Growing through success and failure

It’s so easy to let a little praise go to my head and to allow a little criticism to break my heart. God, on the other hand, invites me to experience growth through success and failure, even though it’s easy to miss (to avoid?) in both cases. Here’s a fresh way to see and work through the joys and challenges of life – words easily turned into a God-directed prayer…

Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use suspense as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for longsuffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pains as material for endurance.

– John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer,
quoted by Dale Vander Veen in his daily e-devotions last week
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Quote from Quotespictures.com
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Praying for wisdom, intelligence, and diligence

January calendar graphic found via GoogleI’m a little late for new year’s resolutions, but I read something in my daily prayer book for the fifth day of Epiphany (today) that makes for an excellent one. It comes in the form of a prayer – that I may have “the wisdom to see God, the intelligence to understand Him, and the diligence to seek His face.” What profound words to pray each day in 2015! They prompt me to both know about God and to actually know Him, to both grow in faith and act in faith.

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God of wonders, while our knowledge is encyclopedic, our ignorance is immense. But when we turn our minds to You, the secret things of Your ways and wisdom, we’re reduced to stammering reverence and humble adoration. We worship You, we adore You; to You be the glory forever. Amen.  Philip F. Reinders
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Slow us down, O Lord

I began the Advent season at Trinity CRC speaking about slowing Candle graphic found via Googledown, about not letting the busyness leading up to Christmas rob us from experiencing this season’s significance. Being in a hurry will quickly wreck things any time of the year, but that seems especially true these days. In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, John Ortberg writes about how relationships require love, and “love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is the one thing hurried people don’t have” (p. 81).

After speaking on this, someone emailed me this prayer originally from a group called Education for Justice. Consider praying it with me these next few days as Christmas approaches…

Slow us down, O Lord, this Advent,
so we may understand the darkness we are in,
the darkness of fear that comes with wanting more,
and the fear of having less.
Grant us the light of transformation,
as we wait for your true abundance –
the love of the Incarnation,
a love that brings us true dignity and security,
a love that embraces all, that enriches all,
that calls us all to share justly and celebrate joyfully.
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Psalm 100 by a 4th grader

Girl writing graphic found via Google

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My daughter’s 4th grade class at Rock Valley Christian School recently worked at expressing the messages in various psalms using their own words. Here is how my daughter interprets Psalm 100
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Sing with joy to the Lord, all of His world.
Praise Him with happiness,
come in front of Him with happy songs.
Know that my Lord is my God and He made me.
I’m His.
I’m one of the rubber bands
in the bracelet of His children.
Come through the church doors
with a thankful smile on your face
and a tune of praise in your heart.
Thank Him with a song of praise.
My God is good,
He will love me forever.
He has been faithful to my family.
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Religion in the workplace

CBC featured a news story yesterday about a Trinity Western University (TWU) graduate who alleges she was discriminated against by a wilderness tourism company because of her religion. After applying for a position with Amaruk Wilderness Corporation, Bethany Paquette received a rejection email from the company’s hiring manager who described TWU’s community standards that prohibit “sexual intimacy [outside] the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” as discriminatory. The rejection email included the explanation that “unlike Trinity Western University, we embrace diversity and the right of people to sleep with or marry whoever they want.” Lawyer Geoffrey Trotter reviews Bethany Paquette's human rights complaint with her. (Photo from CBC)Further email correspondence ensued in which it became increasingly clear that Ms. Paquette’s Christianity is incompatible with Amaruk’s business values. Ms. Paquette is now in the process of making a case against Amaruk with the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

While I find it troubling that someone was rejected for a job on the basis of her Christian faith, I’m almost more troubled by a quote from Ms. Paquette herself in which she claims, “My beliefs have developed who I am as an individual, but they don’t come into play when I am doing my job.”

Really?

I would hope the opposite is true – that one’s beliefs have a profound impact on one’s work.

I would hope that my faith helps me see work in general as rooted in God’s original intent for creation: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Work is not a result of the fall into sin; humans are called to meaningful work already in Paradise.

I would hope that my faith informs me of where the skills with which I work come from. Whether it is serving, teaching, or leading, showing up daily at a farm, a factory, or an office, the talents I have are gifts from God Himself, given for the common good of those around me.

I would hope that my faith equips me to work honestly and with integrity while building community among those with whom and for whom I work. After all, I want to be like Jesus who perfectly models “speaking the truth in love,” balancing honesty with grace in every relationship.

I would hope that my faith inspires me to work hard, obeying the apostle Paul’s command: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Ultimately, my work is in service to God who calls me to glorify Him not only on Sundays, but all week long.

In summary, I’d encourage Ms. Paquette to proudly assert how her faith comes into play on the job. It’s quite possible that discriminating against that faith actually cost Amaruk one of the best employees it could have ever hired.

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Trinity Western University logoAn aside: TWU is the same university that has come under scrutiny by various Canadian law societies in recent months because of its community standards. Advocates within the LGBT community voice concerns that the university’s stance against homosexuality will create biased lawyers in its new law program. In the early 2000s when TWU was seeking to accredit its teacher training program, the BC College of Teachers took TWU to court over similar concerns that TWU would produce teachers who would discriminate against students based on sexual orientation.

