“It’s Not About God’s Wonderful Plan For Your Life”

The images used in this graphic page contrast two different worlds, yet whatever the Gospel is, it must have a message for both worlds.
Whatever the Gospel is…it just can’t tell a hurting child, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” I know that for some people that will sound like blasphemy, like I’m denying a Biblical fact. But I’m not. (At least, I’m not trying to do so. I just want to clarify.)

If you are familiar with “The Four Spiritual Laws,” you will know that this is the First Spiritual Law. (Who doesn’t like laws? And especially laws that say you can have a wonderful life?) And honestly, I’ve used “The Four Spiritual Laws” to share the Gospel. But the more I see of life, the less I’m inclined to want to use the words “a wonderful plan.” I want better words that tell me what God wants, not what my imagination wants.

In some respects, “God has a wonderful plan for your life” sounds like a “sales pitch,” and I don’t think that would have worked very well in the early church when being a follower of Christ meant possible imprisonment, torture, and a horrible painful death. There are still places in the world where it can mean these same things. Let’s be honest. None of those gruesome things “sell.” It almost gives me the impression of being “false advertising.” This is particularly true when you look at the perfect “truth in advertising” Jesus provided.

People are probably going to “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Matthew 5:11 (NRSV)

And that’s just to start. Think about it. You have to tell yourself “No” and give up everything that’s all about you.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25 (NRSV)

Whatever the Gospel is…it just can’t tell a hurting child, “Yes, your Mommy is an addict who would do anything for drugs and your Daddy cooks meth in the garage, but God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Isn’t that a lot like saying, “Your parents are failures. They totally missed God’s wonderful plan for their lives.” It’s that a lot like separating a child from their only source of survival and hope for tomorrow? That’s scary.

Eventually the hurt child may even create an idea of “a wonderful plan for your life” far from the reality they experience growing up, a reality that only happens in “happily ever after.” That’s scary too, but for a different reason.

Maybe that’s why evangelism often fails with children who have grown up. (I say “children who have grown up” here because even as adults we still carry our childhood self with us.) We know that reality seldom matches what we imagined. Sometimes we do the same things our parents did, and hate ourselves and our lives all the more for it. Sometimes we experience things that feel far from being part of “a wonderful plan,” so we blame ourselves, feeling like somehow we’ve missed something.
Maybe we need to ditch our own made up imaginary “happily ever after wonderful plan for your life” ideas and see what God really offers.

In the end, I think the only guarantee we have is this.

“…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NRSV)

Jesus Himself. He alone is a wonderful plan for your life. Sadly, we may only discover this when all of our imaginary “happily ever after wonderful plan for my life” ideas have failed us.

So maybe the message should be “God has a wonderful plan for your life and it’s all about knowing Jesus”?

“Finding Your Voice”

If you are a new reader, this “Voices From The Last Pew” series is about how past experiences may influence what we hear in a church setting or scripture reading, even when not intended. We don’t know about this place. We only know for sure what she is hearing and what she is thinking. We know some of her history that has brought her to this place.

This post has taken some time to get the pose right and fitting with the idea of finding one’s voice. Hopefully it looks as if this woman on the last pew is able to speak, ready to speak, but choosing not to because that is her choice, not anyone else’s choice for her. She has found her voice. This is so very important for anyone who has experienced any form of abuse.

The secrecy and shame that often accompany abuse can keep a person from saying that they have been harmed and can carry over into many other life areas. They may feel overwhelmed and worried about what would happen if someone knew the truth.

It bothered me at first that she said along with everyone else “Thanks be to God” after a scripture verse is read that tells her to be quiet in church because she is a woman. It almost felt to me like she was agreeing.

The next words from the speaker may be, “These words from Paul the Apostle have been used in oppressive and abusive ways, and for that, I am truly sorry. Here in this community of believers, we put more weight on these other words also from Paul: ‘there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ So how can we let those words give life here in our community?”

Words can give life, but words can also give death. Finding our voice, using it remove those words of death, is critical for healing, I believe. Words of death like “You are stupid and worthless” only have power when they are kept inside.

