How Will You Choose? When Life Troubles You & the Bible Troubles You More

Every now and then I rediscover something shocking about the Bible! It’s shockingly modern! Those folks in there, not so much the holy ones, but the unholy… they’re… me. Me, all over! Maybe Paul, more than most. He seems to describe me. To a “T”. Paul says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. … Who will deliver me from this body of death…? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.” He will. He will. Well, hallelujah. Now, I know Paul and I are not alone in this. Partly I know that because I know you. And I know how we struggle together to do the right thing. And believe the right stuff. It’s so tough: dealing with disappointment with ourselves, each other, loved ones. Even God sometimes seems to disappoint. Sorrow smacks our faith right in the face. We don’t know what to make of it when bad things happen to good people. And when we turn to Scripture we sometimes find disturbing passages about what God does… or at least allows. We are left reeling! Weeks ago, several of you shared with me you need to hear a Word about this. I suspect we all do. So let’s at least begin to tackle this troubling question. How will you choose? ‘Choose when life troubles you, and the Bible troubles you more?

First, it helps to look for the story behind the (Bible/life) story. Often there is mercy and relief there. And often, it is unexpected. Jack Webber and I were talking Friday. We spoke of the Judges 3 passage we read today. Jack said, “I’ll be interested to see what you have to say about those 10, 000 Moabites Israel did in. It’s just not a subject that comes up often or inspires much faith.” Agreed. It’s a largely “unpreached” text. But not unnoted. When folks struggle with the Bible they frequently raise this or other such seemingly bloodthirsty OT stories. Or even the story of the cross itself. They argue this way. “How can you believe in a God who conjures up or at least condones such things?” Or, “How can I believe in a loving god in the face of such tales as these?” The troubles of our own most-troubling times raise the same objections and doubts. So now what? As Paul asks, “What then shall we say to all of this?”

Try this. The story-behind-the-story. Granted the Moabites of the world will never get good news out of Judges 3. But then, the text was not written for their reading. Instead, the words appear to assure a still down-and-out Israel that God will provide and prevail. Their closeness is not cancelled by their current helplessness. Even the craftiness and cunning of Ehud can be put to use, then and now, to accomplish the deliverance God desires for God’s own. The text leads many to look at the destroying of Moab. But the centuries of rabbis who have come after look behind the story. They see how God can deliver us, when it seems entirely impossible. The back story is God’s capacity and determination to use the unexpected and imperfect servant to do just the needed thing at just the necessary/appointed time. The cross itself represents the same kind of story. Unholy Roman soldiers and ungodly Roman crosses can be put to use. ‘Even take on the sin of the whole world! Not just for that time, but for all time! The story-behind-the-story isn’t the blood thirst of Rome. It’s the willingness of God to use the surrender of Christ, blood and all, to forgive and redeem a fallen world.

Passages like these can help us wrestle with our own question, “Where is God?” when things go stunningly awry. It’s tough to find good news, much less saving grace in gasoline at 4.00 a gallon. But perhaps the Holy can put it to work to help the world slow down a bit. ‘Curb its clench on the environment. Maybe that’s the back story. Illness, even death come to call. We try to find God in it. So often, we place God at the head of the story. As though God sets out to cause it. The better way may be to see God, not pulling us into distress, but beside us to see us through it! [Hem/hospital illustration; Commun., transfuse: all I need]

