Month: August 2015

Resilient

In this life, there will be pain. Many of you know that all too well, because in this life there has been pain. Or in this life, there is pain at this very moment. We collectively and personally experience pain of all kinds. We witness natural and manmade disasters; physical, emotional, and spiritual battles; financial hardship; and other tragedies. Other than to fault a fallen world, we often have no explanation for the pain we experience. But do you know what I’ve discovered over and over again in the midst of great pain? Resilience.

There’s a song that I love by Gungor that says:

“You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust;
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.”

And I see this in those around me who have suffered, yet carried on. I can picture your smiles, your experiences, your relationships, and all of the amazing opportunities you’ve had as a result of that pain. I find encouragement from watching others suffer well, even though I know we would all prefer a pain-free existence—at least we think we would until we realize the ripple effect (often positive) that our reaction to this pain can cause.

I also find encouragement in a number of scripture passages that give strength in times of trial and hardship, and that help me know that—when I too face hard times—God will sustain me.

  • “I can endure allthese things through the power of the one who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 CEB). I love the versions of this verse that highlight its true meaning. Many translations claim that we can “do all things” through Christ’s strength in us. But this not-so-subtle distinction takes us from a place of control, initiative, and confidence to one of dependence, vulnerability, and weakness. Thankfully, it is in that weakness that God’s power is made perfect and is displayed for all to see.
  • No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). More than conquerors. We are not simply survivors, we are not even simply victors. We are MORE than conquerors through him. We will win and we will prevail—no matter what shape that victory takes in the end.
  • Love … always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). Many times our pain and loss result from our willingness to love sacrificially, in a way that protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres—in a way that, frankly, calls us to risk everything. Understanding this risk, we may be tempted to avoid love altogether. But love perseveres, and when we have love, we too will persevere.
  • And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love remains, no matter what. No matter what our circumstances, no matter what our hardships, we are in a position to love. First and foremost, we must love God. When we do that, we will love others by extension. And when we love others, we aren’t called to love selectively. We are called to love those who curse, persecute, judge, hurt, and betray us. We are also called to love those who grieve, those who are persecuted, and those who suffer loss.

Resilience. Perseverance. Strength. Victory. Love. If you’ve lived these out in front of me, I thank you for the inspiration you’ve been. I pray that God will continue to sustain you, for his glory and your good.

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Go in Peace

2 Kings 5: 18 – 19

But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

These are times of great change in our nation and our society. Some see these changes wonderful and progressive, and others see them as an almost personal affront. Truth be told, many Christians fall into this second group. We tend to have strong beliefs and convictions about what is right and what is wrong, in God’s eyes and in our own. We then hold the rest of the world to those standards, often disregarding others’ beliefs and convictions. We make it our business to transform the beliefs systems of others, or at least to enforce our own upon the masses.

But in all honesty, others’ decisions and actions are not our responsibility. Free will applies equally to all. We say that we don’t want to celebrate or facilitate sin. We say that we don’t want to water down the weight of others’ iniquity—even though our own has been washed away entirely. We claim righteous indignation, but we display plain old self-righteous hypocracy. We use our convictions as an excuse for discrimination and even hatred. For most of us, this is unconscious. But if we look at the way our convictions influence our choices, our relationships, our Facebook posts—it’s much less deniable that love is NOT our motivation after all. Nor is grace, mercy, or reconciliation.

The fact is that we have no business sitting in judgment against our fellow fallen humans, deciding which sins are ‘more grievous’ than others. We have no business refusing to work with or for another person, simply because they don’t subscribe to our beliefs and convictions. We certainly have no business refusing to SERVE them. For crying out loud, Jesus Himself said that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). What in the world? Where do we get off? The more I think about it, the more I read about it, the more I realize just how absurd we’ve been, as a people—and as a Body.

So how do we reconcile our beliefs and convictions with those of others, while being true to our faith and to our God? I personally have been incredibly blessed by the account presented in 2 Kings Chapter 5. Our pastor shared this scripture a few months ago, and I’ve turned to it repeatedly since then. Long story short, Naaman, who is an aide to a king who worships false gods, suffers from leprosy. He learns of a prophet of God (Elisha) who can heal him of this affliction, and travels to see him. Upon being healed, he recognizes the power and sovereignty of the one true God, and vows to worship Him only. But one of his duties as aide to the king of Aram is to assist him in visiting the temple of Rimmon, a false god. And the king must lean on Naaman’s arm to bow down, and by extension, Naaman must kneel next to him. I love Elisha’s response when Naaman asks God’s forgiveness for this one thing: “Go in peace.”

