Sunday, May 31, 2009

The God of Cell Phone Static

I grew up hearing the story of my parents being acquaintances in college, my dad going off to war, and then one random day at the School Board, my mother walking down a different corridor than the one she always used and happening upon my father again after all those many years. Coincidence? During my second year of college, I entered a classroom to find only one seat empty—all the way across the room and directly in front of the man who would become my husband. Just another chance encounter?

That’s what most people would say. When a tornado completely destroys one house yet leaves the neighbor’s house untouched, it’s a freak occurrence. When a raging forest fire suddenly stops at a neighborhood and retreats, it’s just by chance. Happenstance, freak accident, chance, coincidence—is life really nothing more than a string of mere random happenings?

How terrifying to think that the God who crafted such an intricate universe, who has literally carved out time for us in His timeless eternity, would leave everything else to chance. Thankfully, with God, nothing is “random.”

In our lifetime, science has even recognized that there is no real, true chaos in the universe. Instead, chaos is ordered and structured in its own way. In James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science, he explains how scientists have discovered that “Nature was constrained. Disorder was channeled, it seemed, into patterns with some common underlying theme” (152). American mathematician John Hubbard concluded that there is “no randomness” in biology: “Everything is highly structured” (239).

Another scientist, Benoit Mandelbrot, even sifted through 62-years of cotton-price data that “saw two World Wars and a depression” to determine that the economy, although appearing “random and unpredictable” was actually not that random but, rather, remained constant (86). Even transmission static on telephone lines is not really random: “the proportion of error-free periods to error-ridden periods remained constant” (92).

Thus, while scientists can’t predict what the economy, the weather, or phone static will do, each seemingly chaotic system is restrained, bound, stable in a sense (44). Why is it stable? Not really random? Because our God is constantly in charge of His entire creation—He is not merely a watchmaker.

Consider the rather lengthy reply God gave to Job concerning His sovereignty in controlling His universe: “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place,…Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens…Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?” (Job 38: 12, 22-29, 32).

Just in this one passage, God says He controls the sun coming up each morning, snow, hail, each bolt of lightening, the wind, each drop of rain, how and where the rain flows once it pools together on the ground, the movement of the stars, each blade of grass, each drop of dew. Wow. Did you hear that? Our God “fathers the drops of dew.”

If our Father is this careful in how He orders and controls His creation, how much more careful is He with us, His most precious creation? As Paul said, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

This week be comforted: with God, there are no accidents, no coincidences, no random chaos. Our God is one who “counts the number of stars; He gives names to all them” (Psalm 147:4). Our God is one who says, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30). He controls all. Think of that the next time you have problems with cell phone static.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Anniversary of Your Death

Today is Memorial Day, a time when many of us stop to reflect on those who sacrificed their lives in service of our country and in support of freedom. My two grandfathers fought in WWII. My father served in Vietnam. Most recently, my brother served in Iraq. Like many other Americans, my family has a rich military heritage full of real-life war stories not found in history books. Some stories are of comrades who were severely wounded or who died in battle, yet whose names hold no significance to most Americans.

Consider this history lesson on God’s sovereignty from a fascinating collection entitled Under God: On July 9, 1755, the French and Indian War was raging in a fight over American soil. As the battle progressed, the American Indians picked off one red-coated British officer after another until only one lieutenant colonel remained mounted high on horseback. Although Indian sharpshooters fired thirteen rounds of ammunition at him and shot two horses out from beneath him, this officer remained uninjured. That evening, he found four holes where bullets had pierced his coat yet had miraculously disappeared before piercing his body.

Several days after the battle in a letter to his brother, the officer wrote, “But by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!” This officer went on to become our first president, George Washington (Mac and Tait, 2004).

Even though war, danger, and death are synonymous in many minds, no one is promised another moment beyond this one. Life and death are ordained by God. Our days are already numbered before we were born, and no man, no bullet, no bomb, no “accident” can shorten the days God has allotted each of us.

The psalmist David penned, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb….Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:13,16). In other words, as the poet W.S. Merwin once put it, every year, we pass the anniversary of our death. God intends to comfort us with the knowledge that a person’s death is not a random accident but that He carefully orchestrates it. We may not know the day or hour, but God already does. Your conception, your birth, your death are all on God’s calendar.

So many people are precious to us—parents, spouses, children, extended family, friends—all of whom we would probably choose to keep close by our side until we crossed over into eternity ourselves. Because we love them so much, each one of us could choose daily to live in fear of their death. Recently, a woman recounted to my mother that her son was finally back from his one-year tour in Iraq, calling it the “worst year of her life.” My mom said she couldn’t relate. While she was concerned about and prayed for my brother’s safety in Iraq, she lived life without the daily, incapacitating worry. She trusted in Jesus’ words: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27).

