His Choice, My Choice

Journal 2010

I struggle with the concept of predestination. Romans 9 makes it clear that before the twins Jacob and Esau were born, before they’d made any life choices, God declared that the elder would serve the younger.

Why?

To carry out God’s purpose of selection “which depends not on works or what man can do, but on Him who calls them” (v.11). God decided ahead of time. It had nothing to do with man’s choices. God loved Jacob; He hated Esau.

Question: Was God unjust to do this?

Answer: No! “I’ll have mercy on whom I want to have mercy and compassion on whom I want to have compassion” (v. 15).

Think of it this way:

            He didn’t reject Esau; he just didn’t have mercy on him.

            He could have hated Jacob, but instead He had mercy on him.

Verse 16 says God’s gift of mercy is not a question of human will or effort, but rather of God’s mercy. God doesn’t have mercy on me because I deserve it.

Somehow in my self-righteousness, I believe God owes me because I’ve done something right. Some part of me wants to take credit for how good I am. But I’m looking at the world through faulty lenses, not from God’s perspective. (Job’s friends made the same mistake.)

This same chapter in Romans says God raised up Pharaoh for God to display His power so that God’s Name could be proclaimed around the world. God is the Potter. He gets to choose and decide what He wants to do with the clay in His hands—the clay that He created and formed out of nothing. My part is to submit and be grateful for His mercy. Even my ability to make good and right choices is a gift from Him.

All humanity is in a big pit, wretched and blind, with sores all over our bodies, up to our waist in filth, “ripe for destruction” (Romans 11:32). God’s mercy reaches down and offers to pull us out of the pit. I am too weak, however, to even raise my arms to Him. In His mercy, He chooses me. He bathes me, puts salve on my sores, and restores my sight. I didn’t do anything to deserve His love, grace, and mercy. But once I’ve been chosen, in gratitude I pledge allegiance to serve Him with my whole heart and for always.

I see Him reaching down to pull another one out of the pit. But this one resists God’s efforts to rescue him. He wants to try to get out of the pit on his own, but he can’t. He, too, needs God’s mercy, but he blames God for the condition he’s in.

God’s choices are all about His glory and His Name:

           . . . display My power, My name proclaimed (v 17)

         . . . make known His power and authority (v 22)

           . . . wealth of His glory (v 23)

If I view God as self-serving, arrogant, and egotistical, I become a reluctant worshiper. It feels like a power struggle, like a kid who doesn’t want to take a bath—petulant, balking, what’s-the-point, I-like-being-dirty, leave-me-alone kind of feeling. I’ll take one because I have to because you’re the parent, bigger and stronger than I am, and you have the authority and power to force me into the tub. Never mind that it’s good for me! Stubborn, arms crossed, crying, “I’ll get the water all dirty!” How foolish! I’m caked in red-clay hair, filthy feet, and body sweat.

When at last I give in, God sends a gentle shower and sweet-smelling soap for silky soft hair, moisturized skin, and scrubbing bubbles between the toes. And then He engulfs me in a gigantic fluffy wrap, gives me warm flannel PJs with feet in them, and tucks me between clean sheets.

So, what about “His Name? His glory? His power”? After I’m all safe and secure, He returns to His job—the most powerful ruler of the universe. He has work to do in His executive office, affairs of state I don’t need to know or worry about. But if I get scared in the night or need a drink, all I have to do is call His Name. It’s not that He’ll come running to meet my demands, but He’ll assess the need and respond accordingly. He knows if I’m truly thirsty, or if I just need the reassurance of His presence.

And the funny thing is, one way He protects His Name is by demonstrating to the world His love and care for His family. Moses appealed to His sense of power, authority, and reputation when God was ready to destroy the Israelites. “What will the nations think? he queries Yahweh.

God may be the most powerful force in the universe, but He’s my Daddy!

My Path, My Choice

Journal 2005

As I pack my suitcase for another school reunion, I muse on the different paths my classmates’ feet have trod. Some of us stumble across rocky surfaces, trying to avoid sprained ankles. I watch others schlepping through oozing, muddy slime. Some classmates have only known soft and spongy lichen between their toes while some feet skate across glass-smooth ground. The footsteps we take are part our choice and part our circumstances. When we approach a mud puddle, for example, we can choose to skirt it (if it’s not too wide), lay down planks, slog through it, or wait till it dries up.

But always, we live with our choices and the circumstances God puts in our path. Fortunately, He can redeem those situations and choices (if we let Him). He can clean off the mud, dry our feet, and mend the sprain or broken toe. And a cottage with a cozy fireplace waits for us at the end of the journey.

A 2022 Update. I plan to attend our 50th year graduation class reunion in May and our all-boarding-schools reunion in July. I go, not because I’m curious about the different paths we’ve taken, but because we started this journey together, and I want to walk together the rest of the way.

Avoiding Rudeness

Journal 2008

But some “worthless fellows” despised King Saul, brought him no gift, and said, “How can this man save us?” (I Sam.10:27)

When Samuel announced Saul would be God’s chosen king, these worthless fellows were rude and loud-mouthed. Their characters were questionable. And Saul’s response? He held his peace. He acted like he was deaf.

