More Than We Can Ask or Imagine

Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite Bible verses, but first, we’re going to talk about this.

What can we do with a mandarin orange? We can eat it. We can make it into juice. We can put that juice into muffins. Maybe we can even toss it in the air and catch it. Really talented people might even be able to juggle a bunch of them at the same time. Can you imagine anything else we can do with it?

How about this … can you imagine it as a lamp?

First, cut the peel around the equator and loosen it all the way around.


When you peel the halves away, try to keep the center thingy attached to one of the halves, but if you can’t manage it, you can pluck it out and stick it back onto one of the halves.

Now, mostly fill the half with the “wick” with oil (olive oil, canola oil, any household oil) and light the wick. It might take a few tries, especially if the wick is too high above the surface of the oil.

Look at that. I made a mandarin orange into a lamp. Did you think I could do it? Is this what you imagined it would look like?

This orange lamp reminds me of … me. When I was your age, I was really, really shy. I would’ve been too shy to come up in front of church in front of everyone to listen to a children’s message — just like some of you have been, just like some kids who are sitting with their grownups right now.

But here I am. Up front. Not just listening, but talking. And sometimes dancing. And doing it happily. I couldn’t have imagined that when I was a kid. I don’t know that I ever even asked God to help me be better at being in front of people. But God kept giving me gifts and passions and starting me out small and building me up until here I am.

So here’s the Bible verse, from Ephesians 3, verse 20 (from The Message):

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

That was true for me. And I know it’ll be true for you.

Because I could turn this mandarin orange into a lamp and I’m not very amazing, but God is totally amazing. I wonder what amazing things he’s going to do with you as you grow up….

I have one more thing to show you. First, I have to cut a hole in the other half of the mandarin orange to make a lid.

Look what happens when I put the lid on.

Did you know that the peel had all these little circles? They were invisible before, but now we can see them.

That reminds me of me again. When I was your age, I had no idea I could dance. I didn’t even want to dance. I wasn’t taking lessons or anything. But as I got older, that changed, and I discovered I loved dancing and I could to it and I did it more and more, in classes and then in church, until it became a big part of how I serve and worship God. I didn’t know it was there … but God did.

I wonder what’s already inside of you that you have no idea about … but God does.

I wonder what God imagines for you.

I can’t wait to see.

This is the text of the children’s message I gave at my church on January 5, 2014. 



an unexpected overcoming

On Monday, I saw a friend in the parking lot at Meijer and in the course of chatting, I started crying. There in the parking lot, with all the people doing their errands streaming past me, I couldn’t pretend I was handling it all anymore.

Now, nobody I love is dying (although people I love have cancer). My husband is still employed. I’ve even got work for which I’ll get paid. Eventually. I won’t even say the thing I was going to say, something about not missing the E.R., but that would be tempting fate, so I won’t.

But in every area of my life that is important to me — kids, marriage, writing, finances, church work — I’m overwhelmed by failure and fear. And fear of failure. Things that I thought would be manageable, became huge, looming problems that won’t untangle themselves quickly or easily. Things I thought were positive have taken their pound of flesh instead, but not surgically, more like the flesh-eating bacteria kind of thing where the wound must remain open for a long time. Issues I thought we were past…. You get the idea.

My throat on fire barely registered, because at least it was understandable.

I’ve been waking in the middle of the night, heart pounding and unable to fall back asleep, which certainly doesn’t help me deal with any of this more rationally. I’ve spent my days trying to convince myself, “These symptoms of stress are helping me. Body, thank you for preparing me to deal with these challenges,” after hearing this great TED talk on how to make stress my friend. But that never helped for long.

And I’ve prayed. Oh, how I’ve prayed. Mostly that most basic of prayers: Help. No specifics. Just, Help. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t have the imagination to see how this will get any better. Help.

On top of that I’m in the thick of the prophets in my Bible reading. All that doom and gloom and punishment and exile and “you brought this on yourselves.” Even though most books are tempered by a little bit of “on that day when the Lord thinks you’ve had enough punishment and he restores you, everything will be perfect and amazing,” it’s not exactly the most uplifting reading I could be doing.

Yesterday morning, I read this from Hezekiah 3:16-17 (NLT):

“Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty savior. He will rejoice over you with great gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will exult over you by singing a happy song.”

