thoughts, emotions, faith, philosophy, future, legacy, etc., and certainly my views about God. Practically every piece of my life has been torn apart, examined, and poured over. Where have I been, where am I now, where am I going, and what is my purpose? What would God have me do now? Over the course of this process, I’ve come to this uncomfortable realization that God is NOT who I want, imagine, or wish Him to be — He IS who He is! He’s the same God who allowed the Holocaust, who sent the Flood to destroy that world, and who even slew His only Son! Those just don’t jive with the popular, comfortable God of love that’s often preached today — that’s a holy, sovereign, sin-hating God! He doesn’t do things the way we do, He doesn’t think the way we think, and He doesn’t feel the way we feel about sin, love, and probably just about everything else! And whether or not I like that isn’t going to change anything, I just need to accept it. I need to accept Him and His ways if I’m going to continue walking down this narrow road with Him. And since He’s not going to change (Malachi 3:6), that means that I have to!

Do I like this notion that God uses suffering to produce holiness in His children? Nope, not much at all. The only way I can make much sense of that “spiritual hypothesis” is because more than anything else, suffering forces us to realize our utter dependence upon Him. Suffering yanks off the blinders, blows away the fog, and drives us to our knees and our Bibles. I have yet to experience tremendous physical pain — yes, there’s been terrible emotional pain over the last couple years — but not physical, inescapable pain, and certainly not suffering or persecution. I must assume those will come sooner or later, because that’s just the way it is in this world. And I’m certain I won’t like it one bit!

Perhaps this new understanding that all trials — even the seemingly pointless sufferings — have the underlying purpose of making us holy will help me keep the right attitude and perspective when they do come.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but 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, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” — Romans 5:1-5

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