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Cause & Effect in America

Was talking this evening to a good friend.  He was in Cambodia for years as a missionary and is now back in the States.  He is headed back to Cambodia for a month in May and his passport got “lost” in the bowels of our federal bureaucracy.  After many phone calls a clerk in New Hampshire found it again and he is good to go.

One more instance of something “falling into place” in a remarkable way.  One more instance of something that the best of intelligence or effort could not have accomplished. One more answered prayer that advanced the Kingdom. One more miracle.

If you talk to someone in cross-cultural missions they will have many stories like that. God intervening in this world.  My friend said that one of his major worries about American Christianity is that we in typical American Christianity tend to see the world and God always in terms of “cause and effect.”  We study the Bible and this happens, we pray this certain prayer and that happens, we work hard or study hard or go to a seminar or make the smart decision or join the right church or send our kids to the right school or (fill in the blank) and we get the result we want.  Cause and effect.  That’s how we structure our whole lives.  Even if we think God gets into the act, we think He is acting on cue to our actions.

If all you expect is cause and effect, can you see when God does the miraculous?  Do you realize that nothing of the Kingdom gets done by our own effort, but only when God miraculously breaks through?  Do we become proud in our self-reliance on our own efforts, or mired in despair when we know our efforts cannot accomplish what needs to happen?  Where is there room for God when all we know is cause and effect?

Whose Story Is It?

This week a patient was in my office, struggling with her ongoing rejection by her family. “I’ve tried and tried to get past it, to understand why they treat me like this, but I can’t.” We talked briefly about how universal her feelings were, about how everyone has things they have trouble “getting past,” and how answers often don’t come. We talked about Job and his questions, and even after he encountered God directly he still didn’t have the answers he had originally asked.

After she left, I thought: Whose story is it? Who is the main character of the “story” we are “reading” as we live our lives? I think we all have a tendency to see our lives as a story, THE story, with us as the main character. We interpret the events of our lives as if the world indeed revolves around us.

The problem is that often the “script” doesn’t make much sense if we really are the main character. “Wait a second, that isn’t supposed to happen to the main character!” “That’s not how it is on TV!” We all have things in our lives, in our “story”, whether petty nuisances or heart-rending tragedy or just boring tedium, that we would not have written in, that makes no sense at all to happen to the main character. After all, nothing boring ever happens to Jack Bauer on 24. And lots of bad things happen, but they’re all exciting, dramatic bad things that he is able to heroically overcome in the space of 24 hours. If I’m the main character of the story, why isn’t my life like that?

The answer is one we would all acknowledge, but we need to be reminded of: It’s not my story. I’m not the main character. This universe is the story of God, of His joy, His battles, His creation, His sacrifice, and His victory. God didn’t tell Job the answer to why his story was written the way it was. God in effect told Job that he was reading the wrong story in the first place; that the story he was supposed to be reading and focusing on and cherishing was the “greatest story ever told,” the story of God.

When Christianity becomes something other than entering into and living out the story of God, it becomes something other than Christianity.

—Steven James in Story: Recapture The Mystery

Don’t Waste Your “Opportunities”

“I just got back from a week in Paris!”

“Well, what did you see?  Where did you eat?  Who did you talk to?”

“Well, actually, I spent the week at the airport. I didn’t want to go anyplace else.”

“You were in Paris for a week and never left the airport!  What a wasted opportunity!”

What comes to your mind with the words “wasted opportunity”?  How much someone could have learned, or enjoyed, or experienced, or been made richer (financially or otherwise)?

It’s easy to see how someone could waste something like a trip to Paris. But what if the “opportunity”, the “experience”, is not so inviting?  What if it’s a trip to possibly fatal cancer?  Or a wayward child who’s breaking your heart?  Or financial difficulty?  An unfaithful spouse?  A crummy job?

How can these situations be “wasted”?  They can be if we do not see them in the way that God sees them, and respond to them the way God invites us to.  John Piper wrote this week to his church Don’t Waste Your Cancer, on the eve of his prostate cancer surgery.  But you don’t need to have prostate cancer for God to use this letter in your life.  If you can take whatever trial or difficulty or heaviness you are struggling with, and follow Piper’s instructions to pledge to try to see and accept it as designed by God, to see it as a gift and not a curse, to focus more on God than on it, to allow it to deepen your relationships with others, to strive for a life of holiness, and to allow it to let you to better witness to the glory and truth of Christ, you will not have wasted your “opportunity.”

For This Purpose I Have Raised You Up

But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.

Wow, imagine God saying that to you—that His purpose for putting you in a position of power was to show His power and declare His name.

What an honor, right?

Well, maybe not.

What if that pronouncement was Exodus 9:16NKJV, and the man who God is speaking about was Pharaoh?


The point? God raises up the powerful and sets them down, He brings blessings and judgments on the “deserving” and “undeserving”, He does all things, even raising up an evil ruler, for one purpose: to show His power and declare His name. One day, every knee shall bow and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord—God will have his power and glory declared, one way or the other.

How will His power and glorious name be declared in your life today?