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Archive for the ‘God’s Providence’ Category

Then Jesus told him, ‘You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me’.” John 20:29

Robert Burns wrote that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I’m not sure my plans for Saturday were particularly well laid out, but they surely didn’t turn out as I expected.

Originally, I was going to spend a free day cashing in a reward at one of the local Starbucks, lifting weights and then catching my favorite baseball team on the telly.  What occurred was that I did go to the S-bucks, but the rest of the day went in a different direction.

The actual major events don’t matter in this tale so much. What is important are the little decisions I made and the small circumstances and interactions of the day. They made me ponder their meaning.

I suppose this is because I just listened to an audio recording by Jerry Bridges on the Providence of God. At the time I began thinking of the accrued happenings on this October day, I was focusing on the negative (something that my pessimistic nature is prone to).

After some little misfortunes occurred, I began to wonder if Bridges was right in his assessment that God is in control of every little thing. If He was, then I questioned why these things were happening to me.

Was I being punished or disciplined? Or were these incidents just a product of a fallen world? Why was life so difficult?

Perhaps it would be best to provide a short narrative for these hours. I woke up not sure of the plan ahead, which is common to my shoot from the hip nature.

I decided that I would walk into town and catch the bus to Starbucks. In fact, many of the events of the day were influenced by my lack of wheels.

I am addicted out of necessity to being a ped. No, I am not involved with performance enhancing drugs. I just walk everywhere I go, especially when the bus system is not reliable.

The bus service in my town is reduced on weekends. At 9 am there were no busses. Besides,  I needed to get some exercise.

However, when I arrived in town, I learned that the bus over to the Starbucks would not leave for almost an hour.  I think I just missed it.

So I decided to hop the bus to the WalMart. I had an errand to run at the Best Buy near there and decided to “redeem” the time.

As it turned out, due to the local university’s Homecoming football events, the bus had to take an alternative route. This detour dropped me about two blocks from the Starbucks, my original planned destination.

“Wow,” I thought.

It was a cool and crisp autumn day, and as I sat at Starbucks sipping my coffee  I thought,”Maybe I’ll go to the game.” One of my friends was at a major NASCAR event, and another buddy of mine had just gone to see Notre Dame play.

So I was thinking,”Well, if my friends can have all this fun, is it so wrong that I have a little once in a while to.” I have to mentally justify these kinds of expenditures because I am on a limited budget.

Now, my school, which is also my employer, isn’t exactly Alabama, but they aren’t the Little Sisters of the Poor either. They are in a mid-level college conference, and generally do pretty well (except for this year).

I said to myself,”Look. This is what is available. Sure, the game is not a major deal. But it will be nice to experience some college football of any kind on a day like this.”

Not knowing the bus situation, I just decided to walk down the road I was already on to the stadium. It’s a straight shot of about two miles.

Before I left,  I went grocery shopping to buy any non-perishables I could carry. I do not live near a grocery store, so I have to take these opportunities to buy food when I have them.

In the middle of rearranging my stuff into my backpack, a kid whose job it was to snare carts whacked me on the knee with one. Now, it really didn’t do any damage, but I had the same emotional response some students do when they get a grade they are not happy with. I was “shocked” and “disappointed” at this fellows lack of care.

He asked me if I was ok, to which I replied while wincing, “Yeah.” Now, as I walked away, I noted to myself that the pained reaction was for effect. I mentally kicked myself and asked God why I had to be so dramatic and why I didn’t just give the kid a break.

Before I began the walk to the game, I stopped to get a lunch special from a Chinese place. I ordered among other things egg drop soup, which was too hot to eat and looked like its name: it was a gooey concoction of yell slime. I didn’t eat it.

After eating lunch, I did the walk. Arriving at the stadium, I bought my ticket and went to the gate.

I had to have my bag checked and I thought for sure I would be accosted about the food in there. It has been my common experience lately to have people with any kind of authority use it. Sure enough, I was told “they don’t like people to bring food in here.”. However, the gentleman checking my bag let me in anyway.

During the game, I filmed events from my laptop. On my school’s first touchdown, the quarterback threw a beautiful pass to a receiver who made a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone. My camera was ready and I began filming from my laptop. Unfortunately, a group of students walked right in front of me up the stadium stairs as I was filming, oblivious to my grimace.

One staff person finally told me,”You can take pictures of the game, but you can’t film.”  I thought,”Thirty thousand people with Smartphones which have video capability and he has to pick on me.”

Now, I was already non-plussed by this man because he kept walking up and down the stadium stares with a watchful eye and seeming glare. Frankly, he gave me the creeps.

