Assumptions – Coloring Our World with Misinformation

I spent part of a night last week freezing in a hotel room that wasn’t heated. Clearly, the owners of the hotel were having a hard time making ends meet. Outside, the hotel was newly painted, but had a rickety look about it, sagging in places hotels ought not to sag. I was glad I was on the lower level.

I told myself the heat was off for the season to save money. It wasn’t that I didn’t fiddle around with the thermostat. There was a plastic cover over the dial, and tape around its edges which I didn’t want to break into. I could have complained, but I had just traveled three hundred miles listening to some sermon tapes about “speaking no evil.” Meanwhile, I was cold and fuming. Several hours into the cold, I took one more look at the thermostat. Only then did I notice what I would have found out very quickly, if I had asked. A dial, somewhat hidden, was there and accessible all the time.

As the room warmed, I asked myself what other assumptions I’ve been making . . . About people, about possibilities, about family, about life. Where else have I confused a thought, an assumption with reality? Assumptions can color our world with misinformation. Assumptions about God can crash into our lives, leaving us feeling forgotten, lost and afraid.

I’ve been leading a group using Adam Hamilton’s resource, “Why, Making Sense of God’s Will.” Hamilton points out that if we’re assuming our Christian faith will protect us from loss, heartache and hardship, we will one day be very disappointed in God. I think it is our generation which made a leap in Christian thought to get to that point. People in earlier times looked to God for strength in the hard times. Nothing in their lives, indicated that if they were just good people, misfortune would not come to their door. Women were dying in childbirth and minor infections turned deadly. Too many children were resting in cemeteries lost to diphtheria, small pox, pneumonia and other diseases of the past, for any false assumptions about Christians being immune to suffering.

God’s promise then, as now, is to be with us . . . To walk with us in all the places we journey to. God promises to take our deepest hurt, our greatest heartache, our gut wrenching losses and bring the best that can come out of the worst that can happen to us. We call it resurrection living. If you’re tying to make sense of God’s will today, know that God simply wants you to know that you are loved. Your outward circumstances are not the determination of the measure of God’s love. The cross stands for all time as a reminder, that you are loved with a limitless love.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  . . .  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 37-38

Revolving Doors and The Grace of Interruptions

I went through a period when my home became a constant revolving door. I moved to a new church the year my youngest son went off to college. With just one child left at home, I told my youngest daughter, how strange it was going to be with just the two of us. What I hadn’t expected, was a returning college graduate who couldn’t find a job, or a son taking time off from college.

Through the next eight years, I would be surprised by one or another of my young adult children returning. A divorce, a marriage, going back to school, getting out of the Navy, changing schools, another college graduate waiting on a job, were reasons to move in with mom. Stays might last a couple of months, or at other times a year or two or three. My friends would start conversations by asking how many children were with me on that day. Keeping track of my changing and evolving family life must have been a challenge for my neighbors. Cars would fill my driveway and spill into the street. For a brief period I had the house to myself. Yet, a mere two months later five kids were back home.

I understand this phenomenon started in the 90’s, but has become even more common among today’s parents. The high cost of housing has caused many young people to detour on the way out of the family home. This ebb and flow of returning family members demands from all a great deal of flexibility in dealing with one other. Along with revolving children, are the interruptions that accompany such movement. Oddly, it is in those interruptions to what has been planned, that real living gets done.

Interruptions cause us to reorient ourselves and our focus. They force us to determine what is valuable and what isn’t . . . what is necessary and what is simply excess. More often than not, interruptions give opportunity to work at relationships, lend support and encouragement, assist with a need or simply be the listening ear someone else needs. They can be blessings as we open ourselves to what God has to say to us through them.

Years have passed since the last child stayed for a time. Looking backwards, I see that era in my life as a gift, a grace. I would never have planned for myself.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends . . . ”   I Corinthians 13:7-8a

Noticing God

I spent part of Lent leading a class called, “Too Busy Not to Pray.” The course was challenging for some of our people, while others found it opened new ways of praying. I began to realize that one of the problems in our relationship with God, is that we don’t notice what God is doing in our lives. Feeling distant from God, seemingly ignored in prayer, we miss the obvious. The backward glances in life are those which help us see that thread holding everything together. Sometimes, we were hurting so much, we couldn’t begin to notice that God was standing with us. Our eyes, brimming with tears, couldn’t take in our full surroundings.

Later, we noticed that certain people came into our lives about that time. Encouragers, supporters, people who helped us hold our life together, in our most discouraging times. To notice God is to see God in the framework of our everyday life. What was there about that conversation, which shifted our thoughts into a more positive direction? I remember the early intervention program my youngest daughter was in. Leftover issues from her prematurity, set us up for the program. While the purpose was to work on her muscle and speech problems, it was me that was changing the most. These in-home visitors brought not only knowledge in infant physical therapy and occupational therapy to the home, they also came as encouragers.