By today’s standards, we think it’s commendable to ignore rudeness, but I wonder—as king, would Saul have been better off disciplining these men in some way? Apparently, he didn’t know his power yet. After Saul’s first victory in battle, the people urged him to deal with the worthless fellows, but again he said no, not today. “Today is a day of deliverance.” And that day he was crowned king. Was his response wise or foolish?

Later, while at war with the Philistines, his men were scattered, and he was given explicit orders to wait a week for Samuel to come to make a sacrifice. When Sam confronted him, Saul responded, “. . . I forced myself to offer a burnt offering.” Really!? What kind of foolish statement is that?! Shades of Aaron’s “I threw the gold in the fire and out came a calf!” Contrast those statements with David who later “encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord.”

Chapter after chapter reveal stories of Saul’s poor choices and character. For 40 years, he did kingly things: He fought against Israel’s enemies and “made it worse for them” and “He did valiantly and smote the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.” But . . . we don’t remember him for his victories. We can only see his faults—which eclipse the good that he does.

So . . . I wonder . . . was Saul’s avoidance of rudeness or conflict a sign of weakness or wisdom? How best should I handle other people’s rudeness today?

To-Do List

Journal 2011. People talk about compartmentalizing their thought lives, and I’ve never fully grasped how they can do that. But one day when my to-do list was longer than my available hours, and my mind was too absorbed on one task to complete any others, I asked the Lord for a metaphor.

I mentally placed each of my tasks into a different room. One room is not more important than another, but I can’t be in two rooms at the same time. My brain is not wired to multi-task, so when I’m in one room, that’s all I focus on. People/relationships can walk in and out of each room I’m in, and I can stop and interact with them.

The first challenge for me right now is being in one room physically while I’m in another room mentally. I find I want to hurry up with the tasks in this room so I can get back to the Study or the Library or the Rec Room. The other challenge is deciding which room I need or want to be in and when. (Sadly, I tend to avoid going into the exercise room.)

And God? Thankfully He’s in every room of course. However, I desperately need concentrated, uninterrupted time in the Prayer Room.

Lord, help me to be mentally present with each person who enters my heart-house today. And will You be my Guide for what room(s) to work in and when?

January 2022 Update. This year started out with a large number of compounding stressors, and the jumbled stacks of papers in my office reflected the disorganization in my brain. Though disorienting, I didn’t cave or panic. I kept breathing and focusing on the next trouble-shooting task at hand until I could come to my scheduled Karen Day and hit the reset button.

The more we process our past, the healthier we get emotionally, and the more we can handle in the future.

What should I do today?

lion roaring inside cager

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

From my 2009 Journal. Miracle stories in the Bible like Noah and the ark, Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Jericho’s walls, and Jonah’s fish survival occurred at specific times in history, often far apart. I wonder how many thousands of God-stories never get recorded? Miracles happen daily around the world, but they’re not written down for all eternity in a best-seller book. These Bible stories feel larger than life (Elijah and the prophets of Baal, David and Goliath). Is that because they’re the stories of my childhood? They’re like bright spotlights in a dark place. They stand out starkly against the ordinary, the mundane.

I think of Daniel who lived a long life, day in and day out fulfilling his duties, but he has some defining moments, some spotlight experiences, where his character passed the test. Thousands of us live ordinary, daily lives in the kingdom. It’s important what I do today, in the mundane, choosing righteousness, so that when I am tried for my faith, I’ll continue to be who I am in the daily times.

2020 Update. Today I choose to love you even when you judge me for wearing a mask or not. Today I will remain joyful when toilet paper is scarce. Today I refuse to speak ill of your political candidate because I have not walked in his shoes or yours. Today I will remain calm and peaceful when my city’s citizens riot in the streets. Today I will love my husband and take food to a hurting neighbor and pray with a friend. Today I get to choose my attitude and responses when I’m isolated or in a crowd.

What are you going to do today to prepare for tomorrow’s God story?

Intercessory Prayer—God’s Part vs. My part

From my 2009 Journal. I know that God loves the person I’m praying for, and He wants her to have relationship with Him. God knows what a person needs and will pursue relationship with each person in His creation because of His great love. So, God’s going to pursue her whether or not I pray and ask. So why pray?

It’s an age-old question. I know that prayer releases something in the spiritual realm that I can’t see. But everyone has a choice, and God will not violate a person’s will. So, what do my prayers for this person accomplish? Does it change God’s mind? Does it change the person’s mind? Of course I pray by faith, ask what I know is God’s will, and leave the results to Him. I know that. How then should I pray?

Jesus, I have a friend who needs relationship with You. Is there something You want me to do today that will nudge her closer to the kingdom?

Now there’s a prayer I can sink my teeth into!

U of the South 2 (2)

University of the South, Sewanee, TN

What If?

What if we could see our whole life at a glance from, say, age 10 onward, along with consequences for various choices we make? For example, you could see the results of choosing to attend College A or College B. Or what Husband A would be like in old age versus Husband B. Or how many kids you’d have if you chose Husband C? Or what career choices would lead you down which path and what state or country you’d choose to live in? Or what you’d look like or feel like according to various eating habits you maintain.

