Thursday, February 27, 2014

Disappointment - Have things not turned out as expected?

by Timothy Howe

Thomas Midgley was one of the most successful research scientists in history. Not just one, but two of his ideas have impacted every person in the world. And in large doses. His brilliance was recognized by the numerous prestigious scientific awards he received during his lifetime.

Though he provided many contributions in research, his two most significant were his role in adding lead to gasoline to prevent “knocking” and developing clorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a relatively safe means for producing refrigeration. The latter were also used in aerosols.

Though both of his designs worked extremely well for their intended purposes, it was their negative unintended consequences that would eventually concern most people.

Adding lead to gasoline did eliminate knocking in cars, but it also meant large doses of lead was being pumped into the atmosphere which eventually would settle on the ground, and then into our food and water supplies. Fears of adverse neurological effects eventually caused lead additives to be removed from gasoline. There are many recent studies that suggest that these concerns were valid.

CFCs also accomplished their purpose, but have been linked with depletion of ozone in the atmosphere. Again, the evidence was substantial and governments banned or highly regulated their use in an effort to stem adverse effects.

Two inventions which accomplished the purpose for which they were created and which seemed excellent at the time proved to be mistakes. They were not just disappointments, they were distasters.

Many of our best plans turn out terrible. Just as these, they have great promise, bring accolades, and even seem to be successes initially; only to sour over time. Only the passing of time shows the true value of what is accomplished – whether something is worthwhile or worthless.

This is even true when our plans don’t go awry, but when they go exactly as intended. Midgley’s ideas were not failures. They were successes. They were considered immediate successes and were even considered successful for the rest of his life. But time has revealed how terrible the ideas really were.

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 speaks to a similar condition:
All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure, for I took pleasure in all my struggles. This was my reward for all my struggles. When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Throughout the section from where these verses come, Solomon laments the lack of lasting worth he has received from pleasure, riches, laughter, indulgence, hard work, fame and importance. He eventually calls everything futile, or meaningless.

Is everything in this world really meaningless? I don’t think so. In fact, we can each find some degree of meaning even in the very things that Solomon laments. But what this passage depicts is the lack of lasting significance. How do we finding lasting significance?

I suggest that we can learn from the experiences of Thomas Midgley and King Solomon to find lasting significance through 3 considerations:

1. Consider the broader effects of actions.

Midgley was only thinking about how to fix an acute problem related to a combustion engine. Yet his solution had widespread impact. His remedy exposed any person who came near a gasoline engine (which means virtually all people everywhere) to what was deemed unsafe, toxic levels of lead. Had he considered the broader effects of adding lead to gasoline, could he have averted this “unforeseeable” consequence?

2. Consider the permanent effects of actions.

The development of CFCs made refrigeration easier, safer and cheaper, which means that more people now had access to safer food. This was good. But by not sufficiently answering the environmental impact question regarding the compound, his invention created an atmospheric impact that will likely take decades to reverse.

3. Consider the deeper effects of actions.

Solomon pines that he has tried everything and it all proved to be meaningless. But does “trying something” provide someone a valid vantage point to appraise it? Ruling over people is not the same as leading them. Having many lovers does not equate finding true love. Obtaining riches and investing wealth are not the same thing.

If Solomon had considered the deeper effects of his actions, he might have sought deeper significance rather than surface-level success. A deeper life produces a Washington in lieu of a Napoleon; a devoted spouse rather than a Casanova; or a Buffett, not a Madoff.

Regardless of how life’s mistakes or even life’s successes may have left you feeling a little cold, now might be the time for you to begin to find meaning.

If you would you seek a life of significance:
Consider the broader effects of actions.
Consider the permanent effects of actions.
Consider the deeper effects of actions.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

When All Seems Like a Desert

by Timothy Howe
Save Me, O My God
Psalm 3 ESV
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
  O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
  many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
  But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
  I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
  I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
  I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
  Arise, O Lord!
Save me, O my God!
     For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
  Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people! Selah

This is the first of 13 Psalms taken directly from military or family crises of David. Psalm 3 has been associated with dealing with the worst of the 13 events – the insurrection of Absalom, his own son, against his rule found in 2 Samuel 15:12-14. It was a situation that was not just bad, but it was one that kept getting worse. David was certainly in a "desert place."

Verse 2 seems to hint that those who support David see the “writing on the wall” and pronounce that help won’t even come from God. Yet even at the very depth of despair, when all else have given up hope that God would intervene and save David, David still proclaims that his confidence is in the Lord. His problems are still very real present. Look ahead to verse 6 were he still declares that his enemies are set all around him. Yet his confidence in the Lord has already been declared!

David’s faith
David demonstrates tremendous faith in the Lord.
1.   He declares confidence in the Lord to protect & sustain him. (3)
2.   He seeks his answer from the Lord not his circumstances. (4a)
3.   He receives an answers from the Lord. (4b)
4.   He rests assured because of the Lord. (5a)
5.   He refuses to fear things that are fearful. (6)

When it is said that God will not save him, David sees this more as a slur against God than against himself or his situation. He knows that God is the only one who can protect him and provide for him. When he hears of and acknowledges this lack of faith, he counters it with a strong declaration of his faith. He expects God to respond.

David’s cry
In his cry to the Lord, David asks for and receives…

First, he acknowledges the Lord as his shield, one that completely encircles him. His faith was not that God would provide a partial release from the difficulty, but a complete one. God’s protection covers all. His protection is complete.

David was under attack. His reputation and dignity were being maligned. His only hope was to place his reputation with that of the One from whom he sought protection – the Lord. He thus praises the Lord as the one who ultimately gets all credit, “the glorious one,” but on a more personal basis, “my Glory!” This personal aspect reinforces the personal relationship that David has with YHWH. It also links David’s dignity and esteem with that of the Lord’s.

Finally, David confesses that all his assurance, even seeming self-assurance or confidence in his own abilities, really only come as a result of God lifting him up. The term “lifting one’s head” was used when one would approach a monarch or high ranking official who had authority over you or your circumstances. If that authority approved of you, he would “raise your head” thereby showing his approval (Genesis 40:13). If the ruler ignored you, left without doing anything, or dismissed you without raising the head it would mean lack of approval or, in a worse case, judgment against you.
The personal intimate knowledge of God finds fresh profundity in verse 4 as David takes his concerns directly to YHWH. God answered David. He received a personal word from the Lord. We do not know the content of God’s answer to David. What we do know is that in his hour of need David heard from the Lord.

This caused David to have peace. David was a man after God’s own heart. Indeed, he may have heard a direct word from the Lord. Most of us do not have the privilege. But the peace of the Lord is itself a response of the Lord, especially when that peace comes in times of turmoil. 

May you find peace in difficult circumstances.
May He bring water to your desert.