Did I sigh with relief? Did I hand over all my fears to God? Nope.

I liked the bit about rejoicing and exulting over us. How great is it that we can made God so happy that he can’t help singing?

But God’s love calming all my fears? All my fears? Even those ones that have nothing to do with my behavior but with other peoples’? How does that work? I may have even added a tweenish, “I don’t think so.” And a curmudgeonly, “Hmph.”

That same day, I had a kid home sick, which I responded to the night before (when I saw the writing on the wall) by yelling at her. Classy.

This school year has my head spinning, trying to keep track of two kids in two different schools with entirely different academic calendars. In the 7 weeks I’ve had one or both kids in school, I’ve only had one 5-day stretch with both of them gone. Truth time: I love it when my kids go back to school. After a summer of togetherness and putting aside my plans so their plans can happen, I relish the fall. We always do better when we have a little time apart. But this year, I’m still scrambling, still trying to find purchase and focus.

Instead of resenting her, I embraced the kid at home. After all, we have the same symptoms, so I knew exactly how she felt.

(My selfish “somebody give me a medal for that” side wants me to add that I managed to make breakfast and lunches and pick up kids from school and sit and cheer at a soccer game and do the dishes and give some lectures about my expectations regarding making up missing work on that same “first day of illness” that she sat on the couch and had a bath.)

I was warm and sympathetic. I scrubbed the tub for her.

Then the other child came home from school and practice. We had a good dinner all together, and then that child buckled down and got the missing work completed.

And I was flooded with love for my children. My husband was gone for bedtime, so I got to pray with both of them. By the end, I was overwhelmed with love and tenderness. To the point of tears. I’m still a little weepy about it.

This is not normal for me. I love them, yes, but I’m rarely swamped by it. They are, after all, 12 and 14. And I’m not a super-gushy mother.

Right before I went to bed, I remembered: “With his love, he will calm all your fears.”

Not one single issue was solved. But doggone it if love didn’t calm my fears. God wins again. And despite my skepticism, too.

All I’ve got to say to that is, Thank you.


Helpmate, Schmelpmate

Alternate title: When something is both awesome and infuriating.

There is a Hebrew word in the Bible that is translated as “strength” or “help”: ezer. (All verses from the New Living Translation, unless noted.)

There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor (Deut. 22:26).

But as for me, I am poor and needy; please hurry to my aid, O God. You are my helper and my savior (Ps 70:5).

I look up to the mountains — does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Ps 121:1-2).

I was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm (Is 63:5).

In the majority of its uses, ezer refers to help from God or from a mighty military leader (who may or may not help you): someone powerful helping someone less powerful. The helper is the savior who comes from a position of strength.

So why the &^%$ does it become, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him'”? There is little impression of strength here. It makes me think of helpers I’ve had over the years in children’s worship, some are just right for me, others require too much work — but I am clearly in a superior position to my helper.

The prior verse was from the NLT; my printed NLT says, “I will made a companion who will help him.” The Message, “I’ll make him a helper, a companion.” Although few translations use helpmate, the tone of that word infects the conversation because of the King James’ “help meet for him.” In historical fiction, a companion is a woman with lower social standing who is paid to accompany a woman in higher standing. A companion certainly isn’t a partner.

So when ezer is used about God or national leaders, it refers to a powerful helper. When it’s used about women, it is given a “lesser-than” connotation. That’s infuriating, because this section of Genesis has been used to justify teachings about the “lesser-than” position of women in marriage and in the church.

I didn’t know about this issue of the translation ezer in Genesis 2 until this week, when my minister mentioned it in a sermon about marriage. A visit to my friend Mr. Google, and I found other Christian thinkers who’ve noted it and argued for a better translation. Bruce Harkins suggests, “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding [and equal] to man.”

That’s not bad, but I think it’d be fun to play with the verse a bit, to use the connotations of contemporary language to better reflect the fuller implications of woman being an ezer to man.

There’s a really fine line to navigate here, because I don’t want to get all essentialist, saying that Woman balances out Man in ways that he needs that only she can provide and then go on to suggest that it’s nurturing or gentleness or some other typically feminine virtue — the union of man and woman that doesn’t include nurturing, strength and gentleness from both parties is not a union I want to be a part of. Yes, my husband and I each balance out some weakness in the other, but I think that’s due to personality as much as gender.