Going out to a quick three touchdown lead, my university’s team lost the game in the end. They were knocking at the door with 8 seconds to go and couldn’t punch it in. I listened to disgruntled fans complain about the play-calling of our coach and watched as one guy berated excited fans of the opposing team.

“Hmm. These usually wonderful students are not as nice as I thought,” I said to myself.

Leaving the stadium, I was hoping to catch one of these bus shuttles I had seen. The regular bus service had already ended and the schedule on the school’s shuttle stop noted that it did not run there on Saturday.

I just missed a city shuttle as it turned a corner. I asked a female police officer directing traffic if she knew about these shuttles, and she said she didn’t. But she also added,”You had better stand back or you are going to get hit by a car.” My mind went to, “Yep. Another unnecessary rebuke from a police officer.”

I waited for about 10 to 15 minutes and a shuttle never appeared. So I walked down the same street I had walked down three hours earlier. As I trudged along, three shuttles from the stadium passed me within 20 minutes.

I made a turn down a long road that runs through campus and to the greenway, which leads to my neighborhood. I arrived home about 90 minutes after leaving the stadium, in the dark, and hungry.

When I got home, I turned on the television and learned my favorite baseball team had just lost in the last inning for the second night in a row. They have now dug a deep hole for themselves to make a World Series.

The end to a perfectly topsy turvy day.

After reflecting on this Saturday, though,  I came to the conclusion that the doctrine of God’s Providence was not really the issue here, at least for me. What really mattered was whether or not I believed that God loved me and was trustworthy enough to help me in my circumstances.

If in fact God is in control of all good and bad things that happen to me as Jerry Bridges says, then the question for me is , “Does He use them for my good?.” This well known verse from the Bible seems to say he does:

And we know that God causes everything to work together[a] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

In retrospect, when I review my supposedly negative experiences from Saturday, I realize that many of the things that occurred were quite helpful. Here are some of the positive effects of these apparently “bad” events:

1) My early morning bus didn’t come, but the one I DID take led me to my planned destination anyway.

2) God protected me from harm when a careless grocery store worker slammed my knee with a cart.

3) My egg drop soup was not eatable, but I learned what NOT to order next time AND I enjoyed a nice chicken and broccoli dish there.

4) The guy who checked my bag at the stadium could have in fact denied my entry. But when I explained that I did not have a car and had just gone grocery shopping, he said,”You don’t have a car here.” He was confirming my story to see if I was believable. When he believed me, he let me in. He was polite and nice about it.

5) The events staffer was just doing his job. It’s not his fault Osama Bin Laden committed a heinous terrorist act which has led to today’s overbearing police state environment.

6) The police officer I met actually was trying to keep me from getting killed. In addition, she pointed out the nearest bus stop.

7) I missed my planned weight lifting program this day. God replaced it with 6 to 8 miles of walking.

8) It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be outside for as long as I was.

9) I have noted that my youthful determination to never let a sports team get me depressed is still there. My take on my baseball team this year has always been that they have had a great season no matter how it ends. I have just enjoyed the baseball.

10) While I want my university sports teams to win, I don’t really have a dog in their fights.  Their teams represent my workplace, not my alma mater or hometown.

In essence, my delays, near misses,unfinished plans and unfulfilled desires don’t really matter much except in the economy of a loving God.

Of the above, I think near misses frustrate me the most. “Nuts. The Orioles were close to the World Series and didn’t make it after 35 years of not being there,” I think.

One of my most common near misses is  missing great pictures. Most of the time it is the result of the event occurring before I can get my camera ready, not an obstruction like at the game on Saturday.

But I have learned from one of the great near misses of all time. One of Jesus’s disciples, Thomas, missed the Lord’s appearance to all His other followers.

Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus had been resurrected. He complained that unless he saw the nail scars in the Lord’s hands, he wouldn’t believe.

Thomas wanted proof! As a result, he has gone down in history as “Doubting Thomas”.  I don’t think I would like to be give a moniker which would be used as a negative byword for two thousand years.

When Thomas finally did see Jesus, he exclaimed,”My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)

In fact, as the Life Recovery Bible notes, Thomas went on to exhibit great courage as one of Jesus’s apostles. Church history credits him with founding the church in India.

Thus, I know I can repent of my own doubts and have faith and still have a successful life.

It could be worse. At least I am not my school’s football coach, who has to wonder what happened on that fade route on fourth down at the end of Saturday’s game!

If he is a man of faith, it would help him to believe that Jesus is at work regardless of appearances.

