I’ve been part of a lot of small group environments, and, with out a doubt, the most destructive people in those settings have been the ones who have called themselves ‘mature’ Christians.
>It’s a terrible thing to be in a group of people who simply want to work on spiritual growth, but a few just want to clobber others with religiosity.
Mature Christians are always the ones arguing about Harry Potter, rock music, baptism methods, versions of the Bible, and how to pray correctly. They are cold, judgmental, and gossipy.
>In the small groups I’ve been part of, it was the ‘mature’ Christians destroyed the intimacy of the group and ruined it.
They weren’t committed to the group or the relationships. They were only concerned with getting their needs met. Instead of spiritual curiosity, they possessed religious indignation. Instead of humble self-awareness, they were grossly self-satisfied (and maybe even a little self-absorbed).
I know this isn’t nice to say. I’m not trying to be critical, but sometimes some things just have to be said for fear of others falling into this mold (that’s me and you). So don’t. Please don’t.
I’m not perfect or even close. That’s why I prefer the term ‘seasoned’ Christian, if a term must be used. It is not so absolute. It implies that you’ve been through some stuff but haven’t necessarily arrived yet.
>Rather, a seasoned Christian is dedicated and devoted and still working on it.
Keep working on it, Christian.
When I was getting my theology degree my studies had a pastoral emphasis. Among others, I had to read a book about servanthood. It had a cover of a guy in a tuxedo holding a plunger. I thought it was stupid. And it was. The cover not the book, that is.
No, the book wasn’t about being overdressed for doody duty. It was a statement about remembering, as Christians, that no matter what capacity we occupy or position we hold, we are servants first.
>We hold the dual role of ambassadors…and servants.
In fact, service is our gift to this world. Let’s be honest, there are certain people we just don’t want to give that gift to. Too bad. Get over it.
As Jesus served us, we serve him by serving others. Husbands serve wives and vice versa. Loving parents even find ways to serve their children. Good managers serve their subordinates, which makes better employees. We can serve friends and incorrigible family members—especially them. Find ways. That’s our duty.
>Serving is sacrificial at its core.
It seeks to bring healing and enlightenment to a broken world. Christians should be the best servants. Many times they are. Countless hospitals, relief efforts, literacy programs, and recovery programs have historically been initiated and sustained by Christians serving. There is always room for improvement and reflection. There is never a time for boasting.
>Service must be at the very center of your faith.
Otherwise it is fake and hollow. It has no substance. As James the brother of Jesus said, “Faith without works dead.” (James 2:26) Be sacrificial. Be a servant.
>We live in a day and place where ignorance is the most costly commodity there is, so to speak.
Start by realizing all media has a bias. As I like to say, if you have a pulse you have a bias. Much to their protesting, that goes for the news media as well. So work at informing yourself. Read multiple sources—the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Watch Fox News and CNN.
>You also need to know the news media as a whole mostly votes for Democrats over 80% of the time–and always has.
I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, actually it’s left (Ha!). I simply think this is important to know when reading the ‘news’ and how facts are reported. There’s often a slant.
Part of the professionalism breaks down in philosophy. Too many journalists view their role as a means to “make a difference” or “report the truth” or “affect change.” I even remember hearing this while working on my Mass Communications degree from other students. The problem is, whose truth? Whose change? And for what difference?
>It’s unavoidable for ideology not to break through.
All these imply agenda and activism, and that is not the role of a responsible journalist. The fundamental role and purpose of a journalist is to report the facts, hence the name reporter. But I guess reporting facts gets boring, so ideology bleeds through. Don’t be offended. Just be aware.
>Be a responsible citizen and be an informed one.
Personally, I read around 100 headlines a day and about 10% of those articles from a variety of sources.
Being ignorant is dangerous. Being informed is effective.
I once read (ironically) that only 20% of the population actively and regularly reads. I’ll bet it’s less now.
Reading is different than anything else. Listening to things and watching things is great, but it is passive. Nothing engages you like reading. You use your eyes, imagination, and all corners of the mind. It’s introspective and cathartic.
>Nothing causes you to learn like reading.
I know I sound like an old-timer on this—like this is something gramps would say. That’s fine with me. I’ll take it. I love being grouped with the old wisdom of the seasoned generation. The fact is, this is true. There’s something about reading that becomes part of who you are.
>If there’s anyone that should be reading, it’s Christians.
Our whole culture revolves around Scripture. (You know, THE BIBLE!) Obviously, read the Bible, but also take in the reflections, experience, and studies of others. Read the inspiration of others, fiction, nonfiction, history, and news. And if you are rooted in the Word, you will be able to sift through and discern both Christian and non-Christian content. And don’t think that just because someone is a Christian, what they write is necessarily Biblically accurate or inspired, including Jason T. Berggren (that’s me!).
