We misjudge God because our perspective is too small. We estimate His character on the basis of what we can see: Why the suffering? Why the pain? Why the long, long road?
But God's purposes cannot be judged by finitude; He can't be understood by looking at visible things. We believe Him by faith when we don't understand: We know that He is who He said He is and that He will do what He says He will do.
We don't judge Him at all because every judgment underestimates the greatness of His goodness and the depth of His love.
Postscript: Rhubarb is just emerging from winter slumber. Separated from its context, it's really hard to tell what it is...
© Copyright March 2017 by Robert G. Robbins
Recently I delivered several specialty windows to a house under construction on Mercer Island. I wasn’t required to install, so I put each window beneath the correct opening. I could have left then—I had fulfilled my duty. But I had some extra time in my schedule (which was unusual) and I have a long-term happy relationship with this contractor: I volunteered to use my time between appointments to put the windows in.
There was no pin nailer on site, so I grabbed my tools from the van and we went to work shimming the first window to the correct height for the best edge reveal then carefully pressing the stops into place to hold the window permanently with a few well-placed nails. I took my time and shot nails into each stop, slowly and deliberately angling the gun before pulling the trigger every time.
One nail left to go, way up at the top of the window. It was a bit of a reach from the ground, but not too bad. I assessed my angle, depressed the safety, and pulled the trigger. Silver streaks shot like lightning through the top of the window. I had just broken the window using my own nail gun.
You’ve experienced situations like this: One moment, all is well; the next, things are changed forever. Fender benders, broken dishes, and the “send” button on an unfinished e-mail all follow this pattern. Words you spoke you wish you could take back. An image on your screen you wish you hadn’t looked at. The tricycle you didn’t see when you backed out of the driveway.
I looked at the silver lines that shot through my window and groaned inside. This wasn’t just an accident; this was an accident I had volunteered for. I didn’t have to be here. I could be somewhere else, taking a much-needed break in a very long day. I looked at those cracks in the glass and I saw dollars and wasted work and another trip to deliver another window, this time without remuneration.
You could argue that the nail did exactly what the nail was supposed to do. Granted, it might have hit a hard spot in the wood and diverted slightly, but very likely I just erred in estimating the angle on that last nail. It was at the top of the window . . . I was reaching . . . I made a mistake.
So was that “natural law” simply taking it’s course? Yes and no. Yes, because that nail did exactly as it was instructed by my hand and the nail gun. No, because there is absolutely nothing—not even my mistakes—not even my sins—not even other people’s sins against me—that is outside the purview of the purpose and plan of God.
But then, if God really was in charge—and in theory I believed He was—then I could only believe that my mistake did not constitute a mistake for God. He hadn’t blinked just as I pulled the trigger to shoot the final nail. This too was from the hand of God and He was using it to do something good in my life; He was using it to conform me to the image of His Son.
I found myself at a crossroads: I could resign to my fate and hope for the best, I could resist my fate and get angry about what I could not change, or I could reject the false idea of fate altogether and trust the sovereign God who is my loving Father.
Usually we have one of these three responses when things go wrong:
• Resignation (“Que sera sera”—what will be will be)
• Resistance (futile fighting against facts)
• Trust (Remembering that fate is a myth and that God’s providence is the great reality.)
Trusting God is an action as deliberate an action as carefully angling a nail gun when shooting stops around an expensive window because it’s calculated on the basis of truth—and it actively takes personal responsibility for what I can do. I can’t fix the problem or rewind the tape. I can’t make the problem disappear by thinking good thoughts. But I can put my hand in my Father’s hand and trust Him.
How can I trust God when everything has gone wrong? After all, He could have kept me from shooting that nail into the window. Remember, rejecting fate is deliberate action based on truth. Trust isn’t primarily an emotional response because I feel good about a situation or because I understand how God is working it all out.
Trust is calculated on reality—and it’s displayed in giving thanks. Strangely enough thanksgiving is one of the chief demonstrations of faith when things go wrong. That’s because we are resting our hope on the character of God, not on our circumstance; we’re planting our feet on the solid ground of God’s promise, not on the sand of visible things.
I could deliberately thank God. Instead of just seeing dollars when I looked at those cracks, I could see the hand of my Father working for some yet unknown purpose to do me good.
Thank You, Lord. Not just thank You that it wasn’t worse. (I didn’t break all the windows.) Not just thank You that I could work out a resolution to the problem. (There are many things in life that are much more difficult to fix than a broken window.) Just thank You. Thank You because this is part of Your good plan. Thank You that You can overrule my mistakes and even my sins and use them to shape me into the image of Your Son.
• Thanksgiving says, “I believe that what has happened was orchestrated by God.”
• Thanksgiving says, “I believe that my present circumstances are under God’s control.”
• Thanksgiving says, “I believe that the fallout from this situation is part of God’s plan.”
Resignation to fate is based on the lie that we’re victims of circumstance.
Resistance to fate is based on the lie that we’re masters of our destiny.
Wholesale rejection of fate as an operative principle brings the truth of the character of God to the ground level of my experience.
When we see who God really is, we trust Him and can give Him thanks for everything that happens to us. Thanksgiving is faith in action. It holds when resignation throws in the towel and when angry resistance sputters to its futile end. Thanksgiving is our direct-connect with the omnipotent God of the invisible world whose purposes for His children—for everything that happens to them—are all good. That’s why we’re told to give thanks in everything.
© March 2017 by Robert G. Robbins
God never tires of retelling His story in surprising ways--old but always new, familiar but never trite or worn or contrived. Old hydrangea blossoms will give way to new--new that look remarkably like these tired blooms from last year, but so unlike--so full of life and vigor, so vital in the great retelling of the glory of God.
