Living in the ‘Cone of Uncertainty’

As Hurricane Irma prepares to bash the United States, here in Charlotte we’re wondering if it will be coming our way. As we wait for the answer, I’ve been intrigued by weather reports saying our region lies in the “Cone of Uncertainty.”

While modern meteorologists probably feel clever in using this term, it’s really no different than King Solomon wrote about over 2,000 years ago:

Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5 NLT).

Then and now, the path of the wind is highly unpredictable. Even Jesus found it important to weigh in on this great mystery:

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes (John 3:8).

As meteorologists apply the Cone of Uncertainty idea to the difficulty of projecting Irma’s destructive route, I feel prompted to write about another  kind of Cone of Uncertainty. While the uncertainty about Irma’s path will be resolved within days, I’ve observed a bigger and more long-term issue that seems quite common today…

Some people seem to live their entire lives  in a Cone of Uncertainty!

I’m not trying to be harsh, but you’ve probably met people like this. They’re continually uncertain about their standing with God, their career, their relationships, or what their priorities should be. And if they’re anything like my good friend Ron, they’re stuck in a Cone of Uncertainty in their dating life too.

So what does the Bible say about this? Lots.

Here are just a few random principles for your consideration:

  1. God wants us to live lives of peace rather than confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). His peace is supposed to transcend our circumstances and guide our decisions, even amid the storms of life (Philippians 4:6-7, Colossians 3:15).
  2. We must be careful not to claim certainty on subjects God hasn’t truly revealed yet. For example, Jesus made it clear that no one would be able to accurately forecast the day of His return—even though people continue to try. On one hand, He said we could observe the signs and know His return is near (Matthew 24:33). But on the other hand, He said we wouldn’t be able to know “the day and hour” (Matthew 24:36, 24:42). On this and many other issues, “we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9).
  3. When God allows us to experience a Cone of Uncertainty for a season, it provides an opportunity for us to trust Him. I love the statement Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego made to the king as they were being thrown into the fiery furnace. Although they were uncertain about the outcome of the trial they faced, they were absolutely certain of God’s love and faithfulness:

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up (Daniel 3:16-18).

These three men were determined to trust the Lord, regardless of whether He delivered them and changed their difficult circumstances.

  1. There are some things we should be certain  about. In today’s postmodern world, it’s fashionable to say there are no absolutes. People seem suspicious if you say you know anything for sure. The book of First John was written toward the end of the first century, amid some similar trends of uncertainty affecting the church. A new generation was arising that wasn’t as certain or dogmatic about things as the early apostles had been. No wonder John uses the word “know” 32 times in this book! In fact, he says he wrote the book “that you may KNOW that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

So there’s no need to live in a Cone of Uncertainty about whether you’ve been born again and given eternal life. Nor do you ever need to doubt God’s love or His desire to bless you and meet your needs.

This issue came up recently when I was trying to encourage a friend who was going through a hard time. “Brother, the Bible says in Romans 8:31 that if God is for us, it doesn’t matter who is against us,” I reminded him.

I thought that would settle the matter, but it didn’t.

“How do I really know that God is for me, though?” he replied.

Yikes. I could tell this was going to be a much deeper conversation than I had expected. My friend was living in a Cone of Uncertainty on an issue of supreme importance.

But take a moment to apply this to your own life and ponder my friend’s question. How can we know for sure that God is FOR us?

I suppose I could write an entire book in response to this vital query, but for now this basic explanation will have to suffice:

YOU CAN KNOW FOR SURE THAT GOD IS FOR YOU,

BECAUSE HE SENT HIS SON TO DIE FOR YOU!

Shouldn’t that be enough of an answer?

But what if you’ve been living in sin, knowingly disobedient to the precepts in God’s Word? Is He STILL for you?

Once again, the answer is actually quite simple: Even if you’re living in the deepest sin imaginable, God is still for you—He’s for you to repent so He can release the fullness of His blessings in your life once again!

You see, no matter what your situation may be, your Heavenly Father is FOR you, not against you. If you are living in a pigpen, He’s FOR you to come home so He can throw you a party (Luke 15:11-32). If you’re a stuck-up religious person like the older brother in that story, He’s FOR you to humble yourself and enter into the joyous festivities He’s prepared.

What an incredible revelation! Either way, no matter what, God is FOR you. So why not leave the Cone of Uncertainty and join the party, already in progress?

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The Downside of Being a Perfect Kid

I was a pretty awesome kid, if I do say so myself. Polite and well-behaved, I never recall talking back to my parents or any adult.

I worked hard at school and got good grades. My parents never had to worry about me skipping classes, getting into fights, using profanity, or disgracing them in any way. They were proud of me, and rightfully so.

Never once did I try a cigarette, smoke a joint, or get drunk.

And all this time, I never doubted that my parents loved me. Of course  they loved me. I was quite lovable, after all.

So what could possibly be the downside to this seemingly idyllic picture?