Second, we do well to admit that life and faith are complicated. But not necessarily compromised. The cross is the very sign that helps us to deal with this. Piercing perplexities prompt searching that saves us. I like films, but don’t get to go often. So I hate sitting through a bad one. But sometimes there’s a reward in the badness worth the wait. And I am actually changed. Life is like that. God is like that. This summer Bev and I went to see, And Then She Found Me, with Helen Hunt. It wasn’t a preacher film in what we saw or heard. ‘Hard to watch. A woman struggling with her life, her faith, her relationships. ‘Looking for love, her birth mom, redemption, a child of her own. Ughhh! But then comes this scene. She’s with her weird mom, in a treatment room, about to be artificially inseminated. And she cannot, will not pray. Mom confronts her. Helen admits in the face of so many struggles, “I can’t. I had faith. But I can’t trust this to a God I thought was good, but… (has let so much happen to me). The mother offers, “Maybe God is just, well, difficult. Complicated.” Helen says, “You mean, like me!) Mom nods. The moment passes. The meds. return. Before the procedure, Helen orders, “Wait.” She sings/prays a plaintive, ancient prayer of faith. I re-watched the scene yesterday, just for you. It brought tears. I’ve witnessed this in real life many times. God isn’t what we expect sometimes. Or want. God is God. With God’s own way. Paul is right to complain that we are often powerless to guide ourselves, much less the events all ‘round. What we would, we can’t or don’t. What we know we shouldn’t shines right through. It seems we’ve no way out. (To quote the prophet, “Death creeps into our windows.” Or at least distress and disillusion.) But if we turn aside a moment, and open ourselves to what we can “see in a mirror, only dimly”, God can open a new way. Here is the sound from the cross: the agony of the psalm. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And here is the turning, the trusting, the great nevertheless at the cross. “Nevertheless I will believe as I have trusted, see where I cannot see.” (Faith is, after all, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”) Jesus lifts up his head and insists, “It is accomplished.” Done. God has resorted to use the cross where the teaching, healing, forgiving and myriad miracles have not bought what God has desired. You and I, saved, and safe forever from sin and sadness, sorrow and defeat. Only then does Jesus, can Jesus, breathe his last. Friday ends… so that Sunday can begin to come our way!

Third, it helps the most to make a choice. A full choice. An entire choice. A no-turning back choice. (SONG: I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. ‘No turning back. ‘No turning back!). We come to a choice that delivers us from death. ‘A choice that allows us to thank and live and praise God… through Jesus Christ! O, you and I, we come here pretty regularly. And we do and say all the holy stuff. But Elijah has our number, as surely as those on Mt. Carmel, nearly a millennium before Jesus. They were the Lord’s own, they insisted. ‘Just not completely. They trusted (like Helen). ‘So long as God and times were good. But they had their Baals too. ‘Their little, lesser gods. ‘Made from their own hands and in partial possession of their hearts. We are not so different. Some will pray to God for their teams today… wearing their lucky cap! Some will trust God entirely, so long as social security remains afloat, or the kids do things our way. Or the right candidates win the day. Elijah still thunders from the mountain for all of us to hear. “How long will you go limping between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him. If Baal, follow him!”

The thing about choosing is: you have to choose! No limping between two opinions. We live in a time that says, “You can have one from column A and two from column B.” The pretty Hollywood hunk can sit on a TV show. And he can tell you how much parenting had changed him (we saw this the other night). He can throw in a Bible verse or two… but refuse the right in marrying the child’s mother! The Televangelist can speak for the wandering prophet of the Galilee, the one who says, “One thing you lack, go and give all you have to the poor,” while adjusting his Rolex watch or jangling her jeweled earrings. Hmmm. What’s wrong with this picture? And where would we fit in it, you and I? Are we walking with a limp ourselves? A choice will be required. A leap of faith. A change of ways. A recommitment to new days.

How will you choose? ‘Especially when life troubles you, and the Bible troubles you more. It might help to begin by looking for the story behind the story, from ancient days to ours. ‘From other lives to our own. It might help to admit that life and faith and GOD are complicated. But not necessarily compromised. I suppose that’s a way of saying Micah was right when he told us God requires that if we are to walk with God, we will need to walk (and not run ahead)… humbly! And surely, truly, it will help to know that we need to make a real choice. A committed choice. Not lukewarm, half way, or with our fingers crossed. In fact, the only cross sufficient to our need, is the cross of Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!

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