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Archive for the ‘Sovereignty’ Category

” Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you…(I Corinthians 7:17a).”

I sometimes get my epiphanies in the middle of the night, and this weekend a pattern of thinking came to me in the wee hours. I realized as I lay there in the sack that I have a problem with envy.

This little issue centers around three things. First, I have noticed that one of my best friends is living a dream I have of attending major sports events. It seems almost every weekend he is at some football game, race or other noteworthy sports happening.

Now this fellow has been quite generous with me in recent me years, having spotted me some tickets a couple times to some nice football games, and taking me to a race. However, I want more. I want to be him: an uber sports fan. I had thoughts of being a sports journalist when I was young, and did do some reporting as a stringer. I even got a journalism degree. Alas, that dream died, as I decided to stay in the big city I was in working in customer service so I could do Christian ministry. To develop my journalism career, I would have had to go to some Podunk to start, and I did not think this was God’s will for me at the time.

Secondly, speaking of ministry, for much of my life I wanted to be a missionary. I went to grad school to get a degree in teaching English as a foreign language and intercultural studies so I could have a ticket overseas. I understood at the time that I had no skills to offer anyone abroad. I investigated mission boards, but none of that ever came to fruition. Oh, I did spend some years abroad and before that did work to develop an English program for international students in the States, one where they could freely be exposed to the Gospel. But there was no real personal fruit from any of that. At best, I was more of a middleman in the latter work, connecting students with other people desiring to minister to them.

What happened overseas? Life happened. I got so wrapped up in the job and other issues that I never had time or an inclination for mission work. I dabbled in church ministry and even went on a two-week mission trip with my kids. But, personal gospel work for many reasons never occurred to any extent.

What does this have to do with my night time confrontation with the green-eyed monster? Well, many of my contemporaries from my younger days are in full time Christian work. They are missionaries, pastors, staff workers and evangelists. I want what they have, or at least I used to until I became rocky ground. (See Mark Chapter 4 for the Parable of the Sower, which Jesus related to his disciples.)

Finally, on one of my overseas stays I met a man who is someone I call “ a bruthah from anothah muthah”. Abroad we were colleagues. He and I are much alike in personality. Both of us are writers, (In fact, he has trumped me there, too. He has published a novel, a lifelong ambition of mine.) We also share a certain wanderlust.

Unfortunately for me, in comparison to him I am a cross-cultural hick. This buddy has traveled and lived in places I could only dream of visiting—four times over! Like my sports pal, he has treated me to a bit of his lifestyle. But again, I just have barely scratched the surface when it comes to global trekking if I view his life.

I think the thing I grasped as I lay there in bed was that trying to become any of these people is a fruitless endeavor. As Popeye said, “I yam who I yam,” and they are who they are.

I also determined that in the final analysis, God could care less if I go to the Super Bowl, become the next Hudson Taylor or jet set around the planet. He has other fish to fry when it comes to me.

The Scriptures seem to provide evidence to support my thought that God just isn’t that interested in my achievements in comparison to others.

For example, after Jesus mapped out Peter’s future, even giving him an indication of how he was going to die, the latter asked about the plans for his fellow disciple John. Peter too seemed to like the comparison game.

John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in relating this conversation. He is following Jesus and Peter, and perhaps was eavesdropping.

When Peter saw John, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, ”If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you. You must follow me.” (John 21:20-22)

Jesus’s response reminds me of several “mantras” I have developed in my relationship with him over the years: 

  • Where are you going, Lord? I’ll follow.
  • (Jesus says) “Listen to me.”
  • You choose.
  • (Jesus says),”Watch me work!”

My nocturnal wrestling helped me to once again ascertain that if I am truly one who belongs to Jesus, I will do what He tells me to do, regardless of how it impacts my desire to keep up with the Joneses. Planting this in my noggin’ will keep me from spending much needed time and treasure trying to maintain a level playing field with my friends, which in truth is a wasted effort.

 

 

 

 

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The Lord is my shepherd;  I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows;  he leads me beside peaceful streams.  He renews my strength He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name (Psalm 23:1-3).

These days of summer I am wont to taking a walk into my Virginia town of about 75 minutes. This journey takes me through the agricultural section of the local university, a large concern.

Every time I make this trek I see something different. For example, last week there were four young bulls playfully fighting, their heads focused inward toward each other. Their bodies jutted out from their heads, making the latter the center of a black kaleidoscope.

Yesterday I passed two flocks of sheep which I had not previously seen. I supposed that not having seen them before  was due to my having gotten out earlier this particular morning.

The sheep in the first flock ignored me, diligently munching on the green grass in their pasture. All except one that is.

