“A Successful Failure”

A recent visit to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida reminded me of the life and death drama that unfolded during the flight of Apollo 13 to the moon in April 1970. The lunar landing was aborted when an oxygen tank exploded two days into the mission.

The loss of oxygen threatened the survival of the three astronauts. The three moved from the command module to the lunar lander. Attached to the nose of the command module, the lunar lander became something of a lifeboat. With much help from the ground crew, the three astronauts used available materials in the command module and lunar module to jerry-build systems. They needed a four day supply of oxygen to make it to the moon, slingshot around it, and return to earth. It was a long four days with a lack of electric power, cold conditions, and a lack of water, but they made it safely back to earth.

The mission never landed on the moon as originally planned. However, under very difficult circumstances, they were able to return to earth. The mission was declared “a successful failure” by NASA.

We don’t get through life without some failures. The failures may be different for each of us, but each of us faces them. The fact that we can look back on having failed means that we’ve survived those failures, at least enough to be able to look back upon them! Now what do we do? How should we view our failures?

Having been a student of the Bible for a lifetime and a proclaimer of its message for a good part of that, I’m confident in saying the so-called heroes of the Bible failed on many occasions. The list includes Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and Peter. Yet, God used them all in mighty ways!

God never intends for failure to be final! There’s always a good option after failure. If the failure is in part or entirely our fault, we can admit it, always a good first step. Failure is often a humbling experience, and an increase in humility is always good! We can learn from the failure. Think of Thomas Edison and the thousands of failures he experienced in finding the right filament for the light bulb. Learning from our failures certainly fits under the heading of failing forward. Most important of all is to remember that God knew about our failures before they happened, and He has a plan! He can have good come out of any failure. In other words, like Apollo 13, we can have a successful failure!

Joseph said to his brothers when they came to him in Egypt for food after having failed badly as brothers years earlier by selling him to slave traders, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

God’s In Total Control!

Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsy were incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp during WW II for hiding Jews. The conditions in the camp were horrible, including an infestation of fleas in their barracks that made life close to unbearable. In spite of the conditions, Corrie, Betsy and some other women had times of Bible study and prayer together.

During one of these prayer/study times they decided to find reasons for which they could give thanks. Betsy gave thanks for the fleas! Corrie couldn’t believe for what Betsy had given thanks. Betsy said she did so because the Bible says to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and the fleas were part of their circumstances.

It turned out that the fleas were a blessing in disguise. The guards left them alone much of the time because they didn’t want to deal with the fleas!

Our lives are filled with much that we’d rather not be part of our lives. We pray to God to change things, give us things, or take away things. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that life often seems to be out of control. Where is God in all of this, we want to know.

Corrie Ten Boom discovered in the flea situation that even in the mist of that which strikes us as not at all good, that good can come from it. God had His reason for the fleas.

In spite of appearances, God’s in control of everything. Nothing happens without His action or His approval. He’s sovereign, directing everything to fulfill His purposes. Even as I write this, what I know to be the truth as expressed time and time again in the Bible, I find it a challenge to believe. Looking back on my own lifetime I find the way some things have turned out to be inexplicable, making little or no sense out of it.

What I do know is that belief in the sovereignty of God requires a significant amount of faith, faith for which we can, and should, ask for from God Himself, because we can’t conjure it up on our own. We shouldn’t expect to understand all that God is doing, particularly with the painful, nasty, bad parts of our lives. God’s ways are way beyond our understanding. The sovereignty of God is impossible to fully understand, but it must be fully embraced!

Whatever the fleas in our life might be, we need to have faith in the face of the fleas, trusting God as to what He’s doing. When we do so, such trust in the sovereign working of God makes for a soft pillow upon which to sleep!

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)

God All Wise!

There was a problem at one of Henry Ford’s factories, so he asked Nikola Tesla to have a look and see if he could fix it. Tesla walked up to a boiler plate at the factory, made a small X in chalk identifying where the problem was, and it was fixed. Tesla sent Ford an invoice for $10,000. Ford was furious and asked for a breakdown of the bill. Tesla sent another invoice indicating a $1 charge for marking the wall with the X, and $9,999 for knowing where to mark the X.

Knowledge is very important, but not enough. Wisdom to rightly apply knowledge is also needed. There’s no shortage of smart people who act foolishly. They have an abundance of knowledge but lack the wisdom to apply it.

God has full knowledge of everything, but He’s also all wise and applies that knowledge perfectly. Creation illustrates this. Scientists have identified a number of “just right” conditions in our universe that make it possible for everything to be here. For instance, if gravity were slightly weaker the planets and stars could not have formed. If gravity were a bit stronger the stars would quickly burn up. If the electromagnetic force were even slightly stronger or weaker we wouldn’t have stable chemical bonds. There are many more examples which illustrate the “fine tuning” of our universe. The psalmist declared, “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all…” (Psalm104:24a)

Wayne Grudem, in his book on theology, writes, “God’s wisdom means that God always chooses the right goals and the best means to those goals.” What this means for us personally is that God always acts wisely on our behalf.