During my recent sabbatical, I came to a surprising and quite troubling realization: Yes, my parents loved me, but there was a problem…

Because I was so “perfect,” I subconsciously assumed my virtue was the reason I was loved.

This created an obvious dilemma: If my parents loved me because I was always lovable, how could I ever know they’d love me when I was unlovable?

Flash forward to today, and I realize how this warped perspective has infiltrated my relationship with God, my Heavenly Father.

If someone asked, “Jim, do you think God loves you?,” I would say yes, probably so. But my answer would be based largely on the fact that I’ve been a “pretty good Christian,” just like I was a good kid for my parents.

Do you see the problem here? (And it’s a BIG problem!)

If you think God loves you because you’re such a good, well-behaved person, there’s no room left for His grace. On days when you feel good about yourself, you’re confident the Lord loves you. But when you realize you’ve fallen short in some way, you find yourself questioning His love.

This makes God’s love dependent on your performance…your behavior…your productivity. As long as you’re perfect, everything’s fine. But if you screw up, you assume your Father’s love and favor will be withheld.

What a shaky foundation this is!

If you’re having a good day, you think God is certainly pleased with you. If things aren’t going your way, you assume He must be disappointed and angry.

No wonder the older brother in the Prodigal Son story had such a struggle (Luke 15). He had been the perfect kid, faithfully serving his father year after year. Yet because he felt that he was so “good” and so “worthy,” he never experienced the unconditional nature of his father’s love.

The prodigal, in contrast, couldn’t rely upon his good behavior as a reason for his father’s affection. He knew  he needed mercy and grace—and he received them in great abundance.

So let me ask you two questions:

  1. Do you know, really know, that your Heavenly Father loves you, and loves you deeply?
  2. If your answer to question #1 is yes, do you realize He loves you even when you’re an underachiever…or mischievous…or downright rebellious? Do you realize His great love is able to cover even “a multitude of sins”?  (1 Peter 4:8).

It’s such a wonderful relief when you finally recognize you don’t have to be the perfect kid in order to get your Father’s love and affection. You’ll find yourself entering deeper into His love and, perhaps surprisingly, your conduct will improve as well.

It turned out that the older brother in Luke 15 wasn’t so perfect after all. Instead of entering the father’s house and enjoying the party, he just kept on working.

In the same way, a funny thing happened by the time I got to the end of this blog. I realized I wasn’t really  a perfect kid, either. Countless sins have come to mind, and the greatest of all was pride.

Those, like me, who grew up with an inflated view of their own worthiness will usually end up with the same twisted view that their Heavenly Father’s love is based on performance.

He loves you, my friend. Not because you’re the perfect child, but because His love is greater than all your shortcomings.

So go ahead and enter the Father’s lavish party. He’s throwing it for you, after all.

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Misleading Signs of God’s Favor

Not long ago, I experienced a stretch of several months when everything seemed to go right for me. Although I’m now embarrassed to admit it, these events caused me to conclude, “Wow. God really loves me these days! It’s so awesome to be walking in His favor!”

Rather than tell you about my own crash landing on this mistaken interpretation of God’s favor, let me share the story of a friend of mine named “Joe.”

After facing some hard times a few years ago, things had really turned around for Joe. He had worked for the same company nearly 10 years, with little change in his salary or position. Then suddenly he was upgraded to a prestigious new window office, overlooking a beautiful lake. “Surely this is God’s favor!” he marveled to his friends.

During this same period of time, Joe started a new exercise regime—high-energy kickboxing. He was excited to find an exercise program he really enjoyed. “What a blessing to discover this great way to get in shape and lose weight!” he said.

But the biggest blessing of all was the day Joe unexpectedly met “the woman of his dreams” at a church event. They had an uncanny list of common interests and perspectives, and Joe had never been happier. “What an incredible sign of God’s love!” he concluded when describing God’s apparent sovereignty in bringing them together. “I’m so grateful for this amazing demonstration of His favor.”

Soon Joe’s story took some unexpected twists and turns, however. His company found someone more worthy of the nice window office, and Joe had to return to his original cubicle.

Then he started having chronic aches and pains from his kickboxing workouts. His back…his knees…his big toe—it soon became clear that the pain and risk of long-term damage was unacceptable. Joe was forced to go back to walking as his exercise of choice, and this was very disheartening.

And then the bottom fell out entirely. Just when everything seemed to being going splendidly, His “perfect” girlfriend dumped him. The trauma was almost unbearable.

If you’ve been following along with Joe’s story, you’re probably asking some vital questions at this point: “What happened to God’s favor? Did Joe do something to anger the Lord and cause Him to withdraw His love?”  

I hope you see how important this issue is. If we see signs of God’s favor when “good” things happen to us, then it’s probably logical to assume we’ve somehow lost His favor when “bad” things happen to us.

Yet, is this what the Bible teaches? Certainly not!

