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When Christians Grieve…. An Honest Conversation:

Devotional Thought of the Day:

8  Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9  But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10  I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (TEV)

I knew what I was keeping down in my heart. And being very much displeased that these human things had such power over me, which in the due order and appointment of our natural condition must needs come to pass, with a new grief I grieved for my grief, and was thus worn by a double sorrow.

When I came across these words of Augustine this morning, they resonated deeply within me.  He is right, I am so weakened by grief, that even this weakness causes me to grieve.

I’ve laid to many to rest recently; I am watching friends bury those they love, their dads, their husbands, their siblings, and even their children.  Funerals with hundreds in attendance, a graveside with 7.

I grieve because I grieve, that my faith seems so weak in the face of death.  As I attempt to move past this grief, I find myself unable to do so.  Even as I see those I am ministering to, those who I try to point to the hope that is in Christ, hope I firmly hold onto because I know His love,the tears still flow, the heartache still pounds.

Why can’t I move from the trauma to the healing?  Why can’t I move from the sorrow to the joy?   Why can’t I move from the frustration that comes in realizing that life is all too short, to the confidence I should have, because I am a believer?  After all, I am a pastor, I should have enough faith, I should realize the truth, I should be able to shut out this sorrow, this grief?

Or should I?

I think Paul the apostle would say no, that it is in the midst of the trauma we find the Spirit’s comfort, where we find the healing that God has promised there will be a day when death loses its sting.  It is in the midst of the frustration that I stop trying to be strong, well aware that I cannot be. It is in the middle of the sorrow that I do find the peace, and yes the joy that comes from realizing that Jesus is here, sharing that grief, sharing that sorrow.

That death was defeated, not by avoiding it, rather it is dying that He destroyed death, and we now find life in Him.

I will admit this, in this last month and a half, when I have over and over been swamped with grief, and then have been grieved that I am not strong enough to get past it, in this time the most incredible worship I have experienced in my life has occurred.  Simply because God has met us, and comforts.  He is truly our refuge, our sanctuary, our hope and our life.

God has answered, His mercy is known… and we can rest….

Can I be thankful for the grief?  Not for the reason, I grieve, but for that which has accompanied the grief, His strength supporting me in my weakness?

Yes, I can be thankful for that.  AMEN!

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Keeping God at a Distance…not likely

Devotional/Discussion thought of the day:

“You too, like all God’s children, need personal prayer. You need to be intimate with him, to talk directly with Our Lord. You need a two-way conversation, face to face, without hiding yourself in anonymity.”

It’s not a new trend, but it certainly is one that is trending upwards these days.  The desire of people to keep God at the maximum distance possible, while staying within range where our salvation would be still… there…ready for when we die.  You see it among theologians – who have a tendency to talk more about God, more about the history of God’s people – who prefer to pray in cliche’s.  Two days ago, at a funeral – a pastor I know talked about how pastors ( it was at the funeral of another dear pastor’s wife) talked about how we are great at leading people to the cross – but pastors aren’t so good at staying there themselves.  (he is right, and I often fit into both of these categories!) There are others, who through themselves into the disciplines of a religion, without asking why, or how the discipline benefits.  And of course, there are those, who want the relationship without the religion – talking to them I have found that they want a relationship on their terms, with their rules, and often – their definition of sin.

We like to keep Gdd at a distance – and we aren’t the first – consider these two passages – often used to “invite” people to know Jesus…

 19 I am now giving you the choice between life and death, between God’s blessing and God’s curse, and I call heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Choose life. 20 Love the LORD your God, obey him and be faithful to him….” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 TEV

and then this passage from the new Testament,

 20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice and open the door, I will come into their house and eat with them, and they will eat with me. Revelation 3:20 (TEV)

What is interesting – is that both passages were not written to those unfamiliar with God – it was written to those in a relationship in Him – those who tried to keep Him at a distance, those who tried to live life based on their own decisions, to try and go it their own way…

Yes, those passages are invitations to know God – intimately – but invitations to those first who claim to already know Him. Invitations to pray, to converse, to speak to God and let Him into your life at a level that brings you so close – that you begin to reflect His characteristics, His love, and without thinking, His priorities ( people) becomes your own.  When you become aware that it is the worst thing you can do to keep distance, the worse the you can do is to hide – and you begin to do it less frequently, you begin to rejoice in His presence more, you begin to realize that is all you really desire.

It’s one of the reason I love St. Francis, and Martin Luther, and yeah – the saint whose quotes frequently appear here.  I don’t think any of them made it to being as intimate with God as both God and they desire – but all speak of that desire – and desire to help free us to desire, to want, to be consumed by, the God who loves us all.

As I prepare to see a little ceramic baby, lying in a wooden manger… I become more grateful, more aware of God’s omniscience and planning.   For it is easy to keep God the Father at great distances – or at least imagine Him at great distances.  But a baby?  Even the strongest, most solidly anti-emotional man (reading this MG?) man shows pictures of his new grandbaby, or speaks with pride of those children/grandchildren he loves.  Such is the way God came, in a small package that sneaks into our heart, that we don’t try to keep a distance from, for what could that little baby do?

