Sunday, February 24, 2013

Whose Thought Just Went Through My Head?

The word was never used, but the diagnosis was terminal.  Our soft-spoken musings and uncertainty was hushed by a new scan that revealed a shot-gun blast of tumors throughout her body.  There would be no miracle, only a few weeks to get her affairs in order, ensure her heart was right with God, and manage the pain as best as modern medicine can.

Little family. No children. No real property to speak of.  Just four cats, her babies.

Her one request was that her cats all go to good homes.  It's the irony of death's immediacy--only when there's nothing else we can do for ourselves do we turn thoughts completely outwards, towards what we love most.  On her death bed and in tremendous pain, she worried most about her fluffy children being separated, voiced a desire for them to be kept together.

When my mother told me the news, my gut reaction was insta-pessissism.  It would be hard enough to find a new home for four individual cats, much less all four to one owner.  I envisioned her pets going off to the pound, thought of looking up no-kill shelters in the area.

The problem was I had met and loved on at least two of these cats.  One was a stocky deep-chocolate Siamese who liked to head-but you for attention while his motor rumbled as loud as a truck on the highway.  Then, there was the Persian-like dreamsicle cat with his unruly locks and sweet yet shy disposition.

The next afternoon as I stood waiting at the end of the driveway after school for my oldest son's bus, my mother-in-law stood beneath the front live oak, her crouched over and weeding/pruning something in anticipation of Spring's arrival.

She spoke over her back at me about seeing a mouse scampering across the yard.  Then, the words moved towards her thoughts of getting more cats.  Did I know where she could get some?

On a farm, the ebb and flow of barn cats is inevitable.  Sometimes, there are several litters.  Then, those litters succumb to age or the coyote's prowl, meet their end by the yellow and white line running past our house, or simply disappear.

As I stood there and counted, I realized that over the past year, the farm had lost exactly four cats--the nearly-mummified Susie, the orange twins Taffy and Caramello, and the ever-elusive Tuxy who preferred my daughter to anyone else. God had taken away four good mousers and I knew of four more cats looking for a together home.

My mother in law was thrilled.  Yes, she'd take them all.

In my own fleshly desire to be appreciated, to feel important, I would love to take credit for thinking of the dying lady's four cats when my mother-in-law asked that out-of-the-blue question.  My mother could just as easily take credit for being the one who thought to tell me the cats' plight in the first place.

But we all know better. 

God caused my mother to remember to tell me of a problem she couldn't fix on her own.  God then caused my mother-in-law to have that desire in her heart to find feline, not later.  And God caused me to remember one of a million tidbits of information that flows through my cerebral cortex each day.  We were merely tools in the master's hand.

The more of Scripture I read, the more I wonder how many thoughts are actually mine and how many are implanted by the Holy Spirit working within me for the glory of God the Father.

Scripture records numerous instances of this happening.  For instance, in the latter half of Ezekiel, the prophet tells of a coming battle wherein the Chief Prince of Gog and his allies will come up against a peaceful Jerusalem: "Thus says the Lord GOD, 'It will come about on that day, that thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil plan, and you will say, 'I will go up against the land of unwalled villages.  I will go against those who are at rest...'" (Ez. 38:10-11).

The Chief Prince of Gog will believe he has dreamed up this plan to attack an unprotected Israel and to seize its spoils.  Yet, God says a few verses later, "Thus says the Lord God...I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me when I am sanctified through you before their eyes, O Gog" (Ez. 38:14,16, my italics).

Although man thought the idea initiated within his mind, the germ of that idea actually began in the mind of God.  The reason?  To sanctify His holy name, to glorify Himself, and to make Himself known to the entire world.

The same type thing happened with Assyria, which God used to judge Israel for its sin.  In The Message Bible, God says that Assyria is a "weapon of my anger. My wrath is a cudgel in his hands!  I send him against a godless nation,  against the people I’m angry with.  I command him to strip them clean, rob them blind, and then push their faces in the mud and leave them. But Assyria has another agenda; ...Assyria says, ‘Aren’t my commanders all kings? Can’t they do whatever they like?” (Is. 10:5-11).

Much like the Chief Prince of Gog, Assyria's movements were controlled by God.  Here, though, Assyria does not acknowledge its submission to God's will.  Instead, Assyria is puffed up, arrogant, asserting that it is acting of its own free will.  

God makes it clear that such arrogance will be punished: " When the Master has finished dealing with Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he’ll say, “Now it’s Assyria’s turn. I’ll punish the bragging arrogance of the king of Assyria, his high and mighty posturing, the way he goes around saying, 'I’ve done all this by myself. I know more than anyone. I’ve wiped out the boundaries of whole countries. I’ve walked in and taken anything I wanted.'  Does an ax take over from the one who swings it? Does a saw act more important than the sawyer? As if a shovel did its shoveling by using a ditch digger! As if a hammer used the carpenter to pound nails!" (v. 12-16).

Assyria, Gog--they were both tools in God's hand to ultimately sanctify and glorify His holy name before the entire earth.

God says something similar later in the book of Isaiah when He prophesies of King Cyrus long before he is ever born:

"Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him And to loose the loins of kings...:'I will go before you and make the rough places smooth;...I will gird you, though you have not known Me; That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these" (Is. 45:1-7).

Here, The whole point of God guiding Cyrus' actions was so "men" would know that He is the Lord.  It's the same concept--to glorify His name and cause others to know Him.

Later, as Isaiah prophesied, Cyrus did send the Israelites home to their land and support their building a new temple: "He [Cyrus] will build My city and will let My exiles go free, Without any payment or reward" (Is. 45:13).  But, though Cyrus' hands did the freeing, the idea began in the mind of God.

No, I can't mesh together the concept of free will with the idea of God directing my thoughts and actions, but I do believe Scripture to be true, and when both opposing points seem to be true, I must trust God's heart and simply realize that my human thoughts are just not high enough to understand how the seemingly incongruent thoughts really are congruent.

Still, what these passages do clearly tell me is to ward against personal arrogance.

That wonderful idea we had to do _____ or create _____? That spur-of-the-moment decision we made to go _____ or visit _____?  It may not have been our thought at all. Rather, the idea may have initiated in the mind of fulfill His purpose of glorifying His holy name, of causing the whole world to know Him.

One day when I get to heaven, I expect to be shocked at how many ideas I thought to be my own brilliance were actually God's ideas implanted in my mind.

This is a call to humility, to remember that the mightiest of the mighty in Scripture were merely hammers, axes, and saws in God's hand.  God forbid we become puffed up with pride over our own intellect and actions.

It's all about pointing the way to Him, not to ourselves.

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