Also, this is a weird little story. God sees that the man shouldn’t be alone, that he should have one of his own kind, so what does God do? He parades all the animals in front of the man for the man to ooh and aah over and give names to. That doesn’t make any sense — unless God knows that the man won’t appreciate a partner of his own kind until he’s been confronted by his own aloneness. (I’m going avoid being sexist by expanding my next question to include all of us.) Is God saying, in effect, “People, you don’t know a good thing when I give it to you. Let me distract you with a bunch of stuff that isn’t the gift so you can recognize the gift when it comes”?

I actually think the key to the story is in verse 20b, “But still there was no helper just right for him” (NLT).

Anyway, here goes:


“I’m creating someone with some serious skillz. Don’t be stupid about her.”

A Little Less Flippant

 God looked at the man he had made. The man was good. Really good. But he was going to need some help. Big help. And he wasn’t going to like the idea that he needed help. Better ease the man into it.

So God  showed the man all the animals He had made. The man was fascinated by all the different kinds of creatures with all their colors and shapes and sounds. Eventually, the man noticed that the other animals not only came in pairs, but there was no animal like him. Indeed, there was no one strong enough to counter the man. So God made the woman and presented her to the man.

“At last,” the man said. “Here is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

Maybe even a little tender

God looked at the man he had made. He loved the man, but He knew He wouldn’t be enough for the man. The man needed someone strong, someone like him, to be with.

Then God brought the man all the animals He’d made, in all their variety. Some of the animals made the man laugh, others intrigued him; he even felt affection for some of the animals. Some of the animals could help him with tasks, but none of them were right to be his partner.

The Lord caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and then took a part of the man’s side and made a woman from it. He brought the woman to the man.

“At last,” the man said. “She is like me. We will be one.”

What do you think? Was this a crazy exercise? Was I too flippant about God’s Word? Did you already know about the ezer issue or was it new to you, too? Got any other translation frustrations you want to share?




Just Enough: Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath

Approximately 870 B.C.E.
Zarephath, near Sidon (about 1o miles north of modern Tyre, Lebanon)

Rashida was up to her knees in the Great Sea*. Between waves, the water lapped at her son Salim’s bellybutton. She closed her eyes against the sight of his hollow stomach. Of course that’s when a big wave came and pushed him down, which made her stumble because they were holding hands. Her eyes flew open and she used her panic to yank his head free of the sea and drag them shallower. He came up laughing, although that changed to sputtering when he licked the salt in the water on his face. She used her head scarf to dry his eyes.

This last trip was supposed to be a pleasant diversion, but it was turning out to be a cruelty. To surround her son with water he couldn’t drink, that could cause him pain … she was a terrible mother.

“I think I see a cloud,” Salim piped up. “Way over there.”

Although it was hopeless, Rashida shaded her eyes with her hand and peered over the sea to the west. Nothing but cruel blue sky. “My old eyes can’t see it, so I hope you’re right.”

Salim giggled. “You’re not old, Mama.”

No, twenty wasn’t old, or, at least, it shouldn’t be, but she was almost as gaunt and shuffling as her mother had been last seedtime*. And her hair, her glorious hair, was falling out, which was really why she’d grown so particular about wearing her most beautiful head covering all the time. “Come on, silly Salim. Let’s get dry.”

She swung their arms until it took all their energy to walk in the soft sand and she had to let go.

There was the sound she hated: Salim wasn’t just panting, he was wheezing. “I’m too old to keep going,” she said. “Is it okay with you if we rest here?”

He nodded and flopped down. She sat with her back to the water, put his tunic back on him, and tucked him onto her lap. The breeze wrapped the ends of her head scarf around them like a hug.

“Why was there drought again this winter?”

Trust her Salim to ask the unanswerable question. “I wish I knew.”

“Is Baal angry at us?”

“That’s what the priests are saying.” She hugged him tighter. There was only one advantage to their situation: Salim was too scrawny to serve as a good sacrifice.

“Yesterday, in the square, they said that’s why there isn’t even any dew.” He picked at the embroidered hem of her scarf. “What is dew?”

