A Little Bit Goes A Long Way

bible.com/72/eph.4.1-3.hcsb

So it’s been a little bit since I’ve shared something with you. Thank you for your patience. My Dad has been in a bad way here the last few days and life has been a little overwhelming. I got a call Monday afternoon that Dad was going for emergency surgery on his heart and that led to a four hour drive back to Indiana to be with family. Turns out “emergency” actually means “in four days” so there’s that. I go up tomorrow to be with family and deal with the stress and worry.

This verse looked like a good one to share with you all, since all of our interactions with others could use a little humility and gentleness. This is especially true as a patient and his family who are in crisis mode. I saw a lot of ways we could have been shouty and petulant during this whole thing. I’m thankful we weren’t. But I can think of a lot of moments we could have lost our cool and felt justified. Hospitals move at the speed of slow sometimes, and getting the right care can mean a lot of waiting. That’s not compatible with folks who’ve been told that their loved one is critical and could die without immediate surgery by the Doctor at the last hospital, before transferring to this one.

Civility seems like it’s always the first casualty in a crisis. We just don’t have time for it. But being humble and gentle isn’t reserved for times when everything is ok. It’s called for at all times. Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for all things under heaven. But when Jesus was subjected to the torturers, He was a like a sheep led to the slaughter, silent before the shearers. We may not all be like Jesus, but we can demonstrate a little humility and kindness when the need arises.

Suffering is not an easy road. And many of us don’t do it well. We maintain a perspective that this life is all that matters. We forget that this is merely the boot camp for the world to come. We are being trained, tested in our mettle and our resolve, for the eternity that waits for us. Oh but that we could just get a glimpse of what awaits us there, then we might not be so anxious about leaving this world. Then we would know that every test and ignominy we suffer will be recompensed, made good in that perfect place.

My friends, let us strive to be humble and gentle. For our Heavenly Father is proving us faithful, even in the midst of trial. Our life is more than food and clothing, shelter and work. God is forging us into His children with whom He plans to spend eternity with. Forging is not a painless process. But we too shall be made beautiful.

God bless you all.

Advertisements

Bad Day?

bible.com/72/2co.12.10.hcsb

I can’t even imagine what kind of life the Apostle Paul led. We read about his exploits in the book of Acts, and are appropriately awed by all the things he said and did. I know I am amazed at his evangelical prowess, his ability to argue from the Old Testament and from his experience as an Apostle proving that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. But then there are verses like this that prove being an Apostle is not an easy job. In fact it is physically and emotionally challenging. Yet He speaks of his physical trials not as detriments but as encouragements. He takes on the attitude that the bad stuff that happens to him is actually working out for good, and is working out for a good end. I just don’t know if I can be that positive. I mean, I had oncall last Sunday.

I was called in three times to deal with patient issues. I was ok with the first and managed the second, but by the time I had my third call-in, I was upset. I had had enough and didn’t want to have to deal with another emotionally and spiritually troubled person that day. Lord forgive me. I went in angry, only to run in to an awful tragedy. And I repented. God needed me in this situation too. Paul would probably have been delighted to have another opportunity to minister the gospel. I wasn’t Paul.

Even though I was tired and done with the day, God still needed me. I was weak and tired, but God strengthened me to do ministry. Are you having a bad day? Are you suffering from circumstances beyond your control? Remember this verse. When I am weak, then am I strong. His power is made perfect in weakness, because it is His glory, not our own, that shines through. It is when we stop depending on our own strength and rely on His, His hope and promises, that we truly shine for Him. I hope you are having a good day, but if not, remember He still loves you.

Not Just Taking Up Space

You Love Me?

You may not know God’s purpose for your life right now. You may believe that your life is on hold, waiting for someone or something to show you your life’s direction. I saw it in the eyes of a widow, whose husband had passed and now she was ill, with no obvious path forward but death. Yet, she persisted day to day, taking endless treatments and visits to the hospital. Why am I still here?

In the face of life’s confusing circumstances, the road ahead is foggy. We ask what possible direction is there when we can’t see it. Yet, when the roads are foggy, I trust the men who built them to keep driving. I don’t stop in the middle of the road, refusing to travel, because I can’t see the way. I trust the builders that there is a road ahead, so I keep driving.

Our lives are not built merely of our own preferences and decisions. There is One who has built the road ahead for us. We choose to travel. We trust that even when we can’t see what’s next, we know the Builder does and has prepared a way. We don’t worry about ravines and rivers because we trust the builders to have built a bridge. Though life brings us valleys and mountains, we have a Builder who has prepared the way.

I had no answer for this widow. I still don’t. But I trust the Lord, and I trust the road He has built. He has given us guardrails on our road, rules for behavior that show us what we ought to do while we wait for the bigger picture to unfold. In her distress, she knew she just wanted to die, but she knew that taking her own life wasn’t an option, so she waited on the Lord. And He did take her in time, in His time.

