On Not Being Omniscient

I sometimes wish for a break from making decisions. It seems like my wife and I have had one big hairy decision after another this last year. From saying goodbye to our family, friends, and ministry in Seattle, to selling a house, to relocating our family from the West Coast to the East Coast, to buying a house (sight unseen!), to making educational choices for our growing kids, to deciding how and if Corrie could finish her counseling degree at another school, etc. We often wished we had the benefit of just a tiny peak into the future. Each decision was like a domino affecting the others; we wanted to get them right.

Yet each time, we had to make decisions with less than all the facts.

That weighed on us. It still weighs on us. For some strange reason, my wife and I got it into our heads growing up that God would bless us if we got everything right. This warped theology (which thankfully we’ve renounced) often added an extra burdensome overlay to our decision making. Not only could the next bad decision screw up our lives practically, it could also provoke God’s anger and withhold his blessing spiritually, too. This, friends, is a burden too heavy to bear. (Note: our decisions do have consequences and sinful decisions displease God. But we aren’t talking about making decisions about whether or not to do something sinful here.)

Just this morning, we found ourselves fretting at the kitchen counter over some new decisions. Again, we realized we didn’t have all the information. We didn’t know everything we wanted to know about the situation. But we reminded each other that we were doing the best with what we knew to do.

With that, all we could do was lean back into the grace of a God who knows the end from the beginning.

I’m so glad God is omniscient. Not only does he have all the facts, he has the perspective to make sense of the facts, wisdom to apply them, and impeccable timing. The crushing weight of “getting things right all the time” is for his shoulders. Friends, Corrie and I are still in the kindergarten class of God’s grace! We’ve barely begun to plumb the depths. But we can tell you this: even when we make what prove to be dumb decisions, God’s grace is there.

The best decision we’ve ever made is to trust that God’s grace will hold us up in uncertain times. We can go back to being humans and let God be the omniscient one.

Bridge People

Railroad trestle along the James River, Richmond, VA. Photo by author.

I love ministry.
My kids asked, “Dad, if you had to change jobs what else would you want to do?” I honestly couldn’t think of anything else. This is my calling.

I also hate ministry.
Plenty of times over the years I’ve wanted to quit and do a clock in/clock out job with regular hours. Some seasons of ministry have left me and my wife gut punched and gun shy.

So why the schizophrenic response? One reason was that early on – unconsciously – I thought I had a lot more influence, charisma, and wisdom than I actually did. I knew ministry was going to be hard, but c’mon, I was built for this. I wouldn’t have told you I had something to prove, but deep in my heart I certainly did. Lovingly, God used the fires of ministry to bubble my insecurities to the surface. More on that in a later blog post.

But another reason is this: I, like many other pastors, missionaries, and ministers did not fully understand the role to which I was called. I was called to be a bridge person. To represent the message and character of a loving, reconciling God to a (sometimes) hostile, skeptical audience. To stretch into the void between the kingdom of God and the context of my mission. To build trust between alienated parties. To change my culture and lifestyle in order to become a person of peace. To do the work of racial and spiritual reconciliation. To change so much from my home culture as to be unrecognizable to “my people,” yet never enough to truly be “one of us” to the culture to which I was sent. To be a bridge.

TO GET WALKED ON.

No, I’m not suggesting that I reconcile people to God; Jesus ultimately and only does that. But I bear the message of reconciliation (which incidentally, if you’re a believer, you do, too). See 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. This isn’t just a job for vocational ministers.

I confess that I sometimes hoped to get more enjoyment out of connecting worlds – maybe even be celebrated for it. Being a bridge felt more like death.

And yet, death was what I most needed. It was where personal ambition was crushed and new identity with Jesus was formed. For Jesus was not only reaching people across the chasm, he was reaching me.

Jesus is a Ladder Person. In his famous dream, Jacob saw the heavens opened and angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder. “Surely God is in this place!” he cried (Genesis 28:10-22). Generations later, Jesus shed light on Jacob’s vision in a conversation with Nathanael in John 1:43-51. Jesus told Nathanael that he would see “greater things” – the heavens opening and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Jesus is the ladder. Jesus, the ultimate reconciler, forgiver, substitute, and mediator was the ladder bridging the Father’s heart to the world he loved. The angels – those sent to do God’s bidding – walked on Jesus. The angry crowds walked on Jesus, too. This didn’t just feel like death, it was death.

Nathanael, you, and I are seeing greater things. God is doing his reconciling work through the death of Jesus: bringing the far, forgotten, and written-off into the fold of grace. And he’s sending bridge people to bear the message of the Ladder.

This is ministry.



A Simple Yes

I over-complicate what it means to follow Jesus.

Exploring a national park this summer on our family’s road trip and relocation to the East Coast.

Funny, I used to think that the longer I followed Jesus the more nuanced, complex, and comprehensive my theological framework would become. In some ways that is true, but mostly it’s not. I’ve noticed something odd about this life of following Jesus: maturity sometimes looks more like simplicity than complexity.

Why am I surprised? Jesus said we must become like children.

My youngest children are not the most complex thinkers. They are whip-smart, but not complex. If I tell them to do something, they usually give me simple answers such as yes, no, or why daddy? They don’t think ten steps ahead. They do or don’t do. They don’t question my love or my motives as they calculate whether or not they can afford to do what I said. They assume those things, then respond.

When I sense my Heavenly Father telling me something, I have this weird compulsion to help him think through all the eventualities. My mind races. If I do this, they will do that, and we won’t be able to do this, and they will feel this way, and eventually check mate. I’ve talked myself out of the simplicity of following God as a trusting child.

At times I’m scared of God. Scared of what he’ll ask of me, scared of what he’ll allow in my life to test me, scared I won’t have a grandiose-enough theological answer for what I might face in life. I’ve “matured” myself into a questioning, cautionary, advisory role that God never asked for and I wasn’t designed to have. I was designed to be a son. A child. A little one.

What if next time I sensed the Father telling me to do this or that, I just said yes daddy? Has my perception of maturity kept me from enjoying the simplicity of a relationship like this?

Maybe a simple yes is the most mature response I can have. Along the way, as I’m holding his hand, I’ll ask my questions and express my fears.

But I’m determined to start with a simple yes.
Help me, dad.