Go in peace.
Love.
Serve.
And go in peace.

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The Danger of “Every”

Always. Never. Every. These are dangerous words. First of all, they’re almost never correct. Our world and this life are full of exceptions, for better or worse. Just this week, I read an article about abortion, wherein the author argued that “every” abortion is a failure of community. I have to disagree. Sometimes, the decision may be one of compassion and even selflessness. I’ve always been one to say that I would never have an abortion, but then I heard a story that gave me pause.

You see, there’s this condition called osteogenesis imperfecta (A.K.A. brittle bone disease). This disease can cause babies to suffer multiple and repeated broken bones in utero and after birth. In many of these severe cases, the babies don’t live through the gestation period. Of those that do, many die shortly after being born. I read an article about one little girl who had 30 broken bones at birth. I’ve personally never broken a bone, but I have no doubt that it is quite painful and traumatic—to break even ONE, I mean. I cannot fathom 30 broken bones at once or the pain that this poor girl must have been experiencing constantly. In her case, the parents decided not to terminate the pregnancy, and she has survived thus far. They report that she has a huge personality and a strong will to live. Still, she uses a wheelchair because her feet would break under the weight of her legs. She once broke a bone by sitting down on a waterbed. The slightest touch can cause fractures, so even holding or hugging her presents that danger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not, by any means, saying that those parents made the wrong decision. But what I am saying is that I would have understood their motives, had they made the other choice. I believe that life begins at conception, but my understanding is also that babies can feel pain in the womb, somewhere around 20 weeks’ gestation. That leaves 20 weeks of severe pain in this case. If you or I were to suffer that kind of pain for 20 weeks, we would call it torture. The very thought of it brings to mind advanced interrogation techniques, which represent the antithesis of compassion.

So, even though I would like to say that I would never choose abortion, and though I will say that I would always seek out EVERY other possible option before pursuing that one, I can also say that I don’t envy the position of being forced to make that choice. I can also say that I would choose to grieve with someone who had made that choice, rather than judging them. After all, Romans 12:15 instructs us to “weep with hose who weep.” That is community. That is the Body of Christ. That is the Gospel.

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How Then Shall We Pray…When God Says, “No”?

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Job 1:20-21(NASB)

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head,
and he fell to the ground and worshipped….
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

One year ago today, Amanda went home to heaven. I never met her, but from pictures and stories, it’s clear that this spunky little redhead was full of life and faith, and a maturity beyond her almost eleven years. Certainly, prayers for healing abounded during the 18 months prior to her passing. And while we know that she is happy, healthy, and cancer-free now, there remains a sense in which the answer to those prayers was, “No.” We know, of course, that God’s sovereignty is over all, and that His will and purpose are at times accomplished through loss. But that doesn’t negate the pain we feel. So, in times like these, we have to ask, How then shall we pray…when God says no? Thankfully, we can turn to the Bible for direction in this pursuit.

We’re told in Job 1: 20-21 that “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped….The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Another translation quotes Job as saying, “may the name of the Lord be praised.” Now, this was just after Job had lost everything—his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, sons, and daughters. I find it interesting that Job’s first response in the face of loss was to worship and to praise God. And he wasn’t the only one.

2 Samuel 12:13-23 recounts the death of David’s son after his affair with Bathsheba. David was warned in advance that this would happen, but for seven days, David fasted and prayed that his son would not die. But upon hearing of the child’s death, he “got up from the floor, washed himself, put lotions on, and changed his clothes. Then he went into the Lord’s house to worship.” Here, not only do we see David worshipping in the face of loss and tragedy, but we see an acceptance of God’s sovereignty and His decision. It feels almost as if his prayer changed. For a week, he prayed nonstop that God would allow his son to live. But then, when he didn’t, David got up, got dressed, worshipped, and ate. I can imagine him praying that God would use this loss for His glory, and that he would bring comfort in the midst of pain.

Finally, Luke 22:42 tells us that Jesus himself received disaffirming answers to his prayers. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” And yet, he also acknowledged the sovereignty of God the Father, saying, “not my will, but yours be done.” As we know, God did not take the cup from him. Instead, he was tortured and killed. But before he breathed his last, his prayers changed as well. In the face of his own death, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

We, too, are faced with losses and disappointments. And we would do well to follow these godly examples. When God says, “No,” may we have the courage and humility to praise and worship and bless His name anyway. And may we be ready and willing to change our prayers in response to God’s movements.