>Reading can literally increase you intelligence.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Those that read. And those that don’t. Be a reader. Be a Barean.
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”-Acts 17:11, NIV
Anyway, Data was a brilliant character because he was always completely anomored with everything about the human experience. What humans took for granted, brought him thrills and excitement as he mimicked and experienced music, food, poker, and punch lines for the first time.
Why did he do all this? “I aspire to be more than I am,” he responded. It was so pure—so insightful. Too bad it was scripted.
>I have known, and still do, many people who are content with apathy, and, frankly, there is nothing more revolting.
An otherwise talented, intelligent, and unique individual whose primary character trait is that of being content with mediocre is a person that is disgusting. Sorry, but it is true. That is how marriages fail, families create unhealthy environments, and leaders destroy perfectly useful and productive organizations.
If you have any thought that Jesus is okay with this, quit now. If you don’t aspire to be more than you are, you will not grow or learn. If you don’t seek to be better, you will only hurt yourself and those around you. That status quo must go.
>As an authentic follower of Jesus, you must aspire to me more than you are.
Anything else is stagnation, disgusting, and eventually destructive.
I’m not like a lot of people. I don’t think all anger is bad.
>I have always thought that positive momentum begins with negative tension: As you see the situation around you, you get frustrated and a little angry, and begin to put a plan together to get beyond the mire.
This can apply to all areas of life. It can be a simple as remodeling a bathroom. It’s falling apart, makes you mad, so you grab the sledgehammer and go to town. Your new bathroom begins with a bit of negative tension. Likewise, your new career, marriage, or family plan all begin with identifying what must change—or what makes you angry.
>Sometimes anger can be good, but anger is dangerous.
It is like fire. It’s a great tool when you’ve got it under control. You clean up the yard and burn off the debris. No moving big piles of junk. You’re hungry and cook a delicious Rib Eye and baked potato out on the grill. But when fire gets out from under your control, it is a tyrannous villain and master.
Because of hidden anger you will hurt friendships, kill intimacy in a marriage, and crush the spirits of your children. It will cause harsh words and short-tempered outbursts frequently and for insignificant reasons.
>Anger will destroy your life like a wrecking ball if you don’t deal with it, keep it in check, and diffuse it.
If it is something, like me, that has fused itself to you and you’ll need help navigating it. But do it no matter what it takes.
Deal with it, because anger is a ferocious master. Don’t let it master you. It will make you subservient to it.
“…Do not become angry easily, because anger will not help you live the right kind of life God wants.” -James 1:19-20
I didn’t want to do this for several reasons. Mainly, because I thought everyone else would. But then I realized they probably wouldn’t. When something big, emotional, and traumatic crosses our paths, sometimes it’s easier to forget about it. But sometimes there is value in remembering the thing you want to forget forever. It can clarify what’s important to you. In a sense, by remembering the hard things you refresh your list of priorities.
I remember it like it was yesterday…
I was living with my wife in our first house in Ft. Lauderdale. I had taken a job at an insurance repair business as a supervisor of a small crew. We repaired water and fire damage, mainly. My wife and I were also deep in the process of helping start a church in Miami, FL.
This particular day I was working alone. My job was to go to south Miami(Kendall, I think) to do some punch-out on an apartment building that the company had the contract on. I have always been a news junky, so I had the radio on in my work van while driving.
Just as I had arrived there was a new flash about a small commuter plane that had accidentally flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings. Of course, in a short time I would learn that both those details were quite wrong.
At that point, I had no reason to be overly concerned or worried. I thought it was awful, but I had no idea. So I gathered my tools and went into the apartment building to work.
I set up and went to work. I put on my little portable radio and started painting a door jam. While I was working and listening a second plane suddenly hit the other World Trade Center building. That’s when I knew it wasn’t an accident.
From there, the news was patchy. I was lacking focus and momentum, because I was a little afraid by this time. I continued working. I was dragging, but what else could I do?
And then the first building collapsed.
The news wasn’t clear on this at first. That’s because it was so unbelievable. Eventually, the truth was clear: The building was gone. I was in shock and sick.
The other one fell.
By this time, I couldn’t work. I decided to take an early lunch. Mind you, I had only been working some 30 or so minutes. So I took my lunch in the van and listened to the radio. And listened. And listened.
Finally, I decided I couldn’t work. I was just so distraught. So I packed up, went home, and watched the TV coverage all day and late into the night. I couldn’t watch and couldn’t stop, all at the same time.
