Tag Archives: Jesus

We Are Not to Worry. But What Does That Mean?

Standard

God is in control.    God is my co-pilot.   God is the navigator.   Not my will, but Your will be done.

I was reflecting on the Gospel reading from this last weekend:   Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 24-34.

I won’t quote it all here, but among the text are a couple key quotes:

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.

The Bible is an amazing thing, because it is all true and authoritative, but at the same time it is quite easy to take things out of context and in isolation.    The Bible has counterbalancing messages throughout.   One of the classic examples is the admonitions to feed the poor, and then Paul’s statement that says that if a man doesn’t work he doesn’t deserve to eat.   It is easy to pick one side and dig your heels in and apply that to everything, when in fact Jesus is talking about the less fortunate poor who either can’t work or would likely desire to earn a wage if offered, whereas Paul is focused on a community of able-bodied people who all need to do their part.

After Mass this last weekend a friend of mine, who knows I scrutinize finances and try to make sound financial decisions and plan for the future (and he is the same way), smirked a bit when asking me “how’d you like today’s Gospel?”    I could tell he was tweaking me a bit, and we engaged in it.   He was conflating “planning” with “worry”.   I disagreed with him, and I think by the end of our talk he was agreeing with me.

I think to read Jesus’ words here as some instruction to forego any and all planning is not only incorrect, but it’s actually counter to what He’s trying to get people to do here, which is to not worry, as in don’t be anxious.

My friend, as we talked, had the personal revelation that his planning is his way of actually not being anxious.    I agree with that.   Perhaps more important, good planning will help your loved ones not have to worry as much.   If I didn’t plan for the future, and didn’t have my affairs in order, it would cause grave headaches for my loved ones if something happened to me.   Stress, anxiety, and probably a bit of exasperation and anger would follow.

I always remember a personal example from our Homeschool group.   My wife was getting frustrated because they would schedule events and then they wouldn’t plan them.    The leader of the group at one point remarked about how they didn’t need to because the Holy Spirit just made it all come together at the end and somehow, some way, the events turned out fine.    While maybe this was true in its literalness, my wife’s observation was that she and a couple other moms always did 90% of the work because they would have been utterly embarrassed had everyone showed up to nothing.     So these three moms ended up feeling like they had to continue taking on this burden while the others extolled the wonder of the Holy Spirit bringing it all together.    There was finally a push for some structure and reorganization in the group that led to some rifts, unfortunately.   I guess my point is, if you think you’re living the gospel by not worrying, but your lack of attention in the name of not worrying leads to the anxiety of others, then you are not properly disposed to what you’re being called to do – in my opinion.

We Christians have struggled with this balance forever.  We are in constant conflict with the opposing ideas of the necessity of what we do versus what that means about our trust in God.    One can actually take this all the way back to the heart of arguments about predestination.

Here’s how I see it:   You should plan for the future and plan for contingencies.   We should do what we feel we need to do in prudent and responsible ways.   This is not lacking trust in God.   In fact, God is likely calling us to do some of these things.    But planning and taking action should ease your mind, and not burden it.    If you are not able to do everything you would like to do, but you are doing what you can, then you need at that point to not worry and trust in God.    If you are moving past prudence and trying to outsmart God by being ready for everything imaginable under the sun by relying only on your own wisdom, then you are trusting in yourself and not in God.   If you’ve planned for X and the unexpected Y happens, you need to trust that God will help see you through – or that this suffering has a greater purpose.   If you are obsessed with perfection, you need to relax and trust in God.

This covers a lot of areas, from finances, to married life, to health, to raising kids, and so on.   One should try to make good health choices.   That may mean you’ve decided to eat in a certain way, avoiding some foods not because they bother you physically but because you’re trying to stay healthy.  But at the same time if you are traveling or visiting and the food choice is not to your general health standards, and you become obsessed with the idea that eating that burger patty is going to take 2 years off your life, then you are not in balance.   That’s worry and anxiety and something of a lack of trust.

If you feel like a store of food and water is a good idea and you take some measures and you sleep well then that’s a good thing.    If you wake up every morning wondering what you haven’t done in the event that X, Y, or Z happens and you are never comfortable with what you’ve set aside or stockpiled, then you are out of balance.