Many of us still have family and friends who are serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries around the globe. This week, I ask you to continue to pray for them. Write to tell them of your love and support. Send a care package. But leave the worrying to God.

As Christians, we must rest in God’s sovereignty, in his ultimate control over everything, including life and death. The safest place for us to be is in the center of God’s will…even if that means being, like George Washington, in the center of a battlefield.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Oft Ignored Commandment

If I were to ask you to list the 10 commandments, you’d likely start with the “don’ts”--don’t murder, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, don’t worship other Gods, don’t make idols, & don’t covet. Then, you’d probably remember the commandment about honoring your father and mother. While Christians and even many non-Christians abide by these commands as part of a societal moral code, somehow, God’s fourth commandment has slowly become lost among the other “biggies”:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:8-11).

Oh. “That commandment.” The Sabbath: “from evening to evening” (Lev. 23:32).

These verses tell us God observed this command, Himself, when He first created the world, not because He was tired or needed rest, but because He knew we would need rest from our labors. God “set apart” and blessed this one day a week for our benefit. But, are you receiving this blessing? Do you “set apart” the Sabbath or do you, instead, treat it like your personal “catch up” day?

Some might say that observing the Sabbath was just intended for Jews, but, Isaiah clearly states the blessing for obedience to this command is also for non-Jews: "Also the foreigners [Gentiles] who join themselves to the LORD…every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath, and holds fast My covenant; Even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer" (Isaiah 56:6-7).

So, if we truly desire to be obedient to God’s command and to be blessed accordingly, how should we go about keeping the Sabbath holy? To begin with, we should assemble together with God’s people and worship God as Jesus did: “and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16b).

But, what else is acceptable? On the Sabbath, Jesus healed a woman’s back, picked grain because He was hungry, and then gave a couple of lessons implying it was acceptable on the Sabbath to “work” by watering livestock and saving an ox stuck in a ditch (Luke 13-14). So, the Sabbath isn’t about what we “can’t” do as much as it is about what we “can” do. As Jesus tells us, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). We get the privilege of a Sabbath of rest.

First, I don’t believe Jesus was saying we should regularly work our secular jobs on the Sabbath. Instead, I believe he was talking about emergency situations. In fact, “you shall not do any work” seems pretty clear that we should not engage in secular employment (Ex. 20:8). The rest of that verse, “you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you” implies we also shouldn’t ask others to work for us. One way to look at this verse is that we shouldn’t make our children or our employees work for us. Another way to look at it is that when we shop or eat out at restaurants on the Sabbath, we are causing others to have to work for us (read Neh. 13:15-17 for more about “shopping” on the Sabbath).

Next, to obtain God’s blessing, we should spend the Sabbath seeking God and not fulfilling our own desires. As Isaiah promises, “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

How, then, does one keep from “doing your own pleasure” on the Sabbath? These verses imply one should avoid worldly pleasures—this includes watching secular TV shows (including Nascar and other sports) or movies, reading secular material, playing sports, or any other secular hobby or activity that doesn’t draw our minds and hearts to rest and dwell on God’s goodness and gift of creation.

Consider this scene: my family's church is located immediately across the road from a ball field. Each Sunday morning after worship, I see a field bustling with children, parents, family, and friends who have chosen to devote the day to organized children’s sporting events. However, last Sunday, Mother’s Day, there wasn’t a car at the field. In honor of our mothers, not one game was played. I was immediately struck with the irony—we love, respect, and honor our mothers enough to spend the entire day focused on “her.” Yet, we don’t love, respect, and honor God enough to spend the Sabbath with only Him. How sad for us. How many blessings we are missing.

As Christians, we are called to be set apart, and that includes how we spend our Sundays, even if ______ (you fill in the blank) wants to schedule something on that day. I challenge you to consider what steps you need to take to make the Sabbath holy in your household. There are blessings awaiting us and our families if we seek God completely on His holy day.

**For a more in-depth look at working on the Sabbath, read “An Ox in a Ditch.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What Matters Most?

Lately, I’ve been trying to find time for exercise, personal time for me, and time for a consistent quiet time, but for that to happen, I have to give up something, and with three small children plus a paying job I do from home in every spare moment, I’m not sure what I can cut. I’ve already cut out all TV except for (literally) 4 ½ hours per week. I only get an average of five hours of sleep per night. I already feel guilty enough with what little time I spend solely focused on my children and husband, so I can’t cut anymore there. But what about my job, the “overtime” I do?