I went to work the next day. I also continued to watch the news coverage at night. But by the weekend, I couldn’t anymore. It was just too much. And that is the main approach I’ve taken since then.
I remember only when necessary.
Several years ago, I flew up to Connecticut to help my Dad move. He lived in the south west portion of the state, which functioned as a suburb of New York City.
Through the course of the day, neighbors would stop by to wish my Dad well (we were pushing out the next day). One neighbor got to talking. We all sat on the grass in the spring sun. They had a beer and I had a Coke (since I hate beer, and all).
He got to talking about his big brother. Stories of childhood, being best friends, best men at each others weddings, etc. ensued. So I asked if his brother lived in the area.
That’s when he told me all about September 11th. And I remembered it all over again. His brother worked in one of the buildings.
He proceeded to recount the events of the day—from his perspective. He cried all the while. This was a big dude. He was a construction worker, big and burly. So it had quite an impact on me. I looked at the situation totally different. I’m glad he shared his story. In that moment, it brought clarity and does just as strongly every time I remember.
Remembering the things we never want to remember is hard. But sometimes it is good to. It helps us think on what is most important to us.
What were you doing that day?
*Remembering Never is something I repost each year, since there’s no better way for me to say all this.
You probably have heard that all sin is equal in the eyes of God or that He weighs every sin the same. Christians like to say this to make themselves feel better about themselves. It’s a lie. If you believe this you’ve been tricked.
I think the idea builds on Scriptures like, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23) Sure, every sin will lead us to hell if we don’t have the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.
>But it is wrong to assume God weighs every sin the same from this.
And believe it or not, it is important to understand this.
When contrasting the hypocritical permissiveness of the religious people (and their justification of it) Jesus said;
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” -Matthew 23:23–24
And then there was the time Jesus’ seemed to want to ease the conscience of Pilate. Pilate wanted to release Jesus but the mob demanded his death. Jesus said:
“The one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” -John 19:11
The apostle Paul emphasizes over and over themes like:
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” -1 Corinthians 6:18
And let’s not forget the Old Testament. There were more costly sacrifices required depending on the severity of sin.
>Let me also make it clear, God does not love or value anyone any less based how more or less severe an individual’s sin is.
I believe He loves everyone equally. That is true. Perhaps this where the ‘all sin is equal’ idea comes from, but they are not the same.
Why is this all important? I’m not legalistic or some sinner basher or truth detector. We face danger, however, in attempting to justify our sins by their size.
>We suffer from what I like to call God is my buddy and Jesus is my pal syndrome.
All sins deserve God’s judgment, but not all receive the same judgment. We need to remember that God is holy.
Forgiveness is immediate and brings life, but the measure of consequence is different. It has different affects. My wife is going to treat me cheating on my taxes quite a bit differently than if I cheat on her.
We will fall into greater and greater sin if we think what we are doing is not so bad or not as bad as what so and so is doing.
Ultimately, sin will lead us away from God. That’s the bottom line. That’s why this is important. We need to look at it for what it is.
What if I told you the existence of evil is actually evidence of God’s true goodness. Sound outrageous? It is, but it’s true. Imagine if we could keep that mind when bad stuff happens. But let me explain first. Be warned, this is gonna sound a bit ‘churchy.’ There’s just no way around it.
>The ability to sin is an echo of God’s goodness—it shows how good God really is. Actually, it screams of how great he is.
Yes, you read that correctly.
God created us to be loved and to love. For love to be pure and real, it must be built on choice. There’s no mystery or romance in a love that’s mechanical. There’s no sincerity in a choice that’s forced. That’s not love. The teddy bear that says, “I love you!” when squeezed does not actually love anyone.
God didn’t make robots.
>Because God is perfect, because he’s unselfish, because God is good to his core, because he’s great in all his ways, he gave us the ability to choose.
Only then can there be true and complete love. It was dangerous for God to do this, as we now know. But it was the only way for it to be real love.
Then and now, we can choose to love and trust God, his ways, and his goodness—or not. When we don’t, whether or not we realize it, it’s because we have an issue with God’s sovereignty.
>Questioning the goodness of God comes down to a sovereignty issue.
That is, will we respect him, his nature, and that things are the way they are for whatever reason He has decided?
If you’ve ever read the stor of Adam and Eve in Genesis, you know they didn’t. And ‘forbidden fruit’ has become a metaphor for so many difficult choices in life.
Remember, if our Enemy can trick us into thinking God doesn’t know what’s best, or that God’s not really in control at all (or not doing a good job), or that he isn’t good, then it won’t be long before we stop believing God is real.
