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  • HOW TO HELP PEOPLE IN GRIEF

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Growth, Theology

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    “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

    – Dostoevsky

    Suffering is inevitable.  

    At some point in our lives, we will encounter people who are going through a difficult season.  At some point in our lives, we will go through a season of tremendous difficulty ourselves.  As I have encountered both of these scenarios, I wanted to offer a thought on what to do during those times.

    Listen well.

    The Book of Job is believed to be the oldest book in the Bible, and it also proves to be the most challenging to digest.  Without getting into the exegetical aspects of Job, I want to offer one observation from the narrative.  When Job suffered for no fault of his own, he was able to express his great frustration in the silence and mystery of a mighty God.  When Job was drowning in sorrow, he lamented that he was in a tempest and that God would not let him catch his breath.

    He was treading water and his friends were present.  So far so good.

    Be present.

    Job was treading water and his friends knew it.  But his friends offered advice, moralizing sermons, and asinine comments.  They did not sit with Job in his pain, but instead told him what to do instead.  They were present in an unhelpful way.  While comments of God’s justice and power are true, those comments were not helpful.  Romans 8:28 is a wonderful verse, but it is not helpful to share with someone who just experienced tremendous loss.

    Grieve with those who grieve.

    During seasons of lament, we have permission to grieve and mourn.  As friends of the mourner, we need to provide an atmosphere where the suffering person can be upset and process their grief.  Whether it is the loss of a marriage, a job, an identity, stability, or family member, there needs to be a safe place to unload our emotional burdens.

    We need friends who mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.  We need these friends who listen well and will enter into our pain through purely being present, instead of offering cheap platitudes.  There will be a time for action, but perhaps that time is not in the initial days of grief.

    In short, mourn with those who mourn, so that one day you can rejoice with those same people who will one day return to rejoicing.

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  • SOMETHING TO HOLD ONTO DURING THE DARKEST NIGHT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    I wanted to share a quote from Biblical scholar D.A. Carson on the all too real topic of suffering:

    In the darkest night of the soul, Christians have something to hold onto that Job never knew.  We know Christ crucified.  Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross.  ‘He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things.’ (Romans 8:32)…When we suffer there will sometimes be mystery.  Will there also be faith?  Yes.  If our attention is focused more on the cross and on the God of the cross than on the suffering itself.

    D.A. Carson

    How Long, O Lord?

    When all is lost, and it looks like God is asleep on the beach somewhere, we still have the cross.  We still see the extent of his love– even when there seems to be radio silence.

    Thanks be to God!

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  • THE UNMET EXPECTATION

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    Have you ever had an expectation that did not take shape in reality?  You know, the type that was all too real in your mind, but it simply was never birthed into your life.

    I have been thinking a lot about what was and what could have been, what is and could become in my own life.  In my train of thought, something new came into mind.  I wondered if Jesus suffered and experienced a whole host of human emotions, did he ever experience my emotions?

    After giving it some thought, I think he did.

    The passage that came to mind is found in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus was at the end of his life.  He lamented over Jerusalem and you can read between the lines to see the turmoil he was in over the city.  He said,

    “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

    If you are new to the Bible, it’s important to see that throughout the story of Israel, there were triumphs and failures.  There were moments of rejoicing and rejecting the same God who delivered his people.  And here in the story of Jesus, we have the all too real desire of God in the flesh who wanted to protect his people as a hen protects her chicks, but they are not willing.  These people turn and reject the one who preserves and protects, often times violently rejecting people who spoke on God’s behalf.

    I wonder what Jesus thought of the possible outcome of Israel if they simply followed after God.  Later on in Jesus’ life, we see him in deep turmoil and prayer over what was to come—his violent, atoning death.  Nevertheless, he followed after God’s will.  Let’s never forget this final point though, because in the face of unmet expectations, he followed something greater.

    When expectations come and go, it’s natural to find yourself mourning over what could have been.  I would urge you to come and bring those expectations to Jesus, for he knows what you are going through.  He knows what it feels like to not have those expectations met.

    Come to Jesus, and find life in the middle of unmet expectations.

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  • HOW I WANT TO GO THOMAS JEFFERSON ON SUFFERING

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    You know what really bothers me?  All this talk about suffering in the Bible.  How suffering is necessary to conform us into the image of Jesus.  How suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5).  Quite honestly, I want to go all Thomas Jefferson on this and cut these passages out of the Bible.

    Am I the only one here?

    But here’s the thing guys and gals— I believe that the Bible is God’s Word.  No, not in the sense where it was dictated word for word.  No, no, not that way at all.  Instead, it is a revealing of who God is through many authors and genres.  While Jesus definitively reveals who God is (since he’s God in the flesh), the other books of the Bible also paint portraits of God.  And the Bible speaks to suffering in a completely different way from other world religions and worldviews.