My wife and I actually were talking on Saturday about the responsibility of raising kids.   The discussion turned to her concerns about them becoming godly persons, their salvation, and everything we may not be doing to make that happen.    I was agreeing that we need to do everything we can, but we’re humans and we will fall short and at some point we need to simply ask God to fill in for our deficiencies, and that He is not going to abandon them to the wolves just because we forgot to do this thing or that thing in the overall formation of their faith.    It was almost as if that Gospel reading on Sunday was for us.

So, you see, I may be a planner, but I’m really not a worrier.   My wife is.   I’m not speaking out of turn here – she’d say the same thing.   In fact, she may well say that I don’t worry enough, and I say she worries too much.   We’re both probably right.

If you do absolutely nothing, then that certainly can be trust in God.   But you should also assess whether or not it’s just simple laziness, and whether your lack of concern is affected others.   It could be argued at times that I am lazy.

Finally, I offer my preferred analogy of our participation in life with God.    It’s fine to recognize that “God is in control” as long as you don’t use it as an excuse to eschew your obligations.   I’m not the biggest fan of that phrase, not because I think it’s false, but I think it’s a bit misapplied to our purpose.   God is ultimately responsible for everything we are – He created us, has granted us our very life, has given us our abilities, and has single-handedly opened the doors of heaven to us.    He has all the power in the Universe to control every aspect of our lives.   But that doesn’t mean he exercises that power over all of our thoughts, words, and actions.   He doesn’t.   It doesn’t mean he moves us like pawns on a chess board, maneuvering us through every situation, while at the same time maneuvering those around us.    He may well intervene on occasion because He loves us, but the very fact that some of us end up sick or injured, or dead, is self-evidence that God allows things both in and out of our control to occur that bring with them certain undesirable outcomes.   I acknowledge that God is ultimately in control to the extent He desires it, and that he has the power of full control to the extent He exercises it.    He is also a navigator, but not necessarily “the” Navigator at all times, since we have a say in the direction we go.

The co-pilot analogy is also lacking a bit, since it sort of relegates God to a secondary back-up position in our lives.   I know that “co” can mean partnership and equality, but that’s usually not how co-pilots are referenced.   There is a pilot and a co-pilot.    It may be a better analogy to say I am God’s co-pilot.

I prefer the Navigator analogy, but with a twist.    If you imagine a ship with two rudders, one large rudder for large-scale directional movements and one rudder that allows quick reactionary movements along the broader path, I see God as the Navigator of the big rudder and we are navigators along the path we’re on.    I think God moves us directionally where we are to go.   I think we need to trust and not be anxious about that direction.    But that doesn’t mean all is clear sailing in a straight line.   We may need to navigate some rough waters or around islands or icebergs and what-not as we follow our path.   We can still crash on the path God sends us if we aren’t doing what we are supposed to be doing.   We have responsibilities to uphold to ensure that we get where we are intended to go.    And even that smaller rudder can ultimately change our direction if we continually push it in opposition to the big rudder.    God makes it difficult for us to move off the direction He has chosen for us, but not impossible.

So, don’t worry about planning.

Choosing between “#%*!@&#!” or “Thank You Jesus, for loving me this much”. Or Maybe a Little of Both…

Standard

So, Saturday was wood-splitting say. I had successfully cut down a few dead trees and chopped them up to approximately 16″ lengths over the preceding couple weeks, and it was time to split the whole she-bang. The young boys begrudgingly put on their work clothes and assisted me with the task that was sure to be seen as encroaching on Lego and Star Wars time. Pity.

All was not lost in the family work. Splitting wood does have its appeal. After all, a year ago I invested in a very nice wood-spitter. The hydraulic kind that runs on gasoline, not the kind that gets swung over the head. While it may take decades to get the monetary payback out of it that would justify the purchase in pure dollar terms, it has nonetheless almost certainly saved a few trips to the chiropractor, and possible purchases of other wood that would have been necessary due to my own limited time and admitted laziness. The boys can appreciate a good hydraulic mauling of a log as well as anyone, and so I keep them engaged by allowing them a turn at the lever that controls the splitter.

The dangers of heavy equipment are never to be taken lightly, and so I overdo the message about keeping hands away from moving parts of things that could crush the fingers – or worse. They do quite well. But it only takes once, so vigilance is needed.