>The world is the way it is and things are the way they are because that’s the way God sees fit to let it be for now.
There may be a plan or reason, or, even worse, there may not be.
- So, can we (you) accept that God is good and that the world is fundamentally in a broken state?
- Can you accept that these may not be mutually exclusive—that both can exist, and often do, at the same time?
That means sometimes things are ordered and sometimes things just happen and are random. If we can do that, then there can even be purpose to our existence and value in each experience, whatever that may be—then we’ll mature and gain wisdom.
Why is it like this? I don’t know. This is why striving to be content is so important. It’s the precursor to wisdom and maturity—perhaps something Adam and Eve didn’t have the experience of life to glean from.
>But if I can let God be sovereign and not try to put myself in his place by deciding how things should be in the thick of my own emotions, I’m on the path to healing, rebuilding, comfort, and peace.
The idea that God is good is at the very core of creation. God started with “Let there be light.” And when he was all finished, he looked at everything, took stock of it, and declared it good. Creation—existence itself—is good by just being.
The very fact that there is life, the creative force set in motion by God, is daily evidence of his goodness.
>The bottom-line: Our understanding of the goodness of God will determine our journey.
If we don’t accept that God is good, our faith won’t survive the trials of life. It’s as unwavering as day and night are fastened in their places. Sometimes that’s not enough for us, but it’s always true.
Yes, sometimes you’ll wonder, but always come back to it:
God is good.
Read all these related posts in order here:
I’ve been talking about our understanding of God’s goodness and how nothing affects our journey in life more (than how we view it).
Last week I said:
>God is good, but sometimes you’ll wonder, and it’s okay.
But we need to talk about the brokenness in this world because it is undeniable.
It is the result of sin. Yes, I know that is a very churchy and uncomfortable word. Too bad. It’s true. Call it brokenness, evil, or bad, but nothing says it better than good old fashioned sin.
Sometimes it’s because of a person’s sin, their choices—or sometimes our own. Like when someone chooses to drink and then drive. Then he ends up smashing into a car full of teens on their way home from a Friday night football game. They all die because of his sin.
>But then there’s evil that we’re the recipients of due to no one’s apparent choice.
For example, my son is had minor, but very painful, medical procedure a couple years ago. It will be one of several he has to have. He’s covered with strange bumps on his skin. It started as just one. Now there’s about a hundred.
One afternoon I had to reluctantly bring him to the doctor as, one by one, they’ll be scraped off. (Don’t worry; he got a chocolate milkshake on the way home.)
Why did my innocent little seven-year-old have to go through this? Why did he have to deal with a belly covered in scabs for days after? Why did he have to endure this whole process several times over? Why did he have to endure this pain? He didn’t choose it and fought off tears when just thinking about it.
It’s because of sin. Not his, of course, but an earlier one.
>This world is broken for the time being.
It’s a brokenness that entered just after the dawn of humanity. And it was a choice.
Most people know the story and the characters: Adam and Eve. God told them to enjoy all that he created. It was all good. He also told them to stay away from one tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That was the one thing they shouldn’t choose. But they did.
With this one choice, sin entered the world. With this one choice, the goodness of God would forever be questioned and doubted.
>Choice was the gateway for sin and the fuel for all future doubts.
We all suffer from sin, whether we choose it or not. It surrounds us. But there’s also good in the world that brings healing. It battles the brokenness of sins past. It fights against sins present. That goodness is in God and from God. And it’s best expressed and represented in the life and sacrifice of his son Jesus.
But you might be thinking I never answered the question:
If there’s a God and he’s good, why does he still let bad things happen?
It may sound outrageous and counterintuitive, but the existence of evil is actually evidence of God’s true goodness.
But I’ll explain that next week…
Read all these related posts in order here:
I’ve laid out a lot of emotions that I sift through to get back and eventually accept that God is good, and the consequences if I don’t (Anger Management, Good & Mad…at God?, Let’s Make A Deal, God, If God Is Good, Then He Will…, Good, God &, Evil). And if all this doesn’t help me accept it, I try to keep in mind what will happen if I don’t. I may stop believing anything at all.
>Although we might be hurting, upset, let down, confused, frothing with frustration, questioning, doubting, scared of future pain, or filled with skepticism, we can learn to accept that God is good.
This is an essential survival skill for our faith.
Even though we might not be fully convinced or totally believe it while in our mess, we’re capable of accepting it.
This is, perhaps, the flipside of these emotions. It’s when they can be positive and a good thing. Specifically, passion can fuel you to pursue, achieve, and endure. It can fuel you to finish graduate school, stay committed to your entrepreneurial idea, and make a bad relationship better—or accept that God is good when times are tough. This passion for God, his nature, and his character can be the determination we need to get through.
