Friday, May 2, 2008

Starbursts

by John D Ramsey

Gabby, at five, is learning to read. She does very well identifying words and reading simple sentences, but she still relies on Lisa to interpret her environment. Still Gabby is astute at identifying personally relevant information. The other day Gabby came to Lisa asking, “What is all this candy doing in the Wall Street Journal?” With five years experience in my house, Gabby has learned that the WSJ heralds change. Lisa explained that Mars, Inc. was buying Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Co., and the two companies would now operate as one. Gabby immediately expressed concern. She asked Lisa whether Mars would now change Starbursts.

Mr. Buffet and Mars executives, if you are reading this, congratulations on the deal with Wrigley; however, please do not change Starbursts. Gabby likes them as they are.

Gabby amuses me. I am gratified that my youngest would see her world reflected in the Wall Street Journal even if her analysis was narrowly focused and self-interested. Nevertheless, I think that Gabby’s response is typical. She imagined how the change, which she could not control, might affect her life. The most alarming thing that she could think of regarding Mars and Wrigley was that Starbursts would transform into something unfamiliar. I could have assured Gabby that the merger between Mars and Wrigley would not affect her favorite candy, but my assurances would be based upon my own assumption and analysis, not upon substance.

After this incident, I began to reflect upon that of which I am certain. It is cliché to speak of the certainty of death and taxes. Nevertheless, I can say that I am certain that the sun will rise in the morning, but I cannot say with certainty that I will be here to see it. I am not wallowing in morbid speculation; rather I am saying that certainty is a high standard. Certainty cannot involve speculation.

Our degree of confidence or assurance is usually about probability. On local television last night, weather forecasters preempted scheduled programming to show video of tornados. The tornados, however, were invisible on screen and could only be seen by spotters with cell phones. Whether the callers were credible, the television meteorologist welcomed their belated reports with obvious relief. There was a probability of tornados, but there was also a lesser probability that a television broadcast could make weather more interesting than it is. A phone report of a funnel on the ground vindicated the fuss and expense of the prime-time preemption. The catastrophe was real enough to warrant aggressive reaction. Whew!

Responding to probabilities, television stations preempted primetime for boredom last night. It rained; it hailed. It is springtime in Kansas City. Yawn. The slight probability of a tornado might cause me to move the little girls to the basement. Last night, the probability of a tornado made the girls content to watch a droning John Wayne movie on ION instead of droning weather personalities on the other channels. Before too long, however, the girls just pleaded to be released to their bedrooms. Many of our choices, including what we choose to fear, are based upon possibilities and probabilities but not upon certainties. We cannot fear what is certain. It is the veil of uncertainty that torments us.

Mars, Inc.’s merger with Wm Wrigley Jr. Co. makes Gabby uncertain regarding the future of Starbursts. Probability says that it is unlikely that they will make changes to the candy. Probability, however, leaves room for a five-year old imagination to dwell upon possibility and uncertainty. Which brings me back to the question, of what am I certain?

Everything of which I can be certain begins and ends with God.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is the New Testament primer on faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 KJV) Faith does not dwell in the realm of possibility or probability. Faith is either substantial and evident, or it is not faith. Faith is certain.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]; for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Our faith is rooted in the knowledge that God exists. This is certainty, not probability. We do not suspect that God exists, we are confident that he does. Moreover, our faith is rooted in the knowledge that God is not passive or distant. He rewards those who seek him. Reward is a verb. It implies action. Hebrews teaches us that God is personally involved with those who seek him.

Reading Hebrews 11, we learn that faith is trusting God regardless of circumstance and outcome. Faith is not pixie dust that we sprinkle on our wishes to watch them come true. A couple months ago, we took the little girls to a citywide “Christian” activity for children. There we heard a moronic proposition that faith was like magic. Praying to Jesus to make a stuffed rabbit come out of a hat is blasphemous. Nevertheless, faith is often taught in similar contexts, as a means to obtain a probability. The lower the probability, the greater the faith that is required: pixie dust.

A closer look at Scripture defines praying in faith as praying for that which God wants (1John 5:14). Praying in faith is not praying according to our will. Praying in faith begins with our wanting what God wants, not with our demanding that God want what we want. When we want what God wants, we can then be confident that he will do what he wills to do. This may not make us filthy rich, but it includes us in what God is accomplishing upon this earth.

When we look at the patriarchs of faith in Hebrews, we must acknowledge one thing common to them all: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith [their confidence in God], did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” (Heb 11:39, 40 NASB) Faith does not require substantiation. Faith is substance. Faith was substance enough for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Samuel and all the Old Testament faithful. They all held to faith even as they died before obtaining what God had promised.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a
great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith
,
who for the joy set before him
endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)


Everything of which I am certain begins and ends with God. I believe that God rewards those who seek him. Knowing that God is in control, I can face uncertainty. I know that, like the great patriarchs of faith, my ultimate reward will come upon seeing Jesus face-to-face. What comes and goes in this life (including Starbursts) is temporal and uncertain, but I am certain of eternity.

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