Won’t Becomes Can’t

Anne Frank, whose Holocaust diary was posthumously published as the famed Diary of a Young Girl, stated, “Our lives are fashioned by our choices. We first make our choices. Then our choices make us.” Miss Frank was a mere fifteen years old when she died in a concentration camp and yet her writings possess a wisdom that continues throughout history.

Consider those words again. We first make our choices. Then our choices make us.

Endowed with free will, we humans have the ability to obey or disobey God. That choice is our right. However, as young Anne—and philosophers through the ages—understood, every choice that we make carries an accompanying consequence, and eventually those individual consequences harden into a consistent reality. In biblical terminology that hardening is called a “stronghold”. And strongholds are morally neutral—they can be either good or bad.

For instance, if I consistently respond to the whisper and prompting of the Holy Spirit in my life I will create a pattern/habit/stronghold of righteousness. Conversely, if I routinely disobey, yielding my mind, affections, or body to sin, I will create a sinful stronghold. And if I consistently won’t obey God (through the exercise of my free will) I will get to a place where I can’t obey Him—I will be gripped too tightly in the stronghold of my sin.

Does this make sense? If I consistently reach for things that are displeasing to God, they will eventually reach back, and then even if I want to let go, I sometimes can’t. I am bound. Addiction counselors understand this. They explain that for an addict the act of reaching for a forbidden, damaging substance is a choice; however, once the choice is made the addiction/stronghold takes over and it is no longer a choice—it is bondage.

I’m not sure if Anne Frank knew that she was paraphrasing a famous adage from the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “Our actions become our habits, our habits become our character, and our character becomes our destiny.” Variations of this quote have been attributed to Stephen Covey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and numerous others, but it actually appeared in ancient literature that pre-dated the time of Christ, and it has always been true. The exercise of our free will is dangerously powerful—it can create realities that either sabotage us or set us free.

Let’s choose life! Let’s tear down our suffocating, damaging strongholds and let’s build new ones on the rock of Jesus Christ.

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

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Your defiant statement

I wish you could see the larger statement that your life is making today.

And by the way, I am not talking about the statement that your life is making to your loved ones and coworkers who relate closely with you. Certainly, your life is making a statement to them, and hopefully they will take time to affirm some of that with you. I’m talking about something different, something bigger, something on a cosmic level.

The New Testament tells us that God uses the lives of His followers to make a statement to the supernatural world around us. Ephesians 3:10 says that “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”

There is something about the church—in all of our glory and ruin—that makes a defiant statement to the supernatural realm around us.

Our world is bursting with competing ideologies, bitter hostilities, military armaments, sociological complexities, and overwhelming fears and insecurities, and yet those things are never the final word. God still has something to say and one of the ways He says it is through the lives of followers who live in a different kingdom, follow a different creed, relate from a different perspective, and work for a different cause.

When you do that—when you respond to God’s work in your life—a message gets sent into the spirit realm: “There is more going on than meets the eye. There is something greater than our small, exhausting pursuits. God’s quickening, illuminating wisdom is still at play.”

This defiant message of God’s wisdom displayed through His followers’ surrendered lives, reminds me of a scene from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan tells Susan and Lucy that the White Witch had been deficient in her education. He said:

“It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”[1]

There is a deeper wisdom and a greater power at work in our world today, and your surrendered life is a human megaphone that speaks it into the cosmos.

[1] The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, chapter 15.

Chance vs. Opportunity

Make the most of every opportunity.” That’s what the Bible tells us to do in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5, but what if we don’t? What happens if we don’t make the most of an opportunity? Or worse, what if we miss an opportunity altogether? Are we out of luck, doomed to never get that particular opportunity again?

Sort of.

Second chances are plentiful in life and Scripture. Indeed, thorough readings of God’s interactions with people in the Bible have dubbed Him the unofficial name “the God of the second chance.” However, even though second chances occur quite often, lost opportunities are a different matter. Once we miss out on an opportunity it is gone, never to present itself in exactly the same way again. This does not mean that our second chances can’t be as good as our first chances—sometimes they can be even better—but the uniqueness of an opportunity only presents itself once.

I have a friend who says it this way. Imagine you are waiting for a bus to pick you up, but when it arrives you decide not to board. Certainly that wasn’t your only chance in life to board a bus and catch a ride across town. You will have other chances to take the bus. However, once that opportunity passes it is gone forever—you will never be able to ride that particular bus at that particular moment again. Additionally, second chances often prove more difficult than original opportunities. If I miss the bus today, it will show up again tomorrow, but it might be raining and there might be a huge puddle for me to cross before I can board the bus. If I miss that opportunity, the next day there might be both a mud puddle and a pit bull guarding the door to the bus.

Granted, this example is both simplistic and a bit pessimistic, but there is truth to it. We have to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves to us because their specialness and uniqueness will never present in exactly the same way again. Also, if we fail to move when opportunities present, future chances might prove more difficult than they needed to be.

In closing, consider a thought from missionary Jim Elliot: “Wherever you are be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” If we followed Mr. Elliot’s advice we would live with less regret and we would indeed fulfill Scripture’s admonition to “make the most of every opportunity”.

