Monthly Archives: January 2013

Foolish Choices & Suffering -#4

I agonize over decisions, especially big decisions like whether to move to another house or what kind of car to buy. That’s not to say that I take long to decide what kind of toothpaste or shampoo to buy or whether to plant petunias or pansies in the garden.

But too often I allow price to determine my choices rather than quality. Six months ago I bought a pair of attractive loafers because they were half price. They were a bit tight, but… Now I struggle to get my feet into them. And when I wear them very long, they pinch. I could give other illustrations but they would be too embarrassing.

Even when I determine to balance quality against price, it’s not always easy to make a good choice in our media saturated world. One report lists butter as harmful to our arteries. Another labels margarine as a dangerous culprit. Or take coffee, or chocolate. How do we navigate through all the shoals that we’re told can shipwreck our lifeboat?

Doubtless, bad choices can lead to great harm. And some of those bad choices are clear. Smoking. Overeating. Taking addictive drugs. Avoiding exercise. A steady diet of high calorie fast-foods. Too much sugar. Pornography. Sleeping with prostitutes. Drunkenness. The list is long; the effects devastating in terms of ill health, lost jobs and broken relationships.

Many of our bad choices lead to long-term suffering, or at least, suffering that catches up with us as we age. Why do we choose things we know will be harmful? Often it’s to find immediate pleasure through gratifying a sudden craving. Dare I say it, lust? Donuts and cookies and mega-burgers taste so good! Indulge. Enjoy right now. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with an occasional indulgence but the danger occurs when indulgence becomes a habit.

The danger is magnified when the indulgence breaks one of God’s commandments. Outbursts of anger can not only shatter relationships, but, as Jesus said, even lead to murder. One pilfered item from a warehouse or act of cheating can feed into a lifestyle of dishonesty that ultimately ends in incarceration. Envy or jealousy indulged can foster lifelong discontent. One act of fornication or adultery might promote a careless approach to marital fidelity or lead to catching a sexually transmitted disease.

So why is there suffering in the world? Much of it is caused by human foolishness, indulgence, sinfulness and ignorance. We would be wise to re-read the book of Proverbs often. “He who speaks rashly will come to ruin. The sluggard craves and gets nothing…Dishonest money dwindles away…”(Prov. 13b, 4a, 11a)

Fortunately, God is a forgiving God. There is no sin, no matter how grave, that He will not forgive if one but bows in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ, God’s Son. “His blood can make the foulest clean.” Forgiveness, however, does not necessarily deliver us from the practical consequences of our sins. The forgiven smoker will still have damaged lungs. The forgiven murderer will still have to finish out his jail sentence. The indulgent eater who is forgiven may still have clogged arteries.

Let’s not blame God for suffering we cause. Instead let’s make wise and godly choices.

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Does Difference Cause us to Dispute or Celebrate?

While peeling potatoes the other day I was struck by their diversity ofVarious shaped potatoes shape. Some of their knobs made them hard to peel but on the other hand made the task a little more interesting. I don’t mind getting a bag of potatoes of all sizes and shapes.

Geneticists try to breed absolute uniformity into all kinds of products from eggs to beef to corn and tomatoes. So far they haven’t been able to engineer a square tomato so it can be packaged and shipped easier and so the slices will fit bread more accurately. I’m glad they have been unsuccessful. I love variety, don’t you?

Diverse trees with their distinctive leaves. Varieties of flowers. Different breeds of dogs. Diverse kinds of rocks and topography. Varied shells. What a boring world it would be if everywhere we looked we encountered sameness. Varieties of flowers<a
But what about differences in people? Besides the obvious differences of sex, race, language, stature, etc. we have diversity of personality. Some are sanguine: easy-going, cheerful types while others are melancholic: brooding and perfectionist. Then we have those who like solitude and those who enjoy the company of others. We have people who are timid or brazen, anxious or self-confident, huggers and non-huggers, talkers and listeners, vegetarians and meat-eaters.

The problem arises when different personalities join together on a committee or in a marriage or on a management team. The more intimate the relationship, the more of a challenge getting along creates. Sadly, many disputes occur not over essential values and beliefs, but over personal opinions and preferences. Colours, clothes, and foods; how to share responsibilities, how much planning is needed, what management styles to use, where to spend Christmas, whether to collect or cull, and on and on it goes.

In Romans 14 and 15 Paul urges his hearers to accept one another, love one another, and stop judging one another concerning disputable matters. Instead, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). (See also Rom 14:1-8).

Varieties of Shells

Varieties of Shells

[In Philippians Paul urges us to have the same attitude as Christ. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3,4).

So instead of letting the differences of others frustrate us, let’s ask God—their Creator—to help us learn to value their opinions and personalities. Let’s listen to others. Let’s appreciate the distinctives of other races and cultures. Let’s celebrate human diversity.

