I’ve been thinking about how to best communicate a truth in which I firmly believe, in a manner that is consistent with what reDeploying is all about. In this final, long overdue segment of Get Control of the Game, I hope to communicate this truth with grace.
As I look back on my life, I can clearly see God’s hand at work, even before I found faith. He has been with me all along, consistently prompting me back into His will, sometimes gently, sometimes assertively. That aspect of our relationship didn’t change when I found faith. It just became clearer. God continuously gets control of my game—and I am ever so grateful for that fact.
Over the past three months I’ve explored who I am today in-depth, and how different that is from who I was. I thought I had captured it correctly and nearly posted a version of these words two months ago, just as God was, once again, getting control of my game. It now seems most appropriate to finish this work and share it with you on Easter Sunday.
It is all too common to find ourselves stumbling through life thinking we are in control. When stuff that we don’t like or want happens to us, or to those whom we love, we find someone or something to blame for this undesirable outcome. In truth, life is messy. It consists of a continuum of successes and failures, of good and bad situations, circumstances, and/or occurrences. The only thing we can really control is our response…our attitude, as Chuck Swindoll so accurately describes.
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our Attitudes.
I believe in God, and that He is in control. Whether any of us want to acknowledge and therefore yield to that notion is irrelevant. Like the official determined to seize control of the 1989 Rose Bowl, and like my colleague who seized control of quality deliveries of potatoes, God seizes control of our game—our lives—in a most delicate act of balance. He honors His promise of free will while, at the same time, providing subtle, sometimes not so subtle encouragements to get back on track. I believe He does this with all people, regardless of faith, in a constant effort to bring us closer to Him so we can experience His love for us.
I recently spoke with a group of about 150 women at a Bay Area church on the subject of love. As part of this two-week series I presented the most significant scripture I’ve encountered in my 29 years as a Christian.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Romans 5:1-5, NIV
I have faced a number of significant, life-changing challenges (= sufferings) in my 60 years on this earth. As I experienced each of these circumstances, the pain I felt in the moment overshadowed everything in my soul. Yet, through grace, what I experienced actually strengthened my faith and my resolve to press on. In the pain, God’s love strengthened me and gave me hope…just as promised in this scripture.
I stumbled upon Jesus when I was 31 years old. I’m an intellectual of sorts, raised to believe strongly in the facts as I know them. (Even though I was taught to acquire as many facts as possible over time, this attitude may warrant some caution!) I was living a rather ideal life from outside appearances at the time. I was married to my college sweetheart, father of three beautiful children, had a good, well-paying job, etc., etc. I worked very hard, too hard, in an effort to cover up as many of the inadequacies that remained from childhood and prove my worthiness to this world. Anger and perfectionism were symptoms of these inadequacies. I was, paradoxically, a good and a bad example of the ideal husband and father.
In November of 1984, while going to bed the night before a business trip, I felt a strong urge to take a book to read on the plane. I subconsciously reached into the stack of books on my nightstand and pulled one out of the middle of the stack—Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell. I was aware of the book but had no recollection of buying it. (It turned out that my older sister, a born-again Christian, had given me the book a couple of years earlier—but I had dismissed it into the dusty stack on my nightstand.)
I read about two-thirds of McDowell’s book—it’s a tough read—and found myself acknowledging the scientific proof of the existence of many facts purported in the Bible, and even this guy named Jesus. So, I decided to pick up a Bible and start reading. Four years later, after a long fight with God about creation versus evolution, good versus evil, etc., etc., I was baptized. Life was good!
Unfortunately, while God promises eternal life with Him simply for believing in His Son and accepting His gift of grace, He also promises that our life on earth will be something less than perfect, mirroring the truth that we are all something less than perfect. I’ve experienced that imperfection almost as much after my conversion as I did before. I live out the very irony non-believers see in the Christian faith. We suffer in spite of our faith. Where is God in that?
Over the past fourteen years I have experienced several crises within my greater family. Three are of particular significance. In the midst of the first two I learned just how severe a toll my inadequacies had taken on the lives of people I love. Even though I learned that I had done the best I could with the tools with which I was provided, I felt great pain for my part in these circumstances. The suffering was so severe the second time around that for a moment I thought it simply unbearable.
I knew at the time, and I know so much more clearly now, that God was getting control of my life. In the absence of this suffering—consistent with God’s promise not to allow more than I could handle—I would not be able, on my own, to maneuver my life into alignment with God’s will for me. Grounded in faith, the suffering I experienced encouraged me to persevere, and this perseverance did, in fact, yield hope. My game got just a little bit better!
As I was in the process of writing this piece three months ago, a crisis again struck my family. Frankly, I became somewhat paralyzed by the insidious nature of this particular crisis and its impact on the innocent people who have no choice but to live in the midst of it. Just in case I’d forgotten, God made it abundantly clear that I have control over very few aspects of my life. I am called to persevere in faith, and will do so as I pick myself up and move forward. I will play the best game of life I can in the areas over which He does give me control—constantly in search of alignment with His will for me.
Why is this so significant on Easter? Because the greatest gift we will ever receive is the abundant source of hope we have in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the absence of His resurrection, Jesus’ death on the cross is meaningless. It is nothing more than a hopeless ending to a life of struggle—even in the presence of miracles. Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, one of the most extreme antagonists of the very first “Jesus movement,” tells us in Romans 5 that we are justified by faith. That is, our slate of sin, past and future, is wiped clean by the ultimate sacrifice God endured through the death of His Son on the cross. It is as though we have lived lives that were perfect!
Here’s my reality in this context: Those in my family who came before me sinned. I did not learn enough from their experiences to stop repeating some of the same sinful behavior. In spite of my desire to make a difference, my children have also sinned. And so it will be for my grandchildren. They will stumble and fall and sin. There is really no way to stop it.
I believe our best response to the many challenges of life is to reflect the everlasting forgiveness of our own sins and love one another. And when we stumble, once again, trust that God will get control of our game!