I had tried to write the “dilemma” part of this post as being about how to get around the man’s beliefs and faulty logic. It’s difficult to change the mind of anyone who argues as illogically as this: “Men are better enabled than women to understand God’s Word, and it says so in God’s Word. Therefore if a woman disagrees with that, then she has only proven this point.” It’s just lousy logic like saying “God’s Word is inspired by the same Holy Spirit that is in me, so if you don’t agree with me about what God’s Word says, you don’t have God’s Spirit in you. You’ve probably got a demon inside you instead.” Or even something as totally nonsensical as “It’s shameful for a woman to have no shame!”

Here is the dilemma that I want to write about instead.

You want to tell others what has happened. You know that this will make you feel better because you desperately need the support of family and friends. You know in your heart how someone treated you was wrong, destroying your dignity and worth. But you know that you will most likely have to answer questions like “Why did this happen?” and “Why did you let it go on for so long?” You may have been asking yourself those questions as well. There are no good answers. “Why?” is my least favorite kind of question in situations like this because even if there is an answer, it seldom makes a person feel better. It always seems to lead to another “Why?” which is likely to cause you to falsely blame yourself.

If you are like the young woman on this last pew, you have been through a great deal. Maybe like her, you fell in love at a very young age. Maybe like her, you believed that when you fell in love, it would be forever and with just the right person. God would join you together, and nothing could separate you.

So you wonder, “How could I have missed God’s will for me?” and “Why didn’t I listen to God?” and “The minister said God joined us together. How can that all fall apart? Why?”

These questions, though well-intended, end up making you feel like there was something you could have done to prevent the situation. You wonder if maybe you were blind or week or stupid. That’s not the case at all, but it can sure feel that way, particularly when there has been someone in your life who is very good at being manipulative and shifting blame onto you.

Another question, almost as harmful, is “Why did that person treat you like that?” Quite honestly, the last thing you need is to try to imagine that “Why?” because it can very quickly lead you to feeling sorry for the person who has harmed you. Dwelling on things like this can not only keep you up all night, they can take you back to the dangerous place where you were.

My best advice is to seriously avoid the “Why?” questions. Tell what happened. Tell the facts. “I was blind” is not a fact. “I was weak” is not a fact. “I was stupid” is certainly not a fact. “He told me I was possessed by a demon because I would not obey him” is a fact. It’s what he said. “He hit me across my face with the back of his hand while I was standing at the kitchen sink preparing something he didn’t want for dinner” is a fact. It’s what he did. I think that’s why this woman in the graphic looks so confident. She is stating facts.

Perhaps the better questions to ask may be, “What was learned from this?” and “How can things be done differently in the next relationship?” That’s true if you are dealing with something like this yourself in your own thought life or helping someone else to deal with it when they are sharing with you. I think that’s why this woman in the graphic looks so self-assured. She is able to say what she will do.

One final key to finding your voice, I believe, is talking aloud to Our Heavenly Father. There is a strength in doing so which comes from the Holy Spirit’s guidance in what to say. It may also come from hearing your own voice speaking aloud what fear and shame wanted you to keep silent and secret. It is amazing how prayer works.

Here is the only part that I’m putting in bold. If you can relate to this and are struggling with this or know someone who is…seek counseling. There are resources available that can help you. I’m just drawing and writing from my limited perspective. But there are professionals that can help you.

If you are in an unsafe situation, get out! Get help! There are shelters that will protect you. That is more important than anything else!

Seriously. Jesus is right there with you on the last pew. He is your Advocate and He has nothing but good things to say about you. He will help you to find your voice. Honestly.

“Voices From The Last Pew” Update

This is a “trigger warning” concerning tomorrow’s post for “Voices From The Last Pew.”

It will be titled “Finding Your Voice” and will touch on domestic violence, verbal abuse, bullying behaviors, and manipulation (including the bending of God’s Word to suit one’s own desires to control). The character and situation sketched out is a composite of several different real life situations. One thing is the same with any type of abuse where someone has been shamed into remaining silent: “Finding Your Voice” is extremely important.

I know that some of you are dealing with or recovering from some form of abuse or violence like this, and so I just wanted to provide a “heads up” or “trigger warning” in case some readers may be concerned that this topic will bring up painful memories from the past.

Hopefully it will be a good post, one that the Holy Spirit can use to bring awareness, help, and healing. 

