Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oh . . . The Days of Signs and Roses

I'm at the crux of a huge decision. I long for the days when all my decisions were quickly determined by “a sign from God.” Sometimes, I believed that the shirt at the front of the closet, the red one (which caught my attention) was the one God wanted me to wear that day. He wanted me to wear it so that Bob or George or Brenda would confuse me with someone else. Next a conversation would start between us. I would share Christ and they would become a Christian. If I disobeyed the sign, wearing the blue shirt, Bob or George or Brenda would spend all of eternity in Hell’s fires.

My present decision is a black or white one. For over a year I've been working on the idea of creating a non-profit group for taking medical students on overseas clinical rotations. After all this work, the time of reckoning has finally come. I must decide within the next week if I crap or get off the pot (borrowing a line from my Appalachian roots).

I have the opportunity to take my first student to Nepal in October on a three week medical trek (where we backpack from village to village delivering medical care). But there are huge issues at stake. If I have any hope of going forward on this project, this will be the next step. But this is also the best time to give up, before I waste any money.

I remember gong through a Navigator seminar once with the title, “Christian Decision Making.” It broke down the process into five simple steps. All of life’s answers then came in five—or sometimes six—steps. Bill Gothard was the master at the cookbook approach to the perfect Christian life. The steps could show you how to be successful, have the perfect marriage, raise perfect kids and never suffer from any kind of mental illness.

The five factors essential to making any decision were; 1) the Word, 2) circumstances, 3) godly counsel, 4) prayer and 5) a sign from God. Regarding the sign, we always used the Bible account of Joshua laying a fleece on the ground and God giving him an answer by whether there was dew on it or not. Every time anyone mentioned a major decision, such as what to major in, which deodorant to buy, which girl to marry, we would always ask, “Did you lay out a fleece?”

I like signs. They make the process so easy. The fleece can be as simple as, “God . . . if you want me to do this, make x happen.” My roommate was able to get a gorgeous girl to break off her engagement with a hunk and marry him after God gave him a sign. The sign was, “God, if you want her to marry me, don’t allow me to fall down today.” He didn’t fall down that day so he rushed over and told her that God wanted her to marry him . . . and she did!

Today I bought a bag of chips. One of the chips was shaped like Nepal, or so I thought. (btw Nepal doesn’t have a very distinctive shape if you haven’t noticed). I had to laugh. There was a day when that would have meant something . . . what the hell it meant … I wouldn’t have had a clue, but it would have meant something. To go or not to go was the question.

But I don’t believe in signs anymore. The shapes of clouds don’t carry subliminal messages from the creator of the universe just for me. That’s not a bad thing. I don’t believe that God loves me any less.

I love my children to pieces but I don’t go around sending them secret, vague messages to mirco-manage their lives.

I still believe that God is all powerful, actually more powerful than before. I mean, if God had unlimited power . . . why on earth would he communicate through the shape of a potato chip?

There’s also a flipside to not trying to follow signs, a positive flipside. I don’t have to worry about mis-reading the tea leaves and making a tragic mistake, like wearing the blue shirt and sending a bunch of strangers to hell . . . or somehow making my joy less complete.

I honestly don’t believe that God has a specific will about my present decision. He will love me and bless me with either.

But one sign, any sign, would take a heck of work out this process.

15 comments:

pennyyak said...

Reason and conscience following prayer. Doesn't usually hurt to have a spiritual director (a wise elder), although I have not often had one at turning points in my life. Even so, the decision would still be yours to make. That's pretty much the way I do it.

And then I know with a certainty? Rare. Like the air a mile up.

Nobody gets their own personal book on what to do with their lives. Even worse, I don't think that set-backs or failures are necessarily "signs" that you shouldn't be doing (whatever) you are doing.

You have the same direction everyone else contends with.

And so I will surely pray for you this evening. For direction, for courage, for peace - and for those things you and your wife need that I cannot know.

Trevor Morgan said...

I never understood the whole 'laying a fleece' thing. When Gideon (not Joshua!) did his thing with the fleece, he'd already heard from God. He's not looking for direction, but trying to get out of his obligations. Twice, he demands that God perform a miraculous sign to confirm a message that's already been delivered by an angel.

Gideon is, frankly, a terrible example of faith - I read his story as an example of God using the least likely people. The story starts with Gideon hiding in a winepress, he tries his best to weasle out of doing what he's commanded, and when it's all over he goes straight back to idolatry. (Judges 8:27).

Frankly, I think the whole 'sign' thing is a lot closer to divination than Christianity. Why not start digging through entrails while we're at it?

All that said, for what it's worth, I think the idea of taking medical students to Nepal is a great one, on many levels. Bringing practical help to people, engaging cross-culturally, opening students' eyes to a different world; all these are good things.


All the best while you figure out your next step.

Anonymous said...

I long for the days when all my decisions were quickly determined by “a sign from God.” Sometimes, I believed that the shirt at the front of the closet, the red one (which caught my attention) was the one God wanted me to wear that day. He wanted me to wear it so that Bob or George or Brenda would confuse me with someone else. Next a conversation would start between us. I would share Christ and they would become a Christian. If I disobeyed the sign, wearing the blue shirt, Bob or George or Brenda would spend all of eternity in Hell’s fires. -- MJ

I think that's normally called "highly neurotic". Or (if you're familiar with Internet Monk) "Wretched Urgency".

