Circumstantial Evidence

To a kid growing up in the late 70’s, lasers were a very hot topic.  I’ll never forget the first time that I heard about the true possibilities of laser technology as a 4th grader.

Up until that point I had viewed lasers merely an ultimate weapon against evil robots and terrorists bent on dominating our moon.  As I came to understand the truth about lasers I learned that they had more to offer us than just villain scorching.

There was a kid from Hong Kong in my class who claimed to have a machine that used laser beams to show movies on his T.V. set.

These sorts of tales were easy to identify as lies when they were told on the playground, but during “show and tell” Albert was saying this to the whole class… while Mr. Sanders just sat there and let him get away with it.

Eventually Albert produced proof of this machine by pulling out something he called a “Laserdisc”, which surprisingly had nothing to do with the movie Tron.

For a child during this time period videotape was easy to comprehend.  We’d all grown up with filmstrips and understood that movies were just a series of pictures printed on transparent celluloid.

When you shined a light through them they projected an image onto a screen, and when you ran those images past the light quickly, the sequential images appeared to come to life.

While a videocassette appeared to be a portable way to transport fancy film, a laserdisc made no sense at all.

That’s when Albert pulled out a shiny silver record.

He claimed that the disc contained “information” and when you put it into this black box, a laser beam “shot into it” and “transported” this information into the box’s “computer brain” where it got “translated” into moving pictures and sounds.

It was all a bit far fetched.

At this point in American history, the typical 4th grader hadn’t seen a microwave in action, let alone a “magic laser box with a robot brain” that could show “Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang” to your friends.

It seemed absolutely absurd until we got to see it in action at Albert’s birthday party.  He was a genius, that Albert, using show and tell to advertise for his birthday party.

He cleaned up on presents.

What’s interesting about things that start off sounding absurd is that over time we learn that not only can they be true, but quite often they’re life changing.

Laserdisc was a big step in digital storage and retrieval systems.  Just over a decade later DVD not only made sense, it revolutionized entertainment and led to Blu Ray.

In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul starts in about joy and upon first hearing what he says sounds every bit as absurd as Laserdisc did.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

Always be full of joy?  Don’t worry?  At first glance here Paul sounds like a strange cross between Pollyanna, Bobby McFerrin, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

The absurdity of telling us not to worry or fret, regardless of what’s going on around us is one of the reasons I think we don’t believe, or follow through, on what the Bible says.

Most of us wrongly believe that our spiritual problems stem from a lack of knowledge when in reality it’s usually a problem of spiritual disobedience.

I know this is true for me, I can name all 10 of the Commandments but that doesn’t mean that I actually keep them.

I suspect that a reason we don’t take the Bible very seriously has a lot to do with the fact that most of us got mixed up with Christianity for the sake of changing the final destination of our soul, not for the purpose of changing the nature and course of our daily lives.

This is a hard truth for me to swallow because the Bible isn’t filled with stories of people who come running to Jesus because they wanted their soul to be secure after they died.

It’s stories feature people who came to Jesus because they believed he had the power to immediately change the life they were currently living.

When we take on the responsibility of becoming followers of Jesus, it behooves us to not just hear what God tells us, but to allow it to challenge and shape us.

Even when what’s being proposed sounds ludicrous.

I say ludicrous because what Paul is saying seems to run contrary to the human experience.

When you talk to someone who is experiencing sadness or anxiety the majority of them will tell you about their life circumstances.

Their circumstances are generally very poor.  This is not uncommon and it’s something that we will all experience over the course of a natural life.

These difficult circumstances; troubling finances, broken relationships, and health issues, often cause us to experience negative emotion and stress.

Paul says that while it’s both human and common to encounter unfortunate circumstances and their accompanying feelings, it’s possible to experience joy in spite of them.

Is it possible that Paul knows what he’s talking about?

Paul’s life was worse than mine.  He was beaten, snake bitten, homeless, abandoned, shipwrecked, and eventually murdered.

But he says it’s possible to be content and have joy in all circumstances- while imprisoned?

Paul, who has joy despite his circumstances, seems to know something we don’t.

…I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation… I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Phil 4:11-13

Twice Paul says that he has “learned” the secret to contentedness and living in every situation.

What if Joy, regardless of circumstance, is not something that we have a natural capacity for, but has to be developed over time?

I’d suggest to you that the majority of us spend a lot of time frustrated and anxious because we have a false expectation that things and people, have the capacity to make us happy.

We believe that buying a new toy,

 achieving a new milestone,

even being with the right person,

 will finally make us feel better about life.  We believe improving our circumstances will lead to overall satisfaction.

The problem is that things don’t care about us, and other people are just as self-centered as we are.  Neither one can really help us; they just make us more worried than before.

Paul knew that joy has nothing to do with denying or escaping life’s hard circumstances because he chose to dive headlong into them, learning that this is most often where we meet Jesus face to face.

You’ll notice that in this passage Paul makes references to actions that bring us into direct contact with life’s difficult circumstances.

Let everyone see that you are considerate in all that you do… 

He says to publicly take things into consideration.  He doesn’t want us to hide our problems, but to consider them openly.  Paul knows that problems are not solved in secret; they are solved when we take them seriously enough to ask for help.

…Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything

When it comes to problems, prayer is usually my last option. I keep my problems secret, trying to take care of them on my own, so no one knows how bad my circumstances are.

When I don’t pray there’s only one thing left to do about my problems and that’s worry. God makes it clear that worry does nothing to solve problems.

Worry is just wallowing in our circumstances.

When we dive into our difficult circumstances through prayer we don’t wallow in the problem, we meet the solution.

God is present in our hardship, waiting to meet us.

 This is why Paul says to tell God what we need and thank him for what he has done.  That’s when we will experience God’s peace.

 Isn’t this what Jesus did when he was here on earth?

He dove headlong into the pain and the shame of the cross because of the joy that lay on the other side of it.

The joy of fulfilling God’s mission,

bringing us salvation,

and reuniting us with himself.

He did it for the personal joy of being able to bring us joy, despite our circumstances.

My prayer for you is that you wouldn’t try to live “above” your circumstances or “away” from your circumstances, or in “ignorance” of your circumstances

but instead truly live by diving into ALL of your circumstances; believing that God, through Jesus, meets us with the peace of heart and mind that comes through the presence of his Holy Spirit.

Regardless of how absurd that sounds.

 

            “…Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

One Response to “Circumstantial Evidence”

  1. Sharon O November 4, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    Aa always a wonderful thought provoking blog post. thank you

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