Monday, March 24, 2014

The Trust Test

Since I know that God is good, will I be willing to trust Him to do what is best—first for His glory, but also for myself and each of His children?

That question has been developing in the background of my mind a LOT over the past year. And in the past nine months—full of ups and downs and unexpected turns—a lot of my times of tears and frustration (and there have been many….) have resulted from the answer to this very important question being “no” in my practical, daily life/thoughts/attitude.

If you want all the background and the long explanation that demonstrates my “context” strength,[1] I was halfway done writing it before I remembered that looking back and being stuck in the past can also be part of my problem. This blog started with Philippians 3….and part of that is “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (vs. 13b-14). At the same time, God does tell His people over and over to “Remember” what He has done. I’m just not always good at maintaining a balance there.

Enough about me. In this case (or at least for this post), I’m going to work harder to error on the side of leaving the past behind and just talk about the Truth and the present. But mentions of the past will creep in, and I may post the “full” backstory another day.

A couple Saturdays ago, I was blessed with a beautiful time of meditating on God’s Word and fellowshipping with/worshipping Him. We needed to have a long talk, so I headed out to the Enterprise farm and stayed there for a couple hours. During that time, He brought together ideas from a year ago and ideas from the past couple months, and it’s like someone had fit a bunch of tiny puzzle pieces together and then zoomed out to show a more complete picture as a result. And today God brought me back to that picture again.

I struggle with demanding “why??” of God. Over the past year, He has been in the process of calling me out on that and instructing me to trust Him. And He has been bringing healing to some old, deep wounds that I had tried to stuff and ignore for a long, long time.

To quote from my journal entry that Saturday morning, even though mistakes and bad things will happen in life, “God will use and redeem all situations (past, present, and future) for the Ultimate Good: His Glory. We are called to walk in humility in light of that truth (Micah 6:8 and the labyrinth walk almost exactly a year ago), and we do NOT have the right to demand “WHY?” in a self-centered way.”

My mind flew to the verse about “does the clay have the right to ask of the potter, ‘why have you made me like this?’” That’s the Esther paraphrase, so it took a little searching to find it….but thankfully I did, in Romans 9:20-21:
“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”
My journaling continued: “That’s the key. And suddenly so very many pieces from the past months and years fall into place. Yes, that truth is very Calvinistic. But it is true, and in the end it’s what brings peace to my stirred-up heart….And it is in the Ultimate Truth of God’s goodness and sovereignty that I can REJOICE,” referring to Philippians 4:4 which “just happened” to be printed on that page of my journal.

Yesterday morning before church I had already felt that like writing this post. And then in church, we sang this song that says, in part, “We love You Lord, we worship You / You are our God, You alone are good.” That brought together so perfectly my Enterprise farm time and my island reflections that I couldn’t not write about it.

Because it’s certainly not a mistake that those passages—“all things work together for good,” we are predestined to be “conformed to the image of His Son,” and “O man, who are you…?”—are in such close proximity (Romans 8:28-29, 9:20-21). Paul recognized that this was a hard thing! In fact, his topic in Romans 9 (Israel’s rejection of God) brought him “great sorrow and continual grief in [his] heart” (9:2). He was probably preaching to himself just as much as to his audience when he wrote about the potter having power over the clay.

He longed and yearned with all his being for his brethren and fellow countrymen to recognize the truth he wrote of in 8:37-39 – that nothing can separate us from the love of God. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-27, which was preached on yesterday, he talks about the lengths to which he was willing to go for just such a purpose. {I confess that my life is deeply lacking of a similar concern.}

So knowing the truth of God’s goodness and sovereignty does NOT mean that suddenly I am happy-go-lucky and without a care in the world. It also does NOT mean that my freewill decisions and actions are without effects/consequences. Another part of the song above references this too:

You asked Your Son to carry this,
The heavy cross, our weight of sin.
I love You Lord, I worship You;
Hope which was lost, now stands renewed.
I give my life to honor this:
The love of Christ, the Savior King.

