The Serenity To Accept… The Bad AND The Good

My plate is unique. God has prepared my life to be like none other. And it’s been a great big bowl of both the tasty and the nasty. But often times, I really can’t tell which is which. That is, I honestly don’t know which bites I like, and which I don’t.

These past two years, it’s been my health that’s “suffered”. I put that in quotes because I don’t feel it personally. It’s almost as if I am telling you about what happened to someone else. Because throughout it all, I’ve never felt in danger. Instead, I have been “made ready” for whatever God has planned next. Life or death. Productivity or rest. Reclaiming joy even out of pain. I believe He has fully granted me The Serenity To Accept.

Do you know The Serenity Prayer?

God
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

Living one day at a time
Enjoying one moment at a time
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it
Trusting that You will make all things right
If I surrender to Your will
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with You forever in the next
Amen
(Reinhold Neibur)

One thing I can say is that I have lived out and from this prayer these past few years.

Kidney failure, and ongoing sessions of dialysis, 4-hours at a time, 3 days a week.
Open-heart surgery, a full month of hospitalization and a year at home during recovery.
Three bouts of diverticulitis, followed by an abscess and surgery to remove a section of my colon.
And, most recently, hospital admittance for unexplained intestinal bleeding.
These are the realities, the facts, of being me.

I’ve had a lot to accept, but God has used these events to develop in me patience and peacefulness. You see, all these “bad” things have had their benefits – the biggest of which is the time I now have to write this blog and Share God’s Story in my life. Despite all, I am more than reasonably happy. In fact, I’ve rarely been happier. (My happiest moments are from my immediate family, also given from God.)

This is the way God works. His way, not mine. He brings us to where we want but not by the road we planned for ourselves. Oh, believe me – I tried going my way, for many, many years. I sought to please myself, only and all ways. That path of insanity led me straight into His arms, eight years ago, when I tired of trying, unable to quench the thirst to fill my empty self, realizing at last that lust can cruelly never be sated. I sought my end. Only then was I ready for His purpose. And He taught me first about recovering from my bad choices and habits.

And this prepared me to weather the trauma that I didn’t choose.

Come near to God, and He will come near to you.
You are sinners, so clean sin out of your lives.
You are trying to follow God and the world at the same time.
Make your thinking pure.
James 4:8 ERV

This is one of the most important verses in my recent life. Four simple statements. Basic instructions to follow to be changed, to be healed. Sentences that imply deceptively hard problems with one amazing and easy solution: Almighty God.

Farness from God – I’ve learned to spend significant time getting close to my Creator, the one who is all that is unseen.
Sin – I’ve learned to see not just what is unhealthy for me, but why it is irrefutably so. And I’ve received unseen help in removing it from my living.
Choosing God or the world – there is no other choice, and there can be only one (despite the other) or the (ultimately empty and meaningless) other.
It starts with my thoughts – What I think leads to what I feel, and whether I am then able to do anything at all.

:2 … You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God.
:3 Or, when you ask, you don’t receive anything, because the reason you ask is wrong.
You only want to use it for your own pleasure.

At the heart of life is acceptance of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for me, acknowledging my guilt but moving beyond it. Taking that clean slate, that thousandth second chance, and grabbing that helping hand to get back to my feet, and keep going forward.

Life is not for my own pleasure. Joy is best when it is shared. This is the meaning behind giving of oneself. I have been blessed with a great bounty – not of the usual worldly resources, but of time and experiences. And I have been given the opportunity to share these joyful, hope-filled moments with you. May God use them to encourage you.

Yes, my life is unique. And so is yours.

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Works and Faith: Can’t Be One Without the Other

My Brothers and Sisters, if a person claims to have faith but does nothing, that faith is worth nothing. Faith like that cannot save anyone.
…I will show my faith by the good I do.
James 2:14,18

Kingdom work is the only way to create equality of opportunity. Work without faith is as useless as faith without work. There can be no true good without God.

I’ve been working on this post about the nature of work – kingdom work – for several days, thinking upon the topic for quite awhile, and, for the past two mornings, wrestling with it directly in my devotional time and at church. Let me start with the latter.

This week’s message at Grace Chapel was about a small team’s trip to experience the church in China. (Good news: the Church is doing well, recognized, tolerated, and even fostered by the government, contrary to what I had thought. For an excellent review, listen to Pastor Bryan’s 8/28/16 sermon at grace.org.)

More importantly, what I began to understand was that believers show their faith in Christ by what they do – or, rather, by the why and how of what they do. Kingdom workers are workers first, but workers who are ever-ready to give an answer about their faith, rather than the dedicated preachers and teachers of the faith of the Missionary past. They are engineers, infrastructure builders, simple people helping to develop and improve the world for others. (I’d say that the difference is that these believers are actually good for something, but I don’t want to disparage my pastor. At least not too much. 😉 )

There is a huge element of intentionality in “faithful doing”, no matter where the doing is done. My Saturday included two examples of Christians ready to answer the question, “Why are you here, voluntarily giving up your time; time that could be spent enjoying the benefits and comforts of arguably the most advanced society in the world? Why are you helping me instead of helping yourself to all the good things?”

