Why Do GOOD Things Happen to BAD People?

unfairGenesis 36

I know you’ve heard the question:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  It is a question that books have been devoted to.  And if you ever come close to a satisfactory answer to that question (as if that were possible)… there remains one more question that will STILL drive you nuts:  “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

If good people have to have hardship… that may be hard to swallow… but… so be it.  It helps them grow.  It produces compassion in them.  They endure in hope.  But why do evil people sometimes receive no such resistance?  Why is it smooth sailing for them?  Don’t they need even more so:  to grow, to learn compassion and to experience hope?  We reach the point of sympathizing with the Psalmist:  “…I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  …always at ease, they have increased in wealth.  ” (73:3-4, 12)

Case in point:  Genesis 36.  All one finds when they read this often skipped over chapter of the Bible is a long list of Jacob’s brother Esau’s property, sons and animals.  It is pretty dry reading unless you really examine closely this spreadsheet.  It is then you realize that Esau was loaded!  Money in those days was measured in how many children you fathered, the amount of deeds you possessed and how many flocks and herds were grazing on your property.  Esau, in the eyes of the ancient world, was a very successful man.  And yet God would say of him:  “Esau I hated.”  (Malachi 1:3 and Romans 9:13)  God must be very gracious indeed to spoil a man He hated with such degree of prosperity.

But it really shouldn’t surprise us… Jesus taught us that His Father “…causes His sun to rise  on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”  God is remarkable good to even those who don’t think to thank Him (or refuse to thank Him) for the rich blessings He sends their way.  (Romans 1:21)

Here is a warning here for us as believers.  We might be tempted to envy the “Esau”s of this world, but we must not be quick to equate material success with spiritual success.  The disciples in Jesus’ time stumbled on this issue as well.  When Jesus said that it was more difficult for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, the disciples gasped and asked Him:  “Then who can be saved?”  Would we gasp if we saw who was in and who was out of favor with God?  Would many of the elite of this world be left off the “truly blessed” list?

Lael F. Arrington wrote about a time in her mid-twenties when she was trying to choose a life partner.  She wrote:  “On the same weekend in November one fellow I was dating told me he loved me, and the other fellow I was dating asked me to marry him.  Both were intelligent, tall, handsome, witty and charming. The first fellow was quite successful already. Our times together were spent at country clubs, elegant parties, and lovely dinners. The second fellow was scrimping by in seminary, and our time together was spent over a bucket of chicken on a study date—he was writing papers and I preparing lecture notes for the high school classes I taught.

          The first fellow and I did not share the same spiritual heritage or level of commitment, but the second one and I did. In fact, his level of commitment was greater than mine at the time and required a great deal of sacrifice. He wanted to teach and train Christians on the mission field. The lap of luxury looked much more appealing than a vow of poverty. But… when it came down to making a decision, I could not walk into the future and not share my past. After trusting Christ, it was the biggest decision of my life.

She continued:  We still get the bucket of chicken, and many nights are study nights… But the blessings flowing from that decision are a source of profound and continuing joy.  (A Bright Tomorrow, p. 12.)

In whatever financial circumstance you find yourself, rejoice in the fact that God does not hate you… but loves you with the most intense love.  That in and of itself is a blessing that all the land, sheep and children in the world can’t come close to rivaling.

Blessings!

 

When Your Ship Comes In

Ship Coming InGenesis 21

Promises, Promises.

You open your email and read:  “You’ve won a trip to Hawaii.”  Don’t get too excited… if you will look at the fine print (and if they are honest) you will read:  “Airfare not included. Food not included. Hotel is free but there will be a pool charge, bed charge and air conditioning is coin operated.  You will also be bombarded with junk email until your eyes pop out of their sockets.  And you have also just launched a deadly virus that will crash your hard drive. Have a nice day.”

Don’t you hate advertisers that don’t deliver on their promises?   Promises made with strings attached are not fun.

A co-worker in Maryland once went on a vacation in the Bahamas.  Sounds like fun, huh.  Well his hotel’s air conditioning unit went out.  The food was terrible.  And there were also some buildings in his brochure that he couldn’t locate on the hotel’s grounds.  He went to ask about them and was told that they had burned to the ground two years earlier.   Promises made and not kept are even worse.

God does not operate like that.  With Him it is:  Promise Made, Promise Kept.

We have been following Abraham in his pursuit of the promise of God that he would have a son.  We come to Promise Fulfilled!  Genesis 21:1-2  reads:  “Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised.  So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.”

Note two things: It was accomplished as God said it would be, and when God said it would occur.

Which are you struggling with?  The how or the when?  How God is going to help you or When God is going to show up?   If you are caught in that place, do what Abraham did, with faith and patience, Anchor yourself in the promises of God.

