God

A Few "Days" to Maine and Back

A Few "Days" to Maine and Back

Happy New Year! Procrastinator that I am, I'm sharing a post I never finished last year. However, it does also serve as an excellent point of reflection over one of our greatest family adventures of 2018... This past June I went on the longest road trip of my life—with my wife, a four-year-old, a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-month-old. We had one reserved destination ~1,800 miles away and zero plans on how to get there. It was National Lampoon’s Vacation minus Wally World and the bb-gun hostage taking.

To backtrack a little, I should explain that this all began when my wife and I sat down to write out some New Year’s goals in 2017 and decided we should write out a “bucket list”. And so, we did—scribbling some prayerful thoughts on a napkin one evening at a noisy restaurant while a baby sitter watched the kids at home. Many line items spewed forth, one of which: the goal to see all the National Parks in the United States.

So, come this past May when we were blessed with our fourth child, Amelie, and a newly implemented eight week paternity leave plan at work, we asked ourselves: what’s one of the furthest parks we could see?

We landed at Acadia National Park in Maine, which is about a 27-hour drive from our home in Louisiana.

A Pusher, a Shaker, a Wondrous Plan Maker

A Pusher, a Shaker, a Wondrous Plan Maker

“What’s your plan?” Perhaps my least favorite question in the world.

I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, so the idea of sitting down to plan makes me cringe. It is contrary to my very nature. But there’s also another element of plan making that I dislike: the fact that life has a peculiar habit of blowing up plans in your face.

Like that time I planned a trip to Maine – the lobster capital of our great country – only to have the first shellfish allergic reaction of my life the week prior. Or that time I planned to bring the family to Chik-fil-A after church on Sunday (recurring problem). Or that time that I planned to fix the leak below our bathroom sink without turning off the water supply to the house (okay, that was just poor planning).

Got Abrahamed?

Got Abrahamed?

The past few months have been eventful for the Day family. At the beginning of the year, we were approached with an expatriate opportunity in a Southeast Asian country. Approached, mind you, we did not seek this out. The transfer promised a promotion, a slew of enticing benefits, an invaluable addition of acquired skills, and a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel Asia.

After many prayers for guidance and direction, we took a leap of faith, plunging in with the confidence for God to align the outcome according to His will. Next thing we knew, I passed the application and interviews and I was accepted as a qualified candidate, contingent on the country’s governmental approval.

When Your Worldview is a Tad Polished by Toddlers and Tadpoles

Toddlers, man. They run on a relentless source of energy that is highly unstable and prone to erratic outbursts, and their decision-making processes baffle even the most abstract thinkers amongst us. “Hey, let’s steal a box of food coloring and use it to dye our hands up to our wrists so it looks like we are wearing permanent purple gloves!”

“I need to throw a tantrum at 2 am because it is absolutely imperative that I change out of my pajamas into a new t-shirt NOW!”

“Toilet tank lid? I want to pick it up and hold it!”

But while we are frustratedly cleaning up their messes, rubbing our sleepy eyes, and vacuuming up broken tank lid pieces, we are also treated to their refreshingly novel perspective of the world. Things to which we have long since become accustomed and jaded, are suddenly cool and amazing and exciting all over again – such as the humble tadpole.

A Selfless Shepherd Snapping A Selfie

A Selfless Shepherd Snapping A Selfie

Abbott finished ushering the last of the sheep into the pen and snapped the door shut. With a satisfied smile, he threw his arm around the neck of one of his sheep. Pulling his smart phone out of his pocket, he extended his arm and snapped a couple of selfies. “Oh yeah…I’m b-a-a-a-a-d!” A sudden blurb of movement out of the corner of his eyes caught his attention. Phone dropping to his side, he squinted at the figure walking towards him, silhouetted against the backdrop of the blazing sun. It was Jesse’s son.

“Hey David, what’s up man?” Abbott called out with a cheerful smile.

“Hey Abbott...I need to ask you a favor.” David’s serious tone matched the concern streaked across his face.

“Uh...sure man. What’s up?” Abbott replied. Where is this going?

Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever

This month I had the amazing opportunity to embark on my first ever trip to the Smoky Mountains with my family– all planned within the week prior. It was one of those “It’s time to get away, let’s go do this,” moments. Plus it checked off a box on my bucket list to visit all the national parks in the United States (barely started). So I looked up cabin rentals on Google – found a solid one with American Patriot Getaways (highly recommend them, can’t praise them enough), booked it, and off we went.

