Great by Choice

I’m at a loss for words.

It’s not like I don’t have anything to say.

It’s that there is no entirely reasonable explanation for why this happened. And no matter how I try to explain it, what kind of spin I put on it, or if I’m able to be entirely logical, clear and correct, some people will still disagree with some or everything I say.

Life is full of those moments, when you try to explain something and just about everybody says, “Yeah, but …” When just about everybody has their own take.

Kinda like Fox News and CNN—and everyone who watches those shows. Myriad perspectives and opinions. And everyone believes they are absolutely right.

So what happened?

A church where I have deep relationships with many people is in a major transition. Their founding pastor resigned over unresolved issues, and the church (the board) asked me to serve as their interim pastor.

Church conflict is not unlike a complicated and painful divorce. Or a tornado that wipes out one neighborhood and leaves every leaf on every tree the next street over. Or a terrible car accident.

These things happen. Some people let it go and move on.Others give difficult times permission to keep holding them in their grip.

Sometimes life is a car wreck

The traffic on the freeway was moving right along as I reached over to grab a list of “things to do” I had laid on the rider’s seat. When I looked up, the traffic had come to a dead stop. Not me. I was still going 60.

I slammed on my brakes, but it was too late. I plowed into the vehicle in front of me. Two seconds later the car behind me struck the left rear corner of my little sports car. spinning me around 360 degrees. Engulfed in pungent clouds from my smoking tires, my spin threw me sideways into a shiny, new SUV.

A moment of inattention on my part resulted in a four car crash. If it had happened on the NASCAR circuit, it would have made the Top Ten on ESPN.

As I kicked open my jammed door, the young driver of the SUV walked over to me and asked, “Pastor Kinnaman, are you OK?” Yeah, what are the chances?

Thank God, I was OK.

But mostly I was in a daze. For a couple weeks after the wreck, I kept flashing back to that dreadful moment of impact. Hearing the sounds of shattering glass and crunching  metal. Smelling acrid smoke. Wishing I had done things differently.

Have you ever caused a wreck?  Not just a car wreck. And have you ever wished you’d done things differently?

I have four simple points that apply to the aftermath of just about every problem in life:

  1. Things happen. Haven’t you seen that bumper sticker?
  2. Sometimes you cause the wreck. Sometimes you don’t. Most of the time—and I know you hate to admit this—you had something to do with what happened. Except Jesus, no one is ever totally innocent.
  3. Like the title of a recent movie, it’s complicated. In fact, life is majorly complicated. You should have seen the mess I made on the freeway. Cars angled every which way. Shards of glistening glass scattered everywhere. Emergency vehicles flashing. Traffic backed up for miles.
  4. The only helpful question is:  Where do we go from here?  When I was in that wreck, nobody asked, “Why did this happen?”  Everyone responsible was thinking only one thing: What do we do now?  What do we do next? How do we clean up this mess?

I was amazed—and grateful—for the way emergency personnel, people in other cars not in the wreck, clean up crews … flew into action.

Literally, within minutes, the highway patrol and emergency vehicles were on the scene. EMTs cared for an injured person. A clean up crew gathered car fragments and swept up the broken glass. A tow truck hauled away my car. A highway patrol officer handed me a citation, and traffic returned to normal.

The black hole of the one word question:  Why?

So why did this happen?  Why does anything happen? In the New Testament, the apostle James teaches us:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…

Every crash, every relationship problem—trials of many kinds—are like servings of your favorite ice cream at 31 Flavors.  When life crowds in on you, when circumstances are suffocating you, consider it pure joy!

Frankly, this kind of response is absent just about everywhere you find Christians. Somehow we are not convinced that God is really in control. But even if it seems like pain is random and God is absent, at least his presence in your life can control your responses to trials of many kinds. Paul says it this way: The peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your hearts [emotions] and minds [thoughts] in Christ Jesus.

Consider it pure joy …

… because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

No pain, no gain. Athletes welcome pain, because they know it makes them strong. I have a friend who played college football. In practice, his coach rolled old truck tires down a steep hill. The guys had to hunker down and tackle the hundred pounds of hard rubber.

And worse, Navy Seal training includes “simulated drowning.” Yeah, they hold guys under until a deep breath of sea water renders them unconscious.

James continues,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

So if you’re in a wreck, you may never know why, but you can ask God for wisdom. In the Bible, wisdom is not principally about why something happened. It’s about: Where do we go from here?

The Old Testament Hebrew term for wisdom is “skill.”  So when we read in Proverbs that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” it means that our relationship with God is the starting point for how to do life, how to face every problem and propel us into a prosperous future.

Best-selling Good to Great author Jim Collins has a new book: Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, in which he examine companies because they have succeeded in an extreme and uncertain environment.  His best examples, he tells us, weren’t more lucky or unlucky than others. The difference? They took full advantage of good luck and minimized the effects of bad luck.

Bad things happen. Good things happen, too. Some people think of it as good or bad luck. For the Christian, though, there is no such thing. Nothing in life is random. Somehow, some way, God is working in every moment of life. Sometimes it’s his blessing. Sometimes it’s his judgment.

Other times we have no idea why something happens to us, why terrible things happen to really good people. But regardless of what happened or why it happened, good or bad, the Bible promises us that everything works together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Ponder this little quiz:

True or false:  And they lived happily ever after.  Everything in life works out the way you want it.

True or false:  The joy of the Lord is my strength.  No matter where life takes you, God’s grace will sustain you, and no matter what happens, you will be able to consider it pure joy.

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