She didn’t know what purpose God had for her life. But maybe by sharing a little of her story with you, we have discovered it. We are not here to satisfy ourselves, but that through us, others may know about God. Perhaps her purpose was the demonstrate faithfulness to God’s plan for us, even when we can’t see it. So that I can’t see it either, I don’t lose hope.

We Cannot Imagine

The Lord Speaks

I’ve got 99 problems, but the Lord is bigger than all of them. Job could have said that (and did by the end of his book). So can we. Why do we appeal to God when we suffer, because we know, without thinking, that the Lord exceeds the extent of our suffering, He is bigger and more powerful than anything we can ask or imagine. No sooner than we conceive a limit for God, He exceeds it. And yet, in our limitedness, our Gini tide, God does not look down with contempt, but with the love of the vastness of His nature. Doesn’t God deserve your attention and respect today?

Lessons from Loss

If you’ve been keeping up with your Bible reading, then you’ve read the prophet Ezekiel. I’ve always found Ezekiel to be fascinating, ever since I started reading through the Bible. I have a journal somewhere dated 1999 where I tried to read through the Bible, and only got as far as Isaiah, and that in 2001. I’ve only been through the entire Bible a handful of times, and only recently (2004) picked it up again with the help of an audio Bible. So don’t think I’m trying to boast. But as a believer, I’ve come under the conviction that I need to be reading the Bible daily to keep up the strength of my Spirit.

After reading about the disaster that befell the Israelites in Jerusalem in the siege by the Babylonians, and then the numbers that were sent away, you get a feeling of utter despair. Jeremiah’s writings feel despondent, if not maudlin. It’s no wonder they call them the Lamentations. The Jews have been ripped from their homeland, and their homeland is utterly destroyed. We know it is because of their sins, their idolatry and their wickedness before God. That’s the religious justification. But pain is still pain. It still hurts, whether it is just or not.

Enter Ezekiel, mourning with the exiles on the shores of the river Kebar. “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, …”1 right along with them, Ezekiel was wailing, weeping, mourning the loss of their home, and despairing of their future.

We’ve all lost someone or something at one time or another, whether a spouse, friend, child, parent, job, or favorite activity. When we lose a loved one especially, the pain of the void they leave behind devours the rest of our lives. We wonder if life will ever be the same again.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross describes it as the five stages of grief. Her work focused primarily on those who were in the process of dying, like from a long-term illness, but the stages are applicable to any loss. First there is denial and isolation. We don’t believe it and don’t want to talk to anyone that does. Then, there is anger. Often this is directed at God, at doctors, at friends because of the force of our loss. Third, there is bargaining. Just bring them back Lord, I’ll do anything. Fourth, there is depression, a simple despondency, lack of energy, or desire for life. Lastly, there is acceptance. This is the point we’d all wish we could skip to, because the loss becomes then a part of us, part of who we are.2 There is no guarantee that everyone will go through all the stages in order, but everyone goes through each stage to some extent. Dwelling in any of these stages save the last is asking for serious mental and emotional problems. And if you find yourself in the list above, you need to talk to someone, even if it is your local minister, to work through this debilitating grief.

Now this is why Ezekiel is so fascinating. Into this emotional maelstrom, where all is despair and loss and rejection and grief, enters God. “The heavens were opened and I saw the visions of God.”3 And not merely visions, or the “Angel of the Lord,” but wheels within wheels, cherubim with the faces of Man, Ox, Eagle, and Lion. “I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light.”4 Ezekiel goes on to describe an incredible vision. This is the Lord God revealed in His glory to this lost and depressed crowd, to this one man entrusted with a simple message. “He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you. As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.”5

What God instructs Ezekiel to do is continue to warn the Israelites that unfaithfulness will lead to further destruction. We learn later that they didn’t listen, and their first destruction was better than their last. In short, Ezekiel’s message to his people from God was this, “trust me.”

I Know You’re in Pain, But Trust Me, I Can Take Care of You.

This is the message to every age, and to every man. “Trust Me.” I know you’re hurting. I know your circumstances. I know your pain, but trust me, I can take care of you and your eternity. God may not appear in whirling wheels or great and terrifying storms, but like he appeared to Elijah at Mt. Sinai, He may speak in a mere whisper, in a still small voice, just to see if you are listening. Today is a great day for listening.

1 Ezekiel 1:1a (NIV)

2 Taken from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying (New York: Macmillan, 1973)

3 1:1b

4 1:4

5 2:1, 2

The Present Crisis

Not to be alarmist or anything, but we do have a crisis of family in our community. This is the gift of modern “civilization.” Let me tell you what I see. Because I am sure you see it too. Everyday, after school, kids get off of the bus. Perfectly normal, yes. But where do those kids go? Do they go home? Some do. Some stay out, go down to the park, to friends’ houses, or they simply roam the streets, looking for something to do. Where are the parents? Not at home. They are working. They are out, often with no option but to leave their kids to fend for themselves. These kids, roaming unsupervised, are allowed to do anything they want, to go through backyards, church lots, and responsible to no one. Will there be any discipline of these kids? Not if the parents are too tired to give it.