Sally, Soni, Kay and Jeannie reminded me of my value and worth. They inspired me to look beyond the problems I was facing to the possibilities which were real. Years have come and gone. Along the way, there have been other people who came into my life at crucial times. Later, I came to realize it was God who drew us together. In difficult moments, they were encouragers, sounding boards, people I knew I could trust. In other moments, it was I who was drawn to give encouragement, to reach out in love and support. Noticing God at work in the world and in our lives takes a mind-set that is willing to accept that God is larger than our prayers, and so much wiser in the answering of them.

When Jesus appeared to his first followers after the resurrection, Thomas was missing. The Bible doesn’t tell us where he had gone off to, only that he wasn’t with the rest that resurrection evening, when Jesus appeared. He didn’t see the risen Lord. He was skeptical of the stories he’d heard. He doubted they were true. Even when his closest friends told him of Jesus, he made no secret of his doubts. Like most of us, confronted with a truth that doesn’t fit our worldview, he refused to believe. A week would pass before Thomas encountered Jesus. He no longer needed the proof he had earlier demanded, to see the marks from nails and sword. Being in the presence of the risen Christ, his doubts faded away. He could only say, “My Lord, and My God.” But Jesus had a word, where he blessed those who would believe and not see. We may not be able to see the risen Christ with our eyes, but we can see, by the tracks in our lives, where Christ has been present. It all begins by noticing.

Where Is God?

Ellie Wiesel’s book, “Night” describes the execution of a young boy in the midst of the horrors of a Nazi Concentration Camp. Wiesel writes, “One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call, SS all round us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel. The three victims mounted together onto the chairs. Three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses. “Long live liberty!” cried the two adults. But the child was silent.”

“Where is God? Where is God?” someone behind me asked. At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over. There was total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.” Wiesel describes how the two adults die quickly, but the boy is so light that he struggles for half an hour, dying in front of the rest of the camp. Behind him, Wiesel hears the same man ask, “Where is God now?” Then Wiesel writes, “And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is God?’. Here is God . . . God is hanging on the gallows.”

There are no adequate answers for the “why” of this kind of suffering and evil. There are no easy answers to rise of Islamic extremism leading to the slaughter of Christian students in a university in Garissa, Keyna, or the rampage of ISIS with its horrors left in its path. There are no easy answers for the suffering of cancer, or tornadoes which roll over a city. But the “Where is God” in the midst of suffering we do know. God has chosen to live among us, sharing in our daily journey, walking with us day by day. The mystery of suffering remains. Some day we will understand what we cannot now. Till then we have this hope given to us in Jesus Christ.

On Sunday we celebrated Easter, that moment when for all time God overcame the power of death. We have a risen Savior who lives among us. Through the centuries men and women, young and old have testified to the presence of the Living Lord in their lives. They tell of a grace which has been sufficient, for each need. People of faith have lived difficult lives courageously, vibrantly, even victoriously, for they knew they were never alone. However many times they were knocked down, God would be there to raise them above the place they fell. Christ offers this same gift today,coming as a friend wherever, whenever hearts are open to receive the gift.

We are an Easter people, confident that God can turn a life around . . . Certain that death and sin are overcome. We know that God who loves us, and has come in Jesus Christ, will have the last word. We are an Easter people, people of hope. We are followers of a risen Lord.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  Romans 15:13

Hunger at the Dollar Store

I met a man yesterday who was asking for food. He said he was hungry. The more I talked to him, the more I realized the challenges he faces daily. His speech was garbled, with more words I didn’t understand than did. Giving him the encouragement that there are lots of jobs in our area right now, meant nothing. I wondered what kind of job he could find or if he had an advocate working with him. I didn’t understand his answer when I twice asked where he was living. I couldn’t figure out how he found himself in front of a Dollar store looking for food.

What was obvious after my encounter, was how much I take for granted in life. The ability to speak, to think clearly, to communicate to another all are gifts we pay no attention to until a devastating illness or injury takes them away. I have been thinking of this man often in the hours since I met him. Where does he live? Who feels a sense of responsibility for him? Is there anyone in his life he can depend on? Who cares about him? Had he slipped away from a group home? Was he lost? Is he homeless.

I’m reminded that Jesus has a heart for people who live on the underside of life. He asks his followers to do the same. Today is Good Friday. A day to remember, not only Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, but also the words he lived by. For it was Jesus who told us “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40 NIVUK