We can come up with a long list of how we wish events in our lives and those we love would have unfolded differently. Looking back on my own life of over 70 years I can easily come up with such a list for myself.

It’s at this point, bewildered by how God has allowed or caused circumstances to unfold in a way not to our liking, that we have to make a conscious decision to trust in God’s wisdom. I like how A. W. Tozer puts it in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy. “The testimony of faith is that, no matter how things look in this fallen world, all God’s acts are wrought in perfect wisdom.” Yes, in this wild and whacky world we can do no better than to focus on the wisdom of God, that He is making wise use of all that’s going on, that it will be ultimately for good, including our good!

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

God All Knowing!

Kimmy with the sparrow

Our granddaughter Kimmy came to me with a small sparrow nestled in a piece of cloth. She had found it on the ground, beneath the nest out of which it had fallen. I found a ladder and replaced the baby bird that had left its nest prematurely. I hope it stayed put until old enough to fly from the nest instead of falling from it!

The little bird’s fall reminded me of Jesus’ statement that a sparrow does not fall without God noticing. Kimmy saw the fallen sparrow, but so did God, who also sees everything else and knows everything about everything.

Because we are more important to God than sparrows (we are made in His image, they are not) we can rest assured that God always has His eye on us and that we are always on His mind. I know, there are over 7 billion people in the world, so how can each of us be the center of God’s attention?

The fact is, God knows where every subatomic particle is at every nanosecond in every atom in the cosmos. Certainly God has no trouble keeping track of a few billion people. He’s the ultimate at multitasking! A. W. Pink writes, “For an infinite Mind is as capable of paying the same attention to millions of people as if we were the only human being on planet earth.”

The reality that God knows everything about us should both convict and comfort us. It should convict us in the sense that God sees the wrong, the sin, that we think we keep hidden from everyone. God sees what we do behind closed doors, what we view on a smartphone, tablet, or computer when no one is looking over our shoulder, what we’re thinking, and our true motives when even we don’t know what’s motivating us. This amazing truth of God knowing everything should prompt us to repent and to seek His help in sinning no more.

But the reality that God knows everything can also be a great comfort. He understands us better than anyone else does, better than we understand ourselves! We are not alone with our hurt, our fears, our depression, our discouragement. He totally understands; He’s the ultimate counselor!

I was reminded that God sees all and knows all, that He’s omniscient. I was reminded because a little bird told me!

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

God All Places Present!

My wife Diann and I have two homes, one in Florida to be near our son and his family and one in Mexico to be near our daughter and her family. We divide our year fairly equally between our two homes. It’s great to live near both of our children and their children, but we can only be one place at a time. Events take place with each of the families that we have to miss while we’re living near the other family. We’ve managed to establish two homes to be near both the children and their families, but we haven’t managed to be at both places at the same time!

One of the limitations we all face all the time is that we can only be one place at a time. An amazing attribute of God is that He does not have this limitation. God is all places present at the same time! The fancy theological word for this is that God is omnipresent.

Before God created the universe there was no space, and yet He existed. God exists outside of space and is not limited by it. God is present 13.4 billion light years from earth, sustaining the galaxies that are far, far away, and He is very much present with you right now as you read this!

The fact that God is everywhere present, including with you and me, makes it prudent for us to do what the ancient spiritual divine, Brother Lawrence, did – “practice the presence of God.” This means we never have to feel we’re alone, we just have to remember He’s with us, practice remembering His presence. It also means He is near those we love who we can’t be near at the time. When we pray for them God is with us to hear our prayers and at the same moment with our distant loved one to answer our prayer in accord with His good, wise will.

This wonderful truth of God being all places present, however, does not mean He is all places present in the same way. This is why we can be close to or far from God. He’s with everyone in the sense of sustaining their existence, like He does everything else that exists. But, relationally speaking, we can draw near to God, drift from God, or even run from Him.

The best approach is to realize God is all places present at the same time, including with you and me, and for us to make the most of it! Think about a person you really enjoy being with, and how things are not the same when they’re not around. God’s always around! Being aware of His constant presence and responding in a positive way to this truth makes every step part of a holy pilgrimage and every destination a holy place!

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10)

The Ultimate Easter Egg in Easter

We all know about Easter eggs, those specially colored and decorated eggs at Easter time that are hidden for children to find. There’s another meaning, however, to Easter eggs. It can refer to hidden clues or inside jokes that are placed in movies, TV shows, and video games. It’s believed that Steve Wright, director of software development at Atari, came up with the term in 1979.