Anyway, we ahd a couple very large logs to split, and these were perfect candidates for vertical splitting. Under this scenario, one raises the splitter to vertical, secures it, and then moves the log to an upright position. You do this by rolling it in place so you don’t kill your back lifting it. And so we did all this with joy and success.

After the conclusion of this task, it was time to move the splitter back to the horizontal position. This is a quite heavy element, and moving it back to horizontal requires some strength and effort. When I first pulled on the handle, the entire base moved a bit. To secure it, I placed my hand on the steel beam under the hydraulic component and gave a good pull to move the top part down. Of course, as the balance shifted, it went from being difficult to move to difficult to stop. There are two metal brackets that stick out of the top unit that are used to secure it to the steel beam. Silly me, I managed to forget to move my hand, which just happened to be right where those brackets come down.

A moment of struggle wot push it back up followed, and I was finally able to remove my hand.

“#%*!@&#!” <== Due to being surrounded by young, impressionable boys, I thankfully internalized any foul language that I really felt like using.

Now, a couple thoughts here:
1) Thank God for heavy-duty work gloves. I do think I may have one or two less fingers at the moment without them, or at least one or two less usable one. Though, the greatest damage was to the top of my hand.
2) Thank God for Guardian Angels, who I will give credit for putting it in my mind to be smart and wear those gloves. Though, it can be noted that an inspiring thought of "um, move your hand, you idiot" would have been appreciated, I will still be thankful for what I did receive.
3) When really heavy things fall on your hand, it hurts. A lot.

So, I need to provide a bit of background on my immediately next thought after "#%*!@&#!"

An internet friend/acquaintance (he used to be an actuary who frequented a forum for actuaries I use) and I used to talk about religion and the Catholic faith quite a bit. He was a convert who loved the Church and eventually became a Priest. During that transition time he shared with me a little tidbit on our little sufferings in life that I never really forgot, and have tried to implent as an expression of gratitude for being able to join my little sufferings with Christ's redemptive work on the cross. He once mentioned that he had the habit of reciting a very simple and short prayer whenever one of life's stubbed toes or pinched fingers or anything else reared its ugly head. That prayer is simply "Thank you, Jesus, for loving me this much." This was not his idea, but was given to him by another friend. He loved the idea, and so did I. The idea, of course, is to try to take that painful moment and immediately think of what Jesus went through, and instead of being angry about the pain, be thankful for it. Sounds odd, but if you can get yourself in the mindset, it's a nice way to deal with those sufferings and offer it up for something or someone.

So, I admit that this particular time I had a little bit of a delayed response… this was no mere stubbed toe. This was something where I was afraid to take the glove off and see what I'd find. But, I did finally manage to compose myself and utter that prayer. One interesting way I was reminded to do so was that my entire left arm had a pain shoot up to the top and then felt very weak for a couple minutes. I was reminded of reading a study the crucifixion and about how the nails through the wrists would have been immeasurably painful due to the nerves that would drive the pain all the way up the arms. My pain was not nearly that bad, but it was a reminder for me of the pain that Christ must have suffered.

The hand looked pretty bad. It swelled up to twice its size and I needed to take a break, but I determined that I could continue my work, and so I did until I was finished. I was further comforted by our neighbor – an ER doc. Her son was at our house for the morning and when she stopped to pick him up she checked the hand out. Thanks be to God it seemed like I missed all the worst things that could happen. Probably nothing broken by the pain tests she gave me, and the tendons on the fingers seemed to be strong, suggesting no issues there. Basically, ice it and it will hurt for a while, but I'll be OK with no lasting damage.

Thank you, Jesus, for loving me this much.

The Jesus Fish, The Darwin Salamander, and a Truth Something-or-Another

Standard

Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on June 16, 2007.

As I pulled into work the other day, I maneuvered my vehicle into a parking spot immediately behind a vehicle exhibiting the Darwin salamander.  Or at least I think it’s a salamander.  It’s like a fish with legs, except that fish don’t have legs.  I heard of some prehistoric fish that they think may have had legs and is the argument for how animals went from sea to land, so maybe it’s supposed to be that thing.  Anyway, what it is supposed to actually portray is irrelevant, but it’s the kind of random stuff that keeps me up at night.

But as I looked at this little $3 item that someone chose to slap on their car, I started contemplating this whole competition we’ve engaged in.  There is an unsettling aspect to it that I don’t think really struck me before.