>God is good, but sometimes you’ll wonder, and it’s okay.
You can still learn to accept the premise.
There’s evil in our world—that much is undeniable. It’s the source and reason for our pain. Why is it here? This cannot be left unanswered, since it’s actually what battles what is good. It always has.
But more on that next week…
Read all these related posts in order here:
If there is a God, and He is good, then what about all this evil in the world?
Makes sense. And besides the disappointment and pains of life, I don’t have everything I want. I’m not living in my dream house. I’m not as smart as I want to be. There’s so much, and so many ways, to wonder if God is good.
So how can we be convinced that God is good in the midst of our personal misery or frustrated desires?
We probably can’t.
>Actually, my purpose in raising this objection is not to convince the unsure to be certain that God is good.
Although I would love nothing more than to always be fully convinced of this, and to fully persuade others, I also recognize that my confidence will likely change with the next pain. I’m not trying to convince.
What’s possible is to learn to accept the premise even though we might question it, find it hard to believe, or aren’t fully convinced in the moment. This comes down to navigating the dangerous waters of emotions we go through in that gap—the Happiness Trap, depression, anger guilt, fear, etc. We can’t pretend they’re not there. We can’t ignore them. We must watch for warnings, mark the course, and weather through them. Only this way will they not consume us.
Thousands of years ago, the prophet Jeremiah warned his fellow Hebrews:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 tniv)
He knew that so much of where we end up in life hinges on how we process those risky emotions. After thousands of years, it’s still true. They can trick you into buying stock on a tip that’s obviously too-good-to-be-true. They can get you believing you don’t love someone anymore (since love is, of course, a choice).
>Even worse, feelings can even get us wondering if God is good.
In Gethsemane, Jesus’ flesh was weak. Part of him didn’t want to let him believe that God was still good. But his spirit knew it to be true, accepted it, and moved forward.
Can we do that? We have to learn to or our faith will not endure.
Read all these related posts in order here:
Last week I talked about getting Good & Mad at God. It’s not something to be proud of, but it’s not something to ignore. It happens so we have to deal with it. But there’s more to say…
>Often, when I get mad there is a pervasive thought and feeling that something isn’t right.
It’s true. Something isn’t right. The world is broken, and we all suffer the results. We’re made to live in it and navigate the consequences, even the ones that aren’t self-inflicted. It’s easy to get angry about it.
What’s dangerous is that when a person is mad, he or she tends to do things they wouldn’t normally do.
>Anger skews perspective, clouds judgment, and rattles self-control.
Ever known anyone who has let pain set them on a course that has completely changed them for the worse? It’s when a person can suspend principles, ethics, and standards of morality in order to indulge one’s self. No one just all-of-a-sudden ends up a good-for-nothing, a completely different person. Sometimes it begins with a simple happiness fix. But more often, underneath it all is the strange and misled vengeance of trying to get back at God, or to hurt God, for letting all this happen. The irony is that we end up hurting only ourselves and the people around us.
>Anger untamed and unresolved turns the heart bitter and cold.
A bitter person refuses to see anything good at all in life. Constant complaining and seeing the negative side of everything is the norm. What’s worse, it only perpetuates and amplifies the original pain. The best solution is to find a way to face the situation and deal with it rather than making deals, inebriating, or trying to get God back. Who knows, maybe even look at the bright side of life?
How do I deal with anger?
When I’m ready, I aggressively pray (honest and frustrated praying, that is). I talk to God, to friends, to my wife. I go to the movies and briefly get alone. I read a fiction book. I eventually also read the Bible and pray for wisdom and comfort. All this helps me change my normal way of thinking and makes room for better ideas and insight. Through small changes in my routine I’m able to change my perspective.
The point is, I don’t stay alone and fester, letting my mind stray and skew my view of reality. I’ve figured out the pattern by which I get to productive solutions. Everyone has to do that, because bitterness is just over the horizon.
>We can’t pretend we aren’t mad at God for not making things easier or better.
Sometimes it’s confusing and messy—all relationships are. The point is, at whatever cost and effort, work it through. That’s how relationships end up working out in the end, even a relationship with God.
Be honest, be mad, work it out, be done with it, and move on. That’s the best way to manage your anger. That’s the right way to manage your anger.
Read all these related posts in order here:
There’s an old song I know called What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor? It was one of the many songs my dad and his friends would belt out when sharing a pilsner and playing their guitars at parties. They’re Swedish, so they love boats. In fact, they leisurely sailed across the ocean for two years, visiting many parts of Europe, North Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Caribbean, before landing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (where I’m from). I even lived on a sailboat for the first couple years of my life.