God is never satisfied with what we used to be because His story--the revelation of Jesus--is not complete. He is committed to performing His good work in us until the day of Christ. In that hope we grow, but don't grow weary.
We can afford to let go of the past--not just our failures, but also our successes--because we're so confident in the goodness of God, so certain that, as Oswald Chambers said, "With God the best is always yet to be."
How will God tell His story through you tomorrow?
© March 2017 by Robert G. Robbins
Endurance is one of those qualities that everyone appreciates but nobody wants. Endurance is the grace to go on when things that matter remain undone; it's the ability to hope when year after year stumbles by without progress; it's the courage to engage with life even though engagement often spells discomfort, and sometimes pain.
To me, this threshold from our dining room to our living room stands for such endurance--it speaks to my wife's long patience with a ragged edge of 1960's gold-and-green carpet faded by the sun and worn threadbare with time. It wasn't just the carpet--it was that awful cut edge that grieved her for years . . . more than fifteen years.
Today that era has finally ended. It's not perfect, but there's now a reasonable transition from one room to another.
There are plenty of other "thresholds" that need work in our home--and in our life, other areas where we are living with glaring imperfections. But we aren't giving up because our hope is not in things we can see. We endure because our God is patiently enduring with us.
© March 2017 by Robert G. Robbins
A guy interested in a job with our company returned to the office a few days ago for me to run a pre-employment drug test for him. He knew our protocol: Take off your jacket, empty your pockets. He whipped off his coat and flashed the liner for me to view. He wanted to show off his artwork: what appeared to be a large, black and white nude.
I was caught completely off guard. The image flashed before my eyes, I averted my gaze, and because I was absolutely flat-footed and totally dumb-founded I coughed out a dry, empty laugh.
While he provided a specimen for me, I racked my brain as to what I could say. I value this guy as a person. I'm no better than he. But I've got to say something...
I never did think of anything brilliant to join the broken fragments of my thinking or to help him make sense of the shattered pieces of his life, but I walked out of my office to at least make an attempt. "I'm not used to looking at things like that," I told him. It was lame, but he caught the gist. "Amen. Amen," he said, and he donned his coat and walked out into the gray morning.
Just how to take advantage of Gospel opportunities? It's more complicated than theological discussions in a sterile laboratory setting in which everyone has a prescribed role to play and a well-thought out script to read. Sometimes opportunities are startling. Sometimes they're tied together with complex factors. In this case it was both.
The guy wanted a job and would probably tell me whatever I wanted to hear to make a good impression (hence, "Amen, Amen" to something that he obviously didn't believe). He also was proud of his work and wanted to share it with me. I wanted to receive him, but I also couldn't condone his actions or the broken belief system from which they sprang. I knew a little of this man's hard life and felt for him.
Two things are clear as I look in my rear view mirror: First, I need to be better tuned to the Holy Spirit, more ready at a moment's notice to explain why I have hope; second, the Gospel is God's work. It's His great concern. He uses fumbling instruments for the purpose of getting glory, like a team captain deliberately choosing the worst players to be on his team.
My life--our lives--are like a daily replay of the story of Gideon's 300 men or David facing the giant Goliath or the people of Israel doing what looked like a silly march around the city of Jericho. One thing is certain: if the Kingdom is going to advance, our Captain is going to get all the credit.
I'm not expecting to have all the answers for all the opportunities that I'll face in this coming week. I'm not that wise or discerning or fast-on-my-feet. But I'm confident that my Captain can use my earnest desire to make a play in spite of my weakness--however the next opportunity is dressed.
© March 2017 by Robert G. Robbins
Driving to work this morning, a short ten minute jaunt, I found my mind tracing the familiar shape of Psalm 31:19:
"Oh, how abundant is Your goodness which You have stored up for those who fear You..."
Goodness: the sum of God's generosity to the undeserving. We don't serve a malicious or self-serving God; our God is essentially good.
Abundant: the measure of the supply. "How abundant" is a beautiful way for us to connect God's character with His infinitude.
Those who fear God: The people whose attention is riveted on God alone. It is impossible to fear anyone or anything else when God is in our center-view.
It is great to have an immeasurably good God. We don't fear Him because He is vindictive or uncertain or mean. Our attention is captivated by God because He is generous and kind and merciful and gracious.
But--get this--God's goodness has a target--US. We are the object of all the untold resources of an infinitely generous God. He has stored up His goodness for those who fear Him, like water dammed up in a fathomless reservoir, pouring over the spillways of His grace in just the time and way we need it most.
There's more: The Psalm is set in the darkness of David's grief, when it seems like the world has turned against him. In that context, David assures his soul that God will publicly pour out His goodness, that He'll vindicate his servant who takes refuge in Him.
And there's more--but for now, I'm reveling in God's unspeakable goodness, counting on His unending supply, and satisfied to be the target of His generous affections.
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life..."
Several years ago, my ambitious kids got me to join them on a semi-regular workout regimen. I'm not a natural, but I've found there are some parts of pain and sweating that I enjoy: One of the best is that when the timer goes off, we get to quit...
There's a sense of that "joy of ending" in Paul's address to the believers in Corinth: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." You get the picture--and the older you are, the clearer you probably see it.
Then Paul gets specific on the nature of the workout: "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison..."
The troubles of this life work glory for us and work us out for glory. There is a sense in which we are being prepared for the good to come by the trials we experience now.
God is working us out to increase our capacity, to grow our ability, so that we'll be prepared for the heavy-weight joys of the world to come. The way He does that is through temporary "light-weight" trials in this life. These will have their end. And when they do, we'll find that we are prepared for what God has prepared for us: unspeakable glory.
Are you ready for a short workout?
© March 2017 by Robert G. Robbins