“The Gifts: His Preservation, His Direction”

The Book of Common Prayer was totally new to me when I first went to St. John’s. I had heard of it, but never heard anything from its pages, or so I thought. Having been raised and baptized in a tradition that frowned upon prewritten prayer, this was one of those things that was, I guess you’d say…questionable. It was sort of, in my mind, like the “vain repetitions” that Jesus spoke concerning and criticized.

Perhaps like me, you’ve heard that prayer is supposed to come from your heart. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t. But what if your heart is so burdened or clogged up or trampled upon…or just slowly turning to stone…that you don’t have any words to pray from your heart? When it doesn’t seem worth the energy?

This is where I was. This is why I am gradually learning the real treasures that can be found in “The Book Of Common Prayer,” and not only from there, but from other collections of prayers as well from other Christian traditions.

Today, I thought it might be good to share this prayer with you from “The Book Of Common Prayer.” It’s one that I latched onto right away and committed to memory. It’s a special form of prayer called a “Collect” and after thanking God for bringing us (not just me, but all of us) safely to a new day, it asks for two of His Gifts: His Preservation and His Direction.

Hopefully you will find this prayer meaningful and will receive new insights each time you read it as I do. So rather than giving you any of my commentary on what His Preservation and His Direction mean to me, perhaps it is best for you to listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you as you read these prayerful words.

The graphics in this series have a real “Old School” feeling but that sort of fits. (A reader had commented positively along these lines some time ago.) Like the others in this series, I wanted it to be something that you could print and post on your refrigerator or even in your cubicle at work. (On most systems, I believe, you can select and print just the image without these other words.) I picked a chicken and a sunrise because…Well, did I ever tell you about my chickens?!?

Thanks so much, everyone!

“We Don’t Love People By Killing God”

So what do you think? How would you answer this question: “If God is Love, then why didn’t He do something to help the people remember that He and Moses would be back from the mountain? They just missed being with God.”  

Today’s question is framed somewhat differently than its companion question from yesterday because it may be more relevant to where we are today. While we await the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ, we are like the Israelites left behind when Moses went up onto Mt. Sinai to speak with the Lord. Like the Israelites, we may wonder, “Will He come back? Will He lead us into that place He says He has prepared for us?”

Perhaps this is part of what Jesus had in mind when He told his disciples:

I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. John 14:18-20 (KJV)

“I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.” Those are truly reassuring words!

What if this is what the Israelites really needed while Moses and the Lord were on Mount Sinai, but it couldn’t happen yet because God’s plan for the Incarnation had not yet been fulfilled? What if they didn’t have the kind of spiritual awareness yet to be able to cry out, “Lord, we need your comfort! Lord, we need your presence!”

Once again, perhaps this is part of what Jesus had in mind when He told his disciples this:

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:26-27 (KJV)

So what if we try to view the Old Testament, the Pre-Incarnation World, as being about God’s plan to become flesh and dwelling among us and then within us? What if all of God’s actions, covenants, and laws are viewed through the lens of “I must send My Son into the world to be born as Son of God and Son of Man and then I will send My Holy Spirit”? 

So here we are living in the New Testament, the Post-Incarnation World. How will we use this freedom we now have in Christ? Will we listen and follow God’s Holy Spirit within us? Or will we grow weary of waiting and instead adopt false ways of receiving God’s comfort and presence? 

For myself, I want to consider in greater depth what it means to live in this “Post-Incarnate World.” It seems to be a sharp contrast to what is called the “Post-Modern World” where truth and reality are individually shaped and based on things like personal history and culture.

Is this the way I live my spiritual life? If I like what my neighbor is doing because it seems to be working for them, and I think it will “work” for me, then I will “give it a try” and incorporate it into my truth and my reality? Isn’t this like constructing my own Golden Calf? Isn’t this somewhat like “We love our neighbor by killing God”?

Just a quick note of thanks to another WordPress blogger, Christian Integrity. Many of you may know that even though I create the daily comic strips in advance, I almost always do the written commentary part the morning of posting (but sometimes with a rough draft the night before). This morning as I was rethinking a comment that Christian Integrity made on yesterday’s post about how people during the Old Teatament days didn’t have the Holy Spirit inside them as we do today, I felt I had to do a complete rewrite to include that important point in today’s post. So I need to say “Thank you for that comment!” and also encourage everyone to visit Christian Integrity’s site for some well-written posts!