August 8, 2015

Providence Is Intentional, Not Happenstance

Providence is often misunderstood. What providence is not is serendipity. Things do not just happen by chance or by dumb luck. In God's universe there are no coincidences, only deliberate plans. When things repeat in life they are not accidents they are reminders and admonition from God. 

They are providence.

When one person tells you something, you might listen. If two say similar things you are more apt to pay attention. If three say the same you had better wake up. When five say nearly the same thing in a two day period a person would be an ignorant fool to ignore what is being told to them. They would also be blind to not see that God is the trumpet behind such a synchronized and concerted effort. Let’s call it Balaam’s ass on steroids or the story of a modern-day Pharaoh whose heart was not too hardened but rather his head was too dense.

Although the words chosen to convey what was being said were different. The essence of the message from all five were exactly the same this past week towards me. It begins with the most apt summation of the concept by my Christian brother. 
"Impatient men are impatient because they chose not to be patient. Angry men are angry because they are angry and choose not to be a peacemaker or stay calm."
We can choose how we act…we cannot chose how people act towards us. Often, how people act towards us is in direct reciprocation to how we’re already acted towards them or it is God influencing things. Act like an idiot to someone and they will be more inclined to respond in kind, not kindly. No one likes an idiot. In essence what my Christian brother had told me is that bad reactions are bad choices, therefore bad reactions are by their nature are sins. I told him I was more stressed than usual, he told me that stress or duress is not an excuse for cursing and using profanity. It is a justification for poor behavior. I stood corrected and frankly, ashamed.

I then had my atheist coworker acknowledge and point out my moodiness and shifts in personality day to day and week to week. I would bounce back and forth between good mood and bad and I attributed it to stress. To some extent this was true but to a much larger extent…it was merely unjustifiable excuses. I have come to realize I allow the world and external situations to dictate how I feel way too much. I am like a ship pitched to and fro in a stormy sea. I am not relying near enough on God in the tempest. Anxiety holds court too much in my life. This atheist coworker also alluded to the fact that the reason I am not fully pursuing my calling is because I am allowing this churning sea to dictate my every move as it pitches me back and forth. I am often unsettled and not squarely based before thinking and making decisions.

Therefore my decisions are not always proper for the situation. Being unsettled and not having a proper port to launch from I then cannot properly pursue my calling as he put it because I am not launching my ship from a stable shoreline but rather an eroding shifting one. Granted, he did not say it exactly in this way but he did specifically say that I am not pursuing my calling correctly because of unstable foundations and that is why I am not happy at times in life towards myself or others. Stresses will certainly come in this life. No one is immune to them. How we react to them and grow is what makes us either dependent on God or independent from Him. Undertow or doubt is always there and will catch us off-guard, it’s how we react to doubt that either drowns us in disbelief or allows our survival in faith.

James 1:2-8 ~ Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, a whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Like the title implies, there are similarities between providence and serendipity. For a Christian though there really is no such thing as serendipity…it’s all providence all day long. It really begins to become quite evident from this point on in my past week's story. It really starts to surface in the explanation or the conversations with the atheist coworker and a non-believing or at least theologically questionable doctor. It is at the point of the episode with the doctor that I realize all these people are being guided or directly used by God like Joseph for the benefit of his brothers or Pharaoh with Moses.

So I visit my doctor. I mention I am under a lot of stress and that is why my health has not been that great. I mention my recent bout with Lyme disease. I mention some of my less than desirable eating habits. All that to explain my hypertension and higher blood pressure. I receive a pretty blunt and targeted response. It is surgical in its precision. Life is what I make it. If you butt up against the grain of what is being offered you, it will be an uphill battle (Sisyphus). You need to go with the flow of what your life is offering you. In essence: I need to grow up and stop fighting battles and wars that didn’t need to be fought. Leave those for someone else or something else. In a sense I was being told to follow God’s will here by a person that is not totally God oriented. The person is medical not theological.

The doctor then asks if I am pursuing my call in theology. Again, another person calling it a call, not a career, not an interest. A named by a non-theologically oriented person. At this point I am clearly seeing the repeating pattern across time. I basically said I am using my calling but not vehemently pursing it. A simple questions ensued: 

“Why not?” 