Now we seem to have a Christian pushing back, claiming that she is the one being discriminated against because of her religious beliefs. It will be interesting to see where this goes.
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When a giant is not such a giant

In stark contrast to King Saul, David has a God-shaped imagination. When the Philistines and their champion Goliath threaten the Israelites, Saul and his army are crippled by visions of defeat. David, however, is confident in God’s faithfulness and in God’s ability to do great things through faithful people. I love how Mark Buchanan put it in the class he taught at Regent College this past summer: Saul looks at Goliath and says he’s way too big to conquer; David looks at Goliath and says he’s way too big to miss!

David vs. Goliath by Szemin Tham, found at deviantart.net

Granted, Goliath’s strength appears unmatched at first glance. Anyone with eyes can see he’ll handily defeat the Israelites without even breaking a sweat and still be home in plenty of time for lunch, right?

In his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of David and Goliath by Malcolm GladwellBattling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell explores a different perspective and proposes that Goliath is not the mighty warrior everyone thinks he is. Yes, his size is intimidating, but there are some puzzling things about Goliath that suggest he’s not the invincible threat Saul and his army take him to be.

For example, why does Goliath need a shield bearer? In ancient times, archers needed attendants to carry their shields as they needed both hands to use their bow and arrow. Goliath, however, does not have a bow and arrow in his arsenal. He proposes that the Israelite-Philistine conflict be settled by a duel between one man from both sides in which he plans to use his huge spear. So why does he need a shield bearer?

What’s more, why does Goliath tell David to “come here?” Instead of wanting the upper hand and taking the offensive, he waits for his enemy to approach him. What’s more, the Bible describes David running quickly toward the battle line; Goliath seems to move slower. If he is such a mighty warrior, why isn’t he also running quickly into battle, taking charge?

Finally, why does Goliath make the strange comment about David coming at him with sticks? The Bible says that David takes into battle his shepherd staff, pouch and sling. David is only holding onto one staff, but Goliath speaks of multiple sticks. Why doesn’t he describe more accurately the scene unfolding right in front of him?

Dr. Gladwell offers this theory:

What many medical experts now believe … is that Goliath had a serious medical condition. He looks and sounds like someone suffering from what is called acromegaly – a disease caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary gland. The tumor causes an overproduction of human growth hormone… And furthermore, one of the common side effects of acromegaly is vision problems. Pituitary tumors can grow to the point where they compress the nerves leading to the eyes, with the result that people with acromegaly often suffer from severely restricted sight and diplopia, or double vision. (p. 14)

So Goliath’s “shield bearer” may actually be his visual guide. If he moves slowly, it’s because he sees everything blurry. His double vision makes it appear David is carrying two sticks instead of a single staff. And he has to tell David to “come here” because his vision is too poor to otherwise locate him!

The Israelites only see an intimidating giant. With eyes of faith, David sees a bigger picture. Perhaps he perceives how Goliath’s size is also the source of his greatest weakness and takes advantage of that. Combine that with his trust in the God who has prepared him for this encounter, and David’s odds of winning this battle are suddenly infinitely greater than Goliath’s.

I suspect a lot of the “giants” that intimidate me are not entirely what they appear to be. God invites me to trust Him in life’s challenges and develop a God-shaped imagination. He fills me with courage that helps me see how the biggest problems are, in reality, miniscule compared to His might in which He welcomes me to also find strength.
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God’s expert slinger

The story of David fighting and defeating Goliath is probably the most well-known of all the stories about David. It is an important reminder Sling and stone graphic found via Googlethat God is in the giant-defeating business when those giants stand opposed to His plans. And it has inspired many underdogs to press on against a stronger foe.

But skeptics have asked: “Could a boy really have killed a mighty warrior with just a sling and stone? Does the author of 1 Samuel exaggerate what happened that day?”

David and Goliath by Malcolm GladwellIn his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell provides this research:

Eitan Hirsch, a ballistics expert with the Israeli Defense Forces, recently did a series of calculations showing that a typical-size stone hurled by an expert slinger at a distance of 35 meters would have hit Goliath’s head with a velocity of 34 meters per second [~75 mph or ~120 km/h] – more than enough to penetrate his skull and render him unconscious or dead. In terms of stopping power, that is equivalent to a fair-size modern handgun. (p. 11)

In layperson’s terms, David’s stone has some serious speed behind it!

While Gladwell examines the velocity of a rock being propelled by a sling, an episode of Ancient Discoveries on the History Channel examines the force of that rock. An expert suggests that an impact of a stone to one’s head at 3,000 newtons would be enough to kill a human being: A shockwave would go through the brain, damaging the brain tissue and causing death. A slinger then comes on the show and, using a sling and stone just like David’s, hits a target with a sensor that records the force of impact being at 3,600 newtons – deadly!

   …For the part about David’s sling and stone, begin at 10:58…

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God has given David talent with a sling and stone. With it, he has defended his sheep from bears and lions wanting to devour them. God has prepared David in advance to now use his talent against an enemy that seeks to devour God’s people.

King Saul cannot perceive strength within David so he tries to fit David with his armor. But it is too big and cumbersome for David. Saul figures David needs greater size and weight to be successful against the fearsome giant. But David already has a secret weapon – his sling, yes, but even more critically, God Himself: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin,” announces David to Goliath, “but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty.”

This is the God who has been preparing David for this moment and in whom victory is assured against God-defying giants to this day. As William C. De Vries writes in his Bible study guide on David,

God will use His people with both their weaknesses and their skills [with a sling or a hammer, a football or a computer] to declare His glory and to work out His purpose in this world. (p. 23)
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