Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I recently had an epiphany about God's Plan for our lives. I won't tell you every detail but it compared it to the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. At first glance to the men in the crows nest that night the giant iceberg looked like three small detached icebergs (because they had only their natural vision and no binoculars). By the time the ship got close enough for them to realize it was one mammoth iceberg, it was too late to change course.

Now, icebergs are about 7/8 under water...with only 1/8 showing above the water. That smaller part which is showing is like the part of God's Plan we can see with our natural eyes. The larger part of His Plan is all the arrangements He had to make beyond our natural vision so we could see that part which is visible "above the water of our unknowing."

I am also reminded that all the extraordinary people we have met and all the fascinating places we have visited and all the incredible experiences we have had began after we stepped out of our comfort zone. None of these events in our lives would have happened had we remained in Rome as we wanted to. But, God intervened. He first "invited" us to leave and then He "nudged" us to leave. Soon after that, we had no recourse but to leave and that's when it got exciting!

As we were discussing these sorts of things in our weekly Bible study, I used the analogy of the ferry. At first, it's just a wee little speck on the distant horizon. Then, as it draws nearer to port, it looms larger and larger. It comes up to the docking area and it's just fascinating to watch the pilot turn that huge thing around in what, compared to the Sound, is a bathtub.

One of our Bible study members is a lifelong sailor (as in real sailboats). He pointed out that most of the stability of a sailing vessel is under water. The ballast is there. The keel is there. The rudder is there. The sails which are above the water provide speed and direction but what keeps the boat afloat is below the surface of the water.

Perhaps that's true of God's Plan for our lives. We see just the part that contributes speed and direction but the stability, the safety factor if you will, is provided beyond our immediate sight. So, when things get tough and the seas get choppy, it's helpful to remember where our ballast is.

These two parallel understandings have kept down the angst over the years as doors have opened before us as others closed behind us. Someday, we will see the whole pattern but, for now, we're quite content with what has been revealed. As our former pastor says, "Truth is like throwing fruit at a barn door. You can't miss it but the splat you make will never cover the entire subject."

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Slavery of Debt

Proverbs 22:7 "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."

To be enslaved is to lose control over one's life, to lose the freedom to make choices. Unfortunately, during the past three decades, endebtedness has gained a respectability it does not deserve. It began back in the days when business schools taught, "Greed is good." And, greed became the standard of success. It was "smart" to laugh and say, "He who dies with the most toys wins."

The truth is he who dies with the most toys is still dead and the legacy he leaves behind will surely not honor God if acquisition has become his god.

Think of all the advertisements you have ever seen which promoted credit cards. Did even a single one promote thrift? Self-discipline? Selflessness. Of course not! Why not? Thrift and self-discipline, and selflessness honor God, not man. These attributes are a product of stewardship over selfishness.

Did even a single one of those advertisements show the user/abuser's sleepless nights or family arguments which arise from being head-over-heels in debt, the day to day uncertainty? No, not one.

Did any of those billboards or promotional mailers show the cardholder's loss of credibility when he or she had to declare bankruptcy when they couldn't repay what they had borrowed? No.

Have you noticed that borrowers were called "card holders," "clients," or "buyers?" They weren't called debtors or borrowers much less slaves. One financier said recently, "The borrower is king." Ask yourself what slave is a king.

The two real estate bubbles I have been aware of during my adult years have been characterized by an insatiable materialism. As prices rose on homes, so did the "creative lending practices." Things like balloon notes, adjustable rate mortgages, second and even third mortgages on brand new homes purchased by first time homeowners. Prospective "buyers" got into bidding wars in which prices rose far above the actual value or even replacement cost of the property. Once the buyers moved in, there were a hundred more "things we need to buy to complete the dream:" furniture, draperies, appliances, a new car to reflect properly on the new home. Many forgot to provide for insurance or taxes or maintenance and were foreclosed on because they did not fulfill these basic requirements of the lender. Satan does not disguise himself as the Prince of Darkness. He is the Prince of Darkness and the "things we need to buy" are just additional chains with which to enslave us.

When David and I married, we set a goal to be debtfree within fifteen years. By the Grace of God and His Provision, we were debtfree in seven. It changed the way we looked at the world. We have literally saved tens of thousands of dollars in interest which we have been able to invest in the lives of others. We've been able to sleep at night. We're not reluctant to answer the door or the phone. We don't dread opening the mail.

In Jeremiah 29:11, we find, "For I know the plans I have for you"--this is the Lord's declaration--"plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."

That future, that hope do not include voluntary slavery to anything or anyone but the Lord.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tests, Trials and Tribulations

I have come to an understanding that there is a difference between tests, trials, and tribulations. (ref James 1:1-18). I would like to share that understanding and would appreciate your response. Perhaps I'm mistaken. Maybe you have had experiences that illustrate some of this understanding or even refute it.

