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?

 

You’re a sinner, and God doesn’t hold that against you.

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” -2 Corinthians 5:19a

Sometimes the gospel of the kingdom is not good news to people.

Not everyone shares my worldview from a Christian upbringing, and one of the pillars of that worldview is my sinfulness: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23,24)

And without that fundamental recognition of personal sin, the gospel is not necessarily good news.

But if you just don’t see the need for the gospel–or if you want it to be good news, but just don’t understand why–I have something for you to try, from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”

Previously, I wrote that obedience builds a connection between you and God, because it gives you the ability to understand things from God’s perspective. One thing God sees is the great sinfulness of sin, and the power of love to overcome it.

You’re a sinner, and God doesn’t hold that against you.

Reading the Bible completely changed my life–and it can change yours, too.

Reading the Bible completely changed my life.

In high school, I was preoccupied–to put it lightly–with clothes. American Eagle Outfitters gladly took on the responsibility of crafting my wardrobe for me, and there were days when every single item of clothing on my body came from AEO.

It wasn’t just fashion, though. I loved comfort. Indulgent comfort. Resorts, buffets, video games, beaches–I enjoyed them now, and imagined how much more I could enjoy them in the future.

One of my favorite things to read was the Rich Dad series. I was going to make millions.

Then, I made a new year’s resolution for 2007: read the Bible for half an hour every day.

And I don’t know how, but I kept it, without missing a day, all the way up until about May. Sometimes I was half asleep–reading before I’d even stepped out of bed in the morning–and sometimes I was shut in the bathroom late at night so my roommate could sleep. But whether it was early morning or late night, somehow I kept this resolution better than any I’ve ever kept before or after, up until I went on orchestra tour and forgot my Bible.

Over that time, reading became a lot more engaging. Slowly, instead of checking the clock every five minutes, I’d find myself checking it only once, and sometimes not at all. Reading straight through from Genesis, the stories started to form a cohesive timeline, and I started catching references to earlier chapters and books.

And then, as I continued reading after May, getting into the New Testament and seeing even more things come together, I almost couldn’t contain myself. For the first time, I started to understand how these stories had practical implications for people. I started to cry. I started to realize that this Book is life.

This, in addition to a few other events from high school, did two things. It inspired me, and it destroyed my ability to be comfortable.

For the last nine years, I’ve been uncomfortable. Maybe I’ll write more about that later.

The point is,

“the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” -Hebrews 4:12

Reading the Word will completely change your life.

Fear is the whole of man.

“All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of his creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole [duty] for every man.” -Ecclesiastes 12:13 AMP

Fear. A powerful word. Even more powerful when divorced from worry (and we must not worry–as Jesus tried to explain many times).

What does this kind of fear look like? The same fear you get on the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, or at the edge of a waterfall, or standing next to a tiger. It’s the fear of realizing things are not under your control; the fear that comes when you know, without a doubt, that this thing could utterly destroy you, and you would have absolutely no impact on it in return.

This doesn’t mean it has intent to destroy you. Half Dome and waterfalls aren’t even conscious. It’s only the recognition that, if things went wrong, you would be powerless.

Fear, therefore, is a kind of metanoia, a kind of repentance. Or at least a trigger for it.

And this is the whole of man: fearing God and keeping His commandments. It is experiencing reality. It is life as it was meant to be.

People desire what they can imagine.

At the library yesterday I came across a heading in a magazine that read “People desire what they can imagine.”

Perhaps this is why Jesus spent so much of his time talking about the kingdom–illustrating it in parables, telling everyone it’s nearby, praying for it to come. Perhaps he wanted to give us as many ways of imagining it as possible, so that our desire for it could be as strong as possible.

In The Desire of Ages, Ellen White writes,

“It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones.”

This makes sense if you want to desire Christ. Imagine His life.

What do you think was going through the mind of the man who found the treasure in Matthew 13?

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” -Matthew 13:44

Was he worrying about his finances? Was he dreaming about his career? What drove him so powerfully between the time that he found the treasure and the time that he bought the field?

He was thinking about the treasure. He was imagining what his life would be like once he had it. And I’m sure his focus only grew stronger as he came closer to buying it. If he couldn’t imagine what he would do with the treasure, I can assure you he never would have bought that field.

So, what can you imagine? What is the most exciting thing that plays through your mind?

A movie? Star Wars?

A career?

An iPhone? (With an iPhone, this is possible.)

Or can you imagine heaven? Can you imagine the presence of God?

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” -Psalm 27:4

Repentance is life.

“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” -Romans 8:6

For Paul, carnal-mindedness does not just lead to death–it is death. And spiritual-mindedness does not just lead to eternal life–it is life.

So when Jesus says in John 3:16 that whoever believes in him will have eternal life, he doesn’t just mean that believers will live forever in time. He also means that whoever believes in him will be spiritually minded now.

Jesus’ first message illustrates this further: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17)

Jesus gives a spiritual reality: heaven is near. One of his first goals was for people to focus on heaven. They would need to in order to achieve his second goal: repentance.

After focusing on heaven, Jesus brings that vision to present-day reality with the word “repent,” which, as I’ve written before, describes a total change of thinking. It describes a change from carnal-mindedness to spiritual-mindedness.

From Jesus’ first message until his death, his overarching theme was giving life: eternal life, and life as spiritual-mindedness; life in the future, and life now; life in heaven, and life in light of heaven. He wants you to think differently, because heaven is really, really, close.

In other words, Jesus wants you to live.

The one thing you need to know if you want to stop worrying.

“‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'” -Mark 1:15

I wrote earlier about one way the kingdom of heaven can be considered near–it’s only one heartbeat away.

With that in mind, I’ve come to a simple re-wording of Jesus’ first teaching. It may be too simple, but I think it at least gets one part of the message across.

Here it is:

“Don’t worry: heaven is close.”

And this impacts us in two ways.

First, it impacts your selfish fear. Heaven is close, so don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat, or drink, or wear. Don’t worry about your career, or how you’ll provide for yourself. God takes care of the birds, and he’ll take care of you.

Second, it impacts your faithless zeal. This goes back to the idea of trusting God to accomplish what he desires, and letting that trust impact the way we live. We often use the excuse that if we do worry about these things, we can be more effective. We can do a better job, and we can even have a bigger witness. But what will you be witnessing to?

If you believe that you are safe, because heaven is close, and if you believe that God will accomplish what he desires, through whatever kind of life and death he gives you, then that tackles two main saboteurs of faith: selfish fear and faithless zeal.

Don’t worry: heaven is close. Live your life in light of that truth, and nothing will stop you from accomplishing God’s purpose for your life.