The game plan was to break up the trip by spending the night in Birmingham on the way to Gatlinburg. This was about a 5 hour journey and approximately half way for us. Instead, we made it to Meridian, Mississippi – a whopping hour and a half away.

An Amazing Sight, an Even Better Message

An Amazing Sight, an Even Better Message

“Elek!” Abdiel whispered, shaking the dozing shepherd’s shoulder violently. Elek responded by snoring louder, a stream of drool pooling in his scraggly beard. “Elek!” Abdiel hissed louder, smacking Elek across the back of the head. “..mhama….what?” Elek sputtered. He sprung forwards, away from the oak tree he had been using as a backrest. His hand shot to the spot where Abdiel slapped him.

“What is that?” Abdiel demanded.

“What’s what?” Elek retorted, rubbing his head.

“That!”

Abdiel pointed to the cloaked figure passing through the sheep in the field, silhouetted by the backdrop of a full moon. Elek scrambled to his feet, gripping his rod. “Who goes there?” He declared into the night, spooking a couple of the nearby sheep.

The Lego Movie and Our Desire to Be "Special"

The Lego Movie and Our Desire to Be "Special"

Emmet Brickowski is just a regular guy. In fact, he’s so regular, that coworkers and neighbors struggle to piece together any distinguishing features to describe him: “Yeah, he’s kind of your average, normal, kind of guy. But you know, he’s not…he’s not like normal like us. No, he…he’s not that special.” (Barry, The Lego Movie)

“You know, he’s just sort of a…little bit of a…blank slate, I guess” (Larry the Barrista, The Lego Movie)

“We all have something that makes us something, and Emmet is…nothing.” (Randy, The Lego Movie)

But all that changes when Emmet stumbles across the “piece of resistance to the Kragle” (the top to a tube of Krazy Glue in which the z,y, and u have rubbed off). He is subsequently arrested under the tyrannous regime of President Business and is about to be melted when he is rescued by a mysterious girl named “Wyldstyle”. Emmet – utterly clueless to everything that is happening – is questioned by Wyldstyle:

Thanksgiving, a Trampoline, and a Contagious Spirit of Gratitude

Thanksgiving, a Trampoline, and a Contagious Spirit of Gratitude

This Thanksgiving, I can’t help but reflect on one of my favorite home videos – in which my son is jumping on the trampoline with his baby sister. The dialogue goes as follows: Sawyer: “Mommy, tank you for getting me a baby.”

Caroline: “Where do you think we got her?”

Sawyer (without a moment’s hesitation): “At the gwocery staw.”

Besides being insanely cute, there’s a few nuggets about the nature of thanksgiving buried in the exchange:

3 Ways That God Moves Amidst Suffering

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Special thanks and credit to my friend and mentor, Paul, for the insights on Job, the umbrella, and Isaiah 30. If trouble were raindrops, we'd live in a stormy world. Flick the channel to the news station and it doesn’t take but a minute to see that the world is steeped in suffering. Of course, you don’t need a newspaper or a television to convince you – simply living your life out will suffice.

All this begs the question: if God is good, why does suffering exist? There is a plethora of material on this subject, with varying levels of eloquence and insight. Though different stances exist, I identify well with C.S. Lewis:

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” (C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity)[1]

So then, God does not cause evil – but He does permit it from morally culpable beings.

Second question: why does suffering occur to me?

Is it a direct consequence of something I’ve done wrong?

Well, maybe. If I rob a convenience store at gunpoint and now I’m serving a sentence in jail, the correlation is self-evident. However, this is not always the case. Take the book of Job:

"Then the Lord asked Satan, 'Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.'

Satan replied to the Lord, 'Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property…But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!'

'All right, you may test him,' the Lord said to Satan." (Job 1:8-12 NLT)

Two key things here. One, God is actually the force holding back Satan’s attacks – an umbrella against the rain drops of evil, if you will. Two, even though Job is “blameless”, God removes the protection anyway – and Satan unleashes a plethora of torment and suffering.

It is true that sometimes we step out from under the umbrella and bring rain upon ourselves (i.e. rob the convenience store). It is the proliferation of wickedness and the rebellious rejection of God that prompts His allowance for Assyria (followed by Babylon), to exact punishment on the wayward Israelites and bring them into exile in the Old Testament (although he did send prophet after prophet to warn them).

Other times, though, we seem to do nothing wrong, yet God collapses the umbrella and we find ourselves drenched. As it says:

“For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:45 NLT)

…why?