My issue is one many women and men face: juggling a career, family life, and spiritual life. And the problem in our society is that our jobs, our careers, are winning out, sucking up all our time, and drawing us further away from God. A grass-roots movement entitled “Take Back Your Time” seeks government mandated vacation for all. Their statistics are interesting:

--Americans are working more than those in the 1950s, more than medieval peasants, and more than the citizens of any other industrial country.
--“Mandatory overtime is at near record levels, in spite of a recession.”
--“On average, we work nearly nine full weeks (350 hours) LONGER per year than our peers in Western Europe do.”
-- “Working Americans average a little over two weeks of vacation per year, while Europeans average five to six weeks.”

In essence, we’re spending more and more time at work. The result? Among other things, we have less time for developing solid marriages, training up our children in the Lord, maintaining relationships with our extended families, or being a good witness to even our neighbors.

Worst of all, we leave out God. Do we feel guilty? I think many Christians do. But, I think many Christians also try to argue with God and with the Holy Spirit within them, rationalizing that they just really didn’t have time for prayer or Bible reading or Wednesday night service this week, that they would have given God their best if they could have found a spare moment.

God knew of man’s propensity for busyness. Psalm 46:10 admonishes us to “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, NASB) or, as the King James says, “Be still.” But, how often are you still? I’m not talking about stuck in rush hour traffic or plopped in front of a TV. How often does silence and stillness surround you, when nothing or no one else is begging for your attention? My guess is that’s as rare in your life as it is in mine.

But no matter how long it’s been since you could hear yourself breathe in the silence, you and I both need to stop if we are to hear God speak to us, and that means putting God first before anything, including our careers. Have you ever considered that He may be speaking to you each and every day, but if you are always on-the-go, you may not be able to hear Him?

Look at Elijah’s experience hearing God: “And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12). While God can speak to us via foghorn, here, God was speaking in a “still small voice.” If God had been speaking to you this way, would you have missed Him in all the noise?

Where does God fit into your work-day? Do you regularly take work home with you? Go in earlier and stay later in an attempt to “get ahead”? Accept overtime constantly even when it means no time with your spouse or children? Are you constantly putting your career before Him?

Granted, doing your job “with all your might” to God’s glory (Ecc. 9:10) while also focusing on a relationship with God is a balancing act. But, “being still” with God must be a part of your daily schedule. We put everything else on our jam-packed calendars, so why not God? Don’t just “pencil” God in. Get out your permanent marker and schedule time with Him. And don’t think that you’ll just give God your “spare” time. God gave His son for you. He wants your best.

Know this: what you truly love, you will make time for. Your family. Your children. Your Savior. If you truly love God, then you will make time for Him. Your actions will reveal your heart.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Not Beyond Hope

An article posted this week on Reuters predicts that America is easing out of its recession towards a “possible economic recovery.” Most of us, though, still know many people who have been out of work since last year, so the impact of this most recent economic crisis is still fresh in our minds as we wait, holding our breath and hoping for a better tomorrow.

My concern is that I hear very few people attempting to see the real cause of America’s economic failure. Some blame the housing market, overextended creditors, or giving loans to high credit risks while others say that recessions are merely cyclical. However, I have yet to hear many proclaiming God’s judgment of America’s sin as the chief cause. God says, “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it” (Jeremiah 18:7-10). Now, re-read the preceding verses, replacing the words “a nation” with “America”—brings it much closer to home, doesn’t it?

God both blesses and destroys nations. But, while these verses seem to speak of destruction for a country like ours that embraces sin, I am still encouraged. Note how God says “I will relent” if the nation “turns from its evil.” That means we still have a chance to repent, change our ways, and reclaim America for God.

Too many Christians act like our country is beyond hope, that it is too late. No! We simply cannot have that attitude. David didn’t. When God told him that his and Bathsheba’s son would die, “David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them” (2 Samuel 12:16-17). God, however, did not relent, but after the child dies , “David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped.” (v.20). When his servants did not understand why he wept before and not after the child died, David simply responded, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live'” (v.22).

This is how we should act! Even after God pronounced the judgment, David didn’t have the attitude that it was too late to do anything. He repented; he fasted; he mourned his sin before the Lord until the judgment was fulfilled.

Later, God sent the prophet Jonah with the message that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days. Immediately, “the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them” (v. 5). The king’s words sound much like David’s: “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish” (v.9). This time, though, God stayed His hand: “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (v.10).

The die for America’s complete and utter destruction has yet to be cast. There is still time. Once God brings judgment, it is too late, but before, “Who knows” but that our prayers, fasting, and repentance may change the mind of God. Each day this week, say a special prayer for America. Pray that God will bring a great revival to our land, that many will repent and come to know Him as Savior and Lord, and that He will stay His hand of judgment against our nation.