This black-faced rogue stared through the fence at me, almost angrily. It was as if it was telling me to get them out of there, or to give them something more than the grass all around.

I thought,”Even for a sheep, the grass is always greener on the other side.” This sheep didn’t know what was good for them.

Here God had provided for their need that which was particularly suited for their position in life. Yet, this particular animal appeared to want something different, perhaps even wishing they were walking outside the fence with me on the way to the coffee shop instead of chewing on a blade of grass!

This sheep reminded me of Harvey Cheyne, a character from a Kipling novel. I learned of him from a  1996 movie called Captains Courageous, which adapted the story for television.

In this story Harvey is an extremely rich 16-year old who is also a self centered brat. On an ocean cruise he falls overboard and is seemingly lost.  However, he is picked up by a small fishing vessel captained by the demanding Captain Troop.

Harvey remains in character after his rescue, insisting on special treatment. He tries to bribe Captain Troop to take him back to shore. Troop tells him ‘no’, noting that they would be out to see for several months to fish, which was the crew’s livelihood.

Troop makes the boy work, something he is not accustomed to. Harvey refuses and hears from the captain,”You don’t work, you don’t eat.”

After a period of resistance, Harvey slowly comes around. He learns the fishing trade with the help of Dan, Captain Troop’s son. He also learns some life lessons and matures into a fine young man.

David Jeremiah tells a similar story of a man who is out to sea on a small raft when a storm hits. As much as he tries, the man cannot prevent the craft from sinking.

Like Harvey, he is picked up by another vessel, this time a large ship. The captain of this boat tells the man,”I’m sure you don’t mind helping out in the galley. We are short handed.”  Unlike Harvey, the man is so happy and grateful over being saved that he is willing to do anything.

David Jeremiah likens this to our salvation through Jesus Christ. We are in the place of rescue from our dire straits at the point of salvation, but we are not saved to inactivity. Jeremiah points out that we are saved by grace, but also for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

I see a lot of application to the stories of Harvey and the man on the raft. I too have been rescued.

During the previous year I was alone in a foreign country, with no family or Christian fellowship. I cried out for rescue from these lonely circumstances.

During this time I was tossed about as if I was on the ocean. I felt adrift and pleaded with the Lord.

Finally, this summer God heard my cry led me back home.  I am finally with my wife and children and ecstatic to be home and connected to my friends and church.

However, I am also currently unemployed. I can see from the episodes o f Harvey and the raft man that I have a choice to make in terms of how I view my new condition.

I have determined that I should not expect to sit around my house and do nothing as Harvey did.  The crew (my family) needs my help, not a freeloader.

Part of me does feels like Harvey did when he was first rescued. I have these thoughts of being too important or too “good” for certain tasks.

However, another part of me knows that I may have to take what seems to be an unpleasant job in order for me and my family to continue to survive. I am so grateful to be away from my own personal “ocean” that I am willing to do anything to avoid being tossed overboard again.

I have a suspicion that even work with menial tasks can teach me something new and lead to a broader ministry. In Captains Courageous, Harvey plans to build a hospital in Captain Troop’s hometown out of thanks and gratitude once he is back on shore.  He can do this because through his perseverance in his messy fishing job his life is restored.

I believe God can lead me in the same way, taking what appears to be a dead end job and make it into something special. Looking at others and thinking that they have it better than me, or that my little “pasture” is too beneath me misses the point of who I am and what God has created me to be for His glory.

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“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,’I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’.  It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (Romans 9:14-16).”

Last night I was watching a show on the History Channel about hillbillies. It was fascinating.

I trace my roots back to West Virginia. Both my parents were born there, and my grandfather was a coal miner. So as to give my 12-year old some context, my wife reminded him that this was why I was so interested in this show.

I really got interested when the documentary began focusing on a miner rebellion in West Virginia in the 1920s.  I had never heard of it, even though some of its events took place where my grandparents lived.

The conflict pitted the mine owners against the miners who were trying to unionize and break what they saw as the oppressive system they were under. As I watched, I sided with the miners.

The government and the companies really did oppress the miners in my view. The worst thing they did was hire a detective agency to harass, evict and even murder the miners. These “detectives” were nothing more than authorized thugs.

Looking deeper into the story, I became intrigued by what seemed to be a 1920s soap opera. It involved the detectives, the mayor of a small coal town, and the town’s police chief.

When the detectives showed up to evict some miner families, the mayor and the police chief confronted them. There was a gun battle in the town which left several of the detectives and the mayor dead.