Tears burned behind her eyes. What a terrible world when children had no memory of dew. “When you were little.” She poked his side to tickle him, but her finger jabbed too far between his ribs and he whimpered. She stroked his side and tried not to cry. “When you were little, every morning, the grass and leaves and roofs of the houses would be covered with a fine layer of water. It was different than rain, because you never saw it in the air, but it was on the ground every day.”

His voice was a whisper. “Wow.”

“Are you ready to head home?”

He nodded, so she pushed him onto his feet. She had to roll onto her hands and knees for a moment before struggling upright. It was like reverse stars formed in her vision, instead of white light, there were black dots, but they cleared after she blinked a dozen or so times. “Let’s take a different path.” She pulled him to the right and waggled her eyebrows as if they were in for a treat. “I think I saw a caper vine with leaves.”

Their progress was slow, but they eventually made it to the place she’d spotted. Even the wild capers were struggling. This was a plant that would crack a stone wall, that would send up shoots days after going up in flames, but after two years of no rain, it sent up only a few stunted branches. But if she had Salim lift up the dead upper growth, she could harvest the new branch tips and young leaves, as well as six ripe caper berries, without getting too scratched up.

The berries went in the jar of seawater she’d refilled and then she divided up the leaves. Even Salim’s tiny palm was barely filled. Although her instincts told her shove the meager meal into her mouth all at once, she forced herself to eat like a civilized person, to take no more than two leaves at a time, chew them into a pulp, press the slimy lump against the roof of her mouth to squeeze out every drop of liquid she could before swallowing. Salim followed her lead. He was such a good boy.

She smoothed his hair and cupped the back of his head. If staring at her son were food and drink, she’d be full.

On the way home, they found some bitter herbs that were still barely edible and sucked on some pebbles to try to trick their mouths into producing more spit. The trip home took half the morning. It would’ve taken longer, but Rashida eventually swung Salim onto her back, where he fell asleep, his breathing shallow. Despite it being near the heat of the day, he shivered. At the house, she laid him on his mat, draped one more layer of wool over him, and went out to gather kindling.

The white broom bushes right outside of town were clean, so she had to go a little farther afield to find one with dry sticks underneath. By the time she got there, she had to rest, so she slumped in the shade of the bush, scooped kindling into her lap and let herself cry like she couldn’t in front of Salim.


Rashida screamed and scrambled away from where the voice came from, scattering the branches. It was an older man. On the road. While she stared rudely at him, he plopped down in the dust.

“I didn’t mean to scare you.” He had a funny accent, but she could understand him.

“I’m the one who should apologize, Stranger.”

And then he just sat there. According to all the customs of her people, she should offer him drink and food immediately, but how could she?

“Where have you come from?” she asked.

“I am Elijah, a prophet of the Lord God of Israel, but I came from the other side of the Jordan.” He leaned in as if telling her a secret. “My king is upset with me.”

Rashida glanced down the road, but there was no cloud of dust.

Elijah chuckled. “King Ahab doesn’t know where I am. There will be no soldiers. At least, so long as you don’t tell anyone from Sidon I’m here. His queen grew up there. She might hate me even more than her husband.”

What an odd thing to admit to a stranger. “Nobody has passed by here in months, not since the wadis* dried up.”

“The stream I lived near ran out a few weeks ago, and my God told me to come here.”

“I’m sorry that your God has such bad taste in destinations,” she said. “We’re in our second year of terrible drought.”

“Why are you still here?”

Her voice was thick as she spoke around the lump that formed in her throat. “We waited too long. Now my husband and his parents are dead and my son and I are too weak.”

He raised his right hand as if to touch her, but he left it in the air. “I am sorry for your drought.”

She snorted. “Why? You didn’t cause it.” The words jumped out before she could stop them. Who was this bold, sarcastic woman?

His hand lowered. “Then I’m sorry to have to ask you for a little water in a cup.”

“My cistern is empty, and Zarephath’s well isn’t consistent, but they’ll let me draw some water for you. Come.” She rebundled her sticks and headed towards town.

He followed behind her, and didn’t try to engage her in any more conversation until they approached the first houses. “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”

Rashida stood as if suddenly rooted to the spot. She didn’t dare face him. “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour in the jar and barely enough oil left in the bottom of the jug.” She hung her head and whispered, “I was just gathering a few sticks to cook us a last meal before we curled up by the embers and waited for death.”