When it comes to the celebration of Easter there are a lot of elements that make up the holiday. Of course, there’s the Easter egg, which became part of Easter celebrations around the 13th century. The Easter bunny came hopping into Easter celebrations sometime around the 16th century (the fertility aspect of rabbits playing a part in this). Candy eggs, including chocolate eggs, and chocolate bunnies too, came along later. Peeps, those marshmallowy chick treats, that people either love or hate, became part of Easter in 1953.

All of us undoubtedly have our own Easter memories from childhood. For me, it was the gift of an Easter basket from my grandparents on Easter Sunday afternoon that included lots of candy and usually a paddle with a ball attached with a rubber band.

Also part of the Easter celebration for many is an extended family gathering over an Easter dinner. Then, too, there’s the display of new Easter clothes, though I suspect this aspect of Easter is decreasing with casual attire being the new norm at most church services.

In all of the various aspects of celebrating Easter I’d like to suggest that there’s an Easter egg, a hidden clue, a message. That hidden clue or message is the empty tomb! It’s easily overlooked. When I did a search on YouTube using the word “Easter” about two-thirds of the videos had to do with a subject other than the Easter story (most were videos of Easter egg preparation or stories of the Easter bunny).

The empty tomb shouldn’t be an Easter egg, a hidden message, of the holiday, but instead should be the obvious focal point. After all, it’s the reason we have Easter! This often hidden message of the empty tomb shouts through the centuries that Jesus rose from the dead, that He’s alive!

The meaning and message of the empty tomb, of Jesus’ resurrection, is that He proved He was more than an ordinary person, that He was God come to us, as He made perfectly clear during His three years of ministry. His resurrection means He had the credentials (being God in the flesh) to do what He came to do on the cross, die for our sins so we could accept His forgiveness as a gracious, free gift. It’s this acceptance of His forgiveness that reconciles us to God, now and forever!

Like an Easter egg in a movie, TV show, or video game, the question can be asked of the Easter egg in Easter, “Do you see it?”

Through him [Jesus] you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:21

God All Powerful!

One of the feelings most of us like the least is the feeling of inadequacy, of weakness, of powerlessness. The feeling can erupt when we’re grappling with a big problem, when facing a major health crisis, financial issue, or relational difficulty. We also often find ourselves feeling inadequate, weak, or powerless to help a loved one facing one of these issues.

The advice to “believe in yourself” or to “project positive thoughts” rings hollow, if you really analyze it. It’s like trying to get your car unstuck from the mud or snow without any help. You can believe you can get it unstuck and project all the positive thoughts you want, but your car is still going to be stuck. You need help getting it unstuck. If a sub compact car came along and the driver offered to push you out of your dilemma, you’d still be doubtful about getting unstuck. If a big four wheeler came along and the driver offered help, you’d be very confident you’d soon be on your way. Faith isn’t conjured up within self, it’s inspired by something big and wonderful outside of self.

When it comes to dealing with inadequacies, weaknesses or a sense of powerlessness, we need outside help, significant outside help. This is where reflecting on and embracing the fact that God is all powerful can be of tremendous help. We need to turn our attention away from how big our dilemma is and focus on how big and powerful God is in helping us face our dilemma.

Consider how big and powerful God is. He created our galaxy the Milky Way which contains about 400 billion stars along with our own sun. Our Milky Way galaxy is only one of about two trillion galaxies, each containing 100 billion stars or more! God created all of this, and sustains all of this! The psalmist declared, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” (Psalm 33:6) God has infinite power! The fancy theological word for this is that God is OMNIPOTENT.

A.W. Pink, in his book, The Attributes of God, wrote, “But seeing that He is clothed with omnipotence, no prayer is too hard for Him to answer, no need too great for Him to supply, no passion too strong for Him to subdue, no temptation too powerful for Him to deliver from, no misery too deep for Him to relieve.”

This infinitely powerful God is not only creator and sustainer of this vast universe, but He is also a God who has a realistic knowledge of our weakness and is attentive to our needs! His adequacy can address our inadequacy!

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1)

God Incomprehensible!

Not being a golfer it seemed to me a fairly simple sport involving hitting a ball with a club, trying to get the ball into the tiny hole on top of a small hill. Then someone gave me a set of used clubs and I gave it a try. Turns out I knew nothing at all of how to play golf. The little bit I began to learn only served to enlighten me that there was much more that I didn’t know.

Life’s full of situations where we come up against the complexity of something only after we jump in with both feet thinking it couldn’t be that complicated. There’s been a number of times when I thought I could do a home improvement, but, upon further research, decided it was beyond me and had it hired done.

One of the lessons of life we learn, hopefully early on, is that the more we know, the more we know we don’t know. Faith and trust come into play at this point.