 

 

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“When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous (Psalm 124:4).”

Today is an absolutely gorgeous late autumn here in Virginia where I live. My schedule this morning allowed me to take my walk through the pastures of the local university–a walk I treasure.

It occurred to me as I closed in on the well-known pond on campus,”What a difference a year makes.” Last year at this time I was living in a Nordic country where the daylight comes late and goes away early

As I walked I recalled the emotions of that late November. I was definitely depressed. I was apart from my family (I hadn’t seen them in almost three months), and the sun was a thing of the past.  Not only did its light only appear a few hour a day, but there was some much overcast that I rarely saw the object itself.

Yet, today there was a bright sun ball in the blue sky. I was surrounded by greenery and water. It was like I had gone from hell to heaven in the space of 12 months.

A passage from the devotional Streams in the Desert describes well my emotional state one year ago:

“All-loving Father, sometimes we have walked under starless skies that dripped darkness like drenching rain. We despaired of starshine or moonlight or sunrise. The sullen blackness gloomed above us as if it would last forever. And out of the dark there spoke no soothing voice to mend our broken hearts. We would gladly have welcomed some wild thunder peal to break the torturing stillness of that overbrooding night.

Yet, something came out of that period. It drove me to my knees.

When I wasn’t working, I had time to spend with the Lord. And I did a lot of that, especially on Sundays.

Streams in the Desert, in the same passage, goes on to portray  what happened to me as well as this author:

“But Thy winsome whisper of eternal love spoke more sweetly to our bruised and bleeding souls than any winds that breathe across Aeolian harps. It was Thy ‘still small voice’ that spoke to us. We were listening and we heard. We looked and saw Thy face radiant with the light of love. And when we heard Thy voice and saw Thy face, new life came back to us as life comes back to withered blooms that drink the summer rain.”

Somehow in my loneliness and darkness my relationship with God grew to be the best it had ever been. It was just me, the Lord and the black.

One of my friends recently told me that he thought of me as Job’s second cousin. I have been thinking of that comment ever since.

In one way I think of it as an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as a man like Job. On the other hand, I have thought that my life and that of Job differ in one respect.

His plight eventually came to an end.  God restored his  fortunes. My difficulties go on and on, with no end in sight.

My pastor told me a couple of months ago,”You’re just in a season of life right now.” The inference was that “this too shall pass”. I looked at him with an expression of,”I don’t know about that.”

Sometimes I see light at the end of the tunnel. For example, I am so boxed in that I pretty much have to use my one talent to get by.

As a result, I think that perhaps God has enclosed me so as to force me into using my gifts. Otherwise, my attitude would be,”I can’t do that. I must do this.”

Now, it appears He has placed me in such a condition that He is telling me,”No. You must do this. You must listen to me (finally!) and do what I called you to do  a long time ago. You just need to trust Me and the promises I have given you.”

That is astounding to me, that God would think that much of me to actually set me on a path to my dreams being fulfilled, especially this late in the game. The jury is still out on whether or not that is what is happening, but I’m listening–and watching for the light to reappear!

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“My child, don’t lose sight of good planning and insight. Hang on to them, for they fill you with life and bring you honor and respect.  They keep you safe on your way and keep your feet from stumbling (Proverbs 3:21-23).” (New Living Translation)

My nature is to shoot from the hip. In the past decade I have lived up to that aspect of my personality to the hilt.

I have moved myself and/or my family to about 11 different domiciles and back and forth to three different countries. I suppose my career as a teacher of English to speakers of foreign languages can be blamed.

However, there is more to it than that. Lot’s more. Probably more than I can go into here without getting off the point in this post.

Over 10 years ago I quit my job in the States and took one in Finland. Three years later I moved back to the States.

After one year, watching my income dwindle to nothing in super rich California, I moved to the oil laden Middle East, where I was paid handsomely and my bank account stabilized — for a time.  But again, after one year, having endured enough of an unsuitable situation, my family and I moved back to Finland.

Three years later it was back to the States. This time I was hopeful that this would be it. I intended to spend the rest of my life in the hills of southwest Virginia, the land of my childhood.

It was not to be. My job status went sour and it was back to Finland after about 20 months, this time sans fam.

The common thread in all this job switching is the  “last minute” nature of it all. In some cases,  I felt like a man on a rocket ship barely escaping Planet Earth as it explodes.

I already alluded to my poverty in one of those circumstances which led me to desperate action. In another, I decided to stay in Finland and not return to the Middle East the night before my plane was to leave. The stress release after that decision was palpable.