“Don’t be afraid.”

She let out one choked sob. Afraid didn’t begin to cover how she felt.

Elijah spoke more gently. “Go ahead and do just what you said, but make a little bread for me. Use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son.” He walked around to face her and waited. “Look at me.”

“You’re not like Baal’s priests.” She looked up in time to watch him spit.

“Thank you. My God, the Lord God of Israel, has told me something for you.”

Her eyes grew wide.

“There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again.”

Although there was no reason why it should be so, his words were like a balm on a rash.

She went straight to the well, where she convinced the guards to let her have some water for her guest. Then she went to her indoor fire pit and lit the white broom sticks. She dumped out the last of the flour, mixed it with a drop of the water and the last of the oil, and shaped it into three tiny flats of bread that cooked up in no time. Rashid was right next to the fire, but none of this woke him up. The prophet was still at the outskirts of town, so she took the food to him there.

He drank one gulp of the water and chewed the bread thoughtfully. “Let’s take this to your son.”

Rashida took him home. Together, they woke up Salim, who was so over-the-top grateful for the sip of water Elijah had left him, that it made her laugh-cry. They ate their little loaves, and then sat in silence until it was time for the evening meal. She took the caper berries from that morning out of the sea water brine and put two in each of three bowls.

Elijah smiled at her. “Aren’t you going to make some more bread?”

Because he’d been kind to Salim, she humored Elijah by taking the flour jar and turning it upside down over her lap. “See?” she said to him.

“Look,” he said to her at the same time Salim clapped and pointed at her.

She looked. It was flour.

The jar hit the floor. She licked her fingertip and dipped it in the flour. It was wheat. Glorious, fresh wheat. To replace her stale mixed spelt and barley. She couldn’t take her eyes off it, so she had to fumble around until her hand hit her mixing bowl. She rose on her knees and carefully tipped the flour into the bowl, shaking out her robe to get it all. It looked like there were four handfuls of flour in there. Her eyes grew scratchy from lack of blinking as she reached for her oil jug and upended it over the mixing bowl. Soon, there was the right amount of oil, but it was still coming out, so she stuck Elijah’s cup under the spout until the oil ran out.

Nobody spoke as she mixed the dough, blew on the white broom embers until they flamed up again*, and cooked the bread. She divided the oil into three cups and set the feast in front of everyone: one loaf of bread, a few swallows of oil, and two barely pickled caper berries.

As they ate, they laughed.

And the next morning, the same thing happened. Just enough flour and oil came out of the containers to make food for one meal. At the midday meal, it happened again. By the evening meal, Rashida believed it would be there, just as Elijah’s God said.



Great Sea = Mediterranean Sea

seedtime = season of fall

wadi = streams that were filled with rushing water in the winter and spring, after the rains. Most wadis are seasonal. Some have water in them all the time, but in times of severe drought, even those run dry.

According to Nogah Hareuveni (a researcher who studies biblical landscape and plants), white broom embers will actually do this. This is how he describes it: “The traveler who looks on the ground beneath the white broom will also be able to see the mattress that served Elijah when he slept under the broom: a layer of thin, dry branches that drop off in the arid periods when the bush cannot supply nourishment to all the branches. These branches that cover the ground burn readily when gathered into a pile for kindling. Amazingly, this fire does not go out as quickly as expected. On the contrary, it grows quietly, producing great heat, dying down very gradually, leaving a pile of gray, charcoal-covered branches. A gentle puff into the pile proves that there is still a fire smoldering inside.” (Tree and Shrub in Our Biblical Heritage, Neot Kedumim Ltd., Israel: 1984, page 32)



My Men In Black Image of God

Here is something I missed during the recent heat wave: thinking random and occasionally deep thoughts while my brain was occupied with the domestic task of making dinner. The oppressive heat has broken, so I cooked last night. And my random and possibly deep thoughts revolved around God and a character in Men In Black 3 and the future.

Griffin (in the center) is an alien who can see the future: all of them at the same time. There are many possible futures, each one affected by the choices the characters make. He is a sweet, sweet character, wanting the good futures to happen, wanting people to make the choices that lead to the good futures, but he sees all the negative consequences of various actions, as well. He helps the Will Smith character, guides him as much as possible, and gives him a very important gift that could save the world, but it’s up to the players to act and react and make the good future happen.