Is this the parents’ fault? Not entirely. Many of these are single parents, who must work these long hours to support the household, to pay the bills, to make ends meet. Why are they single? They are single because a husband, a wife, a boyfriend, or even a girlfriend have walked out and abandoned them because. Life with them was too “difficult” too “stressful” and “they just couldn’t take it anymore.” Everyone has heard these words at one time or another. But somehow some couples manage to stick it out, while others fall apart.

The reasons for this abandonment are legion. When all is said and done, we have single parents trying to help their families survive with what Minimum Wage is willing to pay them. It’s not that these parents don’t care, it’s that they have no energy left-over to care. What energy they do have is making supper, ordering the kids to be quiet, and off to bed. I’m a parent. I know how much energy is required, even demanded to “raise up a child in the way he should go.” A single parent doesn’t have anyone to talk to. They have no one to lean back on. So, yes, many will take up the next boyfriend or girlfriend willing to give him or her an ounce of concern. We have adults in our community so starved for affection that they will take up with anybody, settle for anyone to give them that affection. Have they lost their senses? No.

As adults, we are hungry, and this is the necessary stuff of life that we need. Marriage was designed by God to fill that niche, to satisfy that need for intimacy and affection in a healthy and loving relationship with someone of the opposite sex. When marriage ends in divorce, when marriage is avoided altogether, parents suffer, and children, just as we see it today, roam the streets looking for affection, attention, from anybody. This is the reason for nearly every problem we have in our community. The Breakdown of the Family. If our families don’t function, our community doesn’t function.

Is there hope?

I believe so, or I wouldn’t be in the ministry that I’m in. Obviously, the correct Sunday School answer is Jesus. But what does that mean for hurting families? That means a community of faith like the church that will reach out and will embrace these hurting parents, will support them and strengthen them. That will give them hope for tomorrow through our Savior Jesus Christ. That means reaching out to the kids of your community and giving them guidance, leadership through the rocky years of adolescence and beyond. It will require the members of your community that are Christian to reach out to the families that aren’t. And that begins with you.

In order to avert this crisis, we’ve got to begin where we can do the most good for the moment, at home.

Tragedy for Horry

“In 1871, tragedy struck Chicago as fire ravaged the city. When it was all over, 300 people were dead and 100,000 were homeless. Horatio Gates Spafford was one of those who tried to help the people of the city get back on their feet. A lawyer who had invested much of his money into the downtown Chicago real estate, he’d lost a great deal to the fire. And his one son (he had four daughters) had died about the same time. Still, for two years Spafford–who was a friend of evangelist Dwight Moody–assisted the homeless, impoverished, and grief-stricken ruined by the fire.

After about two years of such work, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation. They were to go to England to join Moody and Ira Sankey on one of their evangelistic crusades, then travel in Europe. Horatio Spafford was delayed by some business, but sent his family on ahead. He would catch up to them on the other side of the Atlantic.

Their ship, the Ville de Havre, never made it. Off Newfoundland, it collided with an English sailing ship, the

Loch Earn, and sank within 20 minutes. Though Horatio’s wife, Anna, was able to cling to a piece of floating wreckage (one of only 47 survivors among hundreds), their four daughters–Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie–were killed. Horatio received a horrible telegram from his wife, only two words long: “saved alone.”

Spafford boarded the next available ship to be near his grieving wife, and the two finally met up with Dwight Moody. “It is well,” Spafford told him quietly. “The will of God be done.”

Though reports vary as to when he did so, Spafford was led during those days of surely overwhelming grief to pen the words to one of the most beautiful hymns we know, beloved by Christians lowly and great.” That hymn was titled, “It Is Well With My Soul.” —from geocities.com /cott1388 /spafford.html

It Is Well With My Soul speaks to a subject rarely breached in Christian hymnals, the theme of suffering. In keeping with the author’s circumstances, the song begins, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll.” Spafford writes amidst his tears, not about how bad life is and how he longs for something better, but about joy. He writes further, “That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.” Despite all the loss and sorrow, Spafford still looks to Christ, because Christ suffered far worse for him.

Job speaks to suffering. It is the one human emotion we all have in common. Job is met by four successive servants who tell him his fortune is being destroyed, all in the space of a few minutes. “Then Job arose, rent his [cloak], shaved his head, fell down upon the ground, and worshipped.” (Job 1:20) Job suffered despite being a believer. God is no guarantee for comfort, but He is a guarantee for peace amidst suffering. “In all of this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1:22)

I don’t know what you are going through today, but I do know of someone who suffered even worse that Job. He suffered, not only because He was righteous, but also because He loves you. Jesus suffered whipping and nails piercing his flesh. Jesus suffered the incredible wrath of God, God’s anger over all sin, including yours, so that you might live. Please believe in Jesus. Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and live the life of a Follower of Christ. I encourage you today to make that decision, for the rest of your life hangs in the balance. Jesus said, “Come unto me all of you who are weary and heavily laden (with work and trouble) and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Are you feeling that the world is dumping on you? Let Jesus lighten your load.