Now, what do you do once the promise is fulfilled… when your ship finally arrives in the harbor?  Sometimes when boats finally reach their destination there is a great crowd to meet them at the dock.  Sometimes there is a band playing to celebrate the arrival.  (I’ve never been on a cruse or a boat, but I did watch a lot of episodes of The Love Boat when I was a kid so I know this to be true.)  We looked for weeks at how Abraham weathered storms before he could enjoy the promise of God, now let’s look at that moment of “promise arrival.”

What does one do when God comes through?

#1 – After fulfillment one needs to continue to obey God.

What is the first thing Abraham does after his son is born?  Genesis 21:3, 4 – “Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.”   This is exactly what God had instructed Abraham to do in Genesis 17.  After you get what you want is not the time to go A.W.O.L. from God.  Continue in obedience.

#2 – After fulfillment one needs to be joyful.

Sarah praises God.  She says:  “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” (21:6)  Isaac, Hebrew for laughter, was an appropriate name for this moment.  Everyone breaks into celebration.  Have you remembered to thank God after your breakthrough?

#3 – After fulfillment one needs to remember and be more trusting in the future.

Don’t let this victory swell you with pride… let it be the catalyst for a lifetime of trust in the Lord.  Remain obedient.  Throw a party.  But then trust God for the next part of the plan.

God had first promised in chapter 12 when Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65.  He then delayed the fulfillment of the promise till Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90.  The wait only produced greater joy for them in the end.

Remember that in your next waiting period.

So where are you?

Freshly Blessed?  Rejoice.  Your ship has come in.  Let the band play.

Found God to be Faithful?   Show your appreciation through continued obedience.  Let God show you new heights to climb.

Still waiting?  Wait with patience.  He will see you through.  A promise is a promise.

Blessings!

A Closer Walk

Mendocino_Coast_Botanical_Gardens4Genesis 5:24

About 23 years ago, I visited a beautiful locale just north of Mendocino, CA:  The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.  Let me give you a brief tour.  You begin in a rose garden… a maze of petals and thorns.  From there you take a path further in toward a shaded area with a variety of ferns.  From there you see a beautiful field (no doubt where many weddings have taken place).  If it is spring, you will find a spread of wild flowers soaking up the California sunshine.  Continuing down the path, you will spot an opening ahead arched by trees.  And if you have been listening carefully you won’t be surprised at what you see once you pass through it.  Suddenly and dramatically before you, your senses are assaulted with rugged beauty and glory of the Pacific Ocean.  As you walk along a dirt path you marvel at the large jagged rocks jutting up out of the ocean.    You can then sit in wonder as you witness chilly Arctic waters unleash their fury upon the ragged coastline.

Thirteen years ago I went to this beautiful spot in Mendocino county and the journey I just described to you is burned into my memory.  It is a parable of life for me.  For life has its roses and thorns, ferns and flowers, beautiful waves and a rocky coast.  It is also filled with amazement and surprise.  And like my journey that day, life is made sweeter when you walk with someone you love. In my case, I strolled and climbed and gazed with my bride to be, Janine.  It was a day burned into my memory… because… I did not walk it alone.  I walked with the one that I loved.

mendocino coast botanical gardens3Today’s Scripture is about a man named Enoch.  What do we know about him?  Not much.  Genesis 5 reads:

21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. 22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

The man that fathered the oldest man that ever lived, Methuselah, actually “outlived” his son.  For while all the other names in chapter 5 end with “…and he died,”  Enoch “was not.”    No embalming was necessary when Enoch left this earth… because there was              no body in the casket at his funeral!

The life of this relatively “unknown” Scriptural hero is recorded here in Scripture… not because he could fight like Joshua, or pray like Daniel or preach like Peter.  Enoch is best known for the way he chose to live his life…  In the 56 words Moses uses to describe the man named Enoch… twice it was said of him that he walked with God.  Maybe there is some hope for us “unknowns.”  Our steps might be unknown to men… but they are noticed by God.

Author Eugene Peterson defines discipleship as “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”  If that is a true definition:  Enoch modeled it.  And he well understood the words of the prophet Micah:

       He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, emphasis mine)

A old hymn says:  When we walk with the Lord in the Light of his Word, what a glory He sheds on our way. That sounds lovely.  But how does one go about walking with God? Is there a permission slip? Can I sign up at the Y?  What kind of conditioning do I need for it?

Actually, taking a walk with God begins when we realize that we are on a journey. When we discover that our lives follow not some twisted mess of chance and circumstance, but a path with a beginning (our birth day) and an ending (the second date chiseled into our tombstone), and we see that our days are actually progressing toward something, it is then that we can seek a traveling companion.

One day we will each near the end of our journeys.  Will we on that day have truly completed our journey?”  Will we find our faith to have fully developed?  Will we be able to say, “I walked with God.”

The secret to a memorable life… is sharing the journey with someone memorable.  I’ve never forgotten my date with Janine over two decades ago.  You don’t want to miss a moment of life’s journey either.  Make it memorable.  Walk with God.