It’s an old sea shanty song. Sailors would go round and round through the verses to help the time pass as they worked through their duties.
The song is about what to do in the event you discover a sailor drunk and passed out on the ship in the morning. All the remedies involve either teaching him a lesson or getting rid of him—like shave his belly with a rusty razor or tie him in knots and throw him over. Why? Because he’s either a complete reprobate or very angry.
Most people don’t know any drunken sailors. But we know someone who shares similar characteristics of one. Maybe we’ve acted like that a time or two in a rough patch ourselves.
>We all get mad at God.
I think it’s all part of the process of dealing with the deep pains of life while we’re living in the gap between the situation that has caused the pain and deciding if God is still good. The question is, what do you do from there?
My wife was recently sick, real sick. Laid up in bed and weak. I changed my work schedule to take care of her (and to keep the kids on the other end of the house). Mainly, I was just trying to leave her alone and let her relax. Actually, I had to force her to do nothing. She’s not very good at it. She’s a bit of a busybody. Rather than having her be sick for several days, I was trying a new strategy. I made her stay still to see if the sickness would go away sooner. And it did.
The kids started to miss her during the day. Dad is just not as patient, creative, or attentive with them as she is.
We were watching TV when my oldest son looked at me and reluctantly shared his thoughts. He said, “I know we’re supposed to think about God the most, but when Mommy’s sick I think about her more.” It was a connection he made on his own. So I told him, “I understand. I do the same thing. It’s okay, God understands.”
It scared me. Whether or not he understood it, he’s on the way to questioning the goodness of God. He’s also on his way to having to deal with anger. In his own way, he was caught up in the process I’ve been describing: Mom is sick (life’s hard and I’m disappointed), I want her to feel better (God, can you change this situation and bring a ray a sunshine?), she’s not getting better and I keep thinking about it (when will God do something about this?), I don’t know what to do. My son’s not old enough yet, but one day he’ll understand that something isn’t right, and it will evolve into getting mad.
>I only hope he’ll figure out how to work through it before it turns into bitterness.
And that’s the real challenge for all of us: How we view God’s goodness in the middle of our pain can be the determining factor in our faith and if it endures.
Read all these related posts in order here:
*Last week I started this subject with part 1:If God Is Good, Then He Will…. Today is part 2 of 2.
I don’t know why. I just do.
>Every once in a while, I think God owes me one.
I negotiate in order to gain God’s favor, so he’ll deliver me bad moments as I talked about in part 1 last week.
My hope is that I can avoid the full weight of the pain. Perhaps God will even throw in a small measure of “happiness” to move me along the road to recovery and healing, so I can get back to my “normal.” Although this won’t mature me, I’ll settle for it.
I even make changes to sweeten the deal and convince God I mean business.
I’ll pretend to be better than I am. I might have a patch of real benevolence and send some money to help starving children or to build wells for tribes in Africa.
I’ll go to church more often and more regularly: Sunday, Wednesday, and a Bible study. I’ll read the Bible every day and pray several times a day.
I might turn into the best husband ever for a week, with kind words, flowers, cooking and doing dishes. I morph into father-of-the-year for a few days. I get home late but still play Candy Land and build forts in the living room with the kids. I comment positively on the littlest things the boys do and tell them how amazing, talented, and smart they are—that they can be and do anything they want to do in life (which is ironic, of course, since I’m struggling with the disappointments of life myself).
>Trying to make deals with God isn’t productive because it usually doesn’t work.
Essentially it’s not sincere and doesn’t yield long-term change. Therein lies the problem with deals. I think God knows what I’m trying to do, which is partly why it doesn’t work.
Making deals also makes pain worse, because I start to get mad that it’s not working. This too gives God the blame, even though I am the one making the deals in the first place. It’s all twisted. Plus, getting mad can turn into anger and evolve into bitterness, if we aren’t careful.
And this leads to the real problem: It leads me to start to doubt the goodness of God. Let’s not forget:
>Our understanding of the goodness of God will determine our journey.
Read all these related posts in order here:
>Because the bottom line is: Your understanding of the goodness of God will determine your journey.
Thanksgiving memories are usually fond ones, aren’t they? Turkey, gravy, smashed potatoes, stuffing, apple pie. But what about the other side of the holidays? The less popular stuff? The things we try to gloss over and forget because we hate them, like the consequences of eating too much, spending too much, fighting too much.
Thanksgiving 2008 reminds me of one thing: vomit. (Unfortunately, that’s not the only Thanksgiving that reminds me of this—but that’s another story from my other book.)
