Thinking Out Loud

September 7, 2010

Am I Where I’m Supposed to Be?

Some people believe the center of God’s will is a circle.   There is a latitude of places you can live, people you can marry, jobs you can take; and still be in that center.

Other people believe the center of God’s will is a dot.   God has one city for you to live in, one person for you to marry, one occupation for you to pursue; and those things place you in His perfect will.

I think what matters most is that you want to do the thing that most pleases Him, and you are willing to do that where you find yourself, rather than wondering if you’re in the wrong city, or with the wrong person, or toiling away at the wrong job.

My oldest son wants to be doing what God has for Him to do.   He’s very good at science and mathematics, but when we dropped him off at university yesterday for the second year of an electrical engineering course, he was very vocal about his misgivings about being there.

This in turn, made it hard for my wife and I.   He was under a great deal of stress returning to dorm life and classes, and for us, it was probably easier to drop him off last year for the first year than it was this year for year two.

He’s got something he’s very good at, but feels he’s there because there are not a lot of other options right now.   In the spirit of “bloom where you’re planted” he wants to be a witness for Christ in that environment, but recognizes his history of social limitations in making connections with other people.

Perhaps you can relate.   Your circumstances may be quite different, but you may find yourself trying to squeeze some indications of “the bigger picture” out of the small picture situation where you find yourself.

If that’s you, all I can offer is what I said to my son:  I think in a case like this attitude determines outcome.   I know the situation in the dorm and the class schedule is not ideal, but you have to roll with the punches and trust God to work it for His glory.   He is there, working through every situation.

I believe the second part of the attitude shift is to then, having accepted the lack of other viable options, one must simply give it all they’ve got.   Aim for their best performance, even if that means outdoing a gold medal from the last time you sprinted around the track.

The first week of school is a trying time for both students, and the rest of us, who although we’re years away from the educational process, find it to be a marker of the change to a new year far more than January 1st.

So this is the true time to make resolutions, and for me, for this new season, trusting God more and trying to cultivate a positive attitude have to figure into my list of priorities.

Have you thought of making New School Year’s resolutions this week?    How do you deal with wondering if you are in the center of God’s will?

The book about God’s will being a circle or a dot is Decision Making in the Will of God by Jerry Freisen, and is sadly out of print now.   Check your church library for a copy.

Here’s where my thoughts were a year ago when year one was just beginning.

April 9, 2010

The Time We Disobeyed God

…Okay there were lots of times…

The time in particular that I’m considering is the time we moved to the city where we now live.   It was over 20 years ago, and we came with some “push” factors (wanting to get out of our 9th floor apartment in the city of three million) and some “pull” factors (liking the look of the town, as seen from the highway).

Later, I would write a song with an opening sentence that talks about the “pull” factors:

The part of the town that you see from the highway
Is never the part that the people there know.
The smiles and hellos that are so superficial
Filter the feelings we never let show.

When the business we were going to start in this town didn’t happen, we got caught up with the momentum of the “push” factors and decided we would move anyway.   We would go into this foreign place and trust God to work out the details for employment and income.   Not so smart.

(Tangent/aside:   Never move to a town where you plan to raise a family if you don’t know anyone and therefore don’t have your potential babysitters or family supports lined up ahead of time.   Ours included teenage girls who were (a) completely inexperienced — “You mean I was supposed to change him?” — with kids, (b) dealing with medical crises, (c) dealing with severe emotional breakdown.)

I think there was some element of God’s leading us to where we moved.   We thought we were moving to start a business, but instead, we ended up getting involved with a church that really needed us.    I got to write a newspaper column every weekend for ten years which paid for our groceries.   My wife got to raise her boys in a house and not the apartment in the big smoke.  I got to teach a year at a Christian school.   My wife got to start a number of ministry projects which have made a big difference in the lives of people.

But did God just allow us to “make the best of it?”   Was there a principle we missed?

I think there was, but I didn’t know the particular chapter and verse at the time.   The verse is found in Proverbs 24:2 —

Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house. (NLT)

First plant your fields; then build your barn.  (Message)

Fix your business outside.  Get your fields in shape and then build your house.  (rough English translation of Louis Segond translation in French)

In other words, get a job, know where your mortgage payments are going to come from.  Heck; know where your next dollar is coming from.   Settle your career in that place first, then talk about your residence.  Don’t move to Dallas, or Lisbon or Sydney without having a job waiting.

But we were young, we were idealistic, we were acting on a mix of faith and foolishness.    I think we prayed about it — a bit — but earnestly praying together as a couple hasn’t been our strong suit.   (If you’re a younger married couple, and the shoe fits, take that as a personal admonition to do better than us when it comes to prayer.  Starting now.)

Joshua 9:14 — the story of Joshua’s ill-advised treaty with the Gibeonites — makes an even stronger case:

The Israelites … did not inquire of the Lord. (TNIV)

So the men … did not ask counsel from the Lord (ESV)

I really feel that God has journeyed with us and blessed us so many ways.   But there have been some uphill battles that I believe trace back to not adhering to a basic scriptural principle.   In many ways we’ve lived like monks who have taken a vow of poverty, nonetheless we’ve been blessed with some family circumstances that made it possible for us to live what appears from the outside to be a comfortable lower-middle-class life.

But my advice to people today is always the same:  Prepare your work in the fields and then build your house.