At a couple of points in the film, he stands outside the action, saying, “I hope this is the one where this happens.”

While grating cheese to go over the mushroom ravioli, I realized that this is my image of God and God’s plan for my life. I can totally imagine God watching me, seeing my various futures arrayed in front of me, hoping I choose a particular path, but prepared to work with me no matter what I choose.

There are a lot of Christians who are earnestly searching for God’s Plan/Will For My Life, as if it were one official plan that each of us had to figure out and then just go along with. This is certainly the point of view of the devotional we’ve been reading with the kids at night (Jesus Calling for kids). As if God has a planner, and if we miss an appointment, we could miss the entire plan. There is an expectation that God’s plan is detailed and specific: you need to find the one right college God wants you to go to, the one right career path, the one right spouse, the one right church, etc. If you ask my best friend, Mr. Google, how to “find God’s plan for my life,” you will find millions of posts with authoritative directions and multi-step processes.

I don’t see it that way, but I can see how people get there. After all, Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘They are plans for good and not disaster, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

I was going to go into a paragraph about my understanding of Hebrew ideas, that they are less fixed than Western ideas of the same term, but Skip Moen already did it for me, and much better. He says the Hebrew word for plans in the above passage means, “thought, plan, or invention”:

“I know the new ideas I have for you.”  God’s plans are never cast in concrete.  They are flexible, adjusting to our lives as our circumstances change.  It is easy to think that God has only one perfect plan for your life and that if you make a mistake or sin, the plan will be forever destroyed.  Then you will have to live with second best, then third best and so on each time you fail to meet expectations.  But God does not have one perfect plan for you.  He has one purpose – one goal – that you become all that you were meant to be through conformity to the image of the Messiah.  The goal never changes.  But the plans are new ideas every day.  God is full of surprises.  An eternal inventor.

This makes me grin. The questions about “what should I do” become not, “Am I following God’s Plan for Me?” but “Will this help me conform to Christ’s image?” and “Can I be a faithful follower and servant here?” maybe even “Can I learn more about serving God here?” It could even be, “Which choice will bring me the most joy?”

My family is facing a church decision. We left our previous congregation a month ago, and while we’d prefer to wander around a variety of churches this summer and make a leisurely decision, that doesn’t seem to be where things are heading. My husband is being courted for a possible part-time job at one church. It feels too soon, but we’re pursuing it, praying about it, not putting up any roadblocks yet. Letting this surprise play out.

With my Griffin from MIB3 image of God, God is watching us on the cusp of this new direction, giving us bits of guidance and encouragement, and hoping we will make the decision that will bring about the most glory for God’s kingdom. For some people, God will give them very direct instructions: turn here, go there. give that person a specific amount of money. For others, it will be a piling on of circumstances, a layering of “coincidences” that all point in a specific direction.

The most direct message God has sent me is “Serve where you are planted,” which could mean a few different things: serve in the neighborhood you live in, no matter where you are you will serve, I will plant you somewhere and you will serve there, stay where you are and serve. It wasn’t a clear answer to the anguished prayer I had at the time, but I have served wherever it was that I was planted, and I’ll continue to do so.

However, the Griffin analogy breaks down, because he doesn’t make this promise: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom. 8:28).

Whatever we decide about this church, God will work it for good. Not necessarily for pleasant or for perfect, not always for fun, but for good. And God is with me however this plays out. My favorite promise of the three I’m quoting here is this one from Jesus: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Of course, we can choose wrong. We are sinful and often stupid, selfish and self-justifying. We can make cascading bad decisions. But God will keep throwing new ideas at us, plopping some miracles in our path, giving us chances, trying to nudge us into better decisions and more faithful futures.

In this way of looking at it, God doesn’t send us bad things, either. It might just be the spiritual toddler in me, but I can’t think that God “sends” cancer, rape, pulmonary embolisms, drowning, etc. These things happen and God works with them to wring as much good as can come. From this point of view, God didn’t give my cousin cancer so she could be more secure in her father’s love and esteem than she ever was when she was healthy. But she got cancer and that was one of the goods God wrung out of it before she died.

So those were my deep thoughts over the stove last night. And I didn’t even burn anything. What are you thinking about these days?