And He roles the distance back, He comes close, while we think we’ve come to adore Him, He’s come to love us, to be with us,  to live with us……

May we realize we don’t have to shout “Lord have mercy” for it to be heard, but He hears and comes, with the softest of whispers.

For He is not at a distance, for He is our life.

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2013-2015). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Blessing of Pain?

A favored quote from the Princess Bride:

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

There is a lot of pain in the world, even as there is a lot of beauty in the world.  There is no way to doubt that, and we can only deny it so long.  Occasionally, we get a glimpse of something that is both, tied in a paradox that can be enjoyed and suffered through.

But let’s be honest – most pain sucks!

Rarely, do we see the beauty in pain, the glory of God revealed in trauma.  It is very difficult, for the pain grabs our focus. It dominates us, it pushes us down, and yes it causes us to doubt.  To doubt those around us, to doubt ourselves, to doubt God.

Yeah – it’s time to stop playing games – because of the levels of pain, it causes us to doubt God.

Even pastors, perhaps especially pastors.

Even apostles – hear how God had Paul reveal that in his own life.

4:7 Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like common clay pots, in order to show that the supreme power belongs to God, not to us. 8 We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; 9 there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. 10 At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies. 11 Throughout our lives we are always in danger of death for Jesus’ sake, in order that his life may be seen in this mortal body of ours. 12 This means that death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 (TEV) 

 

While I know I exaggerate the pain I have to endure, these words of Paul so incredibly describe some days I have.  It can be my pain, but often it’s the pain that people I walk alongside develop.  The pain endured by people struggling with the loss of a spouse, or losing a parent.  The people who are dealing with job sresses, or dysfunctional family members and dysfunctional families. The pain due to lack of trust, the pain of betrayal, the pain of opposition as we try to bless those opposed to us.

As we are troubled, as we doubt, as we deal with enemies, as we are “badly hurt”, how can we say this can be what this same Paul promises (speaking for God) that “all things work for good, for those who love God?”

The ability to endure such times, is to know the difference comes from seeing, knowing the relationship we have with the God.  TO begin to grasp the life that is united with Christ’s cross, which happened to us in baptism (see Romans 6:1-8)
Knowing that we endure in Christ (scripture talks about us as being hidden in Christ as well) we begin to look to Him in the midst of trauma, in the midst of pain.  We find His presence, and we find it very dear – even when we can’t see the fulfillment of the prophecies, when we can’t find the joy in the journey.

But we begin to trust, even in the midst our doubt – ever more and more, His presence. We realize our pain can cause us to run to God, as we look to Him for some hope, some sense of peace… and that is when the miracle occurs…. Like the disciples in the boat, we realize the Lord is with us… and the storms don’t die down, the pain doesn’t always diminish.   But God’s presence becomes the dominant part of our life, not the pain… we begin to find ourselves ministering to others when they observe the pain..we find our spiritual senses more attuned, and eventually trying to praise God ….for in the midst of lament, we find some of the most honest, most dependent worship there is….

And that is when pain….becomes a blessing.

When we realize HE IS HERE… when we realize the Holy Spirit is called the “comforter”, the One who comes alongside, for a reason…

HE IS HERE!

And that is more than enough…. even though we can never explain how….

Sharing Hope not Winning a Verdict

Discussion/Devotional thought of the day:

It seems that somewhere after CS Lewis, the nature of evangelism and apologetics shifted from coming alongside a person, and sharing the reason we have faith, into a contest of beliefs, a combat of philosophies, where the more logical, the more provable position wins, even if it loses.  The Christian apologist loses, not by presenting a less logical system of belief, but the moment the conversation turns into win-loose discussion, the moment they become condescending, the moment they seek to trump the other persons belief system.

Consider this, from a catholic evangelist,
“The spreading of Christian teaching need not provoke antagonism, or harm those who do not know our doctrine. Caritas omnia suffert!—love bears all things. If one proceeds with charity, anyone who might otherwise have been opposed to Christianity and been deceived by error may easily and honestly end up committing himself to it. However, there can be no giving ground in dogma in the name of a naive “breadth of belief”, for if anyone acted in this way he would risk putting himself out of the Church. Instead of winning a benefit for others he would harm himself.”  Escriva,

Too often,  we rejoice in the well honed comeback, the story where the young Christian trumps the professor, or the atheist, where “we show them”.  Yet such victories ring hollow, if the other person walks away without the hope that we rejoice in knowing Jesus, and the enormous dimensions of His love, if they walk away without hearing of God’s love that will heal their lives crushed by sin.  Apologetics – is not a game – its not a victory strategy over people who live in darkness, who have no concept of light.

Our purpose isn’t to win an argument, it is to win a life.

That doesn’t mean we compromise our faith, but we patiently work with those on the journey, helping them get used to what is revealed, a God who has come to them, who will cleanse their wounds, who will take their burdens, who will walk beside them, making their journey one of joy, no matter the struggle.  That is why the Holy Spirit’s “nickname” is the Paraclete, the Comforter, the One called alongside…and as we are the temples where that Spirit dwells, we too are called alongside…

To share, as St Peter tells us, the reason we have hope….

Lord Have mercy, and as we realize that He has… may we share that with those who do not know it…. yet!

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