December 8, 2009

When You Didn’t Actually Do Something But You Did

As a young single guy in my early 20s, I envied the marriage that my friend L. and his wife Y. had.   I always felt extremely relaxed in their home, though that might have something to do with L’s regularly serving a shot of cherry brandy the moment anyone arrived.

They had been married just a few years, no kids to that point, and life was pretty good except that L’s job involved working a lot of nights.

So when a job came up in a town about 40 minutes west that would be straight days with health benefits as well, L. jumped at it.   The house was a fixer-upper but L. was a handy guy.   He made several trips to the new town to work on the house and finally moving day arrived.

But Y. didn’t move.   She told L. that she didn’t want to live in that town.   Scheduled to work at the new job, and with the house already in his possession, L. packed up some essentials, figuring this thing would be resolved in a matter of days.

It never was.

L. had a sister named A. who was quite concerned.   She got on the phone to a national Christian talk show where the host minister took questions from viewers live every Friday.   She told the story of L. and Y.

He said that what L. was experiencing was “constructive desertion.”  In other words, really it was her that left him.   But in a purely geographical sense, he left her, and she could always enjoy that margin of denial if anyone ever asked her if she left him.

Are you following this?

(It’s also significant to note here that even though they had been married something in the 4-5 year range, Y.’s parents had kept her bedroom made up exactly as it was the day she got married.   But that’s another issue.)

I’ve always been fascinated by this whole “constructive desertion” concept, even if I now know the legal definition is actually a little bit different.    So let me rephrase that.   I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that Y. could, if she wanted, spin this thing — even though we didn’t use the word ‘spin’ back then in that way — so that it looked like he left her, when in fact, she seized on an opportunity to leave him.

The parallel to church life

This happens all the time in churches.   I remember my father having a conversation with a certain family that was no longer attending a particular church.    He asked right out, “Did you leave or were you made to want to leave?”

A church leader, elder or pastor can always deny he asked an individual or family to leave a particular church, when in fact he (or she) made it impossible to continue in regular attendance.   (Trust me, I know.)

So today, I give you a new term:  Constructive excommunication.   Well, not totally new, it’s used here and here.  The second one is interesting, here’s the paragraph were it occurs:

Swallowing his pride and raised Catholic, [name withheld] then returns for a regular service at St. Joseph’s in spite of what he calls ‘constructive excommunication.’ They’ve thrown him out and made it pretty clear they have but don’t do it officially anymore because of the publicity; interesting insofar as they leverage dominance through conceptual charity and don’t want people who would potentially support [him] to have the finite point to rally on.

Didn’t have time to read the whole story, but the modus operandi is all too familiar.

So… know anybody who’s faced constructive excommunication?

Footnotes:

  1. We’re basically not even in the category of social drinkers, but I do have a fondness for cherry brandy.   However, I think we bought only one bottle once in the past 20 years.   You want to avoid the cheaper brands, though.   My wife prefers the chocolate flavored liqueurs, but again, our financial position for most of our married life, and our profile in the community where we live has prevented us from purchasing much in the way of alcoholic beverages.
  2. When L. returned to the first home to formally move the bulk of their furniture and other items, half of everything was gone.   A. came to survey the scene with a friend who was given to having a ‘word of knowledge’ now and then and the friend noticed the razor-sharp division of things.   She left the “His” towel and took the “Hers.”   If it had been a wedding gift from his side of the family it stayed; if from hers, it was gone.  The friend of A. looked at L. and said, “You may have once stood before a minister in a church, and you may have had sex, but I believe you were never truly married.”    Yikes!
  3. I removed the name from the quotation because, although it’s linked, it seems to be one rather bizarre website.   The whole blog is one massive, endless post — which as of last month, Blogspot won’t allow them to add anything to — about a seemingly unsavory character.    I just don’t want anyone associating this blog with that story, whatever it is.

April 18, 2009

Andy Stanley on Getting from Here to There

principle-of-the-path

After nearly five years of watching the North Point videos and downloading audio sermons, I realized I had never read one of Andy Stanley’s books.   There’s something especially interesting about reading a book when you can hear the author’s voice speaking inside your head.    That was the first thing I noticed reading Andy Stanley’s The Principle of the Path: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want To Be (Thomas Nelson, 2009).   It was like purchasing a book on CD, only to discover it’s being read by the original author.

While Andy Stanley would be the first to tell you that he believes in the “one point” sermon, rather than the more popular “three point,”  this is not a one point book.   But there is one recurring truth throughout:  “Direction, not intention, determines destination.”    If that sounds a bit lightweight to some of you, the book continues to add additional precepts through ten chapters with new variations on the theme building to a crescendo in the final pages.

The teaching delivered in Principle of the Path comes with a healthy serving of anecdotal stories from Andy Stanley’s life, as well as people he has known or counseled.   His autobiographical moments are marked by genuine transparency and humility.

Using mostly Old Testament passages from the lives of David and Solomon, the book combines scripture with practical truth that is applicable to marriage, parenting, finances, relationships, career and even faith itself.

Who is this book for?   Ideally, someone starting out in life has the most to gain by reading this now.    But realistically, most of the readers of this book may already be down the road of life, perhaps even at a point of midlife crisis.   And some may already qualify for a senior’s discount at some stores.    Somehow, Andy has managed to capture some truths that can be processed by people at all stages of life’s journey.

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