You see, many of us have the same theology as Job’s friends. When Job was prospering financially, in good health, and enjoying the perfect family life, his friends were convinced God had great love for Job. But when he faced unspeakable adversity, they were just as certain he had somehow squandered God’s love and favor.

The Bible is full of similar stories of God’s love for people who didn’t seem to be “blessed” at some points in their life. Joseph…Naomi…Jeremiah…Daniel…Paul—the list could go on and on.

If your theology is wrong on this point, your life will inevitably be a constant roller coaster, never certain where you stand with God…never really sure if He loves you and has your best interests at heart.

If you were walking with Jesus during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:7-10), you might have seen the “Hosannas” as a sure sign of the Father’s favor upon His Son. But this kind of thinking would create a serious dilemma a few days later when the same crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:12-14) And how does Jesus’ agony on the cross square with the misguided notion that God’s favor always means a carefree life?

The point is this: It’s dangerous to assume God’s blessings are always a sign of His favor, or to see every adversity as a sign of His displeasure. Many ungodly people are healthy and financially prosperous, but that doesn’t guarantee they will find the Lord’s mercy and favor in the final judgment.

Jesus taught that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). This means our outward circumstances are often a very misleading representation of our Heavenly Father’s love for us.

However, this has been a hard lesson for my friend Joe, and for me as well. We’ve had to repent of trusting our circumstances as signs of God’s favor, instead of simply trusting what He’s said in His Word.

Perhaps you’re like Joe and me, needing to realize this powerful truth once again: Instead of loving you with a vacillating love, God loves you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). His grace, mercy, and favor aren’t fragile qualities that haphazardly come and go.

So remember: If you are in Christ  today, you can be confident that you are also in His favor—no matter what difficult circumstances you may be going through.

Isn’t this a tremendous relief? Isn’t it good to know you already have God’s favor if you have Christ?  Paul said it so well: He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Now that’s favor you can count on…rest upon…and radiate to others. Why? Because He loves you—no matter what.

———————————

I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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God Is Connecting the Dots

Being old has its benefits. And I don’t just mean the senior coffees at McDonalds.

I’m old enough to know that “what goes around comes around,” and King Solomon had it right when he observed that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). History really does have a habit of repeating itself, particularly if we fail to learn its lessons the first time around.

But recently I’ve come to appreciate another benefit of having lived awhile: I’ve seen that God is a skilled Artist who delights in “connecting the dots” in our lives. Perhaps you haven’t lived long enough to see this fantastic divine pattern yet, but I believe you will in time.

By “dots,” I mean whatever experiences, events, relationships, successes, failures, pains, or pleasures you’ve encountered during your life. Some of these dots you’ve no doubt categorized as “bad,” and other ones you’ve probably described as “good.” And if you’re anything like me, many of the dots in life simply seem random—without any apparent purpose…making absolutely no sense at the time.

Yet I have good news for you today—news so good you probably will find it hard to believe: As time goes by during your life, the Lord will increasingly connect the dots and reveal an intricate, well-planned masterpiece. Yes, He’ll connect even the dots that once made no sense. And if all the dots still don’t seem to be perfectly connected by the end of your earthly life, He will surely finish the job in eternity.

By the time God gets done with His handiwork, EVERY dot will be connected, and NOTHING will be wasted. He will find a use even for your most painful dots or and the events you considered your greatest failures.

You see, the Bible has been right all along when it told us that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Read that one more time. It doesn’t say just SOME thing work together for good—it says “ALL THINGS!”

Now take a few minutes to consider some of the “dots” you wish you could erase from your life. Believe it or not, God can do something good even with those painful or ugly dots. In the next few weeks, I’ll be launching an e-book on preventing, surviving and recovering from church splits. Sad to say, I’m one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject—but the Lord is going to use my painful and unwanted experiences to help thousands of pastors who are dealing with such things in their own churches.

And if you still doubt God’s ability to turn around tragic events and use them for His purposes, consider King David. I’m sure he wished he could erase his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah (see Psalm 51). But Bathsheba ultimately gave birth to Solomon, and she ended up in the family lineage of Jesus, the Messiah! (Matthew 1:6) God is great in mercy, isn’t He?

And in case you think God only loves you or offers you His favor when you are “good,” let me share one more connect-the-dots illustration.

Although I’ve never been much of a stargazer or astronomer, the Big Dipper is one constellation that’s always blessed and intrigued me. First of all, note that it’s not a “dipper” at all until you connect the dots of the various stars.

But what amazes me about the Big Dipper is that it’s continually tilted  in such a way as to pour out its contents. My friend, that’s exactly how God wants you to see His love and favor for you. It’s not something that comes and goes, nor is it so fragile that it can easily be lost. In fact, Paul assured us that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God…nothing (Romans 8:28).

So take heart today. Nothing has happened in your life that is too awful for God to forgive or to redeem for His glory. Go ahead and give Him the dots—all of them—and you’ll be amazed by the beautiful tapestry He’ll produce.

 

 

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