Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Ripple Effect

This message kind of piggy-backs off the last one about God making good from bad.

I recently read the book "Same Kind of Different as Me" by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. If you have not read it, PLEASE do! It's incredible! It's a faith-based book about the way God worked in the lives of a husband and wife and one homeless man. He brought them together in a way that changed all of their lives, plus the lives of countless others. And even if you aren't a "crazy Christian" like me, you can still enjoy this book b/c it's about humanity and real issues in the world.

There is one really sad part in the book. I read it and lay in bed crying with Scott looking very concerned. It's a true story, and I had a reaction similar to that of one of the characters. Why would God do this? Well, in the book we see several lives that are changed because of that one sad thing. Right away God revealed part of his purpose. Then, as I read it and felt encouraged and inspired by these stories, I realize I was being changed, too! The people that this happened to could not have known what type of effect it would have on anyone, and they certainly would not have predicted it would have any effect on me! But God knew. When God did that sad thing, He knew each and every life it would affect. He planned it that way.

Then I realized, everything that happens in this world is like a stone thrown into a pond. It has a ripple effect. One action (the stone thrown in the pond) causes lots of reactions (the ripples). I realized in that moment, I am a ripple of this one incident! And I don't personally know these people; I wasn't there when it happened. But it has changed me and countless others who knew the people, have heard the story, or have read the book.

This also reminded me of the movie Letters to God. It is also a book, but I've never read it. Sorry to spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but the little boy in the movie ends up dying from cancer. It seems so tragic because he has such unwavering faith throughout the whole movie, but God still takes him. But we see at the end of the movie how it has helped his family grow in their faith. Also, during the credits (this was a true story), we see testimonies and stories of real people who were touched and inspired by this story--particularly other cancer victims and survivors. Who knows how many people were saved because of the death of this one boy?

And of course that made me think about Jesus. He was perfect. Never sinned. Loved everyone. Was God's only son. And he was beaten and killed. God did that to his own son. And I'm not saying that to claim that God is heartless or anything. I'm pointing this out because of what happened due to Jesus's death. By his stripes we are healed! Because he died and rose again, we too can die to our old selves and rise again in Christ. Because he took on the wrath of God, we are saved from our sins and do not have to suffer in that same way. I mean, we can't even truly understand the amount and magnitude of the good that came out of that terrible event. I am a ripple.

Ripple effects don't just happen from bad things. "Same Kind of Different as Me" has lots of wonderful things that happen. And each of those things has affected me and others as well. It makes me kind of think of a boiling pot of water. Or a rainstorm. So many eruptions in the water, so many ripples--all colliding into one another, morphing along the way. That's kind of how life is. And what's awesome is it looks and feels chaotic to us, but it is all perfectly planned by God and He is completely in control of all those ripples. So crazy!

So, again, when something happens in this world and it doesn't seem fair and you question God and can't find any good in it whatsoever, just trust that there are ripples being sent out into the world, and good is going to happen. You may never see that good, but it's out there...even if it's several ripples away.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Making Good from Bad

Today I studied the story of Tamar for my women's small group at church. I have read this story a few times in the past, but had not given it much consideration. This time around I found it to be very enlightening. That's what I love so much about the Bible. You can read it time and time again and still find new revelations throughout.

For those of you not familiar with the story, it can be found in Genesis 38. I'll give you the recap. Tamar was married to Judah's son Er. After Er died, as customary in these times, Judah ordered his other son Onan to lay with Tamar so that she might give birth to a son who could carry on the family name. Onan basically practiced the method of withdrawal as birth control because he did not want to father a son that would be considered his brother's. (Which is how they would have viewed it) He ended up dying also. Judah had one more son but refused to give him to Tamar b/c he was afraid he would also die. So, Tamar left town. She heard that Judah would be visiting the town, so she veiled herself and pretended to be a prostitute so that he would sleep with her and she would bear a child. When Judah found out she was pregnant he sentenced her to be burned to death for adultery. When she proved that the baby was from him he said she is more righteous than he is, and he let her live.

Okay, so this story is really weird to us, much like most of the stories in the Old Testament. We can't really relate to those times. The practice of sleeping with your dead husband's brothers (and then tricking your father-in-law into sleeping with you) seems really off-putting to say the least. I found a few things interesting in this story.

First of all, the customs were so different back then. There were no real issues with men sleeping with prostitutes, but women couldn't sleep with anyone other than their husbands or they were sentenced to death! This is mainly because carrying on the family line was so important. It was okay, and even encouraged, that she sleep with her brothers-in-law because this would preserve the family line. If she slept with someone outside the family, it would be a disgrace because that child would not be part of that family. It was confusing to me that Judah claimed she was more righteous than he was. I mean, after all, she tricked him into sleeping with her. It seems they are both equally to blame for this. But her actions were seen as righteous because her attempts were to keep the family going by having a male heir. He had denied her his other son, thereby breaking such an important law and custom. It's just interesting to see the differences between today and then. At the same time, it's interesting to see how human kind has struggled with immorality and rash behavior since the very beginning. Many of these customs seem offensive to us, but how many people are out there in the world doing things like this or worse right now?

But the best part of this story--what I found especially encouraging--is actually found in Matthew 1:3. Tamar and the son she has from Judah are in the family lineage of Jesus Christ! Now you can argue for their reasons and possibly empathize with these people, but I think we can all agree that their actions were questionable and not entirely moral. But look what God did with their mess--He made Jesus! The one who saves the lost! How encouraging and awesome it is to see God turn something that we would deem as "bad" into something marvelous and PERFECT!

Not only is it an encouraging, but it provides a very good example of God making good from bad over a very long time period. Tamar and Judah's son was only the 3rd generation out of the 14 that lead to the birth of Christ. They definitely didn't see the awesome transformation of their mistakes in their life time. Nor did those in the lifetime after, or after that... I think that's an important point to remember. It's easy for us to proclaim that God makes good from bad, but when something "bad" happens in our lives, we always search for a direct result of it turning into something wonderful. And we can't always figure it out. This can be discouraging at times. We may start to doubt that God works all things together for our good or that He always uses what people do for evil into something for His glory. I think we need to remember that it may take a long time for that result to come about. We may never see it. It may affect someone else and not even be about us at all, and we may never know. Or it may cause a long term effect of something that doesn't even happen in our lifetime. We just can't possibly know for sure. But I believe we can trust that He truly does take the messes we create and transform them into beautiful things that will ultimately bring Him glory and benefit His people.

Lord, thank you for taking even my worst mistakes and using them to benefit the Kingdom in some way. Remind me of this whenever I may become discouraged with my life or the state of the world. Help me to see the good whenever I can, and fill me with your peace and joy in knowing that even when I can't see it--there is good to come in some way. Thank you for your unbelievable grace, love, and wisdom that you pour out on us each and every day. In your name I pray. Amen.
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