I told the doctor I am writing more, trying to parse my thoughts and get the thoughts out to people I needed to and get rid of strongholds I didn’t even need. I was asked if people are reading what I’ve written. I said if they've read my blog they do. Response: “Writing and thinking things through is great…but actions are better. They show a heart engaged in a life, not just a mind and a mouth engaged in rhetoric.” 

So I leave the doctor’s office in a stupor.

So that evening I reach farther back into past memory to the months of conversation with my mother about (1) my anger issues (2) my impatience and (3) my total failure to meaningfully pursue…what else? My calling. My mother has been drilling me with the association between my impatience, anger and overreaction with wife, children and everyone else and my failure to go after the call. I’ve apparently been coaxed to and pushed towards that call by God but I resist. 

God is no longer being subtle. He is clearly forcing and issue here through many people just in case I am too dense to catch the first few (boy do I feel stupid). I am unsettled because I am not doing what I’ve been created and shaped to do at this point. Square pegs do not fit in round holes unless forced and forcing hurts. The anxiety I feel because of that is being projected on others by over-analyzing their behavior instead of my own. I have been facing the wrong direction to catch the wind or breathe of the Spirit in my sail the whole time. Even after being told by the two adults closest in my life, my mother…and my wife, I’ve resisted.

This of course leads me to the root or base layer of this post and the person that has been telling me this stuff since the beginning. Because they are the by-product of my relationship with this person, this has all affected my children too. If it isn’t already obvious…the person that has seen this all along and the one I have resisted the most when it comes to these truths about my impatience, anger and disobedience to God is my wife. I above all am stubborn and stiff-necked. I am beginning to realize that the Israelites of the Old Testament and their stiff-necked nature really have nothing on me in terms of bullheadedness. It is actually quite a shame that I cannot learn the first time or even sometimes the second or third. I need to be beat over the head with things like a nail being driven into my head (or hand). All this to say that my wife had been telling me all this all along and I chose to ignore it. Hammering the nail on the head, into my head still doesn’t always get the point home. People can often choose to be ignorant to the truth. Crucifixions can happen that way.

I suggest that is because these types of lessons are the hardest to grasp about ourselves but once they finally click, they will never be forgotten and they will be invariably useful. No one likes to admit they are wrong. I am no different. Very few ever fully come around to the full truth about their depravity. People want to believe there is still something good about themselves. I did. I think that is why the idea of people’s total depravity is so hard to accept. I believe this is why there is such a diehard battle between the Calvinist and the Arminian around the issue of freewill. Sin makes us want to believe we actually have control over some aspect of our salvation. In reality it is still a vestige of sin blinding us to our own condition and our inability. Lord knows I’ve done it for years.

That is also why it is only the work of the Spirit that actually truly frees us from the darkened pit that we can find no exit from. I lesson hard earned. A lesson hard learned but fixed like nails affixing a crossbeam to an upright post. It is unfortunate though that I often must lose things in the process that I could’ve kept had I just listened the first time. Some of those things were/are precious. A peaceful life, love, respect, a job and credibility to name a few.

But as it has been with the Israelites of old so it is with me. God is merciful and forgiving. He has assured us things can be restored as He is the God of all, over all. This then boils down to what it was all about to begin with. It’s about the Gospel. It's about faith and trust in what He is doing in my life and others. He works things out for my/our overall good. It is a shame I am often too shortsighted to see that in my lack of faith and disbelief. I can only see the individually pieces but not the big picture.

I need to pursue what I’ve been called to which is to teach the Word of God and the Gospel. At the same time, part of what I have been called to is to be patient, humble, peaceful, kind and gentle. I am not to be combative or argumentative. So far I am failing on nearly all accounts and everyone has told me so…even my kids through their actions. The very people that have been trying to help me to see the truth are the very people I have been blaming for the way I act. How messed up is that? I need to call on Him that has called me to change this, I have no choice in that matter. 

Impatient men are impatient because they chose not to be patient. Angry men are angry because they choose not to be a peacemaker or stay calm. Act like an idiot to someone and they will be more inclined to respond in kind, which is to say they will not respond kindly. I am getting back in the measure I am giving. Just another way of saying that I am getting judgment back for my behavior in a form of instantaneous feedback from God. Sometimes God also uses others to get through to me. It may often appear to be a puzzle to me but it is never a puzzle to Him because He can see the big picture that I cannot. He can see the end from the beginning.

1 Timothy 3:2-7 ~ Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

2 Timothy 2:20-26 ~ “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

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