My brain is kind of going in circles (that’s what happens when I don’t plan these out before writing)…because that takes us right back to Romans 8:37-39, which is why we can claim to be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us,” not through our own striving, effort, or strength.

The past couple weeks, as it has felt like I have made a huge mess of things, this is the only thing I know I can hold onto—that even when I have acted in my own self-interest….or that even when trying my hardest to do what is right and best has seemed to back fire instead—that even there in the midst of my mess Christ is standing before God, who still sits on the throne. And God sees in me Christ’s righteousness. And it is all undeserved grace and forgiveness. And it is beautiful.

Do I wish I had made different decisions so that there would be different results now? For sure. If I could rewind the clock and redo things, I would in a heartbeat. But I can’t. What I am given charge of is the present, going forward from this moment. And in so many ways it’s depressing to know that tomorrow or the next day….or even right now or later tonight….I will make mistakes again.

And I definitely do not want to be flippant and say “Who cares if we sin! There’s grace!” (Romans 6:1, Esther paraphrase). But I do tend to “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” and get stuck in guilt. Some second cousins of mine taught me a great old-style song that combats the former so well. Give it a listen here!

At the same time, I do need to be careful in what I say and do, and I must rely on the Holy Spirit’s strength and wisdom and not my own…. So much harder to do in the moment than it is to say and know and believe. But, by the grace of God, we “press on,” trusting the One who began the good work and promises to complete it (Philippians 3:12, 1:6). And amazingly, He promises to use all things for His glory and the good of each of His children—in His eternal economy.

That is where my faith and confidence and trust are to rest, even if (when) the results do not look like I wish they did in this life. No matter what, God is good all the time.

[1] According to my results this summer from the Gallup “StrengthsQuest” inventory, this is my #1 strength. The poll’s “Quick Reference Card” describes it as follows: “People especially talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Omni-God

God is good. I am so very grateful that such a simple and yet also profound statement is true, and that it never changes. In the past year or so, there have been many times things haven’t gone as I would like them to. I must admit, I often tend to complain in those times. But God has been ever so consistently (and patiently) pointing me back to the fact that He is good, no matter what.

God is also the same, wherever I am and whatever I am doing. Because He is so much BIGGER than anything in my microscopic blip of a life on the radar of eternity. And yet, at the same time, He cares. He sees our hearts, and He feels our times of joy and our times of pain. Wonder of wonders, He offers us a relationship with Him, and makes His power available to us. We can worship Him in every choice and action, anywhere in the world.

I thought about that last bit this past weekend. The Institute here in Uganda had the 14th and 17th off classes, so several people went on mini vacations for the four-day break. I joined a young couple in traveling to an island out in Lake Victoria, which was a huge blessing! As I sat on the shore of the lake or under a tree higher up on the island, I was able to once again come back to “base camp,” so to speak – to reorient myself again to what matters most.

God blessed me with a beautiful time of meditating on His Word and being able to worship Him, away from some of the routine of daily life that can so often distract me from focusing as fully on Him. And as I did, I was reminded of similar blessed times in Arkansas, N. Ireland, North Carolina, and even Dallas (it’s harder in the big city though…). It struck me more fully that no matter where I am, God is the same and He is just as present with and in me. That is simply amazing for my human mind to comprehend!

Because God is a good God, He is committed to bringing glory to Himself. In the past weeks, I have been reminded that one way He does this is by working in the lives of His children to conform them to His image (Romans 8:29). Because He is all-powerful, He can do just that. What’s more, He works in every situation so that—on an eternal scale—all things work together for the good of each one who loves God (Romans 8:28). Even in situations which do not seem ideal, He brings redemption and benefit.

I am so thankful for these truths, even though I so often lose focus and need to be reminded of them once again. God continues to point me back to Himself; and even if that is the only thing which I gain from what I am experiencing, it is worth it because He receives the glory and praise He deserves.