Is there always an easy way to do something?

Now and then I think about my American world view. One thing I think we Americans are always ready to assume is that there should be a fast, convenient way to do anything. We should be able to quickly get any food we want at any hour of the day or night, and the information we need or the music or video we want should be accessible from anywhere on our cell phone or whatever we have with us.

Has anyone else noticed that in our time "doing something by hand" now means typing something out character by character in a different computer program, rather than just selecting the relevant data and clicking on one button that pops it all exactly where it has to be? I'm old enough to remember typewriters. Have I forgotten what a wonder it was to work in a word processor the first time? I could go to any typo I'd made, just delete and retype it, I could insert words I'd forgotten in the middle of the text and the following words just moved over? Now it feels so arduous when I have to select, copy and paste five or ten different numbers from one page one by one into another form or a different page.

Scripture often talks about patience, endurance and long suffering. Paul prays for the Colossians that they would be "strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience." (Col 1:11). When I pray, I usually think of God's power as able to instantly solve this problem and make me happy again. "Lord, I know you can do it. Just divide the sea, throw the mountain in, raise the dead, confound your enemies and let me see what I want descending from heaven right in front of me." The temptation in my prayers is to imagine God's power making patience and longsuffering unnecessary. But that isn't how God works often. Could it be that His ways are higher than our American ways?

Dangerous Daydreams

Doris at Courage to Grow has an interesting post about Steven Slater, the flight attendant who made the news going down the escape slide after a quarrel with a passenger.

What challenged me was her point that Slater had cherished this fantasy for years, and when the situation presented itself, he acted it out. In my own heart, I can see some dangerous daydreams that keep coming back. How do I not cherish them like Slater did? A simple resolution that I won't think about X only goes so far. It feels paradoxical, like the witticism that says "Whatever you do, don't think about a blue elephant." We hear that and we start thinking about a blue elephant in the act of trying not to think about one.

I have found a real benefit in laying my dangerous daydreams before God in prayer. The temptation is not to admit my weakness, to think it is all a matter of my will power to resist the daydream. But when life is to be lived in relationship to God, I should have the honesty to admit to Him I am the weak person that I am, tempted by the things I am tempted by. My wierd daydreams are no surprise to him, I might as well admit what tempts me. I have felt peace when I have done that.

Another thing I have thought about is to think more broadly than just "not thinking about X". I try to think about the positive things that indulging my daydream of X would destroy or diminish.

The unnamed heroes of Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11 is described as the Hall of Fame of faith. The writer lists all the great heroes of the Old Testament who did great things because of their faith. There is a recurring refrain "By faith, X did Y": "By faith, Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain", "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice," "By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned," etc.

At the end of the chapter, the writer says he doesn't have time to tell about all the heroes. He lists a few more names, and then describes the life of people he doesn't name. "Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground." (verses 35-38).

This seems like a different kind of faith than what Abraham and Moses had. We don't see great miracles here. Was something wrong with their faith? The writer starts to leave us wondering when he says "These all were commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised."

So you can have faith, not receive what was promised, and that's good? That's what the writer is saying. He ends with this: "God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." Their faith was good and commendable because it was looking forward to the really great thing that still hasn't come yet, which I think is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.

God and our organizations

What is the characteristic of God’s work in human history? God has intervened to come alongside us, sinners who do not deserve His companionship, and works in us to make more of ourselves in His service than we could attain on our own. How should our organizations work in light of God’s work? Here are some principles I’ve thought of:

1) Organizations are only temporary, only God and people are eternal.
The besetting sin of organizations is to think that they are more important than the people in them, to think people only have value when they advance the organization’s goals.
But to say the organization only exists to benefit its members is also not good. Individuals need to give themselves to something larger than themselves, God is pleased when this happens.

2) Organizations please God when they call, encourage and facilitate people to invest their individual effort, time and identity in a larger purpose of God’s, outside their own individual lives. This echoes in a small way Jesus laying down His life and giving His life to live in us. We glorify God when we voluntarily lay down what is merely ours as individuals for a larger purpose.

3) When organizations force people to do certain things, that diminishes the glory of them voluntarily giving of themselves to the task. In the real world, force or compulsion must sometimes be used, it is not an unforgivable sin. But it should be used sparingly. To compel people to do a good thing may have a short term benefit, but to persuade them to voluntarily do the good thing is a greater benefit.

4) People who voluntarily take on a larger purpose will usually perform better than people who follow orders to take on a larger purpose. They will spontaneously and creatively adapt ways to fulfill that purpose in their circumstances.

5) When an individual expresses his fallibility and weakness before God, he is likely telling the truth, and this is a sign of strength. The same is true of an organization. An organization can admit weakness in itself, and the leaders can admit weakness in themselves, while still being faithful to the vision. To gloss over failures and difficulties in the name of upholding the vision is actually to subtly betray the vision.