I’d like to share my understanding of three ways that God moves amidst suffering, hopefully providing a level of encouragement along the way, and perhaps whetting your appetite in prayerfully pursuing further understanding.

1. Teaching Opportunities

"Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say. “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. Then you will destroy all your silver idols and your precious gold images. You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, “Good riddance!” Then the Lord will bless you with rain at planting time. There will be wonderful harvests and plenty of pastureland for your livestock." (Isaiah 30:20-23 NLT)

As I mentioned earlier, the Israelites brought about suffering upon themselves in this case with their idolatrous wandering away from God. Nevertheless, we see a good example here of God using the “adversity of food” and the “drink of suffering” to expose their idols for what they truly were – fake substitutes for a loving relationship with the one true God. When we elevate things of the world (money, fame, success, etc) above God in our lives, they become idols. We may not even be aware of it until it all comes crashing down. I have had an idol or two smashed in my life in such a manner.

Job was taught a lesson himself – one that brought down barriers towards having a greater understanding and a more intimate relationship with God.  John Piper describes it this way:

“I picture Job as a beaker of water. Job had been so worked upon by the grace of God that his life was pure. You could see right through the water. People looked at him and they saw a pure man. But there was a sediment of self-reliance and pride at the bottom. It wasn't huge and it wasn't damning, but it was there.

When God shook Job, the sediment colored the water, and you find Job saying some terrible things about God in this book. God knew that it was there, and he knew that in shaking this godly, blameless man there would arise some imperfection into his life, and that it would need to be purged. So the last thing [he says], therefore, [is] ‘I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’”[2]

2. Kingdom Advancement

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." (Romans 8:28 NLT)

In the second chapter of the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples at Pentecost, empowering them to miraculously speak the gospel to “devout men, from every nation under heaven”[3] in many different languages. Out of this, the Church is birthed. Newly converted Christians decide to stay in Jerusalem, their numbers increasing every day. The growth seems like a great, wonderful thing…until the stoning of Stephen – of which, Paul is at the forefront.

“Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1 NLT)

It’s easy to miss at first glance, but as an outcome of the persecution, there are now multi-national gospel speaking believers scattered in all different directions. It’s absolutely amazing how God used Paul to spread the gospel – both as an enemy before his conversion, and then as an advocate afterwards. God continues to work amongst persecution today.

On January 23, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, were burnt to death by a gang of Hindu fundamentalists while sleeping in his station wagon outside a small village in Odisha, India, where he had been working among lepers and the poor. In response to the murderous tragedy, Graham’s wife Gladys stated in her affidavit, “It is far from my mind to punish the persons who were responsible for the death of my husband Graham and my two children. But it is my desire and hope that they would repent and would be reformed."[4]

Her shocking reaction, broadcasted to the nation, combined with her relentless resolve to stay in India and continue to work amongst leprosy patients until 2004, led to countless responses to the gospel. For her impact, Gladys was awarded the fourth highest civilian honor in India – the Padma Shree – in addition to the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice.

There is simply no limit to the redeeming nature of God in creating beauty from ashes. Joseph understood this when he declared to the brothers that had sold him into slavery:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” Genesis 50:20

3. Strengthening Souls

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT)

The concept is intuitive. We liberally apply clichés like “no pain, no gain” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – usually when pumping iron at the gym. However, trusting that our faith will somehow emerge stronger in the wake of tragedy is far more difficult – possibly impossible – without the supernatural strength of God to walk us through it.

There is another caveat to this, however. That is, our walking through suffering strengths the faith of others.

I’m currently watching a friend walk through a terminal cancer diagnosis with a level of grace and steadfast faith that drops my jaw to the floor. Wow, I think. If God can walk him through that, how much more can I rely on Him to help me through my petty “struggles”? I could not be more grateful for the encouragement that his walking testimony emanates.

I do not believe that God delights in suffering, nor do I hold Him accountable for its existence. Neither can I say, however, that like the apostle Paul, I have “learned in whatever state I am, to be content”[5] I get angry, I get frustrated, I get upset at God for hands that I am dealt. I am a work in progress, riding the rollercoaster of life, with my hopes set upon a future of perfection. In fact, I think I wrote this post as a reminder for myself more than for anyone else that may be reading it. Nevertheless, I hope you are encouraged that no matter what you may be going through, God is working – even if we don’t see it this side of heaven.

-  Nicolas C. Day

[1]https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/437424-god-created-things-which-had-free-will-that-means-creatures

[2]https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-should-i-read-the-book-of-job

[3] Acts 2:6

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Staines

[5] Philippians 4:11

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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