God Redeems All He Allows!

I remember these words every time tragedy stikes:  “these tragedies have taken away our ability to find words with enough power or pain to express our experience.”  Well, I am going to try. 

C. S. Lewis’ words have never been truer:  “God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.”  I suspect this says more about us than it does about God.  I think that God is always ready to speak, but we tend not to listen until our pain threshold renders us utterly helpless and hopelessly needy.  Right now, we are both.  

Let me be clear.  I am not one who believes that God had any part in the planning and scheming of the Colorado killer.  I know those who differ in a weird sort of way.  They quote Old Testament passages and they say “God needed to get our attention to turn us back to Him!”  

Let me be even clearer.  While I do believe that God “allowed” (due to the fact that He is God and did have the power to stop it), I do not believe He “caused,” conspired or otherwise was partner to the devastation of lives last week.  Clear and simple, in the early minutes of Friday morning, July 20, 2012, Aurora, Colorado had an encounter with evil. 

So, what do you do when you have an encounter with evil?  Well, Jesus had some experience with that and he said three clear things:  you don’t live by bread alone, you should worship only God, and you should not put God to a test.  (Luke 4: 1-13)  Not a bad thing to remember this week as we make your way through the grief and numbness of evil’s sucker punch.  

Mark it well my friends, evil will not win.  Even with the ongoing concerns with those suffering with injuries, every day is a front-page announcement to the good that can and will come from the sacrifice of people who choose hope over fear, unity over disarray and faith over fate.  Can those of this killer’s bullets be counted among those who took evil’s best shot and lived and loved their way through it.  The apostle Paul explained how this could happen when he said,  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”  (Philippians 4: 13) 

Yes, evil struck again and we do not know why God allowed it, but as my friend, Jim Denison, says regularly, “God redeems all he allows, even the horrific misuse of freedom he gave us so we could love him and each other! (Matthew 22:37-37)”

Finding Sadness and Gladness

I recently read two stories that bring me sadness and gladness:  one about the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention and their attempt to “get the fires” of evangelical fervor burning and then one about the devastating wildfires looming over Colorado Springs. 

Sadly, the first story was more of a “simmering out” of the once proud (maybe that was the problem) Southern Baptist Convention I cut my theological teeth on and is not the real emphasis of this writing today, but it makes me sad. 

The other story is one that provides an odd backdrop to my denominational convention and it makes me glad.  It is the story of 5,000 women In Colorado Springs lifting their voices in praise and worship to God at a Living Proof Live conference featuring Bible teacher Beth Moore. 

As most are aware, fires have devastated nearly 18,000 acres in the Waldo Canyon area of Colorado Springs, burning 100s of homes and forcing the evacuation of 32,000 people.  Auuthor and Bible teacher Moore said, “There was no doubt that this is where we needed to be this very weekend.”

It is important to realize that Living Proof live events are sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention which is the backdrop for both my sadness and gladness.

In a subdued beginning to the conference, Moore set the tone by saying, “Pain, peril and threat put us in a posture to listen [to God] like nothing else.”  She then asked women who had been evacuated or lost their homes entirely to stand and allow others to pray for them.  Moore prayed for the 65 women and led the attendees in a reverent responsive reading.

Moore debated whether she should change her material because of the emotional weight the fires brought to the Colorado Springs community but concluded her message was applicable.

“Sometimes we need a new start, but what we need more often is a good finish,” Moore said, directing attendees to Acts 20:24 as her focal passage.  “You and I live in a culture of a million starts and a handful of finishes. We need the strength and presence of mind to finish well.” 

Colorado Springs resident Danielle McIntire said the local wildfires “are the worst thing we’ve ever had to deal with, and it has been truly frightening. But this event is exactly what we needed. Beth has reminded us to look at this through God’s eyes and give our burdens to Him.”

“So many have lost everything they have and feel like it’s the end,” McIntire said. “So what a perfect topic for us — God’s not done. It’s not the end.”

Worship leader Travis Cottrell announced Friday night that 100 percent of a special offering taken would be directed to relief efforts in Colorado Springs.

Cottrell added — to applause — that Moore’s Living Proof Ministries would match the offering dollar-for-dollar.  “Let’s shake the earth with our giving spirits,” he said.  Attendees gave $85,591, for a total offering of $171,182 contributed to relief efforts in the surrounding communities. 

Wonderful you say.  Yes it is.  But do you not find it sadly interesting that Beth Moore is a woman and a phenomenal Bible teacher that serves in a denomination whose recent statements about women would not allow her to teach a Bible Study class in many of that denomination’s churches let alone be a pastor?  Also note, her Bible teaching, books and conferences make millions of dollars for LifeWay Christian Resources of our convention and I, for one, suspect that is one of the reasons our denomination is in decline.  And please know, I find no gladness in this.

The Spiritual Stuff of Spider-Man

I was not naturally drawn to comic books as a child.  My brother, Buddy, was a different story.  I still see him buried in the pages, one hand behind his head, a single finger twirling his hair in circles. 

Eventually, I came around.  I read anything he read, but it was Spider-Man who settled into my imagination.  While my admiration remained dormant through the years, I am drawn to the debut of yet another rendition of Spider-Man on the big screen.  Perhaps a history lesson will help the uninitiated. 

Peter Parker is a high school student bitten by a radioactive spider resulting in super strength along with the ability to stick to walls and ceilings.  He invents a device enabling him to shoot webs and swing high above the city streets.  He wears a Spider-Man costume and fights criminals, including super-villains Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. 

A compelling and misunderstood character, Peter is persecuted by the community he tries to protect.  Uncertain if Spider-Man is a vigilante or a criminal, the city leaders become suspicious and the local newspaper launch a campaign against the “Spider-Man menace.” 

Part superpower, part awkward teen teased by his peers, we watch Peter grow up from high school student to college student to married teacher to single, freelance photographer.  His story, told in a myriad of ways through the years, will be re-introduced this week in a new movie which takes us back to Peter Parker’s high school days and the “untold story.”  (I saw it on July 4th with my friend Dennis Wainright.) 

You will not be surprised when I make simple reflections of the spiritual similarities between Peter Parker/Spider Man and Jesus.  The first one is all too obvious. 

Like Spider-Man, Jesus is always being attacked for doing good.  His identity with the downtrodden and ritually unclean cast him in a negative light with the status quo.  Misunderstanding will be constant companions of those seeking to feed the poor and heal the sick. 

Like Spider-Man, Jesus reminds us of what we can achieve. We can be insecure, awkward and still accomplish incredible things.  While none of us is God, we can all participate in good and Godly activities.  The Spider-Man story reminds us that we can overcome our human faults, fears, handicaps and uncertainties.  We can be ALL we were created to be and that is always more than we think and believe.

 Like Spider-Man, Jesus reminds us of the power of vocation.  Nearly all superheroes – especially at the beginning of their careers – grapple with how they can best use their unique talents.  In the case of Spider-Man, the proverb, “With great power comes great responsibility” rings with authority.   

Superheroes aside, God has given us the power to live good lives even when attacked for doing so because we incessantly believe we can be someone who has the power to make a difference with what we do.  May we do so!