I pay to fly in a plane, part of my ticket paying for the pilot whom I trust to fly the plane. I confidently drive my car even though I’m clueless as to the intricate mechanical, electrical, and digital details of how it works. I’m comfortable in my own skin even though I don’t understand much at all how any part of my body works. Even as I think about how little I know about my own body, I’m reminded that I don’t even know how my brain works that allows me to think at all!

There’s so much of life that’s beyond my comprehension, and yet I go blithely on my way, accepting and trusting all along the way. Why then, when it comes to God, am I tempted to use a different standard?

If all of my questions about God can’t be answered to my satisfaction, is that reason enough to call into question His very existence? Really? Who do I think I am?

Actually, it shouldn’t bother me that there’s so much about God that I don’t understand and can’t comprehend. What kind of God would He be if I could fully understand Him? Theologians have a fancy word for what we’re grappling with here, that God is incomprehensible.

This doesn’t mean I can’t know anything about God, it just means I can’t know everything about God. He’s beyond fully finding out! Yes, like most everything else, the more I learn about God the more I learn I don’t know about God, and that’s okay.

I’m going to continue to drive my car, fly commercially, and be at home in a body of which I understand so little. I gave up on golf, but I’m not giving up on God. I’ll continue my pursuit of a deeper relationship with God who is way beyond my full understanding!

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” Romans 11:33

What This Writer Believes Is Most Important

I’ve written a weekly column that’s appeared in my hometown newspaper, The Parkersburg Eclipse/News, for over 45 years. That’s 52 columns for each of those 45 years, over 2,250 columns. I’m also grateful that a few other newspapers along the way have decided to publish some of what I write.

If I had but one more column to write, I’d want folks to know what are the core beliefs that have motivated my writing over the years. Let me state those beliefs in something of a succinct and logical order. I believe…

…Everything that exists does so because God made it. To me this is easier to believe than that it all exists without anyone making it.

…God made us, meaning us people, a very special part of His creation. He used His own nature as something of a template when He made us, so that we could be in a relationship with Him.

…We have misused this freedom to love Him by failing to love Him rightly, as well as those He’s placed around us, as He intended. It’s sinful what we have done, and it’s alienated us from God.

…God was not surprised by our falling into sin, and He always had a plan to make a way back to Him. He entered human history as one of us. It’s the event marked “Christmas” on our calendars.

…His primary purpose in joining us as one of us was not to show us or teach us a better way but to BE the better way. Evil, from a righteous perspective, needs to be dealt with, punished, paid for. God took care of this Himself. It’s the event that’s marked as “Good Friday” on our calendars. The death of Jesus was His giving His life for those willing to be rescued by Him.

…Jesus bounced back from the grave, alive again, marked as “Easter” on our calendars. For me this is the final piece of proof that He’s to be taken far more seriously than we take any other person, including ourselves.

…My decision to accept His forgiveness, His leadership for my life, and a relationship with Him unlike any other relationship I could possibly have is the best decision I’ve ever made. It has eternal ramifications.

This is what I believe, and it drives my writing. These beliefs are not overtly stated in every sentence, paragraph, or even every article that I’ve written. But if you’ve read at least some of my stuff over the years, then I hope what I believe doesn’t come as a surprise to you.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” 1 Peter 3:15

 God Is Dependable!

Photo by Kevin Schmid on Unsplash
@lighttouchedphotography and @Kevin Schmid

A man bragged about the antique ax he owned. He said, “The ax head has been replaced once and the handle replaced three times, but other than that it’s the very same ax my great-great-grandfather used.” In reality, nothing was the same about the ax.

It’s been said that the only thing that never changes is the fact that everything changes. The beard I have may appear the same as it was a year ago, but it’s not. Over the last 12 months I’ve trimmed off the original hair that I sported a year ago. It’s a new and different beard. It’s not just my beard that’s changed, I keep changing in a multitude of ways, and so do you.

The fact that we are ever changing people, especially when it comes to our moods, makes for challenging relationships. Then, too, our circumstances are always changing, demanding our need to be constantly adjusting and adapting. It can make for insecure living!

Those of us who believe in God can take great comfort and find great confidence for daily living in the fact that one of God’s amazing attributes is that He’s unchanging. The fancy theological word for this is immutable. God never mutates! “I the Lord do not change…” Malachi 3:6a.

God can’t change for the worse, because He can’t be other than being perfect. He can’t change for the better, because He’s already the best He can be. God doesn’t have moods that can change at a whim; He never has a bad day. Neither does God change His will or His purposes.

But does God ever change His responses? Does He “change His mind”? There are many scriptures where God decides not to judge a nation or people because they listened to God’s prophet and repented. Also, if our prayer requests to God have any value at all, it’s because He responds to them.

However, God is unchanging in His nature and in His purposes. This means that God can be counted on, depended on. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. He’s the same God for us today as He was for the people of the Old Testament and for the people of the New Testament. Yes, God is unchanging, and aren’t we glad He is!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17