In all of this hopping around I have had the viewpoint that God rescued me “just in time”, a term used by Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book “God Can Make a Way”. Perhaps, but now I am not so sure that  my “rescue” was what the Lord was up to.

How much of the pond jumping was due to my flighty persona and how much was due to God’s intervention I may never know. However, another potential spontaneous job switch which popped up last month has made me reconsider God’s role in such maneuvers.

Not particularly caring for my seperation from my wife and kids at holiday time recently, I went to be with them. While there I truly prayed my guts out that I could stay home for good. (In fact, this prayer had been sent up regularly BEFORE  I arrived back in the States at Christmas.)

Because of the nature of my work, which is not tenured, I tell people that my “second job” is looking for employment. While home I spotted a job in my field within 45 minutes of my home and jumped at it.

I got a message back right away. The interview, held the week before my scheduled return to Finland, went well. It appeared I had a job offer and could return home.

I was excited when a colleague in Finland who knew about my possible departure sent me a message via social media and told me not to worry. There was a ready replacement for me, I was assured, so I was advised that I shouldn’t feel as if I was leaving my employer in the lurch.

Right after I read my coworker’s note, I checked my Email. Sitting in the the inbox was a message from my interviewer.

*Wow! Here we go again,” I thought.  Nope.

It was a “Dear John” letter. Something went awry in the 48 hours between the interview and message from the person I thought could be my future boss.

I can’t say I was devastated, as accepting the job had its obstacles. However, I was definitely disappointed. My normal modus operandi of last minute salvation went belly up this time and the opportunity of remaining with my family with it.

I have been reflecting back on a whisper I believed God put in my ear before going home for the holidays. I had read a commentary in the Life Recovery Bible which had described the weaknesses of Abraham and Sarah as twofold.

One flaw in the lives of these patriarchs was there tendency to take action before God had revealed Himself on a matter. Another mistake they seemed to make was to not plan. God spoke to me that these were failures I myself needed to avoid. 

I believe He told me that any move back to the States on my part needed to be well thought out. While reflecting on these matters pre-Christmas, I also had no specific direction from the Lord that I was to up and go home.

Indeed, even if the job had been offered I would have had great pause. I had legal, contractual and ethical commitments to consider which would have been difficult to extricate myself from.

One night in the midst of pondering all these grey areas, my wife read the Bible to me out loud. One of the verses she read was this one:

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him (I John 4:16).”

I determined as I heard this that I could rely on God’s love. Again, Abraham came to mind.

He had been told by God to take his son of promise Isaac up to a mountain and sacrifice him. Abraham trusted God so much that he did it, believing that even if Isaac died God would raise him up again (Hebrews 11:17-19).

I figured that even if I had to get back on that plane and come to Finland and resume my life without my family, God could fix matters so I could turn back around. As I sit here a few days later, that hasn’t happened.

However, it is clear to me that being away from my wife and kids is less than optimum. I still believe God can make a way.

It just may involve a little more detailed and orderly program of action than what I am used to. In fact, I am coming to believe God intends to rescue me through this kind of planning, and not via a rocket ship this time around.

Jet lagged and sleepless last night, I lay awake at 3 am worrying. Then I got up and read my Bible.

Knowing God wants and has a plan and wants me  involved in the details actually comforted me. While I might have preferred a last minute phone call or cash infusion to make things right, I think in the long run this way is better.

Seeking God and planning for a while  offers possibilities for stability. It also has potential for producing a much more rewarding future in a lot of areas.

Drawing up a game plan for action may not be as thrilling as my previous impulsive decisionaking, but it seems to be more in line with the Master’s plan. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t do things “just in time”.

Indeed, I saw this during the Psalm that was my main source throughout the holidays. The Psalmist writes:

 I waited patiently for the LORD;
   he turned to me and heard my cry. 

 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
   out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
   and gave me a firm place to stand (Psalm 40:1-2).

However, in the same song he cries,

 Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD;
   may your love and faithfulness always protect me. 
For troubles without number surround me;
   my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
   and my heart fails within me. 
Be pleased to save me, LORD;
   come quickly, LORD, to help me (Psalm 40:11-13).

AND

 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
   may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
   you are my God, do not delay (Psalm 40:17).

The man is desperate and believes he needs quick relief. However, he is willing to wait for God’s “just in time” moment within his desperation.

That’s not a contradiction. That’s a message that God works through, outside and (just) in time. In my case, He has decided to involve me and my participation a little more than usual.

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“Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind (Psalm 66:5)!”

I watched a movie the other night which I had been wanting to see for a long time. I am a fan of alternate history novels, and this flick portrayed how a seemingly chance delay could change a woman’s life.