First, a test is a temporary assessment of knowledge base (both mental and spiritual). For almost twenty years with students from preschool through doctoral programs, I started each new class with an explanation of the purpose and value of testing. Tests are not punishments. Tests are mini-revelations of what the student has learned so far and what they still need to learn.

In my undergraduate program, I had a class on Piagetian theory of child development which made so much sense in light of what I had experienced with young children that I became like a sponge. I wanted to learn all I could. I entered the final exam with a class average of 100. The final exam had 200 items on it. When the grades were posted, I realized I had missed two items so I called the prof to ask for an appointment. She was amazed but she generously made the appointment. She invested 45 minutes of her time to explain to me how I had missed the items and how better to recognize the two elements when I saw them in a child's behavior. Five years after my graduation, I saw her again and stopped to remind her of our conversation. I reported to her that one of those items I missed on the test I had seen in a child I taught. Had she not spent that time with me, I would have been less equipped to meet that one child's needs.

I share this to relate its relevance to our spiritual life. If we "miss" some item in our spiritual testing and do not recognize the error, we are subject to repeat it. Sometimes, we think we have learned a spiritual truth only to find ourselves facing a trial which requires a firmer grasp of the miss we had in our testing.

Secondly, James assures us in verse two that we will experience "various trials" that will include testing. He says "Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (vv2-3). As we look at this verse, we can understand that trials are a prolonged testing (I think of this as practice and retesting) intended to produce endurance.

In secular terms, these would confirm that the original testing (temporary assessment of knowledge base) challenges whether we have a head knowledge of the concept. Trials, then, would logically test whether we have an application base. Can we use the facts we know? I may know all the basic facts of mathematics but be unable to make a practical application. For example, is I don't realize that percentages and decimals and fractions all are expressions of division of the whole of something; I will be able to calculate problems someone else provides me but will not be able to apply those to real life situations.

Lastly, endurance through the trials prepares us to face the temptations which God allows us to experience. That does not mean that God tempts us. Look at vv 12-15. God knows our nature and He knows the nature of Satan. James says (v 14) that each of us is tempted when all of three things happens:
(a) we are drawn away
(b) we are enticed by our own evil desires
(c) our desires conceive sin.

The most incredible example of this is King David. He first was "drawn away" from the battles his army was fighting to seek comfort in his palace instead of staying with his armies. Then, he "happened" to see Bethsheba as she bathed. Instead of avoiding the sight, he sought it out and his voyeurism matured into not one but two evil plans. The first was to deceive the husband about the king's child which she was carrying. The second was to kill the husband. David later repented of his sin and bore the consequences in a way that honored God. How much easier it would have been to resist the temptation in the first place.

Jesus, in the wilderness, provided us with the perfect example of how to deal with temptation. By focusing His Attention on His Father's Word and Will; Jesus resisted both the tools Satan uses to tempt us.

All the way back to Adam and Eve, Satan used the same two tools he uses today: Satan's deceit and our desire. In Eve's case, Satan led her to doubt God's Word to them (Gen 3). He began with, "Did God really say?" He started with making her doubt her memory of what God had said. Then, he led her to doubt God's Motives. "God knows when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." There's just enough truth in that statement to make her doubt God's Motives. So she succumbed to her own doubt of God's Faithfulness.

The second tool Satan uses is the persuasion of our own desires. "Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom." As I read that verse and the next, the three desires the woman would use with Adam were very clear (good to look at, good to taste and source of wisdom). Scripture just said "she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it." This is the same husband who had also been instructed not to eat it so it's possible to believe that the persuasion of desire was an adequate tool to get him to eat.

We're no different today.

Several years ago, there was a comedian whose most famous line was "The Devil made me do it." I cannot read his heart so I don't know his purpose in using that line. I do know that the Devil has no power to "make us do" anything that we do not want to do. We were given free will. Sometimes we use it. Sometimes we abuse it. But, my understanding is that tests of our faith are the first step after conversion to prepare us for the temptations which God's enemy will deliver to us. The second step in preparing us to overcome temptations is trials which produce endurance to resist Satan's deceits and our own willful desires.

God allowed Satan to tempt His Only Son. Matt 4:1 "Then, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

But, God provided His Son with His Word to rebuke Satan and we are assured that He still provides us with the means to overcome deceit and desire.

I Cor 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it."

Although we will experience testing, trials, and temptation, God is there every step of the way and He has good reason for providing us with the testing and trials and allowing us to be tempted. Every athlete knows that to win the marathon (life), it's not enough to know how to run. We must build endurance as well so; when the race continues to challenge us, we are prepared.