That night, one by one, my wife, my one-year-old, my four-year-old, my six-year-old, and I began what would become a 24-hour cycle of violent vomiting. We were all lying in beds and on floors near the bathrooms surrounded by towels and blankets. We ran out of clean ones in no time.
Physically and emotionally, I felt terrible. Movements that normally would require little to no effort became monumental undertakings. I was constantly on the verge of passing out. Even worse, I was helpless to assist my fatigued wife and frail children.
It wasn’t long before I started making deals with God while curled up on the bathroom floor:
“God, if you just make this go away, I’ll never again eat appetizers of chips, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, three plates of food in a row followed by apple pie and a hot fudge sundae. In fact, I’ll never overeat again. Do you hear me? I’ll also NEVER eat unhealthy things again. I vow this day to never again eat two dozen chicken wings and a full basket of onion rings while washing it down with a chocolate milkshake. No more Coke, chips, ketchup, French fries, or cheese popcorn. From now on I’ll only eat granola, egg whites, brussel sprouts, and carrot juice. No bad carbs. Only transfat free. And all organic. No more synthetic food for me— if you just make all this go away.”
If God is good, then he will… Right?
Ever make deals like that with God when life isn’t turning out like you want? I have. I do.
>Making deals with God is destructive and disappointing.
Read all these related posts in order here:
*Last week I started this subject with part 1:God Isn’t Good. Today is part 2 of 2.
Over the last few years, my wife and I have developed a friendship with a lady who relocated to the Atlanta area after Hurricane Katrina devastated her home and her life, not long after cancer had taken her son.
Having not been able to evacuate, on the night of the storm she woke up to a cracking noise. She stepped out of bed into a house filled with water. A tree had fallen into her bathroom. She waded across the street to her elderly neighbor’s house, which was on higher ground.
The next day, looking out her neighbor’s window, she watched the water rise to the roof of her house. She could see her possessions washing away. Parts of her house crumbled. The storm also claimed several of her pets.
Is God good?
Sometimes she still wonders, in times of deep reflection.
I could go on and on with story after story. Everyone has one or two, or three or four, or five or six. A person doesn’t have to live long before he or she starts facing disappointment, tragedy, or pain that tests the foundation of the soul. These experiences create an emotional and mental burden that’s often difficult to navigate and impossible to carry.
>Sometimes life crushes us. Sometimes life breaks us.
How does one reconcile the innate skepticism that seems to be the only consistent company during misfortune and heartache? It’s as if the steel of every soul and foundation of every person’s faith has a few hairline cracks that an experience or two can break.
This leaves me asking myself if our questions disappoint or offend God. Is it wrong to challenge his intentions, or his very nature? Is he displeased with our apparent variance of soul? With the pause in our devotion? With the rough patch in our otherwise absolute faith? How can I possibly think God is good, or wants the best for me, in the midst of the personal misery that life is peppered with?
I think it’s good to question that premise.
I know it sounds like crazy talk, but if we never wonder if God is good, how will we know?
How can we be sure if we don’t honestly ask? After all, even God’s own Son wondered about it.
While suffocating in gruesome peril on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45).
>Although sinless and flawless in how he lived, in this terrible moment even Jesus wondered: Is God still good?
Never has anyone questioned the premise more passionately.
The shortest verse in the Bible simply states, Jesus wept. But perhaps even more potent is what we hear in his words on the cross about being forsaken.
So here we are, left to live on, trying to figure it out, still wondering if it’s wrong. So many times I’m stuck in the thick of needing solace and healing, and it doesn’t arrive.
So many times I find myself with raised fist damning God in my heart because I think he isn’t good. I so much want to sort this out, return, and mature. How do we make sense of it and put it all back together?
There’s often a range of emotions I have to sift through before I’m willing to consider that God is good again. Sometimes I go through several. Sometimes it’s just one. If the pain is deep, I’ll wade through them all. And within this gap, there’s much that can undermine my faith.
Yes, question and doubt. But pursue.
The point is: never give up and I never give in.
Read all these related posts in order here:
So Prometheus comes out today. This is one of my favorite mythologies in film. The Alien creature as originally introduced by Ridley Scott will always be the 2nd best villain ever in moviedom. And I mean that in a good way. (If you’re wondering, Darth Vadar is #1). I have seen the Alien movies dozens of times. So needless to say, I am really looking forward to seeing it.
In any event, I had a friend (and a Strongarm fan) email me about some ideas of God and the origins of human life that Prometheus seems to delve in to. He had some great questions which is why I want to hit on the ideas briefly here.
“From what I have read, this movie will explore the idea that God may not have been our Creator, but “aliens” or extraterrestrials did. What do you think of that?”