In the movie “Sliding Doors”, Gwyneth Paltrow plays Helen, a woman who gets fired from her job and heads home on the subway.  In one scenario, she makes the train. In the second, she misses the train because a small child gets in her way as she runs down the steps.

In the first storyline, the child’s mother moves the child out of the way, giving Helen enough time to enter the train car.  This slight interruption in the second situation changes everything.

The Helen who makes the train ends up getting home early and discovering her boyfriend in bed with another woman. She breaks up with him, and begins a romance with a man she met on the train.

The Helen who misses the train does not discover her boyfriend’s infidelity, and continues on in the relationship. As this Helen’s story develops, she suspects something, but isn’t sure.

The Helen who caught her boyfriend is encouraged to begin a new entrepreneurial career by James, her new love. She becomes successful.

In the other parallel universe, Helen works two jobs to support her cheating boyfriend Gerry. Supposedly the man is writing a novel, but is really having dalliances with his ex-girlfriend.

SPOILER ALERT

In both stories, Helen becomes pregnant by the loves in her life. Also in both scenarios, Helen is hit by a car and loses the baby.

It is the ending of the two stories that confused me. James is shown holding Helen as she lays in a hospital bed, promising to make her happy.

Gerry is in Helen’s room in the other situation, telling her he will do anything for her. Since she has learned about the infidelity, Helen tells him to turn around and walk out the door.

When this Helen is discharged, she walks into the hospital elevator and meets James for the first time. This event occured with the other Helen at the beginning of the movie.

The thing I didn’t notice because it happens so fast is that the Helen who made the train and fell in love with James dies. He is making promises when, as the scene switches away to the other Helen, the monitor she hooks up to flatlines.

I went two days thinking Helen would live happily ever after with James in both scenarios. It caused me to think seriously about how God, in His providence, can take such things like hindrances to catching a train and still work things out according to His plan in the end. It boggles my mind as I think about it.

Even though I was wrong about how the movie really ended, I am not dissuaded by that. The possibility makes such stories as King Saul in the Scriptures much more imaginable.

Saul was the king of Israel, but he blew it. Unlike David, his successor, Saul’s heart wasn’t in the right place.

When he had finally had enough, God told Saul that he was taking the kingdom away from him. Knowing what I do now, that King David was the ancestor of Jesus Christ, and not Saul, this makes sense.

What jiggles the brain is God’s message to Saul when he rebuked him through Samuel. After the sin that led to Saul’s downfall, Samuel told Saul:

  “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” I Samuel 13:13,14

I understand that David still could have been the ancestor of Jesus through God’s machinations and Saul remain king. For example, David could have had a child through the daughter of Saul to whom he was married and this child could have been of the line leading to Jesus.

In any case, had Saul remained faithful, the Bible could have had a whole different storyline. However, the main goal of God’s plan, salvation through Jesus, could have still taken place.

The “what if” possibilities in life are fascinating to me. This is why I like alternate histories I suppose.

What if, for example, a time traveler had introduced the modern machine gun into the American Civil War on the southern side?  This is the plot of a novel of one of my favorite authors in this genre. 

Ironically, it is in the news today that Gywneth Paltrow had a true-to-life “Sliding Doors” experience that saved a woman’s life inadvertantly during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

A woman was late for work at the World Trade Center and jaywalking when Paltrow came down the street in her car. The woman and the actress just stopped and waited a long time before either one of them moved on.

Recently, Paltrow got  a letter from the woman telling her that she had saved her life.  The actress told the Huffington Post:

Ten years later I got a letter from her saying that she had been late for work and we had that thing and she went down to the Christopher Street station to catch her train to go down to the World Trade Center where she worked on the 77th floor of the South Tower and the train was just pulling out,” Paltrow continued. “So had we not had that interaction she feels like her life would’ve taken a much different course.”

One pastor at my church this summer gave a message in which he stated that it is impossible to thwart the will of God. As I ponder things like the real and fictional experiences of Gwyneth Paltrow, and then examine God’s moves in the Scriptures, I am more and more in agreement with this minister.

It’s beyond the confines of my brain to fully understand the providences of the Lord. My mind just gets dizzy thinking of things stories like the one in “Sliding Doors” and the Bible.

However, my mind and my spirit both agree that God is just amazing, and worthy of my worship and dedication in life.

Another of my former pastors and  a good friend wrote today online:

“I love God’s Providence. It’s always crazy and surprising. There’s no need to question it — it is! He’s great!”

Ditto.

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