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The cruelty of oppressors, a third cause of suffering

Oppressors cause much of our world’s suffering. Our televisions daily project stories of suffering inflicted by the oppression of powerful and cruel men. Two years of warfare in Syria has claimed 60,000 lives due largely to the intransigence of President Assad. Meanwhile, the Taliban in the border regions of Pakistan continue to spread fear by targeting innocent villagers on both sides of the border along with coalition soldiers and Pakistani troops. As long as genuine participatory democracy fails to take root in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the future looks bleak—unless God should step in.

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;…defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more” (Psalm 10:17,18).

But let’s think closer to home. In 2008 powerful institutions in the US manipulated the mortgage market and precipitated the worst recession since the thirties. The suffering of hard-working Americans who lost their homes was incalculable. Indeed, the whole world felt the fallout. Or consider North American tobacco companies who promote their cancer sticks wherever laws are lax. Then there are criminal gangs who promote drugs, prostitution, and gambling.

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (Prov. 14:31).

Powerful multi-nationals run rough-shod over the rights of aboriginals in many parts of the world. Greedy industrialists pay workers a pittance to labor in terrible conditions producing consumer goods. Landlords keep tenant farmers in perpetual debt in Pakistan.

James warns the oppressive rich. “Weep and wail…your gold and silver are corroded…Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you…have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (James 5:1,3,4).

Religious groups are not immune. When religious men gain unbridled power, they often abuse. Consider the crusades, the Inquisition, oppression in reformation Geneva, abuses in Puritan New England and in first nations’ residential schools. Islamists today use suicide bombers and threat of terror to intimidate whole populations. Muslim villagers in Nigeria murder 500 Christians. Villagers in Pakistan try to coerce a young Christian boy to recite the Muslim creed.

Oppressors have bloodied history with their atrocities. Think Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 18:13ff), Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 25:8,9), Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, Idi Amin—the list is endless.

Power corrupts, whether it is in the hands of an abusive husband, a king, or an industrialist. In the west we are very fortunate to have democratic governments, subject to an independent judiciary and a system of checks and balances. The development of democracy can be traced to the Protestant Reformation with its acknowledgement of God as the Judge of all the earth, not some priest or pope. It revived a sense of individual freedom under God and responsibility to God. In France where the Reformation was weak, their revolution resulting in a period of terror. In England where the Reformation was strong, a constitutional government of checks and balances developed.

Instead of blaming God for suffering, let’s lay much of the blame at the feet of oppressors. And let’s determine to personally fight for justice and abhor all forms of intimidation and coercion. “Redeem me from the oppression of men” (Psalm 119:134).

Only in coming to know Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour can we find the spiritual resources necessary to prosper in an unjust world. And the hope of His return creates within the expectation of a future reign of righteousness.

Shooting at Nothing – And Hitting It!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Winter provides time to plan ahead for the coming of spring: changes to the garden, repair of my rustic bridge, and the need to cut down a couple of dying trees.

The New Year is also a time to review more general life goals. So as January rolls around, I take out my 3 x 5 card for 2012 and check out the goals I wrote down a year ago. I can quickly see that I’ve fallen short in a few areas but in spite of arthritic knees I have been able to walk 30 minutes a day, four out of seven days. Okay, I’ve missed the mark on some of my writing goals and I need to achieve more balance in my reading between fiction and non-fiction. My spiritual goals are a little harder to evaluate. After evaluation comes maOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAking a new list of goals for 2013.

Many decide that since most of their New Year’s resolutions will be broken, it’s better not to make any. Just let life unfold from day to day. That kind of relaxed approach to life doesn’t work for me. I need something to shoot for, even if I fall short. After all, didn’t Paul say, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil3:14).

But I can see two problems with my goal-setting. First, I tend to set unrealistic goals and multiply the number of goals. Clearly, I need to pare down the number and make them more realistic.

Secondly, I need to distinguish between goals and prayer requests. Goals can only be set for areas where I am responsible to take action. For example; takinWinterloghm, croppedg exercise, writing, learning networking, making reading choices, getting rid of clutter, and so on. But other areas where I desire change, can only be achieved if the Lord wills. Only He can see that my new suspense novel, Riptide, is published by a royalty publisher. Only He can provide opportunities to preach and teach. And, although I can set goals for daily prayer and Bible reading, only He can turn spiritual principles into character qualities so that I can be more conformed to the image of Christ.

Unlike some pundits of positive thinking, I know that determining our future by setting goals is not what faith means. We will need flexibility and faith to accept, as from Him, the ups and downs that come our way in the New Year. God is sovereign. He knows best what I need. Fortunately, “He leadeth me, o blessed thought, o words with heavenly comfort fraught.” And so, may God give us a balance between actively doing what we know to be His will and passively accepting the mysterious unfolding of His purposes.