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Dr. James C. Denison President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
August 26, 2010

Of all the devotionals you could read this morning, I’m willing to wager that none will begin with the subject of free toilets. You may know that Arlington, Texas is home to Cowboys Stadium, the $1.3 billion spaceship where Tony Romo plays, as well as the Texas Rangers baseball club and Six Flags Over Texas. Of lesser historical interest is the fact that Janet and I lived there when we were married in 1980. I drove by our duplex the other day, but didn’t see historical markers anywhere on site.

Now local news is reporting that the city is giving away free toilets. When I heard the story I wondered why a city would do such a thing. Turns out they’re trying to save water. Old toilets, we’re told, consume as much as 30% of a household’s water during a typical day. New high-efficient models will apparently save more money in water bills than they cost.

If I were in charge of saving water in Arlington, I would think of campaigns to limit lawn watering, shorten showers, combine washing machine loads, run dishwashers only when full, and so on. I could have contemplated the problem for a year and never thought of giving away free toilets.

Much of life is like that—surprising, random, full of unforeseen events. Abraham Heschel, the brilliant Jewish theologian, once observed, “The course of life is unpredictable. No one can write his autobiography in advance.” James T. Kirk is supposed to have said (to Spock, I would guess): “We humans are full of unpredictable emotions that logic alone cannot solve.”

A dear friend of mine is living with the aftermath of a terrible family tragedy. Last week he made a statement I found both startling and profound: “We cannot control outcomes in life.” He’s right. We think we can, but we can’t. There are too many unintended consequences and too much free will. Almost nothing turns out the way we expected it to. Thomas Merton observed, “I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me.” Neither can I.

I am learning slowly that God cares far more about the person I am than the work I produce. What we call the journey, God calls the destination. Jesus taught us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33, NKJV). Our Father’s purpose for us is simple: He wants us to be “conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29). Everything else is a means to that end.

We cannot control outcomes, but we can choose character. If we are more like Jesus when this day is done than we are now, this day has been a success. Do you agree?

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