We believe God’s promises, yet even on our best days, a shallow scratch reveals festering discontent. Disappointed, we see less than we expect. One voice in our head whines, “We play His game, so He owes us, right? Success, health, happiness, some sort of payment for our good deeds.” Another confesses along with the Psalmist, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
My shoes squished with every step. A shiny trail ran between my desk and a dripping umbrella, waiting by the door for my next trip across the ramp. Six weeks of rain and mottled gray sky made it hard to remember any other color existed. I was tired—tired of wet feet, parked airplanes, and a waiting room full of people who only wanted to go home. Occasionally, the ceiling lifted just enough to fly, so we’d try to do a week’s work in two or three hours. A mad, splashing scramble to load passengers and cargo, and then a parade of planes trundled to the end of the runway. The high humidity formed misty condensation halos around spinning propellers. The bark of supersonic propeller tips momentarily pulsed over roaring engines as each plane took off.
One day, religious leaders challenged Jesus when the people worshiped him. He didn’t lower his gaze, furrow his brow with a half-smile, or give a bemused headshake saying, “No, no, no, their enthusiasm carries them to excess.” Instead he looked the question in the eye and said the rocks would praise him if men did not. He agreed that he was Lord and master. He proclaimed himself the Father’s Son and source of true food and drink. He claimed to be God, the Creator of the universe. Yet, the same Spirit also says he wouldn’t break a reed and names him the humble standard to follow.
Jerusalem’s ashes cooled. Lizards crawled among the stones. But the dreams returned every night—Babylonian spears, Babylonian swords, first red then dried to crusty brown, yet still hungry. Now daylight brought more. King Nebuchadnezzar left Gedaliah in charge of the remnant. Then Ishmael killed him, captured all the Jews, and forced them across the desert. But Johanan rescued everyone. Wide, bulging eyes darted back and forth. “We can’t stay here. The king of Babylon will kill the rest of us when he finds out what happened. Run! Hide! Hide in Egypt!”
Contradictions obscure what ought to be clear. God promises to open closed doors—just ask, seek, and knock. He commands, “Be strong and courageous.” He says the devil will flee if we resist. And if we like, go ahead and move that offending mountain. Clear directions speak to the point and fit goal-oriented theology.
But He confuses everything. He told the folks on a hillside to turn the other cheek and give to him who asks. And He says we’re supposed to wait. Wait for what? How do meek saints inherit the Earth while taking the Kingdom by force? How can we do what He wants when knowing what He wants eludes us? Yes, we believe Him. But sometimes it seems we need a Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring to crack the cipher. Turn the dial, match the letters and voilá! The hidden message appears.
A picture [unavailable for this post] shows a MAF plane and pilot on a jungle airstrip. He stands in a large circle of praying adults. Older kids look about; younger ones sit naked in the grass, clustered near the middle. Differences reveal location. The black people stand straighter than the brown of South America where I served. A generic Cessna 206 sits in the grass. But the propeller blades taper to the thin point of a normally aspirated engine rather than the wide, squared-off tips of the turbocharged model we used in the Andes Mountains. So, this guy flies mostly into lower elevation airstrips. Ah yes, the pilot. I recognize him. That confirms my guess. The differences say these folks live in eastern Africa.
A maximum-weight takeoff from a 300-meter (984-foot), muddy airstrip can reveal that the shiny airplane hides poor rigging and a weak cylinder. But professional aviators know that a successful flight operation depends upon good maintenance, so we inspect our machines thoroughly. The veracity of our internal procedures determines if we accomplish our mission or not. Order parts on time, or the airplanes don’t fly. Balance the checking account, or run out of money. So, we reconcile carefully.
Some psychology courses recommend we don’t challenge delusions—fixed, false beliefs that are resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact. But who consistently holds lies so close that the lie becomes reality? Who creates their own parallel world invisible to others but granite-hard to the keeper? Is this the exclusive domain of crazies, or do we all cling to some distorted imitation of facts? Do we cherish resentment? Do we choose anxiety? Do we wallow in greed or bask in superiority?
Grace, a lovely name picked for cherished daughters by parents hoping to impart gentle softness. And we call some graceful because they move not only with coordination but also harmony and rhythm. When we speak of the Lord’s grace, we often envision sunlight on roses under a willow tree—all good and true, but incomplete.
Jesus threw us a rope while we wallowed in a sewer. He pulled us out, slimy and putrid, a dripping mass of, well, you know. Then, after He cleaned us, He said each one of us should use whatever gift we have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. What forms does His grace take?
We believers know to do God’s will—that’s the easy part. But why should we? Because He loves us, or we love Him? Or maybe because He made the universe and knows better than anybody how it works? Or perhaps because He can zap us into cinders if we don’t? All true, but He’s concerned with our hearts.
Actions are important, but motivation trumps doing. And that’s the hard part. Rules are easy; motives are obscure. The human heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?
Fortunately, He does. He weighs every motive, every thought, every intent. Picking His way doesn’t come from mindless response. He didn’t endure the cross to create an army of robots. Instead, He demonstrates the difference between doing His will for ourselves and doing His will for Him by posing the question: “Who gets the glory, you or me?” Then, He steps back while we choose.