Thank God for bad things

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6,7

I now love to thank God for bad things.

A few days ago I was particularly upset, and couldn’t take my mind off of what was bothering me. Just before bed I started writing, telling God “thanks” for the thing I was upset over. I started thanking God from all the different angles of the problem–for the experience itself, for the lessons learned, for the people involved–and within a single sentence, I started feeling happier. After a paragraph, I was smiling. I think I experienced the fastest positive mood swing of my life.

Thanking God for whatever upsets you removes the power of that thing over your life. When you decide to be grateful for everything, you stop being the victim and you start to live free again.

Nothing has the power to ruin your life unless you give it that power; and with God on your side, with the big picture in mind, why would you ever do that?

Instead, thank God for bad things.

Do you want to remove all doubt about your sincerity?

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” -Colossians 2:15

It seems that God likes removing doubt about sincerity. From Noah, to Job, to Abraham and Isaac, to Moses, to Jesus and the apostles, God brings people into situations that cannot be faked. Anyone without faith would give up. But when someone does not give up, then their value is made known. No one can call them insincere.

Some people think Christians are insincere. Since our faith is unbelievably good news, our motives have to be unbelievably sincere. That simultaneously puts us in a vulnerable and a powerful position. Vulnerable because anything we do that might be, or appear, insincere will draw flack. Powerful because, if we are able to remove all doubt about our sincerity, we have a hope and a joy that nothing can rival and that everyone wants. Showing our sincerity beyond all doubt is perhaps the most powerful way to bring people to belief.

We should not chase persecution, I think. But we should, absolutely, live according to the standards of justice and mercy found in the Bible without regard for negative consequences to ourselves. Rather, when we see something bad coming, we should rejoice, because God will be glorified in our suffering.

Twice this year, the choir I’m in has sung a song called “In Christ Alone” by Koch and Craig. One of the stanzas goes like this:

And now I seek no greater honor
Than just to know Him more
And to count my gains but losses
To the glory of my Lord

The last two lines have been running through my head a lot recently: “To count my gains but losses to the glory of my Lord.”

Have you ever thought that your gains–your successes, your comforts, the extended length of your life–might actually be losses to the glory of the Lord? I love that Adventists are healthy enough to live on average 10 years longer than the rest of the U.S. population. Our health can be a testament to God’s power and righteousness. But I wonder if the fact that we actually do live longer–that we take our gift of health and stay in safe places, instead of using our health to go work in the hardest places where we might die sooner–I wonder if the fact that we actually do live 10 years longer is a greater testament to God, or to human security.

Would you rather live a life without problems, or would you rather take every opportunity you can to show people that God is worth everything to you?

Jesus made a spectacle of the powers and authorities by revealing his allegiance beyond a doubt. He came in order to do that.

As Christians, why have we come? Why have you come? What will you do?

 

Did Jesus even care?

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Mark 10:42-45

What do we get when God becomes a man?

Hercules? King Solomon? President George Washington?

One of the most incredible things, to me, about Jesus’ life on earth, is how limited his impact was. He focused on just twelve people. Knowing his time was short, he didn’t even start teaching until he was thirty years old. He didn’t travel far or organize a campaign. He didn’t specifically target the change agents–the powerful or wealthy–in his society.

It’s almost as if he didn’t care.

But he cared. He cared so much he died.

When God becomes a man–or when God inspires a person–he is free to become a servant. Instead of focusing on impact, he focuses on people. Because heaven is really close–because the end is basically already here–the means are what matter. Since the results are already decided, the way of life takes precedent.

And so Jesus came and loved the people around him. He gave everything for them and lived a good life until he died. He is coming back soon, and because of that, we can be free now to live the way Jesus lived.

Do good because it’s good.

A few weeks ago I flew from Myanmar back to Cambodia. On my layover in Bangkok, I got to talking with a girl from Brazil, living in France but spending 6 months of each year traveling Asia. She had just spent 11 days meditating, in silence, at a Buddhist monastery in India.

She described to me how she really liked Buddhism because it was about doing good, for goodness’ sake, instead of for a future reward, like heaven. Whether or not that’s an accurate description of Buddhism, I’m not sure. But it got me thinking.

Today I read this:

“‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin… So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'” -John 8:31b-36

If there is one thing that pushes us to justify our sins, it is fear of judgment over sins we have so far been unable to stop. There can be no other reason for someone who loves the God for who’s identity the law is an expression. The person that loves God, loves his law as an image of him, as a path to meeting him in everyday life. The person that loves God would not honestly and knowledgeably try to change his law unless that person had given up believing it was possible to obey, and had started depending on themselves, rather than Christ, for their justification.

So if we love God, as expressed in his law, but we find ourselves excusing our sin for fear of judgment, it’s time to think further about Christ. It’s time to investigate if he really is love. Because doubt in his love is the root of our fear. If he is love, we have no reason to fear judgment, and therefore no reason to change the law.

So removing our doubts, we can recognize, fearlessly, that we are saved from sin. We can stop quelling our deepest hope–our knowledge, in fact–that even that sin can be overcome. And we can start fighting for good, against sin, with the Spirit. Not in order to win Jesus’ approval. Not in order to avoid judgment. Not because we’re supposed to.

But because we want to. Good is good. We know it, we love it, and when the Son sets us free, we can be free to do it, indeed.

Strong trust means you can laugh at things.

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” -Isaiah 55:10-11

Yesterday I ran across the website for an organization called Global Gates, focusing (much like ASAP Ministries’ domestic work) on reaching immigrants to the U.S. from unreached groups, with the hope that their influence will reach back across borders to the family and friends they left behind.

One of their core values–the first on their list, in fact–struck me deeply: “Believing and trusting in God to accomplish what He desires”.

That has been an area I have been failing in, recently. I have not been trusting that God will accomplish his will, one way or another, even if I don’t get it just right.

And that’s been a problem! It’s too stressful to have that on your shoulders. And stress only compounds your problem when you read verses like Luke 12:22, and start stressing over the fact that you’re stressing!

So here’s the lesson: as a Christian, you can laugh at yourself a little. Like a kid trying to impress his parents with a dandelion weed, you’ll be underwhelming at times. You’ll even get it wrong.

It isn’t to say that you should stop trying to get it right, it’s simply that the gospel is true–God is real, and he loves you–and nothing can take that away from you.

And God will accomplish what he desires.