Some people at the time believed the police chief shot the mayor clandestinely because he had feelings for his wife. Indeed, shortly after the shootings the police chief and the widow were found in a hotel room together. They got married the next day.

Not long after the incident, the police chief was brought up on charges and went to trial. As he walked up the courthouse steps unarmed with is new wife, a group of men from the detective agency appeared and shot him dead.

I thought to myself,”Wow! This woman lost two husbands in the space of a few months. I wonder what happened to her?”

The New York Times of the day told me. She married a third time, this time to a police officer.

I didn’t have a high regard for this woman. She was like some sort of “Black Widow”.

She possibly was indirectly responsible for a bloody gunfight. When her second husband the police chief was murdered, it led to an insurrection by the miners, one which turned into a battle the size which had not been seen since the Civil War.

Another woman in this story interested me, also. She took a lead role in all the mayhem in coal country at the time.

Mother Jones was a union organizer who was called “the most dangerous woman in America.” After losing her whole family in tragic circumstances, she went on a political rampage.

I have to admit, as a man, the kind of women described in this documentary scare me. I don’t think it’s because I am some sort of male chauvinist. I believe I get uneasy because don’t understand these women and what motivated them.

Jimmy Buffet I believe must have had a similar feelings. It seems something to do with a woman drove him to Margaritaville.

He wrote these lyrics:

“Nibblin’ on spongecake
Watchin’ the sun bake
All of those tourists covered with oil
Strummin’ my six-string
On my front porch swing
Smell those shrimp, they’re beginning to boil

Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville
Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
But I know it’s nobody’s fault

Don’t know the reason
Stayed here all season
With nothing to show but this brand new tattoo
But it’s a real beauty
A Mexican cutie
How it got here, I haven’t a clue

Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville
Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
Now I think, hell it could be my fault

I blew out my flip-flop
Stepped on a pop top
Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home
But there’s booze in the blender
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on

Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville
Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
But I know it’s my own damn fault.”

Yes, and some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
And I know it’s my own damn fault .”

I’ve got to give Jimmy Buffett some credit. Despite whatever mess he was involved with as a  result of his relationship with a woman, he didn’t blame her. As he says, it was his “own damn fault”.

It wasn’t the woman’s fault Jimmy was wasting away in a boozy haze. He didn’t blame “the woman” for his lost state.

Most of us men probably wouldn’t take this stance. If we were in Jimmy Buffet’s flip flops, we would be whining over what a “such and such” woman did to us.

Samson must have. His first romance went belly up –big time.

In I Kings 14 he is described initially as having a real fancy over some lady. Unfortunately, she was a Philistine woman.

His parents didn’t approve, and understandably so. The Philistines were at that time doing something they did well: oppressing their people.

One wonders why Samson, a Nazirite Israelite who was devoted to God and the deliverance of his countrymen, would take up with this woman. However, the Scriptures say that God somehow was sovereignly involved in this matchup (Judges 14:1-4).

God was going to take this unhealthy desire of Samson and use it for His purposes. He managed to take Samson’s predilection for the Philistina and use it for His glory.

The story goes like this. Samson married the woman, but she betrayed him. She used her womanly wiles and toyed with Samson to  help some Philistines win a bet.

The end result was that Samson took out 30 Philistine men to gain the resources he needed to pay off his wager. This  in some fashion fulfilled the plan of God to confront Israel’s enemies.

As for Samson, he went home to his parents house in a huff. He was mad as a hornet. Some people claim there’s a woman to blame.

In this fallen world, we find it easy to blame our natural “enemies” for our predicaments.  We accuse these people different from us for causing a situation where we are “wastin’ away in Margaritaville.”

 The gender battles we face are only an example. If we’re male, we blame the female. If we’re female, we blame the male.

However, we are who we are. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand one another.

As Rodney King, that man whose law breaking and subsequent police beating caused a riot in Los Angeles said to the media afterwards, “Why can’t we all just get along?” We need to make at least make the effort to do this.

Yet, somehow,  the stories of Samson’s first wife and the women of the West Virginia coal country give me comfort. Even though I don’t “get” them, in the big scheme of things, everything worked out for the best.

God used Samson’s messy marriage to accomplish His purposes. The violence to which the West Virginia women contributed led to a crackdown on the abuses which caused it. We live in a different world today because of that war in the mountains.

God is a merciful God. We may have trouble dealing with those who live and think differently than we do down here, but God can use even the messes we cause as a result of our differences to reveal His good character and draw us to Himself.

I don’t know how or why exactly, but knowing He can make lemonade out of our crummy lemons gives me a sense of relief. Even when I don’t handle my relationships and issues very well, knowing this  strengthens my resolve to carry on in life.

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