This Too? This Too.

My wife has been having some health struggles lately. Serious struggles.

This is on top of a life that’s above average on the crazy difficult scale of late.  Work has been harder than it’s ever been, and I’m not wearing the stress very well (at least until my recent vacation).  And even when I was in school, I was able to make it through because Theresa kept things running at home when I wasn’t able to find the attention span.

And when life is at a pace where I’m tempted to give up and say “I can’t take it anymore” God has added this to the pile too.  When I’m saying “no more” God says “actually, this too.”

1Thessalonians 5:18:

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

If you look up the word “all” in your concordance the Greek word there mean (wait for it) “all.”  Give thanks in ALL circumstances for this is God’s will for your life.  This one too?  Yup.  Give thanks for everything.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard or that you can handle it.  There’s another all to remember in 1Peter 5:

casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Cast all your cares on Him.  There’s not a single one you should try to carry on your own.

If you’re anything like me you forget that.  Pretty much every day.  I try to handle it on my own.  And God’s the One who handles it.  And you’re thinking, again if you’re like me, do I cast this anxiety or care onto Jesus too?  And what does He answer?  Yes…this too.

His burden is light, and yours is hard.  And He wants to trade.

And this is why you can give thanks in all things:  because every hard thing He sends your way is a reminder that He’s got this and that He wants to take it off your back.  So let Him.  Walk in His grace, giving thanks for the hardest of the hard, and He’s got this.  This too.

 

He Sets the Boundaries

A few weeks ago a friend posted something on Facebook about people talking about natural remedies for cancer.  The friend’s post was (as a PSA) encouraging people who like alternative care to make sure they’re not implying “If _______ had tried _______ they’d still be alive today.”  And the reason my friend was concerned was that they’d lost a family member not terribly long ago to cancer.

Full disclosure:  My older sister died of cancer a couple of years ago and was not yet 50.  It was almost 10 years, on and off, that she was battling various forms of cancer before she finally went home to be with the Lord.  She went through a rough time, especially at the end, but God used her death and her life in some amazing ways.  And now I have to wait a long time to see her again.  Today’s her birthday, and she would have been 51 if she was still around.

The first thing I want to say is that if you’ve ever said something like what’s in the quote above you should be ashamed of yourself.  And if anyone ever says that to you about a loved one you’ve lost you have my permission to slap him.  Unless it’s me.  Ok…even if it’s me.  It’s just rude and unkind and really has no purpose.

Second point:  God determines when people die.  So the statement above, in addition to being stupidly rude and mean is theologically incorrect.  Here’s Paul speaking in Athens:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

Source: Acts 17:26-27 ESV

God determined the allotted periods of each of our lives, before the world began.  Where we would live.  When you were born.  How long each of us will be here…every breath is counted.  When someone dies there is never an “if only ______” left.  Those of us who believe must trust in God’s goodness and grace in that.  He is sovereign over life and death.

The third thing I want to mention is that you need to be charitable with one another.  I know it’s hard, but if someone says “I think that chemotherapy is harmful and I wouldn’t do that to myself” it is not the same as the statement above.  Don’t assume that your friend is making a conjecture about your loved one’s death.  Sometimes people don’t know.  Sometimes people aren’t as careful with the words they use as they ought.  But all the time we need to believe the best (“love believes all things”) about other Christians and assume they don’t mean harm unless it’s spelled out clearly.

Sure, sometimes it’ll bother you and you’ll have to ask.  And that’s how people learn to be more careful in their speech.  But try to find the best possible way to take something when it’s said.

I am a big fan of alternative care in many cases.  But I don’t give unsolicited advice about health care, finances, or child-raising because I’m also a firm believer in liberty.  We’ve made a lot of mistakes in our lives, my family and me, and maybe someone else can learn from some of them.  But if you don’t ask my opinion about a specific you won’t get it.

But that’s not the same as saying here that I’d personally never get chemotherapy.  That I believe that the health care industry perpetuates bad treatments that make money sometimes and has little interest in finding cures.  That drug companies manipulate the governmental systems to make more money (they’re not alone in that, by the way).

I have strong opinions and so do you.  And one day you’ll die and so will I.  And the fact that I can’t stop that doesn’t mean I don’t take my asthma meds and it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t perform CPR on you if you had a heart attack in front of me.  It does mean that once death occurs we need to trust God’s timing in it, and to remember that everyone, all of us, will die. There is no health care service, conventional or alternative, that will stay off death.  Only when Christ returns will death die.

God’s Provisional Surprises

“I didn’t need one more thing to worry about.”

I actually caught myself saying that after our bus broke down in Iowa.