ChessInteresting thought: God CAN see it all—in an instant. He sees the end results of the poor and better choices I make right now. He has so much good planned for me, but I don’t see it. I can only see the here and now—what’s in front of my face. No wonder I need to trust God for every choice. I take comfort in the fact that He can weave even my poor choices into an outcome that brings Him glory.

We are not victims of our circumstances. We have choices to make regarding how we respond to our circumstances. Yes, there are consequences if I choose to attend College A and marry Husband B and eat Diet C, but I still get to choose how I make Decision D. I have concluded that I want to make wise choices based on peaceful emotions.

What keeps us from making better choices? Fear? Anger? Hopelessness? Regarding not wanting to change our habits, author John Assaraf observed this typical scenario: Baby throws a toy out of the crib and then cries. Mom retrieves the toy and returns it. Baby does it again. Why? His conclusion:

We would rather master disappointment than seek fulfillment.

It’s getting close to New Year’s resolution time. Do I like the trajectory of my life or do I need to make Decision D to change the outcome?

Curious Thoughts on Exodus 32

Desert

When I read a chapter like Exodus 32, I end up with more questions than answers. I hope this doesn’t sound sacrilegious, but this inquiring mind wants to know.

Here’s the scene: After 40 days on Mount Sinai, Moses and Joshua (yes, he was there also) come down the mountain, 10 commandments in hand, after negotiating with God regarding not annihilating the whole Israelite nation. They have been in the very presence of holiness and purity.

While standing at the gate (What gate? What was it made of? Why was it there?), Moses calls out for the people to join the Lord’s side. How did Moses get their attention? How did he speak to a million people at the same time without a PA system? Did he yell at everyone near him to go to his or her own tent and they each passed the word to their neighbor? Or were they all together in a mob and the front guys passed the word back to those behind them? (Like playing the game “gossip” or “telephone,” I can imagine how that message would have gotten garbled!) Or did Moses just speak to the elders of each tribe who spoke to the clan leaders who fanned out to relay the message to those under them?

By this time, Moses had already ground down the golden calf and made them all drink it. (How do you force someone to drink something nasty anyway?! It’s not like he held a gun to their heads.)

So now Moses has all the Levites standing with him (Levi, the original brother, was no saint, but somewhere down the line, someone made some godly choices), and God honors that, and He gives them instructions to kill/murder/slay their fellow Israelites who aren’t on God’s side. And the Bible says they slew 3000 men! Does that include women and children? If not the women, can you imagine all those women being left widows? Knowing God’s dealings at other times with rebellious people, I suspect that whole families were annihilated. It says, “They went from gate to gate (there are those gates again).”

Apparently they had divisions between them—maybe to separate the tribes? Maybe to contain their animals? BTW, how did they find enough grazing food—not to mention water—for all those animals in the desert? The statistics are mind-boggling.

How difficult was it for the Levites to obey God? What residual emotional and psychological effects would they have had after this massive slaughter? Who had to bury all the corpses? And how do you bury that many people in the desert? I suppose they cremated them, but what a stench that would have been!

And didn’t the victims try to fight back? I’m sure they didn’t just stay put when they saw sword-wielding Levites coming toward them! They must have tried to run and hide . . . but where? . . .  or attempted to defend themselves. Chaos! Maybe the Levites came after the victims while they all slept! (I doubt it.)

And who inherited all their stuff—their tents and clothes and cooking utensils and sheep? (Can you imagine all the trading and bartering that went on in a camp that size? The entrepreneurs getting rich off their neighbors . . . ) Or maybe they burned their stuff up with the bodies.

My mind can’t wrap around the logistics of such an endeavor. What would it feel like to voluntarily kill your fellow man? Perhaps being clannish, it didn’t feel so bad, but verse 29 says, “Slay every man his brother, companion, and neighbor.” Is this literal or metaphorical? That would mean everyone who had not stepped over the line to join Moses and God. So if your brother or son did not join you, you were instructed to kill him. I can’t let my mind go there.

Following this, God sends a plague. You wonder if in the process of burying or burning this many people with rotting flesh in the desert (it had to be done very quickly) and grief being so strong, they would get ill from it. This is not to negate the miracle of a plague, but to understand the enormous stress they were under. Perhaps the plague weakened them so they wouldn’t seek revenge on the Levites.

God—who can understand His ways? He wipes out humanity with a flood, but keeps a remnant. He wipes out 3000 in one day and keeps the Levites. He allows a holocaust but brings a remnant of Jews back to the land. Abraham asks God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but God only brings out Lot and his women. (I don’t think it was God’s initial intention. Wouldn’t it have been better to have destroyed Lot’s lineage?) But God listens to a man. God wants to wipe out the entire nation of Israel, but Moses intervenes and asks God to spare them. God agrees—but only partially. He knew what was best.

Whose side am I on? Will I be willing to do the hard thing when You ask it of me?

Holiness, holiness is what I long for.

Holiness, holiness is what I need.

Holiness, holiness is what you want from me.