General

General

Why Can’t People Fly?

Ani mage of a person trying to balance on the railing of a fence, in the mountains.

Mom, why can’t people fly?” my daughter asked me one day.

Never one to shy away from attempting to answer the unanswerable, I ventured a guess, pointing out that God had already granted human beings incredible powers. Flying, I explained, would give us an enormous, unfair advantage. It wouldn’t be fair, for instance, if hunters were able to pull alongside a flock of ducks and then pick them off one by one. And who would want to live in a world where burglars or Peeping Toms could fly, to say nothing of kids intent on toilet papering your house? The truth is, we have enough trouble managing the powers we do have.

Take the power of our tongues. Scripture tells us that our words have incredible power. It goes so far as to say that the power of life and death is in our tongues. We can use them to bless or to curse, to encourage or to demoralize. Who hasn’t regretted spitting out angry words that are impossible to retract? How can we bring our tongues under greater control so they will add to the peace of our world rather than detract from it?

The key to controlling our mouths, of course, lies in the way we control our minds. Remember how Paul advised the believers in Rome, saying, “Letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace” (Romans 8:6)? Paul is saying that controlling our minds is not primarily a matter of willpower but of Spirit power. Today, as you seek to control the power of your tongue, ask God to inhabit your thought life through the transformative power of his Spirit.

 

Let’s Stop Pretending

Two white theatre masks are laying in a field of red flowers.

Recently the power went out at our house. It seemed that a squirrel had suffered an unfortunate collision with a transformer, leaving a swath of the city without power. Fortunately our emergency generator kicked in and we feasted on light and power while our neighbors’ houses were shrouded in darkness. Then my cell phone rang. It was a friend who lives a few blocks away.

“Do you have any power?” she asked.

“Yes, the generator is on,” I said. Since it was dinnertime, I asked if she would like to come over.

“No, thanks. I think I’ll just stay home and make a salad. I really don’t want to go out because I worked at home all day and haven’t put on any makeup.”

Now, I respect the need for makeup as much as the next woman. When my children ask me why I bother wearing it, I tell them it’s because I don’t like scaring people. But, seriously, wouldn’t it be great to venture out into the world without the need for pretense? I like what Brennan Manning has to say about the fact that none of us need to pretend when we come into the presence of the Lord.

“Whatever our failings may be,” he says, “we need not lower our eyes in the presence of Jesus. . . . Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. As we glance up, we are astonished to find the eyes of Jesus open with wonder, deep with understanding, and gentle with compassion.”1

Let’s stop thinking we can’t come into God’s presence because we aren’t spiritual enough or good enough or holy enough or passionate enough. Instead, let’s trust him, believing that he welcomes us—the wobbly and the weak-kneed—receiving us with compassion and understanding.

1. Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat Up, and Burnt Out (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000), 28.

Heal Me!

An image of paper prayers shoved in the cracks of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

As the result of a diving accident, Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed at the age of seventeen. Shortly after that, a friend sat by her bed and read the passage about the man Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda.

“It was the part about being an invalid for thirty-eight years that got me,” Joni remembers. “Please Lord, I can’t live without use of my hands or legs for three days, let alone thirty years. I’m not like that man by the pool at Bethesda. Be compassionate to me, like you were to him. Heal me!”

But Joni’s prayer for a miracle seemed to go unanswered. Thirty years later as she rounded a corner while touring Jerusalem with her husband, Ken, she came face-to-face with the ruins of that pool. Looking at her husband, the tears welling up, she said, “Jesus didn’t pass me by. He didn’t overlook me. He answered my prayer: He said, ‘No.’”

And then came the astonishing confession.

“And I’m glad,” she said. “A ‘no’ answer has purged sin from my life, strengthened my commitment to him, forced me to depend on grace, bound me with other believers, produced discernment, fostered sensitivity, disciplined my mind, taught me to spend my time wisely, stretched my hope, made me know Christ better, helped me long for truth, led me to repentance of sin, goaded me to give thanks in times of sorrow, increased my faith, and strengthened my character. Being in this wheelchair has meant knowing him better, feeling his strength every day.”

“Are you ok?” her husband asked.

“Yes,” she sniffed and laughed. “I can’t believe that I’m crying and laughing at the same time. There are more important things in life than walking.”1

Thank you, Joni, not only for telling us what peace is, but also for showing us what it looks like. Let’s take heart from the example of this remarkable woman, so that whether the answer is yes or no, we can experience the deep peace that comes from knowing God is faithful.

 

  1. Joni Eareckson Tada, “Please Heal Me!” in Stories of Comfort for a Healthy Soul, compiled by Christine M. Anderson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 38–40.

 

Why Do The Wicked Prosper?

An image of large water drops on top of water. Inside the water drops are images of clouds and sunshine.

Author Charlie Shedd once received a letter from a high school student in Nebraska, asking a difficult question.