    Suffering is not some esoteric debate topic— it’s a very real thing.  We all suffer in life, while some might suffer greater than others, all cannot escape .  However, the way we handle suffering is quite different.

    Christianity is different because God himself suffered.  He knows what it’s like to suffer, both in want and in hurt.  Not only did the God-Man, Jesus the Messiah, suffer a brutal death through crucifixion, he also encountered separation from the Father.*  The Christian faith makes the claim that God understands suffering and he is not indifferent to it.  There is coming a time when wrongs will be righted and a Kingdom of Righteousness will be implemented—when the world is put to rights.

    Until that day, we live in a broken world.  The sunshine and rain alike will fall both on those who follow Jesus and those who reject him.  And for this we wait in profound assurance that God hears our prayers in the middle of suffering.

    _____

    *The second person of the Trinity experienced separation from the first person of the Trinity on the cross.  If we understand that God is Trinitarian (3 in 1 and 1 in 3, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then this separation can be seen as incredibly painful.  The eternal relationship within the  Trinitarian God had an incredible strain, since Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross.

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  • HOW I’M LEARNING TO FOLLOW JESUS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    Have you ever found yourself wandering in the desert?

    Maybe you haven’t found yourself in a literal desert, but at least in a desert-y period of life.  Perhaps it’s in between relationships, jobs, or some other major life event.  Quite honestly, I’m not a big fan of those times.

    I find myself entering into a major transition of life and I quite honestly have so many thoughts swirling around in my head.  Fortunately, the raw nature of the Psalms are helpful to pray through.  And as a former pastor suggested, weekly therapy sessions in the batting cage helps on a different level.

    I have found that following Jesus is difficult under the best of circumstances, so when the bad times hit, it is made even more tough.

    In this season, I’m learning to follow Jesus by preaching to myself.  I’m learning to follow Jesus by writing verses down on a whiteboard, reminding myself of God’s promises to not only preserve, but also to establish me.  While I honestly cannot wait for this season to end, I will come out on the other end clinging to the only certain hope I have– that Jesus is Lord of all.

  • WHY GOD ACCEPTED THE BLAME

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    One of the beautiful elements of Christian theology is that injustice and evil do not have a final word.  Justice needs to be satisfied and something needs to be done about the genocides, the murders in major cities, and the young girl who died of cancer this morning.  These things should not get the final word.

    Richard John Neuhaus points out in his breathtakingly poignant devotional work Death on a Friday Afternoon that somebody has to be blamed for the pain and hurt in the world (theodicy).  If somebody has to be blamed, then the finger of humanity is pointed directly at God (if there is a God).

    God is guilty.

    God is to be blamed.

    Neuhaus writes,

    “The word ‘theodicy’ means the judgment of God—not God judging us but our judging God.  The philosophical problem of theodicy is that of trying to square God’s ways with our sense of justice.  The assumes that we know what justice is, but the entire story the Bible tells begins with the error of the presumption.  It is the original error of our wanting to name good and evil.  Right from the start Adam tried to put God in the dock, making God responsible for the fall because, after all, God gave him the woman who tempted him to sin.  From the beginning we see the argument building up to humanity’s cry, ‘God is guilty!’—building up to the derelict nailed to the cross.”

    God accepted the verdict we passed on him He accepted what had to be done about what we had done.

    When we look at the bloody, mess of a man on the cross, we see how far God went for you and me—he abided by a sham of a trial and subsequently gets the final word about injustice.

    Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.”

    Jesus gets the final word.  He gets the final word and ensures the final word is rooted in both justice and mercy.  He said, “It is finished” on the cross and in his last words of the Bible (Revelation 22), he said, “Surely I am coming soon.”

    Amen.

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  • BELLS OF PEACE, EVEN WHEN THERE IS NO PEACE

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    Weeks after the shooting in Connecticut, I just can’t get the senselessness of it out of my head.  Questions floated through my mind.  Questions like, How does this happen?  Why is there such evil in this world?  Why won’t God stop this?  I don’t know sometimes, and I wish I could give you an answer.

    I stumbled across a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that spoke volumes to me.  Even when evil occurs, and it seems like hate is so strong, take these words to heart, especially the last two stanzas of these four stanzas.  I assure you this, the wrong will be righted one day.  One day, justice will be made plain for all to see.  But until that day, hold fast onto Christ.


    I heard the bells on Christmas day
    Their old familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet the words repeat
    Of peace on earth, good will to men.

    I thought how, as the day had come,
    The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along th’unbroken song
    Of peace on earth, good will to men.

    And in despair I bowed my head:
    ‘There is no peace on earth, ‘ I said
    ‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good will to men.’

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good will to men.’

     

    Lord, come quickly.

    What has helped you in difficult times?