Ten minutes before the bad times end

I received some good news recently, and it was great! It made me so happy; my emotions began soaring, and the whole landscape of my world seemed brighter. I felt inspired and alive, so naturally, I did what you probably would have done in that moment—I threw up a quick prayer of thanks.

I said something like, “God, thank you for this moment. Thank you for answering prayer, and thank you for being so good.”

A little while later though, I started thinking about that prayer and I realized something. God hadn’t suddenly become good just because my bad news finally came to an end. He wasn’t an aloof, indifferent God who suddenly turned good once my good news finally arrived.

God was already good ten minutes earlier, before the good news finally found me.

It might be helpful for us to ponder this. In the middle of bad news everything seems bad, including God. And then when good news breaks through the gloom we suddenly feel like God is good again.

It’s not true. Ten minutes before the bad time ends He is still good.

At this very moment—whether you are buckling under bad news or soaring because of good news—God is at work. He is working goodness and an eternal purpose in and through your situation. Or course you probably can’t see it when everything looks bad, but it’s there. God’s purposes are still being done, and they will eventually be seen.

Romans 8:28 is a verse that often gets applied too quickly to painful situations. It is the famous passage where the Apostle Paul declares, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

We have to be careful with this passage, because it is almost impossible to see or believe in an overarching cosmic goodness when we face news of shootings, abuse, or personal loss or breakdown.

Paul wasn’t telling us that all things are good or that all things become good. They don’t. Some things are ferociously and appallingly bad. However, even amid the bad God works for the good, and if we hold steady during the bad we will eventually be reuinted with the good.

Let’s just remember when we do, that the goodness we sense from God during the good times was still there ten minutes before the bad times came to an end.

Fear of bad news versus actual bad news

You have no doubt heard Mark Twain’s oft repeated quote: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

There is profound truth inside Mr. Twain’s witty remark, and when you and I reach our own old age, we will undoubtedly say the same thing: we will have worried about countless things that never actually happened.

The Scriptures speak to this dynamic in Psalm 112:7. It says that the righteous “will have no fear of bad news.” I love that! It doesn’t say they won’t experience bad news (we all know that everyone does); it says that they won’t fear it—they won’t worry, fret, and live out their anxieties in advance.

Yes, you and I will experience bad news in life, but we don’t need to be afraid of it in advance. First of all, if the bad news strikes, God will still be with us. And second, most of it probably won’t strike anyway.

God has delivered us…and He will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:10)

I’m not done yet (are you?)

Have you ever had an overly efficient server at a restaurant try to take away your plate before you were finished eating? Have you ever gotten into such a great conversation that you neglected to eat, and then had to tell your server, “Sorry, I’m not done yet”?

It is not uncommon in the life of faith to reach a moment when you are tempted to quit and you have to declare, “I’m not done yet”. Life can be so mysterious, perplexing, and painful that sometimes we can be tempted to lose heart and give up on our vision and our ideals. Even Jesus’ closest followers had moments like this.

Once when people were losing heart, getting offended, and bailing out on the faith, Jesus turned to Peter and the gang and said, “What about you? Will you also go away?”

Peter’s words still echo through history, instilling strength into sinking hearts. He said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”[1]

Let’s follow Peter’s lead and let’s declare with him and the other apostles, “Jesus, we’re not done yet! We’re not jumping ship! We haven’t exhausted all of the life that you promised to give. You are the Holy One of God and our journey with you is just getting started!”

Statements like that invite courage back into the human soul. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations…courage breeds creative self-affirmation…courage faces fear and thereby masters it…we must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”[2]

Are we done yet? Not by a long shot!

 

[1] John 6:68-69

[2] Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1963), 119.

There is always a rescue scene

Every great epic story has a rescue scene. Whether it is evil wizards being defeated, dragons being slain, or Death Stars getting blown out of the universe, there is always a scene where the tide turns, justice and truth are finally upheld, and the heroes eventually win the day.

Have you ever wondered why?

Why does every great story have a rescue scene? For that matter, why does every great story start out with paradise being lost, evil setting up shop, and then a small band of heroes getting called upon to fight against nearly overwhelming odds? Why is there is always a moment when the beauty—there is always a beauty—gets captured and seems lost forever? Why does every epic tale have a moment when all hope is lost until someone mounts a rescue scene to finally save the day?

Because yours does.

The story of Scripture—the story in which you and I are living—is a story of paradise lost and then found; it is a story of sin’s death swallowing the world before life and love win the day. The Bible begins in Genesis with paradise lost and it ends in Revelation with paradise found and restored.

1 Corinthians 15:54 tells us the outcome of the biblical narrative: through Jesus Christ “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” The Bible is the archetype—it is the original, true-life narrative that gives form and substance to every lesser story that replays its central themes. This Easter as we re-imagine and re-engage with the Bible’s central theme let’s remember that there is a larger story—scholars call it a metanarrative—that you and I have been born into.

If hope seems lost today—if beauty seems vanquished forever—please hold steady. There is always a rescue scene.