“We are having a hard time on the farm this year because of no rain. My father is worried about paying the bills and the bank. All the farmers are worried. My folks are good people. We go to church, my mom and I sing in the choir, and my father is a deacon. My parents do so many good things. They grow more food than we need and give to poor people. I guess what bothers me most is why does it rain on my uncle’s farm? He lives seventy miles away, and his crops are looking good. I probably shouldn’t say this, but my uncle is mean. I don’t see how my aunt stands him; he is so awful to her. He is awful to my cousins too, and nobody likes him. He swears a lot, and he doesn’t go to church. I am not sure he even believes in God. So why does he get rain and we don’t? Do you know what I’m asking? Do you think it’s fair?”1

In his response, Charlie didn’t lecture this earnest young girl about the fact that good behavior doesn’t ensure an easy life or that geographical factors may have been affecting weather patterns, but he did remind her of the story of a man called Job, the poor guy who lost his children, his servants, and his wealth in just a few hours. Then Job’s body broke out in horrible sores. In the end, after enduring days of bad advice from three so-called friends, Job received something better than a buttoned-up answer to his sufferings—a visitation from a God so magnificent that his questions no longer mattered. He also received twice as many blessings as he had before.

“Why do the wicked prosper?”—it’s a question that will always be asked.

Our task is not to keep searching for easy answers but to keep believing that God is good no matter what. As Charlie Shedd pointed out, the story of Job ends on a positive note: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part” (42:12, niv). Each of us can expect the same, even if the “latter part” doesn’t begin to unfold in this life.

  1. Charlie W. Shedd, Brush of an Angel’s Wing (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1994), 151–52.

Praying the Names of God

A graphic image of the words Praying the Names of God

Did you know that the word God is a relatively recent invention? In fact, it is not used in any of the original versions of Scripture written in Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. Instead, the Jewish people used various names and titles to refer to God, names like Yahweh, Elohim, El Shaddai, Adonai, and many others. But why mention this in a book about knowing God’s peace? Simply because our struggle to experience more peace is really a struggle to know God more intimately. One way to know God more is to ask him to reveal more of himself through his names and titles as they are revealed in the Bible. By learning just a little bit about each of his names and then meditating on various passages containing them, we may find our sense of peace growing.

Here are a few to get you started.1

  • El God, Mighty Creator is not like people. He tells no lies. He is not like humans. He doesn’t change his mind. When he says something, he does it. When he makes a promise, he keeps it. (See Numbers 23:19.)
  • Yahweh God’s covenant name, the Lord is merciful, compassionate, patient, and always ready to forgive. Yahweh is good to everyone and has compassion for everything that he has made. (See Psalm 145:8-9.)
  • Elohim God, Mighty Creator is our Machseh [refuge] and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. That is why we are not afraid even when the earth quakes or the mountains topple into the depths of the sea. Water roars and foams, and mountains shake at the surging waves. (See Psalm 46:1-3.)

[Tweet “The name of the Lord is a strong tower.” Proverbs 18:10]

 

 

  1. If you want to locate more, you can find them in my books Praying the Names of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004) or Praying the Names of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006) or listed in The Names of God Bible, a version of God’s Word Translation (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2011).

Busting Out of Our Tiny Circles

An image of colorfully painted slats of wood, some of the them formed into the shape of a heart.

Over the years I have had the privilege of knowing Christians from a wide variety of denominational and nondenominational backgrounds: evangelical, mainline, charismatic, Catholic, and Orthodox. I have sung the ancient hymns and joined in contemporary choruses. I have meditated in silence and prayed out loud. I have held hands, kept silence, and listened with wonder to sermons that touched my soul. I have prayed and been prayed over. I have worked alongside brothers and sisters from various churches to promote God’s truth and love. Rubbing shoulders with Christians from different traditions has been for me an immeasurably enriching experience. It has encouraged, challenged, and taught me important things I might not otherwise have learned. Though I realize that the body of Christ is divided, I also know that Christ is with all of his people, whether or not we approve of them.

That’s why I find it so painful to be around those who draw the tiniest of circles around their church or their version of Christianity, characterizing those who disagree with them, even on small points, as faithless. Yes, there are times when we have to contend for the faith, but we cannot make the mistake of acting as though disagreements regarding minor matters, like which translation of the Bible we read, are as serious as disagreements regarding core elements of our faith like the Incarnation and the Resurrection. Let’s agree to disagree on the minors while we stand together on the majors. And while we are doing that, let’s pray for each other and learn from each other and treat each other with respect, remaining together so Christ can be glorified and the gospel can be preached throughout the world.

 

Even Broken Can Be Beautiful

An older man and an older woman sit in swings, holding hands.

It was recently my parents’ anniversary. I can’t remember the last time they celebrated, not just because they have both passed away, but because they were divorced many years before that. There were too many problems. Neither one of them knew how to conduct a “good” argument, for one thing. And both were strong willed. Pronouncing those two husband and wife was like putting Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in the ring and expecting a love fest. There was also the matter of my father’s alcoholism. There was just too much brokenness and hurt for one marriage to survive.