It started Friday night as we were heading out for dinner to celebrate Margary’s birthday. The bus felt like the tire was flat so we pulled over to look at it. Over half the lug nuts had broken off on one of the rear tires (see pic below).

AAA wasn’t going to tow it. Not a standard vehicle they said. I was able to get them to see the light and they sent out a tow truck to take it to a shop that was open on Saturdays to get fixed, which hopefully was going to get us home. We had friends at the same conference who were able to shuttle folks back to the hotel and we got takeout and picked up Margary’s cake and still had a wonderful celebration albeit crammed into a hotel suite.

God was good to us. The wheel could have fallen off before we’d stopped. We could have been hurt. We could have had to rush around finding someone to shuttle people back to the hotel but had friends following us to dinner.

When the bus was fixed on Saturday we made it 30 miles up the road before it was having problems. We pulled off, after driving on the shoulder for a few miles at 10MPH, in Colfax Iowa. I knew I needed to be back in the office and that my family didn’t need to be spending more time in hotels and so we had decisions to make. Thankfully again we were able to get a friend who hadn’t left Des Moines yet to rent a car and bring it to us and another friend take two people home when passing through so the rest of us could fit into the rental. An added expense, but not much more than two more nights in a hotel would be to hope it was fixed Monday.

So we fedexed a key and got the bus towed and then the next phase of this special providence happened: it’ll cost more to fix the bus than it’s worth. So before I left on vacation I mailed the title to the mechanic in Des Moines so that the bus can be hauled off for scrap, and we’re starting over on a vehicle with nothing to show for the previous one. It’s a hard thing to adjust to, but God has been with us every step of the way.

God knows what you and I need better than we do. Like a good coach He pushes us beyond our comfort zones because we need to learn to trust Him more. The oft-repeated lie is that God will never give you more than you can handle. It’s not true. God always gives you more than you can handle on your own. He just doesn’t leave you alone in that…He wants you to depend on Him. And He always knows and does what’s best.

We have a vehicle to borrow indefinitely while we figure out what we’re doing for a new vehicle. We have some savings that gives us better options than if we didn’t. I have a work-provided vehicle so I haven’t had any interruption in the freedom to get to the office and back when needed. All of these details are a part of the plan, too.

So when you’re tempted to say “I don’t need one more ______”, stop. You actually may. God knows that, and He loves you and wants what’s best for you…which means trusting Him in everything.

I’ll let you know what new vehicle we get when we figure it out!

First pic here has the tow truck drivers taking a picture of the bus, the biggest thing they’d ever put on the back of the truck:

Be Still and Know

Last night I was having a rough time with a lot that is going on and feeling overwhelmed, and I was skimming through blog posts in my feedly to see what might be going on and to distract my thinking.  I almost skipped over a post from a friend of mine, a post which consisted mostly of the lyrics to a hymn, when I flipped back and read the words out loud:

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
via Reformed Sermons: Be Still, My Soul.

It was very helpful to my heart to read through all the words…and to remember that God is on my side and has all this under His Providential control…and that He will always be faithful.

 

Sickness Unplanned

I know what you’re thinking after reading the title, right?  Who plans to be sick?  Of course no one does.  But when life is crazy, it’s helpful to plan for down time in case it is thrust upon you by God’s Providence.

Alas, I did not.  And double-Alas, I got sick.  Here it is Thursday morning and I’ve done almost nothing with school or the huge piles of work that were piled up when I left the office Friday and I’m wondering how I will make it through this weekend unscathed.

So tonight is likely to be a late night, and I’m currently not feeling like I’ll have the energy to make it a late night and make it through school tomorrow.  So this may be the week where I so some crashing and burning, or I may just, by God’s grace, make it through by a narrow margin.

So legal issues tomorrow.  Back to Marketing on Saturday with a quiz.  And then I have only 1 week between now and the end of class where I don’t have any travel and huge projects to work on in the meantime.  So if my posting is light, that’ why.  If you think about it, keep me in your prayers.

For The Lord God Omniopotent Reigneth…Hallelujah!

It’s that time of year when we’ll hear people playing and singing Handel’s Messiah.  Including the capstone…the Hallelujah Chorus.  What a wonderful piece of music, and what a wonderful time of year is advent when we hear music everywhere hailing Jesus’ birth and life.

There’s a line that gets repeated in the Hallelujah Chorus quite a few times that I used in the title:  “…for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”  The Lord God omnipotent reigns.  That word omnipotent is one we don’t use in everyday language any more.  It means “all-powerful.”  To reign means to rule, to control, like a king.  Jesus, the Lord God all-powerful, rules over all.