First, the worship team from my Thursday night Celebrate Recovery played at a “Love Your Neighbor” outreach event in the inner city of Worcester. That evening my wife and I went out to dinner, and there were multiple large parties of diners who had spent the day at the Special Olympics. This got me to thinking about who are “the least of these.”

Obviously, there are people less fortunate in circumstances and abilities, as I saw on Saturday. But there are also the less fortunate in terms of exposure, examples, and experience of God and Christ, which was the message on Sunday. Both types of people don’t need to be preached at; they need to be shown faith: faith in action. Faith with works. Answer: “God calls me here to give, to share of the bounty he has given me. He has comforted me so that I can comfort you, and point you to Him as the source of all good things.”

What answer can be given for works without faith? For good without God? What else can such a morality be based on?

In Matthew 12:15-21, wherein Jesus feeds the 5000, he “…Looked up to heaven and said a blessing.” All good things come from God. Our bounty is a blessing. It is the miracle of our circumstances. And we are called to share it.

Delight Thyself in the Lord
And He shall give you the desires of thine heart.
Psalm 37:4

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Acts 4:32-35 which tells of the community of early believers:

The whole group of believers was united in their thinking and in what they wanted. None of them said that the things they had were their own. Instead, they shared everything. … Everyone who owned fields or houses sold them. They brought the money to the apostles. Then everyone was given whatever they needed.

And, of course, there is the Biblical “it is better to give than receive” in Acts 20:35.

China certainly tried good without God in turning to a Communist/Socialist society. It is heartwarming to see that they are now asking God back, as demonstrated by the Church’s acceptance. Perhaps it is because the ruling officials realized what is missing from Utopian stories, and why attempts to bring such perfect societies to real life fail: The early Christians spent their time talking and learning about God and Christ. They had faith.

I believe this is because Faith deals primarily with what is, and not what should be. Utopias try to make what should be come to pass by purely human means. “From each according to ability; to each according to need” certainly indicates intent to care for “the least of these”. But, in leaving out God, Christ, and the Spiritual, what is lost is the voluntary nature of sacrifice, the fact of God’s calling upon people. The submission of the one for the many becomes forced by one group upon another.

“To be a socialist is to submit the I to the Thou; socialism is sacrificing the individual to the whole.”
Joseph Goebbels

The basis for self-sacrifice, along with Jesus’ own life and death, is acceptance of the way my life is; however that is at any given time:

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Philippians 4:11-12

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Psalm 23:1

If I have faith and trust in God, I am better able and more motivated to share and give away whatever I do have plenty of: time, resources, or just gentle words of encouragement. If I have faith, I accept, plainly, that there is no Equality of Ability. There never has been, and never will be. We are not created equal in gifts and talents, nor in fortuitous circumstances of birth. We, as a society/civilization, can only ever attempt to create Equality of Opportunity. And faith convicts and convinces us that the only way to adjust for inequalities in abilities and circumstances is to faithfully give of ourselves wherever we each see a need.

“Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the Gospel of envy. Its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”
Winston Churchill

“It is liberty that cultivates a country. No people can ever make any social and mental improvement whose exertions are limited. Knowledge, wisdom, culture, refinement, manners, are all founded on work and the wealth which work brings.”
Frederick Douglas

Socialism is focused on dragging down the circumstances of all to try and make up for differences in ability. But that is not human nature. As a “system” it sounds perfect. But systems depend on identical parts. Systems are not built for exceptions. And human beings are nothing but exceptions.

Only a political system which recognizes that making Equality of Opportunity (and not a pipedream of Equality of Ability) its highest ideal, allowing those who will to shine and those who will care to freely give, can claim any kind of success or morality.

This is not to say Capitalism/Representative Government is without faults. Without faith, it is just as flawed, and I believe we are seeing the cruel results of this today. No character demonstrates the weakness of the American Dream better than the prodigal son’s elder brother, whose self-righteousness and selfishness would not, could not allow him to rejoice and give of himself at the “re-birth” of his sibling. In truth, both sons were wayward.

For “Honest Work” to be honest, both the employer and the employee must be intentional about their part in the agreement: a “fair” wage for the best effort. I don’t believe we are seeing either these days. The whole point of sharing everything in Acts 4, was to prepare the community – and each member of it – for the hard times that God’s Word assures us will come. Sharing with faith is tithing. And just as there is temptation to skimp on the tithe or to remain in ignorance of its purpose, there is also temptation of the storehouse administrators to become possessive or for the successful to hoard for themselves what was given to be shared.

Faith with works, works with faith is the answer.

…The Truth of You

Heavenly Father, Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, Master Designer with a plan to save us, Your free-will-broken creations. You knew we would need saving, just as we parents know our children will need us while growing up. Whatever we believe, O Lord God, must make sense of everything, and science (that is, “science only”) does not explain the Spiritual, the Divine, the Just-in-Time-Exactly-When-Needed-Most, the miraculous moments we all have seen and experienced (though many choose to deny or be blind to). Father, I have believed in a world without You, but You changed my mind and my heart by letting me see and experience You personally. Not all can even say that. So, daily I will continue to meet You here, renewing my mind with The Truth of You. Amen.