And yet I feel like celebrating. Because of the great things God did—not to put the marriage back together, but to help two old people love each other to the end. Because that’s how it was. My father finally reaching bottom and realizing he wasn’t alone. God was there. The family gathering once again on holidays, my parents at both ends of the table. My brothers joking and laughing, embracing a father they had shunned for a time. And I losing all fear of him and feeling only affection. And then there was my mother, sitting every day at my father’s bedside, fiercely protective as he struggled to pass from this life to the next.

My family was as fractured as many, but I give thanks for the way God pieced it back together, making it beautiful in its brokenness. It’s a picture that will stay with me always, not just because it captures how God dealt with us, but because in a way, it’s a picture of every life that belongs to God this side of heaven—beautiful in its brokenness because of the way his glory shines through.

 

 

 

Can You Have Too Much Empathy?

An image of an annoyed-looking woman with smoke coming out of her ears.

I have a friend whose mother suffers from chronic anxiety. Always a worrier, her mom has grown more and more anxious with the years. Her mother’s doctor recently prescribed an anti-anxiety drug, which she adamantly refuses to take. Because her mother’s anxiety has provoked so many problems within the family, my friend recently quipped that if her mother won’t take the pills then the rest of the family will have to—so they can stay calm enough to deal with her anxiety. My friend’s tongue-in-cheek comment reveals something important about human dynamics. Many of us are easily infected by each other’s emotional weaknesses. Sometimes the weakest member of a family is the one who exerts the strongest influence.

Take, for example, the child who easily whines and cries. Of course there’s nothing wrong with crying, unless it becomes habitual or a method for children to get their way. As mothers, many of us are good at empathy. We understand and sympathize with our children’s weaknesses. But sometimes our empathy can be an obstacle that makes it harder for them to grow up.

Edwin Friedman, a family therapist and leadership consultant, pointed out that people tend to mature more when the leader of an organization adapts toward strength rather than weakness. In that context, Friedman considered empathy an adaptation toward weakness. He counseled leaders to challenge those they lead as a way to help them grow and mature. As Friedman pointed out, there are some people whose real need is to not have their need fulfilled.

Perhaps that’s why we don’t always experience God being as empathetic as we might like. He knows exactly how we need to be challenged in order to become the kind of people who can lead others toward peace.

 

When God Draws Near

An image A single lotus flower on the surface of still water.

In July 2007, twenty-three South Korean missionaries, sixteen men and seven women, were on a bus traveling from Kandahar to Kabul, when the driver allowed two armed men to board the bus. For the next month and a half, members of the Taliban held them hostage, moving them to a series of cellars and farmhouses in order to conceal them. Before they were split into small groups, all twenty-three rededicated their lives to Christ, pledging their willingness to die for his glory. There was even an argument about who might be given the privilege of dying first.

One of the missionaries had a small Bible, which was split into twenty-three sections so each person could have a portion of God’s Word to strengthen and comfort them during the difficult days ahead. Two of the men were executed before a deal was reached to release the hostages.

Oddly enough, when the remaining hostages were safely back on South Korean soil, more than one of them would later comment, “Don’t you wish we were still there?” Several spoke of experiencing a deep intimacy with God in the midst of their terrible ordeal—an experience they hadn’t been able to recapture since their return to the safety and comfort of their own land.1

Why this dynamic? Perhaps because in the midst of their difficulties, God was fulfilling his promise that the Holy Spirit would be with those who would be brought to trial for the sake of the gospel. Perhaps also because desperation can excavate more space in our hearts for God. Instead of feeling full and satisfied, we recognize a need only Christ can fill. Very few of us will ever face the threat these men and women did. But we can take heart from their story, believing that God can give us courage for whatever we may face.

  1. Francis Chan tells the story of meeting one of the missionaries on a trip to South Korea in Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2009), 107–8.

 

More Peace, Less Stuff

An image of a white desk in a white room, very simple and calm.

Ever heard of the terms “hedonic adaptation” or “hedonic treadmill”?

Both of these refer to the fact that in order to maintain the surge of pleasure that comes with every new gadget and thingamajig we purchase, we have to keep buying new things. Of the two phrases, I prefer the latter because it vividly captures the idea that we have to keep running farther and faster in order to achieve the same amount of happiness.

But what would happen if we were to step off the treadmill? That’s what several people in the small house movement have done, building tiny homes so they can live more simply and cheaply. Such homes cost less to heat, cool, and repair and are much quicker to clean. One woman who lives in the tiniest of houses heats her home with solar panels and a propane tank, the kind the rest of us use to power our gas grills, making her heating bills about $5 per month. Her “refrigerator” is a small cooler. By having a small carbon footprint, small-house folks hope to have a big impact on the world around them, spending their time and money on causes, people, and experiences they care about. What a terrific counterpoise to the bloated houses many people have been building in suburbs across the country.

Though I have no desire to call a closet home, the idea of downsizing appeals to me because I’ve learned the hard way that owning lots of stuff usually works against my sense of peace and happiness.

You needn’t move into a tiny house to achieve the goal of living simply. Just decide that you want the benefits simplicity can bring and start making decisions with your goal in mind.