Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Manna

Everyday, almost, some new insight or perspective or place in Scripture hits me and seems to carry me through a part of the day with renewed life.  I think to myself, "Aha!  This is what I have been missing!  I need to write this down!"  I frantically try to fit it in with all the other nuggets I can recall from recent memory, as if I'm trying to put in that last piece of the engine to fix the Mothership and fly myself home.

But something happens when I try to plunge myself back into that truth, that reality, and that moment a day or so later.  It is stale.  It doesn't impact me as it once did.  It is no longer "radioactive."  Trying to put all the pieces together never yields a running engine that allows me to zip myself across the galaxy to a safer, more comfortable, more emotionally stable, more spiritually-fortified place.  It doesn't.  And I always wind up frustrated and spending way too much time thinking.  "Where is the answer," I think?  "When is that one thing going to come that just changes everything, changes my heart, lightens my gaze, changes my perspective, and reorients my emotions?"

The question comes to my mind, "Lord, what is going on? Why don't you send that one thing that will snap things into place? Where is the dramatic deliverance?"

But God has other plans.  Instead, what I get is something to get me through the day.  I get "manna" -a daily cake of bread.  I don't get a leap and a bound; I get a single footstep.  Isn't that good, though?  Most of the time it isn't, I confess.  I'm so caught up in finding the "big fix", in obtaining the massive deliverance that is going to fix so many problems in life, that I forget what it is all about.  See... I want my life.  I want it to be mine.  I want self-sufficiency.  I want to be given the tools and answers so that I can fix it right now.  I'm going to fix that Mothership and pilot that sucker back to the promised land of my own dreams.

But, again, God has other plans.  What I get, instead, is something which is objectively better (even though not what I like).  I get to learn what it is to depend on God.  I get to learn what it means for God to be God and me to be a created, dependent person.  I get to learn that God provided manna today and that I can bank on the fact that He will provide it again tomorrow.  I get to learn the hard lesson of slowing down and depending, daily, on God.  I can't see a foot in front of my eyes, and I must trust that He will give me what I need to reach the next step on the path.  I learn humble dependence and trust -something more precious than silver, though it is, again, not exactly what I would like at the moment.

I bet this is how the Israelites felt while in the desert for forty years.  Yet God rained down manna, and every morning there it was.  They did not go without one bit.  I bet countless questions bounced around in their heads, aside from the ones recorded for us in Scripture.  Some of them may have been things like:

-LORD, why not just get us out of here?  Why not just change your mind and bring us out of this place?
-LORD, why not just give us fertile crops and a big storehouse of food all up front, right now?  Why do the whole manna thing?

What I am learning is the lesson of the Israelites: daily, humble dependence and trust.  Stop looking so hard for the big answer that you miss the daily manna, stop demanding to see what's around the bend, stop demanding a self-survival kit from God so that you can finally create your own life and happiness the way you want.  Live expectantly on the small, sustaining, wonderful bits of manna that God faithfully sends every day.  Learn that He is trustworthy, that He is there on a daily basis.

Slowing down like this is painful.  But His hand is in it.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

All the Answers

I admit that there is a part of me that is inextricably drawn to systematics, to problem-solving, to taking a moment to stop and think and then plotting a course out.  Perhaps that's why I found myself studying mechanical engineering in college and, now, building software applications.  You are faced with a problem, you gather information, you ponder, you design, you sort out extraneous information, and you make an attempt to solve that problem.  You realize you made mistakes or didn't see everything -or maybe the requirements changed.  So, you make small adjustments, evaluate, and push them out into real-life.  If you are a software developer, you probably can't help but think of the "Agile" development method when reading this.

But can life really be handled this way?  There are people making a fortune out there trying to convince us it can be.  Self-help books are the craze.  Motivational speaking is popular.  Then there was "the Secret," promoted on Oprah.  If you are still reading and not gagging yourself after that last one, consider how much of the world works in concert with that drive within us for self-sufficiency.  We want life the way we want it, we want to set the goals, we want to implement the procedures, and we want results.  Self-sufficiency is the idea that I am capable of doing all of that.  I can essentially produce the results I want for my life.

Then something unexpected happens.  And another thing.  And another.  I remember hearing a preacher say that by the time we are forty or fifty years old, you have to be practically insane to believe that you have any real control over your life.  This is where things like the "mid-life crisis" come in.  Still, we plug away, often dealing with low-grade-to-severe depression... but there are pills for that, these days.  Just keep applying bandaids, just keep relying upon the next method or fix, and everything will be fine, right?  Maybe for a little while longer.