This is a great question. Sure, there were a few other things he said, but this was the important part. This question also alludes to many other interesting thoughts as well, which is why I wanted to post the highlights of mt response to him.
>The idea of aliens seeding life on earth, is nothing new.
Even Richard Dawkins (the famous atheist) thinks that may be the case. Which is interesting considering atheists pride themselves on disavowing foolish theories and obvious ‘myths’ for what is scientifically able to be proven (often called a philosophy of Naturalism). Go figure. In fact, X-Files hammered this point all the time. Part of the reason I loved it so much. I LOVE sci-fi.
Do I think that is what happen? No. Not even close.
I suppose I am ‘narrow-minded’. I do believe in the Genesis account. There is much to be said on that–understanding Hebrew narrative, poetry, oral tradition, etc.–but as for the major events and spiritual truths, I hold them to be absolute. Here is a great message on understanding the meaning behind the genesis account by a Christian philosopher, John Rankin, I hold in high regard.
I think the question comes because often people will feel that they are limiting God for thinking we are the only life (like us) in the universe. It is often characterized as small minded or even selfish. As if ALL THIS is only for little old me?
This idea does not ‘limit’ God or the possibilities in a way that demeans him. On the contrary. It does the opposite.
Often people think it arrogant to think that God created all the universe with only us in mind–as if it is merely a painting for us to look at. In many ways it is, it represents his majesty and ability. And let’s not forget what it took for him to create it all: simply speaking it.
By his mere word it was all birthed into existence. In reality, it’s no big deal for him–to create us and all the universe. It’s as if it took him 5 minutes of his time, which is eternal and infinite.
>And in reality, to think otherwise is actually what limits him and not vice versa.
Why? Because we are confining God the measures of our understanding.
He loves us enough to make all this for us. It expresses his nature, power, and glory. And it keeps life interesting and beautiful for us as we learn and explore it all.
Just my 2 cents.
Enjoy the film! I’m seeing it in 3D at 10:30 AM tomorrow!
*This is part 1 of 2. You can read part 2 here.
God isn’t good. There, I said it. That’s what I’ve been thinking too many times at pivotal points throughout my twenty-four-year faith journey. It’s hard to come to terms with or admit.
I’ve never verbalized it before. Perhaps I didn’t want to be so brave, or maybe I didn’t want be so irreverent. There’s so much that rips at the fabric and undermines the alleged—and assumed—premise of God being good. Life has a way of pushing you toward cynicism.
>But I confess: When life sucks, I think God isn’t good.
When there are hardships and things aren’t going my way, or the way I want or think they should go, my tendency is to doubt, and eventually deny, that God is, or could be, good. It’s my default reaction. I’m not saying I’m right. I’ve long wrestled with the fact that I might be horrible for thinking it. At best, I’m not as mature as I should be. And the more difficult the experience, the more potent my questioning.
It’s not just me.
I’ve noticed that many people wonder about this more frequently than they’d like to admit. Everyone has a different way of saying it, but it seems to be the first impulse for so many when there’s pain and disappointment in life: If God is so good, then why would he let [insert painful situation here] happen? It’s common to wonder.
Do you wonder at those times? I do.
>Let’s be honest about our doubts and struggles.
It’s the first step toward working though this issue, which I will talk about in part 2 of this post next week. So come back, but for now:
When are the times in your life that you’ve thought God isn’t good?
Read all these related posts in order here:
>One indispensable trait of my faith is: perseverance.
Giving up is easy. We do it all the time. Everyone’s quit a job or dumped a boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes it gets more serious.
We may change or major halfway through college, because our first choice was too hard. I did that. I changed from Broadcast Communications to Mass Communications after 2 D’s in College Algebra. I loved math (and was good at it) until they mixed letters in with the numbers. I was smart enough to pass. I just didn’t want to put in the time and effort.
>Perseverance is one of the most important qualities you can develop in your pursuit of faith.
It is something I pray for in my kids nearly every night. It’s just that quitting is such an ugly trait to be characterized by. It’s destructive, defeating, and robs you of a better future.
Starting something is easy, but follow-through is much more difficult and way more valuable. It is something that can be built on. It is what finishes.
>Things worth doing, are worth doing right, doing well, and finishing.
If your faith is the most important thing to you, and it should be, then you must be persistent in the pursuit. You must persevere whatever comes your way. I once wrote and sang some lyrics on this for some friends that appeared on their EP I’ve Lost All Faith In Myself. I wrote:
“Never give up. And never give in.” –The Call, Venia
What else is there to say? Again, you must persevere.