It used to be that people put the fish symbol on their car as a testament to their Christianity.  It’s a traditional symbol that was used as kind of a code back in times when there was extreme persecution of Christians.  One way of identifying someone as a Christian was a subtle little fish symbol.  I would be lying if I said I knew the complete history and all the details, but that’s the general idea, as I understand it.   Now, regardless of how accurate the whole story about this is, let’s fast-forward to present times.  The fish symbol once again gained popularity among Christians as a subtle bumper sticker.  It’s pretty harmless.  It’s not an in-your-face bumper sticker or a crucifix or anything overly blatant.  It’s a fish.  To the person in the car, it’s simply a statement of faith and belief.

Now, what struck me is that this little item is used to profess faith in our God, Jesus Christ.  It was not intended as some larger argument about the details of theological thought.  It does not testify, necessarily, to one’s personal views on Creationism, Evolution, or Intelligent Design, or anything of the sort.  It doesn’t even really provide information on Christian denomination.   It merely says “Fish = Christian.”

And so, the unsettling part of the whole Darwin Salamander is not whether it’s a fish with legs or a lizard or a turtle.  It’s that the item on the car is a direct rebuff of the Jesus fish.  Think about it…  the fish professes a faith in God.  The person in the car with the Darwin tag has openly professed a replacement of Jesus with Darwin, or at the very least, evolution (or science).  Jesus is gone.  Jesus is unnecessary.  Christians are worshipping the wrong thing.  Darwin/Evolution/Science is the new god, the new faith.

Now, personally, I can actually reconcile a belief in Evolution with being a Christian, so long as the belief is that Evolution occurs through God’s will and plan – that God chose to institute an immortal soul into man at some point.   That the Creation story, while not literal, is nonetheless completely true in what it teaches regarding God as Creator.  Now, I don’t actually believe that Evolution is true as it is professed by many proponents.  But my reasoning is based on critical observation, reasoning, and my understanding of the science. I see a lot of holes, have questions that are unable to be answered, and add a dose of common sense.  If, however, it were proven without a reasonable doubt that man has an acestor in a paramecium, my faith does not rest on my skepticism of evolutionary theory, and thus would not be shaken by this conclusion.   I am wary, however, of the attitude of many who are proponents of Darwinian thought when they somehow suggest that proof of Evolution disproves God as Creator.  It does nothing of the sort.  Should Evolution be proven, all it tells us is how we got to the point we are, and one can easily argue that God is infinitely imaginitive in the way He manages His creation. 

That explanation is somewhat of an aside, to briefly summarize my own musings on the subject of Evolution and put my other thoughts in a bit of context.   Back to the main point:  Those who stick the Darwin Salamander on their vehicle, whether conscious of it or not, have just put another god before the true God.  It is entirely possible that many just think it’s funny, or some even profess to be a Christian that believes in Evolution.  The problem is, the fish is not actually a statement on Evolution.  It is a statement of faith.  As such, the salamander also displays a deeper meaning, be it purposeful or not.

As if that isn’t bad enough, Christians then forgot the purpose of placing a fish emblem on a vehicle and decided to fire the next shot in the bumper-sticker war. Enter the “Truth” whale or big fish, or something.   I’ll admit that the first time I saw that, I was kind of amused.  But upon further reflection, I’m not a fan of this.  All it does is detract from the original intent of the Jesus fish by getting drawn into a petty back-of-an-auto-stickie-thing debate.  I mean, do we really think we’ll convert anyone by putting that on our car?  Oh, it may make us feel clever, as if we just showed all those atheist folk who’s boss, but in the end it’s hard to believe that this has ever served a positive purpose.  The other thing is that you then get caught up in looking like you’re trying to suppress scientific thought, lending credence to the idea that anyone with a fish on their car is a strict fundamentalist Creationist.  Stick with the normal Jesus fish, if you ask me, and instead of going tit-for-tat with the sticky thingies, just pray for those who may not know what they are actually saying when they trumpet Darwin in the place of Christ.

I don’t actually have a fish.  I have nothing against it.  I’m just not one to plunk things on my car.  I think the only bumper sticker I’ve ever put on my car is a small Packers bumper sticker.  That was on a car I got rid of 11 years ago.  I loved that car.  I had a bumper sticker on another vehicle that came with it and I never took off.  That minivan cost me a lot of money.

Maybe I should have had a Jesus fish…