Maybe I'm one of the lucky ones, because for me exhaustion has begun to settle in while only in my early thirties.  I'm, frankly, exhausted from trying to control my life and buying into the lie of self-sufficiency.  I realize that I can't get all the results I want, that the results I believe I need are not for me to decide, and that I can (and have) literally wear myself to the point of breaking if I continue to grab hold with that white-knuckle grip on my life.  But more than that, I'm realizing that even when I get it... it doesn't satisfy me for long, and I'm at least mildly haunted by the prospect of losing it.  Life becomes one big performance -performance to obtain, to keep, to maintain.  I'm the proverbial hamster on the hamster wheel.  It makes me tired just rereading what I just wrote!

The thing is... you can't even call that living.  As I'm sitting here thinking about my next sentence, my wife's screensaver shows the following words: "Thank God for what you have;  trust God for what you need."  Why is that trust so difficult?  Why are we so bound up in self-sufficiency?  That is the human struggle.  We want our life to be our life.  The idea of someone else deciding how it should be and being in total control of all the outcomes is... scary, threatening, even insulting to some of us.  It is also those things when we are arrogant enough to think that we know better than the God who made us.  It is all those things when we really doubt that He will deliver.

I'm a guy who likes to think he can find all the answers.  Sometimes I think I actually have them, and I let other people know it.  But then the Lord snaps me to my senses, and I realize I don't know anything.  I realize I have no answers.  I don't mean that I don't know if Jesus is the only way of salvation -that is a clear truth.  What I mean is that I have no answers for how to self-navigate and self-fix and manage this life.  At least I'm heading toward reality when I begin to see that.  And I'm left realizing that for all the complexity and over-thinking and exhaustive effort to wiggle my way along and keep things in tact, you reach a point where you know that the only way you will keep your sanity is if you start taking God's word for it that what He promises is better than anything we foolishly believe we can hold on to with our self-sufficiency.  His love is better, His good for us is better, His plan is better, His comfort is better, His kingdom is better, His ways are better, His care is better... Either it is or it isn't.  Either God is out of touch with real life, or He is a liar, or He is patiently calling me to something so much better.  At what point will I start taking His word for it and step in His direction?  At what point will I stop making excuses?

At the risk of giving something that sounds like an "answer," I'll share an example of something I saw today.  I've read that passage in Jeremiah 17 many, many times before.  It is a classic passage that talks about fear of man.  I've applied every single formula and theological construct I know to it to try and "fix" my problems with fear of man.  I've resorted to will power: "You just have to stop depending on man and depend on God."  I've tried a more sophisticated, more theological idolatry-based approach: "Aha.  I just need to repent of my idolatry and put God back on the throne."  But how do you actually do that?  Need a formula for that, too.  Need a book for that, too.  Need another couple sermons to tell you how to do that.  It goes on forever.  One "answer", one more "here's how you do it" formula leads to another question, and so on.

I can't do it.  I can't fix it.  But today I saw something.  I saw God bringing me to this place.  And I saw something beautifully simple in that passage in Jeremiah 17.  God is saying to me, "See what I'm saying, here?  I'm wooing you, I'm calling you, to trust Me, to trust that I'm better and that what I have is better."  In that passage, He is calling me to just plain trust Him, to trust what He is saying.  He's warning me of believing that other things, people especially, are better and will give me something better.  He's reviving my memory of my past trials and current exhaustion to say, "See, you already know this part is true;  So can't you see that the other part is true, too?"  He's telling me that He is better, that He has better for me, and He's calling me to believe Him. 

Imagine that.  God leads, God walks with me, God personally walks me down paths, some of them very dark, for a purpose?  Imagine that.  God can be trusted?  God knows what He is doing?  God knows that exhausting me is necessary for me to stop trying so hard and just start trusting Him?  I don't need to have all the answers and see how it all works?  I don't need a play-by-play from God, an explanation for every turn in the road?  Imagine that.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Cross

When we stand under the light of the cross of Jesus and claim it for ourselves, we are admitting and exposing to God, ourselves, and to the world that we are so selfish, so committed to ourselves, our wants, and our own little kingdom, that the Son of God had to die so that we could be saved. We are also admitting and exposing to ourselves, to God, and to the world that our self-serving, self-commitment is our greatest problem and the most destructive and enslaving force to our lives -so great that the perfect Son of God had to die to deliver us. Lastly, we are admitting and exposing to ourselves and to the world that we are so incredibly loved that He was glad to do it, that He is glad to welcome us in over the blood of His Son, and that He will now never leave us or forsake us. If we forget any of these, we have forgotten the cross and stumbled into darkness.