Headless Unicorn Guy

P.S. Great Photoshop job on the lead picture. (At least I HOPE it's a Photoshop job...)

Justin said...

Not that my opinion matters any, but I say, "CRAP!"... er... I mean go! What a cool opportunity.

My wife and I faced a similar quandary when we decided to move to where we live now. The final bit of advice we got is what sealed the deal; and you said it here: it doesn't matter what choice you make. God's will will be done no matter what.

Understanding that took a big load off.

MJ said...

Pennyyak, I agree, wise counsel is still good advice.

Of course you're right Trevor, it was Gideon and that is interesting insight into his character.

It brings me to the next question about the disciples drawing lots to pick their replacement for Judas. Most pastors (whom I've heard preach on this) believe that God sent them the answer through the game of chance. My take is that the choice didn't matter that much so the draw was simply chance. Just like me rolling the dice to make a decision . . . which could be okay if both options are equal.

HUG, yeah neurotic plus a few other dysfunctional descriptions. Of course my example was a little facetious. But I'm sure you've heard this kind of thinking in the Evangelical community. I certainly have and still do.

I didn't do the photo shop work, but I think someone did. Otherwise, God is fed up with somebody.

MJ said...

Justin I would crap . . .but it's not that simple. Too many factors to mention here (things like money, work, kids, etc) That's why I need a sign! Maybe I should make toast and see what appears.

You really worked in Detroit? I did in Ann Arbor. Almost took a job in downtown Detroit. Looked like downtown Baghdad in the early 80s.

Justin said...

Sorry, I'm all out of signs... wait, maybe I am the sign. Hmmm.

Yeah, I did. Detroit wasn't nearly as bombed out as Highland Park. Scary place. By '96 there were some urban renewal efforts going on but much of it was funded by the now defunct car biz.

Maybe a mission to Detroit is in order... not for you, but for me... now if I just had a sign...

Anonymous said...

You really worked in Detroit? I did in Ann Arbor. Almost took a job in downtown Detroit. Looked like downtown Baghdad in the early 80s. -- MJ

Detroit is Zimbabwe with a US Zip code. I have a contact out in Michigan who keeps telling me (along with "Can you believe this?" about Detroit politics) if I ever visit him, he'll give me a nighttime tour of Detroit's "Cash Corridor". AFTER telling me war stories of his experience in the area at night with a broken-down car. And I keep telling him in reply "I don't take a tour anyplace where I might have to shoot my way out."

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anna A said...

Let me share one of my stories about signs.

I had heard on Christian radio that asking for signs was immature. AND I remembered it just after I had asked for one. (I had seen a strange license plate, and wondered which state it was from. I was going to use seeing it as an indication of what I should do.) I tried to take back that prayer asking for the sign. And assumed that I had succeeded, since I wasn't close to that car anymore.

BUT, when I was stopped at the exit of the freeway, I noticed the car in front of me, had the same plate and I could tell that it was from Oregon.

Since then, I have treated seeing a car from Oregon as a teasing pat on the back from God. Not to answer questions, but just being friends.

May you find peace in the direction where God wants you to go.

Scott in Boston said...

...about the disciples drawing lots to pick their replacement for Judas. Most pastors (whom I've heard preach on this) believe that God sent them the answer through the game of chance... --MJ

I've always remembered one interpretation from way back that Jesus never told the disciples to pick a replacement for Judas; he told them to WAIT. He already had someone in mind: PAUL. Note that they did this BEFORE the Holy Spirit was poured out. And whom did they choose? Matthias? Do we ever hear anything from him again...? Not all the acts of the apostles were perfect...

MJ said...

Anna, I hope that you don't live in Portland :>)

MJ said...

Scott, that's an interesting twist on it . . . and I too think I've heard it before. Of course there is no one for us to know.

Steve Martin said...

We are free.

We walk by faith and not by sight.

Do what you want to do (except open sinning) and God will use you for His purposes.

He can, and does even use our sin for His purposes...but I think believers would rather not go there.

MJ said...

I'm sure He uses our sin for His purpose . . . if I could ever figure out how to sin for God. Nope . . . I don't think I would even go that far. I do remember a sect in our neighborhood growing up that believed the more you sinned, God's grace would enrich you more. The group that met in a neighbor's house didn't last long. I think once affairs broke out among the members they suddenly dissolved.

Page Two (per Paul Harvey)

My original post of course about the process of decision making. But a footnote. I did decide to take the student to Nepal. However, within days, I got a message from Nepal that they had accidentally filled our slots. So, the decision has fallen into the circumstance control. We will only be going if two other people bail out (about a 50:50 chance . . . if you drew lots).

Johan said...

First comment (discovered the blog last week).

Your story reminds me of an instant three years ago, when I was desperately seeking guidance on a decision to apply with a christian organization or stay in my current job. I had the application forms ordered, just had to complete them, but I still wasn't sure what would be the right thing to do.
So I prayed, but I didn't 'hear' anything. No word, no sense of certainty.
So in the end I stood and went to another room and the following words came to mind:
'God is not an oracle. He guides you in the process'.
That shook me ...
I took it to mean i should just go on, and trust God to guide me.
So I took the forms and started to complete them. And I found there were some requirements in there I didn't want to sign, as they went completely against my heart. It was clear I didn't want to apply with this organization.
So I decided not to. My choice was made clear 'in the process', and I've never doubted the decision.

Doesn't mean I would sometimes like to have a clear road sign too ...

Johan