A few weeks ago our area was hit with a couple of tornadoes, one of them extremely bad and a local town has a huge section that was just leveled, and hundreds of people are currently unable to live in their homes, if those homes are even still standing (which for many they aren’t).  After the tornado a local pastor posted a noble attempt at comforting those who have had lives turned upside down:

I believe nature happened. The weather was the optimal condition and houses were in the way. I don’t believe God sits in heaven playing with us in such sadistic ways. God did not put his finger down and wipe out your home. Nor do I believe that God was saving some people and neglecting some to suffer. Last I checked everyone – Christian or not – whose home was in the path lost. I do not believe God plays a cosmic games of “duck, duck, duck cancer/tornado/hurricane,” arbitrarily dishing out human tragedies.

via Duck…Duck…Duck…Tornado. | Charlie Dean.

I replied to the post, which while well-intended, left a picture of God that is anything but all-powerful and ruling:

While I share your frustration with many of the quotes you list, I find it very concerning that you display such an uninvolved and impotent God. Is God so out of control that tragedies like this happen outside of His will? I think Ephesians 1 and Romans 8-9 are clear that this is not that case.

I find it equally puzzling that you think that there were tornadoes and hurricanes in the garden. This beautiful creation, which God pronounced “good” did not contain death and destruction until man brought sin into it. Creation itself is marred by the sin of man, and Jesus brings redemption to sinners like you and me, but also to the whole of creation.

Is it helpful to note that destruction is rooted in original sin? Not always, but I think at times it is. It is comforting to know that when Jesus restores all things in the New Heavens and the New Earth that there will be no more of this.

Our God is powerful and controls every molecule and atom in creation…there is not one stray electron in this world. And through the work of His Son and His Spirit He is over time putting all things right and will destroy every enemy including death.

I applaud your desire to ensure the watching world does not see God as displaying a sadistic favoritism, but to display God instead as an impotent overlord who couldn’t do anything about those weather conditions or uncaringly decided not to do anything about it is just as wrong as the careless use of clichés.

I had a friend in college who, while Christian, was troubled, just as this pastor is, with the idea of anything bad happening in a world ruled by a sovereign God.  A God who controls all things, and is working a plan in history, and yet who allows horrible things (like this destructive tornado) to occur.  And her solution to this troubling thought was to raise Satan to a level of power where he could wreak havoc outside of God’s control.  I remember more than a dozen conversations before we just agreed to disagree on the matter and put it aside.  And this pastor seems to have a similar difficulty, saying in his reply to my comment, “no. I don’t believe that God stirs the molecules to form a tornado to destroy a small town for some arbitrary reason.”

And there’s the rub.  In my friend’s mind, and in this pastor’s proclamation, there are only two options:  God chooses to have nothing to do with the weather and lets it roll as it will, or God does this arbitrarily (or worse yet God is actually mean to some people).  And this false dilemma leads to poor conclusions.

You see, God isn’t doing this for some arbitrary reason.  God is never, ever arbitrary!  

Consider this from Romans 9:

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

These are hard words to us.  God hardened Pharaoh?  But when we have a problem with what God says He does…the problem is not with the Word or with God…it is with us.  God is good, and does only good.  And He has good purposes in this…see what He says?

….that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

God allows evil and horrible things to occur for His own glory.  To show His power and so His Name will be proclaimed.  We may not understand at the time all the reaches of how this works (and we’re not supposed to try, cf Deuteronomy 29:29**) but we know that He is working things for His glory, and for the good of His people (Romans 8).  And He truly controls all things that come to pass.

As my college friend later came to see (we found each other on Facebook a few years ago) this isn’t problematic:  it’s comforting.  If God controls even the hugely destructive tornado then you and yours can hide in the basement and pray for God’s protection and He can do that.  If God lets the weather go as it will, there is no purpose to any prayer in the midst of a tornado or hurricane.  God won’t do anything.  But knowing that He not only can, but does control the events in this world allows us to pray and to trust in His power and wisdom.  God’s sovereign hand is reigning over all things, and can be trusted to do what is right and just in every circumstance.

So be comforted! God is good and He is powerful and He actively rules over all creation!  The Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth!  Hallelujah!

** This, in part, is what I think was frustrating the pastor I’m responding to.  People do (and did) sometimes presume to know the specific purposes God has in an event like this. And sometimes we get a glimpse of that specific in this life, but usually we don’t.  We know that God is glorifying Himself in what He’s doing.  We don’t know why he spares one person and allows another to go unless we’re specifically told (like with Pharaoh in Romans 9).  I agree that this is presumption and is problematic at best, and should be avoided.  But the solution is not to deny that God is powerful and involved in His creation in intimate detail.  Don’t let frustration with those things that the passage says are secret keep you from rejoicing in and embracing and being comforted by truths that have been revealed like His omnipotent control over all things!