And what a glory He will shed on our our way!

You Can’t Choose Your Circumstances, But You Can Choose Your Attitude!

Acts 16:16-40grindstone

The quotable John Maxwell once said this:  “Life can be likened to a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you depends on what you are made of.”

Paul and Silas were made of some tough stuff!  After driving the demon out of a slave girl, they find their good deed punished by being stripped, beaten, and jailed.  Not exactly how the two wished to spend their weekend.  Circumstances are like that.  Before you know what hit you, you are knee deep in the weeds.  But you don’t get to choose the circumstances of your life.  There is so much going on that is beyond your control… evil people, viruses, lousy timing, and direct opposition from the enemy, as well as other factors can derail your plans.  But while don’t get to choose your circumstances… but you do get to choose your attitude.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Now it was midnight.  Let this stick in your mind.  Paul and Silas have chosen their joyful attitude stocksnot after climbing out of a comfortable bed, but after having been stripped, beaten with rods, thrown into prison and flogged severely.  And then they were put in stocks… you’ve seen these things.  You may have your picture taken in them.  They are designed not only to humiliate the person being punished but make them EXTREMELY uncomfortable.  And… it was midnight.  The hour when your body is tired and weary… and your worst fears plague you.

Is it midnight in your world?  Maybe you’ve taken an emotional beating.  You may have lost your job, your home, your dignity.  You are uncomfortable.  And it is midnight… so what do you do?  You choose joy.

How do you do that?  This duo had many bumps and bruises, but they also had three outlets for abundant joy.

1)  They had each other.  Are you hanging around the right people?  Joyful, positive individuals that share life with you can help lift your spirits.

2)  They were praying.   Imagine for a moment that you’re in the mother house in Calcutta Calcutta nuns in chapelhelping out the Mother Teresa‘s ministry.  It’s very early in the morning, about 20 till five. A bell rings.  A voice calls out “Let us bless the Lord.”  Which is answered by: “Thanks be to God.”
The sisters go down to the still quietness of the chapel.  Outside of the chapel, a blackboard lists people all over the world who have asked for prayers from the sisters.
They pray for half an hour kneeling on the floor.  There are no seats.

What keeps their attitudes strong in the face the dying masses in Calcutta?  They begin their day praising God and in prayer.  In Paul’s midnight, the new day was just being birthed.  He took the wee hours of the morning to pray for the strength to face what that day would bring.

3)  They were singing.  Yes, singing.  There is something about a song that can lift the spirit.  What is your radio set to?  Is it uplifting ?  Have you thought to incorporate hymns or songs of praise into your prayer time?  It will turn your usual gripe session with the Lord into a symphony of praise to Him… and in the process help put all your woes into perspective.

You know what happens next.  An earthquake hits.  It was enough to rattle the nerves of even their crusty jailer.  Paul and Silas could have responded with:  “Great, now an earthquake?  You’ve got to be kidding, God!”  They didn’t.  Their reaction was one of calm and respect in the midst of utter chaos.  This is something that only comes to those who as a habit, pray and sing their way through life’s ups and downs.

Poor circumstances?  That’s unfortunate.  But poor attitude?  That’s really your choice… and that grindstone in your life may just be revealing what you’re really made of.

Count it ALL Joy

James 1:2

It has been said that joy is to be the hallmark of the believer.  But I believe it is to be a sappy “Hallmark greeting card” kind of joy.  As Lewis Smedes once remarked:  “If our joy is honest joy, it must somehow be congruous with human tragedy.  This is the test of joy’s intregrity:  is it compatible with pain?…”
Now I believe in living authentically.  When we hurt, we hurt.  But if we really feel the joy of Jesus inside, we need to tell our face to reflect that… even in the most trying of times.

Early in the 20th Century a man named Alexander Grigolia immigrated from Soviet Georgia to the US.   He quickly learned the language, got an education (3 doctoral degrees) and a successful career as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  Yet despite his success, he lacked a true joy in his heart.  Robert J. Morgan tells the story of how one day he encountered joy in the face of a shoeshine boy.

While getting a shoeshine, he noticed the boy was working with joy as he scrubbed his shoes.  He continued diligently in his task smiling and laughing.  Finally Dr. Grigolia could stand it no longer.  He said: “Why are you always you so happy?”

Looking up, the bootblack paused and replied, “Jesus.  He loves me.  He died so God could forgive my badness.  He makes me happy.”

The professor snapped his newpaper back in front on his face, and the shoeshine boy went back to work.

Morgan remarks:  “But Dr. Grigola never escaped those words, and they brought him eventually to the Savior.  He later became a professor of anthropology at Wheaton College, and taught, among others, a young student named Billy Graham. ”

James says:  “Count it ALL joy.”  Not just the Hallmark moments, but every single moment.  That is the witness guaranteed to catch the attention of the joyless.